Israel News

News Digest — 3/29/23

In News Surrounding Israel by The Friends of Israel

Biden Urges Netanyahu To Abandon Judicial Overhaul

U.S. President Joe Biden on Tuesday (28th) urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to abandon a judicial overhaul proposal that led to massive protests in Israel, prompting the Israeli leader to say he does not make decisions based on pressure from abroad.

Netanyahu on Monday (27th) delayed the overhaul proposal after large numbers of people spilled into the streets.  The White House said in response that Netanyahu should seek a compromise on the issue.

Netanyahu quickly issued a statement in response.

“Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends,” he said.

Netanyahu said his administration was striving to make reforms “via broad consensus.”

He said the Israel-U.S. alliance is unbreakable “and always overcomes the occasional disagreements between us.”

“My administration is committed to strengthening democracy by restoring the proper balance between the three branches of government, which we are striving to achieve via a broad consensus,” Netanyahu said.



Israel Launches Ofek 13 Satellite Into Space

The Israeli Defense Ministry together with Israel Aerospace Industries on Wednesday (29th) successfully launched the Ofek 13 satellite into space, a ministry statement said.

Ofek 13 is an observation satellite with advanced capabilities.  Once it enters orbit it will undergo a “series of tests to ensure its propriety and performance levels,” the ministry said.

The IMod Space and Satellite Administration in the Directorate of Defense Research & Development (DDR&D), the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), and Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) successfully launched the Ofek 13 satellite into space at 2:10 IST Wednesday (29th).  The launch took place at a test site in central Israel using a Shavit launcher, the statement said.

The IMod Space and Satellite Administration has led the development and production of the satellite and its launcher.  The IDF’s 9900 Intelligence Unit and the Israeli Air Force also participated in the development process.  The launch engines were developed by Rafael Advanced Systems and Tomer, a government-owned company, the defense ministry statement added. 



Report: Jordan Hosting Incendiary ‘Nakba Tours’ In Jerusalem

A Jordanian government body is providing a “Sins of the Nakba” tour in Israel’s capital city, framing the establishment of the Jewish state as a disaster for the Palestinian people and promoting an inaccurate version of military history.

According to a Facebook post by a group affiliated with the Waqf – the Jordanian-controlled body that serves as the Islamic guardian of Al-Aqsa Mosque within the Temple Mount compound – guests may participate in a tour of the city which is mostly focused on the Katamon neighborhood.

Some points of interest in the free tour, which presents a distorted version of events biased towards the Palestinian narrative, are located just hundreds of meters away from the Prime Minister’s residence, Walla News reported.

The Foreign Ministry told Walla News that it was unaware of the tours and that an investigation into the matter has been opened.

Maor Tzemach, CEO of Zionist NGO of Your Jerusalem, told World Israel News (WIN) that the tours have major implications regarding Israeli sovereignty over the city, as well as signifying blurred lines regarding Jordan’s authority within Jerusalem.

“Jordan is crossing serious lines, diplomatically.  The only authority that Jordan has is over the Temple Mount, and Israel should be questioning whether or not Jordan is handling that responsibility appropriately,” Tzemach told WIN.

“The existence of Jordanian tours in western Jerusalem that are prompting the false Palestinian narrative… is extremely troubling from a sovereignty perspective.  We expect the Foreign Ministry to clarify matters, and make it clear that Jordan only has authority regarding the Temple Mount, and nothing more.”

“Beyond that, Jordan’s incitement towards Israel in and of itself is extremely problematic.”

Although Jordan has maintained a peace agreement with Israel since 1994, the country has a long history of hostile rhetoric towards the Jewish State.

The country’s parliament recently voted to withdraw the Jordanian ambassador to Israel, though follow-through on that motion appears unlikely to happen.

Jewish and Israeli visitors to Jordan, even those simply transiting through its airports, have been subject to harassment by customs agents and have seen their sacred prayer objects desecrated.



Halevi: ‘No Place’ For Protests In Military – Enemies See Rifts As Opportunity

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi on Monday (27th) issued a public letter addressed to all active and reserve service members, calling for the military to remain outside nationwide protests against the government’s judicial overhaul plans as the country faced unprecedented threats.

“The place for expressions of protest is the public sphere.  They have no place at all in the IDF because here they leave a critical wound,” Halevi wrote, referencing the growing number of reservists who had said they would not show up for service in protest of the legislation.

Halevi said that the country’s enemies interpret divisions in the military as “an opportunity for their plots.”  Israel ”has never faced such days of external threats combined with an internal storm,” Halevi wrote, and stressed: “This is a time for responsibility.”

“Our enemies must know that we are standing guard and nobody is deserting,” Halevi wrote.  “I am responsible for every mission given to you being aimed at defending the security of Israel and its citizens, and being in accordance with IDF values.”

Israel faces several dangers amid the wave of demonstrations, including Iran’s nuclear program, Palestinian terror attacks, and recent tensions with the Lebanese terror group Hezbollah.

Halevi’s letter came as demonstrations intensified over the weekend, and Yoav Gallant, in a speech Saturday night (25th) said that “a growing number of reservist refusals to serve, in protest of the government’s proposals, presented a national security threat that warranted stopping the overhaul.”

Increasingly reservists – who are a key part of the army’s routine activities, including in top units – had warned that they would not be able to serve in an undemocratic Israel, which they charged the country would become under the government’s plan.

Soldiers also expressed concern that a lack of international trust in the independence of Israel’s judiciary could expose them to prosecution in international tribunals over actions they were ordered to carry out during service.

The trend had sparked deep fears among the security establishment, which warned that the IDF’s operational capacity was at risk.



Athens: Terrorist Attack On Jewish Restaurant Foiled

Greek media reported Tuesday (28th) that a terrorist plot targeting a Jewish restaurant in downtown Athens was foiled.

According to reports, the police in Athens arrested two Iranian terrorists of Pakistani origin on suspicion of planning to attack a number of targets related to Israel and the Jewish community in the Greek capital.

The authorities in Greece claimed that the two were caught shortly before they intended to carry out an attack on a Jewish restaurant operating in the center of Athens and that they were identified after they had observed the restaurant for several days.  This aroused suspicion from the authorities.

Another target of the terrorists beside the Jewish restaurant, was the main synagogue of the Jewish community in Athens – but the synagogue is relatively inactive during the middle of the week, operating primarily on Shabbat and Jewish holidays.

This is not the first time Iran has allegedly employed Pakistani terrorists to attack Israeli targets in Europe.  In November 2022, the country of Georgia announced that it had foiled an Iranian plot to assassinate Israel-Georgian businessman Itsik Moshe.

The plot which involved Pakistanis affiliated with Al-Qaeda, came to light after Georgian security forces noticed a member of the Pakistani agents acting extremely suspicious and arrested him.



New Jersey High School ‘Again’ Targeted With Swastika

A high school in Glen Rock, New Jersey was vandalized with a swastika, the second time in four months that the Nazi symbol has been found on school grounds, according to police.

The swastika was reported to Glen Rock High School officials by a student who discovered the antisemitic symbol etched into a bathroom stall. reported.

The incident was then communicated to police on Thursday (23rd) by the school’s security director, according to police chief Dean Ackermann.

The finding was part of a spree of incidents of antisemitic vandalism that have recently plagued the area’s schools.

In November, antisemitic graffiti was discovered at two Jewish schools in Lakewood.

In December, a swastika was found carved into the top of a desk at a middle school in Glen Rock.

Days after, a playground in Montclair was vandalized with antisemitic graffiti, including multiple swastikas, antisemitic phrases and hate speech.

This week, in response to the mounting antisemitism, multiple federations in New Jersey and New York City announced they were teaming up to form a new organization that would allow them to cooperate on sharing information on threats and in security training.

Reacting to last week’s incident at Glen Rock High School, Glen Rock Mayor Kristine Morieko said the borough has “zero tolerance for symbols of hate.”

“While antisemitic incidents are on the rise nationwide, our residents have every right to be alarmed when they hear of such local acts,” Morieko said, according to Patch.



Jews Plant Palm Trees In Medina, Saudi Arabia In Rare Gesture

In a rare gesture of interfaith friendship, several British Jews were allowed to plant palm trees in Saudi Arabia’s city of Medina, one of Islam’s two holiest sites.

A local landowner invited the visitors, a group of Christians, Muslims and Jews from the United Kingdom led by Jewish Londoner, Rick Sopher, to add to his grove of date palms, the Jewish Chronicle of London reported this week.  Sopher’s group also visited the United Arab Emirates, focusing on fostering reconciliation and friendship among the three Abrahamic faiths.

Among the group’s members were prominent businessmen and philanthropists as well as a professor of history and other researchers from Cambridge University, the Chronicle reported.

The visit is a sign of greater openness to other faiths in the Arabian Peninsula, where Saudi Arabia has seen vast reforms under Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman – also the UAE has pushed interfaith projects since the signing of the Abraham Accords in 2020.

Members of the British delegation were invited to plant saplings of an ‘ajwa’ date tree, a type grown in Medina and specifically mentioned in the hadith, (a record of sayings of the Prophet Muhammad), according to the report.

“If anyone had told me 10 or even five years ago that I would be able to come to Saudi Arabia, everybody knowing that I am Jewish, also with friends who are Jewish, I would not have believed them,” the Chronicle quoted Sopher as saying.  “To be received in such a friendly, hospitable way, is really something marvelous,” he added.

Non-Muslims were always banned from entering Medina up until five years ago. Both cities, Medina and Mecca are the two holiest sites in Islam.  

When Islam took root in Medina in 622, the city had many Jewish residents, including palm grove owners.