News Digest — 6/23/22

In News Surrounding Israel by The Friends of Israel

Netanyahu: This Isn’t The Time For Elections, I’ll Compromise

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) has said in closed conversations that he is willing to compromise on both the Justice Ministry and the right of veto in legal matters if it means Israel will avoid new elections, Israel Hayom reported.

Elections can be avoided if, prior to the Knesset’s dissolution, a new coalition is formed.

“This is not the time for elections,” Netanyahu said.  “The current government has abandoned the Iranian issue, and that is the most urgent thing to deal with.  Everything else can wait a moment.”

Earlier this week, leaders of the Knesset’s opposition parties urged Netanyahu to prevent the Knesset from dissolving.

On Wednesday (22nd), Likud MK Miki Zohar clarified that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is the only Yamina MK who wants the Knesset to dissolve, the rest would prefer that an alternative government be formed within the current Knesset.



Syrian Intelligence Officer Wounded In Blast Near Jordan-Israel Border

Two people were wounded in an explosion in the southwestern Syrian city of Daraa, Syrian state media reported on Wednesday (22nd).

Local residents reported hearing a blast and photographs posted online showed smoke billowing from the city’s center near the borders with Israel and Jordan.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which is affiliated with the Syrian opposition and is based in London, reported overnight Wednesday (22nd) that one of the two people who were injured in the blast was an intelligence officer in the Syrian military.

The watchdog group also claimed that an alleged bomb that caused the blast was planted by operatives in a vehicle and was detonated in the center of Daraa.  According to the Observatory, gunfire was then heard in the area.

Meanwhile, the international airport in Damascus was expected to resume flights after nearly two weeks following an Israeli airstrike that caused damage to the facility, state TV also reported Wednesday (22nd).

The June 10 airstrike caused significant damage to infrastructure and runways and rendered the main runway unserviceable.

The IDF has declined to comment on the Damascus airport strike.  The facility is located just south of the capital, where Syrian opposition activists say Iran-backed militias are active, and have their arms depots.



Bennett Warns Gaza Terrorist Groups Not To Exploit Political Shift

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett visited the IDF Gaza Division Wednesday (22nd), where he assessed the security situation with the GOC Southern Command and other senior officials.

“We are completing the quietest year for the residents of Sderot and Ashkelon –  the Gaza Strip’s quietest in 15 years,” Bennett said.

“The new normal in the south is peace, security, and a normal life,” he added, hailing housing construction in the region as “the greatest of victories.”

“After a year, I am handing back a quiet, flourishing South.  Hamas is deterred, and there is a record number of new families in the Sderot area.  We’ve changed the reality completely – from fires and terrorism to growth and calm,” Bennett tweeted.

Bennett also warned Palestinian Terror organizations in the Gaza Strip not to try and take advantage of Israel’s current lack of political stability.

“We are in a period of political instability, but security stability must be maintained.  I do not suggest that anyone on the other side tries to challenge it,” he said.

On Tuesday (21st), the Knesset voted to bring the dissolution of the Bennett-Lapid government forward, and on Wednesday (22nd), a bill to dissolve the Knesset passed a preliminary reading.

If the bill passes, Foreign Minister and alternate Prime Minister Yair Lapid will become the interim prime minister until an election – currently scheduled for sometime in October or November  – takes place.



IDF Begins Reinforcing, Extending Security Barrier In Northern Samaria

Israel began new construction on Tuesday (21st) to reinforce and extend the security barrier in northern Samaria by some 28 miles, it was announced on Wednesday morning (22nd).

The move to strengthen the barrier comes after a spate of deadly terror attacks that began in late March, many of which were perpetrated by Palestinians who illegally crossed into Israel via gaps in the fence.

The new 30 foot tall barrier will replace an aging security fence stretching from northern Samaria to the Bat Hefer region, which was originally built some 20 years ago.

The work is being carried out by the IDF’s Central Command and the Defense Ministry’s Dept. of Engineering and Construction.

“We are continuing our defensive efforts in the north by strengthening the Judea and Samaria security barrier and providing solutions for the Israeli home front,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in a statement on Wednesday (22nd).

“These efforts constitute an integral part of our operational activity.  Along with this, we will continue to operate against all threats we face in order to maintain the security of Israel’s civilians.”

Although Israel constructed a barrier around Judea and Samaria during the second intifada, aimed at stopping suicide bombers and other terror attacks, the fence was never fully completed and has fallen into disrepair.

The lack of upkeep or enforcement at the barrier has seen tens of thousands of illegal Palestinian workers slip through the fence on a daily basis, with taxis and mini-buses waiting in plain sight to pick up the laborers on the Israeli side of the divider.

Israeli security forces have largely turned a blind eye to the issue in the past, but are facing increased pressure to strengthen the barrier after terrorists from the Jenin area illegally entered Israel and committed deadly attacks in Tel Aviv, Bnei Brak, and Elad.

A senior security official told Globes that “with or without breaches in the fence, anyone determined enough will be able to get into Israel… no closure can be entirely hermetic.”

The official added that “among those passing through gaps in the fence are permit-holders [Palestinians with Israeli work permits] who prefer it over the congested official checkpoints.”



UN Blasts Iran For Executing Over 100 People Between January And March

Iran executed more than 100 people in the first three months of 2022, continuing a worrying upward trend, according to a report by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres presented on Tuesday (21st).

Speaking before the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, UN deputy human rights chief Nada Al-Nashif presented Guterres’ latest report on Iran, decrying that executions in the country were on the rise.

The report cited data collected by non-governmental organizations showing that 310 individuals were executed in 2021 compared with 260 in all of the previous year.  In the first three months of 2022, the trend continued with at least 105 people executed, it said.

Guterres’ report also highlighted the increase in executions for lesser crimes, Nashif noted.  Capital crimes in Iran include same-sex relations, armed rebellion, and “spreading corruption,” the report stated.

“The death penalty continues to be imposed on the basis of charges not amounting to ‘most serious crimes’ and in ways incompatible with fair trial standards,” she told the council.  

Nashif said that in March, 52 people sentenced to death on drug-related charges were transferred to Shiraz prison for execution.

She also lamented the continued use of the death penalty for juvenile offenders, in violation of international law.

Between August 2021 and March 2022, at least two people who committed their alleged crimes as minors were executed and more than 85 juvenile offenders remain on death row, Nashif said.

The deputy rights chief also decried other rights abuses in Iran, especially in response to protests over a range of significant social, political, and economic challenges over the past year.

“Excessive use of force constitutes the default response by the Iranian authorities to managing “these assemblies,” she said.



Italy Ranked Top, Poland And Belgium Bottom, In New Index Measuring Quality Of Jewish Life In Europe

Italy has the highest quality of Jewish life on the European continent, with Poland and Belgium identified as the most troubling countries in that regard, according to a new index published by the European Jewish Association (EJA).

Unveiled at the EJA’s leadership conference in the Hungarian capital Budapest on Tuesday (21st), the Index covers 12 EU member states, combining facts about government policy and polling data to create a single metric with which to measure the quality of Jewish life in those countries.

Designed by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research, a London-based think tank, the index measures the quality of life on a scale from 0-100.

Five countries – Italy, Hungary, Denmark, the UK and Austria – all received “A” grades, with scores of 75 or more.  Both France and Poland were given a “C” grade, with respective scores of 68 and 66, while Belgium, with a “D” grade, came at the bottom of the list with an index score of 60.

The scores of several countries were compromised by the feelings of insecurity reported in their Jewish communities, creating some striking discrepancies.

While the German government was given a performance score of 89 due to its federal budget for securing Jewish institutions, its creation of a federal commissioner to combat antisemitism and similar measures, the sense of security among German Jews was measured at just 46, compared with 73 for Denmark and 72 for Hungary.

France performed similarly, despite having adopted many of the same measures as Germany, but the sense of insecurity among French Jews is the most intense in Europe, with a score of just 31.

By comparison, Belgium’s government performance was weak when it came to security for the Jewish community.

“The Belgian government, which holds the last place in the study, significantly reduced security around the Jewish communities without even consulting them, banned kosher slaughter and threatened the issue of circumcision, did not appoint a coordinator for the fight against antisemitism and more,” an accompanying statement from the EJA declared.