Israel News

News Digest — 9/22/21

In News Surrounding Israel by The Friends of Israel

Thousands Gather At Western Wall For Sukkot Priestly Blessing

Thousands of worshipers gathered at the Western Wall on Wednesday morning (22nd) for the traditional Priestly Blessing.  The first was held at 9:15, followed by a second at 10:15.

Participants in the ceremony included Israel’s Ashkenazi and Sephardi Chief Rabbis, David Lau and Yitzhak Yosef, as well as Rabbi of the Western Wall Shmuel Rabinovitch.

Security and religious authorities warned ahead of the blessing that if the Western Wall Plaza became too crowded, entrance to both the Old City and the Western Wall itself would be barred.  The Western Wall Heritage Foundation has appealed to the public not to attend the blessing on both Wednesday (22nd) and Thursday (23rd), to allow as many people as possible to take part in the ceremony.

As the festival of Sukkot began, the Jerusalem District Police were on alert, with hundreds of police officers, Border Police, and police volunteers fanning out across the city.  Multiple security checkpoints have been set up at the entrances to the Western Wall area in an attempt to handle the expected crowds.

The public has been asked not to drive their personal vehicles to the Old City during Sukkot.  Transportation options include buses, shuttles, and the city’s light rail.  Visitors are urged to follow police instructions as well as Covid regulations, including wearing masks at gatherings or mass prayer ceremonies.



New Yorkers Protest Against Iran As Raisi Addresses UN

Several eye-catching trucks carrying billboards drove around New York City on Tuesday (21st) with messages calling out Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi and his administration ahead of his address at the 76th United Nations General Assembly (UNGA), for Iran’s human rights abuses. 

“Ebrahim Raisi must be investigated for crimes against humanity,” and “a government of designated terrorists,” were some of the bold banner messages seen around Manhattan, according to a video posted on Twitter by Iranian Americans for Liberty.

The new Iranian president addressed the UN on Tuesday (21st) via video link from Tehran, and dissidents striving for a free and secular Iran used the opportunity to urge world leaders to bring him to justice.

Raisi, a hardline former judiciary chief linked to mass executions of objectors in the 1980s, was chosen earlier this year in an election allegedly rigged by Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

In a letter to US President Joe Biden, ahead of his speech to the UNGA, more than 400 Iranian-American scholars asked the president to call for Raisi to be put on trial before an international tribunal for his role in the 1988 mass killing of dissidents, Fox News reported.

World leaders from Britain, China, France, Germany, and Russia will not meet with Iran at the UN this week to discuss a return to nuclear deal talks, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell told reporters on Monday (20th). 



House Democrats Remove Iron Dome Funding From Upcoming Budget

Democratic Party leadership in the US House of Representatives removed about $1 billion of funding for Israel’s Iron Dome defense system on Tuesday (21st).

The revision came after progressives in the party refused to vote for the broader bill in which the Iron Dome funding was included.

The progressive Democrats blocking the Iron Dome funding are among those who pushed to block arms to Israel during Operation Guardian of the Walls in May, according to Politico.  That move was led by Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of NY, Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

While funding for the Iron Dome will likely get passed in the coming months, Israel views the matter with urgency, a senior diplomatic source added.

Tensions between Israel and Hamas have spiked in recent weeks, including Gazan terrorists launching rockets into Israel.

The Iron Dome is a missile defense system, which has stopped thousands of rockets launched by US-designated terrorist groups like Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad, from striking the Israeli civilian centers at which they are aimed.



Hamas Presents ‘Road Map’ For Prisoner Swap With Israel

Hamas has presented mediators with a “clear road map” for a prisoner exchange agreement with Israel, Zaher Jabarin, a member of the Hamas political bureau, said on Monday (21st).

Jabarin did not provide details about the alleged map.  He also did not name the mediators involved in the contacts to reach a prisoner exchange agreement, although it is widely believed that the Egyptians are leading efforts to secure a deal between Israel and Hamas.

He said the Hamas leadership and its armed wing “pay special attention to the prisoners’ issue, especially those serving lengthy sentences.”

Jabarin said Hamas was also insisting on the release of all ex-prisoners who were re-arrested after being freed in the Gilad Shalit prisoner exchange deal.

The 2011 deal, brokered by German and Egyptian mediators, saw the release of 1,027 Palestinian prisoners in return for kidnapped IDF soldier Gilad Shalit, who was being held in the Gaza Strip.

“Freeing the prisoners of the last swap deal who were re-arrested will be a condition for the completion of any upcoming deal,” Jabarin said in a statement.  “The occupation tries to obtain information about its soldiers without paying a price.”

The Hamas official claimed that Israel tried to link the issue of the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip with a prisoner exchange.

“Hamas and the resistance leadership categorically rejected it and informed all mediators of the impossibility of linking the two files,” he added.

Hamas is holding the bodies of IDF soldiers Oron Shaul and Hadar Goldin, who were killed in the 2014 war with Israel, as well as two Israeli citizens, Avera Mengistu Hisham al-Sayed, who crossed into the Gaza Strip of their own accord in 2014 and 2015 respectively.



Chicago: Sukkah Damaged In Daley Plaza

A sukkah in the heart of downtown Chicago was found vandalized on the first day of the Sukkot festival.

The sukkah, built by the Chabad Center for Jewish Life, was found Tuesday (21st) to have been vandalized with spray-painted graffiti all over the outside of the temporary structure.

“It’s a very happy holiday,” Rabbi Meir Chai Benhiyoun told Fox32 Chicago.  “My community has seen this, and they’re riled up to celebrate even more – but I could cry because I have been a counselor and rabbi for many years.  I feel bad for the people who did this.  I don’t know why they did it.  Maybe they were just wasting time.  But this is in the middle of the city – the heart of downtown.”

For the past 34 years, the local Chabad center has built a sukkah in Chicago’s Daley Plaza, and this is the first time a sukkah there has been targeted by vandals.

Following the incident, the Center for Jewish Life placed signs on the structure, noting that the sukkah is in celebration of the Sukkot holiday.

The motivation behind the vandalism remains unclear, but Rabbi Benhiyoun urged local Jews celebrating the Sukkot festival to be on alert in case the incident was intended as an anti-Semitic act.



Finland Rallies Against Anti-Semitism In Pro-Israel March

A pro-Israel rally against anti-Semitism took place in Tampere, Finland on Sunday (19th).

Some 300 Finns marched through Tampere in a rally of support for the Jewish state, organized by March of Life Finland.

An event was also organized at Tammelantori Market Square, where the march ended. 

At the event, Finnish parliament member Sari Tanus, President of Keren Kayemeth LeIsrael-Jewish National Funds (KKL) Finland branch, Ethel Salutskij and March of Life Finland Chairman, MD Kari Teittinen all spoke in support of Israel.

In addition, coordinator of Young Adults for Peace, Justice and Solidarity in the Middle East, Varpu Haavisto, and Dr, Ilkka Vakkuri from Friends of Israel Finland, both spoke at the event.

During Operation Guardian of the Walls in May, some 100 people gathered under strict COVID-19 restrictions in Helsinki to demonstrate their support for Israel.