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Netanyahu, Rivlin Send Condolence Letters to Father of Brooklyn Fire Victims

(JNS.org) Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin each sent letters of condolence to Gabriel Sassoon, the father of seven Jewish children who died in a fire at their home in Brooklyn last weekend.

“Each one of your children was a world unto him or herself, unique and special. There is no greater sorrow than the loss of children and the pain is even greater because they were so young. The entire Jewish people feels your pain,” Netanyahu wrote in his letter, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The funeral service for the seven children was held on Monday in Jerusalem, who were laid to rest at Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuhot Cemetery.

Separately, Rivlin wrote to Gabriel Sassoon that he is praying for his wife Gayle and 15-year-old daughter, Siporah, who both remain in critical condition after escaping the fire by jumping from a second-floor window.

“It is not in my power to comfort you on this terrible disaster,” Rivlin wrote. “However, I, with all of the Jewish people, are standing with you and take you into our hearts at this difficult and terrible time.”

The Sassoon family had lived in Israel until moving to Brooklyn a year-and-a-half ago. The children who died in the fire included Eliane, 16; Rivkah, 11; Sara, 6; David, 12; Yeshua, 10; Moshe, 8; and Yaakob, 5.

Israeli Citizen Among 150 Dead in German Flight’s Crash Over French Alps

(JNS.org) A Barcelona to Duesseldorf flight of the Germanwings airline—an offshoot of the German carrier Lufthansa—crashed Tuesday over the French Alps, with no survivors. The Israeli Foreign Ministry subsequently confirmed that an Israeli citizen, 39-year-old businessman and Barcelona resident Eyal Baum, was among the 150 passengers who died.

Baum’s brother-in-law Eran told reporters, “At the moment we are coming together with one another, at home, in front of the news and are trying to stay updated with any piece of information that would make it possible to believe this isn’t happening.”

Other victims of the crash reportedly included two babies, two opera singers, and 16 German high school students who were returning from a class trip to Spain. The prosecutor for the French city of Marseille, Bruce Robin, told Reuters, “We saw an aircraft that had literally been ripped apart, the bodies are in a state of destruction, there is not one intact piece of wing or fuselage.”

Israeli Court Sentences Hamas Terrorist to 15.5 Years in Prison

(Israel Hayom/Exclusive to JNS.org) Israel’s Beersheba District Court on Tuesday sentenced 24-year-old Muhammad Abu Draz, an operative of Hamas’s Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, to 15.5 years in prison after convicting him of membership in a terrorist organization, conspiracy to commit an act of terror, attempted murder, several illegal arms offenses, and a series of national security offenses.

Draz was convicted and sentenced as part of a plea bargain that his defense attorney had negotiated with Israel. A resident of the Gaza Strip, Draz was apprehended by security forces during last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, near the entrance to a tunnel dug close to a Gaza City kindergarten. He was heavily armed and carried an explosive device, which he unsuccessfully attempted to detonate when the soldiers approached him.

It is believed that Draz and other Hamas operatives were instructed to ambush Israeli soldiers clearing terror tunnels, with the aim of either killing them or abducting them to be used as bargaining chips in future prisoner-exchange negotiations with Israel.

According to the indictment, Draz initially joined Hamas in 2003, when he was a minor. In 2010, he joined Izzedine al-Qassam Brigades, where he received training in urban warfare and explosives. He also learned how to infiltrate the border, ambush Israel forces, and use Hamas’s grid of terror tunnels to abduct Israel soldiers.

“The defendant’s actions are grave as they placed Israeli soldiers in serious danger. It was only thanks to the soldiers’ training that they were able to escape heavy loss of life over the defendant and his partners’ actions,” the court said in its ruling.

Gaza Palestinians Call Power Cutoff by Egypt Worse Than Israeli Policy

(JNS.org) Palestinian residents of the Gaza Strip cities of Khan Younis and Rafah took to the streets on Tuesday after Egypt had cut off power to parts of southern Gaza. The protesters vented their anger at Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi and his government in light of reports that the decision to take parts of those towns off the grid was made by high-ranking officials in Egypt’s Ministry of Electricity and Energy.

Egyptian media said the government resorted to that measure as a result of outstanding payments owed by a Palestinian utility company. The Hamas terrorist group’s government in Gaza cannot generate enough power on its own and has over the years had to rely on the Egyptian and Israeli grid.

A senior official at the Palestinian Energy Ministry told Israel Hayom that healthcare facilities in southern Gaza had to rely on emergency generators, but stressed that the generators were only a short-term remedy. The protesters said they were unintended victims of the ongoing spat between Gaza-ruling Hamas and the Egyptian government, which designates Hamas as a terrorist organization due to its affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. Some protesters told Arab media that the power cutoff by Egypt was worse than the “Israeli blockade,” referring to the restrictions Israel imposes on Gaza to prevent terrorist activity.

“Even when we had the war with the Zionists, they did not cut off our power supply and water like El-Sisi the criminal,” one Palestinian said.

“El-Sisi’s government is worse than the Zionist occupation,” another protester said.

Meanwhile, Egypt’s crackdown on Hamas’s terrorist infrastructure continues. Egyptian forces have demolished several homes on both sides of the country’s border with Gaza this week as part of an ongoing effort to curtail tunneling activity. Terrorists who wish to infiltrate into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula and join local jihadist groups often do so through cross-border tunnels, which are also used for illicit trade and arms smuggling. Dozens of Egyptian troops have been killed in recent clashes with Islamic terrorists in the Sinai.

Obama Says U.S. Considering Support of Palestinian State at U.N.

(JNS.org) President Barack Obama said at a news conference on Tuesday that the U.S. is considering the possibility of supporting the unilateral recognition of a Palestinian state through the United Nations as part of his administration’s ongoing re-evaluation of relations with Israel.

Late last year, the U.S. voted against a Palestinian-initiated resolution in the U.N. Security Council that called for a Palestinian state with borders based on the pre-1967 lines. The measure garnered eight affirmative votes among the 15-member Security Council, falling just one short of the nine votes it needed to pass.

Obama on Tuesday continued his recent criticism of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the aftermath of the latter’s re-election, saying, “Netanyahu, in the election run-up, stated that a Palestinian state would not occur while he was prime minister. And I took him at his word that that’s what he meant.” Obama made similar comments in an interview with The Huffington Post that was published last weekend, despite the fact that Netanyahu has reaffirmed his support for a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state.

“Afterwards, he (Netanyahu) pointed out that he didn’t say ‘never,’ but that there would be a series of conditions in which a Palestinian state could potentially be created,” Obama said Tuesday. “But, of course, the conditions were such that they would be impossible to meet any time soon.”

Obama said that after Netanyahu’s comments, the “possibility seems very dim” for a resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The president also said his disagreements with Netanyahu should not be considered a personal matter, instead describing his relationship with the prime minister as “businesslike.”

“This can’t be reduced to a matter of somehow let’s all, you know, hold hands and sing ‘Kumbayah,’” Obama said. “This is a matter of figuring out how do we get through a real knotty policy difference that has great consequences for both countries and for the region.”

New Orleans Student Group Launches Petition to Divest From Palestinian Authority

(JNS.org) A group of students at the University of New Orleans has launched an initiative to both combat the Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment (BDS) movement against Israel and call on the U.S. government to stop funding the Palestinian Authority (PA).

The “Allies of Israel” group, which calls itself a “grassroots college organization dedicated to the promotion of the Jewish state of Israel as a sovereign nation rooted in Jewish principles, and serving as a haven for Jews all over the globe,” issued a petition intended “to raise awareness about the human rights abuses perpetrated by the Palestinian Authority against the Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank; to call for accountability in the foreign aid given to the Palestinian Authority and ensure it is not used to persecute Palestinians or Israelis.”

The campaign was organized by pro-Israel student activist Chloe Valdary, who told the Haym Salomon Center that “in order to give expression to the Jewish struggle for freedom, my organization ‘Allies of Israel’ has launched a campaign to symbolically divest from the Palestinian Authority.”

“Because we understand many Palestinians are employed by the PA, we do not wish to literally pull off the shelves products which are produced by the PA,” Valdary said. “However, we do seek to stand in solidarity with our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are imprisoned and persecuted by the PA. This includes Palestinian women, gays, religious minorities and political dissidents. In addition, we stand in solidarity with Jews in Israel and around the world and call upon the PA to cease sponsoring, financing, and/or encouraging the lynching of Jews and the segregation of Jews from areas that are currently off limits to Jews in Israel.”

Valdary told the Louisiana-based publication Hayride that the petition is “actually pro-Palestinian” because “we (the U.S.) send aid to the PA, and instead of using it to build infrastructure and a good community for their people, they pocket the money and actually persecute their own people.”

Jewish Group Calls Out Illinois Legislator’s ‘Pejorative’ Use of ‘Orthodox’

(JNS.org) The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America (OU) criticized U.S. Rep. Jan Schakowsky’s (D-Ill.) “pejorative” use of the word “Orthodox” in remarks at the annual conference of the left-wing J Street lobby on Monday, and welcomed the lawmaker’s subsequent apology.

Schakowsky had thanked J Street for supporting her in an election campaign against Joel Pollak, who is currently the senior editor-at-large for Breitbart News. The Illinois congresswoman said in videotaped comments, “In 2010, I had an election… an election within our community. That is, I ran against a Jewish-Orthodox, Tea Party Republican (Pollak) who made it very clear that actually Jan Schakowsky was anti-Israel because of the positions that she took. J Street came to my rescue.”

On Tuesday, OU Executive Director for Public Policy Nathan Diament said, “Bias and prejudice have no place in our American political discourse. In the context of her remarks and speaking to such an audience, the Congresswoman’s use of the term ‘Orthodox’ was a negative term—as negative for that [J Street] audience as Tea Party and Republican. This morning, upon learning about her remarks, we spoke with Rep. Schakowsky and conveyed how offended we were by the apparent intent of her remarks. We appreciate the unequivocal apology issued by Representative Schakowsky in response to our concerns. We hope such an incident will not occur again.”

U.S. lawmakers Launch Bipartisan Task Force on Combating Anti-Semitism

(JNS.org) A bipartisan group of eight U.S. lawmakers launched a new task force aimed at combating the growing levels of anti-Semitism around the world.

The group includes U.S. Reps. Chris Smith (R-N.J.), Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), who as forming members will serve as co-chairs of the task force.

In a joint statement, the lawmakers said the world is “witnessing an alarming rise of anti-Semitism” that is both “dangerous and complex.”

“Jewish populations are facing increased levels of hatred, frequently under the guise of political differences or other alibis, but in reality it is solely because of their faith,” they said. “It is the responsibility of everyone who believes in basic universal liberties and freedoms to condemn this trend and work together to root out the hatred which underlies anti-Semitism.”

Recent attacks on Jewish sites in the U.K. and Hungary followed February’s fatal shooting of a man guarding a Copenhagen synagogue and January’s killing of four Jewish shoppers at a kosher supermarket in France.

US House Speaker John Boehner to Visit Israel by End of March

(JNS.org) Speaker of the US House of Representatives John Boehner (R-Ohio) will travel to Israel later this month to meet with newly re-elected Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The speaker will visit Israel during the next district work period,” Boehner spokesman Kevin Smith said in a statement on Friday. “He looks forward to visiting the country, discussing our shared priorities for peace and security in the region, and further strengthening the bond between the United States and Israel.”

Boehner, who will reportedly lead a Congressional delegation of Republican lawmakers on the Israel visit, recently angered the Obama administration by arranging Netanyahu’s March 3 speech to Congress about Iran. The White House claimed Boehner breached protocol by not consulting with President Barack Obama about inviting Netanyahu. Boehner, along with many Congressional Republicans and some Democrats, have been strongly critical of Obama’s stance on the nuclear negotiations between Iran and the P5+1 powers.

Two States, One Opinion: Israeli Experts Say Netanyahu Consistent on Palestinians

Fresh off a decisive election victory, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finds himself in another diplomatic storm with U.S. President Barack Obama over pre-election comments that a Palestinian state would not be established under his watch. Netanyahu later clarified that he wants “a sustainable, peaceful two-state solution.” But were his initial remarks a policy change to begin with? While mainstream media outlets reported that Netanyahu’s pre-election remarks were a departure from a 2009 speech he gave at Bar-Ilan University, in which he backed a demilitarized Palestinian state that recognizes a Jewish state, both supporters and opponents of Netanyahu within Israel say that the prime minister’s policy on a two-state solution has been consistent.

J Street U Students March on Hillel

On Monday, nearly 500 college students attending the annual J Street conference in America’s capital gathered outside the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for a two-block march to the headquarters of Hillel International to express disappointment that the Jewish campus umbrella’s CEO and president, Eric Fingerhut, cancelled his appearance at the conference. Fingerhut had pulled out after learning that chief Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat, who has compared Israel to the Islamic State terror group and defended Hamas, was also speaking at the conference.

What Ordinary Palestinians are Saying About the Israeli Election

Near the entrance to the city of Ariel in the heart of Samaria lies an Arab strip mall of sorts, where Jews and Palestinians alike can get fruits and vegetables, a car wash, pet supplies, hummus, and falafel. The former mayor of Ariel, Ron Nachman, used to joke that the area is Ariel’s “duty-free zone.” It’s located right on the border of Israeli-controlled and Palestinian-controlled territory, so no one really knows exactly to whom the shop owners pay taxes. It’s also where JNS.org got a sampling of the range of Palestinian reactions to Israel’s March 17 election.

In Jerusalem, Security-Focused Netanyahu Supporters Soak in Dramatic Win

Last week in Jerusalem, JNS.org caught up Israelis who were fresh off casting a ballot the day before. Given that in the city of Jerusalem, the gap between Likud (24 percent of the vote) and Zionist Union (10 percent) was even more pronounced than the disparity between those parties in the rest of the country, it wasn’t surprising to see voters in the Israeli capital’s Old City celebrating the decisive victory by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party. After Likud defied pre-election polls in which the party trailed the socioeconomically focused Zionist Union, security was at the forefront of Netanyahu supporters’ minds. “Bitachon (security) is the most important thing. We know he won’t give away our land,” says Aaron Selam, who mans a table selling yarmulkes on the landing overlooking the Western Wall courtyard.

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