ISRAEL UPDATES

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War in Israel: Update on Current Situation

July 11, 2024 - Gaza War Day 279

 

Truce Talks and Hostages

  • Numerous reports suggest that progress has been made in talks towards a comprehensive deal. The agreement would likely see a release of hostages in numerous stages, the freeing of a large number of terrorists from Israeli jails (including those serving time for the murder of civilians), and a prolonged ceasefire.
  • An emerging deal would see both Israel and Hamas acknowledge that neither side would rule Gaza once an agreement is complete.
  • Yesterday, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said that the Lebanese terror group would also abide by an agreement, even though they are not formally a party to the deal.
  • Indirect talks, facilitated by mediators from the US, Qatar, and Egypt, continue. The US says it is cautiously optimistic about the negotiations.
  • See here for the full list of those still being held hostage by Hamas.
 
 

Israel Defense Forces (IDF) Activities

  • Significant rocket fire continues in the north. At least thirty rockets were launched at the Golan Heights yesterday, and a female IDF soldier was injured during an attack by three Hezbollah UAVs. Barrages continue today, with at least one person critically injured.
  • A young coupleNir and Noa Baranes, were killed on Tuesday when a Hezbollah rocket hit their car in the Golan. The couple left behind three children. See a complete list of civilians killed since October 7 here.
  • In response, the IDF conducted widespread bombings of terror targets in southern Lebanon.
  • Since October, among the thousands of attacks on Israel, Hezbollah has launched some 400 drones at the Jewish state, some of which have been used for surveillance purposes and many of which carry explosive payloads. This number has dramatically increased in recent weeks, with 130 drones being fired in June alone. Hezbollah has also launched drones to film propaganda videos that show Israeli military bases in the north. 
  • Projectiles launched by Hezbollah since October 8 have left 28 Israelis dead and injured dozens more. They have also burned more than 12,000 acres of Israeli nature and forced 60,000 residents of the north to evacuate their homes for safety. 
  • See here for a complete list of IDF soldiers killed since October 7.
 

March for Israel 

We are proud of the 10 buses bringing 500 Ocean County participants, joining hundreds of others from our area and hundreds of thousands, for the March for Israel today in Washington DC. 

Together, we stand in support of Israel, against anti-semitism, and together as a community.

 

Humanitarian Aid

  • Yesterday, it was reported that 1,150 trucks carrying humanitarian aid for Gazan civilians – and facilitated by Israel – are waiting on the Gaza side of the Kerem Shalom Crossing, but have not been picked up for distribution. A UN spokesman acknowledged the problem and said that the UN is “doing its best” to distribute the aid, adding that once the trucks head into Gaza, they often come under attack by the local population, which leads to looting that endangers UN staff.
 

International

  • On Wednesday, July 24, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will deliver an address to a joint session of Congress. Jewish Federations of North America is encouraging members of Congress to attend the speech to stand in solidarity with Israel during its time of need.
  • Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu met with US President Joe Biden's Special Envoy for the Middle East, Brett McGurk, in Jerusalem.
  • The US Government has released about half of the shipment of heavy bombs it has withheld from Israel since May over concerns the IDF would use them in densely populated areas of Gaza. In May, the White House announced a decision to withhold a shipment of 1,800 2,000-pound bombs and 1,700 500-pound bombs.
  • See this IDF video featuring vows by Hezbollah officials to destroy both Israel and America. 
 

Stories of Heartbreak, Heroism, and Hope

  • Read this story of 20-year-old Israeli-American Edan Alexander. Edan was born in Tel Aviv and raised in Tenafly, New Jersey. He returned to Israel after graduating from high school in 2022. The oldest of three siblings, Edan is a swimmer and loves Thai and Japanese foods. His mother calls him “a great all-American kid." He planned to study business at a college in the US before he was abducted by Hamas terrorists on October 7.  Edan is one of five Israeli-Americans who are still being held captive by the terrorist group.  
  • Many of the evacuated residents of Kiryat Shmona suffer from trauma. They find themselves in unfamiliar places without the support systems they need. Especially affected are the community’s high school students, some of whom stopped attending classes or preparing for matriculation exams which are used to determine eligibility for university studies. In partnership with the Rashi Foundation, the Jewish Federation of Greater Vancouver, and JFC-UIA Canada Coast-to-Coast, Kiryat Shmona’s Education Department ran a "boot camp" to help students prepare for their exams. Spending time away from home together with their classmates and friends gave students both the academic push they needed and a chance to heal and strengthen their resilience.
 

Further Reading

In this interview, Uzi Arad, former National Security Advisor of Israel, lays out a strategy to counter Iran and offers thoughts on the current fighting in Gaza and Lebanon.

Israel’s Possible Responses to ICC Arrest Warrants

See this analysis in The Cipher Brief by former Israeli general Giora Eiland on the threat Hezbollah poses; it includes recommendations for what must happen on the international front to deter this dangerous Iranian proxy.

How the Idea of Palestine Escaped the Middle East and Took Over the International Left

The American Foreign Aid Package and Its Implications

Five Alternatives for the Future of Gaza

 

Loss. Destruction. Small Miracles

From one of our grantees' personal blog, Beth Steinberg, founding director of Shutaf:

Visiting Kfar Aza 8 months later

JUN 11, 2024

Traveling south, some 8 months after October 7th, I feel ready, I hope, to see some of the destruction wrought on that terrible day. The hard news of last week, 4 more hostages declared dead - Chaim Peri, 79, Amiram Cooper, 84, Yoram Metzger, 80, and Nadav Popplewell, 51 - the first 3 from Kibbutz Nir Oz, Popplewell from Kibbutz Nirim, and 35 year old Dolev Yehud’s body identified through DNA findings in Kibbutz Nir Oz. Yehud was buried last week, mourned by his wife and 4 children, one of them born after October 7th. Continue reading here

Special Update on Rafah

 
 
 
 
 

Israel’s Rafah Operation and the US Reaction

The US is withholding some arms shipments to Israel in response to the IDF’s operation in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. Here's what you need to know:

 

Background

  • Rafah, located on the Egyptian border, is the last major enclave deemed critical by Israel, to defeating Hamas. The IDF claims that is has disbanded 20 of 24 Hamas battalions in Gaza, but four of the remaining intact battalions and many Hamas senior leaders, as well as hostages, are believed to be in Rafah. According to military analysts, most of the weapons Hamas used to massacre Israelis on October 7 came through the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. 
  • As a result of the fighting in the rest of the Strip, an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah, including many who followed Israel’s orders to evacuate northern Gaza to safer territory in the earlier stages of fighting. 
  • The US, and many other countries, have called on Israel to refrain from attacking Rafah due to concerns over a humanitarian crisis that could result from major fighting in the area. Egypt is also worried that an attack on Rafah could see hundreds of thousands of Gazans storming the border and entering Egypt.
  • Washington has said that if an incursion must take place, then Israel needs to take considerable measures to ensure the safety and well-being of the civilians in the city.
  • At the same time, negotiations over a ceasefire and the release of hostages continue. Many in Israel have argued that the only way to get Hamas to compromise and reach a deal, is through significant military pressure, especially in Rafah. Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel had given an ultimatum saying that a Rafah operation would go ahead unless a hostage deal was reached by the end of the week.
 

Initial Incursion

  • Over the weekend, rockets were fired from Rafah at the Kerem Shalom crossing, killing four Israeli soldiers and wounding seven others. The crossing, which facilitates dozens of aid trucks entering Gaza each day, was badly damaged in the Hamas attack, and was forced to close. (Israel has since speedily made temporary repairs to the facility, allowing the crossing to reopen today, and aid to Gaza to continue).
  • On Monday, Israel issued evacuation orders to around 100,000 civilians in one area of Rafah. The warnings were sent via leaflets, text messages, and radio broadcasts, urging Palestinian civilians to move to nearby humanitarian zones in Al-Mawasi. The IDF facilitated the expansion of field hospitals and tents and an increase of water, food and medical supplies in the safe area. 
  • That evening, a low-level, pinpoint Israeli incursion into Rafah began, that did not involve major fighting.
  • The IDF reported that during the operation, the military eliminated 20 terrorists in the area, struck Hamas targets and located several tunnel entrances.  
  • The IDF also established operational control of the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing, where special forces are currently scanning the area, after Israeli intelligence showed it was being used for terror purposes. The crossing is located some 1.8 miles from the Israeli border along the Philadelphi Corridor where weapons are frequently smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. 
 
 

U.S. Reaction

  • Yesterday, US President Joe Biden warned Israel that he will stop US weapons shipments earmarked for a Rafah offensive if the IDF embarks on a major military operation there. The President told CNN, “I’ve made it clear that if they go into Rafah… I’m not supplying the weapons that have historically been used to deal with Rafah.” 
  • Earlier in the day US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Appropriations Committee the US had already paused one shipment to Israel of payload munitions due to concerns over Rafah. 
  • Nonetheless, Biden reiterated what he has repeated many time in recent weeks, and that is the US’ “ironclad” support and commitment to Israel’s security. Specifically, he told CNN, “We’re not walking away from Israel’s security. We’ve walked away from its ability to make war in those areas.”
  • Biden also said that what Israel has done so far in Rafah does not constitute a major military operation in that southern part of the enclave.
 

Moving Forward

  • The Israeli government will meet this evening to discuss next moves. While some have said that the US decision to withhold arms strengthens Hamas’s negotiating position, others have expressed confidence that Israel does have the capability of balancing its own security interests alongside its critical relationship with the US.
  • Many Israelis and others have remained defiant. One “unnamed senior Israeli official” told N12 News in Israel that, “an attack on Rafah will occur in any event. We have enough supplies to accomplish this without external help.”
  • Meanwhile, CIA Chief William Burns is again in the region trying to help the sides reach a hostage-release and ceasefire agreement, that would also halt further fighting in Rafah.

Jewish Federations continue to unquestioningly support Israel’s right to defend itself, including destroying Hamas’s capabilities to harm the Jewish state, while also strongly supporting the critical and close relationship between the United States and Israel. 


We are closely monitoring the situation on the ground and are considering a public statement.

 

Further Reading

Newsweek: Israel Has Created a New Standard for Urban Warfare. Why Will No One Admit It?

Read about the international law aspects of press access during times of armed conflict in this article by active-duty army judge, Major Emily Bobenrieth.  

David Horovitz: Silver linings in an ongoing nightmare

Surprise! Hamas has thousands more fighters than Israel initially thought

 

On 107.1:  KEITH KRIVITZKY, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF OCEAN COUNTY, discusses a fundraising campaign the organization kicked off to help raise $150-thousand-dollars for the people of Israel impacted since the October 7th terrorist attacks by Hamas, how the Federation is offering to match every dollar donated up to $50-thousand-dollars, and what it is like in Jerusalem.

We Stand With Israel Vigil 

Update from Keith in Jerusalem 

OP-ED published in Jerusalem Post 10.29 - https://www.jpost.com/opinion/article-770686

10.26
Dear Friends,

Greetings from Jerusalem.

Everyone here is in waiting mode. For some movement – a return of hostages or the start of a ground war…as that forward motion might hint that there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Until then, people are going about their days in a sort of shared state of misery, wondering whether to do normal, every-day things or to stay home, near family, and feel somehow less vulnerable.

An empty Tel Aviv promenade at 3 pm
The hostility to Israel and growing concerns about antisemitism around the world are just as troubling. Everyone in the Jewish community who is paying attention is shaken. As we should be. This is the price of family – when members of our family are suffering, we are all affected.

Bring them home
Family also comes together to help each other in times of need. I am proud to say that our Israel Emergency Campaign has already passed $100,000. We still need your help to reach our goal – and any contribution you give will be matched dollar for dollar!


Thanks to the many in our community who have shown their support so far, I am grateful that we have just made our first local emergency grants to help those struggling and in need of assistance in Israel. These include:
· Funds to our core partners at the JDC, Jewish Agency, and the Jewish Federations of North America to address a wide array of social service needs during this crisis
· Plus funds to several smaller organizations that coordinate volunteers and aid throughout the country (Lev Echad), provide counseling and support to families who have been displaced or lost loved ones (Koby Mandell Foundation), and work with lone soldiers and youth (Michael Levin Lone Soldier Center, Dror, Crossroads).  


Together, we can make a crucial difference!
Israel Emergency Campaign
Below, I share a version of an OpEd written recently to give a taste of what people are experiencing, and the trauma that exists, on the ground in Israel.
 
The most common phrase used today is b’sorot tovot – which basically means may we hear good news.
 
So I want to say to all of you: b’sorot tovot. May we all hear some good news soon.
 
Thanks and Shabbat Shalom.
 
Keith
Keith Krivitzky, Managing Director
 
 
Dispatches from a traumatized country 
 
I wanted to share with you some of the many conversations, messages, and news stories I have heard and seen since the horrific attack on October 7 in Israel. The trauma (and resilience) of Israeli society don’t always come across through news reporting on the current conflict. These are real events and conversations that happened, summarized (and sometimes translated) for clarity. Comments in italics are my own.
 
Rachel Goldberg and Jon Polin are working tirelessly to have their son, Hersh, returned after being kidnapped by Hamas from the Novo dance party on October 7. He is injured, having lost his arm below the elbow, and in need of medical attention. Join at 7:45 am tomorrow to show support as they head to the United Nations to plead his case, and that of the other hostages, to world leaders. (Jon and Rachel are friends.)
Parents of at least two dozen fallen soldiers have sought to collect sperm from their fallen children. This is allowed under a special Health Ministry rule that was enacted following the start of fighting. (Touching and chilling at the same time.)
At a recent lunch in Jerusalem, I was eating with friends who engaged in a serious discussion about where they would hide in their house if it was overrun by terrorists. When it was clear that there weren’t many good places, the discussion shifted to whether they should build out some hiding holes just in case.  
If don't have a protected room, a shelter, or an internal stairwell that can be reached during a rocket attack, find a space with as few windows, openings and external walls as possible, and that there are no ceramics, porcelain and glass that could shatter. Upon an alert, stay against an inner wall, and sit under the window line and not across from the door. Remember: the further inside the building, with as many cement block or concrete walls as possible between you and the place of the explosion, the more protected you will be from being hit by shrapnel and blast. Wait for 10 minutes to protect yourself from intercepted rockets that might fall to the ground. (From guidelines issued by the Home Front Command. Depending on where you live, you have 30-90 seconds to reach shelter after an alert.)
The City of Jerusalem and Magen David Adom are sponsoring a blood drive on Monday at Teddy Stadium. Blood type O is urgently needed.  (Magen David Adom is Israel’s version of the Red Cross. There have been many blood drives throughout the country with people waiting up to 7-8 hours to donate.)
The Jerusalem coordinating center is looking for donations of basic items like clothes and toiletries as well as volunteers to help the thousands of people relocated from rocket attacks and fighting in the south near Gaza. Many had to flee their homes, bringing little with them.  (Currently there are more than 200,000 evacuees displaced in Israel. The number of volunteers has also been impressive, with numerous and almost immediate responses to requests for help like this.) 
FYI - there is a “breast milk bank” with donated milk to provide to babies of mothers kidnapped or killed. Please spread the word.
The funeral for Netanel, a lone soldier, will take place at Mt. Herzl in Jerusalem at 12:30. His family is flying in from London - please show up to attend so that they can see he also has family in Israel. (A lone soldier is someone serving in the army, in many cases volunteering, with no family in the country. My friend went to this funeral, which was interrupted by sirens warning of a rocket attack. Attendees had to leave as soon as it was over as there were back-to-back funerals for those killed so far in the war.) 
Know who is sending messages in your Whatsapp group. An organization called “Love Israel” is asking for the names of Israeli soldiers so they can pray for them. DO NOT GIVE THEM ANY INFORMATION. These are terrorists trying to get information! (Also chilling. Whatsapp groups are group chats. There have been many such messages, including cases where phones of hostages have been used to send messages from their captors in Gaza.)
My friend recently said goodbye to a colleague who had moved to Israel to flee the war in Ukraine. His family has now moved to Kishinev to escape war here. (This is a sad irony given that the Kishinev pogroms, to which the October 7 attack has been compared, added momentum to Jews seeking to build a home in Israel where they could defend themselves.)

 
Sadly, more and more of these messages and sad stories are shared every day. 


****
PS – I urge you to demonstrate your support and contribute to our Israel Emergency Campaign . Thank you. And if you have made it this far, you might also want to listen to this radio interview broadcast this past Sunday: KEITH KRIVITZKY, MANAGING DIRECTOR OF THE JEWISH FEDERATION OF OCEAN COUNTY DISCUSSES EFFORTS TO HELP ISRAEL FROM JERUSALEM - 107.1 The Boss (1071theboss.com)

From JFNA before Shabbat 10.27:

Dearest Friends and Colleagues:

Before Shabbat, we wanted to send a quick note of –
Gratitude – In just a little over two weeks, our incredible Jewish Federation system has raised over $550M dollars for urgent needs and for the longer term rebuilding and rehabilitation of the families and communities harmed in our beloved State of Israel. More importantly, over $100M has already reached the front-line service providers and more is on the way even as we write this note. We cannot express adequately how overwhelming and inspirational it has been to watch you all spring into action and, even without knowing all the details yet of what the needs will be, mobilize your communities to support this Israel Emergency Campaign.
Determination – Our original $500M goal, established just four days into this crisis, was a recognition that the needs would be tremendous and that we had to get started right away raising the resources. We now know clearly that the needs far exceed that amount, and that our work continues. We are determined to continue our fundraising and allocations as long as is necessary to restore the Jewish State to health and prosperity.
Awareness – Even as the work in Israel continues, we face an extraordinary challenge at home. We are proud of the 123 community solidarity vigils and rallies that Federations have helped organize, all with important political, civic and business leaders there. And of course the response of our political leaders, inlcuding President Biden, has been extraordinary. But we know that being a Jew and a Zionist in our communities, in our schools, and in our businesses increasingly makes our community subject to verbal and even physical attacks. We are on the offensive, and we will be working together across the Jewish world to mobilize our communities in support of Israel and against antisemitism. 
Remembrance – As we prepare for Shabbat, our friends and colleagues in the Pittsburgh Jewish community are remembering the victims of the shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue building, which occurred five years ago today. May the memories of Rose Mallinger, Jerry Rabinowitz, Cecil Rosenthal, David Rosenthal, Daniel Stein, Richard Gottfried, Joyce Fienberg, Melvin Wax, Bernice Simon, Sylvan Simon and Irving Younger always be a blessing and may we never forget our responsibility to the safety and security of our communities here in North America and around the world. And, of course, we add to the names of the martyrs of the Jewish people the more than 1400 victims of Hamas’ attack on October 7th.
Torah – This Shabbat we read the “origin story” of the Jewish people – God’s call to Abram to leave his land, his place of birth, his father’s home, and “go to the land that I will show you.” This parsha, Lech Lecha, reminds us – even as thousands sit shiva for victims of Hamas terror and for the soldiers who defended against the attacks, hundreds of thousands of soldiers are at the front lines to restore security to Israel, thousands of doctors, nurses and aid workers are caring lovingly for the wounded – that the Jewish people and the State of Israel are one. We always have been and we always will be.
Prayer – And as Shabbat begins with over two hundred hostages still held by Hamas in Gaza, we pray for their speedy return to their families and for their health and safety. May the Holy One bless and protect them, and may those charged with negotiating their return be granted wisdom and courage in their efforts.
Wishing everyone a Shabbat of rest and calm.
Julie Platt, Chair, Board of Trustees
Eric Fingerhut, President & CEO
July 24, 2023
 
Dear Friends,

Following hours of high tension, protests and political maneuvering in Israel, the “Reasonableness” Bill that will reduce the Israeli Supreme Court’s power to strike down some government decisions passed its third reading in the Knesset, and is now law.

The new law passed with 64 votes in favor and 0 against, as opposition MKs boycotted the final vote on the bill in protest. The law stipulates that courts can no longer use a “reasonableness” standard to strike down decisions made by the cabinet or government ministers, including appointments. See further background on the new law here and see here to read arguments on why many feel it will diminish the checks and balances of the Israeli system of government.

The law passed after almost 30 hours of continuous Knesset debate that began on Sunday morning. During that period, hundreds of thousands of protesters took to the streets across the country both in favor of and opposed to the bill.  This morning, hundreds chained themselves to the entrances to the Knesset to try and prevent MKs from entering the building. Many businesses, shopping malls and other venues were shuttered.

On landing back in Israel last night from an official visit to the United States, President Isaac Herzog went straight to the hospital bed of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (who had a pacemaker implanted yesterday), before meeting opposition leaders, to try to reach a compromise. This morning the President said, “We are in a state of national emergency. This is the moment for responsibility…During these decisive hours, I call on elected officials to act with courage, and to reach out in order to arrive at an understanding.” Within the Knesset, last-minute attempts were made to amend the bill or to come to a broader compromise (see more here), but none of these efforts ultimately bore fruit.

The leadership of the Jewish Federations of North America will be meeting this afternoon to consider further steps.  In the meantime, please join our webinar tomorrow, Tuesday, July 25 at 12PM ET to hear the latest developments and examine possible repercussions. Register here. As always, please do not hesitate to contact us for any assistance you might need in your communities.

For further reading see:
Reasonable guardians? How repealing ‘reasonableness’ may affect top custodians of law
An explainer on “reasonableness” by Prof. Amichai Cohen
As judiciary fight reaches a climax, both sides set to lose


Rebecca Caspi
Senior Vice President Israel and Overseas
Director General, Israel Office

July 24:  In these crucial days when Israel's Knesset decides the future of the Israeli judiciary, the leaders of the National Institutions and the Jewish Federations of North America have sent a letter to Prime Minister Netanyahu and Leader of the Opposition, Yair Lapid, emphasizing the need for unity and peace within our home. They call for respectful dialogue, moderation, and a shared commitment to the future of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.

As partners in shaping the destiny of the Jewish people, we urge leaders to seek common ground for the well-being of Am Israel. Let us remain united, a beacon of hope, strength and unity for the entire Jewish community.

July 23 United in Support of Israel & the Latest on Judicial Reform

Dear Friends, 
Like everyone who loves and cares about Israel, we are following the news from our Jewish State today with great concern and anxiety.  
We wish Prime Minister Netanyahu a complete and speedy recovery and pray that his newly installed pacemaker will provide the health benefits that his doctors seek. 
As a vote on the first piece of legislation that would change the balance of power between the government and the Supreme Court approaches, protests in Israel both for and against the legislation continue to grow. Efforts to seek compromise also continue, including a visit by our good friend President Herzog to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s hospital room immediately upon his arrival back from his historic trip to the United States, and further meetings with Opposition Leaders Lapid and Gantz, as well as the notable involvement of Israel’s Histadrut Labor Federation. We of course hope for and encourage these efforts at compromise as the very best possible outcome for the country. 
Whether compromise is achieved on this bill or not, the divisions in Israeli society caused by this bitter debate are deep. Even as we approach Tisha B’av, the day on which we commemorate the destruction of the Temples and the loss of Jewish sovereignty for two millennia, it is apparent that the work of building a flourishing Jewish State, to which Jewish Federations are committed, is not done. Israelis with whom we have worked for years – and who have always helped us put Israel’s political debates in perspective – have been issuing dire warnings. The rhetoric that some Israeli officials are directing at segments of society that disagree with their positions is growing harsher and, God forbid, the unity of the IDF is even at risk. This contentious behavior is seeping into our own communities, and we know it would be even worse if our Federations weren’t making constant efforts to bridge the gaps and keep us all working together. 
All of us in the Jewish Federation system will devote the necessary efforts and resources to helping Israel build the social, legal and political structures that can bind the wounds of the past few months and engender the widespread support and respect needed to solve the most vexing issues the country faces. Many of these efforts are already underway, including support for organizations such as the Jewish People’s Policy Institute, the Israel Democracy Institute, our own iRep coalition on religious pluralism, and support for LGBTQ organizations in Israel, as well as many other important efforts of individual Federations. We will all work together to develop additional steps we can take to help build Israel’s civil society.
It is important to emphasize that our efforts to date on judicial reform have not been in vain. Every conversation, every meeting, every fly-in, has had an impact. This week’s Knesset session – whatever happens – is but one moment in a long-term struggle that will play out over many years. 
Nevertheless, the stakes this week go far beyond the particulars of the bill under consideration, and all sides know it. To the governing coalition, the failure to pass this bill would be a major setback. To the opposition, the passage of even a minor bill on the topic of judicial reform would embolden the government to take further steps in the same manner.
Yet the particulars do matter. It is difficult to provide a succinct summary of the legislation under consideration and why it has engendered such strong feelings because the details are complicated and because concerns about the bill must be understood in the context of Israel’s system of government, which does not readily translate to our own systems in the United States and Canada. We will delve more deeply into this subject at a webinar this Tuesday – whether the bill has passed or not – at 12PM ET. In the webinar, we will also consider the impact of President Herzog’s visit to Washington D.C. and New York.
Jewish tradition holds that the age of prophecy ended with Malachi. There are several explanations given throughout Jewish texts for this, but the one that resonates with us today was offered by Rabbi Hayyim Angel: “No longer having prophets to tell us what God wants of us enabled mature human participation in the natural covenant between God and humanity.”
We are in the Three Weeks of mourning stretching from the 17th of Tammuz to Tisha B’av. In a remarkable coincidence, the seven and one half year long cycle of studying a page a day of Talmud – daf yomi – focused during these Three Weeks on the destruction of the Temple, and especially on the opinion of the sages that the Temple was destroyed because of divisions within the Jewish people. In yet another coincidence, Israel’s President Isaac Herzog addressed a Joint Session of the United States Congress on Rosh Chodesh Av – the first day of the month of Av, the beginning of the intense Nine Days from the first to the ninth of Av. We may not have prophets, but our history, our sages and even our Jewish calendar are screaming at us, trying to get our attention.
We still have time for “mature human participation in the covenant,” but the harm that has been caused is real and will require serious efforts at repair. President Herzog has led the call for dialogue and civility. His trip to the United States was a triumph of leadership and diplomacy. We must do everything we can to bolster his resolve and help him carry this burden. We must also use all the considerable influence of the North American Jewish community to insist that all sides in Israel take a step back from their extreme positions and return to negotiations. 
In the Talmud, Rabbis Akiva and Tarfon famously debate the relative merits of study and action. Rabbi Akiva wins the argument by concluding that study is greater because it leads to action. We must learn the lessons of our Torah and our history and, as Rabbi Akiva taught, turn those lessons into action. Join us on Tuesday at 12PM ET as we continue to study and consider our role in this important moment.

Julie Platt, Chair, Board of Trustees
Eric Fingerhut, President & CEO

 July 11, 2023

Dear Friends,
Today has seen very high tension in Israel, with perhaps the most significant developments since the new government was formed just over a half a year ago. The debate and protests over the issue of proposed judicial reforms intensified dramatically, with protest groups launching a “National Day of Resistance” as a first bill moves through the legislative process.

Last night, the controversial Reasonableness Standard Bill passed in a first reading in the Knesset (in a 64 to 56 vote). Today, it will be brought before the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, where it will be further debated in preparation for a second and third reading in two weeks, after which it would become law.
If passed, the bill would block Israel's courts from applying a "reasonableness standard" to decisions made by elected officials. This standard was established by the courts decades ago, and allows judges to strike down decisions made by the prime minister, ministers or other government officials if they believe the decision is beyond the scope of what “a responsible and reasonable authority would do.” (See more about the bill and its background here and here). 

Examples of this clause's use in the past include a case in which Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman decided to unilaterally end funding for day care centers for some parts of the Haredi sector in the middle of a school year (the Supreme Court overturned his decision) and more recently, the prime minister’s decision to appoint Shas Party leader Aryeh Deri as Interior Minister and Health Minister. (Deri has been previously convicted by the courts, and according to the Supreme Court, had pledged not to re-enter public life; a claim Deri denies. See more here). The actual cases in which the courts overturned government decisions have been few, averaging less than one a year in the past quarter century.

The proposed law has been softened from its original version. The new version, currently before the Knesset, still allows judges to strike down decisions by unelected government officials, but would prevent it from having oversight of decisions of ministers and the prime minister. Opponents of the proposed change see this as giving unbridled power to elected officials, without appropriate checks and balances.

Tens of thousands of Israelis began protesting early this morning. Dozens of major roads in the country have been blocked, including the main Jerusalem – Tel Aviv Highway, one of the country’s busiest and most important corridors and the alternate route into the city – 443 – along with the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv. Police used water cannons and dragged demonstrators away from the Jerusalem – Tel Aviv Highway, and one protestor suffered a head injury from the high-pressured water. (See video footage here). Other protestors are attempting to disrupt activities at Israel’s only major international gateway, Ben Gurion Airport. In response, Energy Minister Israel Katz called for the arrest of a protest leader "for sedition and disruption of public order.” Police have detained at least 40 people for disruptions.

A crowd of several hundred people have also gathered outside the Histadrut Labor Federation Headquarters in Tel Aviv, demanding that Israel’s largest labor union declare a general strike. While the Histadrut, which has the power to shut down large sections of the economy, has not yet joined today’s protests, its leader, Arnon Bar-David, warned of possible action today.

Meanwhile, some 300 IDF reservists in cyberwarfare units have issued a letter saying they will not show up for reserve duty in protest against the proposed reforms.

As most of you know, shortly after the new government was sworn in just over six months ago, it announced proposals to launch a series of sweeping reforms to the way the country is governed. (For details, see Jewish Federations’ Resource Page here). The past half year has seen much back and forth on the issue, with the protests increasing and decreasing in intensity, according to the government’s changing stance. Notwithstanding Prime Minister Netanyahu comments to English-language media that he intends only to move ahead with those aspects of the reforms where there is widespread consensus (see, for example, his interview with the Wall Street Journal here), members of his coalition have made contradictory statements, and the process of turning some proposals into law continues, spearheaded by Netanyahu’s Likud party.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog has been working hard to get all sides to agree to a compromise proposal, and to return to the negotiating table.  For now, however, those talk have been halted. Jewish Federations have repeatedly called on all sides to join the talks under the President’s auspices (see here).

We will continue to monitor developments, and report as needed. Meanwhile, please feel free to share Jewish Federations’ comments, as well as this update.
Rebecca Caspi
Senior Vice President Israel and Overseas
Director General, Israel Office




Update on Security in Israel 5.12.23

Dear Friends,

Despite the optimism in yesterday morning's update that a ceasefire was likely, within a few hours Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) fired multiple barrages of rockets at Israeli population centers, killing one civilian in the city of Rehovot and injuring others. The rocket attacks continued for a number of hours.  While overnight only sporadic rocket-fire took place, a number of launches remain underway at the time of writing. There is wide-spread speculation that this may be a final volley before a formal ceasefire begins.

In the early evening hours yesterday, a particularly intense round of rocket fire from Gaza caused millions of Israelis to run to shelters, including in major cities in the country’s center, such as Tel Aviv and Rishon Letzion. In an apparent malfunction of the Iron Dome defense system (see details here), one rocket hit an apartment building in the city of Rehovot that did not have its own shelters. One person was killed, nine others were injured, and the building suffered major damage. See further details here and here.

So far, more than 880 rockets have been fired at Israel from Gaza during Operation Shield and Arrow, now entering its fourth day. Of these, some 672 crossed the border from Palestinian territories into Israel, with the rest falling short, or landing in the sea. Iron Dome has been activated 260 times, and has had a 91% success rate during the current operation. See here for a PIJ-produced video of a rocket being launched. 12 Israelis have been wounded as a result of the rocket fire and thousands more are suffering from various forms of trauma. Millions have had their lives interrupted. See here for an article about one family’s life under fire.

Meanwhile the IDF continued to strike PIJ military targets, and says that the terrorist organization has suffered a major blow, including losing many of its top commanders. In total, 170 terror targets have been hit. See here for a video of the IDF striking a PIJ military post and here for footage of a strike on a mobile rocket launcher. The Palestinian Ministry of Health in Gaza says that 31 people have been killed in Israeli strikes since fighting began. According to the IDF, at least four Palestinians have been killed, including children, as a result of failed rocket launches from Gaza. See further details here.

According to media reports, strong efforts are still underway to finalize a formal ceasefire, under Egyptian mediation. In an indication of the country’s willingness to de-escalate, Israeli officials have repeatedly stated that “quiet will be met with quiet.” See more here.

Jewish Federations’ partners, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, JDC, and the Israel Trauma Coalition, are addressing needs on the ground. The Jewish Agency’s Fund for Victims of Terror is providing immediate financial support to families whose homes were directly hit by rocket fire and is helping them with urgent needs. In addition to aid provided by the Government of Israel, the fund also grants supplementary aid to families affected by rocket fire, assists with rehabilitation needs, and addresses the needs of children and families dealing with post-traumatic stress. The Fund, which operates thanks to donations from Jewish Federations and others, was established 20 years ago and to date has supported 9,000 families affected by terrorist incidents and rocket fire, with grants totaling $20 million. Since the beginning of this year, the Fund has awarded grants to the residents of the Gaza border and victims of terror attacks totaling $220,000, and has also run special camps for approximately 350 children and teenagers dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder.

The Israel Trauma Coalition (ITC), another Federation partner, reports that close to 60% of residents living near the Gaza border have temporarily left their homes and are staying in areas further away from the conflict. ITC says the number of calls to trauma help lines have more than doubled in recent days, with the city of Sderot seeing the highest number of calls, by far. ITC says that the majority of the calls come from parents looking for advice as to how to calm their children. Due to the security situation, most trauma care is taking place over Zoom, but professionals visit homes in person where rockets have fallen within close proximity.

Jewish Federations of North America remain in close contact with the Israeli government, our partners, and others to monitor the situation. We will continue to update as needed.

Meanwhile, we are hoping for a quiet weekend here in Israel, and wishing you all a Shabbat Shalom.


Rebecca Caspi
Senior Vice President Israel and Overseas
Director General, Israel Office

From the Consulate General of Israel 5.11.23

At the end of the third day of Operation "Shield and Arrow,” I wanted to share with you an update on the developments:

·         As of 4pm ET, the Islamic Jihad has fired more than 800 rockets which were aimed at Israeli civilian communities, reaching the area of Tel Aviv.

·         1.5 million Israelis are at rocket range.

·         An apartment building in Rehovot, the Central District of Israel (about 20 kilometers south of Tel Aviv) was hit. One person was killed and eight others were injured. Three houses in Sderot were directly hit by rockets. No injuries were reported.

·         20% of the rockets launched by the Islamic Jihad have fallen inside Gaza. These misfires have killed four innocent Palestinian civilians, including a ten year old child. The Islamic Jihad is a threat to the innocent men, women and children in Gaza, placing them in the line of fire.

·         The IDF targeted two commanders in the Islamic Jihad’s Rocket Launching Force.  Ali Ghali, the Commander of the Rocket Launching Force, a central figure in IJ, was responsible for the recent rocket barrages launched against Israel.  Abu Deka, Deputy Commander of the Rocket Launching Force, was directly responsible for the barrage of rockets fired toward Israeli civilians in the last few days.

 

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