Saturday, February 23, 2019

Changes at the Temple Mount in Jerusalem

From the Times of Israel:

Report: Temple Mount section sealed since 2003 reopened to Palestinians

MK Ahmad Tibi visits compound, calls for full Muslim control at Al-Aqsa and the barring of ‘settlers and Jewish politicians from the right’

By TOI STAFF and AP 23 February 2019, 5:06 pm

Palestinian worshipers gather before Friday noon prayers at the premises of the Golden Gate in al-Aqsa Mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem, on February 22, 2019 (AHMAD GHARABLI / AFP)

A section of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount that has been closed by Israeli court order for over 15 years was reopened to Palestinian worshipers Saturday, Army Radio reported.

It was not immediately clear who had ordered the reopening of the Gate of Mercy, or Golden Gate, or what was the cause for the reversal in policy.

MK Ahmad Tibi of the joint Hadash-Ta’al party visited the compound by the Al-Aqsa Mosque and said its opening was “an important and significant step.”

He added that Muslims and the Waqf, custodians of the holy site, “should be given full control of the mosque, without the entry of settlers and Jewish politicians from the right,” according to Army Radio.

On Friday thousands of Palestinian protesters chanting “Allahu Akbar” streamed into the sealed-off area of Al-Aqsa during prayers. Israeli police said the crowds dispersed peacefully afterward.

The Gate of Mercy was sealed by Israeli authorities in 2003 because the group managing the area had ties to Hamas, and it has been kept closed to stop illegal construction work there by the Waqf. Israeli officials believe the work has led to the destruction of antiquities from periods of Jewish presence in the area.

Tensions have escalated at the contested compound. Similar protests turned into scuffles with police earlier this week. Anticipating unrest, police arrested 60 Palestinians Thursday overnight suspected of “causing disturbances.”

Police accused the Waqf of trying to “change the status quo” at the sensitive site by convening in the closed area last week.

The Temple Mount, the location of the biblical Jewish Temples, and now of the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine, has in recent years become an epicenter of tensions between Israelis and Palestinians.

Palestinian fears about purported Israeli plans to change the 52-year arrangement on the Temple Mount — where the Waqf maintains administrative control and the Israel Police security control — have become a daily staple in Palestinian political rhetoric and media reports in recent years. Multiple car-rammings, stabbings and shootings have been attributed by Palestinian attackers to the alleged efforts by Israel to alter the status quo at the site, according to which Jews may visit but not pray there.

The Israeli government has insisted it does not intend to change the status quo.

New push for divestment from Cornell's pro-BDS groups

Cornell Students for Justice in Palestine are starting a new campaign to get Cornell to divest from Israel companies that they consider "war-profiteering." Five years ago they tried to get the Student Assembly to approve their divestment vote, with complete lack of success. [Their account is that a "sickeningly racist campus climate revealed itself" when the Assembly voted to table the resolution, but the account by Legal Insurrection that shows there's no basis for their claim that racism led to the rejection of BDS]. Now they're trying again, in an announcement replete with florid denunciations. I particularly like the rhetorical flourish that Cornell is guilty of being built on "stolen Cayuga land," as if that has anything to do with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
So in 2019, BDS measures will unravel differently. at this Ivory Tower on stolen Cayuga land. BDS will be put “back on the table” in the form of a Student Assembly resolution authored by SJP and backed by 20+ organizations. We will publicly name endowment investments in war-profiteering Israeli entities, demand immediate action to secure their severance, and hold university leadership responsible for complicity in crimes of apartheid.

Check out the letter delivered to President Martha Pollack Monday morning. We are thankful for the Palestine support and solidarity present on Cornell's campus.
They haven't yet named the "war-profiteering Israeli entities" that they demand the administration take out of the Cornell endowment.

Legal Insurrection, a conservative blog run by Cornell law professor William Jacobson, has more details and will I'm sure follow this story closely. I tend not to agree with him on other political issues, but I think he's usually on the mark when it comes to the BDS movement.

Netanyahu welcomes Kahanists into Israeli mainstream politics

Israel goes to elections on April 9 for a new Knesset (parliament).

Benjamin Netanyahu, prime minister of Israel (leader of the Likud Party), who has a possible indictment for corruption hanging over his head, has just organized a merger between the Bayit Yehudi party ("Jewish Home" party, including its faction "National Union," led by Bezalel Smotrich) and the Otzma Yehudit party ("Jewish Power" party). The name of the new party is "Ihud Mifleget ha-Yamin" - Union of Right-Wing Parties. As Gershom Gorenberg writes in the Washington Post, "Netanyahu’s Faustian pact with the racist right is about saving his own skin."

Otzma Yehudit has no members in the current Knesset (Israeli Parliament), while Bayit Yehudi is one of Netanyahu's coalition partners. Bayit Yehudi lost two of its leaders, Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett, when they left to form their own party - "New Right" - with the goal of uniting religious and secular right-wing nationalists.

What is the platform of the New Right party?

From the Israel Policy Forum:
West Bank Area C annexation, which would necessitate the formalization of an apartheid regime, is a central plank for the party. Other Hayamin Hehadash candidates include Shuli Mualem, an MK with theocratic leanings, and Caroline Glick, who supports annexing the West Bank in its entirety with a political litmus test for Palestinian residents. Thus, the strongest distinction between Hayamin Hehadash members from their peers in the smaller rightist lists is that Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked are telegenic and make a point of presenting a cleaner, camera-friendly image.
Bezalel Smotrich

According to the Israel Policy Forum, "The rump party left in their wake contained its most extreme subgroup, Tkuma, headed up by Bezalel Smotrich. Then the list risked splitting again, with Rabbi Rafi Peretz handed the reins to Bayit Yehudi (a job Smotrich wanted) and forced to renegotiate the umbrella Bayit Yehudi relationship with Tkuma."

IPF says of Smotrich:

There should be no mistaking just how extreme Tkuma is. Faction leader Bezalel Smotrich espouses openly racist and homophobic views without any of the usual sugarcoating. Tkuma supports Israeli annexation of the entire West Bank, going even further than Bennett and Shaked, whose aim to absorb Area C (60 percent of the land) is itself absurd. Meanwhile, Smotrich co-founded the NGO Regavim, which advocates against Bedouin building within Israel and petitions for the destruction of Palestinian homes in the occupied territories. The group already receives funding from local governments in the West Bank settlements.
What is the Otzma Yehudit party? IPF writes that Otzma Yehudit is the party of Baruch Marzel, who "got his start in the now-illegal Kach party of fundamentalist Rabbi Meir Kahane." In the 2015 election, the Israeli Supreme Court blocked him from running for Knesset. "Smotrich is pushing the idea of a merger between Tkuma, Bayit Yehudi, Otzma Yehudit, and Yachad (former Shas leader Eli Yishai’s party)."

More on the leaders of Otzma Yehudit:

Otzma is led by students of Rabbi Meir Kahane, including former MK Michael Ben-Ari, Hebron activist Baruch Marzel, Benzi Gopstein, who leads an organization opposing Jewish-Muslim marriages, and far-right activist attorney Itamar Ben-Gvir. Kahane was elected to the Knesset in the 1980s and subsequently banned on grounds of racist incitement; Marzel was his parliamentary aide.
What are the policies supported by Otzma Yehudit:
Established in 2012 as Otzma Leyisrael by Ben Ari and Ayreh Eldad, many of the views espoused by the party are akin to those backed by some of the Knesset’s most hardline MKs — annexation of the entire West Bank and unrestricted settlement construction; opposition to a Palestinian state and punitive military operations in response to terror attacks; further emphasis on Israel’s Jewish character in the education, social, and judicial systems. 
However, the ultra-nationalist party adds to those positions a host of more overtly racist ones. It supports encouraging emigration of non-Jews from Israel, and expelling Palestinians and Israeli Arabs who refuse to declare loyalty and accept sub-equal status in an expanded Jewish state whose sovereignty extends throughout the West Bank — the biblical Judea and Samaria. It also calls for a termination of the fragile status quo on the Temple Mount. 
On February 20, Bayit Yehudi and National Union (headed by Smotrich) agreed to run as a united faction, with Otzma Yehudit agreeing to run together with them but to retain its independence. 

Netanyahu's inducements for the union of the parties

This is how Netanyahu worked to unite the two factions:
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday reached a preliminary election deal with two fringe religious-nationalist parties in a bid to unify his voting bloc ahead of April elections. 
Netanyahu’s Likud party announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its Knesset list for the Bayit HaYehudi party and grant it two Cabinet ministries in a future government if it merges with the extreme right-wing Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party led by Aryeh Eldad and Michael Ben Ari.

The agreement also includes the National Union, bringing the Bayit Yehudi’s partner from the previous elections back into the fold for the upcoming ones. The three parties will now run a joint list for the upcoming elections.
Otzma Yehudit will receive the fifth and eighth seats in the united list. Netanyahu also offered the Education and Housing portfolio to the united list. 

American Jewish groups denounce the merger of Otzma Yehudit with Bayit Yehudi, with some mentioning Netanyahu's role, and others eliding it

Several American Jewish groups have denounced the merger of Bayit Yehudi with Otzma Yehudit because of the possibility that several Kahanists may enter the next Knesset if the party manages to pass the 3.5% electoral percentage: the Anti-Defamation League, the New Israel Fund, the Union of Reform Judaism, Truah (organization of liberal/left-wing rabbis in the US), and the Democratic Majority for Israel (a" new lobbying group associated with the Democratic Party which describes itself as pro-Israel and in favor of progressive values").

I haven't seen any statement from the Conservative Movement (United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism or the Rabbinical Assembly), which disappoints me. I hope they also join in with these denunciations. I belong to a Conservative synagogue.

The American Jewish Committee also denounced the merger, without mentioning Netanyahu's role in bringing the parties together:
American Jewish Committee (AJC) does not normally comment on political parties and candidates during an election. But with the announcement that Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”), a new political party formed by longtime followers of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, is now seeking election to the Knesset, we feel compelled to speak out. 
The views of Otzma Yehudit are reprehensible. They do not reflect the core values that are the very foundation of the State of Israel. The party might conceivably gain enough votes to enter the next Knesset, and potentially even become part of the governing coalition. 
Historically, the views of extremist parties, reflecting the extreme left or the extreme right, have been firmly rejected by mainstream parties, even if the electoral process of Israel’s robust democracy has enabled their presence, however small, in the Knesset. 
Ultimately, it is up to Israel’s Central Elections Commission to determine, as it has done in the past, whether Otzma Yehudit can be listed on the ballot on Election Day. 
Looking ahead to April 9, AJC reaffirms our commitment to Israel’s democratic and Jewish character, which we hope will be the ultimate winners in every election cycle.
Today AIPAC also denounced Otzma Yehudit in a tweet: "We agree with AJC. AIPAC has a longstanding policy not to meet with members of this racist and reprehensible party." 

The left-wing American Zionist group Ameinu issued a statement "slamming inclusion of Kahanists in Israeli Political Merger."
Ameinu views with grave concern the recently announced merger arranged by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu between two extremist right wing parties, HaBayit HaYehudi and Otzmah Yehudit. As part of the agreement, the Prime Minister promised that this new block will receive the housing and education ministries should Netanyahu be asked to form the next Israeli government, following elections on April 9. “It is unfathomable that disciples of Meir Kahane, an unrepentant racist whose party, Kach, was barred from running in Israel’s elections in 1988, should be legitimized and encouraged to serve in any government of Israel. Shame on Prime Minister Netanyahu,” said Ameinu President Kenneth Bob.
Ameinu is outraged by this development; it is a stain on Israel’s democracy and an affront to Zionism. There are certain ideas, policies and groups that are beyond the pale; Otzma Yehudit, a far-right, ultra-nationalist, racist party, has no place in the Knesset, much less in a potential government coalition. The mainstreaming of hate groups like Otzma Yehudit can only harm Israel’s standing in the international community and further damage the already delicate relations between Israeli and American Jews.
Eight American leftist Jewish groups also issued a statement titled "Kahanists Have No Place In The Knesset"  (New Israel Fund, T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights, Partners for Progressive Israel, Americans for Peace Now, J Street, National Council of Jewish Women, Reconstructing Judaism, and Ameinu)
This week, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, keen to shore up his electoral position, orchestrated the unification of the extreme right-wing party Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) with the National Union so that it could enter the Knesset in a consolidated right-wing bloc. This is dangerous and deeply concerning. Otzma Yehudit is the latest iteration of a political party based on teachings of racist demagogue Meir Kahane.

For decades, the consensus in Israel was that these racist extremist organizations should have no place in the Knesset. We are outraged that right-wing political parties and their leadership have reversed course and opened the door for Kahanists to enter into the Israeli political mainstream. 
Our organizations do not advocate for or against any candidate or party in any election. We stand together for the principles enshrined in Israel’s Declaration of Independence. Kahanism, empowered in government, represents a clear and present danger to those values. 
Kahane’s party, Kach, was banned from the Knesset in 1988, was outlawed as a terrorist organization in Israel in 1994, and 
still appears on the US State Department list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
Modern-day Kahanists are working to divide Israeli society by stoking racial fears. They seek to strip all non-Jewish Israelis of basic rights; many encourage violence toward Arabs and LGBTQ Israelis. These Jewish supremacist organizations often use incitement to violence to promote their racist agenda. That’s why the US State Department, the EU and the Canadian government all list Kahanist organizations as terrorist groups. 
Today’s Kahanists have been convicted numerous times for support for terror organizations and incitement to racism. Michael Ben-Ari, a leader of Otzma Yehudit and candidate for Knesset, was denied a visa to enter the US due to the State Department’s “prerogative to ban terrorists from entering the country.” 
As Americans, we have seen the devastating effects of elected officials embracing white nationalist groups. In America, deadly right-wing extremism poses a clear and present danger to our democratic society. In Israel, it is Kahanists — and the political mainstream that embraces them — that pose the most direct threat to Israel’s democratic fiber. 
We call on our colleagues in the American Jewish community and Jewish organizations to stand for democracy and equality and join us in affirming that Kahanists have no place in the Knesset.

Monday, February 18, 2019

More Google Earth images of the Saudi Arabian desert

Thabhloten is apparently a military airport, but I find the stony hills near it quite amazing.

An area of dunes, I think. 

Desert in Saudi Arabia.

Google Earth - scenes from the Saudia Arabian desert. Little compounds with trees (I think), a couple of tiny towns, and dunes in a nature reserve.  I love Google Earth.