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Iran Uses Palestinian Conference to Spotlight Anti-Israel Rhetoric

By VOA News

Iran has held its first conference in six years supporting Palestinian uprisings, a forum that it says drew hundreds of delegates from 80 countries, reflecting the country's resurgent clout on the world stage.

The two-day Sixth International Conference in Support of the Palestinian Intifada ended Wednesday in the Iranian capital, Tehran, with Iran's president pledging more aid for Palestinians fighting against Israel. Tehran has long provided monetary and military assistance to Palestinian terrorists.

Iranian state media quoted President Hassan Rouhani as saying his people "have paid a high cost for supporting the Palestinians and opposing the Zionist regime of Israel's actions, but they will continue their support with determination."

State media said Rouhani made the comments while meeting Palestinian National Council chairman Salim al-Zanoun on the forum's sidelines. Speaking to conference delegates, Rouhani also called Israel a "fake regime" that should be replaced by a Palestinian state for "Muslims, Christians and Jews."

A day earlier, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei opened the conference by calling Israel a "cancerous tumor" and urging the Palestinians to wage a "thunderous" intifada until what he called "the complete liberation of Palestine" — a reference to the historic British-controlled territory of Palestine that pre-dated Israel's creation in 1948.

Palestinians engaged in two violent revolts, or intifadas, against Israel's occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, territories they claim for a state, from 1987 to 1993 and from 2000 to 2005. In recent years, Palestinian terrorists also have carried out waves of stabbing, vehicular and shooting attacks against Israelis, and have used Gaza as a base for 2014 war with Israel.

Iran honored those revolts by staging this week's conference just more than one year after receiving relief from international sanctions as part of a nuclear deal with world powers, a deal that took effect in January 2016. Tehran held its previous pro-Palestinian Intifada conferences in 2011, 2009, 2006, 2001 and 1991. There has been no official Israeli reaction to the latest forum.

Emanuele Ottolenghi, an Iran analyst at the Washington-based research group Foundation for Defense of Democracies, sees the anti-Israel rhetoric of Khamenei and Rouhani as more of the same. "They were vitriolic in their rhetoric against Israel before and after the nuclear deal (was signed in 2015) under the Obama administration, and now that Donald Trump is U.S. president," Ottolenghi told the VOA Persian Service. "This regime remains wedded to the idea that Israel must be destroyed."

But Ottolenghi said the ability of Iran to organize another conference in support of Palestinian militancy after a break of six years is noteworthy. "We know the regime is paying full expenses for people from all over the world to come, using Iranian taxpayer money," he said. "Iran is using money it obtained from the economic windfall of the nuclear deal to advance its incendiary rhetoric."

The Central Bank of Iran has said the country posted economic growth of 7.4% in March to September 2016 compared with the same period in the previous year. Iran's Financial Tribune newspaper said most of the growth came from increased oil exports allowed by the nuclear deal.

Delegates to this week's Tehran conference included members of Palestinian factions Hamas and Islamic Jihad and the Lebanese group Hizbullah — all designated by the United States as terrorist organizations.

The forum also drew parliamentary delegations from about 20 countries, with at least seven sending their heads of parliament: Algeria, Lebanon, Mali, North Korea, Syria, Tanzania and Zimbabwe. The Iranian government also hosted Islamic scholars from Afghanistan and Pakistan and a group of ultra-orthodox anti-Zionist Jews.

In a VOA Persian interview, terrorism researcher Lee Smith of Washington's Hudson Institute said Iran feels empowered not just by the nuclear deal but also by the spread of its proxy forces in the region. "The Iranians boast about controlling four Arab governments, in Beirut, Damascus, Baghdad and Sana'a," Smith said. "That is why they are testing the Trump administration (by holding the conference)." President Trump's administration, which took office last month, has vowed to be more supportive of Israel than its predecessor.

Smith said Shi'ite-majority Iran also is using the Palestinian issue to try to gain a public relations advantage over its regional Sunni Arab rivals who traditionally have supported the predominantly Sunni Palestinians.

"Sunni powers like Egypt, Jordan and Saudi Arabia recently have become closer to Israel, some of them more openly than others, because of Iran," Smith said. "So the Iranians are holding onto the Palestinian file, saying (to the Arab public) we represent or support the real resistance (against Israel)."

Arab League Secretary-General Ahmed Aboul-Gheit issued a statement last week reiterating support for the creation of an independent Palestinian state alongside Israel, after Trump said he was open to other ideas besides a two-state solution to the long-running Israel-Palestinian conflict.

Death Threats Against Arab Christian IDF Soldiers


A Christian IDF soldier has received death threats from opponents of the service of Arabs in the IDF, the Mako Hebrew news site reported.

The soldier received a threatening message on his Facebook page. "We know who you are, where you serve and where your parents live. When you finish your patrol of the old city, we will wait for you at the mosque, where we will stab you." Other Christian and Arab soldiers have also faced incitement and threats. A recently opened Facebook page features Christian Arab soldiers, along with the personal details of the soldiers and their families. The soldiers become victims of incitement and harassment, including being called traitors to the Arab community. The harassment can include death threats.

"This will end in murder," one Christian soldier said in a report on the campaign of incitement against Christians who serve in the IDF two years ago. "The state has to wake up and prosecute those agitators who threaten [Christian soldiers] before it's too late."

The campaign of incitement and harassment has led to Christian soldiers being allowed to change to civilian clothes before leaving their bases. Army regulations normally stipulate that soldiers must wear their uniforms until they reach their destination.

Jewish Man's Finger Sawed Off in Paris Attack


Two Jewish brothers said they were abducted briefly and beaten by several men in suburban Paris in an incident that ended with one brother having his finger sawed off by an assailant.

The brothers were hospitalized in what was described as a state of shock following the incident Tuesday night in Bondy. A case report published Thursday by the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, or BNVCA, based on a police complaint by the alleged victims did not specify their medical condition.

The kippah-wearing brothers, whose father is a Jewish leader in Bondy, were forced off the main road by another vehicle on to a side street, according to the BNVCA report. While the vehicle was in motion, the driver and a passenger shouted anti-Semitic slogans at the brothers that included "Dirty Jews, You're going to die!" the father told BNVCA based on the complaint filed by his sons.

The vehicle forced the brothers to stop their car, and they were surrounded by several men whom they described as having a Middle Eastern appearance. The men came out of a hookah café on to the side street, according to the case report published by the news website JSSNews.

The alleged attackers surrounded the brothers, then kicked and punched them repeatedly while threatening that they would be murdered if they moved. One of the alleged attackers then sawed off the finger of one of the brothers.

Laundromat App Shares More Than Just Dirty Laundry

By The Jerusalem Post

As Erez Adiri saw his on-demand laundry pickup and delivery app expanding, he began to wonder how he might bridge the gap between his company's initial seed financing and the pursuit of more ambitious Series A investments. After reviewing a number of options, Adiri realized that the perfect interim funding source for his start-up, kVisi, might lie among those customers already sharing their dirty laundry with him on a daily basis.

"At the beginning, when I [had] just started this company, I was going door-to-door myself to bring the laundry, just to check the algorithm," he told The Jerusalem Post. "While I was doing that, there were many people whom I saw several times, and they said, `This is an amazing idea; are you looking for investors?'" Over the past several months, the Tel Avivbased kVisi has raised about $150,000 by enticing its own customers to become company shareholders, in a unique equity crowdfunding campaign.

While equity crowdfunding – a mechanism enabling large groups of investors to fund start-ups in return for equity, or small ownership shares – has become increasingly popular in Israel over the past couple years, Adiri felt that specifically targeting an already loyal customer base could provide mutual benefits to both kVisi and its new investors. "When we looked at equity crowdfunding as a way of raising capital and thought of our customers – these two things together – we saw that it would be very successful and interesting," he said.

Out of its 3,000 active customers and 8,000 registered users, kVisi was able to attract about 15 to 20 customers to invest $5,000 or more each – ultimately accounting for 90% of the $150,000 raised in what Adiri describes as a pre-Series A investment round. These funds will boost the company for another six to 12 months until the firm is ready to begin looking for much larger Series A venture capital investments, Adiri said.

"For start-up companies, one of the major hurdles is crossing from seed investment to Series A investment," he said. "Naturally, it makes it very difficult to raise capital, even though they have an amazing product."

While laundry delivery and pickup might not be a novel idea, the key to kVisi's successful operation is its technology. By employing a special scheduling algorithm, kVisi is able to ensure that laundry is picked up and delivered within a 30-minute time slot, Adiri explained.

"The customer experience is very similar to the revolution of Uber on the taxi side," he said, describing both as low-tech businesses in need of upgrades. "By bringing the technology into an old economy, we are able to provide a much better customer experience."

The sheep-logoed kVisi app, which plays on the similarities in the Hebrew words for laundry, kvisa, and sheep, kivsa, requires just a few seconds of a user's time to place an order for laundry delivery and pickup. The app serves most of Tel Aviv – Salameh Street in the city's south up to Ramat Aviv Gimmel in the city's north – from 6:30 a.m. to 11 p.m., in both English and Hebrew, Adiri said.

Users typically receive their cleaned and folded clothes back from the company's central laundry facility within less than two days. While kVisi's turnaround might be slightly longer than that of some local Laundromats, Adiri said the company thrives on its outstanding customer service and convenience. In addition to sticking to the 30-minute time slots as promised, kVisi's app sends push notifications about 5 to 10 minutes before arriving at a customer's apartment. "The whole user experience, from beginning to end, is much nicer for the customers," Adiri said.

Since the company's launch in August 2015, Adiri said that kVisi's revenue has been growing by 20% each month. With the $150,000 boost from equity crowdfunding, the firm aims to continue that growth as well as to pursue different forms of digital marketing, prior to seeking out Series A venture capital investments.

Once the company secures Series A financing, the company's leaders plan to consider several expansion routes. With kVisi's economic scheme and most of its marketing parameters already proving themselves, bringing the services overseas would be one possibility, Adiri said. Another option, he explained, would be selling other laundry- related items to customers already using the app and thereby increase the average revenue per user.

A third possible area of expansion would involve selling and implementing the unique algorithm powering kVisi's prompt pickup and delivery services, he said. One particular sector in Israel he feels could benefit from the algorithm would be on-demand supermarket products. "In Israel, unlike in the US, where you have Instacart and other big technology companies, the actual big supermarket chains are the ones providing that service," Adiri said.

As the company continues to grow, Adiri expressed confidence that his customers- turned-investors would help kVisi improve its services in their new roles as ambassadors for the brand. The crowdfunders should expect to see returns on their investments in the form of either dividends, an initial public offering or, most likely, an acquisition of kVisi by a larger company in the coming years, he predicted.

After successfully raising enough money to overcome the nerve-wracking gap between seed and Series A funding, Adiri recommended that other start-ups with a loyal customer base consider doing the same. "If they have a good sense of community around them and if their customers believe that what they're doing is an amazing thing for the customers, then they have a very good shot in going and raising capital in the same way," he added.

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