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Israel Races to Head Off UN Settlement `Blacklist' November 26, 2017 8:08 AM
Associated Press

Palestinian men work at a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel, Jan. 25, 2017.
Palestinian men work at a construction site in the West Bank Jewish settlement of Ariel, Jan. 25, 2017.
Weeks ahead of the expected completion of a U.N. database of companies that operate in Israel's West Bank settlements, Israel and the Trump Administration are working feverishly to prevent its publication.

While Israel is usually quick to brush off U.N. criticism, officials say they are taking the so-called "blacklist" seriously, fearing its publication could have devastating consequences by driving companies away, deterring others from coming and prompting investors to dump shares of Israeli firms. Dozens of major Israeli companies, as well as multinationals that do business in Israel, are expected to appear on the list.

"We will do everything we can to ensure that this list does not see the light of day,"Israel's U.N. ambassador, Danny Danon, told The Associated Press.

The U.N.'s top human rights body, the Human Rights Council, ordered the compilation of the database in March 2016, calling on U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein to "investigate the implications of the Israeli settlements on Palestinians."

The international community overwhelmingly considers the settlements, built on occupied land claimed by the Palestinians for a future state, to be illegal. Israel rejects such claims, citing the land's strategic and religious significance, and says the matter should be resolved in negotiations.

Israeli officials say that about 100 local companies that operate in the West Bank and east Jerusalem have received warning letters that they will be on the list. In addition, some 50 international companies, mostly American and European, also have been warned.

The companies have not been publicly identified, but one official said they include Israeli banks, supermarkets, restaurant chains, bus lines and security firms, as well as international giants that provide equipment or services used to build or maintain settlements. He spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to discuss the matter with the media.

The only company to confirm receiving a warning letter has been Bezeq, Israel's national telephone company. Bezeq's chief executive, Stella Handler, posted a copy of the letter sent by Zeid's office in September on her Facebook page. It accused Bezeq of using West Bank land for infrastructure, providing phone and Internet services to settlements and operating sales offices in the West Bank and east Jerusalem.

Handler angrily wrote that Bezeq provides service to all customers, regardless of race or where they live.

"The council's bias against Israel is so extreme that it has lost all relevance in the world," she wrote. "We will not cooperate with a move that is all in all anti-Israeli propaganda."

But hours later, Handler removed the post, saying she had done so at the request of the government. The Israeli official confirmed the government has asked companies not to speak about the issue. Bezeq declined comment.

Israel has long accused the United Nations, and particularly the rights council, of being biased against it.

Israel is the only country that faces an examination of its rights record at each of the council's three sessions each year. Some 70 resolutions, or about quarter of the council's country-specific resolutions, have been aimed at Israel. That is nearly triple the number for the second-place country: Syria, where hundreds of thousands have been killed in a devastating six-year civil war.

Israeli leaders and many non-governmental groups also complain that some of the world's worst violators of human rights, including Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, Congo and Cuba, sit on the council.

Some Western diplomats have said the database could set a harmful precedent by blurring the line between business and human rights on issues that are better left to trade policy than the Geneva council.

Israel seems to have little leverage over the council. But its campaign has received a big boost from the United States. The Trump administration has taken a tough line against the U.N., demanding reforms and in October, withdrawing from the cultural agency UNESCO because of alleged anti-Israel bias.

In a speech to the council last June, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley railed against its makeup and demanded that Israel be removed as a permanent fixture on its agenda. She also hinted that the U.S. could quit the council.

The upcoming release of the database could test that commitment. It has triggered a quiet, but high-stakes effort by Israel and the U.S. to try to block its release.

"We just view that type of blacklist as counterproductive,"State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said recently.

Danon, the Israeli ambassador, accused the council of unfairly targeting Israel at a time of conflict throughout the world, saying it amounted to a "blacklist"of Jewish companies and those who do business with the Jewish state.

He also said it would turn the rights council into "the world's biggest promoter of BDS,"an acronym for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement - a grassroots international boycott movement against Israel. Most of the companies linked to the blacklist are frequent targets of the BDS movement.

"What kind of message will this send?" Dannon said.

But Nabil Shaath, a senior Palestinian official, said the list is an "important step"moving from verbal condemnation to practical action against the settlements. He expressed hope that it would lead companies to stop doing business with the settlements and even lead to sanctions against those that continue.

The original resolution calling for the list stipulates only that the council's high commissioner is requested "to transmit the data therein in the form of a report"to the council.

To that end, Israel and its allies have been encouraging the council to leave the list out and submit only a basic, broad-strokes report that doesn't name names, according to several U.N. diplomats familiar with the discussions. The diplomats were not authorized to comment publicly and demanded anonymity.

The pressure campaign has shown some signs of success. After an earlier delay, Zeid's office said the release of the "report" has been pushed back again, from December to early next year.

For now, it does not appear that the list's publication would be the direct trigger that leads the U.S. to quit the council. Haley's office said it is focused on implementing reforms on the council, though publication of the list could make U.S. participation "less likely."

Eugene Kontorovich, the director of international law at the Kohelet Policy Forum, a conservative think tank in Jerusalem, said he was "deeply skeptical" the report will not be published and said the Israeli government would be better off trying to discredit the report ahead of time. "I think it's important for people to understand how bad this is," he said.

The resolution, he warned, would cause "reputational harm"to companies and put "a cloud over business in Israel." Although nonbinding, he said it could be used as a basis for future legal action. "The goal of this is to cause problems for Israel," he said.

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Poll: number of Reform Jews in Israel doubles Increasing number of Israelis support non-orthodox streams of Judaism; 63% prefer to pray in a non gender segregated synagogue; 58% believe Chief Rabbinate not contributing to State's identity; 81% of public supports equality for all denominations. Itamar Eichner|Published: 27.11.17 , 23:32 Israel's population of Jews who identify with the liberal Reform movement has more than doubled over the past seven years, despite remaining considerably low, according to a new poll conducted by the….

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The seven percent of Jews in Israel identifying with the movement marks a significant increase from the last survey conducted by the Israel Democracy Institute in 2010, which recorded a meager 3.7% of Israeli Jews hailing from the liberal stream.

Liberal streams at the Kotel (Photo: AP)
Liberal streams at the Kotel (Photo: AP)

According to the poll, 44% of Israelis do not identify with any religious stream, while 29% identify as Religious Zionist.

The lowest religious affiliation in the country is with the Conservative movement, with just 4% identifying with the liberal denomination.10% described themselves as Ultra Orthodox in the latest poll, while 5% marked other.

The poll also showed that 56% of secular and 38% of traditional Israelis participated, in the last year, in a wedding or Bar Mitzvah ceremony that was officiated by a Reform or Conservative Rabbi.

The director of the Movement for Progressive Judaism, Gilad Kariv, said that the latest statistics confirmed that despite the ongoing opposition by the rabbinical establishment against Reform Jewry and the budgetary discrimination, many Israelis support the movement.

Women of the Wall
Women of the Wall

A clear majority of the population—58% versus 33%—supports the right of Reform and Conservative Jews and of Women of the Wall to pray at the Western Wall. The figures also revealed that 49% of those polled agreed that the Kotel compromise damaged the relationship with Diaspora Jewry, while 34% disagreed.

Other numbers indicated a more progressive trend in Israeli society, with 63% of Israelis saying they prefer to pray in a synagogue that does not separate men and women. By contrast, only 11% prefer a synagogue with a partition.

An overwhelming majority, 58%, of Israelis polled rejected the position that the Chief Rabbinate contributes to the identity of the state of Israel and brings the Israeli public closer to tradition. 35% disagreed.

Among traditional Israelis, 64% said they held reservations regarding the role of the Chief Rabbinate and even in the Religious Zionist sector 28% felt the same way.

Granting full equality to the non-Orthodox denominations enjoys a high level of support among the secular public (81%) and for the first time, among the traditional populace, as well (49% versus 40%).

Equality enjoys significant support among center-right irreligious voters (41% Likud, 54% Yisrael Beytenu, and 50% Kulanu); low support among Bayit Yehudi and Shas voters (10%); and substantial support among center-left voters.

Only a slim majority support recognition of Reform conversions in Israel (48% versus 45%). Recognition of marriages conducted by Reform Rabbis is supported by a slightly higher level of support (51% versus 42%).

MainAll NewsMiddle EastPalestinian Arab admits assaulting an Israeli over falafel

Palestinian Arab admits assaulting an Israeli over falafel PA envoy to the UK recalls beating an Israeli who claimed falafel is Israeli food. Contact Editor Elad Benari, 27/11/17 05:13 Share

The Palestinian Authority (PA) envoy to the UK admitted recently that he had in the past hit an Israeli over falafel.

The envoy, Manuel Hassassian, said the incident occurred during his student days in Ohio. At the time, he recalled, he assaulted an Israeli student who manned a booth in which falafel and hummus were presented as Israeli food.

The interview aired on the Lebanese Al-Quds TV channel on October 25 and was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI).

"I said to him: How dare you? You have robbed me of my land... and now you are stealing my folklore and my food, claiming that this is your Jewish food? This is our food, the food of the Palestinian people, I won't allow this," Hassassian said he told the Israeli student.

"He was insolent, of course, and I was a hot-headed 20-year-old, so I grabbed him and hit him," he continued. "The security came, of course. You know, in the U.S., they call this an assault. Ultimately, the officer grabbed me and took me away, because I had beaten him up. They asked me why I did it, and when I told them, they said: `Palestine should be proud of you', and they released me."

He also said that "there is no temple and there is nothing Jewish in Palestine", claiming that Israelis have imposed a reality in which they created the Jewish Quarter in Jerusalem and sent "settlers" to live in the city.

The show also included a skit in which an actor played a character who said that he hated the word "four" as it reminded him of "that lowlife British Zionist Balfour", according to MEMRI – a reference to Lord Arthur Balfour, who as British Foreign Secretary issued the Balfour Declaration in 1917, which proclaimed Britain's support for the establishment of a Jewish national home in then-Palestine.

Palestinian Arab organizations have been waging a campaign aimed at forcing Britain to apologize for the Balfour Declaration. The Palestinian Authority government in Ramallah recently demanded not just a British apology for the document, but also compensation.

The British government has refused to apologize.

Is Meghan Markle Jewish? The internet is confused.

By Gabe FriedmanMay 24, 2017 12:05pm
Meghan Markle
Meghan Markle at an event at the NoMad Hotel Rooftop in New York City, April 27, 2016. (Nicholas Hunt/Getty Images for Glamour) On Monday, the British royal family announced that American actress Meghan Markle and Prince Harry are engaged and will marry in the spring. Earlier this year, multiple media outlets reported that Markle is Jewish. As of Monday morning, USA Today was calling Markle a biracial Jewish-American actress. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin quickly invited the couple to spend their honeymoon in the Jewish state.

JTA investigated the matter in May and discovered that the British tabloid behind the rumor was mistaken. Read more about the story below.

(JTA) — Is Meghan Markle, an American actress and the girlfriend of the British royal Prince Harry, a member of the tribe?

Stories in publications across the United States and United Kingdom have prompted the question. An article in the British tabloid Daily Express claims that Markle's father is Jewish; Vanity Fair, Elle UK, Tablet and many others have cited the story.

The story also says that a spokesman for Westminster Abbey, the historic London church where British royals marry, confirmed Markle's Jewish background.

"The spokesman also confirmed that Meghan's Jewish background would not prevent her from having an `interfaith' marriage there," Camilla Tominey writes in the May 14 article.

Unfortunately, for those who would love to see a Jew marry into British royalty, the claim is utterly false.

Duncan Jeffery, Westminster Abbey's head of communications, told JTA on Wednesday that the church never said that Markle was Jewish. It only confirmed that Markle could be married at the church despite a previous divorce, thanks to a rule that was instituted in 2002.

"[Markle's Jewishness] is merely conjecture on the part of other people," Jeffery said.

A source with knowledge of the situation also confirmed that Markle is not Jewish.

Markle, who is best known for her role on the USA Network drama "Suits," was married to Jewish producer Trevor Engelson from 2011 to 2013. As Tominey notes, the pair had a Jewish wedding in Jamaica (complete with a "Jewish chair dance," meaning the hora).

Markle's father is Irish and her mother is African-American. She wrote an essay for Elle magazine in 2015 about her identity (it was subsequently published in Elle UK, one of the publications that has misstated her Jewish identity). The essay did not mention any Jewish ancestry or hint at a past conversion to Judaism.

"`What are you?' A question I get asked every week of my life, often every day," she wrote.

Tominey's article is correct in explaining that there is no "legal barrier that keeps a royal from marrying someone from the Jewish, Buddhist or Muslim faith, or even an atheist." Since 2015, even those formerly despised Catholics can marry into the royal family — however, a Roman Catholic still cannot become the queen of England.

Nonetheless, we'd like to say "Mazel tov!" to Meghan and Prince Harry, who are considered likely to marry, even if they aren't actually engaged yet.

ADVERTISEMENT: Bruising easily? You may be eligible for a new study for people with Gaucher disease. Gabe Friedman is JTA's Associate Editor for Digital. Follow him on Twitter at @GabeFriedman563 Get JTA's Daily Briefing in your inbox
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