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Trump Administration to Snap Ties with Palestinians, No Peace Plan, No More Monetary Aid

By DEBKAfile

The White House has decided to quietly withdraw from all its ties with the Ramallah-based Palestinian Authority and Mahmoud Abbas. DEBKAfile's exclusive sources report that the Trump administration has resolved to scrap all ties with the Palestinian leadership in retaliation for its campaign against President Donald Trump and his Jerusalem policy.

Last week, two Arab crown princes, Saudi Muhammed bin Salman and UAE Sheikh Muhammed bin Zayed, summoned Abbas to their capitals and urged him strongly to back away from his attacks on Trump. He got the same advice from the ruler of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim Al Thani, who conferred with Washington on the subject – all to no avail. The Trump administration has therefore set out an eight-point program of sanctions, which is first revealed here:

The Israeli-Palestinian peace plan under preparation in Washington will not be submitted to Ramallah – only to Israel and the relevant Arab governments. US-Palestinian interaction is to be suspended – not just at the senior levels but in day-to-day interchanges. The administration has notified Palestinian and other Arab parties to stop addressing queries on political and economic matters to the US consulate in Jerusalem, because they will not receive answers.

The status of the PLO office in Washington will be reevaluated with a view to shutting it down. Palestinian officials will no longer be invited to Washington by the US government, including the State Department and Department of Treasury.

Above all, they will not be welcome at the White House or the National Security Council where US Middle East policy is designed. Senior US officials congratulated the senior Palestinian negotiator Saab Erekat, who also holds the PA's American portfolio, on his recovery from illness, at the same time warning him that he would no longer be received at the White House.

The Trump administration will not make any public announcement of the cutoff of financial aid to the Palestinians. Since the funds are mostly earmarked for specific economic projects, each allocation will simply be held back on the pretext of the need for a "reappraisal." The US will halt its contributions to the UN Work and Relief Agency (UNWRA), an estimated one billion dollars per annum. The US administration moreover intervened with the governments of Saudi Arabia, Abu Dhabi and Qatar with a request that they freeze or slow their economic aid to the Palestinian Authority.

According DEBKAfile's sources, Palestinian officials in Ramallah were devastated by news of the sudden cutoff of the main sources of the PA's revenue. Even the Qatar ruler, whom Abbas visited last week as a last resort to save the PA from economic meltdown, refused to release any more funding.

Despite Agreement, Mormons Continue Posthumously Baptizing Jews


A researcher says Mormons have posthumously baptized the late Lubavitcher Rebbe, the grandparents of Carrie Fisher and Steven Spielberg, and hundreds of Holocaust victims, violating an agreement to halt the practice.

Helen Radkey, a Salt Lake City-based independent researcher who has been considering the Mormon practice of posthumous baptisms for two decades, said there are hundreds of examples of Jewish Holocaust victims being baptized in Mormon churches around the world since 2012. In a report released this week, she shared names of 20 such people who had been baptized. "There are at least hundreds, probably more," Radkey, a former Mormon who was excommunicated from the church in 1978, told JTA.

The names cited by Radkey refer to Holocaust victims baptized from April 2012 and onward. In March 2012, the Mormon church, formally known as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sent a letter to its congregations reiterating a 1995 policy that members should only do posthumous baptisms on their own ancestors and forbidding baptisms of Jewish Holocaust victims and celebrities.

In addition to hundreds of Holocaust victims, Radkey claims to have found other examples of famous Jews being baptized. For example, she says the late Chabad-Lubavitch leader Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson and his father, Rabbi Levi Yitzchak Schneerson, were baptized in 2015. So were philosopher Martin Buber in 2016, and the grandparents of Spielberg and Fisher in 2015 and 2017.

Radkey found the names in FamilySearch, a website used by Mormons to trace family lineages and submit requests for proxy baptisms. Her study was first reported by The Associated Press.

The practice of proxy baptisms is a controversial one. Mormons are instructed to perform baptisms on dead relatives who did not have the opportunity to convert to the church. However, in the 1990s it was discovered that Mormons had performed such rites on hundreds of thousands of Jews who died in the Holocaust. This angered Jewish groups, which said the practice disrespected the victims' religious beliefs. In 1995, the Mormon church reached an agreement with Jewish leaders to cease the practice, and it was emphasized in the 2012 letter.

Radkey also says she found examples of family members of famous politicians, including Presidents Donald Trump, Barack Obama and Bill Clinton, as well as relatives of celebrities such as Kim Kardashian, being posthumously baptized. Eric Hawkins, a spokesman for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, said the church was doing its part to ensure there were no posthumous baptisms.

"The Church cares deeply about ensuring these standards are maintained," he said in a statement. "Each month, we receive a list of names of Holocaust victims from the [Simon] Wiesenthal Center in Los Angeles. These are added to our database of names that require a direct family connection before temple work can be requested or performed." Four full-time employees at FamilySearch monitor the site for names of Holocaust victims and others that should not be added, Hawkins added.

The Wiesenthal Center said the idea that Jews needed to be baptized was offensive. The parents of the center's namesake, famed Nazi hunter Simon Wiesenthal, have previously been baptized by Mormons. "We were sure that these baptisms were removed but we're seeing that they're not," Rabbi Marvin Hier, the center's founder and dean, said in a statement emailed to JTA. "We reiterated yet again the reasons we protested that it's insulting that the People of the Book whom God made a Covenant would need the assistance of a group of Mormons to gain entrance to Heaven."

With Few Options, Israeli Couples Turn to Rogue Weddings

By Israel Hayom

Rabbi Chuck Davidson is a criminal in the eyes of Israeli law, although in most countries his crime would not warrant him being put behind bars. His offense: conducting rogue weddings, in defiance of Israel's Chief Rabbinate.

Even though Davidson belongs to the officially recognized Orthodox stream of Judaism, he is among a growing cohort of Jewish groups running afoul of the law by performing weddings without the rabbinate's sanction. Critics like Davidson believe the rabbinate has grown too strict in its interpretation of religious law, making it unnecessarily difficult for Jewish couples to marry.

"More and more Israelis are getting married outside the rabbinate," said Michal Berman, chief executive of Panim, an umbrella group representing Israeli Jewish pluralist organizations, which perform Orthodox, liberal and secular weddings in defiance of the rabbinate.

Berman said an estimated 20% of Israelis are marrying outside the rabbinate, compared to 16% in 2010. She expects that number to keep growing, which she considers a sign of a growing lack of faith in the religious body. "There are plural ways of being Jewish and it's better to acknowledge it," Berman said.

Israel does not have a system of civil marriage, and Israeli law mandates that Jewish marriages must be conducted by a rabbi authorized by the Chief Rabbinate. That means Jewish couples wanting to marry in Israel have little choice but to undergo an Orthodox marriage.

An amendment to Israel's marriage law passed in 2013 made the punishment for anyone performing or taking part in an unsanctioned wedding two years in prison. Shortly afterward, Davidson, a 58-year-old American-born Israeli rabbi, started performing renegade weddings. He said he has conducted over 170 since then. "An Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas has more meaning to the state than me, an Orthodox rabbi," said Davidson.

The existing marriage law prevents interfaith or same-sex weddings. It also rejects ceremonies conducted by more liberal streams of Judaism popular with American Jews. However, interfaith, same-sex and civil marriages performed abroad are recognized retroactively by the Interior Ministry, making nearby Cyprus a popular destination for secular Israeli weddings. Israel also recognizes common-law spouses who share a home, though they do not have the same rights as married couples.

A poll conducted earlier this year by Hiddush, an organization pushing for religious pluralism in Israel, found that over 70% of Israelis support civil marriage. Davidson has moved into an area where even Jewish men and women who ostensibly meet the rabbinate's standards run into problems trying to marry. Such couples may lack documentation, such as their parents' wedding certificate, proving their Jewishness. Some turn to the rebel rabbi out of frustration with dealing with the rabbinate. Others may do so on principle.

Davidson estimates that around 400,000 Israeli Jews – or roughly 6% of the Jewish population – have "no marriage options" because they do not meet the rabbinate's stringent standards. One Ethiopian Jewish woman who was married by Davidson in October said she objected in principle to the way the rabbinate demands proof of Judaism.

"We're both certifiably Jewish," she said, speaking on condition of anonymity. She said she and her husband could have legally married through the rabbinate, "but we don't believe in the institution itself. I have no problem in principle with proving someone's Judaism, but the very concept of how the rabbinate perceives Ethiopian Jews is problematic for me, and I'm not willing to cooperate with an institution that doesn't consider me Jewish." Nonetheless, she said it was important for them to marry according to Jewish tradition.

The group Havaya helps Jewish couples marry outside the rabbinate by organizing wedding ceremonies for partners who are recognized as common-law couples. Havaya Director Inbar Oren said the organization has conducted several thousand weddings since it was established in 2007, allowing interfaith and same-sex couples in Israel to enjoy more egalitarian or secular ceremonies than the rabbinate permits. "People are looking for a solution to their situation," said Oren.

While sending a defiant message, these weddings are not a complete solution. Because they are not legally binding, the couples must still either go abroad or go to the rabbinate for a private ceremony. The Ethiopian woman, for instance, said she and her husband are weighing recognition as a common-law couple or flying to Cyprus for a civil ceremony.

No one in Israel has been arrested or charged with participating in an illegal marriage, but Oren and Davidson wish someone would be. "I don't hide this, I do this over the radar; I am hoping to be arrested," Davidson said. He said being arrested would raise awareness "of how insane this is," and he was confident the Supreme Court would rule against the law. "If not, I'll sit in jail," he said.

Syrian Refugee Baby Rushed to Israel for Emergency Heart Surgery


A two-day-old baby born to Syrian refugee parents in Cyprus was flown to Israel to fix a severe congenital heart defect. The baby, who was born in a refugee camp in Cyprus, was airlifted to Israel on Friday night for the life-saving operation at Sheba Medical Center in Tel HaShomer. He arrived with his father.

Israel was alerted to the baby's need after the Cypriot Health Ministry contacted Israeli Ambassador to Cyprus Sammy Revel and asked that the baby be allowed to enter Israel and receive treatment. The Foreign Ministry then asked Interior Minister Aryeh Deri for permission to allow the baby and his father to enter Israel.

Sheba Medical Center reported that the baby is hospitalized in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit in stable condition. The baby is expected to undergo surgery on Christmas Day. Following the surgery, the baby will have to remain under observation for a "period of time," according to the hospital. "Praying for a full and quick recovery," the foreign affairs ministry said in a tweet.

Israeli Farm Recreates Magi's Gifts to Jesus

By Reuters

The aromatic plants bestowed on the infant Jesus are being cultivated by an Israeli entrepreneur who aims to transform the gifts of the Christmas story into therapeutic balms and incense. Manger aside, the baby Jesus may have been swaddled in pleasant and pricey fragrances, thanks to the presents that the Bible says were given to him by the Wise Men of the East.

The frankincense (pungent and sweet) and myrrh (sharp and piney) recounted in the Gospel of St. Matthew are being grown by Guy Erlich, a businessman who hopes to revive the rare plants' use for commercial ends.

And what about gold, the third gift brought by the Magi according to the New Testament story? Some Christians believe this refers to the precious amber resin of the Balsam of Gilead, an aromatic mix resembling citrus and cinnamon that Erlich also cultivates on his farm in the Judean desert.

"I see myself as a modern Magus," he told Reuters. "I decided to focus on plants that no one else in the world grows. Since those plants, those medical plants of the Bible were in medical use for so many years, there must be something about them and it is our duty to look for it." Dried and crushed resins of all three plants smolder in a nearby censer, filling the air with heavenly smells of fruity freshness.

Such smoke was used for religious rites and fumigation in ancient times. The plants have also been known to produce balms, poultices and perfumes. The Balsam of Gilead resin, Erlich says, was used as the oil with which biblical kings were anointed.

Prof. Shimshon Ben Yehoshua, from the Volcani Agricultural Research Center and the Hebrew University's Faculty of Agriculture, says Erlich's plants are most likely the same as those from ancient times. "For the frankincense and myrrh which I believe are like the ones that were growing in the past in Israel, those are many species, but I believe that the species he [Erlich] grew has the desirable qualities," he told Reuters.

In addition to Christians interested in sampling the scents, Erlich says he has been fielding inquiries from pious Jews who thrill at the prospect of recreating the incenses that were burnt in their Roman-era temple in Jerusalem. "My plants are sacred to all religions," he said. "Now they can be a uniting factor. They can be a common ground. They can connect people."

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