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Israeli Activists Call for Synagogue on Temple Mount

Activists advocating Israeli rights on the Temple Mount held an emergency meeting on Sunday evening to discuss the Muslim Waqf's recent illegal takeover of the Golden Gate compound. The Golden Gate area has been closed under a court order since 2003 after it was used for terrorism, but the Waqf and Muslim worshipers re-accessed the area and essentially established another mosque, the fifth on the Temple Mount. Several dozen Israeli activists assessed the urgent situation, at the end of which they called for Israeli mass visits to the Temple Mount on Thursday "to strengthen the Jewish hold on the holy site." They also issued a demand for a synagogue on the Temple Mount. Based on "the violation of the status quo on the Temple Mount," the activists called for the implementation of the long-standing demand of the rabbis headed by the late Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu to establish a synagogue on the Temple Mount at the Sha'ar HaRachamim area, at which the Muslims recently established another mosque. The assembly also issued a call to have the Waqf declared an illegal organization and to have it banned from the Temple Mount. The participants in the emergency conference also called on Israeli political parties to demand the permission of Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount as a precondition for any coalition agreement. Finally, the conference called upon the government to enact regulations required to define the Temple Mount as the holiest site for the Jewish people and to implement rules permitting Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount, which is currently banned along with any other form of non-Muslim worship. Currently, any attempt by a Jew to pray is promptly thwarted by the Waqf and the police, and encounters can end with the arrest of Jewish worshipers. The Muslim leadership alleges that Israel wants to keep the Golden Gate sealed off for Muslims " to give Jewish fanatics, who call for rebuilding their temple inside Al-Aqsa compound, free access and presence in the area." The Muslims, as well as the Hamas terror organization, have threatened an outbreak of violence if Israel attempts to re-shut the area.

US THAAD Deployed for First Time in Israel for Joint Drill

By Reuters

The U.S. military has deployed its most advanced air and missile defense system to Israel for the first time, the U.S. and Israeli military officials said on Monday. The deployment, which began in March, was intended to test the U.S. military's ability to deploy such weapons around the world rapidly, said a spokeswoman for U.S. European Command. Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed the arrival of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system as a sign of the U.S. commitment to Israeli security. "The American THAAD system is considered among the most advanced systems in the world, and together with our defense systems, we are stronger in dealing with threats, close or distant, emanating from all areas of the Middle East," he said.

The move comes amid increased tensions between Israel and Iran over Israel's bombing campaign in Syria and comments in which Iran's foreign minister said he could not rule out the possibility of military conflict between the two countries. The U.S. military said the decision to rapidly move the THAAD system to Israel was intended "as a demonstration of the United States' continued commitment to Israel's regional security." "THAAD is the most advanced integrated air and missile defense system in the world, and this deployment readiness exercise demonstrates that U.S. forces are agile and can respond quickly and unpredictably to any threat, anywhere, at any time," U.S. European Command said in a statement. As part of the deployment, U.S. forces will work at various locations in Europe, the United States and in Israel to operate the system in close cooperation with the Israel Defense Forces, it said. U.S. officials declined to say how quickly the system was moved to Israel from its home base at Fort Bliss, Texas. Israeli military spokesman Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus said the deployment differed from previous simulated U.S.-Israel joint military exercises and involved tactical coordination on the ground. He said all of the components of the THAAD system were at an air force base in the Negev desert, in southern Israel, and would soon be moved to an undisclosed site in southern Israel. "The advantage from the Israeli point of view is that we have an opportunity to integrate it into our systems and simulate different scenarios," he said. The IDF said the deployment was defensive and not related to any specific current event. Saudi Arabia agreed in November to buy 44 THAAD launchers, missiles, and related equipment from the United States in a separate deal valued at $15 billion.

Vatican to Open Secret WW2 Archives of its Wartime Pope

By the Jerusalem Post

Pope Francis announced on Monday that documents from the Vatican secret archive regarding the Pope Pius XII's actions during the Holocaust era would be open to scholars in March 2020 to help shed light on the controversial period for the Vatican and the Catholic Church. Pius XII has long been criticized by Jewish organizations for failing to do enough to stop the Nazi genocide during World War II and for failing to speak out amid the horrors of the Holocaust. However, Catholic leaders have pointed to certain actions taken by Pius and other Catholic clergy in assisting European Jews as evidence of efforts that were made at the time. They argued that broad action by the Catholic Church could have resulted in severe reprisals against Catholics in Europe by the Nazi regime. On Monday, Pope Francis said that Pius XII had guided the Catholic Church "in one of the saddest and darkest moments of the 20th century," and that he had sometimes been criticized in an "exaggerated" manner. He said that Pius XII's actions had been studied in depth and "sometimes discussed" with "prejudice or exaggeration." The pontiff said that the opening of the archives would allow "serious and objective historical research" to "evaluate, in the proper light and with appropriate criticism, the praiseworthy moments of the Pontiff and, without any doubt, also moments of serious difficulties, of tormented decisions," which he may have seemed to some as "reticence" but were attempts to keep humanitarian initiatives alive. Rabbi David Rosen, the International Director of Inter-religious Affairs for the American Jewish Committee (AJC), said that he hoped the Vatican's archival documents from the Holocaust era would provide a clearer picture of Pope Pius XII's actions. The documents are expected to include various letters and messages between the pope and other Vatican officials at the time, with Catholic clergy throughout Europe. Communications between the Vatican with pious Catholics who served as senior military or government officials, and with Catholics of lesser rank who may have provided reports of various kinds to church officials, may also be included. The previous pontiff, Pope Benedict XVI had indicated shortly before he retired that he wished to open the Holocaust-era archives, while Pope Francis's understanding of the Jewish community was also likely a factor, said Rosen. Prefect of the Vatican Secret Archives Bishop Sergio Pagano also reportedly requested time to catalog a large number of documents before their release. Rosen also noted that the AJC itself has been raising the issue with the Vatican for the past 30 years. Holocaust historian and head of the Simon Wiesenthal Center in Israel Dr. Efraim Zuroff noted that Pius XII never specifically denounced the Nazi persecution and the mass murder of European Jews, or called on Catholics to help save Jews from persecution. Zuroff said that "two cardinal questions" needed to be answered regarding Pius XII's papacy. "The first is what information reached the Vatican regarding Holocaust crimes, and the second is when that information reached Pius XII?" asked Zuroff. He pointed out that papal nuncios of the Vatican who served as ambassadors were active in many countries where Jews were persecuted and murdered, and that he would have received "accurate information regarding the fate of the Jews… at a relatively early date, most probably before such news reached the Allies."

Israel's Moon Mission Carries the Story of Humanity

By YnetNews & The Media Line
Israel's first spacecraft, launched last week in the first privately funded lunar mission, is carrying a small DVD containing the building blocks of human civilization in 30 million pages of information, Newsweek Magazine reported. The unmanned robotic explorer named Beresheet—Hebrew for the word "genesis"— lifted off from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Thursday atop a Falcon 9 rocket launched by the California-based entrepreneur Elon Musk's SpaceX Company. According to Newsweek, the archive is dubbed the "lunar library" and is meant to be a sort of civilization backup for future generations. "One of the primary evolutionary challenges that we face is amnesia about our past mistakes, and the lack of active countermeasures to repeating them," Nova Spivack, co-founder of Arch Mission Foundation, a Los Angeles-based nonprofit that backed the mission, told NBC. "For the survival of our species, we need to find ways to raise our awareness of what worked and didn't work, and we need to ensure it is shared with the people of the future," Spivack added. The lunar archive is designed to last at least six billion years, far longer than any written records. "It encourages people to reflect on humankind's place in the universe," said Paul Davies, director of the Beyond Center for Fundamental Concepts in Physics at Arizona State University, adding that the archive served a largely symbolic purpose. The library reportedly includes a collection of songs, children's drawings and writings about Israeli culture and history. It also contains the entire English-language version of Wikipedia and a guide to 5,000 languages with 1.5 billion sample translations, according to Newsweek. The spaceship, which is about the size of a washing machine, will orbit the Earth in increasingly wider trajectories until it enters the moon's gravitational field and is expected to reach its destination in mid-April. Beresheet faces hurdles ahead of its historic moon landing. Industry experts say crucial challenges remain before the planned landing of the spacecraft; the probe already ran into technical difficulties when its computer system unexpectedly rebooted, causing the craft to miss a scheduled maneuver to send it into an elliptical orbit around the Earth. Eran Schmidt, Deputy Project Manager of SpaceIL and Head of Ground Operations, conceded that other problems remain unresolved. "We're getting measurements, but we need to filter (out ones that are incorrect)," Schmidt said. "We're managing to work with this issue, but it does present a small risk to the navigation. Second, we've had several computer resets (which were likely) the result of…radiation. We are trying to find a way that even if this occurs before a maneuver, we will not have to abort." Schmidt said that the major challenges still lie ahead of the scheduled landing, specifically a process known as "lunar capture." During this phase, Beresheet will be pulled into the moon's orbit by its gravity. This is expected to take place in early April and requires "perfect timing and positioning" roughly 250,000 miles away, according to Schmidt. "The landing itself is a huge, huge test," he said. "We are going to send a command to the spacecraft to start (descending), and afterward we will have 20 minutes when everything will work autonomously. So we need the sensor measurements to be good, the control system to act properly and we hope that we will not land in the middle of a crater on a rock. We are not in a position to forego the landing if we see something is not working correctly."

Ikea Israel Sued for Erasing Women from Catalog

By Haaretz
Ikea is being sued for a form of gender discrimination after it published a special furniture catalog in Israel that deliberately left out photos of women and girls. The catalog was created especially for the local ultra-Orthodox community. As a first step in the legal battle, Jerusalem District Court was asked recently to approve the multimillion dollar suit as a class action. The case was filed by Hannah Katsman, a modern Orthodox woman from the central Israeli town of Petah Tikva, and the Israel Religious Action Center — the advocacy arm of the Reform movement in the country. After discovering the catalog in her mailbox, Katsman alerted the center, a leading advocate in the battle against gender discrimination on religious grounds. According to Orly Erez-Likhovski, director of the legal department at the center, this is the first time an international company has faced a class action suit for such discrimination in Israel. The suit was filed against the Israeli division of Ikea and its director, Shuki Koblenz. "The total exclusion of women and girls from the catalog sends a serious and difficult message that women have no value and there is something wrong with their presence, even in the family-home space depicted in the catalog," according to the suit. "This discrimination and exclusion have severely insulted, angered and traumatized those who received the catalog," it added. "The damage caused by this exclusion affects much larger circles and has the potential to harm the status of women in society in general and in ultra-Orthodox society in particular." The controversial catalog was distributed for a limited period in 2017. Following complaints, Ikea in Israel announced it would refrain from distributing catalogs that exclude women in the future. A subsequent catalog distributed in Israel that also targeted the ultra-Orthodox population had no photographs of people in it at all. The main headquarters of Ikea in Sweden had not been aware of the special catalog and issued an apology immediately. Israel is the only country in the world in which images of women were intentionally removed from one of its catalogs. An attempt to publish a similar catalog in Saudi Arabia was thwarted, according to Erez-Likhovski. The petitioners have demanded that Ikea pay compensation to close to the 10,000 ultra-Orthodox women they estimate have been harmed by its actions. They are asking for minimum damages of 1,500 shekels ($415) for each woman represented in the class action. Also, they are demanding that Ikea resume distributing its regular catalog, with photos of both women and men, in the ultra-Orthodox community. To quantify the damages, the center commissioned a survey of women in the ultra-Orthodox community. According to its findings, close to 20% of those women questioned who had seen the catalog took offense at its content. Last September, an Israeli court awarded 1 million shekels in damages in a class action suit brought against an ultra-Orthodox radio station that refused to put women on the air. The suit was filed by a group of Orthodox feminists, Kolech, on behalf of ultra-Orthodox women who as a result of this practice could not hear the voices of women on an ultra-Orthodox radio station called Kol Barama. The center represented Kolech in that case as well. "The conventional wisdom is that ultra-Orthodox women are fine with being excluded," said Erez-Likhovski. "What we have learned from these cases is that that is a complete myth."

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