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Israel Supporters Protest UN Rights Meeting

By VOA News
Hundreds of people from across Europe gathered in Geneva Monday to protest as the U.N. Human Rights Council met to discuss allegations of Israeli violations in the Palestinian territories. While the debate over Palestinian rights was going on inside the United Nations, a rally opposing alleged anti-Israeli prejudice by the 47-member Human Rights Council was taking place outside the premises. Hillel Neuer is Executive Director of the non-governmental organization, U.N. Watch. He told the gathering that the U.N. Council spent all last week reviewing the human rights records of many countries from all regions of the world. "Today Israel alone is criticized for an entire day," Neuer said. "The only country in the world that is the focus of its day, its debate, its agenda item. Not North Korea, not Syria, not Sudan is treated in this way." Neuer called the seven reports under review by the Council biased. He noted that some accused the Jewish state of war crimes while giving a free pass to Hamas, the ad hoc authority in Gaza. Michael Lynk is Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in the Palestinian territory occupied since 1967. He told the Council the situation in Gaza is moving from a tragic human-made crisis to a humanitarian catastrophe. He called on Israel to lift its blockade of Gaza, which he said is the source of many human rights and humanitarian law violations. "The International community has long assumed that the Israeli occupation is not sustainable and that it will end when the Israeli leadership finally comes to its senses and decides to honor its international legal responsibilities," Lynk said. "Alas, I see little evidence of this occurring any time soon. Impunity, not accountability, is the signature hallmark of this occupation." Israel boycotted the day-long session but did have a representative at the rally. The Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. in Geneva, Aviva Raz Shechter told the crowd the U.N. was harming, not promoting human rights. "The human rights council is undermining the very cause of human rights. It is an institution where cynicism and hypocrisy prevail," Shechter said. "While anti-Semitism is raising its ugly head all over the world, this place is legitimizing discrimination against the only Jewish State, the State of Israel," Shechter called for an end to this institutionalized bias. She said this double standard could no longer be tolerated. The Israeli Ambassador found support for her position from the U.S. Ambassador to Germany, Richard Grenell. The U.S. diplomat called the allegations against Israel phony. He said passing resolution after resolution condemning Israel while frequently ignoring China, Cuba, or Russia, was horrendous hypocrisy. Grenell said applying one standard to the state of Israel and not applying the same standard to others was, in his view, anti-Semitic.

Ilhan Omar, in Op-Ed, Calls Israel `Historical Homeland' of Jews and Palestinians

Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., defended her critiques of Israel as calling for a more "balanced" policy toward the Israeli-Palestinian conflict but also described Israel as the "historical homeland" of the Jews. In the same op-ed Monday for The Washington Post, the Somali-American freshman lawmaker also reiterated her support for a two-state solution to the conflict, calling for "internationally recognized borders, which allows for both Israelis and Palestinians to have their sanctuaries and self-determination. The op-ed is the most extensive articulation of her Mideast views since a controversy erupted over remarks she made at a public event last month that Jewish Democrats and others felt invoked an anti-Semitic slander. "The founding of Israel 70 years ago was built on the Jewish people's connection to their historical homeland, as well as the urgency of establishing a nation in the wake of the horror of the Holocaust and the centuries of anti-Semitic oppression leading up to it," Omar wrote in the op-ed. "We must acknowledge that this is also the historical homeland of Palestinians," Omar said, reiterating her support for a two-state solution. "And without a state, the Palestinian people live in a state of permanent refugee-hood and displacement. This, too, is a refugee crisis, and they, too, deserve freedom and dignity." Her staff said the op-ed was a bid to explain her positions. Ilhan had been under fire after saying she felt pressured to pledge "allegiance" to Israel, which critics said invoked anti-Israel accusations of dual loyalty. She had also faced criticism for previous tweets that suggested that U.S. Mideast policy was exclusively influenced by the pro-Israel lobby AIPAC and that Israel had "hypnotized" the world into taking its side. Michael Koplow of the Israel Policy Forum, which advocates for a two-state solution, tweeted in response to Omar's op-ed: "I'm glad that Ilhan Omar's op-ed stresses the importance of two states and backs Israel's fundamental legitimacy. As before, the question of whether this means she has genuinely reconsidered her previous language will be proven more by what she says in her unscripted moments."

Fatah says Hamas, Amid Growing Tensions, Physically Broke Spokesperson's Arms and Legs

By the Jerusalem Post
A senior Fatah official in the Gaza Strip is reported to be in serious condition after being attacked by unidentified gunmen. Atef Abu Seif, the Fatah spokesman in the Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip, was reportedly kidnapped near his home in Bet Lahia on Monday afternoon, Fatah officials said. According to the officials, the gunmen who kidnapped Abu Seif broke his arms and legs. It was not clear who was behind the attack on the Fatah official. However, Fatah officials accused Hamas of being behind the assault. The incident came amid mounting tensions between Hamas and Fatah, especially in the wake of recent protests against the high cost of living and taxes in the Gaza Strip. The protests are being held under the banner "We Want to Live!" Hamas has accused Fatah of inciting Palestinians to take to the streets as part of a "conspiracy" to overthrow the Hamas regime in the Gaza Strip. A Hamas official further said that Fatah and its supporters have been trying to hijack the protests as part of a plan to stage a coup against the Hamas rulers of the Gaza Strip. In a statement, Fatah strongly condemned the assault on Abu Seif and Hamas's repressive measures against the protesters against economic hardship. The Hamas crackdown is an assault on the legitimate Palestinian leadership and the PLO, the statement said, accusing Hamas policemen of being behind the "assassination attempt" targeting the Fatah spokesman. Ma'moun Sweidan, an adviser to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, also held Hamas responsible for the assault. Hamas, he charged, is "tampering with the social fabric in the Gaza Strip and the future of national unity." The Palestinian Independent Commission for Human Rights also issued a statement strongly denouncing the assault on the senior Fatah official, dubbing it a "dangerous escalation." The group called on Hamas to halt its human rights violations, including arrests and beatings of demonstrators and incitement against journalists and human rights activists. Meanwhile, Hamas on Monday accused the PA security forces of devising a scheme, together with international parties, to instigate unrest in the Gaza Strip. According to Hamas, the scheme, which is being orchestrated by senior Fatah officials, is being waged on social media and is also aimed at driving a wedge between Hamas and other Gaza-based Palestinian factions. The protests against the bad economic situation in the Gaza Strip, which began last week, are seen as a sign of growing discontent with Hamas. Hamas security forces have arrested hundreds of Palestinians who participated in the protests, including several Palestinian journalists who were released after being warned not to cover the anti-Hamas demonstrations.

Leading Architects Urge Netanyahu to Cancel Jerusalem Cable Car Plan

By Israel Hayom
A group of leading international architects is appealing to Israel's government to halt its controversial plan to build a cable car to Jerusalem's Old City. Developers say the proposed project is meant to relieve snarling traffic and will ferry some 3,000 tourists an hour directly to the Old City, in east Jerusalem. It follows a series of Israeli projects in the combustible city that have angered Palestinians. Some 30 architects, including Santiago Calatrava, famed for designing Jerusalem's Chords Bridge, celebrated American architect Thom Mayne and Israeli-born Moshe Safdie added their voices to public outcry against the project Sunday in a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. It called the cable car a threat to Jerusalem's "ancient landscape and precious heritage," and accused powerful interest groups of prioritizing tourism and political agendas over religious and cultural values.

US Supreme Court Won't Hear Touro Synagogue Case

The U.S. Supreme Court will not rehear a case that gave control of America's oldest synagogue building and its pricey artifacts to the building's historic trustees. The high court on Monday declined to take up the case over who owns the Touro Synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, and its $7.4 million silver Torah ornaments called rimonim. In August 2017, the Boston Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Manhattan's Shearith Israel, the oldest Jewish congregation in the country, giving it control of the 250-year-old Touro Synagogue, the religious home of Congregation Jeshuat Israel. That decision also gave the Manhattan synagogue ownership of the historic rimonim that Jeshuat Israel had hoped to sell to build an endowment. Touro was founded in the 18th century by a Sephardic Jewish community whose numbers declined over the years. Shearith Israel, a Sephardic congregation that was established in 1654 and has worshipped at various sites in Manhattan, has served as a trustee of the Touro Synagogue since the early 19th century. Jeshuat Israel, founded in 1881 as Ashkenazi immigrants began flooding America from Eastern Europe, has worshipped at Touro for more than a century. The current dispute began in 2012 when Jeshuat, which still holds regular services at Touro, attempted to sell one set of the silver ornaments to establish an endowment to maintain a rabbi and care for the building, which was designated a national historic site in 1946. Shearith Israel sued to stop the sale and threatened to replace Jeshuat with another tenant.

Telegrass Made Drug-Dealing in Israel Easy

While the issue of allowing legalizing cannabis is gaining a central place in the Israeli election campaign, police launched a huge operation against the drug-dealing network Telegrass, which operates within the encrypted messaging app Telegram. Police arrested 42 of the channel's operators - 39 in Israel and three abroad - including Telegrass founder and manager Amos Dov Silver, a US resident who was detained during a visit to Ukraine. The Telegrass group was established two years ago, in March 2017, and immediately revolutionized the cannabis trade in Israel. The group enabled sellers and growers of cannabis to present their wares to customers (type, price, the manner of collection, etc.) and directly coordinate transactions with them. Anyone wanting to buy cannabis went to the group, contacted one of the vendors who posted there, sent them a copy of their identity card and a selfie so that the vendor could verify that the would-be buyer was not an undercover cop, and a short time later a messenger would appear with the drugs. Due to the ease with which it was possible to buy and sell, thousands of sellers and hundreds of thousands of buyers joined the group, which became the main drug-dealing arena in Israel. The transactions via Telegrass were estimated to have reached into the hundreds of millions of shekels, and over time the channel expanded and facilitated drug deals abroad too. The dealers, some 10,000 worldwide, paid the channel's managers NIS 420 (approx. $115) for the right to sell their drugs via the app. In total, the dealers paid the channel managers some NIS 2 million (approx. $550,000) every month. The police invested great effort in cracking down on the network, which operated through the secure Telegram application and employed programmers to encrypt the connection between merchants and consumers. At the end of a long and covert investigation, according to investigators from the Lahav 433 crime unit, the organizational structure of the network was smashed, and the identities of the key operators revealed, at which point the investigation stopped being undercover and the 42 senior channel operators were arrested. The 39 suspects arrested in Israel were brought to the Magistrate's Courts in Rishon Lezion and Nazareth for remand extensions. During the remand hearings, police declared, for the first time in Israel, a crime organization was operating on the Internet. The detainees are suspected of a variety of offenses, including "managing and financing a criminal organization, trading and supplying dangerous drugs within the framework of a criminal organization, mediating dangerous drug business within the framework of a criminal organization, disrupting legal proceedings within a criminal organization, conspiracy to commit crime, tax evasion and other offenses." Police said that Telegrass did not stop at selling cannabis and hashish, but also sold hard drugs. Also, the police said, drug dealers were selling drugs to minors. "Most of the suspects belong to the highest echelons of the organization, including its head, his three deputies and senior officials," police said. "Today we are talking about one of the most important and central infrastructures for dealing in dangerous drugs in Israel, and as mentioned above, dozens of senior management members, thousands of merchants and tens of thousands of users have joined the company," police said. "The members of the network acted as a criminal organization for all intents and purposes in an orderly and methodical manner over a long period, in which they managed to trade in dangerous drugs of various kinds, including cocaine, MDMA and ecstasy, in addition to huge quantities of hashish and marijuana." Meanwhile, the head of Northern Command's intelligence division, Chief Superintendent Moshe Sheetrit, sought to calm worried cannabis users. "We are not targeting users," Sheetrit said, "at the moment they are not part of our operation. They need to worry about their continued drug use, and we hope that this app won't be available in the future." Attorneys for the defendants denied that their clients were connected to a criminal organization.

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