Israeli Olympians kicked off bus to Rio games by Lebanese delegation


Lebanese Olympians refused to ride on a bus with Israeli athletes to get to the opening ceremony of the Rio 2016 summer games.

When the Israeli delegation of athletes and coaches tried to board the bus Friday to Maracana stadium here, the head of the Lebanese delegation blocked the entrance.

Israeli sailing coach Udi Gal first described the incident in a Hebrew Facebook post.

“I kept on insisting that we board the bus and said that if the Lebanese did not want to board as well they are welcome to leave,” Gal wrote Friday.

“The bus driver opened the door, but this time the head of the Lebanese delegation blocked the aisle and entrance. The organizers wanted to avoid an international and physical incident and sent us away to a different bus.”

The head of the Lebanese delegation, Saleem a-Haj Nacoula told Lebanese media that the Israelis were “looking for trouble” by insisting on boarding the same bus when they had their own transportation. Nacoula was praised in Lebanon as a hero.

The head of the Olympic Committee of Israel, Gili Lustig, said: “The organizing committee was the one that determined the travel arrangements, and which bus we would take to the ceremony. The organizing committee saw the rude behavior of the Lebanese delegation head and immediately provided an alternate bus. The behavior of the Lebanese delegation head is in conflict with the Olympic truce.”

On Sunday, Israel’s Sports and Culture Minister Miri Regev called on the International Olympic Committee to condemn the Lebanese delegation’s alleged actions. “I am incensed by the incident. It is anti-Semitism pure and simple, and the worst kind of racism,” she told Israel Radio.

Regev, who is not observant, did not attend the ceremony to avoid violating Shabbat.

The Israeli delegation made it to the opening ceremony, and rhythmic gymnast Neta Rivkin carried the national flag to lead the country’s largest-ever delegation of 47 athletes.

A ceremony to honor the 11 Israelis killed at the 1972 Munich Olympics is to be held at Rio’s City Hall on Aug. 14. It will be co-led by the International Olympic Committee and the Olympic committees of Israel and Brazil. The widows of two Israeli athletes who were killed that year — Israeli weightlifter Yossef Romano and fencing coach Andre Spitzer — will join in the lighting of 11 candles.

“It is disappointing that there will be no Israeli ambassador in Brazil during the Olympic Games,” the Brazilian Israelite Confederation President Fernando Lottenberg said in a statement, citing the diplomatic row after Brasilia rebuffed Israel’s choice of a former settler leader last year to take over the post.

Three injured in Palestinian stabbing attack in central Israel


Three Israelis, including an 80-year-old woman, were injured in a stabbing attack in central Israel.

The stabber attacked a man on a bus in Rishon LeZion and then two others in the city’s central bus station on Monday afternoon.
Two of the victims are in serious condition, according to Magen David Adom. The elderly woman was stabbed in the back.

The attacker, a 19-year-old from Hebron in the West Bank, was apprehended after being detained by bystanders. Israel Police officers had to protect him from being assaulted by a growing mob.

Earlier Monday, Palestinian assailants allegedly attempted to stab a soldier near the West Bank city of Jenin. One of the assailants was shot and killed at the scene, at the Gilboa crossing. The two assailants had been asked to stop for a security check.

Also Monday, a Palestinian man, 22, from eastern Jerusalem was arrested after he assaulted a tour guide with a bottle outside the Jaffa Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem. The attack was caught on video.

Israeli soldiers kill Jewish man they thought was terrorist, echoing Beersheba incident


Israeli soldiers shot and killed a Jewish man in Jerusalem that they believed to be a terrorist, echoing a similar case in Beersheba.

Hours earlier on Wednesday, four Jewish-Israeli men were arrested in the assault of an Eritrean man in the wake of a terrorist attack in Beersheba. The Eritrean was attacked after he was shot dead by a security guard who believed he was a terrorist.

The Jewish man was killed late Wednesday night. While on a bus in Jerusalem, he asked Israeli soldiers boarding the bus to show him identification, believing them to be terrorists.   The soldiers asked in exchange for his national identification card, according to Israel Police. He began to argue with the soldiers and then tried to grab the gun of one of them. One of the soldiers shot the man, believing him to be a terrorist.

The man reportedly yelled “I am ISIS” as he attempted to grab the soldier’s gun. The bus driver attempted to subdue him with a Taser before he was shot, according to the police.

In the Beersheba case, the arrests were made in the assault of Haftom Zarhum, 29, who was shot during the Oct. 18 stabbing attack in the central bus station. While Zarhum was lying in a pool of his own blood, he was kicked and taunted by bystanders who believed he was a terrorist.

The men arrested are not suspected of killing Zarhum; the results of an autopsy showed that he died as a result of the gunfire. On Thursday, they were released on bail.

An Israeli soldier was killed and 10 people were wounded in the Beersheba attack.

Bulgarian police ID tour bus attacker through DNA


Bulgarian police identified a Lebanese-Canadian man as the bomber of an Israeli tour bus.

The identification came from DNA evidence connected to the July 2012 attack at the Burgas airport on a bus full of Israeli tourists. Five Israeli tourists and the Bulgarian bus driver were killed.

The DNA belongs to Hassan El Hajj Hassan, a Lebanon-born Canadian citizen who arrived in Bulgaria at the end of June 2012, the Sofia News Agency reported. The evidence came from a baseball cap found in his room at a hotel in Bulgaria’s Black Sea resort of Nesebar. He is believed to have detonated the bomb in the backpack of the suicide bomber on the bus.

Israel has blamed the Lebanese-based terror group Hezbollah and Iran for the attack.

Maryland school bus strikes, kills Holocaust survivor


A school bus killed a 91-year-old Holocaust survivor as he was crossing a street in a Maryland suburb of Washington.

Elia Miranski was using a walker when the bus hit him in Silver Spring near Washington D.C., on Wednesday, the Silver Spring Patch news site reported. He died later that day in a hospital.

The bus was returning students to Hammond Middle School in Howard County  after a field trip to the White House, according to police. None of the 14 students or two chaperones on board were hurt, nor was the driver.

The school brought in crisis counselors for students and parents, the WBALTV television channel reported.

Authorities said Miranski had safely crossed the southbound lanes of Columbia Pike and was attempting to cross the northbound lanes when he was struck, CBS reported.

Montgomery County police believe the first two lanes of northbound traffic crossed by Miranski were stopped on a red, left-turn arrow. The bus was traveling on a green signal when it struck the man. The driver was identified by CBS as 52-year-old Lori Jean Latimer of Elkridge and the incident is under investigation.

Miranski, who was born in Poland, had escaped from German soldiers during the Holocaust, the Washington Post reported. He later fought in World War II in the Soviet military.

Last May, Miranski gave the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum an oral account of his escape. The recording is available on the museum’s website.

Gunman kills five in Santa Monica, shot dead by police


A gunman dressed in black killed five people in a string of shootings through the seaside California town of Santa Monica on Friday before he was shot dead by police in a community college library, law enforcement officials said.

Five other people were wounded, one of them critically, in the shooting rampage that unfolded just a few miles from where President Barack Obama was speaking at a political fundraiser elsewhere in Santa Monica, west of Los Angeles.

As the gunman lay dead on a sidewalk outside the Santa Monica College library, a second individual was taken into custody near the campus and described by police as a “person of interest” in the case. He was later released.

Police initially said six people were killed by the gunman, who was described only as a man between the ages of 25 and 30.

Obama completed his remarks at his event without interruption and left for a summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping near the desert resort community of Palm Springs. The bloodshed did not appear to be related to Obama's visit and the Secret Service called it a “local police matter.”

The killing spree marked the latest in string of high-profile mass shootings over the past year, including a December attack in Connecticut that killed 20 children and six adults at an elementary school and a shooting last July at a suburban Denver movie theater that killed 12 people.

Those attacks have helped reignite a national debate over gun violence in America that spurred Obama and his fellow Democrats to push for expanded background checks for gun buyers – an initiative defeated in the U.S. Senate.

Santa Monica Police said the carnage began at a home east of the college, where the gunman shot two people dead before apparently torching the home. The Los Angeles Times, citing law enforcement sources, reported that the first two victims were believed to be the gunman's father and brother.

“I was in my apartment when I heard five to seven shots, then a pause, then two shots and I knew it was guns,” neighbor Janet Carter told Reuters.

'HORRIFIC EVENT'

Carter said she walked outside and saw a woman sitting in her car with blood trickling from her head. One of the windows in the car had been blown out, and the woman was lucid and on her cell phone talking to her husband.

Carter said she and another neighbor placed cold compresses around the woman's shoulder area, where there was blood, and she noticed in the meantime that an old wood house across the street was consumed by flames.

Santa Monica Police Sergeant Richard Lewis said that after leaving the home, the gunman carjacked a woman and ordered her to drive. Along the way he fired at least several rounds at a city bus, wounding three people.

Arriving at the college, the gunman opened fire on a red sport utility vehicle in a staff parking lot, killing the driver and critically wounding his passenger, Lewis said.

The gunman, who was armed with an AR-15 style rifle and at least one handgun, then shot and killed another person at the college before he died in an exchange of gunfire with police, Lewis said.

He said investigators had not yet determined a motive for the rampage, adding: “It's a horrific event that everybody wishes never happened.”

Students at the campus library described a scene of pandemonium as the sounds of gunfire rang out, sending some scurrying for cover.

One student inside the library, Cyrus Jabari, 19, said that through a window he could see a man dressed in black with a buzz-style haircut carrying what appeared to be an assault rifle.

“The only thing between me and him was a glass door,” he told Reuters.

Rabbi Eli Levitansky, who runs Santa Monica College’s Chabad club, said he has been in touch with student locked down on campus and had not heard of any Jewish students wounded in the attacks as of 2:30 Friday afternoon.

“I am actually in contact with them [the Jewish students on lockdown] right now. I’m on the phone with them, pretty much every other minute, speaking to them, calming them,” Levitansky told the Journal this afternoon.

When the shooting occurred, Levitansky was walking en route to campus from his home as part of a regular ritual he does four times a week to help students on campus wrap tefillin. He lives only two blocks away. The sight of students running and the swift arrival of campus police alerted him to the shooting. He said he did not hear gunshots.

Levitansky described seeing SWAT teams, sheriff helicopters, ambulance trucks and dozens of police officers. “It’s like a warzone,” said Levitansky, who also serves as rabbi at the nearby Chabad of Santa Monica.

Natasha Nemanim, 24, tried to get onto the campus to turn on a final paper early Friday afternoon but turned back after seeing helicopters in the air and heavily armed security personnel at the entrance to the campus on Pico and 18th street.

“It was stressful definitely; those guns are pretty big and they make you wonder what’s happening in there,” Nemanim said. She spoke to The Journal on Friday from Kehillat Ma’arav, a Conservative synagogue about a mile from the campus.

“It appears to be controlled as long as you’re not on campus,” said Nemanim, who spent two years as a student at SMC before transferring to UCLA, where she studied psychology. “But if you were on campus, I have to imagine your cortisol levels would be through the roof.”

Police officers during a search at Santa Monica College following a shooting on campus on June 7. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Reporting and writing by Steve Gorman; Additional reporting by Jonah Lowenfeld (Jewish Journal) Ron Grover (Reuters), Alex Dobuzinskis(Reuters); Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Eric Walsh

Burgas bombing investigator dismissed for leaking info to media


An investigator in the deadly July bombing in Burgas was dismissed for leaking classified information to the media.

The Prosecutor's Office dismissed Staneliva Karadzhova after she provided information about the latest developments in the probe of the July 18 attack, the Bulgarian news agency Novinite reported. Five Israelis and a Bulgarian were killed in the attack at the seaside resort.

Karadzhova reportedly was dismissed on Jan. 3, the same day she told a local newspaper that Bulgaria’s security services had identified one of the perpetrators of the bombing. The suspect was not named.

The Office of the District Prosecutor in Burgas said in a statement issued Monday that Karadzhova was dismissed because “she spoke to the media without clearing her statement with the supervising prosecutor,” The Associated Press reported.

American and Israeli intelligence officials attribute the suicide bombing to a joint Hezbollah-Iran operation.

The bomber used the alias Jacque Felipe Martin; an accomplice was known as Ralph Willima Rico. Neither suspect's true identity has been discovered, according to Novinite.

Martin, Rico and the third accomplice, whose actual identity was discovered, all used fake U.S. identification documents from the state of Michigan.

The blast occurred on a bus soon after a charter plane, Air Bulgaria Flight 392 from Ben-Gurion Airport in Israel, landed at Burgas Airport. The bus was the second of four carrying Israeli tourists from the airport to hotels in the city.

Tel Aviv bus bomb mastermind indicted


Israel's military prosecutor filed an indictment against the head of a Palestinian terrorist cell who organized the bombing of a bus in Tel Aviv.

Ahmad Salah Ahmad Musa, 25, was charged Wednesday with murder, conspiracy to commit murder, dealing in weapons and materials for war, creating an explosive, membership in an illegal organization and incitement, according to The Jerusalem Post.

Musa allegedly recruited other Palestinians to help him plan and carry out the attack.

A bomb planted on the No. 142 bus in central Tel Aviv detonated on Nov. 21 during Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense as the bus drove near the Kirya, the Israeli military's headquarters. More than 20 bus passengers were injured in the attack.

Musa is accused of heading the terror cell as well as making the bombs and recruiting help. It is believed that he detonated the bomb remotely using a cell phone. He allegedly also planned other attacks.

Mohammed Mafarja, 18, was charged last month with planting the bomb. According to his indictment, Mafarja planted the bomb on behalf of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, to help the group during the conflict.

The teen has Israeli citizenship as part of a Palestinian family unification program and worked in the city of Modiin. Along with Musa and Mafarja, two other members of the terror cell, all from the West Bank, were arrested in connection with the attack.

Hamas leader calls for third intifada


A senior Hamas leader called for a third intifada, including suicide bus bombings in Israel.

Hamas Jerusalem bureau chief Ahmed Halabiyeh on Tuesday called for new, violent action against Israel,  saying that ”we must renew the resistance to occupation in any possible way, above all through armed resistance.” He called for “a third intifada to save the Aksa Mosque and Jerusalem.”

The call came in response to the approval for construction of thousands of apartments in eastern Jerusalem and the E1 area near Ma'aleh Adumim.

Also on Tuesday, Defense Minister Ehud Barak told a conference that Israel is “on the verge of a third intifada,” Ynet reported.

“If we continue to refuse peace, we will be dealt a painful blow that will affect all aspects of our lives,” he said.

Alleged Tel Aviv bus bomber charged


An 18-year-old Palestinian man was indicted for allegedly leaving a bomb on a Tel Aviv bus that left more than 20 Israelis wounded when it detonated.

Mohammed Mafarja was charged Wednesday in Tel Aviv District Court with planting the bomb on the No. 142 bus in central Tel Aviv that was detonated on Nov. 21 during Israel's Operation Pillar of Defense. The indictment says he planted the bomb on behalf of Hamas, which runs the Gaza Strip, in order to help them during the conflict.

Mafarja allegedly informed other members of a terrorist cell supporting Hamas when the bomb was planted and got off the bus. It was then detonated using a mobile phone, as it passed near the central army base called the Kirya.

The teen has Israeli citizenship as part of a Palestinian family unification program and worked in the city of Modi'in. Three other members of the terror cell, all from the West Bank, were arrested in connection with the attack.

The indictment charges Mafarja with assisting the enemy, attempted murder, conspiring to commit crimes, detonating explosive devices causing severe damage, carrying and conveying a weapon or explosive device and assisting an illegal organization.

No trial date has been set.

Mafarja's attorney told reporters that his client did not know that the bomb would cause such destruction.

Bus explodes in Tel Aviv in apparent terror attack; Hamas celebrates


A bomb exploded on a bus in central Tel Aviv on Wednesday, wounding 15 people in what Israeli officials said was a terrorist attack that could complicate efforts to secure a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip.

Celebratory gunfire rang out across Gaza as the news spread and the territory's Islamist rulers Hamas praised the bombing, but no one claimed immediate responsibility.

The blast shattered windows on the bus as it drove along a tree-lined street next to Israel's huge defence ministry headquarters. Israel's ambulance service said four people suffered moderate-to-severe injuries and 11 were lightly hurt.

Police said it was not a suicide attack and suggested that someone might have left the device on the number 142 bus.

The driver, who escaped largely unscathed, told reporters he had not seen anyone suspicious get on board.

“I felt the explosion … Smoke was everywhere, you couldn't see a thing,” he said. The blue and white vehicle was not torn apart by the blast, indicating it was a relatively small device.

The bombing happened on the eighth day of an Israeli offensive against the Gaza Strip and coincided with intensive diplomatic efforts to secure a lasting truce.

Hamas spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri hailed the explosion.

“Hamas blesses the attack in Tel Aviv and sees it as a natural response to the Israeli massacres…in Gaza,” he told Reuters. “Palestinian factions will resort to all means in order to protect our Palestinian civilians in the absence of a world effort to stop the Israeli aggression.”

Sweet cakes were handed out in celebration in Gaza's main hospital, which has been inundated with wounded from the round-the-clock Israeli bombing and shelling.

“GATES OF HELL”

“You opened the gates of hell on yourselves,” Hamas's armed wing, the al-Qassam brigades, said on Twitter. “Oh Zionists, you have to drag yourselves out of hell, go back home now, go back to Germany, Poland, Russia, America and anywhere else.”

The last time a bomb blast hit Israel's commercial capital was in April 2006, when a Palestinian suicide bomber killed 11 people at a sandwich stand near the old central bus station.

Hamas militants have fired at least four rockets at the laid-back Mediterranean metropolis over the past week, but they scored no direct hits and caused no casualties.

Israel launched its air offensive with the stated aim of halting all missile launches out of the Gaza Strip, which lies some 70 km (40 miles) south of Tel Aviv, a cosmopolitan city renowned for its nightlife and vibrant beach culture.

Hamas had warned when the latest conflict flared that it would not confine itself to unleashing rockets.

“This was a terror attack. There is a massive preparedness within the police and security forces. We must keep awareness to a maximum. These are not normal times,” said Israel's Police Chief Yohanan Danino.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon denounced the attack, saying nothing justified the targeting of civilians.

The United States, Israel's main ally, also condemned the bus bombing. “These attacks against innocent Israeli civilians are outrageous,” the White House said.

More than 140 Palestinians, more than half of them civilians, have died so far in Israel's Gaza offensive. Five Israelis, including one soldier, have also been killed.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, trying to calm tensions over Gaza, flew from Israel to Cairo to meet Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, who is spearheading ceasefire negotiations.

Reporting by Jeffrey Heller, Ari Rabinovitch and Nidal al-Mughrabi; Writing by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Alistair Lyon

Eager to widen fight beyond missiles, terrorists bomb Tel Aviv bus


They all thought it was a missile at first.

In the split second between the sudden explosion and the smoke that enveloped their bodies and faces, they figured that a Hamas rocket, after a week of strikes and misses, had hit the center of Tel Aviv. Then they realized that the bus had been bombed.

“The bus stopped, there was an explosion and everything was black,” Elinor Lampel, who was driving next to the bus, told JTA. “I didn’t understand. There was no warning siren. When the smoke cleared, I saw it was a terrorist attack.”

Police said a bomb stuffed with ball bearings and screws was placed on the bus. Twenty-one passengers reportedly were wounded, two of them seriously.

The explosion quickly was followed by the shrill blare of ambulances, fire trucks and police cars converging on the city center, and helicopters hovering overhead. Police officers, soldiers and paramedics swarmed the few blocks surrounding the bus, cordoning off a large swath of empty streets. The bus remained in the middle of the road, the front half still mostly intact.

A week into Israel’s operation in Gaza, Tel Aviv residents had come to expect sirens warning of imminent Hamas missile attacks. But this latest attack – which came as the bus was passing the Kirya, the military headquarters located in the center of Tel Aviv — more closely resembled those of the second intifada, when Palestinian terrorists routinely detonated bombs on crowded Israeli city buses. The last time a terrorist bomb went off in the city was 2006, when a restaurant was targeted.

Nobody has yet claimed responsibility for Wednesday’s attack. Israeli Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovich told reporters that either Hamas or Islamic Jihad terrorists perpetrated the bus bombing.

So far, four Israelis and more than 140 Palestinians have been reported killed since Israel launched Operation Pillar of Defense on Nov. 14 with the assassination of military chief Ahmed Jabari. That assassination followed several days of intense rocket bombardment on southern Israel, and Hamas stepped up its rocket fire against Israel after the operation began. Hamas missiles have reached as far as the Jerusalem and Tel Aviv areas, nearly 50 miles away.

Egyptian-brokered cease-fire negotiations between Israel and Hamas are ongoing.

Israelis should “concentrate on targets in Gaza, and see who did this,” Aharonovich said. “The most important thing is for them to stop firing at the south.”

Hamas’ rocket attacks notwithstanding, this bombing is a sign that Gaza’s terrorists are eager to expand the range of their attacks and use whatever means they can to strike in Israel.

Police Spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said police suspect that a terrorist entered the bus, placed a relatively small bomb in the middle of the aisle and exited before it blew up. Another bomb was placed on the bus did not detonate, he said.

Bus driver Nahum Herzig said the bus had been crowded but not full, and that nobody on the bus had aroused his suspicions.

“I couldn’t find anybody I could point to as suspicious,” he said. While drivers had been told to take the usual precautions against bus bombings, “we didn’t get specific warnings.”

Uninjured himself, Herzig began to tend to wounded passengers, as did Lampel, who teaches a first aid course. But before they knew it, paramedics were pushing them into ambulances.

Another wounded passenger, Tal Bechor, said she had just realized that she was on the wrong bus and had planned to get off at the next stop when the explosion went off.

“I was sure a missile had hit,” she said. “I lost consciousness for a few minutes, and then I checked my head.”

Bechor said her head, ears and knees hurt.

Lampel had been returning to her home in Rishon Lezion, the city just south of Tel Aviv that suffered a direct missile hit on an apartment building on Tuesday.

“It’s not pleasant at all,” she said. “There’s a lot of fear.”

Thou shall not have images … on buses … neither men nor women


Fearing costly vandalism aimed at buses carrying advertisements that include images of women; to avoid legal issues of discrimination if only images of men appear; and to side-step head-on collisions with Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community; Egged, Israel’s public bus cooperative has ordered the company handling its on-bus advertising to stop running ads with pictures or representations of either men or women. As of August 1, a “faceless” policy was put into effect.

Vandalizing public advertisements bearing women’s pictures is not a new issue. Bus shelters, for instance, were frequently damaged or destroyed going back decades. More recently, issues of discrimination against women in the capitol have become headline affairs. The present issue came to a head eight months ago when the Yerushalmim organization – an NGO advocating for a pluralistic city of Jerusalem—sued in the High Court of Justice to force Canaan, the exclusive ad agency for the Egged bus company, to run its campaign featuring “The Women of Jerusalem.” Its legal effort was supported by the Ministry of Transportation, which submitted a brief objecting to any censorship of photos of women. According to Yerushalmim CEO Rabbi Uri Ayalon, at that point it seemed that the matter was solved and the ads, replete with photos, would be running on Egged buses.

According to Ayalon, the apparent understanding fell apart when the discussion turned to the specifics of the images submitted by the NGO to the ad agency for the buses to carry. At issue was the length of the sleeves the models were shown wearing. Yerushalmim insists that when it agreed to the sleeve issue, a new request was made to replace T-shirts with long-sleeve blouses.

While the back-and-forth was continuing, Egged decided to change its policy and ban advertising in the Jerusalem market that contained any human images at all. Canaan told Yerushalmim it would honor its commitment for a ten day period, after which time the agreement to run its ads would lapse. Ayalon told The Media Line that his organization did, indeed, submit its ads in a timely manner, but Canaan differed, saying the NGO failed to get the ads in before the contract expired.

Yerushalmim was established in 2009 by Jerusalem residents advocating a pluralistic city. Opposing the exclusion of women from the public sphere, the organization kicked-off its campaign one-year ago in response to the censorship of an ad campaign of women. It included ads displayed on balconies and street stands throughout the city of Jerusalem that featured images of women. Yerushalmim claims bus ads have been free of female images for the past eight years; and five years in the case of posters.

Nissim Zohar, director of marketing for Zohar advertising company, told The Media Line that “for years” his agency had been trying to place ads in Jerusalem that included images of women.  Zohar credited Mayor Nir Barkat with raising the issue six months ago, resulting in media coverage of the issue and subsequently, more than 500 posters were displayed around the city.

Advertisements that feature women have found a home on Jerusalem bridges, though.

Uri Neter, CEO of Rapid Vision, franchise-holder for billboards affixed to bridges in Jerusalem, told The Media Line that, “We divided advertising on bridges in large formats across the platforms. Currently we don’t have any ads with women, but [when we did] we didn’t have a problem because it is hard to get to the bridges and cause damage because of the height.”

Canaan CEO Ohad Gibli told The Media Line the “faceless” policy instituted by Egged and prompted by the Yerushalmim fracas has cost him his Jerusalem offices which he recently closed, citing a loss of more than $60,000 month. Gibli said for Egged, it’s just a business decision stemming from the financial costs the bus company has sustained in the past due to acts of vandalism.

A spokesperson for Canaan said that there is a lot of provocation around this story,  but since there is no problem of discrimination now, no decision is expected.

Ayalon, though, disagreed and told The Media Line that not publishing any human images in Jerusalem while allowing it everywhere else is also an act of discrimination, and that Yerushalmim will continue to pursue the issue. The group’s attorney, Aviad Hacohen, told The Media Line that, “It’s not only an act against women, but it’s an act against men – it’s against freedom of speech and equality.”

Bulgarian police release photo of bomb attack accomplice


Bulgarian police released a computer-generated image and a fake driver’s license photo of a man believed to be an accomplice in the bombing of an Israeli tour bus in Burgas that killed six.

The fake Michigan driver’s license is registered to Jacques Philippe Martin, but investigators have learned that the man from the photo introduced himself by other names, according to the Focus information agency.

The man appears to be wearing a wig in the license photo. It was originally believed that the license belonged to the dead suicide bomber, but it was later determined to belong to an accomplice.

Five Israelis and the bus driver were killed in the July 18 attack on a tour bus full of Israeli tourists shortly after boarding in the Burgas airport.

Planes with wounded return to Israel; Peres: ‘Israel will act against terror’


President Shimon Peres said in response to the deadly attack in Bulgaria that Israel will “locate and act against terror all over the world,” as the wounded and dead arrived in Israel.

Two planes carrying Israelis wounded from Wednesday evening’s attack were landed in Israel at approximately 3:30 local time on Thursday. After landing, passengers were sent to hospitals near the airport or near their homes. A third plane has brought home the 70 Israelis who escaped injury in the attack.

Brig.-Gen. Itzik Kreis, head of the Israeli Defense Force Medical Corps, said that the wounded returning to Israel were “less seriously hurt than we expected.”

Two of those wounded in the attack remained in hospitals in Sofia, Bulgaria—with one in the hospital’s intensive care unit.

Kreis said that victims “got very good medical care in Bulgaria.” He said that injuries suffered in the bus bombing were similar to injuries caused by bus bombings in Israel.

“This was a bloody attack against civilians going on vacation. Many of them lost their lives, others were wounded for no reason, for no purpose. They were attacked for the simple and unacceptable reason that they were Jewish or Israeli,” Peres said.

“We will not forget, we will not ignore and we will not give up. Israel will locate and act against terror all over the world. We have the capabilities for it and are committed to act. We have the ability to silence and incapacitate the terror organizations. Anywhere in the world where it is possible we shall build friendship and anywhere in the world where it is necessary we will chase murderous terrorists. We will uproot terror both near and far.”

Israel’s Foreign Ministry said Thursday morning that of the seven dead, five were Israelis, one was the bus driver and one the suicide bomber.

Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman said Thursday that Israel has concrete information that the Iranian-backed Hezbollah terror group carried out the attack.

The dead have not yet been positively identified, according to reports.

Meanwhile, Bulgaria’s Interior Ministry released video footage of the man identified as the suicide bomber.

The bomber was dressed like a tourist and carried a fake Michigan driver’s license, Novinite.com reported.  He reportedly had hung out near the buses slated to take the Israeli tourists to their hotel for more than an hour.

Interior Minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov reiterated on Thursday that Bulgarian officials had received no warning of an imminent attack on Israeli or Jewish targets.

At least 7 Israelis reported killed, dozens injured in Bulgarian terror attack


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[11:35 a.m., Haaretz] According to Bulgaria’s interior minister, five people were killed in the attack and 33 were wounded, 3 of whom are in critical condition.

“We are currently preparing a list with the names of the people on the flight, in order to identify the victims,” he said.

For more, visit ” title=”Haaretz.com” target=”_blank”>Haaretz.com.

[9:00 a.m., Reuters]: Three people were killed and over 20 injured by an explosion on a bus carrying Israeli tourists outside the airport of the coastal city of Burgas on Wednesday, Bulgarian authorities said.

The mayor of the city, on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast, said the bus was carrying Israeli tourists, but police could not immediately confirm their nationality. Police said several other buses at the site had been damaged.

“Initial information showed three people have died, there are injured,” a spokeswoman for the interior ministry said.

An Israeli witness said in an interview with Israeli army radio that the explosion was probably caused by a suicide bomber at the entrance of the bus.

Bulgarian police said it was investigating and could not say at this point what caused the explosion.

Bulgarian national radio said many people were injured in the blast. Burgas airport was closed after the incident and flights were redirected to the airport of Varna, police said.

Israeli officials had previously said that Bulgaria, a popular holiday destination for Israeli tourists, was vulnerable to attack by Islamist militants who could infiltrate via nearby Turkey.

Reporting by Tsvetelia Tsolova; editing by Ralph Boulton; Editing by Louise Ireland

Obama condemns deadly bus attack on Israelis in Bulgaria


President Barack Obama strongly condemned an attack on Wednesday that killed at least four Israeli tourists in an explosion on a bus outside a Bulgarian airport.

“The United States will stand with our allies, and provide whatever assistance is necessary to identify and bring to justice the perpetrators of this attack,” Obama said in a statement, calling the attack “completely outrageous.”

Reporting By Alister Bull; Editing by Sandra Maler

Netanyahu on deadly Bulgaria bombing: ‘All signs point to Iran’


A Black Sea coast town in Bulgaria became the scene of carnage when a bus carrying Israeli tourists exploded, killing at least five people and injuring at least 33. Nine people reportedly were missing.

The explosion Wednesday at Sarafovo International Airport in Burgas hit one of three tour buses carrying Israelis, Israel’s Channel 1 reported. Some news reports said a suicide bomber boarded the bus as it was taking the Israeli tourists to the terminal. Others quoted Burgas Mayor Dimitar Nikolov as saying that explosives were in the luggage area of the bus.

A video on Ynet showed black smoke billowing upward. Sirens at the scene could be heard.

The attack, which Israel’s government is blaming on Iran, comes on the 18th anniversary of the terrorist attack on the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires that left 85 people dead. Israel, Argentina and many other governments blame Iranian agents for that incident; Tehran denies the allegations.

“All signs point to Iran,” Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said. “In just the past few months we’ve seen Iran try to target Israelis in Thailand, India, Georgia, Cyprus and more. The murderous Iranian terror continues to target innocent people. This is a global Iranian terror onslaught and Israel will react forcefully to it.”

Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak added, “This is clearly a terrorist attack initiated probably by Hezbollah, Hamas, Islamic Jihad or another group under the terror auspices of either Iran or other radical Islamic groups. We are in a continual fight against them. We are determined to identify who sent them, who perpetrated [the attack], and to settle the account.”

The Lebanese-based Hezbollah, which is armed by Iran, denied responsibility for the attack, according to the website Novinite.com.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borisov said his government “strongly condemns this aggression and terrorism.”

“Such a horrible act committed on the territory of a sovereign country, a member of the EU, is a provocation at the efforts of the democratic society towards world peace,”  Borisov said, according to the FOCUS News Agency. “I guarantee that we will investigate this incident so as to punish the perpetrators with the entire severeness of the law. I am convinced that the Bulgarian and the Israeli nations will get stronger and more united after this tragedy.”

The mayor of the Bulgarian capital of Sofia, home to nearly 5,000 Jews, ordered stepped-up police patrols of areas linked to the Jewish community, according to reports.

Lt.-Gen. Benny Gantz, the chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces Chief, ordered the Home Front Command, the Israel Air Force and the Medical Corps to send a team to Bulgaria Wednesday night to provide medical care and to assist those injured as they return to Israel. The team is led by a senior IDF officer and includes doctors specializing in trauma, orthopedics, intensive care, surgery, burns and pediatrics.

Likewise, the Israel-based ZAKA Rescue and Recovery Organization told JTA that it hired a private jet to fly to Burgas. The plane, which is scheduled to land in Bulgaria at about 11 p.m. local time, is carrying seven volunteers, a doctor and a paramedic, as well as medical equipment and equipment to help identify the Israelis who were killed.

President Obama condemned the “barbaric terrorist attack,” according to The Associated Press. “As Israel has tragically once more been a target of terrorism, the United States reaffirms our unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security, and our deep friendship and solidarity with the Israeli people.”

Immediately after the explosion, Ben Gurion International Airport was closed, delaying 11 flights. However, the airport reopened between 2 a.m. and 5 a.m. to allow the flights to proceed.

Novinite.com reported that Bulgarian authorities foiled a bomb attack in January on a charter bus for Israeli tourists heading from the Turkish border to a Bulgarian ski resort. A bomb was found on the bus.

Tel Aviv seeks approval to run buses on Shabbat


The Tel Aviv City Council approved a resolution to allow public transportation to run on Shabbat.

The measure was approved Monday evening by a vote of 13-7.

The Tel Aviv-Jaffa Municipality must now seek a permit from the Israeli Transportation Ministry, but the ministry said in a statement that “There is a decades-old status quo regarding operation of public transportation on Shabbat, and the Transportation Ministry does not intend to violate it.”

If the ministry rejects the request, the resolution provides for the creation of an independent transportation service.

In general, public transportation does not operate on the Sabbath in Israel, except in Haifa and Eilat on a limited basis. It is part of the “status quo,” a doctrine that regulates the public relationship between the religious and secular positions in Israel.

In a public letter released Tuesday morning addressed to Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, who supports the measure, Tel Aviv Chief Rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau called for the decision to be reversed.

“This is a severe blow to the holiness of the Shabbat, which is a remnant of Creation, a reminder of the Exodus from Egypt, a day of rest for every worker and a day of spiritual ascension and the unity of the family,” Lau said in the letter.

In an interview on Israel Radio, Lau said that Meir Dizengoff, the first mayor of Tel Aviv, pledged that Shabbat would be publicly observed in the “first Hebrew city” and that the decision harms the status quo.

Palestinian children killed in West Bank bus accident


At least eight Palestinian schoolchildren on a field trip were killed when a truck collided with their bus on a rain-soaked road in the West Bank.

Dozens of elementary school age children on the bus headed from eastern Jerusalem for Ramallah were also injured. The students were taken to Palestinian hospitals in Ramallah and Israeli hospitals, including Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem and Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikvah. A teacher was also reportedly killed.

The Israeli-Arab truck driver reportedly lost control of his vehicle in the bad weather. The impact caused the bus to flip over and burst into flames.

Israel and Palestinian emergency services cooperated at the scene, while Israeli and Palestinian security police are cooperating in investigating the accident, according to reports.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declared three days of mourning following the tragedy. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressed his sorrow at the tragedy and offered the Palestinian Authority any assistance needed.

Israeli women’s rights moving to front of bus


Anat Hoffman, the progressive Israeli activist who made headlines two summers ago when she was arrested for carrying a Torah at the Western Wall, comes to California next week with a clear message for American Jews: What’s happening in Beit Shemesh is as big a threat to Israel as what’s happening in Tehran.

“Americans have been trained to care about Israel’s security and think of it in terms of Israel being surrounded by millions of enemies,” Hoffman said in a phone interview in advance of her Los Angeles visit Feb. 3-4, during which she will speak at shabbat services at Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills and Temple Beth Am. “But security is not just measured by soldiers on the border. It’s also measured by an 8-year-old girl’s ability to go to school without being bullied.” Hoffman was referring to Naama Margolese, the Beit Shemesh girl who became a household name after Channel 2 TV aired a report revealing that she had been spit on and called a “whore” by ultra-Orthodox men while on her way to school. Their complaint was that the shy Modern Orthodox girl in a long skirt was not dressed modestly enough.

A native of Jerusalem, and a city councilwoman there for 14 years before becoming executive director of the Israel Religious Action Center (IRAC) — the Reform movement’s legal advocacy arm in the Jewish state — Hoffman, 57, has been fighting for decades to ensure that things like this don’t happen. Now, as the story of Naama Margolese reverberates throughout the Jewish world, Hoffman’s moment may have arrived.

For the first time, Hoffman said, issues of gender equality and religious pluralism are poised to figure heavily in the Israeli political debate. “I see this as a very important window of opportunity, because we are on the eve of an election,” she said.

Moreover, the Israeli populace is still fired up and feeling politically re-engaged by the protests of last summer, in which hundreds of thousands of Israelis took to the streets and — setting a precedent for the American Occupy movement — erected tent encampments to protest economic and social inequalities.

“The question now,” Hoffman said, “is are we going to be put to sleep again and focus only on the security bit, or are we going to focus on the internal issues?”

Hoffman is convinced that those internal issues — gender equality, religious pluralism and minority rights chief among them — pose as great a threat to Israel’s future as the prospect of a nuclear Iran. But she’s not sure American Jews agree. “Ask a hundred Israelis right now what is the most dangerous thing for Israel, and most will not say the atom bomb. Ask a hundred American Jews, and they’ll say the Iranian bomb. I say, let’s not think about Iran for a bit. Let’s ask Israel, ‘Why can’t a woman have a bat mitzvah at the Wall?’ ”

Hoffman has been fighting for more than 20 years for a woman’s right to pray and read from the Torah at the Kotel. As chairwoman of the group Women of the Wall, she has long been at odds with the Orthodox establishment that controls Jerusalem’s holiest Jewish site. But it’s not just their influence over religious sites that irks her. As extremist factions of the ultra-Orthodox minority have grown ever more brazen, their influence has spread beyond the confines of their cloistered communities.

The practice of gender segregation on public buses exploded into the public debate last December after Tanya Rosenblit and, later, Israel Defense Forces soldier Doron Matalon were harassed by ultra-Orthodox men for refusing to sit at the back of a bus.

But Hoffman has been chipping away at the problem for years. In 2007, IRAC filed a petition on behalf of five women who had been harassed on gender-segregated buses, and last January, Israel’s Supreme Court deemed the practice illegal. Since then, Hoffman has regularly led “Freedom Rides,” wherein she and other Jewish women sit at the front of gender-segregated buses to ensure the court decision is being upheld. When they are harassed by ultra-Orthodox men, bus drivers often don’t interfere, Hoffman said, deferring to the customary practice of separating the sexes. “We have 13 lawsuits against drivers for not enforcing the law, and it’s very effective,” Hoffman said. “Those suits for damages are helping to unlearn what 10 years of segregated buses have taught.”

But why have these issues only reached a boiling point in recent months? According to Hoffman, women’s role in Israeli society is changing on a broader level, and the powers that be are threatened.

In Israel’s secular world, a deeply entrenched culture of sexism is finally beginning to crack. A law protecting women from sexual harassment that passed more than a decade ago is challenging the male establishment, and 2011 saw Israel’s former president, Moshe Katsav, begin serving a seven-year prison sentence for rape. “Once the law began to be implemented, behaviors that had been tolerated in the army and government suddenly became illegal,” Hoffman said. “The bastards changed the rules and didn’t tell Moshe Katsav.”

At the same time, in the Orthodox world, women are gaining power and influence. Hoffman points out that it’s women who receive a more worldly education — and therefore pay the mortgage and balance the checkbook — while men receive only a religious education. “Women are in the world, and the kids see that the women know more. So how else can the Orthodox world keep them in their place other than to say, ‘You might know more in the modern world, but in the religious world, you should know your place.’ ”

As Hoffman — who earned her undergraduate degree from UCLA — prepares to address Jewish audiences in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, she said she hopes that American Jews will hold Israel’s feet to the fire on social issues. “Don’t go easy on us,” she said. “Israel needs to hear the truth from its supporters. To be a Zionist is not a spectator sport.”


Anat Hoffman will be speaking in Los Angeles on:

Feb. 3, 7:30 p.m. “Between the Stones and a Hard Place: The Challenge to Gender Equity in Israel.” Hoffman will speak during Shabbat Unplugged Service-In-The-Round. Following Kiddush, she will also speak from 9:15 to 10:15 p.m. Temple Emanuel of Beverly Hills, 8844 Burton Way, Beverly Hills. Free and open to the public.

Feb. 4, 9 a.m. “Civil Rights in Israel.” Shabbat Morning Worship. Temple Beth Am, 1039 South La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Free and open to the public.

Feb. 4, 4 p.m. Women’s Rights in Israel. Mincha, Seudat Shlishit, Maariv and Havdallah. Temple Beth Am, 1039 South La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. Hoffman will speak during Seudat Shlishit. Free and open to the public.

The back of the bus


If Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy teaches us one thing, it’s that the fight for civil rights is not particular to a time, a place, a people or a gender.

It’s still shocking to watch vintage 1960s TV footage and see moms and dads yelling at someone else’s children for simply walking up the steps of a high school.

Now, we watch all-too-similar images on YouTube as we confront what’s happening to women and girls in Israel.

In Beit Shemesh just last month, TV cameras captured a frightened 8-year-old child walking to school with her mother. That girl, Na’ama Margolese, was terrified because Charedi Jews who don’t like the length of her skirt or the sleeves on her shirt regularly have spit on her and cursed her. The girl’s mother, Hadassa Margolese, who grew up in Los Angeles, talked to our reporter, Larry Derfner, in this issue of The Journal (p. 13) about her fight to maintain her child’s rights and dignity in their hometown of Beit Shemesh.

In recent years, ultra-Orthodox Charedi Jews in Jerusalem routinely have forced women riding bus lines that pass through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods to sit at the back.  And now, as the freedom fighters did in the American South, in Israel, protesters have come together to defy such rules. Earlier this month, groups of men and women boarded buses in Jerusalem and Ramat Gan, sitting together to draw attention to the gender segregation on public transportation that the Charedi community has demanded.

It would seem a no-brainer that, in a democracy, public spaces belong to all people — the civil rights of all human beings cannot be limited by the desires or wishes of a single group. But that is what has been going on for years in some neighborhoods of Israel, where not only are rules of segregation enforced through harassment, but the government has not stepped in to right these wrongs.

Whether by race or by gender, segregation in public spaces defies the dignity of human beings. No democracy can tolerate this.

As we remember Martin Luther King Jr. this weekend, let us remember a story he told at a Friday night Shabbat service at Temple Israel of Hollywood, right here in Los Angeles, on Feb. 26, 1965.

“Some time ago, Mrs. King and I journeyed to that great country known as India, and we had some marvelous experiences. … I remember one afternoon that we journeyed down to the southernmost point of India in the state of Kerala. And I was to address that afternoon some high school students who were the children mainly of parents who had been ‘untouchables.’ And I remember that afternoon that the principal went through his introduction, and when he came to the end, he said, ‘I’m happy to present to you, students, a fellow untouchable from the United States of America.’ And for the moment, I was peeved and shocked that he would introduce me as an untouchable, but pretty soon my mind leaped the Atlantic, and I started thinking about conditions back home. And I started thinking about the fact that I could not go in to most places of public accommodation all across the South.

“I started thinking about the fact that 20 million of my black brothers and sisters were still at the bottom of the economic ladder. I started thinking about the fact that Negroes all over America, even if they have the money, cannot buy homes and rent homes of their choices, because so many of their white brothers don’t want to live near them. I started thinking about the fact that my little children were still judged in terms of the color of their skin rather than the content of their character. And I said to myself, ‘I am an untouchable, and every Negro in the United States is an untouchable.’ And segregation is evil, because it stigmatizes the segregated as an untouchable in a caste system. We’ve been in the mountain of segregation long enough, and it is time for all men of goodwill to say now, ‘We are through with segregation now, henceforth, and forever more.’ ”

King’s uplifting words — here and throughout his writings — can give to us, today’s untouchables, the inner peace to turn the other cheek, to keep walking forward with our daughters toward a better tomorrow.

Let us honor King’s memory and walk to school with Hadassa and Na’ama Margolese; let us send our support to the freedom fighters in Israel who refuse to have their children spat upon or to sit at the back of the bus.

Will Beit Shemesh lead to erosion on Capitol Hill?


A compelling threat to the survival of a democratic Jewish state does not come from the Arabs or the Iranians but from within. Its repercussions threaten to reach far beyond the gender segregated sidewalks and buses of some Israeli cities to the heart of the Diaspora.

Ultra-religious zealots, many of who do not even recognize the state that feeds, supports and protects them, declare themselves above the law of the state and use their growing number and power to assert their will on the rest of the population.

Their contempt for the State of Israel rivals that of the most extreme in the Moslem world who share their penchant for likening the Jewish state to the perpetrators of the Holocaust and themselves as the victims of those they brand the Zionist Nazis.

Israel’s religious extremists have never been shy about using violence but that problem is growing, although nothing so far on the scale of Arab extremists.

The latest outrage was a demonstration last weekend in Jerusalem that sent young boys into the streets wearing yellow stars labeled “Jude” on their coats with arms raised in surrender to invoke images of a famous Holocaust-era photograph of a young Jewish boy in the Warsaw Ghetto.

Organizers said they were protesting incitement by critics of and media attention to their community’s gender segregation and other practices.

Recent incidents of violence and abuse by these extremists have drawn attention far beyond Israel’s borders.

A haredi man arrested on charges of sexual assault for calling a female soldier “slut” and harassing her because she would not move to the back of a public bus unapologetically defended his action.

“A woman should not stand amidst men,” said Shlomo Fuchs, adding that it is he, not the soldier, who is defending the country. “I sit at shul from eight in the morning till midnight and study and she’s protecting me?  I protect her.”

He was arrested and quickly released on a small bail so he could return to his yeshiva.

An attack on eight-year-old Naama Margolese, the American born daughter of Modern Orthodox immigrants, on her way home from school sparked a national protest movement, several days of demonstrations and international outrage.

Enraged zealots had called the child “whore” because they disapproved of her clothing.

Demonstrators who turned out in support of the girl were met by hundreds of ultra-Orthodox rioters who threw rocks and feces at them, spewed obscene epithets, blocked traffic, set trashcans afire and stoned police.

A few were arrested but typically the reaction of authorities has been meek.  Had Arabs engaged in the same behavior is there any doubt the police response would have been far more harsh?

The growing public outrage has prompted some tough talk by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in defense of women’s rights but so far little in the way of substantive action.

The ultra-Orthodox establishment, Zionist and non-Zionist, is an important part of his political base and he’s less than anxious to incur their wrath.  He knows what happened when Yitzhak Rabin did.

On Netanyahu’s watch, Israel has grown increasingly isolated; relations with longtime allies are strained and this assault on democratic values only tarnishes the reputation of a country that calls itself the only democracy in the Middle East.

Netanyahu’s political allies are pushing legislation to politicize the supreme court, muzzle the media, remove Arabic as an official language, ban foreign funding to dovish (but not right wing) advocacy groups, criminalize calls to boycott Israel or any of its West Bank settlements and silence Muslim calls to prayer over loudspeakers.

When Secretary of State Hillary Clinton criticized the limitations on human rights groups and gender segregation, she was slammed by some Israeli ministers, who defended the regressive legislation.

This growing assault on civil liberties and democratic principles directly threatens to undermine Israel’s most important ally, the American Jewish community.

Agudath Israel of America “unconditionally” condemned as “reprehensible” the actions in Beit Shemesh by “self-appointed ‘guardians’ of modesty.”

American Jews watch the spreading influence of an increasingly powerful and demanding religious establishment that doesn’t consider tens or even hundreds of thousands of them to be Jewish enough. They begin to ask: is the Israel we believe in, care about and want to help?  Is this the kind of country we’d want to live in or even just visit?  Will we be spat upon, called names or worse if some religious zealot passes us by on a Jerusalem street and takes offense?

If those Jews lose their motivation so will their most important partner and ally—the US Congress.

The Congress is Israel’s real lobby and its client is not the State of Israel but each lawmaker’s own constituents, and if those voters and supporters begin to lose their motivation, so will the politicians.

It won’t happen today or tomorrow, but the erosion has begun and I see nothing being done to reverse it.

This is not about a group of zealots being allowed to practice their beliefs but about their efforts to impose those on the wider society. It goes to the root of Israel’s commitment to democratic values

And it is about successive government of both the right and left that have tolerated – and thus enabled – religious and nationalist extremists whose vision of the Jewish state is anathema to most Jews in America.

Israeli voters, not we Americans, have to decide for themselves what kind of country they want, but indifference or even contempt for the feelings of its best friends, critical supporters and valued allies can be a very costly mistake.

Females sit in the front to protest gender-segregated buses


Dozens of female demonstrators in Israel sat near the driver at the front of gender-segregated buses to protest the separation of men and women.

The protesters rode buses Sunday evening leaving from Jerusalem and Ramat Gan through the haredi Orthodox community of Bnei Brak and through Beit Shemesh, where a Modern Orthodox girls school on the cusp of a haredi Orthodox neighborhood has thrust the issue of the exclusion of women in the public sphere into the spotlight.

Be Free Israel, which according to its website is a nonpartisan movement working on behalf of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, organized the protest of the mehadrin, or sex-segregated, bus lines. Men also participated in the protest.

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that voluntary sex segregation is permissible on public bus routes.

Also Sunday, the chief rabbi of the Israel Defense Forces told a meeting of military rabbis that they must work to prevent the exclusion of women in the military.

“There will be no exclusion of women in the IDF,” Rabbi Rafi Peretz said. “We especially, who know the importance of respecting a woman, must make sure this controversy won’t penetrate our ranks.”

Haredi man indicted for harrasment after insulting female Israeli soldier on bus


A haredi Orthodox man who insulted a female soldier after she refused to sit in the back of a city bus was charged with sexual harassment.

Shlomo Fuchs, 44, was indicted in a Jerusalem court Thursday, a day after he was arrested by Jerusalem police for calling the soldier, Doron Matalon, 19, a “whore” and a “shiksa” on a Jerusalem bus; he was joined in the insults by other passengers. The bus driver pulled over and called police.

Also on Thursday, female members of the Knesset’s Committee on the Status of Women rode on a segregated bus from Beit Shemesh to Jerusalem.

Haredi Orthodox male passengers reportedly called out insults to the women, who sat in the front of the bus, and complained of provocation. Some saw the television cameras and opted not to get on the bus, according to reports.

Internal Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch on Wednesday called on the public to file complaints with the police over such harassment, Ynet reported.

Thousands gathered in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh on Tuesday night to protest the exclusion of women in the public sphere.

Man arrested for insulting female Israeli soldier on bus


Israel detained an Orthodox man on Wednesday on suspicion of calling a woman soldier a “whore” on a public bus for refusing his appeals that she move to the back of the vehicle, a police spokesman said.

The incident came days after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed to crack down on acts of harassment by religious zealots, with the publicity surrounding these cases risking upsetting his political alliances with Orthodox parties.

Much of the controversy has surrounded complaints by women against ultra-Orthodox men trying to force them to sit separately in the backs of public buses in deference to their religious beliefs against any mixing of the sexes in public.

Soldier Doron Matalon said on Israel Radio that a devoutly religious man had approached her and insisted she move to the back of a bus in Jerusalem earlier on Wednesday, after she had embarked at a station near her military base.

“It was very frightening,” Matalon said, saying the incident was not the first in which she had been asked to move to the back of a bus but that this time she felt more defiant.

Matalon said she replied to the man: “You can move to the back if you want. Just like you don’t want to see my face, I don’t want to see yours.” She added that she was “serving our country, which unfortunately means I am also defending you.”

The man responded by shouting at her “whore, go sit in the back,” Matalon said, adding that the driver later stopped the vehicle and police arrived.

Police spokesman Mickey Rosenfeld confirmed an Orthodox man was taken into custody and “questioned about his motives” for insulting the soldier, but no decision had yet been made as to whether he would be charged.

Some bus lines that serve predominantly religious neighborhoods in Jerusalem and other cities have been segregated despite complaints from women’s groups that their civil rights were being violated.

Under Israeli law women are entitled to object to sitting in the back, but they risk verbal and physical abuse for refusing to do so.

Several thousand activists demonstrated in the city of Beit Shemesh near Jerusalem on Tuesday against incidents in which ultra-Orthodox zealots have spat at and insulted women and female children, complaining they were immodestly dressed.

Some Orthodox politicians have condemned the violence as the actions of an extremist fringe but see the controversy as an effort to incite public opinion against their politically influential minority in the Jewish state.

Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan

Israel will take action against haredi extremists, Netanyahu says


Israel will take action against haredi Orthodox extremists who harass women in the public sphere, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warned.

“We won’t accept spitting on people in the street just because someone doesn’t approve of their dress,” Netanyahu said Wednesday at the Knesset, Haaretz reported.

He also warned against generalizing all haredi Orthodox people because of the actions of a few.  “The vast majority of the Haredi public combines an adherence to Jewish tradition and a complete respect of the law,” he said.

Netanyahu made his comments a day after thousands gathered in the Jerusalem suburb of Beit Shemesh to protest the exclusion of women and violence against women in the public sphere.

American Jewish groups condemned the public violence against women in Israel.

Hadassah, the Women’s Zionist Organization of America, said in a statement that it stands firmly against discrimination with regard to gender, religion and race.

“We denounce recent attempts by extremists to segregate and discriminate against women in public spaces in Israel,” the organization said. “All of our institutions … are fully committed to equal opportunity for all.”

The organization praised Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Shimon Peres “for their public statements and call on religious and political leaders everywhere to join them in condemning and committing to end extremist positions against women.”

The Jewish Federations of North America also praised Netanyahu and members of the government for their public condemnations of religious extremism and violence against women

“Our movement includes Jewish people from all streams and persuasions. Yet, despite our differing backgrounds, we unite today to strongly condemn, with one clear and loud voice, all acts of violence, intimidation, coercion and extremism, especially those that are undertaken, incredibly, in the name of Judaism,” said Jerry Silverman, president and CEO of JFNA. “We know that ‘deracheha darchei noam’ – the Torah’s paths are ways of peace. We stand firmly and resolutely behind the voices of reason and moderation in Bet Shemesh and throughout Israel.”

Egged must pay woman forced to sit in back of bus


Israel’s largest bus company, Egged, was fined for forcing a woman to sit in the back of a bus, a small claims court ruled.

Egged was fined approximately $1,070 on Wednesday for gender discrimination and violating the High Court of Justice’s ruling opposing forced segregation of men and women in the public sphere, according to the Israel Hayom website.

In the suit, filed in July by the Israel Religious Action Center in Rishon Lezion Magistrate Court, the complainant said that a driver employed by Egged made her sit in the back while the bus was traveling to the haredi Orthodox area of Bnei Brak.

“I explained to the driver that the line was not a segregated line, but the driver dismissed my argument and said that only the rabbis can decide whether a bus is segregated or not. It was humiliating and insulting,” the complainant, who is Orthodox, said in court, Israel Hayom reported.

Egged issued a statement arguing that the driver was not representing the company’s views.

The bus company has been accused before of discrimination. In October, Egged was ordered to pay approximately $16,000 in compensation after driver Ben Yakar told a young female student that he “doesn’t let blacks ride on the bus.”

In 2006, Miriam Shear, an American-Israeli woman, reportedly was beaten by a gang of haredi Orthodox when she refused to move to the back of the bus while traveling to the Wailing Wall.

Wednesday’s ruling came a week after U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said in a closed-session question-and-answer session that she is concerned about the direction of Israel’s democracy, prompting Sephardic Chief Rabbi Shlomo Amar to accuse Clinton in a radio interview of having “no real knowledge of a Jewish woman’s modesty.”

“The Jewish people respect women and treat them like queens and princesses,” Amar said.

Bus ad for Third Temple yanked


A bus advertisement campaign by an extreme right-wing group calling for the building of the Third Temple has been removed.

The Our Land of Israel party had put posters on 200 Jerusalem city buses shortly before Passover showing an artist’s rendition of the Third Temple on the site now occupied by the Al Aksa Mosque and the slogan “May the Temple be built in our lifetime.”

The signs were removed by the advertising franchiser this week, several days before the campaign was set to end, following many threats received in the last week, according to Ynet.

Activist Baruch Marzel and Rabbi Shalom Wolpe formed the Our Land of Israel movement in 2008. The group told Ynet that it is considering suing the advertising franchiser and the Egged bus company.

We need public transit — why can’t we get it?


I’ve never been a big one for buses or subways. I’ve never been able to organize myself around their schedules, at least when it comes to getting to work. So I usually end up taking my car (or, now that I’m in sunny Berkeley, walking, and not worrying about getting anywhere on time). Now that gas is more than $4 a gallon, I’m avoiding my car altogether.

For years, policymakers have wondered just how high gas prices would have to go before drivers switch to public transportation. The answer has been assumed to be very high, because Americans supposedly are in love with our cars. Yet now we know there’s a tipping point, and it’s not quite as high as policymakers have guessed. It’s around $4 a gallon. We know that’s the tipping point because suddenly millions of Americans are switching to buses, trains and subways to go to work.

Rather than bemoaning this remarkable turnaround we should be celebrating it. Public transit not only reduces congestion but also reduces the nation’s energy needs and cuts carbon emissions that bring on global warming.

Problem is, the nation doesn’t have nearly enough public transportation to handle the new demand. Even more absurdly, right now when it’s needed the most, public transportation across the land is being cut back. This is because transit costs are soaring by the same skyrocketing fuel prices that are forcing people out of their cars, at the same time transit revenues are shrinking because most transit systems depend largely on sales taxes, now dwindling as consumer purchases decline in this recession. A survey of the nation’s public transit agencies released last Friday showed 21 percent of rail operators — and 19 percent of bus operators — now cutting back.

Even though it’s 100 times more efficient for each of us to stop driving and use trains and buses, there’s not enough money in the public kitty for us to do so.

This is nuts. If officials need more money to cover the extra fuel costs of public transit, they can raise ticket prices a bit without reducing demand; most of us would still find public transit cheaper than driving our cars. But officials shouldn’t stop there. They should add services and expand whole systems — more buses, more trains, more light rail. If they can’t finance this by floating bonds, they should go to Congress and ensure that public transportation is a major part of the next stimulus package.

Public transit has always been the poor stepchild of infrastructure development. America’s usual answer to traffic congestion has been to add more lanes on highways, or more highways, or more bridges and tunnels for more cars. America hasn’t been really serious about public transit for almost a century. Most of New York City’s subway system was built over a hundred years ago. Los Angeles ripped out its trams long ago. Boston’s Big Dig, one of the biggest infrastructure projects in modern American history, was designed entirely for cars. In recent years, only a few farsighted and ambitious cities, like Portland, Ore., have invested in light rail.

But now that gas is more than $4 a gallon, all this may change. And what better way to get the economy going, and save energy and the environment in years to come, than to create a modern, efficient system of public transportation in America?

Reprinted from Marketplace, June 4, 2008.

Robert Reich, former secretary of labor in the Clinton administration, is a professor of public policy at UC Berkeley and the author of “Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America” (Knopf, 2004).