Netanyahu, Peres hail U.S. friendship, leadership on Independence Day


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in an Independence Day message that he “appreciate(s) deeply all that America has done for Israel.”

The taped video message was played Tuesday night at the Independence Day celebration at the U.S. Ambassador’s residence in Herzliya. Netanyahu did not attend the event, due to a leg injury sustained while playing soccer with Jewish and Arab children last month.

Referring to the Middle East, Netanyahu said real democracy is not just having popular elections.

“By ensuring both popular sovereignty and individual rights, the nations of the region can join America and Israel in being genuine democracies,” Netanyahu said, adding that “there is ample reason for skepticism.”

However, he continued, “In the long term I believe there is reason for hope,” because “the power of freedom is bound to prevail.”

Israeli President Shimon Peres was the main speaker at the Independence Day celebration, which featured hundreds of guests.

“There is a historic friendship between our two nations. America was, and remains, Israel’s greatest ally and its closest friend,” Peres declared.

He called President Obama’s decision to award him the Presidential Medal of Freedom “a moving gesture of a great leader, a great friend, President Obama. It was an expression of the unshakeable bond between our countries, our two nations, our two peoples. I felt the commitment of President Obama to the peace and security of the State of Israel. It was an uncompromising pledge to the security and future of Israel followed by generous implementation.”

Peres also discussed the shared values between the two countries, saying “The United States and Israel were conceived as ideas, to better society, serving a greater good. Always dreaming and always looking forward. Never hating, never attacking and always seeking peace. We share similarities. We are both immigrant-based societies. We both share a pioneering culture. But even more importantly we share a moral compass; we champion freedom, cherish liberty and are committed to the pursuit of happiness. We both see science and technology as the route to a better world. We value the individual as an entrepreneur and the collective responsibility as a source of strength.”

U.S. to help Israel buy more Iron Dome systems


The United States will help Israel buy four more Iron Dome short-range anti-missile systems, a Pentagon official said.

Lt.-Gen. Patrick O’Reilly, the head of the Pentagon’s Missile Defense Agency, told the Senate Appropriations Defense subcommittee Wednesday that the agency has included in its budget a proposal to pay for four more of the protection systems, which each cost about $50 million.

The system, which has been deployed near Beersheba and Ashkelon, has intercepted rockets fired from Gaza on southern Israeli communities.

Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. developed the Iron Dome on its own, but the United States reportedly believes its troops could benefit from a similar system.

Obama to host Netanyahu at White House


President Obama will host Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the White House for talks.

The meeting will be held on May 20 in the Oval Office, and the effort to restart the Israeli-Palestinian peace process reportedly will be the main item on the agenda.

“The leaders look forward to discussing the full range of issues of mutual interest to the United States and Israel,” the White House said in a statement issued Wednesday evening.

Netanyahu will be in Washington to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference on May 21. He is also scheduled to address both houses of Congress in a joint meeting, at the invitation of Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio). Netanyahu’s speech to Congress on May 23 is expected to outline his plans for peace with the Palestinians.

Netanyahu: Israel was ready to extend freeze


Israel was prepared to extend a West Bank construction freeze, but the United States withdrew the idea, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“The United States asked us to consider extending the freeze by three months, and the truth is that we were prepared to do so,” Netanyahu reportedly told the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee Monday.

“At the end of the day, the United States decided not to go in that direction, rightly so in my opinion, and moved on to outlining talks on closing gaps, so that the core issues can be discussed,” he added.

The Obama administration pressed Israel to implement a three-month extension of a 10-month freeze on construction on West Bank Jewish settlements in order to keep the Palestinians at the peace negotiating table. The freeze ended in late September, one month after the Palestinians agreed to restart negotiations. In early December the Obama administration announced that it would stop pressing for the freeze, after offering Israel several inducements, including 20 F-35 stealth fighter planes and security guarantees, as a reward for a freeze continuation.

“I told Obama that I am prepared to go with this to the Cabinet and that I will be able to enforce the move, but then I received the surprising phone call from the Americans who said they no longer demand that Israel extends the freeze,” Netanyahu reportedly said.

Netanyahu said that U.S. officials are scheduled to arrive in mid-January in an effort to restart peace negotiations.

On Sunday Netanyahu told his Cabinet that he was willing to hold continuous negotiations with Abbas until an agreement is reached.

Ehud Barak: Final status talks within months


After meeting with U.S. leaders, Israeli Defense Minister Ehud Barak predicted that comprehensive talks with the Palestinians on all final status issues would begin within months.

“We will have a serious discussion in coming months on security, borders, Jerusalem and refugees,” Barak told reporters Monday, ending a visit in which he met with Vice President Joe Biden, Defense Secretary Robert Gates and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, among others.

Clinton, in an address Dec. 10 at the Saban Forum, urged the sides to address those core issues, just days after the United States abandoned its efforts to renew direct peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians. The Palestinians walked out of the talks in October after Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refused to extend a 10-month partial settlement freeze.

Barak did not say how the talks would proceed, if not directly.

“The mechanics will be resolved in the coming weeks,” he said. Netanyahu has insisted on direct talks, and has preferred to focus only on borders and security for now.

Barak also dismissed the controversy subsequent to his remarks at the Saban Forum following Clinton’s address in which he said a final status plan would include a Jerusalem shared with the Palestinians.

Israeli officials within hours said that Barak’s position was not that of the government’s.

Speaking to reporters, Barak acknowledged as such, saying it was his personal view that Jerusalem is necessarily a topic to be considered in talks.

Amar calls on Netanyahu to quash military conversion bill


Israel’s Chief Sephardic Rabbi Shlomo Amar said he will no longer be responsible for any state conversions if the Knesset passes a bill requiring the recognition of all military conversions.

In a letter sent to Benjamin Netanyahu, Amar called on the prime minister to prevent the bill from passing, The Jerusalem Post reported Tuesday.

Amar has charged a committee to look into legal and halachic issues surrounding the military conversions. He asked Netanyahu to allow the committee to conclude its work before allowing the legislation to go forward.

“I see in this bill no concern for the soldiers undergoing conversions, rather a clear directive of destroying religion in Israel,” Amar’s letter reportedly said. “This is to inform you, that if this bill passes, I won’t be able to take care of all matters of conversion, and will no longer bear the responsibility for them.”

The haredi Orthodox Shas Party also called on Netanyahu to quash the bill, telling him Tuesday that it is a breach of coalition agreements with Shas, Ynet reported,

The bill to protect Israeli soldiers who have converted to Judaism through military conversion courts from having their conversions annulled was approved Sunday by the Knesset’s Ministerial Committee on Legislative Affairs. It would force all state agencies, including rabbinic courts, the chief rabbis of cities and other Orthodox marriage registrars to accept the converts as Jews.

In September, a state prosecutor argued before Israel’s Supreme Court, during a court hearing to address the refusal by town and city rabbis to register converts for marriage, that conversions of Israeli soldiers by the military rabbinate are not valid. About 4,500 soldiers, the majority of them women, have converted to Judaism while in the Israeli military.

U.S. reportedly pushing three-month freeze extension


The Obama administration reportedly suggested that Israel extend its current settlement freeze for three months, which Israel appears to have rejected.

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton made the suggestion Wednesday night during her meeting in Jerusalem with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, according to reports Thursday citing the the London-based Arabic newspaper Asharq Al Awsat.

In a statement issued to Israeli media Thursday morning, the Prime Minister’s Office said, “We do not comment on the content of negotiations. The position of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu regarding the time period allotted in advance for the West Bank settlement freeze is well known, and has not changed.”

In the days leading up to the opening of direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, Netanyahu had stated that building will continue in West Bank settlements after the 10-month moratorium is lifted Sept. 26. He later backtracked, saying construction could be limited in scope.

Abbas accepted Clinton’s suggestion, Asharq Al Awsat reported.

The suggestion reportedly proposed that once the borders of the new Palestinian state are set during those three months, Israel could resume building in areas that will remain under its control.

In a briefing about the meetings on Wednesday night, U.S. Mideast envoy George Mitchell confirmed that settlements and the moratorium had been discussed, although he would not release details.

“We believe that these negotiations, having begun and having moved very quickly to serious and substantive discussions, should continue,” Mitchell said. “And that has been and remains our policy. We recognize that there are serious issues and challenges that are highly sensitive politically for both parties and for both leaders. We have and do encourage them to engage directly on those issues, and we join with them to share our views on how best to deal with them.”

Netanyahu Spurs Fund Drive


Former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came to Los Angeles last Sunday to raise money and morale, and in a packed banquet room and inside quiet meeting rooms, he did both.

Netanyahu spoke Sunday morning, May 5, to an audience of 2,400 people at a breakfast banquet at the Century Plaza Hotel.

The banquet, sponsored by the Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, raised $2.7 million and counting toward the federation’s $12 million Jews in Crisis campaign goal.

The Federation’s emergency Jews in Crisis campaign supports services aiding victims of terror and other causes in Israel. The campaign also includes a plea for the plight of the eighth largest Jewish community — that of Argentina’s — whose institutions are threatened by a national economic meltdown.

Netanyahu also met on Sunday with smaller groups of large donors and entertainment industry leaders. At those meetings, participants reported, he reiterated many of the points he made at the breakfast banquet.

At the banquet, Sinai Temple’s Rabbi David Wolpe, Jewish unity advocate David Suissa of Suissa-Miller Advertising and Alan Hayman, whose 31-year-old daughter Shoshanna Greenbaum was killed in last summer’s Sbarro’s bombing in Israel, all delivered impassioned speeches before Netanyahu took to the stage.

Wolpe urged Jews to continue supporting Israel through financial contributions and tourism. "Look at us. We’re the most affluent Jewish community ever," Wolpe said, pointing out how fortunate Jews are to live in the United States. "We owe a debt. Not of guilt, but of responsibility."

Pledging $50,000 to the Jews in Crisis campaign, Suissa held up a pro-Israel advertisement that he was placing in The New York Times. "We do want to attack," Suissa said. "We want to attack injustice. We want to attack the lies. We want to remind the world that we do want peace, and we did offer peace, and the Palestinians said no."

Hayman railed against what he felt was the international media’s failure to illuminate the lives of fallen Israeli soldiers, who in an effort to protect Palestinian civilians, went door-to-door to weed out terrorists.

Minutes after Hayman’s speech, Netanyahu took to the stage against the backdrop of a standing ovation.

"It never ends with the Jews; it just always begins with the Jews," Netanyahu said, sizing up those who blamed Israel for political tension between the West and the East. He had sharp words for those who claimed that the root cause of the Middle East situation was Arab misery inflicted by the Israel.

"That can be sold to people whose sense of history goes back to breakfast," Netanyahu remarked, eliciting enthusiastic cheers. "The root cause of terrorism is totalitarianism."

Quoting 18th century philosopher Immanuel Kant, Netanyahu discussed the nuances of deterrence as a weapon against terrorism. However, he emphasized that Kant could not foresee the "cult of death" of the suicide-bombers that, unlike aggressors of Kant’s epoch, have no concern for collective survival. Such grotesque terrorism as that employed by Arab extremists, he added, has never been employed in any other conflict in history.

His remedy: plant the seeds of democracy in the Arab dictatorships, as was done with Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan after World War II.

Netanyahu called on the expulsion of Yasser Arafat’s regime, as well as the dismantling of Iran, Iraq and other rogue governments fueling the Palestinian side of the conflict.

"There is no other way to have peace and restore security," Netanyahu said. "You can deter terrorist regimes or you can destroy them. This is the only way to fight terrorism. This is what America is doing right now."

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