Hezbollah wants to de-escalate hostilities on border …

Story highlights Two Israeli soldiers killed, seven wounded in a Hezbollah missile attack Wednesday A Spanish service member with a U.N. peacekeeping forces also killed

Hezbollah sent the message through intermediaries, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon told Israel’s Army Radio.

“There are nonofficial channels between us and Lebanon to communicate through UNIFIL (United Nations peacekeepers in Lebanon), and indeed a message like that was received from Lebanon,” Yaalon said.

On Wednesday, Hezbollah fired five antitank missiles at Israeli military vehicles in the disputed Shebaa Farms area, killing an officer and a soldier, the Israeli military said. Sgt. Dor Chaim Nini was 20; Capt. Yochai Kalangel was 25, Israel Defense Forces said.

Smoke from an Israeli shelling rises over Al-Majidiyah, Lebanon, on January 28.

The attack took place near Shebaa Farms, also known as Har Dov, a disputed strip of land between Lebanon and Syria adjoining the Golan Heights, under Israeli control.

Seven Israeli soldiers were injured, two of them moderately, the Israeli military said.

Hezbollah claimed responsibility for the attack.

Yaalon accused Iran and Hezbollah of planning an attack from Syria on the Golan area, which is under Israeli control.

“This reflects a general picture that Iran and Hezbollah are trying to heat up the region and Golan Heights area because it is easy for them to operate in.”

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Hezbollah wants to de-escalate hostilities on border …

Exploring Israels ethnic cuisine

Chirshi, a well-seasoned Libyan pumpkin paste, is traditionally served as an appetizer. (Courtesy of Gil Hovav)

From Givatayims renowned Sabich Shel Oved a simple eggplant-sandwich shop with lines snaking around the corner to lesser-known places like Chachaporia Georgian cuisine in Jerusalem, the new e-book Israels Top 100 Ethnic Restaurantsprovides the English-speaking tourist a window into the delectable, folksy Israeli foods that locals have raved about for years.

Israel has been on the culinary ascent of late, with dozens of food blogs, new high-end restaurants, cooking shows and celebrity chefs, and a fascination with everything foodie. But theres no need for catchphrases like local and fresh in a place famed for its bountiful produce piled high in open-air markets, from Tel Avivs Carmel Market to Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem.

As noted in the book, which was published by The World Jewish Heritage, a nonprofit that promotes tourism to heritage sites, both markets also house restaurants and after-hour bars in addition to the daily fruit, vegetables and tchochkes they cacophonously hawk.

Many of the tastiest morsels arent served up in white-cloth establishments or by rising stars. Rather they are offered at nondescript holes in the wall and unadorned booths by old-school traditionalists, like Savta Eva on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, serving classic Ashkenazi fare such as chicken soup with matzah balls and farfel, or Rita Romano of the Libyan buffet at Ritas Kitchen in Herzliya.

That raises the question, what exactlyisIsraeli ethnic food?

Its Moroccan, Russian, Polish, Bukharian, Ethiopian, Syrian, Lebanese you name it, says famed Israeli food critic, TV personality and chef Gil Hovav, who served as a consultant on the book. In the foreword, he writes, While terroir may be too big a word to apply to Israeli street food, we are definitely loyal to whatever grows in our sun-drenched part of the world, where everything seems to be in season all year round.

At a book launch event this month at Israeli chef Einat Admonys Lower East Side restaurant Balaboosta, Hovav told a story of coming to New York after 9/11 to film his show, but instead being recruited to cook breakfast for 500 Ground Zero workers at5:30 a.m.in conditions he said were more rustic than his days in the Israeli army. After feedingshakshuka to the hungry hordes, the sated workers marveled, How interesting that in Israel you eat Mexican food for breakfast!

Its Moroccan! Hovav wanted to tell them.

The chef, who came to New York for two days for the event, will return in March for three days to host a Yemenite Pop-Up dinner with food writer and Israeli cuisine expert Adeena Sussman on the Upper West Side in collaboration with the websiteEatWith.

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Exploring Israels ethnic cuisine

Deadly border clashes stoke fears of war in Israel …

JERUSALEM Residents of Israel and Lebanon feared Wednesday that their countries were edging toward war after Israeli troops and the Lebanese Hezbollah militia exchanged deadly barrages across a fractious border earlier in the day.

The clashes, which began with a Hezbollah attack that killed two Israeli soldiers, marked one of the most serious flare-ups of violence in the area since a month-long war in 2006 and raised tensions in a volatile tri-border zone close to positions held by Syrian rebels, including Islamist factions. A U.N. peacekeeper was also killed, although it was unclear how he died.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed that whoever is behind todays attack will pay the full price. In addition to Hezbollah, Netanyahu said Israel would hold the governments of Lebanon and Syria which Hezbollah is backing in its civil war responsible for any attack originating from their territories. The Israeli leader, in the midst of a competitive election campaign, also blamed Iran, another ally of Hezbollah, for trying to open a new front against Israel.

As anti-armor missiles and tank artillery flashed across the countries frontier, Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, traveling in China, said Israel should retaliate in a very harsh and disproportionate manner.

The Lebanese-based Shiite movement Hezbollah, which asserted responsibility for the attack on an Israeli convoy, also threatened more actions. The deadly exchange on the border came 10 days after an Israeli airstrike in the Syrian-controlled portion of the Golan Heights killed six Hezbollah fighters and a senior military commander from Iran. Hezbollah leaders had vowed to retaliate.

The Lebanese Hezbollah group struck an Israeli military convoy on Wednesday, killing two Israeli soldiers. The attack was an apparent retaliation for an airstrike that killed six Hezbollah fighters in Syria earlier this month.

The Israeli military said seven troops were wounded in Wednesdays hostilities, and the United Nations said a Spanish member of its peacekeeping force was killed in the village of Ghajar, which straddles the Israel- Lebanon border. Andrea Tenenti, a spokesman for the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, said the circumstances of the tragic incident were being investigated.

The clashes began when an antitank missile struck Israeli military and civilian vehicles traveling in a convoy along the border. The attack was followed by mortar rounds launched from Lebanon that landed near Israeli troops in the foothills of Mount Hermon, according to Israeli military officials.

That barrage was answered by dozens of artillery shells fired into Lebanon. Israeli military officials said their forces launched aerial and ground strikes at Hezbollah operational positions.

In a separate operation, Israeli jets hit Syrian army artillery positions near the Israel-occupied Golan Heights in response to two rockets fired from Syria the previous day. No casualties were reported.

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Deadly border clashes stoke fears of war in Israel …

Israel: Hezbollah kills 2 soldiers

Story highlights Two Israeli soldiers killed, seven wounded in Hezbollah missile attack A Spanish service member with U.N. peacekeeping forces also killed U.N. takes Hamas to task in Gaza after protesters damage compound

Separately, in Gaza, the United Nations said it was “outraged” when Palestinian protesters climbed the perimeter of a U.N. compound and damaged it. U.N. officials took Hamas to task for not preventing the incident.

Hezbollah fired five anti-tank missiles at Israeli military vehicles in the disputed Shebaa Farms area, killing an officer and a soldier, the Israel Defense Forces said. Sgt. Dor Chaim Nini was 20; Capt. Yochai Kalangel was 25, the IDF said.

The attack took place near Shebaa Farms, also known as Har Dov, a disputed strip of land between Lebanon and Syria adjoining the Golan Heights, under Israeli control.

Seven Israeli soldiers were injured, two of them moderately, the IDF said.

Hezbollah, which Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime supports, claimed responsibility for the attack.

The Spanish service member, Cpl. Francisco Javier Soria Toledo, was serving with UNIFIL, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon. He was killed “during the incidents that happened between Hezbollah and the Israeli military,” the Spanish government said.

Israeli soldiers carry an injured soldier Wednesday on the border with Lebanon.

Spanish President Mariano Rajoy Brey expressed his condolences on Twitter.

It was unknown whether the peacekeeper, 36, was killed by Israeli or Hezbollah fire. The IDF told CNN it is investigating

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Israel: Hezbollah kills 2 soldiers

Rocket fire heightens tension on Israel's borders

Lebanese army soldiers watch as smoke rises from shells fired from Israel over al-Wazzani area in southern Lebanon, Jan. 28, 2015. Reuters

Last Updated Jan 28, 2015 7:59 AM EST

SHEAR YASHUV, Israel — A missile fired by the Lebanese Hezbollah group struck an Israeli military convoy on Wednesday, an apparent retaliation for a deadly Israeli airstrike in Syria that killed six Hezbollah fighters earlier this month.

Israel responded by firing at least 50 artillery shells into Lebanon in a significant escalation along the volatile border. The United Nations said a U.N. peacekeeper was killed in southern Lebanon, in an incident likely related to the border flare-up.

The Israel Defense Forces said in a statement that two soldiers were killed and seven others wounded in the missile strike.

The military said it was responding with aerial and ground strikes on Hezbollah positions. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Israel would respond “forcefully.”

In a statement, Hezbollah said its fighters destroyed a number of Israeli vehicles that were carrying Israeli officers and soldiers and caused casualties among “enemy ranks.”

It said the attack was carried out by a group calling itself the “heroic martyrs of Quneitra,” — suggesting it was in retaliation for an Israeli airstrike on the Golan Heights on Jan. 18 that killed six Hezbollah fighters and an Iranian general.

The Israeli military said an anti-tank missile hit an Israeli military vehicle near the Israeli-Lebanese border on Wednesday, and said residents of the area had been ordered to remain in their homes.

An hour later, mortars were fired at several Israeli military locations on Mount Dov and Mount Hermon, the Israeli military said. No injuries were reported in that attack. The military said it responded with fire toward Lebanese positions, and evacuated Israeli visitors from a ski resort in the area.

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Rocket fire heightens tension on Israel's borders

At U.N. conference, Saudi Arabia blames Israel for rise in anti-Semitism

(JNS.org) At the first-ever informal United Nations conference addressing anti-Semitism, surprise attendee Saudi Arabia blamed Israeli occupation for the global rise in anti-Semitism.

Colonization and occupation fuels anti-Semitism occupation is an act of anti-Semitism. It threatens human rights and human-kind, said Saudi Arabian ambassador Abdallah al-Mouallimi, who spoke on behalf of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Countries.Al-Mouallimi also condemned all words and acts that lead to hatred, anti-Semitism, Islamophobia.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon struck a different tone, arguing that grievances about Israeli actions must never be used as an excuse to attack Jews.

Amid the Gaza war last summer, anti-Semitic attacks in Europe and elsewhere in the world rose to their highest levels in decades, with protesters in several countries going as far as calling for Jews to be attacked and even gassed. More recently, four Jewish shoppers were killed in an attack on a kosher supermarket in Paris.

Violent anti-Semitism is casting a shadow over Europe, Israeli Ambassador to the U.N. Ron Prosor said, calling out other U.N. member countries for their anti-Semitic remarks.This summer, disguised as humanitarian concern, delegates have used this podium to commit anti-Semitism, accusing Israel of behaving like Nazis, he added. It doesnt matter how much youre angered or frustrated by our conflict. There is no excuse for statements like that.

Germanys representative at the conference, Michael Roth, echoed this concern, saying that anti-Semitism is gaining ground in a loud and aggressive manner and that it poses a threat to European society.

U.S. Ambassador Samantha Power, noting that nearly two-thirds of religion-driven hate crimes in the U.S. target Jews, said the world must take action against this monstrous global problem.

When the human rights of Jews are repressed, the rights of other religious and ethnic groups are often not far behind, Power said.

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At U.N. conference, Saudi Arabia blames Israel for rise in anti-Semitism

What does Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court mean for Australia?

What does Palestinian membership of the ICC mean for Australia?

On April 1 this year, Palestine will formally accept the exercise of jurisdiction by the International Criminal Court.

There are some lingering debating points around the issue of Palestine’s claim to the full status of a “state” in international law, but in respect of accession to the Rome statute of the ICC (and of membership in UNESCO, and other organisations), these obstacles have been overcome.

Additionally, Palestine has backdated the ICC’s jurisdiction to June 13, 2014. This means Palestine has specifically authorised potential ICC jurisdiction over incidents that have taken place in Palestinian territory from that date on including Israel’s 2014 Operation Protective Edge. Indeed, in line with normal processes, the ICC prosecutor began a preliminary examination into the situation of Palestine this month.

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What might this mean for Australia?

The first thing it most certainly means is the potential for Australian citizens who also hold Israeli citizenship, who were perhaps serving in the Israel Defence Force at the time, to be subject to investigation for their conduct during operations in Gaza from June 13, 2014. The same applies to Australian Palestinians who might have fought in the conflict against Israel from the same date.

Should an Australian citizen either serving in the Israeli Defence Force or fighting for one of the Palestinian armed groups be alleged to have been involved in war crimes or crimes against humanity that were committed in or from Palestinian territory during the conflict, then Australia will have to decide how to deal with that allegation.

Australia can certainly prosecute such people here there are laws in place to do that. But, equally, Australia might be faced with a situation where consideration of extraditing that suspect to Palestine for trial, or, perhaps more palatably, to the ICC for trial, arises.

Second, Australia needs to think about how assistance might be provided to Palestine in fulfilling all its obligations in line with the ICC statute. In particular, Palestine will need to quickly bring into its own law a set of offences that correlate with the offences over which the ICC has jurisdiction. Australia could help Palestine with getting the right laws in place.

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What does Palestinian membership of the International Criminal Court mean for Australia?

Israel strikes back after 2 rockets from Syria hit Golan Heights

At least two rockets fired from Syria landed in Israeli territory Tuesday, drawing retaliatory fire into Syria, Israels military said.

The rockets landed on the Israeli-controlled side of the Golan Heights, a strategic plateau Israel seized from Syria in the 1967 Middle East War. The rockets caused no injuries but prompted the evacuation of 1,000 visitors from Mt. Hermon, Israels only ski site.

The Israeli army responded with artillery, firing about 20 shells at what it said was the source of fire in Syria. According to initial reports from Syria, two people were killed.

It was not immediately clear who fired the rockets, but Israels security forces have been on high alert since an airstrike Jan. 18 killed a dozen members of the militant group Hezbollah and Iranian forces in Syria. Iran, Syria and Hezbollah have vowed to retaliate for the operation, which was attributed to Israel.

Israel has signaled over the last week that it was not interested in an escalation but would react if attacked. Israel will not tolerate any provocation and will hold governments responsible for organizations operating from their territory, said Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon.

Meanwhile, Israel has beefed up its deployment of forces along its northern borders with Lebanon and Syria since the strike. Its forces have begun digging deep ditches to prevent cross-border infiltration from Syria, local media report.

Following Tuesdays rocket fire, security authorities announced that the Mt. Hermon ski site would remain closed for the time being, and police deployed several roadblocks to keep civilian traffic away from the border. Israeli farmers were instructed to stay out of fields and orchards in proximity to the border with Syria.

Sobelman is a special correspondent.

6:50 a.m.: This article has been updated throughout with new details.

The article was originally posted at 4:18 a.m.

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Israel strikes back after 2 rockets from Syria hit Golan Heights

Catholics and Eretz Israel

“The existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is in itself religious, but in their reference to the common principles of international law.” — Commission for Religious Relations with the Jews, “Notes on the correct way to present Jews and Judaism in preaching and catechesis in the Roman Catholic Church,” 1985

Eretz Yisrael is the Hebrew term for the Land of Israel. But no translation conveys the depth of historic attachment Jews possess for their ancient homeland, the mournful longing that invested the term during two millennia of exile, and the hope it represented with the rise of the Zionist movement in the 19th century. Regrettably, with the rise of the ultranationalist parties during the last half-century, it became a political slogan justifying Israeli expansion over “Greater Israel,” including all the West Bank.

On its face, the legal-sounding formula from the Holy See’s 1985 notes, which excludes “the State of Israel and its political options” from Catholics’ religious relations with the Jews, fails to take into account the central place Israel plays in contemporary Jewish identity and how it necessarily affects Catholic-Jewish relations. So intimate and intense is the attachment of Jews to the state of Israel that the official Catholic position, as justified as it is, may feel to some like a quick hit of the brakes in the positive development of Catholic-Jewish relations.

After refraining from diplomatic recognition of Israel for 45 years on the grounds that Israel’s final borders had not been set, the Holy See undertook a formal exchange of ambassadors with Israel in 1994 in what proved the mistaken expectation that the 1993 Oslo Accords had resolved the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Over the last 20 years, expectations of a stable state with settled borders have become harder and harder to sustain. With the years, as Israeli settlements spread across the West Bank and the Israeli government seized more and more Palestinian land for security reasons, the opportunity for a two-state solution has been thoroughly undercut.

Looking backward, the 1985 Vatican caution that “the existence of the State of Israel and its political options should be envisaged not in a perspective which is in itself religious” seems prescient. What remains in the religious ambit are the Jewish roots of Christianity, the rejection of any form of anti-Semitism, shared Jewish-Catholic social action, and the hope of eschatological reconciliation between our two communities.

Still, despite a quarter-century of advocacy for the church on Israel-related issues, I nonetheless find myself uneasy with a bifurcated consciousness: a religious consciousness of Catholic bonds with Judaism and critical awareness of Israel’s political options. As necessary as moral discrimination about Israeli policy may be, I am uneasy over its potential chilling effect on religious respect for Jews.

Authenticity in the Catholic-Jewish relationship, of course, demands that we not allow ourselves to be indoctrinated or silenced by ultra-Zionist propaganda. Increasingly Israeli positions are articulated in an overstated way that denies credence to any alternative position. That denial takes a vigorous, programmatic shape with cadres of propagandists who attack both Jewish and Gentile critics of Israel with equal ferocity. Moral and intellectual integrity, however, demand we Catholics preserve a critical perspective on the Israeli state and its political options.

The Catholic intellectual tradition, moreover, invites us to hold our ties to Judaism in a universalistic perspective. We treasure our religious ties, we reject all forms of discrimination and anti-Semitism, but our Catholic outlook is universalistic, not ethnocentric. Our unique religious affinities should not seduce us to bow to the extremes of ethnocentric politics. Our love of Jews must share in our love of humanity.

I think of the universalistic vision of Psalm 87: “All call Zion mother/since all were born in her.” “All” were the neighboring pagan nations: Egypt and Babylon, Philistia, Tyre and Ethiopia. Similarly, the Book of Isaiah (59), promising to bring devout foreigners to God’s holy mountain, admonishes, “Have a care for justice, act with integrity.”

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Catholics and Eretz Israel

Obama chief of staff touts abiding relations with Israel

WASHINGTON President Obamas chief of staff touted deep and abiding US relations with Israel on five Sunday talk shows in the wake of a nasty political rift between the two allies.

The public relations push comes as an administration official was quoted in the Israeli press as saying Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spat in our face publicly when he accepted an invitation to speak before Congress without the White Houses knowledge or consent.

Its not me, and its not the president, Denis McDonough told NBCs Meet the Press when asked about the unnamed quote. Its not what we believe.

Our relationship with Israel is many faceted, deep and abiding, McDonough continued. Its focused on a shared series of threats, but also, on a shared series of values that one particular incident is not going to inform overwhelming.

GOP House Speaker John Boehner did an end around the White House by inviting Netanyahu to visit Congress in March, just two weeks an election in Israel.

It is protocol for heads of state to speak directly to each other, and the invitation from Congress has garnered bipartisan criticism.

Former GOP presidential hopeful Jon Huntsman called it a really bad precedent while Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff blasted it as a terrible mistake on CNNs State of the Union.

Obama has refused to meet with Netanyahu in Washington because the White House does not want to influence the election in Israel, McDonough said.

Obama and Netanyahu have an often dicey personal relationship, but right-leaning Netanyahu has plenty of friends in the Republican-controlled Congress. The Israeli leader Sunday defended his planned trip, saying hell go anywhere hes invited to warn about the threat from Iran.

I am obligated to make every effort to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weaponry that will be aimed at the state of Israel, Netanyahu said. This effort is global and I will go anywhere I am invited to make the state of Israels case and defend its future and existence.

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Legal row simmers between Iraq, Israel over Torah manuscript

(MENAFN – Kuwait News Agency (KUNA)) The Iraqi Ministry of Tourism and Antiquities on Sunday protested strongly at the recent appearance in Israel of a missing Iraqi manuscript of Torah.

In a statement, carried by local media, the Ministry denounced Israel’s illegal possession of the Hebrew scroll and urged the US to help retrieve it from Israel.

The US mission in Iraq took the manuscript from Iraq several years ago under the pretext of renovating it at the National Archives and Records Administration, the statement said, urging NARA to provide clear answers to this question.

“We strongly protest against Israeli illegal holding of part of our heritage and call on the NARA which renovates Iraq’s Hebrew archive to clarify the destiny of the manuscript,” the statement stressed.

The rehabilitation of Iraq’s Hebrew archive was scheduled to complete in 2005, it said, noting that the ministry urged NARA repeatedly to restore all items of the archive and end this file.

It added that it called on the relevant international organizations, notably the UNESCO and the Interpol, to help Iraq retrieve this important document and other stolen relicts as part of the support of the civilized world to Iraq.

On Thursday, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs claimed that the Iraqi manuscript of Torah has arrived from Kurdistan across Baghdad and Amman and “will be used by the Torah Authority in Jerusalem for daily prayer.” In a press statement, quoted by the Times of Israel and the Iraqi News newspapers, the ministry said: “The manuscript restoration process took seven months, and then it was brought to the headquarters of the Israeli Foreign Ministry where Israeli diplomats have been serving for years.” The Israeli Foreign Ministry added: “The ceremony of declaration of the Torah manuscript arrival to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs was attended by Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, and a number of members of the Kurdish Jewish community and the ministry staff.” Lieberman considered the manuscript alleged trip from Kurdistan to Baghdad and Amman and then to Jerusalem “a reminder of Jewish nation’s destiny.”

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Legal row simmers between Iraq, Israel over Torah manuscript

Netanyahu ‘spat in our face,’ White House officials said …

The White Houses outrage over Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus plan to speak before Congress in March a move he failed to coordinate with the administration began to seep through the diplomatic cracks on Friday, with officials telling Haaretz the Israeli leader had spat in President Barack Obamas face.

We thought weve seen everything, the newspaper quoted an unnamed senior US official as saying. But Bibi managed to surprise even us.

There are things you simply dont do. He spat in our face publicly and thats no way to behave. Netanyahu ought to remember that President Obama has a year and a half left to his presidency, and that there will be a price, he said.

Officials in Washington saidthat the chickenshit epithet with which an anonymous administration official branded Netanyahu several months ago was mild compared to the language used in the White House when news of Netanyahus planned speech came in.

In his addressthe Israeli leader is expected to speak about stalled US-led nuclear negotiations with Iran, and to urge lawmakers to slap Tehran with a new round of tougher sanctions in order to force it to comply with international demands. The Mossad intelligence service on Thursday went to the rare length of issuing a press statement to deny claims, cited by Kerry, that its chief Tamir Pardo had told visiting US politicians that he opposed further sanctions.

Haaretz reported thatObama had personally demanded that Netanyahu tone down his pro-sanctions rhetoric in a phone call between the two last week. The presidenthas said a sanctions bill would cripple negotiations with Iranian leaders at a critical stage, and has threatened to veto such a bill should it come through.

The Washington Post reported that Netanyahus apparent disrespect for the US leadership was particularly offensive to Secretary of State John Kerry, who over the past month had made frenzied efforts on Israels behalf on the world stage making dozens of calls to world leaders to convince them to oppose a UN Security Council resolution which would have set a timeframe for the establishment of a Palestinian state.

The secretarys patience is not infinite, a source close to Kerry told the Post. The bilateral relationship is unshakable. But playing politics with that relationship could blunt Secretary Kerrys enthusiasm for being Israels primary defender.

The White House said Thursday that Obama would not meet with Netanyahu when he travels to Washington, with a spokeswoman citing a long-standing practice and principle by which the president does not meet with heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections. Kerry will also not meet with Netanyahu.

Netanyahu will be in Washington in part for a March 3 address to a joint session of Congress. House Speaker John Boehner invited Netanyahu to speak to Congress without consulting the Obama administration.

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Netanyahu ‘spat in our face,’ White House officials said …

Obama will not meet Israel’s Netanyahu on U.S. visit | Reuters

By Matt Spetalnick and Jeffrey Heller

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM Thu Jan 22, 2015 6:57pm EST

1 of 2. U.S. President Barack Obama meets with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington October 1, 2014.

Credit: Reuters/Kevin Lamarque/Files

WASHINGTON/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will not meet Israel’s prime minister when he visits Washington in March, the White House said on Thursday, after being blindsided by the Republicans’ invitation to Benjamin Netanyahu to address the U.S. Congress on Iran.

Bernadette Meehan, spokeswoman for the White House National Security Council, said Obama was withholding an invitation for Oval Office talks with Netanyahu because of Israel’s March 17 elections.

As a matter of long-standing practice and principle, we do not see heads of state or candidates in close proximity to their elections, so as to avoid the appearance of influencing a democratic election in a foreign country,” Meehan said in statement.

“Accordingly, the president will not be meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu because of the proximity to the Israeli election, which is just two weeks after his planned address to the U.S. Congress.”

Earlier on Thursday, Netanyahu announced that he would address Congress in March.

The decision by Obama, whose relationship with Netanyahu has often been tense, might be interpreted as a snub because leaders from Israel, a staunch U.S. ally, are almost always afforded talks with the American president on trips to Washington.

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Obama will not meet Israel’s Netanyahu on U.S. visit | Reuters

Israel elections 101: Did merger of Arab parties create a power-broker?

UPDATE 8:40 a.m. Friday:Arab political parties in Israel agreed late Thursday to merge their lists for the upcoming Israeli elections after resolving a dispute over the sharing of any additional representation in parliament. The following story, published hours before the agreement was announced, explains the motivations for, and possible impact of, the merger.

NAZARETH, Israel For most of Israels history, a divided collection of parties representing the countrys Arab citizens has operated at the margins of national political life.But a first-ever push to merge three Arab parliamentary parties into a single slate for this March’s general election is generating optimism among a disillusioned minority that makes up one fifth of the electorate.

Their hope is that the merger, which appears imminent, could help install a more dovish coalition government that would restart the peace process with the Palestinians and redress decades of inequality for Arab Israelis. The Arab parties, which together control 11 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, hope to add anywhere from one to four seats.

But a nagging doubt persists: would such a strategygalvanize higher Arab voter turnout. While participation in local elections has been high exceeding 80 percent the trend in parliamentary elections has been downward. In 2013 it was 57 percent, lagging the overall participation rate by 11 percent, because of increasing alienation from the Israeli mainstream and frustration with their own elected legislators.

A united campaign would be a symbolic milestone with the potential to boost Arab voter turnout by about one-third, argues Nohad Ali, a sociology professor at Haifa University, who advised Israeli legislators to raise the threshold for parties’ representation in parliament.

Its an issue of identity. It will demonstrate to the [Arab] public that the unifier between us is greater than that which separates us, says ProfessorAli, who says his surveys show overwhelming public support for the move.

Offsetting that optimism over voter turnout are the political tensions that continue to alienate Arabs in Israel:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has campaigned hard for newlegislation elevating Israels Jewish character over its democratic traditions

Israeli police have shot dead twoArab citizens of Israelin the last three months

and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party has called for UmmEl Fahm, the second-largest Israeli Arab city, to be ceded toa future Palestinian statein exchange for Jewish settlements in the West Bank being made part of Israel.

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Democrats rally around Obama amid furore over Netanyahu Congress visit

John Boehner faced a call from the Anti-Defamation League national director, Abraham Foxman, to rescind the invitation. Photograph: Joshua Roberts/Reuters

The White House is growing more confident it can withstand efforts to frustrate its policy of nuclear talks with Iran, as a furore over the intervention of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, appears to be encouraging wavering Democrats to rally around their president.

In the first White House press conference since the Republican House speaker, John Boehner, sparked controversy by inviting Netanyahu to speak before a joint session of Congress amid calls for a tougher approach to Iran, administration officials claimed there was support for their argument that planned legislation authorising new sanctions, if talks fail, would be counter-productive.

I think there is plenty of indication that the at least some members of Congress have found this rather plausible line of argument pretty persuasive, the White House spokesman, Josh Earnest, told reporters.

Netanyahu is scheduled to address Congress on 3 March. He will also attend the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (Aipac) conference in Washington scheduled for 1-3 March.

Related: Tzipi Livni says Israeli prime minister leading country into ‘diplomatic isolation’

Earnest refused to speculate on a likely vote count, but sympathetic lobbyists in touch with Democratic congressmen claim the polarising impact of Boehners invitation to Netanyahu is making it harder for Republicans to reach a veto-proof majority for the sanctions bill.

This move by Netanyahu has definitely backfired in terms of Democrats, said Dylan Williams, director of government affairs at J-Street, a Washington lobby group which describes itself as pro-Israel but supports a two-state peace process for a Palestinian state.

J-Street sent out a letter to its US supporters on Friday, urging them to warn their congressmen not to support the visit, which will fall just two weeks before elections in Israel.

This invitation looks like a thinly veiled attempt to scuttle the critical negotiations taking place right now aimed at ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon, said the letter. Bibi and Obama disagree on how to deal with Iran, and thats fair. But a foreign leader lobbying Congress is inappropriate.

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Jews threatened by anti-Semitism in Turkey

When Jeff Besken’s family gets together, there are often communication problems. His grandparents, both over 90, speak to each other in Ladino, a dying Judeo-Spanish language with roots in the Middle Ages. Besken’s parents speak the language only occasionally. As for the 39-year-old, he still understands almost everything. His younger sister, however, not a word.

It’s a problem faced by many Sephardic Jews in Turkey. There are around 25,000 living in the country, most of them in Istanbul. After their ancestors were expelled from Catholic Spain in the 15th century, they found refuge in the Ottoman Empire, the forerunner of modern Turkey.

Today, the Spanish government wants to make amends for its past misdeeds. Last February, it introduced a bill that would allow descendants of Sephardic Jews around the world to qualify for a Spanish passport. If passed, the law would affect about 3.5 million people. Though Parliament has yet to make a final decision, the bill is almost certain to pass.

Growing fear of attacks

“I made an immediate request for a Spanish passport. The same goes for my entire family, and actually all the Sephardic Jews in Turkey that I know,” said Besken, speaking with DW. He calls the passport a guarantee, just in case something “happens.”

Besken: “I have a good life. I don’t really want to leave Turkey”

“Then we can easily pack up our stuff and go,” he said. “It’s a great advantage for us.”

Besken’s family is well-off. He lives in Bodrum, a chic holiday resort on the Aegean Sea, and works as a civil engineer for the family firm. “I have a good life. I don’t really want to leave Turkey,” he said. “But in recent years, Jews in Turkey have been facing more and more anti-Semitism. We’ve even felt it in our everyday business life. For example, a Muslim Turk owed my Jewish friend money. He said: ‘I’ll give you part of it back. The rest, I’ll send to Gaza in your name.”

Besken explains that over the past five centuries, life for Jews in Turkey was peaceful, first under the Ottomans and later under the Turkish government. But since 2010, diplomatic relations between Turkey and Israel have cooled – a reaction to Israel’s blockade of Gaza and the raid by Israeli troops on a flotilla delivering humanitarian goods, which resulted in the death of nine Turkish activists.

“Many Turkish people see us as representatives of the Israeli government and the war in Gaza, but we have absolutely nothing to do with that,” said Besken. Since that time, he has increasingly denied his Jewish identity.

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Jews threatened by anti-Semitism in Turkey

Israel's spy agency denies opposing new Iran sanctions

The controversy over Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahus planned address to the U.S. Congress continued to grow Thursday, dragging into the fray Israels spy agency, the Mossad.

Speaker John A. Boehners invitation to Netanyahu to speak before the House of Representatives was not coordinated with the White House and irked both the Obama administration and Netanyahus domestic opponents.

The Israeli leader does not see eye to eye with President Obama on increased sanctions against Iran, a likely focus of his address. Netanyahu strongly maintains that current restrictions should be increased to stop Irans controversial nuclear program. The Obama administration opposes fresh sanctions while talks with the Iranians continue.

Secretary of State John F. Kerry has suggested that Israel’s intelligence chiefs dont agree with Netanyahu either. Evidently displeased at the prospect of the prime minister encouraging the Republican-dominated Congress push for new sanctions, Kerry made reference to the alleged dispute.

In comments to Bloomberg news service, Kerry said a senior Israeli intelligence official told U.S. senators visiting Israel this week that new sanctions would be like throwing a grenade into the process. Although Kerry did not name him, the official who met with the senators was Mossad director Tamir Pardo.

Public reports of a rift between Netanyahu and the Mossad on a centerpiece policy issue forced the spy agency out of the shadows to issue a rare statement meant to clarify its position and what Pardo had told the senators.

In a release circulated to the press in Hebrew and English, the agency stressed that Pardo had met with the senators at their request and with Netanyahus approval.

Contrary to what has been reported, the head of Mossad did not say he opposes imposing additional sanctions on Iran, the statement said. Reportedly, Pardo told them that in negotiating with Iran, it is essential to present both carrots and sticks and the latter are currently lacking.

The statement also said the Mossad chief intended the “grenade” comment as a metaphor to describe not the explosion of negotiations with Iran but rather creating a temporary crisis that would ultimately produce better conditions for the talks. Reportedly, Pardo cautioned that the bad agreement taking shape with Iran is likely to lead to a regional arms race.

The appearance of Israel and the U.S. intervening in each others domestic politics put both in an uncomfortable position before Israeli elections and drew unwelcome attention to personal relations between the leaders, widely regarded as chilly.

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Israel's spy agency denies opposing new Iran sanctions

Israel elections 101: Could merger of Arab parties create a power-broker?

Nazareth, Israel For most of Israels history, a divided collection of parties representing the countrys Arab citizens has operated at the margins of national political life.But a first-ever push to merge three Arab parliamentary parties into a single slate for this March’s general election is generating optimism among a disillusioned minority that makes up one fifth of the electorate.

Their hope is that the merger, which appears imminent, could help install a more dovish coalition government that would restart the peace process with the Palestinians and redress decades of inequality for Arab Israelis. The Arab parties, which together control 11 of the 120 seats in the Knesset, hope to add anywhere from one to four seats.

But a nagging doubt persists: would such a strategygalvanize higher Arab voter turnout. While participation in local elections has been high exceeding 80 percent the trend in parliamentary elections has been downward. In 2013 it was 57 percent, lagging the overall participation rate by 11 percent, because of increasing alienation from the Israeli mainstream and frustration with their own elected legislators.

A united campaign would be a symbolic milestone with the potential to boost Arab voter turnout by about one-third, argues Nohad Ali, a sociology professor at Haifa University, who advised Israeli legislators to raise the threshold for parties’ representation in parliament.

Its an issue of identity. It will demonstrate to the [Arab] public that the unifier between us is greater than that which separates us, says ProfessorAli, who says his surveys show overwhelming public support for the move.

Offsetting that optimism over voter turnout are the political tensions that continue to alienate Arabs in Israel:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has campaigned hard for newlegislation elevating Israels Jewish character over its democratic traditions

Israeli police have shot dead twoArab citizens of Israelin the last three months

and Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman of the ultra-nationalist Yisrael Beiteinu party has called for UmmEl Fahm, the second-largest Israeli Arab city, to be ceded toa future Palestinian statein exchange for Jewish settlements in the West Bank being made part of Israel.

Most of all, many Israeli Arabssay they still feel hostility left over fromlast summers warinthe Hamas-ruled Gaza Strip,during which demonstrations expressingsympathy for civilians killed therewerecriticized as support for Islamic terrorism. Most said they blame the current government and hope the elections will bring change.

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Israel elections 101: Could merger of Arab parties create a power-broker?