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Netanyahu Pledges ‘Zero Tolerance’ Of Hate Crimes

By Ofira Koopmans, dpa (TNS)

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised “zero tolerance” toward hate crimes as a Jewish teen died Sunday of wounds sustained in a stabbing at Jerusalem’s gay parade.

Doctors at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Karem hospital worked for three days to save the life of 16-year-old Shira Banki, but in vain.

“Shira was murdered because she courageously supported the idea that everyone is entitled to live their lives in dignity and safety,” Netanyahu said in a message of condolence.

“We are determined to fight aggressively against the phenomena of hatred, fanaticism and terrorism by any side,” he earlier told his Cabinet in Jerusalem.

“Over the last days, we witnessed despicable crimes,” he said, promising to bring their perpetrators to justice. “Our policy toward such crimes is zero tolerance.”

Shira Banki was one of six people stabbed Thursday, despite a large police presence, by an ultra-Orthodox man who had just finished serving 10 years in jail for stabbing marchers at the 2005 Jerusalem gay pride parade.

The next day suspected Jewish extremists threw a firebomb into the northern West Bank home of the Dawabshe family as they slept, killing 18-month-old Ali and seriously injuring his parents and 4-year-old brother. The Hebrew word for revenge and a star of David were sprayed on a wall.

After Thursday’s stabbings and Friday’s arson, thousands of Israelis took to the streets late Saturday in anti-hate-crimes rallies in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem and elsewhere.

President Reuven Rivlin said at the Jerusalem rally that Jewish radicalism was “wreaking havoc” in Israeli society and he was “ashamed.”

“Every society has extremist fringes, but today, we have to ask, what is it in the public atmosphere which allows extremism and extremists to walk in confidence in broad daylight?” Rivlin said.

Threats against Rivlin have appeared on his Facebook page, calling him a “traitor” and a “president of Arabs” for his vehement condemnation of the arson in the northern West Bank, which killed 18-month-old Ali Dawabshe and seriously injured his parents and 4-year-old brother.

Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon said he would order so-called administrative detention for Jewish extremists, a measure commonly used against Palestinian militants. It allows the arrests of people deemed security risks before they commit a crime.

The fire in Douma near Nablus sparked clashes in East Jerusalem and the West Bank. A 17-year-old Palestinian throwing stones and a fire bomb was fatally shot Friday by Israeli soldiers near Ramallah.

(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: A woman holds signs during a protest against the violence towards the gay community in Tel Aviv August 1, 2015. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Israel’s Foreign Minister Snubs Netanyahu Coalition Invite

By Ofira Koopmans, dpa (TNS)

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman announced Monday that he will not join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, dealing a blow to the incumbent’s emerging coalition in the 11th hour of negotiations.

“We are going to serve the people from the opposition,” he said of his six-seat hardline right-wing Israel Beiteinu party.

Defying predictions, Netanyahu’s right-wing, nationalist Likud won 30 seats in the March 17 election, paving the way for him to serve a fourth term in office as premier.

The incumbent must present his government by Wednesday midnight.

Lieberman’s ultra-nationalist Beiteinu has long been considered a natural ally for Netanyahu’s Likud party in coalition negotiations, but Lieberman’s rejection means Netanyahu may be reduced to a slim majority of 61 seats in Israel’s 120-seat parliament, the Knesset.

Lieberman told reporters in Jerusalem that he will also resign from his post as foreign minister.

Netanyahu’s Likud party signed its first two coalition agreements Wednesday last week, with Kulanu and United Torah Judaism (UTJ). Lieberman cited promises made in those agreements as grounds for not joining the coalition.

The coalition Netanyahu was building with two ultra Orthodox parties, another right-wing party and the center-right Kulanu party of finance minister-designate Moshe Kahlon “is not to our taste, to say the least,” Lieberman said.

“This government has no intention of uprooting Hamas,” he said of the Islamist Palestinian movement in de facto control of the Gaza Strip, mentioning one reason of his dissatisfaction.

The next Netanyahu government would not be a nationalist one, “but the personification of opportunism,” he charged.

According to recent local media reports, Lieberman holds a grudge against Netanyahu, blaming him for an ongoing police investigation into allegations of corruption by senior members of his party.

The Likud is also negotiating with another ultra-Orthodox party, Shas (seven seats) and with the pro-settler, right-wing Jewish Home (eight seats).

Netanyahu still has a good chance of presenting his fourth government by the Wednesday midnight deadline. But if he fails, President Reuven Rivlin can appoint another lawmaker to the task of forming a government. That would then likely be Labor Party leader Isaac Herzog.

As part of the agreement signed last week with UTJ, a social reform program introduced with much fanfare during the previous government, will be canceled.

The program had included criminal sanctions for ultra-Orthodox Torah students who refuse to report for compulsory military service. It had also included a cancellation of other privileges and financial benefits for the ultra-Orthodox population in Israel.

(c)2015 Deutsche Presse-Agentur GmbH (Hamburg, Germany), Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Photo: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses a joint session of the U.S. Congress at the Capitol on March 3, 2015 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)

Pope Ends Holy Land Pilgrimage

By Ofira Koopmans, DPA

JERUSALEM — Pope Francis balanced out a prior detour to Israel’s controversial West Bank wall outside Bethlehem with a visit to a monument honoring the victims of suicide bombers in Jerusalem as he wrapped up his Holy Land pilgrimage Monday.

The pope ended a historic, three-day Holy Land pilgrimage, rife with calls for bridging divisions within Christianity, between religions, and between Israelis and Palestinians.

The last leg, in Jerusalem, included visits to Jewish and Muslim holy sites; the grave of Zionist leader Thedor Herzl; and the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial. There were also meetings with Israeli President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Both detours by the “unpredictable” pope — who surprised Sunday by issuing an unprecedented invitation to Peres and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas for a joint prayer session at the Vatican — had not been scheduled.

The visit to the monument for victims of terrorism was a request by Netanyahu, who made a point of emphasizing that the wall, which Israel built in and around the West Bank, had “saved thousands of people.”

“We don’t teach our children to build bombs. But we had to build a wall against those who teach the other side,” Netanyahu told the pontiff, who condemned terrorism as “evil” and as “fundamentally criminal.”

“I pray for all these victims of terrorism and for all the victims of terrorism in the world,” added Francis, placing his hand briefly on the Jerusalem stone rectangle.

The pontiff on Sunday made an unscheduled visit to the controversial West Bank security wall after a request from Abbas. During the visit, he placed his hand on the concrete and bowed his head for four minutes.

The pontiff opened his last day by visiting al-Aqsa mosque on the site Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary and Jews call the Temple Mount. There Francis urged non-violence in a meeting with the Sunni cleric in charge of the city’s Islamic sites.

“May no one abuse the name of God through violence,” the pontiff told the grand mufti of Jerusalem, Sheikh Mohammad Hussein, who condemned the Israeli occupation, called for the release of hunger-striking Palestinian prisoners and spoke out against Israeli police incursions onto the platform in response to stone-throwing.

The pope then prayed at the Western Wall, the remnant of the wall that surrounded the courtyard of the destroyed biblical Jewish Temple.

Flanked by the Jewish rabbi and Muslim representative accompanying him from Argentina, Francis placed a handwritten note between the cracks, with the Our Father prayer in his native Spanish. The “moving” embrace of the friends from the three religions before the ancient stones, “surely was a very important message of the day,” said Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi.

Francis’ next stop was Mount Herzl for a wreath-laying ceremony at the grave of Zionist leader Herzl, a first for a pontiff. It was from there that he walked by foot to the nearby terrorism victims monument.

He met survivors and laid a wreath at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial, stating, “Never again, Lord, never again!”

Meeting Israel’s two chief rabbis next to Jerusalem’s Great Synagogue, he called for Jewish-Christian friendship and described the progress made in recent decades in the relationship between Jews and Catholics as “a genuine gift of God.”

A meeting with Peres, who was praised by the pope as “good,” “wise” and a “man of peace” lasted significantly longer than scheduled, while a subsequent audience with Netanyahu was notably shorter.

Peres said he hoped Francis’ call for peace would “contribute to revitalizing the efforts to complete the peace process between us and the Palestinians, based on two states living in peace. A Jewish state — Israel. And an Arab state — Palestine.”

Formally accepting the invitation to the Vatican with Abbas, Peres said: “We will be happy to conduct such a prayer, in our home or yours, in accordance with your generous offer.”

Lombardi said no date had yet been set for the session, a highly unusual and symbolic gesture. “We hope in a very short time,” he told a news conference in Jerusalem. Peres’ term as president is scheduled to end in July.

Before boarding his plane back to Rome in the late evening, the spiritual leader of the world’s 1.2 billion Roman Catholics celebrated Mass at the so-called Cenacle, a room in an ancient building where Christians believe the Last Supper was celebrated, and met priests at Gethsamene, the garden where, according to the Gospel, Jesus spent the night before his crucifixion.

Francis started his historic Holy Land pilgrimage — only the fourth ever by a reigning pope — in Jordan on Saturday and spent much of Sunday in the West Bank, where he greeted thousands in a packed and festive Manger Square.

The official highlight was a joint service in Jerusalem’s church of the Holy Sepulcher on Sunday night with Patriarch Bartholomew of Constantinople, marking 50 years since a historic reconciliation between the eastern and western churches.

AFP Photo/Thomas Coex