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80 Organizations Call on UMass to Rescind Sponsorship of Anti-Israel Political Rally

2 hours 2 min ago

Eighty organizations urged the University of Massachusetts in Amherst to rescind all named university sponsorship of an event next month that the groups allege will “incite animosity towards supporters of Israel, including Jewish and pro-Israel students on your campus.”

In a letter to UMass chancellor Kumble Subbaswamy, the organizations also requested that in the future, UMass faculty will be prohibited from using the university’s name or resources to further their own personal or political agenda.

“This is not an educational event but a political rally,” stated the letter. “Rather than aiming to promote an understanding of a highly contentious and polarizing issue by including speakers with a variety of perspectives, this event includes speakers with only one extremely partisan perspective and clearly aims to promote a political cause and encourage political action.”

“Providing the imprimatur of three academic departments to such a politically motivated and directed event violates the core academic mission of the university, suppresses student expression and impedes the free exchange of ideas so essential for any university,” it continued.

The May 4 event, titled “Not Backing Down: Israel, Free Speech & the Battle for Palestinian Rights,” is being organized by the NGO Media Education Foundation (MEF), whose director, Sut Jhally, is also a UMass professor and chair of the communication department.

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The groups alleged that Jhally’s actions violate the UMass Amherst Principles of Employee Conduct.

It will include a panel and a discussion of “recent attacks on [Minnesota] Rep. Ilhan Omar and other progressives who have spoken out against Israel’s 50-year military occupation of Palestinian land and criticized pro-Israel pressure groups for conflating legitimate criticism of Israeli government policies with ‘anti-Semitism.’ ”

Speakers will include supporters of the anti-Israel BDS movement, including musician Roger Waters, Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour, and professor and former CNN commentator Marc Lamont Hill.

The event is being sponsored by three UMass departments: the Department of Communication; the Department of Women, Gender, and Sexuality Studies; and the Resistance Studies Initiative UMass.

“Although we recognize that the event itself is protected by the First Amendment, we believe that its department sponsorship constitutes an unacceptable violation of the university’s academic mission, will encourage acts of politically motivated aggression and violence on your campus, and is a fundamental breach of the public trust,” stated the groups. “We call on you to rescind all university sponsorship of this event and to assure us that in the future, UMass faculty will not be permitted to use the university’s name or resources to promote their personal political agendas at the expense of academic integrity and the safety and well-being of UMass students.”

UMass did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

How’s Your Passover Hebrew Vocabulary? Take the Quiz and Find Out

2 hours 27 min ago

The week-long holiday of Passover began April 19. The holiday starts in the evening, with family and friends gathering to read the Passover guidebook that tells the miraculous story of the redemption by God of the Israelites from ancient Egypt. It is a journey from slavery to freedom and into the Holy Land.


 

 

 

 

Take this quiz to see how much Hebrew you know!

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 To learn more about Biblical Hebrew online, please visit here. Written in coordination with the Israel Institute of Biblical Studies. 

New Israeli Army Chief of Staff Unveils Plan for the IDF

3 hours 10 min ago

Israel’s 2018 defense exports totaled approximately $7.5 billion, a drop of almost $2 billion from the year before partially attributed to the cancelling of two major contracts last year.

Figures published by the Defense Ministry on Wednesday showed that approximately one quarter of Israel’s defense exports were for missiles and missile defense systems.

Egypt, Iran Power Struggle Played Out in Gaza

3 hours 26 min ago

At the start of April, Hebrew media reports quoted unnamed Israeli security officials as saying that the Iranian-backed Palestinian Islamic Jihad terrorist faction, whose rocket arsenal is larger than even that of Hamas, was planning a significant attack on Israeli targets.

The information appeared to achieve its goal of discouraging the perpetrators, and no attack transpired. But the fact that PIJ was reportedly planning an incident that could have upset Egyptian attempts to restore calm to the Gaza Strip could hint at a wider struggle taking place within Gaza between Egypt and Iran.

Gaza’s ruling regime, Hamas, has reportedly faced demands from Egypt in recent months to decide whether it “takes its orders from Tehran or continues to implement the understandings for calm” formulated by the head of Egyptian intelligence Abbas Kamel.

The clash of interests between these two regional Middle Eastern powers seems clear; Egypt wishes to see Gaza calm, stable and cut off from ISIS-affiliated terror networks in Sinai, which also threaten Egyptian security as a whole.

Iran sees Gaza as one more base from which it can exercise its radical influence and encourage the growth of a terrorist army that threatens Israel, in addition to regional stability.

Iran transfers $100 million a year to the military wings of Hamas and PIJ collectively, according to Israeli estimates.

Boaz Ganor, executive director of the International Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya, recalled that with the signing of the 1979 Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty, Cairo had no interest in retaking Gaza.

Egypt’s President Anwar Sadat “understood the problematic nature of this territory, which is the most crowded in the world, and racked with poverty, fundamentalism and a lack of a sovereign ruler,” said Ganor. As a result, Sadat did not demand a return of Egyptian rule over Gaza, despite the fact that Egypt controlled the Strip prior to the 1967 Six-Day War.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. (Credit: 360b / Shutterstock.com)

“What Sadat understood, [current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah] El-Sisi also understands, although in a different manner,” said Ganor. “El-Sisi understands that the Strip contains many risks to Egypt within it. Hamas, which controls Gaza, is tied by the umbilical cord to its mother movement—the Muslim Brotherhood—who are Sisi’s loathed and strategic enemies.”

El-Sisi has identified a process of Iranian infiltration into Gaza via its proxy, PIJ, “and is concerned by the growth of a forward Iranian post on the northern border of Egypt,” assessed Ganor.

Another source of concern for El-Sisi is the fact that ISIS in Sinai is linked to fellow Salafi-jihadist elements in Gaza. These security and political factors, as well as Egyptian concern over the prospect of a new armed conflict erupting between Israel and Hamas on Egypt’s border, have all led to “massive Egyptian intervention and a will to be active in what is taking place in the Strip,” said Ganor. Israel, for its part, is in favor of this intervention and has even requested it over the years.

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Yet Iran is trying to neutralize Egyptian influence in Gaza, Ganor noted, while looking to tighten its links with its Gazan proxies. Tehran is trying to transfer funds and weapons into Gaza. “It also seeks to instruct its proxies to disrupt every process that can lead to calm,” said Ganor.

Tehran’s relationship with Hamas is somewhat more complicated.

Ganor said that “Iran’s influence on Hamas is significant, but much smaller than its influence on Hezbollah. Hamas zealously safeguards its independence and does not view itself as being obligated to Iranian interests.”

The Iranian branch in Gaza

Lt. Col. (ret.) Michael Segall, a senior analyst at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, described PIJ as a “kind of Iranian branch inside the Gaza Strip.”

The PIJ’s former leader, Ramadan Salah, as well its current chief, Ziad Nakhalah, are both frequent visitors to Iran, where they are “familiar guests,” stated Segall, a former head of the Iran Branch at the Israel Defense Forces’ Military Intelligence Directorate.

With Iran training sessions for PIJ in the Islamic Republic, the organization is an “explicit proxy of Iran, in contrast to Hamas, which is under Iranian influence but has its own agenda and is more independent,” he argued.

Despite this Iranian influence, Egypt has far more at stake in Gaza, which is at its back door. “Whatever happens in Sinai directly influences Egypt. Iran, meanwhile, is distant, and tries to activate its influence in Gaza by remote control,” said Segall.

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamanei (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

He summed up the Iranian proxy strategy as follows: “The more Israel bleeds on its borders, the less it can engage Iran directly.” And the Iranians would like the same thing to happen in the West Bank, with Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calling for terror factions there to be armed just like they are in Gaza.

“This is central component in Iranian doctrine. It’s about asymmetric warfare. Gaza, Lebanon and Syria have become part of Iran’s asymmetric warfare doctrine,” said Segall.

PIJ has used Iranian-made sniper rifles to fire on the IDF, as well as advanced bombs. It manufactures rockets with Iranian know-how—all part of Iran’s attempt to “sharpen its influence and leave its footprint” in Gaza.

Segall positioned Gaza as one layer in a broader “Iranian war, which plays out in other places, including Yemen, where the Houthis operate against Saudi Arabia, firing missiles against it. It is very similar to what is happening in Gaza. The Iranians work with a proxy toolbox against the Saudis, the Egyptians and Gulf states. This is not limited to Gaza.”

While Iran has the power to activate PIJ to disrupt Egyptian mediation efforts or spark a new conflict, PIJ also faces pressure from Hamas, which can force its will on it, including through the force of arms, according to Segall.

“I think that on the day they receive their order from Iran, PIJ will obey and cash in its checks, which it received over the years from the Iranians,” he said.

When the Messiah Comes…How Will He Come?

3 hours 56 min ago

When will the Messiah finally come? And how might that take place? Tamar Yonah speaks with Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz, who makes it his business to write articles on WHEN and HOW the Messiah might arrive on the scene. There are different interpretations and beliefs, and he shares some of them on this show.

Academic Malfeasance: Do Moderate Muslims Exist?

4 hours 17 min ago

Did you know that the War on Terror actually “is a war for natural resources – and that terrorism has little to do with it”?

So argues John Maszka in his book, Washington’s Dark Secret: The Real Truth About Terrorism and Islamic Extremism (Potomac, 2018), as summarized in the publisher’s blurb. If you were curious how this “Terrorism Scholar” (his capitals) and professor of international relations at the Higher Colleges of Technology in Abu Dhabi, would pull off so implausible a thesis, you might want to dip into the book.

A sentence, however, on p. 54, might give you pause: “Islamophobes such as Daniel Pipes insist that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim.”

Okay, you might ignore the predictable “Islamophobe” silliness; but where did that statement come? Wherever did I “insist that there is no such thing as a moderate Muslim”?

A search of the archive at DanielPipes.org turns up 5 article titles and 6 blog titles including the words “moderate Muslim”; also 2 and 3 titles, respectively, with the term “moderate Islam.” In all, the term “moderate Muslim,” turns up 619 times there and “moderate Islam” 1,270 times. That adds up to nearly 1,900 references.

You will find so many of my articles on this topic that there is even a collection of them in a “Bibliography – My Writings on Moderate Muslims.” In addition, a favorite, standing slogan of mine, “Radical Islam is the problem, moderate Islam is the solution,” shows the centrality of moderate Islam to a strategy I have long held for defeating Islamism.

By teaching in Abu Dhabi, Maszka spreads crackpot American ideas around the world. A UAE national responded to his errors by writing me, “Unfortunately, with Islam still so largely unknown in the West, some academics manipulate facts and ideas for career purposes. Emirati institutions urgently need better quality control.”

So, how does anyone, much less a professor, promote views that are so clearly stated and so profoundly wrong? Two enquiries to Maszka received no response, so one can only speculate. Here is the logic that may explain his error:

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Maszka inhabits the academic hothouse of inaccurate polemics, which he both contributes to and draws on. For an example of the former, just see his baffling tweet on Aug. 16, 2016, shortly after a jihadi killed 86 in Nice, France: “What did the French government stand to gain by the Nice attack?”

Maszka’s misstatement of the views of this author is another example of his adding to the miasma of misinformation: vaguely aware that Middle East and Islam specialists inaccurately but routinely claim me to be anti-Muslim and anti-Islam (as opposed to anti-Islamist and anti-Islamism, which is accurate), he probably figured that he knew what my views were well enough not to have to bother with the tedious exercise of verifying what they actually are.

In this, Maszka depressingly typifies much of Middle East studies: too dim to have common sense, too lazy to bother with research, too ideological to fix factual mistakes, and too smug to care about the harm caused by them.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Daniel Pipes

Passover: Matzah as a Symbol of Jewish Heroism

5 hours 16 min ago

Passover is upon us, and for the next week, Jewish homes throughout the world will be filled with the familiar and unmistakable sound of crunching matzah, as a virtual symphony of consumption of unleavened bread is performed with gusto.

Flakes will fly, as small pieces of matzah flutter through the air, showering our dishes, cutlery and glassware with a thin layer of crumbs, each one unique as a snowflake, perhaps to remind us somewhat vividly of our own individuality.

But amid all the chomping and chewing, it is easy to forget the powerful symbolism of this simple food, which for millennia has served as a tangible and edible link to our collective past as a people. That would be a shame indeed, because in its very essence, matzah has much to say to the modern Jew.

As children, we are taught in basic terms that matzah is eaten on Passover to commemorate the haste with which the Jewish people left Egypt, as described in the book of Exodus (12:39).

As we mature into adulthood, additional layers of meaning are embedded into our consciousness, with matzah often portrayed both as lechem oni, the “bread of affliction,” as well as a symbol of freedom.

The masters of Musar, Jewish ethical thought, frequently invoke matzah and bread as imagery representing the vast gulf between humility and arrogance, while the Zohar, the primary book of Kabbalah, refers to it as “food of faith”.

But looking through the prism of Jewish history, and particularly the trials and tribulations that befell our ancestors in exile, I would like to suggest that matzah also embodies another important trait, that of Jewish defiance, determination and heroism.
From the Inquisition to the Holocaust, the direst of circumstances did not deter Jews from forgoing bread and eating matzah at Passover, even at the risk of torture or death.

With unbowed pride and an unbroken spirit, Jews insisted on defying their tormentors in the only way they could, by clinging tenaciously to the commandment to eat matzah.

Take, for example, the Bnei Anusim (whom historians refer to by the derogatory term “Marranos”), the descendants of Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were forcibly converted to Catholicism in the 14th and 15th centuries, yet continued to practice Judaism in secret down through the generations.

The Inquisition, which hunted down these crypto-Jews with a frightening mix of zealotry and cruelty, frequently put on trial people they suspected of observing Jewish customs, and burned those found guilty at the stake.

Nonetheless, the archival records of the Inquisition are filled with references to accusations against Bnei Anusim who secretly ate matzah on Passover and held covert Seders.

As Prof. David Gitlitz notes in his work Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews, Passover “was recognized both by crypto-Jews and their persecutors as THE Jewish festival.”

In 1678, nearly two centuries after the forced conversions, the tribunal of the Inquisition recorded that a woman suspected of being a Judaizer named Ana Cortes would “celebrate the Passover for seven days.” During the holiday, they noted, “she had to eat unleavened bread nor could she have any leaven in the house. And that she was to prepare little flat cakes on new brick and to cook them on the fire, and these were to be distributed among her relatives.”

IN MEXICO in 1649, a crypto-Jew named Pedro de Tinoco admitted that his grandmother had taught him about Passover. The records from his trial note, “He helped knead the unleavened bread,” and that his grandmother instructed him to eat it while reclining, which he did while putting the matzah “with some herbs and parsley in his mouth.”

One cannot help but read these accounts with admiration. Imagine the courage it required for a family living in the shadow of the Inquisition to risk discovery by holding a Seder, eating matzah and refusing to eat bread, all in an attempt to keep alive their covert Jewish beliefs.

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If that is not a testament to Jewish valor, what is?

Even during the dark days of the Holocaust, we find accounts of brave Jews who went to incredible lengths to obtain matzah in the ghettos and concentration camps of Europe, resisting the Germans by upholding their faith.

An April 16, 2008 article in The New York Times told the remarkable story of Hadassa Carlebach, whose father Rabbi Zalman Schneerson, hid dozens of Jews in France from the Nazis, finding hiding places for 60 people in farmhouses outside Grenoble.
Carlebach described how as Passover approached in 1944, they had managed to obtain some wheat, which they wanted to use to make matzah. There was a communal oven in the village, but it was too dangerous for the Jews to venture out during the day for fear of being captured. “So in the middle of the night we went in, burned the oven to kosher it, and baked the matzah in a hurry,” she said, adding, “I was so scared, but we had one matzah per person for Passover with the wine that we made ourselves from raisins. Besides the danger, we celebrated with the sincere hope that we were going to be liberated.”

In our modern world, with matzah so readily and easily available, it is not surprising that we often take it for granted, with some merrily complaining about its taste, texture and occasional after-effects. But matzah is more than just a morsel of food. It is a transcendent item, one that transports us above and beyond time and connects us with our ancestors who left Egypt.

But matzah is also a symbol of Jewish resistance and faith, one that was sanctified down through the generations by the sacrifices made by countless Jews to observe the precept even at times of national calamity.

So when you bite into your bit of matzah and consider its meaning, it is worth taking a moment to remember those who came before us and the extraordinary efforts they made while yearning for the freedom and Jewish sovereignty that our generation is blessed to enjoy. For the matzah we eat is far more than just a crunchy delight. It is an annual reminder that even in the darkest of days, the Jewish people never can or should lose hope.

Reprinted with author’s permission from The Jerusalem Post

The Persecution of Palestinians No One Mentions

6 hours 17 min ago

In Lebanon, Palestinians have long been facing discriminatory and “Apartheid laws” that deny them basic rights, including access to dozens of skilled professions, health-care and education services. According to some reports, thousands of Palestinians have been fleeing Lebanon in recent years as a result of the dire economic conditions and government regulations that deny them basic rights.

In 2015, a Saudi court sentenced Palestinian artist and poet Ashraf Fayadh to death by beheading for “apostasy.” Later, however, the court overturned the death sentence and replaced it with an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes. The “evidence” against Fayadh was based on poems included in his book Instructions Within, as well as social media posts and conversations he had in a coffee shop in Saudi Arabia.

Palestinian leaders do not seem to care about the suffering of their people at the hands of Arabs. Yet, these same leaders are quick to condemn Israel on almost every occasion and available platform. Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are so busy fighting each other (and Israel) that they seem to have forgotten about the Palestinians in Arab countries, being killed, wounded and arrested every day.

Saudi Arabia appears to have joined the list of Arab countries that mistreat Palestinians.

In Syria, thousands of Palestinians have been wounded, murdered and arrested since the beginning of the civil war in 2011. The latest statistics show that nearly 4,000 Palestinians — 3,920 to be exact — have been killed in Syria in the past nine years, while 1,750 others are being held in various Syrian government prisons. Another 323 Palestinians have gone missing during the same period.

In Lebanon, Palestinians have long been facing discriminatory and “Apartheid laws” that deny them basic rights, including access to dozens of skilled professions, health-care and education services. According to some reports, thousands of Palestinians have been fleeing Lebanon in recent years as a result of the dire economic conditions and government regulations that deny them basic rights.

It now seems that it is Saudi Arabia’s turn to harass and intimidate Palestinians.

report in the Gulf-based Al-Khaleej Online news site disclosed that the Saudi authorities have in recent weeks arrested and terrorized Palestinians living in the kingdom while the Palestinian embassy in Riyadh has chosen not to intervene.

The report said that more than 30 Palestinians, including students, academics and businessmen, have been secretly rounded up by Saudi security forces. The Saudis, the report added, have also threatened to ban dozens of Palestinians from leaving the kingdom, while many others have been dismissed from their jobs and are facing deportation.

Palestinian sources said that the crackdown on Palestinians in Saudi Arabia began nine months ago, but has intensified in recent weeks.

Saeed bin Nasser al-Ghamdi, a Saudi academic and opposition figure, revealed that the Saudi authorities have also frozen the bank accounts and confiscated property belonging to Palestinians in the kingdom. He claimed that the Palestinians were accused of “sympathizing with the Palestinian resistance, supporting Hamas and displaying interest in Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.”

In early March, the Saudi authorities announced , without providing further details, that they had arrested six Palestinians in connection with security-related offenses. The Palestinians were among 50 suspects with eight different nationalities arrested by the Saudis. In addition to Saudi Arabia, the remaining suspects are from Egypt, Afghanistan, Syria, Jordan, Yemen and the Philippines.

At this stage, it is not clear whether the security crackdown on Palestinians in Saudi Arabia is linked to the arrest of the 50 suspects. Palestinians insist that the crackdown began long before the arrests.

Palestinians families said that their sons who are residing in Saudi Arabia have been subjected to “humiliating interrogation” by Saudi security officers. “The Palestinians were threatened and prohibited from leaving the kingdom,” the families were quoted as saying.

As part of the unprecedented crackdown, the Saudi security forces have raided some Palestinian homes and conducted “violent searches” before taking their occupants into custody. The Palestinian detainees are being held in undisclosed locations, their families said.

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Nidal Hamideh, a Palestinian living outside Saudi Arabia, said that on April 5, one of his relatives — Abu Fadi — was arrested after being summoned for interrogation. “Abu Fadi has been working as an employee for a Saudi company for three years,” Hamideh said.

“He and his family members are legal residents of Saudi Arabia and he was never involved in any illegal activities. Lately, Abu Fadi was harassed several times by the Saudi security forces, who questioned him about his residence, work and even political affiliation.”

Hamideh said that his family’s attempts to find out where Abu Fadi was being held have thus far been unsuccessful.

The Paris Francophone Institute for Freedoms condemned the “arbitrary” Saudi measures against Palestinians in the kingdom as a “blatant violation of international human rights conventions.” The institute said it has received testimonies and statements indicating that in Saudi Arabia, in the past few months, dozens of Palestinians have been arrested. The Saudis, it added, have also confiscated properties belonging to the Palestinians.

One of the Palestinians targeted by the Saudis told the Paris Institute that the Palestinians were being interrogated about their support for Palestinian groups in the Gaza Strip and for criticizing the Arab government’s policies towards the Palestinian issue. “The prolonged detentions without charge, trial or appearance before a judge are arbitrary measures that violate Saudi law and international human rights standards,” the institute said.

“The crackdown on freedom of opinion and expression violates human rights conventions and laws and reflects the tyranny of the regime in Saudi Arabia, which denies public freedoms to its citizens and those who come to the kingdom.”

The Paris institute expressed deep concern that the Palestinian detainees were being subjected to widespread abuses, including extended periods of incarceration without charge, trial or legal assistance, and called on the Saudi authorities immediately to release all Palestinians, end their travel ban and the confiscation of their properties, and to compensate them for physical and psychological harm.

In November 2015, a Saudi court sentenced Palestinian artist and poet Ashraf Fayadh to death by beheading for “apostasy.” Later, however, the court overturned the death sentence and replaced it with an eight-year prison term and 800 lashes. The “evidence” against Fayadh was based on poems included in his book Instructions Within, as well as social media posts and conversations he had in a coffee shop in Saudi Arabia.

In the past few years, relations between the Palestinians and Saudi Arabia have been extremely tense, particularly after reports about a rapprochement between the Saudis and Israel. Several Palestinians have taken to social media to badmouth Saudi leaders and denounce them as corrupt, mentally retarded and traitors.

For now, Palestinian officials are refusing to comment on reports about the crackdown on Palestinians in Saudi Arabia. Palestinian dignitaries are acutely careful when it comes to criticizing Arab heads of state or Arab government policies. They appear to be afraid that any criticism of Arab leaders and governments will only worsen the conditions of Palestinians in the Arab world. They also seem afraid of losing Arab political backing for the Palestinian leadership, especially as the US administration prepares to announce its long-awaited plan for peace in the Middle East, also known as the “deal of the century.”

Palestinian leaders do not seem to care about the suffering of their people at the hands of Arabs. Yet, these same leaders are quick to condemn Israel on almost every occasion and available platform. Palestinian leaders in the West Bank and Gaza Strip are so busy fighting each other (and Israel) that they seem to have forgotten about the Palestinians in Arab countries, being killed, wounded and arrested every day.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Gatestone Institute

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DEUTERONOMY 32:1

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 06:01

Devarim 32 contains the song that Moshe teaches to the Israelites before his passing. In it, he reminds the people that if they sin in Eretz Yisrael they will be punished with exile. However, the song concludes with the promise that God will redeem His people and exact retribution from their enemies. Moshe starts his song by addressing heaven and earth, calling upon them as his witnesses for this covenant. Unlike humans who come and go, heaven and earth exist for eternity. Though it may take thousands of years, Hashem will keep His promise to redeem the entire Jewish people and return them to their land, and heaven and earth will be the loyal witnesses who see the process through to its complete fulfillment.

Adam Harper Interviews Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 05:48

Breaking Israel News’ Adam Eliyahu Berkowitz joins Dr. Anthony Harper of InterMountain Christian News for a discussion near Mount Hermon.

The Omer Barley Harvest: The Temple Ritual Battling Poverty and Socialism

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 05:22

On Saturday night, while most of Israel was cleaning up from the Seder ritual, a few families went out to the fields near Ruhama in the Negev to harvest the barley to be used in the Omer wave offering.

Normally, the barley for the Omer is harvested directly after Passover ends but this year, the holiday fell on a Friday night so the harvest was delayed until Shabbat ended on Saturday night. The sheaves of grain were brought to Jerusalem where it was beaten, the chaff removed,  and sifted through 13 sieves. Finally, the grains were roasted and ground into a coarse meal. Olive oil, specially prepared for temple use, was added, along with frankincense.

Israeli families take part in the barley harvest. (Credit: Adam Prop)

The preparation of the grain is usually done outside in an area as close to the Temple Mount as the authorities permit but an unseasonably heavy rain prohibited this. The preparation of the grain was performed by Rabbi Baruch Kahane who frequently serves in the role of the head of the Kohanim (men of priestly ancestry) at Temple reenactments.

Rabbi Hillel Weiss, the spokesman for the Sanhedrin, explained that the Temple rituals, in particular, the Omer offering, were a necessary aspect of a properly functioning nation.

“The harvest brings down blessings for the grain harvest for Israel and from there the blessings go out into the world,” Weiss explained. “This is also the time when people complete the bringing of tithes and other harvest-related charities.”

Rabbi Weiss explained that tzedakah, the Hebrew word for charity, comes from the root tzedek, meaning justice.

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“When the Temple is in operation, charity is not optional,” Weiss explained. “You giving sustenance to the poor is a direct result of God giving sustenance to you. This concept was central to agriculture in Israel which was integrally connected to the Temple service. As such, the proper concept of charity was lost after the Temple was destroyed and the Temple service was discontinued.”

The rabbi lamented that despite being a remarkable representation of Jewish heritage, the Temple reenactments are rejected by the Israeli public at large and frequently encounter difficulties from the government.

“Much of the resistance to the return of the Temple is due to people wanting to be free to not give what is required,” Weiss explained. “This is not to be confused with socialism which places the government in the place of God, saying that sustenance comes from the state and they take care of the poor.”

After this offering is brought, the new grain is permitted to be eaten. The leftover of the sacrifice are kept by the priest and is listed as one of the twenty-four priestly gifts.

As Passover ended, Jews began counting 50 days until the holiday of Shavuot, when two loaves made from the barley are brought to the Temple as an offering.

Trump Administration Opts for Full Iranian Oil Sanctions

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 05:04

U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration announced Monday that any country importing Iranian oil will no longer be exempt from sanctions, unless they secede from the partnership by May 2. It marks a renewed White House effort to heighten pressure – particularly economic – on the reeling Islamic Republic.

“President Donald J. Trump has decided not to reissue Significant Reduction Exceptions (SREs) when they expire in early May,” the administration said in a statement.

“This decision is intended to bring Iran’s oil exports to zero, denying the regime its principal source of revenue.”

The countries who will no longer benefit from the waivers are China, India, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Italy, Greece and Turkey. India is an interesting case; although it has warm ties with Washington, it does not agree on U.S. assistance that Iran is as serious a threat as western countries assess.

“They collectively imported a million barrels a day of Iranian oil. Prior to sanctions, Iran was exporting 2.1 million barrels per day. That figure had already dropped to 700,000 barrels. Since oil is Iran’s single export commodity, its cutoff to zero is a virtual death blow to its economy,” said a report on Debkafile.

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Turkey, under the leadership of Islamist strongman Recep Tayyip Erdogan, vowed to defy U.S. demands, which could cause global oil prices to spiral upwards. Trump tweeted that an increase in Saudi Arabian oil output would make up for the Iranian shortfall.

Saudi Arabia and others in OPEC will more than make up the Oil Flow difference in our now Full Sanctions on Iranian Oil. Iran is being given VERY BAD advice by @JohnKerry and people who helped him lead the U.S. into the very bad Iran Nuclear Deal. Big violation of Logan Act?

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 22, 2019

By targeting Iran’s principal export, the United States is seemingly involved in a no-holds-barred move to crush the economy and scale back the clerical regime’s influence. Even before these latest sanctions, the previous attempts to suppress Iran’s economy appeared to have been successful.

“The official inflation rate had soared past 50 pc to stand at an annual rate of 30.6pc. Basic foods, water and tobacco were priced 85.3p higher than the corresponding period the year before. Whereas in 2018, the US dollar went for 40,000 rial, today the rate has sunk further to 140,000 rial,” according to Debkafile.

Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has been a consistent critic of the Iranian regime and was implacably opposed to the Obama Administration’s cosying up to the mullahs came out in strong support of Trump’s decision.

PM Netanyahu: “The decision of @POTUS @RealDonaldTrump and the American administration to increase the sanctions against Iran is a decision of very great importance. This is how to deal with Iran’s aggression and this is how to block it.” pic.twitter.com/iHWiC8N9Kt

— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) April 22, 2019

For its part, Iran has not taken the impending imposition of sanctions lightly, criticizing the existing restrictions as being at least partly to blame for the country’s poor response to recent massive flooding.

It also leaves the Islamic Republic in a difficult situation. Its population is suffering – and despite U.S. officials saying that the sanctions are not meant to affect the common Iranian, they clearly are. It seems therefore that there are two choices; either the Iranian regime can bow to U.S. pressure or tensions in the region will be increased further, possibly through Iranian closure of the Straits of Hormuz – through which one-fifth of the world’s daily oil requirements passes or through military measures.

Nasrallah: Israel Won’t Attack Hezbollah, Home Front Unprepared for War

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 03:55

Hezbollah leader Sheikh Hassan Nasrallah has aimed a barb at Israel, suggesting that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) will likely not attack Lebanon, as in his estimation, Israel’s home front is ill-prepared for the realities of that war.

The leader of Iran’s Shiite proxy in Lebanon also said in a televised speech that the IDF would have to launch a ground invasion and commit significant numbers of ground forces to contend with the firmly-entrenched Hezbollah fighters – now more akin to a parallel Lebanese army.

The Hezbollah leader pointed to the recent rockets fired from Gaza over Tel Aviv as proof that Israel is can’t defend itself.

“The events and days have proved the unpreparedness of the Israeli home front. We saw how two missiles were fired by mistake from Gaza and landed in the Tel Aviv surroundings and then another missile was shot off from Gaza and landed north of Tel Aviv. All the Israeli measures were not able to do anything. The Israelis say the home front is not ready,” he said.

He also assessed that warfare has developed since the last major conflagration between the two sides – the 34-day Second Lebanon War in 2006. In those battles, Israel largely relied on massively superior air power to hit at Lebanese infrastructure. Approximately 1,200 Lebanese, mainly civilians and 160 Israelis, mainly combat soldiers, were killed in the fighting.

Nasrallah dismissed a report published in a Kuwaiti newspaper, which suggested that he had predicted Israel would launch a war against his terrorist infrastructure in the summer.

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Within Israel there has been strenuous debate about the preparedness of both the IDF and the home front in the event of fighting breaking out against Hezbollah. Maj. Gen. (res.) Yitzhak Brik, the Defense Ministry ombudsman, prepared a report in June 2018, which assessed systematic failures within the army.

Former chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot ordered an urgent review of the findings and other military figures suggest that the shortcomings have been attended to and that the IDF is properly prepared to wage battle against Hezbollah.

In December, the IDF launched “Operation Northern Shield” which found and destroyed six cross-border tunnels dug by Hezbollah from Lebanon into Israel.

Despite destroying the tunnels, the IDF is under no illusions that Hezbollah is still likely to attempt to invade northern Israel – either to take Israeli soldiers hostage (alive or dead) for potential future barter) and / or to kill civilians too.

At the current estimation, Hezbollah is thought to have between 100,000-150,000 rockets and missiles aimed at Israel. The majority are unguided, but part of Israel’s recent strategy of airstrikes in Syria has been to destroy munitions factories involved in fabricating precision-guided systems for Hezbollah rockets.

Passover Snow Falls on Mt. Hermon for First Time in 21st Century

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 03:11

Snow fell on Mount Hermon on Sunday during Passover for the first time in 22 years.

With approximately eight inches of snow already on the ground and accumulation set to continue throughout the day, the Hermon ski-resort management closed the site to visitors. Snowfall was also reported in towns in the Golan Heights.

Unseasonable rainstorms drenched the country from north to south, as vacationers tried to find ways to enjoy the Passover holiday indoors. Many parks that were opened for free to hikers and visitors for the holiday were closed, including the Ein Gedi nature reserve. Outdoor events around the country were cancelled or rescheduled for later in the week.

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While some local scattered showers were forecast for Monday morning, the day scheduled for the traditional Priestly Blessing ceremony at the Western Wall plaza, temperatures are expected to rise and rains to dry up throughout the week, according to the Israel Meteorological Service.

Massive rainfalls this year broke a five-year drought. Measurements at the Kinneret showed over triple last year’s rainfall.

The Kinneret, Israel’s primary natural water source, rose from just 16 inches away from the Black Line—the point past which the lake becomes ecologically imbalanced—to 11.25 feet from the Black Line as of April 20.

It is now 8.75 feet from its upper limit, after which point it would flood its banks.

Seal Bearing Name That Appears in Bible Discovered in City of David

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 02:39

A rare and exciting discovery. A bulla (seal impression) and a 2,600-year-old stamp bearing Hebrew names were uncovered in the City of David.

The artifacts were discovered inside a public building that was destroyed during the destruction of the First Temple.

They were uncovered during archaeological excavations at the Givati Parking Lot in the City of David National Park in Jerusalem.

Riding the Tides: Jordan Sits at a Crossroads of Middle Eastern Dilemnas

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 02:00

Jordan watched the recent election results in Israel with some apprehension.

“Netanyahu’s next government can include parts of the occupied West Bank territory, as Netanyahu promised his voters,” wrote Fahd al-Khaitan at Al-Ghad, a Jordanian website on April 15. There is an “illusion” of peace with Israel, he titled his piece. At the same time, 13 defendants accused of being members of a terrorist cell in Salt in Jordan went on trial in Amman in late March.

The cell was arrested in August 2018 after allegedly bombing and killing two members of the security forces and then hiding in a house in Salt and shooting at police.

The King of Jordan, Abdullah II, puts on an upbeat face, expressing hope for security and peace in the region. He told an audience in Italy in March that Jordan was committed to harmony and peace in its international role, in “our fight against terror and hatred on all fronts within a holistic approach.” Jordan wants to work effective “solutions to global and regional crises” and is committed to a peace process that will result in a Palestinian state and a secure Israel.

Jordan is now facing the challenge that may be presented by a new Israeli government and a peace plan that the Trump administration has promised to put forward. It also is hosting more than a million Syrians, many of them refugees who fled the civil war in Syria in the last eight years. If that weren’t enough, it also faces steep economic challenges. In the aftermath of the Syrian civil war, the defeat of ISIS in Syria and Iraq, and the looming US peace plan, Jordan wants to thread a needle that continues to bring peace to the small kingdom, but it faces a difficult balancing act.

I flew into Amman in early April. It was dark in the early evening. Queen Alia International Airport was full of pilgrims on their way to Saudi Arabia and returning from Mecca. There were more than 100 men and women from Indonesia and a line of Qataris all waiting at passport control.

There weren’t very many Westerners. Once out of the airport, the ride into Amman took around 40 minutes. In the dark, the hills are lit up by stately houses, some of them appearing to be small mansions, in gated communities. Poverty isn’t visible at night, only wealth. Amman itself is a congested city. Around half the population of Jordan lives in the sprawling capital.

In Jebel el-Weibdeh, where I stayed, the streets were lined with cafes and young people out for a stroll or stopping to have a sheesha (waterpipe). Amman is a relatively quiet city, but it has its small oasis of local hipsters and foreigners who live there. The city has attracted international support over the years, particularly due to the refugee crises in the kingdom. Amman is festooned with beautiful new murals, public art showing women, flamingos and children. It helps cover up some of the drab and dusty multi-story apartments. But there aren’t enough of the murals. I saw five of them. They need more to make the city more colorful.

Jordan presents itself as a cordial host of refugees – which it says are its Arab brothers – from neighboring countries. It has been this way since 1948, when Palestinians fleeing fighting, fled to Jordan and neighboring countries. Today there are more than two million of them in Jordan. In 2016, there were 2,175,491 refugees in Jordan, according to UNRWA. They live in 10 camps and UNRWA supports 171 schools for them. There are also an additional 10,000 Palestinian refugees who fled from Syria during the conflict there to Jordan; many came from the Yarmouk camp in Damascus.

The Palestinian refugees helped give Jordan some of its identity. But most of Jordan’s identity comes from the kingdom established in 1921. The first king, Abdullah I, was assassinated by a Palestinian while visiting Jerusalem in 1951. After a short reign as king by his son Talal, his grandson Hussein became king in 1952. Hussein was the formative modern ruler, guiding the state through difficulty of a Palestinian uprising in 1970 and signing a peace deal with Israel in 1994. When he passed away in 1999, his son Abdullah II became the fourth king to rule over the state. By that time, the country had around five million residents. Today it has almost 10 million.

Such rapid expansion of the population and the expansion of the capital city into a mass of urban sprawl means that the country must change with the times. But since the Arab Spring broke out in 2011, many countries in the region have been concerned about what change may bring. The Arab Spring fell hardest on Arab nationalist countries, toppling leaders such as Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi, and eventually Ali Abdullah Salah in Yemen and Abdelaziz Bouteflika in Algeria. The long-term impact of the Arab Spring is still being felt, with the overthrow of the Sudanese regime. Only Syria’s Assad family remains in power of the old-style nationalist dictators in the region. Replacing these nationalist regimes has been a complex process, with military regimes and Islamists fighting for the spoils.

In many ways, the Kingdom of Jordan sits at that crossroads. It was formative in the era of the Arab revolt, embodying the legacy of that revolt in the 1920s. Abdullah I was a leader of the Arab revolt against the Ottomans and the kingdom was largely created, with the support of the British, out of that revolt. In the 1950s, as Arab nationalism swept the region, the kingdom was challenged by pro-Nasserist agitators. Egyptian president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s Arab nationalism was sweeping the region. King Faisal II in Iraq was overthrown in 1958 and the UK deployed paratroopers to Jordan. Jordan survived the nationalist agitation and it survived the Palestinian groups that sought to use it as a base in the 1960s. Eventually, it was also able to outmaneuver Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood when those movements became more popular in the 1980s and 1990s. The main Muslim Brotherhood-inspired party in Jordan is the Islamic Action Front. It has 15 members out of 130 in the local parliament.
The balancing act of Jordan is thus one that has seen the state ride the different tides that have come and gone from the region over the years – from the revolt period of the First World War to Arab nationalism, Palestinian nationalism, Islamism and the Arab Spring. While it maneuvered through all of those eras, borrowing bits from each, it also inherited and came to host large numbers of people who came to Jordan for refuge.

My first day in Amman, I went to the offices of Caritas, a Catholic humanitarian charity that has helped support refugees and local Jordanians. Located in a multi-story building, their offices are adorned with slogans such as, “We believe in our total responsibility toward migrants and vulnerable people.” They operate a series of projects throughout the country helping refugees. This includes Syrians and Iraqis, as well as migrants. Volunteers and professionals help Syrian refugees, providing essential services such as rent allowances, counseling and a place for children to play while parents receive medical support. Seeing the work that Caritas is doing was a window into the larger challenges throughout the country.

I’d been to Jordan before to see how the country was facing the crises. In 2016, it was different. This was still a time when Syrians thought they might go home. But in 2019, things have changed. The Syrian civil war in southern Syria, where many of the refugees came from, is largely over. In the beginning, the million Syrians who came to Jordan, of whom around 670,000 registered with UNHCR as refugees, mostly came to avoid fighting in Dara’a and areas in southern Syria. Dara’a, a city visible across the border from northern Jordan, was one of the first sparks of the Syrian civil war. It was in March 2011 that hundreds marched in the city and were shot by the regime’s soldiers; protesters torched a local courthouse and cars.

The rest is now horrid history. Assad cracked down on the Syrian protesters and a war began. In southern Syria, that war largely became a stalemate when it was clear the Syrian rebels could not take Damascus and rule the country. By 2015, the Russians had intervened and Dara’a and its rebels settled down for a prolonged ceasefire.

The long, slow death of the Syrian rebellion in the south didn’t have a clear beginning. The Trump administration signed a ceasefire deal with Russia and Jordan in July 2017 that was supposed to prevent a Russian-backed Syrian regime offensive in southern Syria.

In June 2018, the Syrian regime, boosted by Russia, ended the ceasefire agreements and launched an offensive in the south. The inevitable came for the fighters in southern Syria in the summer. Assad’s tanks retook Dara’a in July 2018. Tens of thousands more Syrians fled the fighting. In October, Syria and Jordan opened a border crossing for the first time in years. Damascus also claimed it was offering amnesty to deserters and draft dodgers in the south, an amnesty that theoretically covered the Syrian refugees in Jordan.

When I went to northern Jordan in 2016, the refugees were wondering if the rebels could ever stop the setbacks they faced at the hands of the Russians and the regime. They didn’t know what the future held. But when I went to see the same areas in northern Jordan this time, in 2019, the refugees have come to understand what the future holds. However, their response to the situation is not that they want to return, instead they appear to want to remain in Jordan.

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When refugees first arrived in Jordan from Syria, they were accepted as “brothers” by Jordanians at the border. Many locals were sympathetic. Many also had family relationships across the border. Trade had flowed back and forth. Everyone had fond memories of Syria and its products. Soon the trickle became a crisis. Jordanians could see the fighting on the other side. Syrians told horror stories of bombings. A woman I spoke to said she had put her children inside a washing machine to protect them. Everyone had stories like that. Brothers killed, cousins “disappeared” by the regime.

In Jordan, some first went to refugee camps. The largest became Zaatari, where up to 150,000 refugees were housed. But most refugees didn’t want to live in camps and some 80% moved to cities. Here the rents soon inflated to several hundred Jordanian dinars a month. The Syrians initially were prevented from working; the government didn’t want them competing with locals. Eventually some were allotted permits to work in agriculture and manual labor industries.

By July 2018, more than 100,000 work permits had been issued. This was to prevent a crisis. The UHCR was strained in trying to support the refugees and groups like Caritas could only do so much. The refugees needed health care. They also needed education. Jordanian schools were split so that there would be classes in the morning for Jordanians and classes in the afternoon for Syrians. A long-term response would eventually see integration of this process.

Today, the Syrians in Jordan are becoming integrated. With a high birthrate, Syrians in Jordan now have tens of thousands of children born locally. In 2016, fully 338,645 of Syrians registered as refugees in Jordan were under 17. It is thought that of the million, more than 50% are under 18 and many of the Syrians marry early, with 35% of Syrian women in Jordan married before age 18, according to a 2017 study. This leads to even more children born in Jordan by a demographic that is young and has a high birthrate.

Consequently, the million Syrians will soon have hundreds of thousands of children, and as those children grow up, they will form a whole generation of Syrian-Jordanians. They will likely not want to return to Syria and may become like Palestinians in Jordan – an important part of the social fabric.

The Syrians say they don’t want to go back because the thousands who did go back after October 2018 didn’t find that the Syrian regime had changed. Its amnesty was smoke and mirrors. Teenage men were taken off for forced conscription. Men were detained and interrogated. The Syrian regime knows that these Syrians have lived in Jordan for many years, the greater part of a decade. They have had access to critical media. They have certainly changed. And they have had more freedom than people had under Assad. They may not have supported the rebels overtly, but they likely supported them in their minds. The Syrian regime is wary of them.

Jordan won’t force the refugees to go back, but the kingdom knows that it is difficult to host them forever. It knows that there are many Syrian children born in Jordan who are now five or six years old. In a few years, they will be teenagers. They will want to be in university. They will feel Jordanian. They will grow up in classrooms adorned with images of the king. Why would they want to go back to Syria? It will take years to repair the infrastructure in Syria. And many Syrian refugees do not want resettlement in the West, which has shut its doors to refugees in recent years. At the same time, funding will be reduced by UNHCR and it is unclear how the refugees will make ends meet.

Another issue facing the kingdom as the refugees put down roots is concern over US President Donald Trump’s peace plan. The Trump administration has enjoyed close relations with Jordan. After Trump was elected, he spoke with the king frequently in 2017. However, when he announced the move of the US’s Israel embassy to Jerusalem, the kingdom was nonplussed. King Abdullah I flew to Turkey, one of the main countries opposing the US move.

The kingdom has also sought to cement its close relations with the Gulf monarchies. In recent months, it hosted two important meetings at the Dead Sea, one in January and another in April, with the World Economic Forum. The king issues loosely positive statements, but it is clear Jordan is concerned. Foreign Minister Ayman Safadi pushed back against Oman’s statements that appeared to express sympathy with Israel, which has been reaching out to the Gulf states.

Even though Israel has a peace treaty with Jordan, its relations are relatively cold. Jordan ended an agreement in October 2018 regarding two areas that Israel was allowed to use after the 1994 peace deal. One of these was the “Island of Peace” on the Jordan River. Is that symbolic of an end of the time of peace?

It may be something more. Jordan is not happy with changes in the status quo in Jerusalem. As guardian of the Muslim and Christian holy sites, it doesn’t want any tensions, such as those over a new mosque at the Gate of Mercy. Jordanian posters frequently spotlight the king and al-Aqsa Mosque; Jordan cares deeply about this role.

Jordan still cares about the two-state solution and continues to push for it. It is very worried about any annexation plans Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu might have. It doesn’t want to see a Trump roll-out of a peace plan or “deal of the century” that would upset the status quo.

It also knows that the Palestinian Authority faces troubles. The PA is divided, with Hamas in Gaza. The PA security forces also now lack US financial support, part of the overall Trump administration withdrawal of support from UNRWA and the PA. Jordan must shoulder the burden to some extent, and it is aware of the importance of well-funded security forces. Its own security forces have a close relationship with the West and have benefited from support. It is that support and Jordan’s own deep investment in security that has cracked the terror cells and ISIS supporters, like those on trial for the Salt bombing.

Sitting at this crossroads of so many delicate issues – from the refugees, to the Palestinian Authority and the peace process – Jordan wants to see a new dawn of regional security, involving the Gulf states, Egypt, the PA, and potentially Israel and Syria. But that can’t happen if the boat is rocked by any kind of peace plan that harms Jordan’s interests or sees Israel annexing parts of the West Bank.

Jerusalem and Amman are less than a two-hour drive from one another. The countries both owe much of how they look today to decisions of the 1940s. They are keys to regional security. But they do not see eye-to-eye on many of the details that will determine whether Jordan remains stable and continues to play the role in wants in the region.

Do Israeli tourists really visit Jordan?

Israelis can and do visit Jordan – in not insignificant numbers. According to data provided by the Israel Tourism Ministry, 85,792 Israelis entered the kingdom in 2017, the last year data was available.

There are three border crossings into Jordan: the northernmost Sheikh Hussein crossing; the Allenby/King Hussein crossing; and the Wadi Arava crossing near Eilat, which is the least problematic and easiest for Israelis to use, as it does not require traveling through PA Authority territory. One should allot at least an hour to cross the border. It is also possible to fly into Amman from the Ben-Gurion airport.

Geographically, Jordan’s area (89,000+ square kilometers) is more than four times larger than that of Israel, yet nearly all Israeli tourism is concentrated in two sites in Jordan’s southwest region: Aqaba, located right across the border from Eilat, and Petra, about 135 km. to the north.

According to Mark Feldman, CEO and founder of Ziontours, Petra is probably Jordan’s top tourist site, famous for its legendary magnificent Nabatean ruins. Aqaba is a favorite destination among Israelis for its sun and sand – a touch of the exotic that is foreign, yet nearby, with hotels that are significantly less expensive than their Israeli counterparts. It is believed that Israelis hesitant to visit the Sinai due to terrorism concerns increasingly choose what they feel to be the safer Aqaba alternative. A taxi from Eilat to Aqaba costs about 10 Jordanian dinars (NIS 50); a taxi to Petra costs about 70 dinars, and it is strongly recommended to go there in a group with a guide.

Israelis need a visa to cross into Jordan; the cost is about 10 dinars.

Reprinted with author’s permission from Middle East Forum

Passover 2019: The Exodus from Israel – A Record-Breaking 1.5 Million Israelis Travel Overseas for the Passover Season

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 01:00

“Why is this night different from all other nights?” Passover Haggadah.

You won’t see this in any other nation. Paradoxically, during the Passover holiday, which celebrates the exodus of Jews from Egypt and entrance into the land of Israel, there are a record-breaking 1.5 million Israelis doing just the opposite—exiting Israel and flying abroad—a number 11% higher than one year earlier in 2018.

Why are so many Israelis choosing to leave their country for the holiday season?

Many say that Israelis themselves have made it cheaper to holiday abroad than to stay in Israel. But why would we do that? Why would we let such a situation materialize where we make it more expensive to go on vacation in Israel than to scatter elsewhere for the holidays?

Don’t get me wrong, it’s perfectly fine to take a vacation. But when nearly a fifth of a country’s population leaves during a holiday that marks the entrance of its people into its land, it’s bound to raise eyebrows.

Cheaper overseas holiday costs aside, what can be clearly stated about today’s Israel is that it is very different to the nation that once exited Egypt to enter the land of Israel. It is not a nation bonded by a common will to unite above its divisions in order to realize its spiritual potential. On the contrary, today’s Israel looks more like a loose collection of individuals each out for earthly satisfaction.

This also explains Israel’s significant “brain drain” problem, where hordes of Israeli scientists, academics and intellectuals choose to leave Israel and live abroad: When material gain is the guiding star of our lives, then offer us more money, honor or power somewhere else and we’re on the next plane out of here. Without any inclination to unite, and with our sights set no higher than on individual gratification, there is nothing ultimately tying us to our homeland.

What is the big deal then? Is there any reason why Jews should stay in Israel?

Call it destiny. Here in the land of Israel, we are meant to reveal what our ancestors once revealed: the light of unity. We are fated for our role, which is to unite (“love your neighbor as yourself”) and to spread that unity to the world (to be “a light unto nations”). Fulfilling our ultimate spiritual potential is the single reason for us to remain in the land of Israel. Embedded in our genetic makeup, stemming from our ancestral heritage, is a tiny desire for uniting above all the surface materialistic desires. This is the point we must awaken in each other while we are here.

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Moreover, when we discover the immense joy and happiness available in the attainment of the light of unity, our need to look for greener pastures will disappear. Kabbalists describe the intensity of such spiritual pleasure to be like the size of the universe compared to the size of a grain of sand found in material pleasures. After feeling such perfection in unification, the desire for other fulfillments will wane and we will also feel less of a need to travel in pursuit of pleasure.

After the 1.5 million Israelis return from their overseas holidays this Passover season, I’d recommend that they each ask themselves “What did we gain from this holiday?” And to the expected answer, “We had a great time!” probe deeper with the question from the Passover Haggadah itself, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” In other words, did anything really change in our lives? Also, what’s next? Are we just going to continue to bounce from one pleasure from the next, one fun holiday after another until we die? Or, can we start advancing toward a much more qualitative pleasure, one that doesn’t fade but which constantly grows—the eternal, spiritual pleasure discovered by the people of Israel when we entered the land of Israel long ago?

We have everything we need right here at home. We have each other. We just need to learn how to correctly connect, and we’ll discover the ability to travel far beyond anywhere in our entire world—to an eternal world of harmony and perfection.

A Prophecy Fulfilled:

Tue, 04/23/2019 - 00:00

Francis Schaeffer’s warning about the rise of Elite Authoritarianism in the United States

More than 4 decades ago, a theologian, philosopher, apologist and prophet wrote two books (How Should We Then Live; and Christian Manifesto) that clearly warned us that America would likely come under the strong influence of what he called “Elite Authoritarians.” It is incumbent upon us to be alert to what this group has the ability to do, and what influence they may already have upon our culture, values, and beliefs. And even more, this could negatively impact how American citizens see Israel, the Jewish people, and the Middle East situation.

Dr. Schaeffer foresaw a time when the primary entity of power and influence in the United States would be composed of an increasingly authoritarian group of “elites”, made up of the following:

Government Career Politicians and Executives. (akin to our current Deep State). The political party professionals who truly run Washington, and who consider themselves as “keepers of the flame.” Recent examples of career federal executives in our Justice Department who clearly overstepped their responsibilities by attempting to de-rail an elected Chief Executive are instructive.

Media Professionals…..newspapers and TV. Remember, this was predicted long before the time of self-appointed “expert” talking heads on 24-hour cable TV news stations). Schaeffer was most concerned about a time when the media elites would become new-makers rather than news reporters. Schaeffer wrote: “This ability to generate news rests upon a kind of syndrome or psychology or mind-set, not only in the journalistic fraternity but also in influential circles comprised of congressmen, other government officials, and professors.”

Scholars and Scientists who have achieved celebrity-status, and who have now become so powerful and authoritarian that they can destroy fellow scientists merely by labeling them as “deniers” rather than skeptics. The authoritarian atmosphere within many of our higher education institutions has become the very antithesis of what they proudly claim, i.e., a free discussion of ideas.

Technocratic Elites. Again, this was predicted long before our current age of computers, and the evolution of social media platforms. These are the high-profile technology executives who have such a powerful impact on our society today…for better and for worse. This group has become more influential in our society each and every year, and their values and decisions have certainly shaped our culture. They have also demonstrated authoritarian characteristics in the way they control what should and shouldn’t be seen on the internet. They have complete control over what appears on our search engines, and in their internet news reports.

Judicial Elites. This unelected, politically-appointed group has shown their authoritarian stripes by taking an increasing role in thwarting certain decisions made by the country’s Chief Executive. Over the past year, there have been numerous instances that show an authoritarian-type of hostile judicial behavior. This increasing power of federal judges has become such a strong force that it can only be overturned by the Supreme Court judges.

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Where do these Elite Authoritarians (EA’s) come from? They are not necessarily authoritarian-personality type people who have become elites, and then use their new-found celebrity as a platform for telling other people what they must and must not do. Rather, the EAs are mostly made up of people who have been given elite status by means of our celebrity-focused society, and then come to realize that the power and influence they are given makes them feel they know best about what should be done, what must be believed, and who deserves to be praised…..and who to be despised. The 2016 pre-election campaign provided us with a perfect example of how a select group of EAs regarded 50% of the electorate as “deplorables” and ”irredeemables.”

What impact can these Elite Authoritarians have on U.S. foreign policy? Authoritarian behavior is often displayed through aggressive behavior, cynicism, and stereotyping. If this group has a mind-set to “turn on you”, to regard you as the enemy, they have enormous resources to influence the thoughts of American citizens. If the Elite Authoritarians were to become cynical about the U.S.- Israeli historical partnership, it would mean the long-standing support for Israel could easily become fractured. The EAs would find opportunities to chip away at the strong foundation, and eventually create an atmosphere of distrust and non-support for Israel and its future. Within the past 30 days, among members of the U.S. Congress, we have already seen such a chipping away, and an unwillingness among the Washington, D.C.-based Elite Authoritarians to respond in ways they would clearly have done in the past.

What did Dr. Schaeffer fear? He most feared “the manipulation by the new elite.” The current Administration has taken on the Elite Authoritarian establishment, and the resulting counter-attacks are clearly meant to stifle any objections to the EA’s long-term plans and programs for America.

Dr. Schaeffer was prescient, and we should be alert.

SONG OF SONGS 3:10

Mon, 04/22/2019 - 07:26

In a number of places throughout Shir Hashirim in addition to this verse, the “maidens” or “daughters” of Yerushalayim represent the nations of the world (see 1:5, 2:7, 3:5, 5:8, 8:4). The medieval commentator Rashi explains that this is because in the future, Yerushalayim will be the metropolis of all countries, and all people will accept its centrality. Though the nations of the world will one day accept Yerushalayim as their political and religious capital, the Jewish people have always seen it as their eternal capital, providing inspiration and the means for fulfilling their spiritual needs even when they were in exile.