United Church pastor breaks ranks on Israel, denounces ‘radical agenda’

A United Church of Canada minister has started a campaign to get rank-and-file members to reject a proposal from the church’s hierarchy to launch an economic boycott against Israel.

“I really want to believe this is the workings of a very active minority in the church,” said Andrew Love, a pastor at a parish in the town of Arnprior, 55 kilometres west of Ottawa.

“The vast majority of people in the pews are not ready to embrace this kind of extremist and radical agenda from a small minority. There is a real disconnect between the leadership and its people.”

He said the proposal contains “elements of anti-Semitism” by minimizing the importance of the Holocaust.

Last week, a working group of the United Church released a paper that called for a selective boycott of goods coming out of what the authors call illegal Israeli settlements, including East Jerusalem. The authors said that legitimate criticism of Israel is far different than anti-Semitism and that the United Church condemns anything that smacks of anti-Jewish bigotry. The report, two years in the making, will be voted on at the church’s general council in August.

This is the fourth proposal concerning sanctions against Israel in the past six years but none was ever voted on by the general council. However, this is the first proposal requested by the church leadership. Other proposals came from grassroots initiatives.

Rev. Love said he will launch a website in the next few days that will ask for support from co-religionists who are also concerned about calls for a boycott and anti-Israel sentiment in the church.

“This report is biased and one-sided and will erode a commitment we made as a church in a [2003 report] to strengthen ties with the Jewish community,” he said.

In 2009, Rev. Love said he travelled to Israel and spent time on the West Bank speaking to families who were having a tough time under Israeli rule. He said at one point he was pelted by stones by Israeli settlers because he was speaking with Palestinians.

“So it’s not that I’m blinded to the plight of Palestinians,” Rev. Love said. “But where is the sense of balance in this report? Once again we are isolating Israel for all our moral condemnation. Shouldn’t we hold to the same fashion other countries in the Middle East? It’s absurd that Israel is singled out because it’s a democracy.”

He added: “The report is almost completely silent on Israel’s very legitimate concerns to protect itself from terrorism as well as the ever present threat from Iran and the proxy forces that work for Iran in the region.”

He said the authors of the report also did not go far enough to denounce the use of the term “apartheid” when it comes to discussing the situation in Israel today.

Bruce Gregersen, a church minister who assisted those who wrote the report, said the document clearly states that it is not helpful to use the term apartheid now — but given the fluidity of the situation the term could be applicable one day.

“At the current time we did not see the conditions of apartheid applying, but if the settlements are annexed into Israel, which has been threatened, then the term apartheid would apply.”

Church officials acknowledged last week that Israel is the focus for action because there is more chance of reasoning with a democracy than one of the neighbouring authoritarian regimes.

“The [authors] believe that Israel can and should be held to a higher standard than surrounding non-democratic countries or authoritarian regimes. It’s precisely because of Israel’s close identification with democratic ideals that it needs to be challenged on its policies,” the report says.

Rev. Gregersen said that the United Church has had support from Jewish leaders who recognize criticism of the state of Israel does not mean negative feelings about Jews. The report also criticized those who would demonize Jews under the guise of criticism of Israel.

However, he said, some have told the church that the language of the report “does appear to minimize the horrors Holocaust,” which might be construed as anti-Semitism.

“That was never our intention to minimize the Holocaust and we are really concerned that it can be seen like that.”

Story via National Post

Jennifer Lopez headed to Tel Aviv for a concert in late 2012!

Diva supreme Jennifer Lopez, or J.Lo to those of us who like our monikers, is planning a concert in Israel in October or November, 2012!

According to Israeli press, J.Lo – the American actress, businesswoman, dancer and recording artist regarded as the most successful entertainer of Latin descent (including almost 60 million record sales) – is in final negotiations to fix a date. The venue has been confirmed as the Nokia Arena in Tel Aviv, the date and ticket prices yet to be confirmed – as soon as we get any news, we’ll post it!

She will be apparently touring late in the year with Enrique Iglesias, a man who has wowed Tel Aviv in the past, but will apparently be performing in Israel alone.

J.Lo has staged a remarkable singing comeback over the last year or two and has added to her fan base, a base that was in its ultimate at the turn of the Millenium…and here’s a little reminder of what she can do…Tel Aviv awaits you J.Lo!

Story via Igoogledisrael.com

Peres thanks Canadians for support

Israeli President Shimon Peres on Monday expressed praise for Canada’s efforts to build bridges and inspire hope in the world, while thanking Canadians for sup-porting his country’s efforts “to achieve real peace and to deter dangers.”

“Israel still is in search of peace,” the Israeli statesman said after being welcomed by Gov.-Gen. David Johnston and Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird outside Rideau Hall.

“That is our desire. Canada [has] supported us in our efforts to achieve real peace and to deter dangers.”

Peres met Prime Minister Stephen Harper about an hour later and called Canada an “extraordinary friend.”

The events marked the first day of a four-day tour of Ottawa, Toronto and Montreal for the 88-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was in Ottawa in March, when he warned about the threat posed by Iran’s nuclear aspirations and was regarded as trying to garner Canadian support for a pre-emptive strike intended to prevent the Islamic republic from acquiring nuclear weapons.

But Peres, who is regarded as a dove next to the hawkish Netanyahu, was expected to warn Harper and others in private meetings about the long-term implications of war between Israel and Iran.

During his comments at Rideau Hall, Peres acknowledged Canada’s reputation for “building bridges and closing gaps.”

“Canada is always positive, never indifferent, never neutral,” he said.

Peres, who shared a Nobel Peace Prize with former Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin and the late Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat for negotiating the Oslo Accords, is in Canada to talk trade and security.

A state dinner was to be held at the governor-general’s estate on Monday evening. Peres will then preside over a discussion on innovation and education at Rideau Hall today before witnessing the signing of a memorandum of understanding between the Royal Society of Canada and the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities.

Peres will also visit Toronto and Montreal, meeting Ontario Premier Dalton McGuinty and Quebec Premier Jean Charest, as well as NDP leader Tom Mulcair and interim Liberal leader Bob Rae.

Story via Vancouver Sun
Netanyahu: Unity government will restore stability

In joint press conference with Kadima’s Mofaz, Netanyahu says broad gov’t will focus on replacing Tal Law, changing government system and promoting peace

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Tuesday that Israel needs political stability and that a new agreement with Kadima will pave the way for the broadest national unity government in Israel’s history.

Speaking at a joint press conference with Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz, Netanyahu said: “I was ready to go to elections. But when I learned that a very broad government can be established, the broadest in Israel’s history I realized that stability can be restored. That is why I have decided to form a broad national unity government.”

His statements were briefly disrupted by MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) who yelled “This is pure corruption” and “You have no shame. You have broken the shame barrier.”  He was escorted out of the room by stewards.

Outlining the unity government’s goals, Netanyahu pointed to four objectives: “To bring a just and egalitarian alternative to the Tal Law; a responsible budget that will address the State of Israel’s needs; to change the government system; and to try to promote a responsible peace process where security is maintained.”

He said that a broad national unity government is good for security, the economy, the society and the Israeli people. Netanyahu ended his statements with the words: “Shaul, welcome aboard.”

Addressing the press conference, Mofaz explained his decision to join Netanyahu’s government. “There are moments in a nation’s life that it is called to make serious decisions. I believe that the time has come to change world orders. This is a historic move of national unity which is important for the State’s future. A coalition of 94 MKs will better handle the challenges.”

He said that Kadima’s political power can assist the government to achieve its goals. “It would have been irresponsible to say no,” he noted.

Mofaz also criticized former Kadima Chairwoman Tzipi Livni for not joining Netanyahu’s government after the last elections. “Kadima was not part of a unity government, that was a historic mistake which we are correcting.” He further added, “This is the right thing to do and the right time.”

He stressed the need to change the government system. “If we bring about a new government system by the end of the year, we have done enough for the State of Israel. The change will affect the State’s entire way of life and decision making process. ”

Asked to explain his relationship with Netanyahu, whom he had in the past called a liar, Mofaz said: “We have put that behind us.”

Mofaz and Netanyahu said that the elections will be held at the original date of early November 2013.

Full story via YnetNews


PM, Mofaz promise new law on army service, electoral reform

Netanyahu: We can do great things together; Mofaz: Kadima should have joined the coalition three years ago. ‘Today, we are correcting the mistake’

New political partners Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Kadima chairman Shaul Mofaz hailed their surprise coalition agreement as “historic” and “a source of “hope for Israel, at a Knesset press conference on Tuesday afternoon.

Both men insisted the partnership was critical to the national interest. “We put the need for unity first,” said Mofaz.

The two said they could now advance a shared agenda that promoted consensual public interests, including the need to share the burden of national service, social reform, and progress on the diplomatic front. Both urged the Palestinian leadership to come back to the peace table. “I have some ideas over how to move forward” with the Palestinians, Mofaz said.

“Don’t rush to bury this (partnership),” Netanyahu told reporters who questioned the credibility and sustainability of the alliance. “I think I’m steering the state and my party effectively.” He added: “We’re going to achieve great things.”

The previous coalition had functioned well for three years, but had become increasingly hamstrung, he said. It would not have been capable of attaining agreement on new legislation for ultra-Orthodox national service, for instance. With the new, wider alliance, that would be possible.

“The State of Israel needs stability,” Netanyahu said, at the start of his remarks explaining the partnership. He said he had always wanted to maintain his coalition and while he had been prepared for early elections had that been necessary, he was pleased to sign an agreement with Mofaz that would restore stability. The new government represented “hope for all of Israel,” he said.

At this point, Netanyahu was interrupted by Meretz MK Nitzan Horowitz, who heckled him, saying that with the deal, “you have sunk to new levels of shamefulness.”

Netanyahu, unfazed, continued his address — talking about “historic opportunities” to legislate mandatory service for ultra-Orthodox Israelis, as well as opportunities to advance the peace process.

Mofaz, like Netanyahu, hailed the alliance as a “historic” achievement and opportunity for Israel. He cited four areas in which the 94-strong coalition could advance issues on which there is wide public consensus: national service for all, reform of the electoral system, maintaining a Jewish and democratic Israel, and willingness for territorial compromise in the cause of a viable accommodation with the Palestinians.

“This is the time for leadership that puts the national interest at center stage,” he said. “The prime minister and I will be judged by results and not by promises,” he said. “If it had been up to me, as you know, I would have joined a unity government three years ago.”

Mofaz denied he had a credibility problem, having pledged not to join the Netanyahu coalition. As the press conference ended, Kadima quickly corrected its website, which had hitherto highlighted party leader Mofaz’s vow not to negotiate with, never mind join, the Netanyahu government.

Answering reporters’ questions, Netanyahu denied that he had entered the alliance because he had lost control of his own Likud party, which has seemed to be drifting to the right.

Mofaz acknowledged that he had called Netanyahu “a liar” in the past. “We agreed to put that behind us,” he said, “for the good of the State of Israel.”

“It’s easy to sit in opposition,” said Mofaz. It was harder, but necessary, to take responsibility, in government, for the good of Israel. “My position on the need to join this coalition has been consistent,” he said, denying that he had a credibility problem. It had been “a mistake” not to join the coalition in 2009. “Today, we are correcting this mistake.”

Reporters asked Mofaz how he could influence government decision-making as the only Kadima minister in the government, drawing an answer that emphasized his confidence in Netanyahu as a partner who would honor their unity agreement. Mofaz said he had not sought to extort Netanyahu for Kadima’s benefit, and that the deal was designed for the wider national interest.

Netanyahu said he had twice asked former Kadima leader Tzipi Livni to join the coalition. “But she refused. I am very happy, very appreciative, that Shaul Mofaz accepted this overture.” This was “the time for unity,” he said. “This is a defining moment.”

He said his existing coalition partners had been extremely supportive, because “this unity is not a fiction… It is truly to strengthen Israel… at a time of immense regional upheaval.”

Labor’s Isaac Herzog, speaking earlier, said the shock deal would produce “so much revulsion” that it would work to Labor’s interest in the long term. “If we were heading for 17 seats [had early elections been held on September 4], we’ll get 27 [when elections are finally held as scheduled in late 2013]. Voters will return to their natural home.”

Critics mocked Mofaz for partnering with Netanyahu, having pledged repeatedly that he would do no such thing. He wrote on his Facebook page in March that he would not negotiate to join the coalition, and said more than once in public that his priority was to oust Netanyahu. His supporters countered that Kadima was heading for disaster had early elections been called, and that the new partnership was the only way to prevent Kadima’s near-obliteration.

Having gone to sleep with expectations of September elections, Israelis woke up to a new political reality Tuesday morning, learning that overnight, Netanyahu and Mofaz signed a deal to form a unity government.

Legislation to dissolve parliament was frozen after it had been approved on a first reading. The Netanyahu-Mofaz deal provides for this Knesset to see out its term, until October 2013.

Shortly after 2:30 a.m., Netanyahu and Mofaz arrived at the Knesset to brief their parties on the details of their secret agreement. Kadima joined the government in exchange for Mofaz’s appointment as a deputy prime minister, a minister without portfolio, and a cabinet member. No other Kadima members will join the government. The new coalition is one of the largest in Israel’s history, numbering 94 MKs.

The coalition agreement was being brought to the Knesset for approval on Tuesday and was expected to be passed within 48 hours, after which Mofaz will pledge allegiance to the government.

As part of the deal, which was negotiated in complete secrecy over the last week, Netanyahu agreed to back Mofaz’s proposed legislation to replace the Tal Law on national service for the ultra-Orthodox, which is set to expire in August. The new coalition will also legislate electoral reform, and the budget will be passed smoothly, the two agreed. Mofaz said that in the coming year Kadima will receive additional ministerial positions.

Israel Radio reported Tuesday that ex-Kadima minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Defense Minister Ehud Barak played a major role in orchestrating the Netanyahu-Mofaz agreement.

The appointment of Mofaz, a former military chief and defense minister, is also potentially significant in Israel’s standoff with Iran; he has been a vocal critic of the notion of Israel striking Iran’s nuclear sites on its own.

The movement toward early elections had prompted speculation in some quarters that Israel might attack Iran’s nuclear program, perhaps within months.

The Likud and Kadima factions approved the partnership. Coalition partners Eli Yishai (Shas) and Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu) also expressed support for the deal. Yishai said he was party to the plan from the start.

President Shimon Peres lauded the formation of a national unity government as “good for the people of Israel and welfare of the state.”

Knesset Speaker Reuven Rivlin, a veteran of Israeli politics, said he had never seen such a last-minute political upheaval. “This is good for Israel because it brings stability,” he said on Army Radio as he left parliament before sunrise. In a later interview, he said he began suspecting that something was taking place when he saw that Netanyahu, Mofaz and Barak didn’t appear for the first reading of the Knesset dissolution bill.

“I had my suspicions, but I dismissed them, telling myself it was fatigue playing tricks on me,” said Rivlin.

Ex-Kadima head Tzipi Livni, who in the past rejected offers to form a unity government under far more generous terms, posted a short message on her Facebook page Tuesday morning, indicating distaste for an alliance with Netanyahu that she had rejected when leading Kadima. “I know what sort of feelings are flooding you after the night’s proceedings, but remember that there is a different kind of politics and it will prevail,” wrote Livni.

With the formation of a national unity government, Labor chairwoman Shelly Yachimovich will likely assume the mantle of leader of the opposition.

Yachimovich denounced the deal as “an alliance of cowards and the most ridiculous and ludicrous zigzag in Israeli political history.”

Meretz chairwoman Zahava Gal-On called the formation of the national unity government “an odious act” and said that Netanyahu and Mofaz had sent a disgraceful message to the public.

Ex-TV anchor Yair Lapid, who must now presumably wait until late 2013 to enter the political fray, scorned the deal as “old politics, corrupt and ugly… politics of seats instead of principles, of jobs instead of the public good, the group’s interests instead of the entire country. This disgusting political alliance will bury all of its members beneath itself.”

Hadash MK Dov Hanin said the new unity government was established to approve an Israeli strike on Iran and warned that the political deal would lead to a regional war.

Arab MK Ahmed Tibi mocked Mofaz, saying he broke the world record for shortest stint as opposition chairman. He said that with the deal, Kadima had turned into a Likud subsidiary.

Criticism of the move was also voiced by hawkish coalition member MK Danny Danon (Likud), who said accepting Kadima into the government was a departure from the party’s right-wing principles.

The sensational move was disclosed shortly after the government’s bill to dissolve the Knesset had passed its first reading Monday night by 109 votes to 1, with Kadima supporting it. Parliament was then proceeding toward the second and third readings of the bill, en route to general elections on September 4.

“Moments before the dissolution of the Knesset, [there was] a hasty meeting to establish a national unity government,” Likud MK Carmel Shama Cohen wrote on his Facebook wall.

Initial reports indicated that Netanyahu and Mofaz identified a common interest in staving off early elections and forging a new unity partnership: It would reduce the prime minister’s dependence on the smaller factions that have been pressuring him, and it would give Mofaz a chance to try to build up Kadima’s public standing. In recent polls, it has been heading for only about a dozen seats if elections were held in the near future.

Netanyahu’s Likud, with 27 seats, and Kadima, with 28, are the two largest parties in the current Knesset. Netanyahu and Kadima’s previous leader, Livni, discussed a unity government after the 2009 elections, but could not agree on terms, and did not get on well personally. The Netanyahu-Mofaz relationship, though not without friction, is rather better, observers say.

For Netanyahu and Mofaz, a unity partnership with Kadima that staves off elections also potentially weakens a resurgent Labor party — or at least prevents it from boosting its Knesset presence in the near future — and might take some of the wind out of the sails of neophyte Yesh Atid party leader Lapid, who was polling at about 12 seats. While some Kadima MKs might object to the fact that only Mofaz will receive a position, they can breathe easier now that their Knesset seats are no longer threatened by national elections.

Mofaz, who just last month became the head of the opposition, had pledged not to join the government.

“I intend to replace Netanyahu,” Mofaz had told The New York Times after his resounding victory over Tzipi Livni. “I will not join his government.”

According to Army Radio, the deal was deliberated in secret last week, while Netanyahu was mourning the death of his father. Only a handful of people were privy to the proceedings, said to be spearheaded by former senior Netanyahu aide Natan Eshel.

Coalition chairman Zev Elkin, the sole Likud MK to be party to the deal, said there were several preliminary, secret meetings to discuss the agreement but the final decision was made only at the 11th hour.

“I think Livni made a mistake by not joining the coalition. Mofaz made a difficult decision, but he took this idea and went with it… The negotiations were not at the expense of the other coalition members,” he said.

“I think Lapid is the biggest loser from all this, and Yachimovich — I think she planned for something else.”

Story via Times of Israel