Avigdor Lieberman takes his seat in the Knesset on the afternoon of May 30 in his new role as defence minister. (photo from Ashernet)
For some time now Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has been trying to enlarge his right-wing coalition government. Apart from holding several important portfolios, including foreign affairs and economy, it was becoming increasingly difficult for the government to carry out its policies with a majority of only one seat in the 120-seat Knesset. As well, within the coalition there was pressure over issues that were of special interest to particular factions.
A Knesset vote of 55-43 approved Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beitenu (Israel Our Home) party to join the coalition and gives Netanyahu 66 seats. Lieberman was appointed minister of defence. In the Israel Defence Forces, he attained the rank of corporal.
Lieberman’s predecessor was Moshe Ya’alon, a former IDF chief of staff, who had warned of the rising tide of extremism in the Likud and resigned from the party and the Knesset on May 20.
One of two Egyptian sarcophagi covers – one dating to between the 10th and 8th centuries BCE (Iron Age) and the other to between the 16th and 14th centuries BCE (the late Bronze Age) – that were seized by Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) inspectors four years ago while checking shops in the market of Jerusalem’s Old City. In a short ceremony on May 22, they were returned to Egypt. Egyptian ambassador Hazem Khairat expressed Egypt’s appreciation for all the efforts made by the Israeli authorities to return these smuggled antiquities to their country of origin.
Nadav Argaman, left, is congratulated by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office on May 8, as he takes over as head of Israel’s Shin Bet security service. In the centre is outgoing head Yoram Cohen, who had led the security service since 2011. Argaman became deputy head of the service in 2011. Prior to that, he was the chief of operations from 2003 to 2007 and, from 2007 to 2011, he was Shin Bet’s representative in the United States. (photo from Ashernet)
Slackliner Heather Larson in action. (photo from Ashernet)
On May 2, slackliner Heather Larson, from Denver, Colo., traveled the 35-metre distance between city walls at the Tower of David. Wearing a harness attached to the line, in case she fell, Larson demonstrated various yoga poses along her way. In Israel to draw attention to the upcoming Israel Festival, which takes place in Jerusalem every June, Larson was also being filmed as part of a promotional campaign for a new Israeli-designed backpack.
The main square of the Venice ghetto. The building on the right, which is now a hotel, used to house the Jewish community retirement home. (photo by Ashernet)
Next month will mark 500 years of what most consider the world’s first Jewish ghetto, though some historians contend that a similar type of area, which confined Jews to a restricted quarter, was set up in Frankfurt a short time before the ghetto in Venice. The word ghetto comes from the Italian ghèto, meaning slag, as the area chosen to contain the Jews of Venice had been used as a foundry. Today, some 500 Jews live in and around the ghetto area. There are kosher restaurants, two small hotels that offer kosher breakfast and one that also caters for lunch and evening meals. In the main square, apart from two of the historic synagogues, there is a Jewish museum and a kosher restaurant, run by the Venice City Council.
Among the events that began the Jewish year of 5775 (2014/15), Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu traveled to the United States, where he addressed the United Nations to warn of the danger of a nuclear-armed Iran, and met with U.S. President Barak Obama at the White House.
Prior to that visit, in September 2014, Israel received from Germany another state-of–the-art submarine, the INS Tanin. In October, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon was taken by the Israel Defence Forces to see a Hamas-built tunnel on the Gaza border, used for the purpose of terrorism.
In November, there was an attack on the Jerusalem light rail in which one person died after a terrorist drove his light van into a crowd of people waiting at a train station, and also injured more than a dozen others. The same month saw two terrorists enter Kehilat Ya’acov Synagogue in Jerusalem and attack worshippers at morning prayers with knives, axes and guns, killing four people and injuring a further eight.
In December, Labor party leader Isaac Herzog and Hatnua party leader and former justice minister Tzipi Livni announced that the two parties would join, with Herzog becoming party leader. Another new face was that of Lt.-Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, who became the new chief of staff of the IDF in February.
The year was a reality check for some public figures, as their misconduct caught up with them. In February, former chief rabbi Yona Metzger, who had been subject to an investigation for accepting bribes, was indicted. In March, former prime minister Ehud Olmert was found guilty of fraud and sentenced to a prison term.
With respect to the environment and public space, the Tel Hiriya waste dump outside Tel Aviv was closed down and a development started for the foundation of a huge urban park in its place.
In March, Netanyahu won the general election, but was only able to form a majority government with a coalition. Later that month, seven siblings, aged 5 to 16, from Brooklyn were buried in Jerusalem after they died in a fire in their home.
During the year, several incidents brought into focus the complaint, particularly by Jews of Ethiopian descent, of discrimination by the police. In one, an Israeli Ethiopian IDF soldier, Damas Pakada, was attacked by a policeman, after which Pakada was invited to the Prime Minister’s Office to receive an apology.
In April, Israel was one of the first countries to respond to the earthquake in Nepal. Within a day or two, a field hospital was set up by the IDF in Katmandu.
In May, there was another attack on the light rail system in Jerusalem. This time, the terrorist was shot in the legs, then apprehended, by a security guard.
In July, the United States announced that it would release Jonathan Pollard in November. Pollard will have served 30 years in prison for spying for Israel. He will not be allowed to leave the United States for five years after his release.
In August, Yishai Shissel, who had recently been released from prison for stabbing participants in Jerusalem’s Pride parade 10 years earlier, once again attacked marchers in the annual parade. He stabbed six people at random, and a 16-year-old died of her injuries. Once again, Israel was faced with problems relating to discrimination and violence.
As the year closed, the government concluded a deal with the companies that will be responsible for mining the huge quantities of natural gas found off Israel’s coast.
Traveling by car between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem in 1973. (photo by Edgar Asher)
In the 1970s, Edgar Asher worked at BBC Television News as a photojournalist. In 1973, he went to Israel to take photos of the country, mainly for the Ministry of Tourism, but also to update the BBC stills library. It was his first trip – he and his family would make aliya in 1975.
Former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar (at head of table) joins David Meidan, to Amar’s right, to inform Iranian Jewish families of the fate of their family members. (photo by Ashernet/IGPO)
For the past 20 years, the fate of eight Iranian Jews who were attempting to escape to Israel has been unknown. On Thursday, March 20, former Mossad official David Meidan, who was charged with the inquiry into the disappearance of the eight Jews (plus three other Jews who were last heard from in 1997), told the families in Jerusalem that there is enough reliable information to conclude that all eight of the original Jews were captured and murdered while making their escape.
A statement from the Prime Minister’s Office confirmed that the Mossad had been tracking the 11 Jews who had fled Iran in four separate groups, eight in 1994 and the remaining three in 1997. The Iranian Jews vanished without a trace during their clandestine attempts to reach Israel. Families were left clinging to the hope that they had been kidnapped, or perhaps held in captivity by foreign governments. The Mossad did not provide detail into when or where the eight were killed, or by whom.
The Prime Minister’s Office said that the Mossad had relied on a “reliable source” for the information. An inquiry into the fate of the additional three Iranian Jews, who were last heard from in 1997, is ongoing.
The original eight Jews included Babak Shaoulian-Tehrani, 17, of Tehran; Shahin Nik-Khoo, 19, of Tehran; Salari Behzad, 21, of Kermanshah; Farad Ezati-Mahmoudi, 22, of Kermanshah; Homayoun Bala-Zade, 41, of Shiraz; Omid Solouki, 17, of Tehran; Rubin Kohan-Mosleh, 17, of Shiraz; and Ibrahim Kohan-Mosleh, 16, of Shiraz.
The three Jews whose fates remain currently unknown are Syrous Ghahremani, 32 at time of disappearance, of Kermanshah; Ibrahim Ghahremani, 61, of Kermanshah; and Nourollah Rabi-Zade, 52, of Shiraz.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu sent his condolences to the families and pledged to continue the investigation into the disappearance of the remaining three Iranians.
Meidan, the veteran Mossad official overseeing the investigation, was also involved in the negotiations for the release of soldier Gilad Shalit. After retiring two years ago, Meidan was approached by Netanyahu to continue to investigate the two cases.
Before the findings were presented to the families, the report was sent to former Sephardi chief rabbi Shlomo Amar, who ruled that the information was reliable according to halachah, Jewish law, a ruling that would allow the wives of the victims to remarry if they wish.
Left to right: Laureen Harper looks on as her husband receives a ceremonial souvenir key from the Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein in the Knesset’s Chagall Room. (photo by Ashernet)
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu welcomed Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and his wife, Laureen, to Israel earlier this week, acclaiming him as “a great friend of the Jewish state.” During his official four-day visit to Israel, Harper addressed the Knesset and also held a meeting with Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas. This was Harper’s first visit to Israel.
During his speech to the Knesset, Harper spoke out strongly in defence of Israel. “People who would never say they hate and blame the Jews for their own failings or the problems of the world, instead declare their hatred of Israel and blame the only Jewish state for the problems of the Middle East,” he said. “This is twisted logic and outright malice. Some civil-society leaders today call for a boycott of Israel – most disgracefully of all, some openly call Israel an apartheid state. Think about that. Think about the twisted logic and outright malice behind that. A state, based on freedom, democracy and the rule of law, that was founded so Jews can flourish as Jews and seek shelter from the shadow of the worst racist experiment in history,” he said.
“But what else can we call criticism that selectively condemns only the Jewish state and effectively denies its right to defend itself while systematically ignoring – or excusing – the violence and oppression all around it? This is the face of the new antisemitism. It targets the Jewish people by targeting Israel and attempts to make the old bigotry acceptable for a new generation.”
He continued, “Canada will defend Israel’s right to exist, because Jewish people deserve their own homeland after generations of persecution. Jewish people deserve to live safely and peacefully in that homeland. And, just as Canada supports Israel’s right to self-defence, Canada supports a just and secure future for the Palestinian people.” Earlier that day, Harper announced a $66 million aid package for the Palestinians.