Today’s Top Stories
1. A senior UN official quit after her agency pulled from its web site a report labeling Israeli treatment of Palestinians as “apartheid.” Reuters explains in a nutshell:
United Nations Under-Secretary General and Executive Secretary for the Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA), Rima Khalaf, announced her resignation at a news conference in Beirut after U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres asked for the report to be taken off the ESCWA website.
ESCWA, which comprises 18 Arab states, published the report on Wednesday and said it was the first time a U.N. body had clearly charged that Israel “has established an apartheid regime that dominates the Palestinian people as a whole.”
UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric explained to reporters:
“The secretary-general cannot accept that an under-secretary general or any other senior U.N. official that reports to him would authorize the publication under the U.N. name, under the U.N. logo, without consulting the competent departments and even himself,” he said.
Palestinians slammed the UN for withdrawing the report.
President Abbas decides to decorate Rima Khalaf for 'bravery' over UN 'apartheid' Israel report.
— Khaled Abu Toameh (@KhaledAbuToameh) March 18, 2017
2. Israeli planes returning from an air strike in Syria were fired upon by Syrian anti-aircraft missiles. One of the SAMs was intercepted by an Israeli Arrow-3 missile, which the IDF recently deployed to counter long-range missile threats — primarily high-altitude intercontinental ballistic missiles.
According to Arab media reports, Israel had attacked an arms convoy for Hezbollah near Palmyra, far deeper into Syria than previous airstrikes attributed to the Israeli Air Force. Wreckage from the missile intercept was found in neighboring Jordan. Two other SAMs landed in Israel in open areas, causing no damage.
Israel has rarely confirmed or denied specific attacks on Syria, only saying it won’t allow game-changing weapons to be transferred to Syria. But the IDF confirmed the air strike after the sound of the intercept was heard in Jerusalem and a rocket alert siren was triggered in parts of the Jordan Valley.
Israel denied Syrian claims that any aircraft were hit. One question Israelis are asking: “why did Israel choose to fire a costly ballistic missile to shoot down an antiquated surface-to-air missile?” See below for more commentary and analysis.
3. Israeli-Arab MK Bael Ghattas reached a plea agreement with prosecutors in which he admitted smuggling cell phones and SIM cards to Palestinian security prisoners, agreed to give up his Knesset seat, and serve a two-year prison term. Jamaa Azbarga was due to be sworn in today to replace Ghattas.
4. Toulouse, Twitter, and the Media Incitement Factor: On the fifth anniversary of the Toulouse massacre, I’m dusting off this post which is as relevant today as it was in 2012.
Israel and the Palestinians
• Israel blacklisted the PA-linked Palestinian National Fund as a terror group. Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman accused the fund of channeling “tens of millions of shekels” every month in stipend to to Palestinian security prisoners as well as to their families.
The Palestinian National Fund is said to contain billions of dollars from wealthy Arab donors and profits from various investments. It is run by Ramzi Elias Yousef Khoury, a high-ranking member of the Palestinian Authority.
There is little transparency or oversight in the management and use of the fund, which is ultimately controlled by PA President Mahmoud Abbas — something that grants him considerable influence and power.
• Worth reading: Ynet interviewed at length, Amos Gilad, who recently retired as the head of Defense Ministry’s Political-Military Affairs Bureau and as a secret emissary to Arab countries.
• Hamas court sentences two Gaza drug dealers to death
• Netanyahu arrived in China accompanied by a delegation of 90 business executives.
Around the World
• Chancellor calls burnt mezuzah on doorpost of University of California, Hastings student’s dorm room a ‘cowardly act of anti-Semitism’
• ‘Cowardly’ graffiti on Belfast mural to Irish Zionist who fought in WWI being treated as a hate crime
• German MPs are investigating pro-Hezbollah and pro-Hamas academic Norman Finkelstein’s lectures as anti-Semitic.
• Argentinian Jews and Israeli diplomats gathered in Buenos Aires on Friday to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the bombing of the Israeli embassy. In an attack widely believed linked to Iran, a car bombing killed 29 civilians and injured 242 more.
• Plenty of commentary about the Israeli airstrike on Syria:
– Yaakov Katz: Israeli missile defense systems now protecting fighter jets
– Alex Fishman: The winds of war are blowing on Israel’s borders
– Selin Nasi: Will Putin sell Iran out?
– Avi Issacharoff: No offense to the ‘Arrow,’ but greater threats loom from the north
– Amos Harel: With missile fire, Assad trying to change rules of the game
– Anshel Pfeffer: The role Russia played in the Israel-Syria missile clash
• Here’s what else I’m reading today . . .
– Ruthie Blum: To Falk’s discredit
– Raphael Ahren: Donald Trump stuns the Middle East by sending an honest broker
– Amb. Alan Baker: The legal veracity of the Balfour Declaration
– Douglas Feith, Sander Gerber: The department of pay-for-slay
– Annika Hernroth-Rothstein: European anti-Semitism: The devil is in the details
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