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Israel vows to 'act aggressively' against Ben & Jerry's

Israel vows to 'act aggressively' against Ben & Jerry's

JERUSALEM — Israel’s prime minister vowed Tuesday to “act aggressively” against the decision by Ben & Jerry’s to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories, as the country’s ambassador to the U.S. urged dozens of state governors to punish the company under anti-boycott laws.The strong reaction reflected concerns in Israel that the ice cream maker’s decision could lead other companies to follow suit. It also appeared to set the stage for a protracted public relations and legal battle.Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office said he spoke with Alan Jope, chief executive of Ben & Jerry’s parent company Unilever, and raised concern about what he called a “clearly anti-Israel step.” He said the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise,” and Israel “will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens.”In Monday’s announcement, Ben & Jerry’s said it would stop selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem. The company, known for its social activism, said such sales were “inconsistent with our values.”The statement was one of the strongest rebukes by a high-profile company of Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which it has controlled for more than a half-century after capturing them in the 1967 Mideast war.The Palestinians, with broad international support, claim both areas as parts of a future independent state. Israeli settlements, now home to some 700,000 Israelis, are widely seen as illegal and obstacles to peace.Israel annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers the entire city its undivided capital, though the annexation is not internationally recognized. It says the West Bank is disputed territory and says its final status should be resolved in negotiations. The international community, however, widely considers both areas to be occupied territory.In its statement, Ben & Jerry’s said it had informed its longtime Israeli partner that it will not renew its license agreement when it expires at the end of 2022.While noting it would not serve Israeli-occupied areas, it said it would continue to provide ice cream in Israel “through a different arrangement.” A number of companies, most notably beverage company SodaStream, have closed factories in the occupied West Bank but few have targeted Israeli consumers living there.It remains unclear how Ben & Jerry’s plans to do that. Israeli supermarket chains, a primary distribution channel for the cleverly named flavors of ice cream, operate in the settlements, and under Israeli law, people or companies that boycott the settlements can be sued.On the global stage, Israel does not differentiate between settlements and the rest of the country. When home-rental company Airbnb announced in 2018 that it would no longer list properties in West Bank settlements, Israel harshly condemned the move as part of a broader Palestinian-led boycott movement against Israel.Israel’s strategic affairs minister at the time, Gilad Erdan, encouraged Israelis harmed by the decision to sue Airbnb. Several months later, after continued Israeli criticism and a U.S. federal lawsuit filed by Israeli Americans, the company reversed course.Erdan, now Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., said Tuesday that he had sent a letter to the governors of 35 states that have passed laws against anti-Israel boycott activity.“Rapid and determined action must be taken to counter such discriminatory and antisemitic actions,” he wrote. “We must stand united and send an unequivocal message that this will not be tolerated.”But even some of Israel’s supporters said the company was on solid ground.Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal pro-Israel group J-Street, said it was not antisemitism to differentiate between Israel and settlements built on occupied territory.“Instead of demonizing and attacking companies and individuals for making principled decisions,” he said, “these leaders would make a greater contribution to the fight against antisemitism by helping to bring the unjust and harmful occupation to a peaceful end.”The dispute has turned the Israeli ice cream market into the latest front in Israel’s long-running battle against the BDS movement, a Palestinian-led grassroots campaign that promotes boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israeli businesses, cultural institutions and universities.BDS organizers say they are protesting what they call Israeli oppression of Palestinians in a campaign modeled on the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa. Its nonviolent message has resonated with audiences around the world, including on many U.S. college campuses.But Israel says the movement has a deeper agenda aimed at delegitimizing and destroying the country.Omar Barghouti, a BDS co-founder, said the movement had been urging Ben & Jerry’s to pull out of Israel for years. He called its decision “quite significant.”“It shows you cannot have business with an apartheid state without being complicit,” he said. “We expect more socially responsible companies to follow suit, perhaps less publicly.Unilever, which acquired Ben & Jerry’s in 2000, appeared Tuesday to distance itself from the ice cream maker. In a statement, Unilever noted that under the purchase agreement, it recognized Ben & Jerry’s independence and right “to take decisions about its social mission.”“We remain fully committed to our presence in Israel, where we have invested in our people, brands and business for several decades,” it said.Eugene Kontorovich, a professor at George Mason University’s Scalia Law School, said that despite such assurances, the global company could be vulnerable to U.S. state laws banning anti-Israel boycott activity.Kontorovich, who consulted with lawmakers in some states that adopted the laws, said they treat anti-Israel boycotts as a form of discrimination. Violating these laws, he said, could make both Ben & Jerry’s and Unilever ineligible for state contracts or prompt states to drop Unilever shares from large pension funds.“They may see that mixing ice cream and anti-Israel politics may not be the best idea,” he said.The battle comes against the backdrop of shifting U.S. attitudes toward Israel. Where Israel once enjoyed solid bipartisan support in the U.S., the country has turned into a divisive issue in recent years, with Republicans strongly supporting it and Democrats, especially young liberal voters, increasingly supporting the Palestinians.Several factors have fueled this trend, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close alliance with former President Donald Trump.Michael Oren, who served as Netanyahu’s ambassador to the U.S., said the trends were worrisome for Israel.While he said the Ben & Jerry’s decision posed no immediate threat to Israel’s robust economy, he said the boycott movement could contribute to a “steady erosion of Israel’s legitimacy.”“Our enemies know they cannot destroy us with all those missiles,” he told reporters. “They can destroy us economically through sanctions and boycotts. And that’s where BDS poses a long-term threat.”

Israeli Supreme Court upholds contentious Jewish state law

Israeli Supreme Court upholds contentious Jewish state law

Israel’s Supreme Court has upheld a controversial law that defines the country as the nation state of the Jewish peopleBy JOSEF FEDERMAN Associated PressJuly 8, 2021, 6:48 PM• 3 min readShare to FacebookShare to TwitterEmail this articleJERUSALEM — Israel’s Supreme Court on Thursday upheld a controversial law that defines the country as the nation state of the Jewish people — rejecting claims by opponents that it discriminates against minorities.In its ruling, the court acknowledged shortcomings in the so-called Nation State Law. But it said the law “did not negate Israel’s democratic character” outlined in other laws.Proponents of the 2018 law claimed the legislation merely enshrined Israel’s existing Jewish character. Critics said it further downgrades the status of Israel’s Arab minority, which makes up around 20% of the country’s population.Israel’s Arab citizens have the right to vote and are well-represented in many professions, but nonetheless suffer from widespread discrimination in areas such as housing and the job market.The law was approved by the Knesset, or parliament, in July 2018. It defines Israel as the “nation-state” of the Jewish people and adds that “fulfilling the right to national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.” It also downgraded Arabic from an official state language to one with “special status.”The law’s passage prompted vocal opposition from the country’s Arab minority, particularly among Druze Israelis, who serve in the military.A number of Arab rights groups and civil society organizations appealed to the court to strike down the law. An 11-judge panel, the court’s largest configuration, considered the case.In their 10-1 decision, the court said “equal rights are granted to all citizens of the state, including minority groups.” They said the right to national self-determination “does not deny recognized personal or cultural rights.” They also said the law did not detract from the status of the Arabic language or preclude “the promotion of its status.”The court’s only Arab justice, George Karra, was the lone dissenter, calling the law discriminatory.Justice Minister Gideon Saar, leader of the nationalist New Hope party, welcomed Thursday’s ruling.He said the law “anchors the essence and character of Israel as the nation state of the Jewish people” and “does not infringe on the individual rights of any of the citizens of Israel.”Adalah, an Arab rights group that tried to overturn the law, said the court upheld a law that “completely excludes those who do not belong to the majority group.” It said it would “continue to work internationally to expose the discriminatory and racist nature of this law.”Legal expert Yuval Shany, vice president of the Israel Democracy Institute, an independent think tank, said the law is largely symbolic and provides a constitutional “background” for judges to consider when weighing other cases. But he said the ruling made clear that other laws, on issues like equality and minority rights, would also have to be taken into account.“Essentially, the court, says you will have to explore these issues on a case by case basis when future legislation comes before us,” he said.

Israeli airstrikes target Gaza sites, first since cease-fire

Israeli airstrikes target Gaza sites, first since cease-fire

JERUSALEM — Israeli airstrikes hit militant sites in the Gaza Strip early Wednesday, and Palestinians responded by sending a series of fire-carrying balloons back across the border for a second straight day — further testing the fragile cease-fire that ended last month’s war between Israel and Hamas.The latest round of violence was prompted by a parade of Israeli ultranationalists through contested east Jerusalem on Tuesday. Palestinians saw the march as a provocation and sent balloons into southern Israel, causing several blazes in parched farmland. Israel then carried out the airstrikes — the first such raids since the May 21 cease-fire ended 11 days of fighting — and more balloons followed.The airstrikes targeted facilities used by Hamas militants for meetings to plan attacks, the army said. There were no reports of injuries.“The Hamas terror organization is responsible for all events transpiring in the Gaza Strip, and will bear the consequences for its actions,” the army said. It added that it was prepared for any scenario, “including a resumption of hostilities.”By Wednesday afternoon, masked Palestinians sent a number of balloons, laden with fuses and flaming rags, into Israel. Several fires were reported.The unrest provided the first test of the cease-fire at a time when Egyptian mediators have been working to reach a longer-term agreement. It comes as tensions have risen again in Jerusalem, as they did before the recent war, leading Gaza’s Hamas rulers to fire a barrage of rockets at the holy city on May 10. The fighting claimed more than 250 Palestinian lives and killed 13 people in Israel.An Egyptian security official said his government has been in “direct and around-the-clock” contacts with Israeli officials and the Gaza rulers to keep the cease-fire and to urge them to refrain from provocative acts.The official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was discussing behind-the-scenes diplomacy, said the U.S. administration has also been in touch with Israel as part of the efforts.The two sides seem to agree “not to escalate to the tipping point,” he said. “And we do every effort to prevent this.”The flare-up also has created a test for Israel’s new government, which took office early this week. The diverse coalition includes several hard-line parties as well as dovish and centrist parties, along with the first Arab faction ever to be part of an Israeli government.Keeping the delicate coalition intact will be a difficult task for the new prime minister, Naftali Bennett.In Tuesday’s parade, hundreds of Israeli ultranationalists, some chanting “Death to Arabs,” marched in east Jerusalem in a show of force. Hamas called on Palestinians to “resist” the parade, which was meant to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in 1967. Palestinians consider it a provocation.In a scathing condemnation on Twitter, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who heads the centrist Yesh Atid Party, said those shouting racist slogans were “a disgrace to the Israeli people.”Bennett, who will hand over the prime minister’s job to Lapid after two years, is a hard-line Israeli nationalist who has promised a pragmatic approach as he presides over a delicate, diverse coalition government.Though there were concerns the march would raise tensions, canceling it would have opened Bennett and other right-wing members of the coalition to intense criticism from those who would view it as a capitulation to Hamas.Mansour Abbas, whose Raam party is the first Arab faction to join an Israeli coalition, said the march was “an attempt to set the region on fire for political aims,” with the intention of undermining the new government.Abbas said the police and public security minister should have canceled the event.While the parade provided the immediate impetus for the balloons, Hamas is also angry because Israel has tightened its blockade of the territory since the cease-fire. The restrictions include a ban on imports of fuel for Gaza’s power plant and raw materials.Israel imposed the blockade after Hamas, a militant group that seeks Israel’s destruction, seized control of Gaza from the internationally recognized Palestinian Authority in 2007. Israel and Hamas have fought four wars and numerous skirmishes since then. Israel says the blockade, enforced with Egypt, is needed to prevent Hamas from importing and developing weapons.One of the masked activists firing the balloons said they launched hundreds of them Tuesday and will continue sending them in response to what he described as Israeli provocations in east Jerusalem.After capturing east Jerusalem in 1967, Israel annexed the area in a move not recognized by most of the international community. It considers the entire city its capital, while the Palestinians want east Jerusalem to be the capital of their future state. The competing claims over east Jerusalem, home to Jewish, Christian and Muslim holy sites, lie at the heart of the conflict and have sparked many rounds of violence.———Associated Press journalists Samy Magdy and Fares Akram in Cairo, and Wafaa Shurafa in Gaza City, Gaza Strip, contributed to this report.

Family left in shock by shooting of young Palestinian woman

Family left in shock by shooting of young Palestinian woman

JERUSALEM — Mai Afaneh appeared to have a happy family life and a fulfilling career. So when she left her West Bank home early on Wednesday, no one thought anything was wrong.But a short while later, her family received the devastating news that she had been shot and killed by Israeli troops, allegedly after carrying out an attempted car-ramming attack.In just a few short moments, she became another statistic — the latest in a list of Palestinians killed by the Israeli military under unclear circumstances.The cases play out in a similar pattern. The army reports an attempted attack by a Palestinian assailant, usually acting alone and unaffiliated with any militant group. Then, it says troops “neutralized” the attacker.Some 20 Israelis have been killed in shootings, stabbings and car-ramming attacks since 2018, according to Israel’s Foreign Ministry. Many others have been badly hurt.But not all cases are clear. In cases without Israeli casualties, sometimes there is video evidence to support the account. Other times, there isn’t.Human rights groups say many of the attackers could have been stopped without killing them, and in some cases, have suggested innocent people were killed.Military investigations are sometimes launched but rarely provide clarity and almost never find wrongdoing on the part of troops. Families, meanwhile, are left wondering what really happened to their loved ones.Afaneh, who was 28, left an inconclusive trail of clues behind her. She had suffered some health problems. There were some distraught Facebook posts about Palestinians killed by Israel. But relatives said she had no reason or ability to carry out an attack.She had earned her doctorate in psychology in Jordan, was happily teaching at a local university and had a good family life with her husband and 5-year-old daughter, relatives said.“She was not politically affiliated. All she cared about was her studies and helping her family and husband,” said her father, Khaled Afaneh.He said the previous night she was laughing and talkative before dropping off her daughter to spend the night with the grandparents. He said she needed colon surgery, had just gotten out of the hospital and was very weak.“Even if she really wanted to attack, they could easily stop her. There was no justification to kill her,” he said, speaking at the family’s home in Abu Dis, a town on the eastern outskirts of Jerusalem.According to the military, Afaneh drove her car toward a group of soldiers who were guarding a construction site in Hizmeh, about a half-hour drive from her home, then got out of the vehicle brandishing a knife before she was shot.The military said one soldier was lightly injured jumping out of the way of the car. It said there were no security cameras at the scene so it couldn’t provide footage of the incident.“I believe she lost control over the car. Maybe she entered the wrong way,” said her uncle, Usama Afaneh. “I don’t believe she intended to do anything. It’s not her nature.”The uncle said she had told her husband that morning that she was going out to pick up some breakfast. He had no idea how she ended up so far away from the house but speculated she was on her way to the city of Ramallah, where she sometimes did work for her university.Despite her upbeat demeanor, some of Afaneh’s posts on social media were troubling.On May 15, at the height of Israel’s war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip last month, she posted a photo of what appears to be a dead Palestinian child.“We will stay here, either martyrdom or victory,” she wrote. A smaller photo showed her with a Palestinian flag painted on her face. On Instagram, she wrote: “There is no more life left to live.”The following day, under the same photo of the child, she wrote on Facebook: “My little one, your tears are cleaner than Zamzam water,” referring to a spring in Saudi Arabia that is revered by Muslims. “We will give birth to children even if we know that they will be martyrs in the future.”Her father played down the posts, saying they were written at the height of a bloody war and reflected the general mood of Palestinians at the time. He said he remained in shock as he searched for answers.“I didn’t expect this to happen. Actually I don’t know what happened. Nobody has seen what happened,” he said.

Israel OKs contentious Jerusalem march, weeks after war

Israel OKs contentious Jerusalem march, weeks after war

JERUSALEM — Israel’s new government on Monday approved a contentious parade by Israeli nationalists through Palestinian areas around Jerusalem’s Old City, setting the stage for possible renewed confrontations just weeks after an 11-day war with Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip. Hamas called on Palestinians to “resist” the march.The parade, scheduled for Tuesday, creates an early test for the fledgling government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett — a patchwork of parties that includes hard-line nationalists as well as the first Arab party to sit in a governing coalition.Every year, Israeli ultranationalists hold the boisterous march, waving blue-and-white flags and chanting slogans as they march through the Old City’s Damascus Gate and into the heart of the Muslim Quarter to celebrate Israel’s capture of east Jerusalem in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians consider the march a provocation.The parade was originally scheduled for May 10. At the time, tensions already were high following weeks of clashes between Israeli police and Palestinian demonstrators around the Al-Aqsa Mosque, one of Islam’s holiest sites, as well as attempts by Jewish settlers to evict dozens of Palestinians from their homes in a nearby neighborhood.As thousands of Jewish activists began the procession, police ordered a change in the route to avoid the Damascus Gate. Hamas militants in Gaza then fired a barrage of rockets toward Jerusalem, igniting the war that took over 250 Palestinian lives and killed 13 people in Israel.U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said U.N. officials have made clear “the need for all sides to refrain from unilateral steps and provocations, for them to exercise restraint and allow for the necessary work to be done to solidify the current cease-fire.”Omer Bar-Lev, the new Cabinet minister who oversees police, said he met with police, military and top security officials to review the plan.“I got the impression that the police are well-prepared and a great effort is being made to preserve the delicate fabric of life and public security,” Bar-Lev said.His statement gave no details on the parade route. But Israeli media said the crowd would walk past the Damascus Gate but not enter the Muslim Quarter.A police official, speaking on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk to the media, said about 2,000 police would be deployed.Israel annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers the area, home to the city’s most sensitive religious sites, to be part of its capital. The competing claims to the holy city by Palestinians and Israelis lie at the heart of the conflict and have sparked many rounds of violence.Hamas issued a statement calling on Palestinians to show “valiant resistance” to the march. It urged people to gather in the streets of the Old City and at the Al-Aqsa Mosque to “rise up in the face of the occupier and resist it by all means to stop its crimes and arrogance.”Israeli Channel 13 TV said the military was on heightened alert in the occupied West Bank and along the Gaza front to prepare for possible violence.The military said it was “conducting ongoing situational assessments and is prepared for a variety of developments and scenarios.” It said, however, there were no reinforcements of troops.Israeli lawmakers on Sunday narrowly approved Bennett’s new governing coalition, ousting Benjamin Netanyahu after 12 years in power.On Monday, Bennett held a brief handover meeting with his predecessor, but without the formal ceremony that traditionally accompanies a change in government — a sign of Netanyahu’s lingering anger and hostility toward the new government.Bennett presides over a diverse and fragile coalition comprised of eight small and midsize parties with deep ideological differences — but promised to try to heal the divided nation. Netanyahu serves as the opposition leader.David Bitan, a Likud lawmaker, told Kan public radio that Netanyahu did not hold a formal handover ceremony with Bennett because he feels “cheated” by the formation of the Bennett-Lapid government and “doesn’t want to give even the slightest legitimacy to this matter.”The coalition includes three parties that are headed by politicians who used to be Netanyahu allies, including Bennett. Although they share Netanyahu’s hard-line ideology on many issues, the three leaders clashed with the divisive former prime minister over his personality and leadership style.Under a coalition agreement, Bennett will hold the office of premier for the first two years of the term, and then Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, the architect of the coalition, will become prime minister.Bennett, 49, became prime minister after Sunday’s 60-59 vote in Knesset, capping a chaotic parliamentary session. The motion passed after a member of the coalition was taken by ambulance from hospital to the parliament building to cast her vote, and despite an abstention by a coalition member from the Islamist Raam party.Bennett faces a challenge of holding the tenuous coalition together and said he is prioritizing mending the many rifts dividing Israeli society.—-Associated Press writer Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations contributed.