Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu plans a multi-stop tour of the eastern hemisphere in the next three months, with visits to Australia, Singapore and Kazakhstan, all of which have never before been visited by an Israeli prime minister.
Netanyahu also will visit Azerbaijan, where he once made a stop in 1997 during a previous term as prime minister. Israel buys most of its oil from Azerbaijan and Kazakhstan.
The prime minister of Singapore has already visited Israel, back in April 2016, so Netanyahu’s visit comes as a reciprocal call, and the Israeli leader has been talking for months about a visit to “down under” as well.
Netanyahu is also planning a trip to Togo in Spring 2017 to attend a summit with West African nations.
In addition, President Reuven Rivlin is set to travel to India in two weeks, following the recent visit to Jerusalem this month by India’s President Pranab Mukherjee.
“Israel’s international relations are spreading in Asia, Africa, Latin America, and many other places,” said Netanyahu in remarks at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting.
“We realize that this development flows from Israel’s technological and economic strength on one hand, and its security and intelligence capabilities on the other.
Both of these facilitate the development and flourishing of our international relations,” he added.
“This is not to say that we will not be challenged in international forums, like we saw in the scandalous UNESCO decisions, and it is likely that this will continue at the UN, but there is no doubt that even in international institutions, even in these scandalous votes, we have seen a change.”
A specific schedule for the travels of the prime minister and president has not yet been set.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Wednesday met with Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in New York, and the Israeli PM’s office released the following exchange between them:
Netanyahu: “It’s always a pleasure to see you. You’re a great friend of Israel. Australia and Israel have a solid friendship and I’m looking forward to coming to visit Australia. And I’m looking forward to seeing you in Israel soon.”
Turnbull: “Very good. Well, Lucy [Turnbull] was there earlier this year. We’ve launched our first innovation center there with you. Really, the start-up nation has been great inspiration to our whole innovation agenda. So our innovation launch pad is there and we will see a lot more collaboration between Australian and Israeli innovators and financiers. It’s a very important step. As you know, that’s the way you have to stay ahead in the 21st century – you have to innovate, to take on the challenges of technology and bring the imagination to bear on technology. That’s how you secure prosperity.”
Netanyahu: “I agree. I think the future belongs to those who innovate. We both have innovative nations and we can do a lot more together than we can separately. And also, we owe you one for the Australian troops and the liberation of our country from the Ottoman Empire. That was a great event. I think it was the last cavalry rush in history.”
Turnbull: “The last cavalry charge – that’s right, in Be’er Sheba.”
Netanyahu: “You have to come and see it.
Turnbull: “I will. I’ll do that. I look forward to coming back.”
The principal of a private school in Alice Springs, a remote town in Australia’s Northern Territory, halfway between Darwin and Adelaide, has apologized for the fact that a student who came to a Book Week assembly dressed as Adolf Hitler was cited as best dressed participant, while a group of visiting exchange students from a Jewish school in Melbourne were watching, ABC reported.
Roger Herbert, principal of St Philip’s College in Alice Springs, said the school deeply regretted the decision to allow the student to come dressed as Hitler to the special assembly for Book Week. Principal Herbert apologized profusely to both the Jewish students and to the principal of Bialik College in Melbourne.
“We got them together and apologized and they were fantastic, absolutely fantastic, and accepting,” Herbert ABC, adding, “We also contacted the school to say look, this had happened, please understand.”
“In a busy school, this student did go to a respected staff member said ‘is this OK?’ and the staff member said ‘yes,'” Herbert explained. “Now she (the staff member) is absolutely shattered that she said that, and I’m really concerned about her wellbeing.”
Jeremy Stowe-Lindner, the principal of Bialik College, told ABC, “I understand that no malice was intended and I guess the coincidence of Jewish children visiting from Melbourne is a learning opportunity for the community, and that the principal assures me this is number one priority.”
Jerusalem (TPS) – Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop arrived in Jerusalem on Sunday for a three-day state visit to Israel. In her first round of meetings with Israel’s prime minister, president, and defense minister, Bishop stressed Australia’s continued commitment to the State of Israel.
“I want to take this opportunity to reaffirm our absolute enduring commitment to the State of Israel and our friendship,” Foreign Minister Bishop told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
In addition, Bishop extended an official invitation to Netanyahu to visit Australia. “The Australian public would warmly embrace you, welcome you, and we would look forward to the first visit of an Israeli prime minister ever to Australia,” she told the Israeli prime minister.
The current Australian government under Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull was inaugurated in July, 2016 and is considered very friendly to Israel. Foreign Minister Bishop publicly stated two years ago that the international community has no place to decide which Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria are legal and which ones are not.
“The Australian government is one of the most pro-Israel governments there has been and continues to be,” Isi Leibler, a former leader of the Australian Jewish community and a Jerusalem Post columnist told Tazpit Press Service (TPS). “There will be no threat to Israeli-Australian relations as a whole as long as this government stays is power.”
In a joint press conference with President Reuven Rivlin, Bishop said the trip is an opportunity for her to ensure that the relationship between Australia and Israel is not taken for granted. “It will continue to be nurtured by both sides and it will continue to flourish based on common values,” she said.
Following Bishop’s meeting with Netanyahu and Rivlin, she continued to hold a private meeting with Defense Minister Liberman. According to an Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesperson, the two ministers discussed further bilateral cooperation in various fields behind closed doors.
“Foreign Minister Liberman thanked Foreign Minister Bishop for the part Australian soldiers play in the United Nations’ observer forces in the Sinai Peninsula and the Golan Heights. The two ministers met several times in the past during Liberman’s tenure as foreign minister and they have a good existing relationship, which continues today,” said Tzachi Moshe, a spokesman for Liberman.
In the next two days, Bishop will visit Tel Aviv to inspect several high-tech innovation hubs including “Landing Pad,” which is helping Australian entrepreneurs tap into Israel’s science and research industry. She is also scheduled to visit Ramallah and meet with the leaders of the Palestinian Authority.
“I hope she will tell the Palestinians that Australia will remain behind Israel and also that they should endeavor to get their act together for any potential negotiating future,” Isi Leibler told TPS.
Nechama Bendet, a former general manager of Yeshivas Oholei Yosef Yitzchok Lubavitch, a.k.a. Yeshivah College, in Melbourne, Australia, is suing for libel a Facebook user who has accused her of pressuring child sex abuse victims not to complain to police, the Herald Sun reported Monday.
Bendet submitted a writ to the Supreme Court seeking damages for five Facebook posts by Bruce Cooke, whom she called a “vocal member of the Jewish community.” Cooke’s Facebook page is extensive, and much of it deals with the Lubavitch institutions in Melbourne and Sydney and the way they are being run (he is critical of the movement’s wholesale “McDonald’s approach” to opening new franchises, for instance).
Bendet, serving nowadays as the Yeshiva College’s director of development, is accusing Cooke of suggesting she attempted to ostracize two victims of the sex abuse scandal the school was mired in by calling them “moisrim” (snitches) because they had complained to police, in an attempt to discourage them from pursuing their complaints. In earlier centuries, a “moiser” would often be found with his throat slit near the river, so the accusation can be quite potent.
According to the Herald Sun, Bendet told the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sex Abuse that after a former Yeshivah guard had been charged with child sex abuse, her school never entertained a cover-up. Instead the school sought advice from Robert Richter, QC, a prominent Australian barrister, regarding public relations and dealing with the victims.
But, According to Bendet, Cooke’s Facebook posts have been accusing Her of knowing about the abuse and not reporting it, of trying to keep others from complaining, and even of engaging in criminal conduct in an attempt to bury the scandal. Bendet also complained that Cooke had accused her of intimidating staff at the Yeshivah as well as at Beth Rivkah Ladies College.
Bendet is also seeking a permanent injunction restraining Cook from repeating his accusations.
According to Cooke’s attorney, the Facebook maverick is relishing his day in court and is planning to defend the case.
Back on February 11, 2015, the Australian ABC network reported on Nechama Bendet’s testimony to the Royal Commission that day, admitting it was a mistake that Yeshivah College had never apologized directly to Manny Waks, a student who had been sexually abused by a guard:
Victim’s Attorney Melinda Richards: Do you acknowledge, Mrs Bendet, that Manny Waks did nothing wrong by going to the police…
Nechama Bendet: Absolutely.
Melinda Richards: …in 1996…
Nechama Bendet: Absolutely.
Melinda Richards: And again in 2011?
Nechama Bendet: Absolutely.
Melinda Richards: Do you acknowledge that he has done nothing wrong by speaking publicly about his abuse?
Nechama Bendet: Yes.
Melinda Richards: And you would agree that he has in fact done a great deal of good by speaking publically about his abuse?
Nechama Bendet: Yes.
Melinda Richards: Do you agree that his parents have done nothing wrong by supporting him in going to the police and speaking publicly about his abuse?
Nechama Bendet: Yes.
Melinda Richards: And his broader family have done nothing wrong and are not to be blamed by association?
Nechama Bendet: Yes.
Melinda Richards: Do you condemn ongoing harassment and intimidation of Mr Waks and his family?
Nechama Bendet: Yes.
ABC’s Samantha Donovan noted that “Manny Waks wiped tears from his eyes as Mrs Bendet spoke. Outside the hearing room he said her words were empowering.”
The Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has suspended aid to evangelical charity World Vision’s work in the “Palestinian Territories” following the indictment of the charity’s head in Gaza who was charged Thursday for funneling millions of dollars in cash and provisions to the terrorist Hamas organization of which he is a member.
According to AAP, the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is investigating the “deeply troubling” matter.
“Any diversion of the generous support of the Australian and international community for military or terrorist purposes by Hamas is to be deplored and can only harm the Palestinian people,” a department spokesman told AAP on Friday, adding, “We are suspending the provision of further funding to World Vision for programs in the Palestinian Territories until the investigation is complete.”
According to AAP, Australia allocated World Vision $5 million over five years for agricultural projects and child trauma programs in Gaza.
World Vision Australia chief, Rev. Tim Costello told AAP, “We have absolutely nothing to do with terror. We audit every cent that goes through.”
Apparently not so, according to the prosecutor in Israeli district court in Beer Sheva who on Thursday charged Mohammed El Halabi, the Gaza director of World Vision, of diverting millions of dollars intended for Gaza’s needy to the Hamas projects of digging terror tunnels into Israel, paying the salaries of members of the Hamas military arm, and diverting humanitarian provisions to the Hamas terrorists during the 2014 Gaza war.
“I want to reassure Australians that World Vision’s money in Gaza is being spent on reducing poverty for Palestinian people, not terrorism,” Costello insisted, noting that El Halabi is a well-respected manager.
But according to El Halabi’s confessions to his Shabak interrogators, he has been a member of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas, since 2004, and usurped millions of dollars in donations, moving them to the Hamas coffers, diverted humanitarian aid to Hamas terrorists and their families, and transferred to Hamas’s possession thousands of tons of iron rods, digging equipment and plastic hoses, originally intended for agricultural use but in reality utilized by the Hamas tunnel builders.
On Wednesday, Christian Today reported that Mohammad El Halabi, an employee of World Vision (WV), the world’s largest evangelical Christian charity, had been detained on June 15 at the Erez crossing “on his way home from routine meetings” and was being held “without access to legal counsel or family visits,” which is normal fare in Israel with regards to security prisoners.
Last Friday, when El Halabi’s detention had been extended until August Tuesday, Aug. 2, WV’s eastern Jerusalem office released a statement saying, “World Vision stands by Mohammad who is a widely respected and well-regarded humanitarian, field manager and trusted colleague of over a decade. He has displayed compassionate leadership on behalf of the children and communities of Gaza through difficult and challenging times, and has always worked diligently and professionally in fulfilling his duties.”
It should be interesting to see the charity’s response to the charges submitted against El Halabi by the Southern District Prosecution in Beer Sheva District Court Thursday, describing him as Hamas activist who has been using his high position in the charity organization to systematically divert millions of dollars to the military arm of Hamas, financing, among other things, the digging of terror tunnels. The monies, according to Thursday’s indictment, was taken out of funds and resources that had been dedicated to humanitarian assistance to Gaza Strip residents. The indictment includes 12 counts of security violations of passing information to the enemy, membership in a terror organization, funding terrorism, participation in an unlawful association, and contact with foreign agents.
The facts included in the indictment describe El Halabi as having a master’s degree in engineering. A member of Hamas since 1995, in 2004 he joined the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, the military arm of Hamas. In 2005 he was hired by WV to carry out administrative assignments at the charity’s Gaza branch. His job provided him with an entry permit into Israel. El Halabi exploited his visits to Israel to locate and mark [via GPS] sites near the Erez Crossing that potentially could be used as egress points for Hamas attack tunnels.
Carrying out his assignments, according to the prosecution, El Halabi usurped millions of dollars in donations that arrived from foreign countries such as the US, Australia, Germany and the UK, and were slated for humanitarian needs, agricultural, education, and psychological support.
According to El Halabi, the humanitarian aid donated for the residents of the Gaza Strip was in actual fact given almost exclusively to Hamas terrorists and their families. Non-Hamas members almost never received any benefit from the aid, despite their relative level of need. Needless to say, this is in contradiction to the accepted practice of the humanitarian aid organizations. Every month, El Halabi distributed thousands of packages of food, basic commodities and medical supplies to Hamas terrorists and their families, commodities that World Vision had intended to go to the needy.
Over his many years working for WV, El Halabi transferred to Hamas’s possession thousands of tons of iron rods, digging equipment and plastic hoses, originally intended for agricultural use but in reality utilized by the Hamas tunnel builders and for building military bases such as the “Palestine” military base which was built in 2015 entirely from British aid money. Some of the money went to pay the salaries of Hamas terrorists and, in some cases, senior Hamas terrorists took large sums of money for their own personal use. During the war of 2014, Hamas terrorists received WV food packages to sustain them above and below ground, including in terror tunnels.
El Halabi also provided plastic sheets bearing the WV emblem to cover the openings of tunnels, making them look like agricultural hothouses.
According to the indictment, around the year 2012, El Halabi was engaged by Hamas to initiate a greenhouse project, to use greenhouses to hide the sites where terror tunnels were being dug. In addition, a project for the rehabilitation of (fictitious) fishermen was actually used to provide motor boats and diving suits for Hamas’s military marine unit.
The Shabak investigation revealed that the main method El Halabi used to divert money to Hamas was to put out fictitious tenders for WV-sponsored projects in the Gaza Strip. The “winning” company was simply informed that 60% of the project’s funds were to be designated for Hamas.
El Halabi told his interrogators that a regular method of acquiring equipment for Hamas was to disguise Hamas warehouses as WV warehouses. Trucks bringing supplies to the Kerem Shalom Crossing between Israel and Gaza would then unload their goods at Hamas warehouses instead of legitimate WV warehouses. Hamas operatives would pick up the supplies in the dead of night.
According to Shabak, the El Halabi investigation revealed much information concerning additional figures in the Gaza Strip who exploited their work for humanitarian aid organizations and UN institutions, on behalf of Hamas. El Halabi’s statements portray a troubling picture in which UN institutions in Gaza are in fact controlled by Hamas.
How the Money Was Transferred to Hamas
Some of the money raised to support injured children in Gaza was diverted to the families of Hamas terrorists, by fraudulently listing their children as wounded.
Money designated for psychological support, education and health in Gaza ($2 million/year) was used to pay the families of Hamas terrorists.
Part of the WV donations was transferred in cash and recorded fraudulently as aid to needy children.
Monies were paid out as salaries to Hamas terrorists and activists, who were registered as employees of the aid organization when in fact they never worked for WV.
Costs for legitimate infrastructure projects were inflated, with the difference going to Hamas.
Straw companies — two farmers’ associations and a fake charity for the benefit of the injured — were established with false registers to launder money.
Unemployment payments were diverted to Hamas terrorists. El Halabi arranged for one-third of the allowances WV transfers to Gaza for the unemployed to go to members of the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades. The terrorists received a larger allowance ($392 instead of $300).
Using lists of fictitious beneficiaries, $2 million a year were designated as aid for farmers and diverted to Hamas activists. El Halabi reported a larger sum than what was actually transferred to the farmers to World Vision. The difference was diverted to Hamas.
Project costs were inflated. For example, WV invested in the construction of 500 greenhouses and the preparation of land (495 acres) for agriculture. El Halabi reported to the charity that the cost was $1,000 per quarter acre, while the real cost was $700. The difference – $300 per quarter acre – was transferred to Hamas.
In their 2014 report titled “Filling in the Blanks — Documenting Missing Dimensions in UN and NGO Investigations of the Gaza Conflict,” NGO Monitor and UN Watch have cautioned: “The willingness of World Vision workers to openly discuss these issues is exceptional; however, the answers leave little doubt as to World Vision’s willingness to negotiate and coordinate with armed groups. This raises questions as to whether the group would prevent components of its aid from being misappropriated by terrorist organizations, if it felt that taking a stand would jeopardize the organization’s ability to continue its operations in a given area.”