TIME Israel

Israeli Interior Minister’s Wife Draws Ire With ‘Racist’ Obama Tweet


Shalom's husband is partially responsible for U.S.-Israeli relations

Judy Nir Mozes Shalom, wife of Israeli Interior Minister Silvan Shalom, caused a stir on Twitter Sunday after sharing a controversial joke that many are calling racist.

“Do u know what Obama Coffee is? Black and weak,” wrote Shalom, whose husband is partially responsible for maintaining Israel’s good relationship with the U.S., Haaretz reports.

The post provoked an angry response before it was hastily deleted, with Twitter users accusing Shalom of being “racist” and doing “grievous damage” to foreign relations.

Shalom tweeted an apology shortly thereafter, saying the line was “a stupid joke somebody told me.”


Read next: Obama Uses N-Word in Frank Interview About Race

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TIME Israel

Israel Church Damaged in Suspected Arson Attack

Israel Church Fire
Baz Ratner—Reuters A nun looks at damage caused by a fire in the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fishes on the shores of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel June 18, 2015.

Mosques and churches have been targeted by vandals in similar attacks over the years

TABGHA, Israel — A Catholic church near the Sea of Galilee was heavily damaged by fire Thursday in a possible arson attack by Jewish extremists.

Israel police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said a fire broke out at the Church of the Multiplication in the middle of the night, causing extensive damage to the inside and outside of the building.

Rosenfeld said police are investigating whether the fire was deliberate and are searching for suspects. A passage from a Jewish prayer, calling for the wiping out of idol worship, was found scrawled in red spray paint on a wall outside the church.

Father Matthias Karl, a German monk from the church, said a souvenir shop, an office for pilgrims and a meeting room were badly damaged, and bibles and prayer books were destroyed in the fire.

“It’s totally destroyed. The fire was very active,” he said.

A monk and a church volunteer were hospitalized from smoke inhalation, but the prayer area of the church was unaffected by the fire, he said.

In recent years, mosques and churches have been targeted by vandals in similar attacks, which are widely condemned across the political spectrum in Israel. Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely condemned Thursday’s church burning and said Israel respects freedom of worship for all religions.

Last year, a group of mostly Jewish youth attacked the Church of the Multiplication’s outdoor prayer area along the Sea of Galilee, Father Matthias said, pelting worshippers with stones, destroying a cross and throwing benches into the lake.

The Roman Catholic church, also known as the Church of the Multiplication of the Loaves and Fish, is a modern church built on the remains of a fifth-century Byzantine church. It marks the traditional spot of Jesus’ miracle of the loaves and fish, and is located in Tabgha on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel.

Its Byzantine mosaic floor draws thousands of visitors of all faiths each year, Father Matthias said.

TIME Israel

Controversial Theater Play Sparks Debate in Israel

The play, which the government initially funded and then ordered to be stopped, had been performed to around 700 high school students

HAIFA, Israel — A decision by Israel’s new education minister to halt the performances for high school students of a controversial theater play, inspired by the life story of an Arab who murdered an Israeli soldier, has rekindled a fierce debate in the country over the limits of artistic expression.

The minister, Naftali Bennett, says it is inappropriate for the state to expose students to a play that humanizes a killer and disrespects the family of the victim.

Critics, however, warn against censorship, saying the new nationalist government is limiting the freedom and vibrancy of Israel’s democracy.

The issue emerged when the family of Moshe Tamam, a soldier who was abducted, tortured and killed in 1984, discovered that the al-Midan theater in the city of Haifa was staging a show inspired by the prison experience of his killer, Walid Daka, a member of Israel’s Arab minority, and that it was being shown to high school students as part of their state-funded culture and arts program.

Ortal Tamam, the niece of the murdered soldier, choked up with tears as she described her feelings about the play, entitled “A Parallel Time.”

“We are just saying a very simple thing: Don’t fund this play. Our government shouldn’t be the one to fund this play and honestly I don’t understand all those people who think that someone who kidnapped a 19-year-old kid should be called a hero,” she said.

Bennett immediately ordered the performances be stopped, saying Israel should not be funding or endorsing something so offensive.

“I support pluralism and have no desire to interfere with culture and arts,” Bennett told The Associated Press. “The question here is whether the Ministry of Education in Israel should pay for school children to go see a play that shows sympathy to a murderer and a terrorist.”

“And my answer is no; I wouldn’t expect America to send its school children to a play that shows sympathy with Osama Bin Laden and so the same thing will not happen in Israel,” he said.

The controversy comes on the heels of Culture Minister Miri Regev’s threat to halt government funding for a small theater after its founder, an Arab Israeli, refused to perform in a Jewish West Bank settlement. Regev says she will also examine financial support for other institutions that attack the state.

Both Bennett and Regev are prominent figures in a new government that is backing a number of measures opponents say are aimed at stifling critics.

Israeli artists have come out against the measures, saying the country’s pluralism is strong enough to cope with artistic performances that get under its skin.

Salwa Nakkara, the artistic adviser of al-Midan, said some 700 students have already seen the play and had in-depth conversations about it.

She said those who were attacking it hadn’t seen it and were motivated by political interests that were harmful to freedom of expression. “This is contradicts a state that considers itself democratic,” she said.

Bashar Murkus, the writer and director of the show, defended the play, saying it shows the “human angle” of the prisoner.

“Neither side treats him as a human being, but on stage it’s beautiful and important to look at the human depth of each prisoner,” Murkus said.

Columnist Ben-Dror Yemini said that the freedom to provoke was “the heart and soul of democracy.” But to have the government fund and promote a controversial play was something else and he said Bennett was justified in his actions.

“They want to claim that Israel is criminal? Let them claim. They want to stage a play inspired by a terrorist, a murderer or a rapist? Let them do it. But why do they think that Israel’s citizens have to fund their vilification of the state?” he asked in a column on the Ynet news site.

“They want to drink from the well into which they are spitting.”

TIME Courts

Supreme Court Rules Jerusalem Passports Cannot Read ‘Israel’

US Supreme Court Declines To Hear Appeals On Same-Sex Marriage Cases
Alex Wong—Getty Images People come out from the U.S. Supreme Court October 6, 2014 in Washington, DC.

The court sided with the Obama administration over Congress

The Supreme Court ruled Monday that Congress cannot require the State Department to allow Americans born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their birthplace on their passports. Siding with the Obama administration over Congress on a 2002 law, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote that the 6-3 decision that the Constitution confers authority on the President to recognize foreign governments.

“Recognition is an act with immediate and powerful significance for international relations, so the President’s position must be clear. Congress cannot require him to contradict his own statement regarding a determination of formal recognition,” Justice Kennedy said. The court’s four liberal justices, including its only three Jewish members, all sided with the Obama administration.

Chief Justice John Roberts, Justice Antonin Scalia and Justice Samuel Alito dissented, arguing that the other justices irrationally feared that the world might misinterpret the passport change to mean that America’s foreign policy in the Middle East had also changed.

“Today’s decision is a first,” Roberts wrote. “Never before has this court accepted a President’s direct defiance of an act of Congress in the field of foreign affairs.”

The case was brought by the parents of Menachem B. Zivotofsky, who was born in Jerusalem shortly after Congress enacted the 2002 foreign relations law allowing citizens of Jerusalem to list their birthplace as Israel. George W. Bush signed the bill, but Bush said he would ignore the section that would allow Jerusalem-born citizens to change their birthplace to Israel. The Obama administration has followed suit, calling the rule unconstitutional.

The State Department had warned the justices ahead of their decision that such an alteration could “provoke uproar throughout the Arab and Muslim World.”

TIME Innovation

Why Profits Could Create Peace in Israel and Palestine

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

These are today's best ideas

1. Billions in profit await Israeli-Palestinian peace.

By Jodi Rudoren in the New York Times

2. Even war has laws. Now we need them for cyberwarfare.

By Duncan B. Hollis in Opinio Juris

3. We need better data to reduce police use of force incidents.

By Cory Booker in Medium

4. College students are becoming the new ‘thought police.’

By Edward Schlosser in Vox

5. Xi Jinping is China’s strictest leader since Mao. Is he repeating Mao’s mistakes?

By Willy Lam in Prospect

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Middle East

Israel-Palestinian Peace Deal Could Bring $173 Billion Windfall, Study Says

MENAHEM KAHANA—AFP/Getty Images Israeli soldiers drive an armored personal carriers during a training exercise near the Israel-Gaza Border, on June 7, 2015.

"There is money on the table,” says a RAND Corporation researcher

The economic reward for settling the Israel-Palestinian conflict with a two-state solution? $173 billion.

That’s according to a new analysis by the RAND Corporation, which calculates that a two-state solution would result in a $123-billion economic gain for the Israeli economy and a $50 billion boon for Palestinians. That’s an average per capita income increase of $2,200 (5%) for every Israeli and $1,000 (36%) for every Palestinian in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

But if a two-state resolution is not reached in the next 10 years, says the study, the economic hit would be greater than the gains: gross domestic product in the West Bank and Gaza would shrink by 46%, and in Israel by 10%.

“The point is to demonstrate that there is money on the table,” Charles P. Ries, a RAND vice president told the New York Times. “There are big gains, and people don’t realize how big they are.”

RAND measured the impact of factors like trade and tourism, as well as Palestinians’ renewed ability to travel more freely and exploit mineral resources in the region.

TIME Israel

This Is Why It’s Hard to Boycott Israel

Benjamin Netanyahu cabinet meeting jerusalem
Ronen Zvulun—AP In this May 26, 2015 file photo, Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attends a cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem.

Israeli leftists actually began the boycott movement against settlements, but it's grown larger—and provides a cover for anti-Semitism

The drumbeat of boycott is being heard again in Israel, faint, but persistent and disquieting. On June 3 the head of the French cell phone company Orange said he would he would pull the brand from Israel “tomorrow morning” if he could escape the penalties for voiding the contract. A day earlier, the national student union of Great Britain voted to boycott Israel over its treatment of the Palestinians. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the first “a miserable statement” and the opposition leader Isaac Herzog called the rise of boycotts “a new form of terrorism.”

What’s the truth? The boycott movement was actually started by Israelis—Zionist liberals who support Israel’s existence on land it won in the 1948 war that gave birth to the country, but object to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory on the West Bank and Gaza Strip conquered in 1967. The liberals, however, wanted only to boycott goods produced by Israeli companies that operate on Jewish settlements atop Palestinian land—vast truck farms and small factories that profit from what critics call an essentially colonial arrangement.

It’s both a political and a social matter. A lot of the produce found in Israeli supermarket—and lots of the wine in liquor stores—comes from Jewish settlements on the West Bank, and Tel Aviv liberals will remind one another to avoid it, much as many Americans boycotted table grapes in the 1960s, to pressure California farmers to improve the lives of the Mexican migrants who picked them.

Over time, people outside Israel took up the cause—especially in Europe. The continent was once a great champion of the Jewish state, but as Israel became more powerful and the occupation dragged on, people grew more sympathetic to the Palestinians (far more, according to polls, than in the United States). “Solidarity,” says Stein Guldbrandsen, a board member of the huge Norwegian public employee union, Fagforbunde, which has been a major force in the boycott.

Israel exports a lot of produce to Europe, and several supermarket chains there have been labeling the bell peppers and mint grown in West Bank settlements so consumers could avoid buying them if they wish. But Fagforbunde plays at another level. Along with advocates like Norwegian People’s Aid , the union promotes boycotts against whole companies, not just product by product. Any firm that does business with Israel on the West Bank faces “disinvestment” by Norway’s $890 billion sovereign fund. Believed to be the world’s richest, its board publishes a list of shame, naming companies “excluded from the investment universe.” The list includes firms that make cluster bombs, nuclear weapons, cigarettes and (as of Friday) mine coal. The list also includes companies that help build Jewish settlements on the West Bank, deemed a “serious violation” of human rights for contravening the 4th Geneva Convention, which bars settling residents of an occupying power in occupied territory.

How do they know what companies are profiting from Israel’s occupation of the West Bank? The information is right there on WhoProfits.org, a website maintained by a handful of liberal Israelis operating out of a shabby office in downtown Tel Aviv. The activists gather photos, annual reports and other public information, confirm its veracity, and publish it for the convenience of any investor interested in avoiding companies vulnerable to being labeled part of “the Israeli occupation industry,” as the site calls it. WhoProfits provides one-stop shopping for boycott activists.

“At the end of the day, they read the same website,” says Daniel Reisner, an international law specialist in Tel Aviv, where his firm does a growing business counseling companies on the risks of investing in and around Israel. He prefers not to name those clients. “I find that companies who are accused by boycotters react quite like victims of sexual assault,” Reisner tells TIME. “A: They want to keep it quiet and don’t want to tell anyone, because they appear to be ashamed–this guilt by accusation. And B: They want the matter to be handled as discreetly as possible. They won’t tell the press. They won’t tell the government. They won’t tell the shareholders.”

And yet, none of this amounts to boycotting Israel the country. All these activists—liberal Israeli Jews and ardent Scandinavians alike—take careful aim at punishing companies only for doing business on the West Bank (Israel withdrew its settlements from Gaza in 2005). Other activists are not so restrained, however. They call for a broad boycott on all of Israel. And that’s where the issue gets difficult, and where Israel actually adds to the difficulty of taking discerning action.

For the last ten years, the most prominent voice for boycotting Israel is a group called BDS—short for Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions. It was begun by a Palestinian in Ramallah, Omar Barghouti, who promotes a campaign of economic isolation and opprobrium against Israel inspired by the one mounted against apartheid South Africa. The group publicizes almost every pro-boycott development around the globe, and in the process frequently appears to take credit for each—even the discreet, surgical decisions of northern European pension funds that say they want nothing to do with BDS. The pension funds, and many other groups, are wary of BDS because its agenda reaches well beyond Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. BDS calls for Israel to allow back Palestinians who in 1948 either left or were driven out of what is present-day Israel—a maximalist position that Israelis understandably say amounts to the destruction of their country.

The Zionist liberals who started all this? They don’t like the sound of that one bit. “Because right now they are boycotting not only the products of the settlements,” says Tamar Hermann, a pollster for the Israel Democracy Institute and Tel Aviv resident who has long avoided settler vegetables and wine. “They are preaching for the expansion of the boycott to all Israeli products. For me, it’s problematic.”

What’s more, a broad boycott of all things Israeli offers convenient cover for anti-Semitic feeling —both the virulent strain lately resurgent in Europe, and the latent sort that doubtless accounts for a measure of the extraordinary level of critical scrutiny directed at Israel.

But Israel’s government does nothing to clarify the situation. One of the reasons it’s so hard to enforce a “surgical” boycott on, say, bell peppers grown on a West Bank settlement is that the things are shipped abroad in boxes marked “Product of Israel.” Which is how the Israeli government sees things too. For decades, no Israeli government has chosen to observe the Green Line—the boundary separating Palestinian and Israeli territory in 1967 —as a border. A freeway runs from Tel Aviv to a settlement 10 miles inside the West Bank without a checkpoint. The speed traps are run by Israeli cops. The same big green busses that run on Israeli roads stop at bus stops outside West Bank settlements.

By every important measure—budget, voting, administration—the 200 settlements Israel has built on Palestinian land over the last 48 years are regarded, inside Israel, as part of Israel. Which may be very shrewd, or foolish, depending on how the boycott threat proceeds.

TIME Middle East

You Really Can’t Tell Your Terrorists Without a Scorecard

Shootouts between four Mideast terrorist groups reveal what the label obscures

Hopscotching the headlines of the day, we see that Hamas and Hizballah were both active on Tuesday—though not against Israel, the country each was created to oppose. Both groups, rightly listed as terrorist organizations, were going hammer and tongs against other terrorists: Hamas took out a Gaza Strip fundamentalist associated with ISIS, the extremist group in control of large swathes of Iraq and Syria, while Hizballah battled al-Qaeda’s powerful Nusra Front near Lebanon’s border with Syria. All four sides claimed victory.

What to make of all this? Maybe only that though they all wear black, and often appear delighted with the role of Bad Guy, the groups gathered under the great enveloping cloak marked “terrorist” are far from the same. And the differences are not only sectarian. Three of Monday’s four combatants—Hamas, ISIS and al-Qaeda—are Sunni Muslim groups. The exception is Hizballah, which Iran created to solidify Lebanon’s Shi’ite population and bring the fight to Israel after Israeli forces invaded Lebanon in 1982.

None of the groups is any one thing, but some can at least be safely approached. ISIS and quite possibly al-Nusra would arrest me, and in time perhaps saw off my head. Hizballah serves reporters Doner kebabs—said to be delicious—and Hamas issues journalist visas in Gaza. Both are essentially political organizations, which also operate what they call “military wings.” Those wings have carried out terrorist attacks, but they are calculated toward achieving a political end. Usually that end involves Israel—Hamas’s charter calls for its elimination, yet the stated goals of last summer’s Gaza war was an extra three miles of fishing rights in the Mediterranean—but the clash on Monday was about eliminating a rival: ISIS.

Hamas, which promotes both Islamist and nationalist goals—it wants a Palestinian state—and appears to crave U.S. recognition, simply is not radical enough for the extremists of ISIS, some of whom live under its rule in Gaza, the coastal enclave between Israel and Egypt. There, Hamas police stations have been bombed, and its military wing rocketed, by groups that consider the Muslim Brotherhood affiliate unworthy. In response, Hamas has set up checkpoints, trying to cull the herd. Its officials said the man killed on Tuesday, Yussef al-Hatarman, was shot after threatening to blow himself up along with the Hamas police officers who had come to arrest him. The Hamas Interior Ministry released photos of suicide belts and other arms apparently confiscated in the raid—embracing a great law enforcement tradition.

It wasn’t the first time Hamas has defended its monopoly on force in Gaza against more radical groups. In 2009, its police attacked a compound held by a fundamentalist who had just declared Gaza an “Islamic emirate.” The death toll then was 28, but officials expressed regret at the loss of life. Hamas had sent a local theology professor in to try to coax the rebels to see the error of their ways, something the professor later told me he’d been able to manage in the past. But then, as even terrorists are finding out, six years ago the radical fringe in the Middle East was still out on the fringe, and not nearly so radical.

TIME India

Narendra Modi Is Set to Become the First Indian Prime Minister to Visit Israel

Narendra Modi Indian Prime Minister
Adnan Abidi—Reuters India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves towards his supporters during a rally in Mathura, India, May 25, 2015.

Dates for the trip have not yet been announced, but it may happen this year

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is set to visit Israel in the near future, which will make him the first head of state from the South Asian nation to ever do so.

The announcement was made by the country’s Foreign Minister, Sushma Swaraj, in a press conference on Monday, the Times of India reported. Dates are not confirmed.

Swaraj said she will also visit Israel, the Palestinian territories and Jordan later this year, and Modi will reportedly visit the Palestinian territories and meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas as well.

India and Israel have had good relations ever since the former became one of the first countries to recognize the latter in 1950, and Modi shares a personal rapport with his Israeli counterpart Benjamin Netanyahu.

Sources told The Hindu newspaper that the visit may take place this year, with a high-level Indian delegation set to go to Israel for bilateral talks in July. The Israeli government welcomed the news.

“High level visits between both countries, as we have witnessed in the past months, are a natural ingredient of the tightening relationship between Israel and India,” Israel’s Ambassador to India Daniel Carmon said.

TIME Foreign Policy

Obama Restates Support of Israel in Synagogue Speech

President Barack Obama delivers remarks in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month at Adas Israel Congregation May 22, 2015 in Washington, D.C.
Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images President Barack Obama delivers remarks in celebration of Jewish American Heritage Month at Adas Israel Congregation May 22, 2015 in Washington, D.C.

President Obama sought to reassure American Jews that he fully supports the state of Israel while reiterating the need for a two-state solution at a Northwest Washington synagogue on Friday.

“Our commitment to Israel’s security and my commitment to Israel’s security is and always will be unshakable,” Obama said, adding that not doing so would be a “moral failing.”

Obama spoke at the Adas Israel Synagogue on the inaugural “solidarity sabbath,” a holiday meant to consolidate support for Jews amid rising anti-Semitism that falls toward the end of Jewish Heritage Month. On Friday, lawmakers were slated to appear in congregations across the country to mark the day.

In the wake of attack at the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo and a string of anti-Semitic attacks across Europe, there’s been growing attention to the persecution of Jews across the world. Obama noted that the rise of anti-semitism should not be treated as “passing fad.”

“When we allow anti-Semitism to take root, our souls are destroyed,” Obama said. “It will spread.”

The statements follow a wide-ranging interview published by The Atlantic on Thursday, in which President Obama stressed his love for the Jewish state of Israel, telling commentator Jeffrey Goldberg that supporting the rights of Jews abroad is equivalent to supporting the freedom of African-Americans at home.

“There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” he said. “These things are indivisible in my mind.”

On Friday, he reiterated those sentiments, reflecting on his own introduction to the Israeli community. “For a young man like me grappling with his own identity, Obama said, “the idea that you could be grounded in your history as Israel was but not be trapped by it. That idea was liberating”

Obama’s statements to Goldberg and before the congregation at Adas Israel on Friday come amid nuclear negotiations Iran that have put strain on one of the U.S.’ closest relationships. But he made clear Friday that criticism is not going to change his mind.

“I want Israel, in the same way that I want the United States, to embody the Judeo-Christian and, ultimately then, what I believe are human or universal values that have led to progress over a millennium,” he told Goldberg.

And on Friday, before a crowd in a packed synagogue where the rabbi called him a “champion of freedom,” Obama sought to reassure the congregation that he could be both a friend and a critic of Israel.

“It’s precisely because I care so deeply … that I feel a responsibility to speak out honestly about what I feel,” he said.

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