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Netanyahu Probed, Flight of Venezuelan Jews, Cooking Coexistence


Benjamin Netanyahu Questioned in Israel Graft Inquiry

Isabel Kershner, New York Times, January 2nd 2017

Recap:

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is suspected of taking illegal gifts worth hundreds of thousands of dollars from businessmen including World Jewish Congress president Ronald Lauder [1].

The Context:

  • Netanyahu’s office called the bribery allegations politically motivated [2] and insisted the investigations “will all come to nothing, because there is nothing.” Netanyahu leads Israel’s governing coalition and is serving a third consecutive term in office, his fourth overall.

  • The probe focuses on two matters [3], "Case 1000", which has been open for a year and nine months, and "Case 2000", which was opened towards the end of 2016 [4]. 50 witnesses will be questioned [5].

  • Ehud Olmert, Netanyahu’s predecessor, was forced from power in 2008 following corruption accusations and sentenced in 2016 to a 19-month prison term for bribery and obstruction of justice.

  • The Netanyahu’s weathered several scandals during their public tenure including investigations into alleged misuse of state funds and an audit of the family’s spending [6].

  • Israeli opposition MK Erel Margalit campaigned for additional investigations into reports that Netanyahu's personal attorney represented a German firm involved in a $1.5 billion sale of submarines to Israel as well as allegations that Netanyahu accepted $1.1 million from accused French businessman Arnaud Mimran in 2009. Netanyahu, who has unwaveringly denied the bribery allegation, did admit to accepting $40,000 from Mimran during his 2009 election campaign [7].

Conversation Points:

  • If previous investigations yielded no convictions, is Netanyahu justified in deeming the new probes a witch-hunt?

  • Who is next in line if Netanyahu is convicted?

Venezuelan Jews are moving to Israel to escape deepening poverty

Ruth Eglash, Washington Post, January 1st 2017

Recap:

A growing number of Venezuelan Jews are making aliyah to escape an economic crisis so severe that citizens wait in hour-long lines to buy groceries.

The Context:

  • In 2009, ex-Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez severed diplomatic ties with Israel, aligned himself with the Palestinians and developed relations with Iran. 50% of Venezuela’s 22,000 Jews have fled the country since his rise to power.

  • 111 Venezuelan Jews made aliyah to Israel in 2015. Organizations facilitating Jewish emigration from the country, including the Jewish Agency for Israel, do not disclose process details to avoid endangering the 9,000 Jews who still reside there.

  • Venezuelan Jews previously opted for immigration to the United States or Panama but Venezuela’s currency devaluation have rendered these options financially impossible. Aliyah is an attractive choice since Jews moving to Israel are entitled to state benefits including subsidized health care, free schooling and discounted apartment rentals.

  • In 2016, nine Venezuelan converts hailing from a rural part of Venezuela were denied entry to Israel since the Law of Return requires Jews of choice to have undergone conversion in a “recognized Jewish community” and there are none in Venezuela outside of Caracas [8]. Rabbi Juan Mejia, overseer of the conversions, implored the Israeli government to reverse course noting his students have had friends and family “murdered on the streets where they live and work [9].”

  • In 2016, 30 students started first grade in Caracas whereas a typical class used to consist of 100 students [10].

Conversation Points:

  • Where would Venezuelan Jews have fled prior to the establishment of the Jewish State?

  • Should the Israeli rabbinate be the sole authority in bestowing the status of “recognized Jewish community”?

  • Should Israel relax its rules on Jewish converts looking to immigrate? Should it make exceptions during extreme cases?

Jewish, Muslim Israelis cater meals for needy children

Abigail Klein Leichman, Israel21c, January 2nd 2017

Recap:

Allan Chanoch Barkat, founder and chairman of the Dualis Social Investment Fund, runs Cooking Coexistence, a catering business that trains and employs Arab and Jewish women over the age of 35, a segment of Israeli society deemed chronically underemployed or unemployed.

The Context:

  • Cooking Coexistence supplies meals to underprivileged Arab and Jewish Israeli children through the government’s National School Lunch Program. The program has the secondary benefit of fostering friendships between two groups of women who might never have met.

  • Dualis outfits retail and service businesses that employ and train at-risk segments of the Israeli population. Barkat started Dualis after a career in high-tech and venture capital-private equity in Israel.

  • Anna, Dualis’ 12th business and 6th restaurant, prepares high school dropouts for the army while also running “the best dairy kosher restaurant in Jerusalem.” Nail-It, a Dualis beauty salon, trains young, at-risk mothers to give manicures [11].

  • In 2014, Time Out magazine named Liliyot, a Dualis owned restaurant, one of its top 10 kosher dining destinations in Tel Aviv [12].

Conversation Points:

  • What ancillary benefits result from Arab-Israeli interactions through the Dualis programs?

  • Is the most important facet of Cooking Coexistence its employment of citizens on the fringes of society, its work with the needy or the tolerance it instills by promoting a multi-cultural workplace?

Notes:

  1. Police interrogate Netanyahu over graft suspicions, Times of Israel, January 2nd 2017

  2. Israeli police question Benjamin Netanyahu in corruption inquiry, Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, January 2nd 2017

  3. Netanyahu Suspected of Receiving Perks From Businessmen, Report Says, Yaniv Kubovich, Haaretz, December 29th 2016

  4. Two businesspeople say they gave Netanyahu gifts, Globes, January 2nd 2017

  5. Netanyahu corruption probe expected within days, Tova Tzimuki, Eli Senyor, Ynetnews, December 30th 2016

  6. Israeli police question Benjamin Netanyahu in corruption inquiry, Peter Beaumont, The Guardian, January 2nd 2017

  7. Netanyahu corruption probe expected within days, Tova Tzimuki, Eli Senyor, Ynetnews, December 30th 2016

  8. Venezuelan Jews Barred From Immigrating to Israel Because 'They Don't Belong to a Jewish Community', Judy Maltz, Haaretz, January 2nd 2017

  9. Ibid.

  10. Caracas Rabbi: Some Venezuelan Jews Moving to Israel to Escape Country’s Dire Economic Crisis, Barney Breen-Portnoy, The Algemeiner, January 2nd 2017

  11. Jerusalem restaurant’s kitchen prepares at-risk youths for success, Eitan Arom, Jewish Journal, May 11th 2016

  12. Ibid.