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Most child hostages are back in Israel. Redheaded brothers Kfir and Ariel Bibas are still in Gaza.

TEL AVIV (JTA) — Surrounded by dozens of orange balloons representing the red-haired Bibas children held hostage in Gaza for 53 days, their aunt Ofri Bibas addressed their captors in Gaza.

“This is your enemy? Kfir, a 9- 10-month-old baby? Ariel, a 4-year-old boy?” she asked, adjusting Kfir’s age to reflect the milestone he has reached as a hostage. “Is kidnapping children in line with Islamic values?”

Kfir and Ariel became an early face to the hostage crisis on the morning of Oct. 7, when Hamas released a video clip showing them being abducted from Kibbutz Nir Oz along with their mother Shiri, whose terror was visible. Their father Yarden Bibas is also thought to be a hostage in Gaza. Now, after five days of hostage releases as part of a truce deal returned dozens of other children to Israel, the Bibas brothers are the youngest and perhaps most prominent children remaining in captivity.

Ofri Bibas, Yarden’s sister, was speaking in “Hostage Square,” a public space outside the Kirya military headquarters that has become a gathering place for the hostage families and their supporters. Tens of thousands of Israelis flooded the space last week before the truce deal and again on Saturday when Hamas delayed the release of a batch of hostages.

Orange balloons have become a symbol of the Bibas family because of the abducted children’s red hair. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

On Tuesday, there were fewer people present — about 150. But in a powerful display, the crowd called orange balloons — to honor Kfir and Ariel’s red hair — instead of the yellow balloons that have been a hallmark of the movement to free the hostages.

“We thank all the people in Israel for the enormous support and hugs we are getting,” Ofri Bibas said in the wake of five consecutive days of anguished waiting, in which many prayed and hoped in vain for the Bibas family to appear on the daily list of released hostages. Even while her family’s reunification has not yet occurred, she noted that “the ceasefire allowed the return of people who became a part of our family and we are glad for each and every one that came back to his family.”

An IDF spokesman said Monday that Hamas said it had transferred the family to the custody of another terrorist group in Gaza, saying that was the reason that the children and their mother had not yet been released. Ofri Bibas said the family was not satisfied with that explanation.

“Hamas took them and Hamas is required to bring them back right now,” she said. “They’re responsible for their health and their freedom is directly in Hamas’s hands and responsibility.”

Ofri Bibas sat alongside Dana Siton, sister of Shiri Bibas, and Arab-Israeli pro-Israel activist Yosef Haddad. Hadded translated the family’s statement into Arabic in an effort to appeal directly to Emir of Qatar Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, who have been involved with the hostage negotiations.

Shiri Silberman-Bibas and Kfir Bibas are visible in footage taken by Hamas after they were taken captive on Oct. 7, 2023. (X)

“We ask for their intervention in releasing our family and all the other hostages and to bring in the Red Cross to give medical care,” Ofri Bibas said.

One of the protest attendees was Ruth Musael, a 78-year-old Australian-Israeli who moved to Israel in 1969. “I have tried to keep busy during this horrific and heartbreaking situation,” she said while holding an orange balloon. “Together with the joy and relief each day is full of tension,” she described the last few days, adding that “it is impossible to comprehend what these families are going through.”

After Haddad finished his translation of the family’s remarks in Arabic, he led the crowd in a bilingual chant of “now” in Hebrew and Arabic. Then Ofri Bibas instructed the crowd to release the orange balloons “with the hope that they reach …” she started, before pausing. “With the hope that our prayers reach all the way to Gaza.”

The post Most child hostages are back in Israel. Redheaded brothers Kfir and Ariel Bibas are still in Gaza. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Major Israeli Tech Entrepreneur Gil Shwed Retires

Gil Shwed, former Chief Executive of Network security provider Check Point Software Technologies, speaks during the annual Cyberweek conference at Tel Aviv University, Israel, June 20, 2016

Gil Shwed, one of Israel’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, announced his retirement on Tuesday, bringing an end to his 30-year tenure as CEO of Check Point, an Israeli software firm.

“This year Check Point celebrated 30 years since its establishment, in which we managed to generate growth and reached a peak in almost every parameter. I feel that this is the right time for me to focus on Check Point’s next leap,” Shwed, 56, said. “We are now looking for a replacement for the position of CEO. It’s a process that will take time and even when it ends I will remain involved. I want to focus less on the daily work, and more on the future of the company.”

Check Point was founded in 1993 by Shwed, Shlomo Kramer, and Marius Nacht. Shwed and Kramer were friends from their time together in Israel’s elite cyber unit 8200.

The company provides AI-powered advanced software and hardware for cyber security to more than 100,000 customers globally, bringing in more than $2 billion per year in revenue.

Headquartered in Tel Aviv and publicly traded on the NASDAQ, Check Point has a market cap of more than $19 billion dollars, making it Israel’s second most valuable company, $2 billion less than automobile giant Mobileye Eye. Shwed’s role as CEO has allowed him to amass a fortune of $4.4 billion due to his 20% share ownership in the company.

Shwed is also a recipient of the Israel Prize, an annual award given to Israelis who have shown a high level of excellence in their specific fields. Shwed was given the first award in the technology field when it was introduced in 2018.

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Israel’s Leading Hotel Chain Expands Internationally

A view of Athens, Greece. Photo: Jan M via Wikimedia Commons.

Israel’s leading hotel chain Isrotel has announced the opening of their first hotel outside of the country.

The brand, under a new division called ALUMA, meaning “ray of light” in Hebrew, will open its Skylark Hotel in Athens, Greece next month.

“We succeeded in doing the best in Israel, creating a culture that people love, so if you know Isrotel you will want to visit,” Benny Levy, the VP of sales and marketing at Isrotel, told The Algemeiner.

Levy says just because they are expanding outside of the Jewish state, “We aren’t stopping opening in Israel … Outside of Israel the potential is endless, it is a significant opportunity.”

Lior Raviv, CEO of Isrotel, added, “ALUMA is an international chain of hotels that will benefit from Isrotel’s longstanding experience and uncompromising standards of excellence, offering global travelers a wide range of city hotels and leisure resorts to choose from, and providing unique hospitality experiences. As a sister company of Isrotel, ALUMA is guided by our approach to hospitality as a way of life.”

They said most of the workers will be Israelis, ensuring the culture of the brand remains. “Israeli tourists, and especially loyal guests of Isrotel, who return to us time and again due to our hospitality experience and high standard of service, will find those same qualities and sense of a ‘home away from home’ at ALUMA, backed by the international standards of perfection and excellence,” added Raviv.

According to Isrotel, the Skylark hotel will be followed by the Anise Hotel, also in Athens, a month later. An additional hotel in Athens and one in Thessaloniki will open by the end of 2024. They said the total investment in the project is 70 million euros, with plans to expand elsewhere in Europe in the future.

Isrotel has 23 hotels across Israel, including eight in the resort town of Eilat in the south of Israel. Their international move comes as Israel’s National Planning and Construction Council announced this week the changes to the city’s height limitations for hotels, allowing up to 20 floors from the previously permitted eight floors.

Tourism Minister Haim Katz praised the move, saying, “We are bringing good news to Eilat. Hundreds and even thousands of rooms will be added in the city. The move will encourage competition, remove excess bureaucracy for a hotel that wants to renew itself, and allow entrepreneurs who have not yet built to increase supply.”

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Investment Firm Announces Recommendations for Preventing Corporate Anti-Israel Bias

Illustrative Anti-Israel event. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Morningstar, Inc., a Chicago based investment firm managing over $250 billion in assets, has issued a report including several recommendations for reducing anti-Israel bias in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings its Sustainalytics subsidiary assigns to corporations.

For several years, Sustainalytics gave poor ESG ratings to Israel affiliated companies, a practice that led Jewish civil rights groups and lawmakers to suspect that the company was violating state laws against engaging in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to isolate and weaken the Jewish state.

The firm denied the allegations, but a review of the its ratings by JLens, a leading Jewish investor network, found that Sustainalytics created “BDS blacklists” and used in its internal reports “politicized anti-Israel language” to describe Israel. JLens’ work, which was the first to raise alarms about the issue, led to Morningstar’s cracking down on the practices and adopting policies for ensuring that Sustainalytics does not become a BDS collaborator.

Released on Jan. 31, Morningstar’s new report builds on that commitment, outlining several policy changes, including: eliminating a designation which identified companies as being involved in “occupied territories/disputed region,” quashing reliance on disinformative media reports aimed at distorting a company’s ESG rating, and appointing legal experts to examine matters relevant to international human rights law.

“We welcome Morningstar’s commitment to eliminate anti-Israel bias in Sustainalytics research products,” Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement on Wednesday. “We look forward to ongoing engagement with Morningstar to ensure the expert recommendations are fully and effectively implemented.”

The ADL took a leading role in combating anti-Israel bias in ESG ratings, incorporating JLens in Nov. 2022. ADL noted at the time that BDS activists target firms managing ESG rated funds, which attracted over $500 billion in investments in 2021, a 55% increase from the previous year, according to JP Morgan. During 2022’s proxy season, a time when publicly traded companies hold annual meetings to assess performance and weigh suggestions from shareholders, Israel was named in eight of 20 resolutions targeting foreign governments, “making the country only second to China.”

Morningstar’s recommendations will shield ESG from political bias and increase its reliability, Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law founder and chairman Kenneth L. Marcus explained in a statement applauding the report.

“Anti-Israel external forces are doing everything they can to infiltrate campuses, boardrooms, the [United Nations]., sports leagues, and the securities industry,” he said. “We commend Morningstar for engaging with us, examining their ESG product, and committing to make the changes necessary to ensure that their rating system is apolitical, objective, and honest. We believe that implementing the experts’ report is critical to achieving this goal.”

Ari Hoffnung, managing director of JLens, added that “investor are entitled to research that is both objective and devoid of any anti-Israel bias.”

Last July, Morningstar removed 109 negative “controversy ratings” that Sustainalytics subsidiary had given to companies operating in Israel. The firm has also stopped referring to the West Bank and East Jerusalem as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ or ‘occupied territory” and committed to educating its employees about antisemitism and amassing information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from “independent, recognized experts.”

Morningstar, however, has repeatedly denied that it ever supported BDS. In June 2022, Morningstar CEO Kunal Kapoor issued a statement arguing that an external review of Sustainalytics found no evidence that it “encouraged divestment from Israel” but acknowledged that at least one of its departments singled out businesses “linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and “sometimes used inflammatory language and failed to provide sourcing attribution clearly and consistently.”

Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.

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