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Hard-liner Bezalel Smotrich was just put in charge of Israel’s settlements. Here’s what that means.



(JTA) – Last week, Israeli Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich got one of his longtime wishes: authority over the civilian life of settlers, and some Palestinians, in the West Bank. The role is a chance for Smotrich, a right-wing firebrand and staunch advocate of annexing settlements to Israel, to mold the territory according to his ideology. 

But this week, the perils of the job also became clear: After a Palestinian gunman shot and killed two Israelis in the village of Huwara on Sunday, a mob of settlers rampaged in the village, burning cars and buildings and injuring residents

In the days following, at least publicly, Smotrich has appeared conflicted over his response to the riots. He liked a tweet calling to “wipe out” the village, then issued his own tweet addressed to his “settler brothers” decrying the rampaging. Then he shared a third set of tweets that endorsed collective punishment — but not through mob violence — and compared the riot to nonviolent protests in Tel Aviv. 

Later in the week, he sympathized with the rioters and their goal. On Tuesday, he published a lengthy Facebook post in which he called the rioters “a small group whose patience ran out and who acted inappropriately.” Part of him, he wrote, wanted “to identify with the pain and the anger and the feeling that it’s impossible to sit quietly any longer.”

On Wednesday, a journalist asked him to explain why he liked the tweet calling for the village to be “wiped out.” “Because I think the village of Huwara should be wiped out, I think that the state of Israel should do it.” A few hours later, he again walked back his statement: “To remove any doubt, in my words I did not mean wiping out the village of Huwara, but rather acting in a targeted way against terrorists and supporters of terror, and exacting a heavy price from them in order to return security to local residents.”

Sunday’s violence points to the contentious issues Smotrich will have to handle in his new role, coping with escalating violence as he and his partners seek to reshape life in the West Bank. 

Both Smotrich and his ideological foes are portraying his new job as the harbinger of a sea change in the territory — one that will expand the settlements and make them more entrenched. Meanwhile, the current Israeli government, which includes Smotrich and his far-right allies, has promised to build and recognize more settlements.

“The transfer of civilian authority over the settlements to us, and the beginning of the process of normalizing settlements, are also a great and strategic achievement,” he wrote in the Facebook post on Tuesday. “Even if it takes time to ripen and change the rudder of the ship, it will lead, God willing, to a dramatic change.”

Here’s a rundown of who Smotrich is, what his new job involves, how it fits in with the Israeli government’s settlement plans, and what his limits are. 

Who is Bezalel Smotrich, and what job did he just receive?

Smotrich, 43, is himself a settler and has served in Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, for nearly eight years. During that time, he’s been one of the most right-wing lawmakers in Knesset, and has faced blowback for comments denigrating Arab women and the LGBTQ community. 

He has also spent years calling for the annexation of settlements and proposing legislation to that effect, to no avail. But his fortunes changed last year, when his party, Religious Zionism, won 14 seats, becoming the Knesset’s third-largest party. 

The coalition agreement the party signed in December with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledges to give Smotrich authority over civilian life in the settlements. Governing all aspects of civilian life in the settlements is currently the province of Defense Minister Yoav Galant, and he and Smotrich clashed over the past couple of months. 

Smotrich made clear he was impatient to assume the new role, and was worried Netanyahu was balking. “Defense minister Galant’s disavowal of the unequivocal agreement, and the prime minister’s foot-dragging on the matter are unacceptable and will not be allowed to continue,” he wrote on Twitter on Feb. 15.

But Netanyahu fulfilled the coalition agreement on Thursday, and in a deal signed by Netanyahu, Smotrich and Galant, Smotrich was handed authority over day-to-day affairs in the settlements. He tweeted that the deal entailed “A holiday for the residents of Judea and Samaria,” the Israeli government’s term for the West Bank. 

Does that mean Smotrich is about to annex the settlements to Israel?

No. The agreement explicitly counts out annexation, and Smotrich was at pains in December to assure Americans, in a Wall Street Journal op-ed, that annexation was not happening in the immediate future.

But Smotrich is now in charge of life in Area C of the West Bank, which makes up the bulk of the territory. All of the Israeli settlements are in Area C, where Israel has full control over civilian affairs. (The Palestinian Authority governs civilian life in Areas A and B, which comprise 40% of the West Bank and include the majority of the territories’ Palestinians.) 

That is why critics of Netanyahu’s government are claiming that an annexation plan is at the heart of Netanyahu’s agreement with Smotrich. Michael Sfard, a prominent Israeli human rights lawyer, wrote that Smotrich is now effectively “the governor of the West Bank,” because he will be able to largely erase legal boundaries between the settlements and Israel’s recognized borders.

“Today the government of Israel has taken an action which entails de jure annexation of the West Bank,” wrote in posts on social media. “Transferring powers to Israeli civilian hands is an act of de jure annexation because it entails removing power from the occupying military and placing it directly in the hands of the government — this is an expression of sovereignty.”

Who’s in charge of Israel’s West Bank policy?

The particulars of the new arrangement in the West Bank, according to the deal signed on Thursday, are complex and a bit confusing. Smotrich is responsible for land use by Israelis and Palestinians in Area C, but it’s not clear if he has authority over Palestinian freedom of movement into and out of the area. His full responsibilities are listed in annexes not made  public. The military, meanwhile, retains the authority to evacuate illegally built settlement outposts, though Smotrich may be able to stall that process.

That means it’s not clear who’s on top, except for a provision that makes Netanyahu the arbiter of any disputes between Smotrich and Galant, or Smotrich and the military.

The agreement does pledge to erase divisions between Israel and the Jewish settlements. It says Smotrich will launch an initiative called “Equality of Citizenship” that will “improve and streamline services in Judea and Samaria” through Israeli government ministries — that is, not via the military that has been in charge of such matters for more than half a century.

How is the U.S. responding?

The Biden administration, which has otherwise maintained friendly engagement with Netanyahu’s new government, had reportedly  pressured him to renege on the new job for Smotrich. Biden officials found an ally on that issue in Israel’s defense establishment, which also was loath to hand over any degree of control to Smotrich, Axios reported.

And confusion in the chain of command when it comes to dismantling settlements may prompt the Biden administration to intervene, said Daniel Kurtzer, a former U.S. ambassador to Israel.

“The critical issues that we need to look at, they’re happening all over the place, whether it’s the transfer of authority from the Minister of Defense to Minister Smotrich for control over the civil administration, whether it’s the regularization of these outposts or their legalization,” said Kurtzer, who was speaking in a Zoom call last week organized by the Jewish Democratic Council of America.

Criticism also came from Israel’s opposition. Benny Gantz, a former defense minister and IDF chief of staff, tweeted out a confusing flow chart of the new division of responsibilities between Smotrich and Galant.

“This doesn’t look like a chain of command,” he wrote. “This looks like a labyrinth that endangers Israel’s security.”

What’s next?

Smotrich has already said he plans to accelerate the building of Jewish settlements and limit building by Palestinians in Area C. Palestinians say they build without permits in the area because the Israeli authorities rarely grant building permits. That’s unlikely to change now.

On Tuesday, Smotrich pledged that an illegal settlement that has repeatedly been dismantled will be rebuilt and recognized by the government. And his first comment after the agreement was reached was to reiterate his pledge to limit Palestinian rights.

He said, “We will act with determination to stop the illegal Arab takeover of open lands in Judea and Samaria.”

The post Hard-liner Bezalel Smotrich was just put in charge of Israel’s settlements. Here’s what that means. appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Phyllis Pollock died at home Sunday September 3, 2023 in Winnipeg, after a courageous lifetime battle with cancer.
Phyllis was a mother of four: Gary (Laura), daughter Randi, Steven (deceased in 2010) (Karen), and Robert. Phyllis also had two grandchildren: Lauren and Quinn.
Born in Fort Frances, Ontario on February 7, 1939, Phyllis was an only child to Ruby and Alex Lerman. After graduating high school, Phyllis moved to Winnipeg where she married and later divorced Danny Pollock, the father of her children. She moved to Beverly Hills in 1971, where she raised her children.
Phyllis had a busy social life and lucrative real estate career that spanned over 50 years, including new home sales with CoastCo. Phyllis was the original sales agent for three buildings in Santa Monica, oceanfront: Sea Colony I, Sea Colony II, and Sea Colony. She was known as the Sea Colony Queen. She worked side by side with her daughter Randi for about 25 years – handling over 600 transactions, including sales and leases within the three phases of Sea Colony alone.
Phyllis had more energy than most people half her age. She loved entertaining, working in the real estate field, meeting new and interesting people everyday no matter where she went, and thrived on making new lifelong friends. Phyllis eventually moved to the Sea Colony in Santa Monica where she lived for many years before moving to Palm Desert, then Winnipeg.
After battling breast cancer four times in approximately 20 years, she developed metastatic Stage 4 lung cancer. Her long-time domestic partner of 27 years, Joseph Wilder, K.C., was the love of her life. They were never far apart. They traveled the world and went on many adventures during their relationship. During her treatment, Phyllis would say how much she missed work and seeing her clients. Joey demonstrated amazing strength, love, care, and compassion for Phyllis as her condition progressed. He was her rock and was by her side 24/7, making sure she had the best possible care. Joey’s son David was always there to support Phyllis and to make her smile. Joey’s other children, Sheri, Kenny, Joshua and wife Davina, were also a part of her life. His kids would Facetime Phyllis and include her during any of their important functions. Phyllis loved Joey’s children as if they were her own.
Thank you to all of her friends and family who were there to support her during these difficult times. Phyllis is now, finally, pain free and in a better place. She was loved dearly and will be greatly missed. Interment took place in Los Angeles.

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Gwen Centre Creative Living Centre celebrates 35th anniversary



By BERNIE BELLAN Over 100 individuals gathered at the Gwen Secter Centre on Tuesday evening, July 18 – under the big top that serves as the venue for the summer series of outdoor concerts that is now in its third year at the centre.
The occasion was the celebration of the Gwen Secter Centre’s 35th anniversary. It was also an opportunity to honour the memory of Sophie Shinewald, who passed away at the age of 106 in 2019, but who, as recently as 2018, was still a regular attendee at the Gwen Secter Centre.
As Gwen Secter Executive Director Becky Chisick noted in her remarks to the audience, Sophie had been volunteering at the Gwen Secter Centre for years – answering the phone among other duties. Becky remarked that Sophie’s son, Ed Shinewald, had the phone number for the Gwen Secter Centre stored in his phone as “Mum’s work.”

Raquel Dancho (left), Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St.Paul, and Nikki Spigelman, President, Gwen Secter Centre

Remarks were also delivered by Raquel Dancho, Member of Parliament for Kildonan-St. Paul, who was the only representative of any level of government in attendance. (How times have changed: I remember well the steadfast support the former Member of the Legislature for St. John’s, Gord Mackintosh, showed the Gwen Secter Centre when it was perilously close to being closed down. And, of course, for years, the area in which the Gwen Secter Centre is situated was represented by the late Saul Cherniack.)
Sophie Shinewald’s granddaughter, Alix (who flew in from Chicago), represented the Shinewald family at the event. (Her brother, Benjamin, who lives in Ottawa, wasn’t able to attend, but he sent a pre-recorded audio message that was played for the audience.)
Musical entertainment for the evening was provided by a group of talented singers, led by Julia Kroft. Following the concert, attendees headed inside to partake of a sumptuous assortment of pastries, all prepared by the Gwen Secter culinary staff. (And, despite my asking whether I could take a doggy bag home, I was turned down.)

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Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station



This is a developing story.

(JTA) — Palestinian gunmen killed four people and wounded four in a terror attack at a gas station near the West Bank settlement of Eli, the Israeli army reported.

An Israeli civilian returning fire at the scene of the attack on Tuesday killed one of the attackers, who emerged from a vehicle, and two others fled.

Kan, Israel’s public broadcaster, said one of those wounded was in serious condition. The gunmen, while in the vehicle, shot at a guard post at the entry to the settlement, and then continued to the gas station which is also the site of a snack bar. A nearby yeshiva went into lockdown.

Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant announced plans to convene a briefing with top security officials within hours of the attack. Kan reported that there were celebrations of the killing in major West Bank cities and in the Gaza Strip, initiated by terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Hamas said the shooting attack Tuesday was triggered by the Jenin raid.

The shooting comes as tensions intensify in the West Bank. A day earlier, Israeli troops raiding the city of Jenin to arrest accused terrorists killed five people.

The Biden administration spoke out over the weekend against Israel’s plans to build 4,000 new housing units for Jewish settlers in the West Bank. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also finalized plans to  transfer West Bank building decisions to Bezalel Smotrich, the extremist who is the finance minister. Smotrich has said he wants to limit Palestinian building and expand settlement building.

Kan reported that the dead terrorist was a resident of a village, Urif, close to Huwara, the Palestinian town where terrorists killed two Israeli brothers driving through in February. Settlers retaliated by raiding the village and burning cars and buildings.

The post Palestinian gunmen kill 4 Israelis in West Bank gas station appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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