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Senators describe ‘optimism’ after Middle East tour, leaving questions on Israel’s extremist leaders unanswered

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WASHINGTON (JTA) — Judging by her response to a question at a press briefing on Tuesday, Jackie Rosen had likely read the headlines involving Israel she had made over the past week. She was prepared to deflect.

Had she really nixed meetings with two government ministers in Israel’s extremist Religious Zionist bloc, as Axios had reported?

“Let’s focus on what these historic agreements mean,” the Nevada Democrat said, referring to the Abraham Accords, the 2020 normalization agreements with multiple Arab countries that edged Israel closer to its dream of peaceful coexistence with its neighbors. Rosen and six other U.S. senators last week toured four of the five signatories to the accords, including Israel — where Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir, who have incurred international criticism, currently hold powerful positions in Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition.

“The real optimism between these countries for partnerships, for people to people relationships, things that benefit their people on the ground, like markets … energy, agriculture technology, and, just coming out of the global pandemic, healthcare,” Rosen added.

For all their optimism on Tuesday, however, the senators acknowledged, in guarded language, that plans by Smotrich to annex territories in the West Bank and Ben-Gvir’s provocative actions on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount could not only undercut the aim of their tour — to seek ways to expand the accords to other countries — but could also scuttle them entirely.

“We were very clear when we spoke with Prime Minister Netanyahu that it is important that they would maintain the status quo and they not do anything that would impede the progress of the Abraham accords and a negotiated two-state solution,” Rosen said. “I believe we were very clear.”

The United Arab Emirates threatened to pull out of the accords before they were formally launched in the summer of 2020, when Netanyahu sought then to advance partial annexation. Netanyahu retreated and the accords went ahead.

The only senator who spoke at length about the most fragile element of the effort — how to extend the peacemaking to the Palestinians — was Mark Kelly, an Arizona Democrat.

“A lot of us talked about the optimism, but there are also a lot of risks,” Kelly said. “The visit that we had with the Palestinian Authority highlighted to me that there is a lot more work to do, not just with the Abraham Accords, but the work needed to get to a resolution — the plight of the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, a two-state solution.”

The Palestinian Authority declined to be part of the Abraham Accords process, saying the deal, brokered under former President Donald Trump, ignores Palestinian national aspirations. The Biden administration hopes to bring the Palestinians in through economic incentives and by keeping the two-state outcome alive, although Netanyahu and his government have renounced it.

Rosen, who says she got her political chops as a synagogue president in suburban Las Vegas, never answered the question about whether she would have met with Smotrich, the finance minister who has a stake in the trade side of the accords, if he had asked for a meeting.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, ran interference for Rosen. 

“I would just add that Prime Minister Netanyahu was very clear that he spoke for his government, and that the meeting we had with him was the most important meeting to hear — what his strategy was and why the Abraham Accords was such a huge opportunity,” Gillibrand said.

The group of senators — which also included Dan Sullivan, an Alaska Republican; Ted Budd, a North Carolina Republican; and Michael Bennet, a Colorado Democrat — toured Bahrain, the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Israel as well as the Palestinian areas. They did not tour Sudan, which is a party to the accords, but is currently in turmoil.

They described witnessing the benefits of the accords, but in a curiously one-sided way — noting the masses of Israeli tourists who have visited the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco, but not mentioning that there was little to no movement in the other direction.

Pressed by a reporter, the senators acknowledged that enthusiasm for the accords in the Arab countries was for now confined to the elites, and that support for the deals has yet to trickle own to the everyday citizen level.

“We’re outsiders stepping in, we’re meeting with leaders, we’re meeting with key people. We’re not interacting with everyone on the streets and doing polling in the streets,” said Sen. James Lankford, a Republican from Oklahoma.

Gillibrand said leaders admitted that they had to make the case for normalization with Israel to their peoples. 

“Every head of state that we spoke to said ‘This is where I’m leading my people. I know it’s going to take time for people to understand why and why it’s so important, but I’m doing what it takes to lead my people for a safer security region, for greater economic ties, so that actually benefits [the people] over time’,’” she said. She described changes in education that the governments introduced to promote better understanding of Jews and others.

There was also talk of the benefits the senators hoped the accords would bring stateside. The senators from western states, including Kelly, Bennet and Rosen, spoke about Israeli and Emirati drought expertise they hoped to put to use at home. 

“We hope to learn a lot about the work that’s being done to try to deal with drought and deal with the shortage of water in the region. We’re facing many similar challenges in the Rocky Mountain West,” Bennet said.


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Obituaries

PHYLLIS POLLOCK

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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

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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

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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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