Barak Expands Cabinet
Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak succeeded in enlarging his cabinet, previously limited to 18 seats. The Knesset approved an unlimited expansion, and Barak promptly added five new ministers:
Matan Vilnai (Labor/One Israel) Minister of Science, Culture and Sports
Haim Oron (Meretz) Minister of Agriculture
Amnon Lipkin-Shahak (Center) Minister of Tourism
Michael Melchior (Meimad/One Israel) Minister Without Portfolio/Diaspora
Yuli Tamir (Labor/One Israel) Minister of Absorption.
Turbine Move Threatens Coalition
A religious/secular dispute over the transport on Shabbat of massive components of an electric power plant gripped the nation in August, and threatened the stability of the Barak coalition. The ultra-Orthodox Shas party reneged on a threat to leave the coalition when the first turbine was moved on a Friday night, due to lighter traffic on Israeli highways. Two weeks later, when the High Court approved the transfer of four remaining components over Shabbat using Jewish workers, Labor and Social Affairs Minister and interim Shas leader Eli Yishai refused to issue the required work permits, and United Torah Judaism joined Shas' threat to bolt the government. New cabinet minister Rabbi Michael Melchior brokered a last-minute compromise that saw the turbine moved on Shabbat and the coalition saved intact -- for now.
Arafat Calls for Jihad, Palestinians Respond
PLO chairman Yasser Arafat, speaking in Ram'Allah on his 70th birthday on August 4, urged Palestinians to wage "jihad" (holy war) against Israel. The call came one day after two Israelis were shot at by terrorists while driving into Hebron on the way to the Cave of the Patriarchs. Soon after, a further spate of terrorist attacks against Jews ensued. A terrorist cell operating from the Jenin area twice opened fire on passing Israeli vehicles, wounding two. Possibly related to the cell's activity, an Israeli man was found shot inside his torched car near Jenin.
In three separate attacks in Jerusalem, Palestinians stabbed two soldiers and one civilian. Back in Hebron, another shooting attack on an Israeli vehicle occurred from PA-controlled territory. A Hebron-based bomb factory exploded as terrorists were preparing a car bomb; no one was hurt. In Netanya, two pipe bombs exploded in front of an office building early in the morning; again, no one was injured. And a Palestinian suicide driver twice rammed his vehicle into a crowd of Israeli commuters at the Nahshon Junction, wounding nine.
Muslims Char Burger King for Branch in Yesha
The American fast-food chain Burger King withdrew a recently opened franchise in Ma'ale Adumim after Muslim organizations in the US and the Arab League (at the request of Yasser Arafat) threatened an international boycott against it for doing business in the "occupied territories." The decision by Burger King likely was spurred by the prospect of having to close dozens of branches in the Gulf states. A counter-protest to "eat falafels, not Whoppers" is being organized by Benny Kashriel, Mayor of Ma'ale Adumim and now head of the Yesha council. The Christian Embassy sent a letter to the CEO of Burger King expressing disappointment with its "surrender to ignorance and bigotry, rather than to any legitimate grievance from the Muslim community." The ICEJ letter added, "Burger King had the chance to rise above such pernicious devices, but now may be remembered for an action that prolonged divisions and gave hope to extremist positions." The Israeli company Rikamor. Ltd., which operates several dozen Burger King counters in Israel, has vowed to keep the Ma'ale Adumim branch open.
Waqf Tests Limits on Temple Mount
The Waqf, the Islamic trust with oversight of Jerusalem's Temple Mount, recently enlarged a small window through one of the two ancient Hulda gates at the south end of the Temple Mount compound. The "Double Gate," an ornate tunnel and ascending stairway, was used by Jewish worshippers to enter King Herod's Second Temple. Muslims expanded the opening in connection with the unauthorized building of a new mosque underneath the Al Aqsa mosque.
In response, PM Ehud Barak ordered the hole resealed late at night, to avoid a confrontation. Sheikh Ekrema Sabri, PA-appointed Mufti of Jerusalem, called Barak's decision an attempt to prohibit Muslim renovations. But archaeologists have long been concerned Muslims deliberately are destroying the historic record of the Temple Mount to erase proof of its Jewish past.
Israel Unprepared for Y2K
A report released by Israel's State Comptroller's office revealed that computers used to run all levels of Israel's government and most agencies and services are unprepared for the millennial transition. The report covers most aspects of the Israeli public domain, including health care, hospitals, telephone and electric systems, police and municipal governments.
Only three cities -- Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa -- have acted to fix both their databases and computerized systems. Municipal governments control most public services, such as traffic lights and water supply. Bezeq, Israel's national telephone company, said it is unable to test its systems for fear of paralyzing the country's telecommunications network in the event of a failure. The report calls on Bezeq to make emergency contingency plans immediately, and accuses the Israel Electric Company of falsely claiming to be vigorously tackling its problems. The Health Ministry is charged with being negligent in its preparations as well.
US Embassy Caught in Political Web
Eighty-four US Senators signed a letter to President Bill Clinton protesting his use of a national security waiver in the 1995 Jerusalem Embassy Relocation Act to delay moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv this year. They wrote "Jerusalem is Israel's capital, a fact that should have been recognized long ago by putting our embassy there." Two new bills are winding their way through Congress which, if enacted, would officially recognize Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The initiatives may have been stymied in Israel, though, as unnamed sources charged that PM Ehud Barak advised a visiting congressional delegation to halt their efforts to move the Embassy until a final-status agreement is reached with the Palestinians. Barak denied the charge and reiterated his support for complete Israeli sovereignty over an undivided Jerusalem, capital of Israel only.
Gunman Opens Fire at Jewish Center in LA
Buford Furrow, a 37-year old member of the white supremacist Aryan Nation, entered the North Valley Jewish Community Center in Los Angeles on August 10 and indiscriminately sprayed the lobby with dozens of rounds of bullets. Three children, a teenager and an adult were injured in the melee. Furrow then killed an Asian-American while in flight. After evading an interstate dragnet, Furrow surrendered to the FBI in Las Vegas, saying he intended the attack to serve as "a wake-up call to America to kill Jews." Aryan Nation leader Richard Butler praised Furrow as a "good soldier."
This is the latest incident in a recent rash of anti-Semitic violence in the US, following on the heels of coordinated arson attacks on three Sacramento synagogues and a drive-by shooting at Jewish worshippers on Shabbat in a Chicago suburb. A scheduled meeting between American Jewish leaders and President Bill Clinton was forced to shift from the peace process to discussing anti-Semitism and hate crimes in the US.