Anshel Pfeffer

As his trial opens, Olmert still hopes to return to public life

By Anshel Pfeffer, October 1, 2009

Last Friday, Former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert set off on a road that could take him to prison, or back to national leadership.

“I have come here as an innocent man,” he told the assembled media on the first day of his trial in Jerusalem, “and I believe that I will leave without any charge.”

Although Mr Olmert — the first former Israeli PM to stand trial — would not signal his plans for after the trial, his close friends have no doubt.

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Analysis: Obama could not make peace alone

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 24, 2009

Binyamin Netanyahu has accomplished a remarkable feat. He travelled to the US, met the president at a highly publicised summit, upset the leader of the free world, returned home empty-handed — and is still not facing a public outcry.

A similar dispute with the Americans ultimately brought down the Shamir government in 1992. Later premiers never dared openly confront the US.

Barack Obama’s displeasure was barely disguised and no amount of spin can gloss over the failure of the three-way summit. But Mr Netanyahu, at least for now, is getting away with it.

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Analysis: Come to think of it, the new system might benefit Israel

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 24, 2009

Barack Obama’s decision to scrap the plan to position a missile-defence system in Poland and the Czech Republic could ultimately prove a boost to Israel’s defences.

The change in American plans was motivated by President Obama’s desire to placate the Russian leadership but there also remains a need to mount a defence against nuclear missiles that may be launched in future from Iran and other rogue nations in the east.

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Israel wants rules of war to be changed

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 24, 2009

Israel is launching a campaign to adapt the international laws on warfare to a new reality where organisations purposely operate from civilian areas.

They are hoping that the American and British governments, which face similar circumstances in Iraq and Afghanistan, can be persuaded to join.

The effort comes in response to the UN Human Rights Council report released last week, which accuses the IDF of committing war crimes in Gaza during Operation Cast Lead at the beginning of 2009.

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Analyis: Deceptive quiet on Gaza border

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 18, 2009

My visit last week to the headquarters of one of the battalions stationed around the Gaza border was deceptively tranquil. The road leading to the base may still be full of craters created by Hamas mortar shells, fired in the years of bombardment leading up to Operation Cast Lead last January. But in the neighbouring kibbutz, work is going on peacefully in the fields, right next to the border fence.

For the first time in a decade, children in the nearby town of Sderot started the school year two weeks ago without having to first practise running to the bomb shelters.

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Analysis: Settlement deal is a hard sell

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 18, 2009

One of the less known items on Binyamin Netanyahu’s CV is his stint as the sales manager of an Israeli furniture manufacturer, before he joined the diplomatic service. The PM will need all his sales acumen now to market two totally different products to the American administration and the Israeli right wing in the run-up to the highly anticipated “peace summit” at the UN next week.

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Charedi women refuse bus gender segragation

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 18, 2009

A new group has joined the fight over gender-segregated bus lines in Israel: religious women who do not want to be forced to sit at the back.

This month, four such groups boarded the “Mehadrin”, or especially stringent buses, running through Jerusalem, pointedly sitting at the front.

“Charedi women on the bus also joined us,” says Rachel Azaria, a religious member of Jerusalem City Council who is leading a coalition of local organisations against the buses.

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Fighter pilot’s death re-ignites combat debate

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 18, 2009

The death of Captain Asaf Ramon in a jet fighter accident on Sunday has reopened the question of whether children from bereaved families should be allowed to serve in combat units.

Captain Ramon was the son of Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon, who died in the Columbia Shuttle disaster in 2003.

The IDF regulations state that a child or sibling of a fallen IDF soldier is exempt from service in a combat unit unless their parent signs an authorisation. On average, about 80 members of bereaved families join the IDF each year and serve in combat units with their parents’ consent.

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Israeli healthcare standards 'slipping'

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 10, 2009

The heated discussions going on in Britain and the United States over the future of public medicine and medical insurance has shifted the spotlight to successful systems in other countries.

In Israel, while there is universal coverage for all residents and a generally high level of treatment, there are complaints of slipping standards.

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Assimilation ad angers diaspora

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 10, 2009

A new campaign against assimilation in the diaspora, which is aimed at Israelis, is raising eyebrows in international Jewish organisations.

The television advert shows spoof “missing” posters, featuring young men and women with Jewish names. The implication is that the diaspora youngsters are being “lost” to Judaism.

The advert urges Israelis with a relative abroad who might be interested in Israel to contact MASA, an Israeli-based group that encourages Jewish students to study in Israel.

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Israel ponders missed chance over Ron Arad

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 10, 2009

The basic facts are not new. Israel’s intelligence services have believed for some time that Ron Arad, the Israel Air Force navigator who was taken prisoner in Lebanon 23 years ago, died in captivity over a decade ago. But the new details of the failed efforts to release him were published this week, and in this there is a chilling resemblance to the current situation of Gilad Shalit.

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What hijack? The high-sea drama no one will discuss

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 10, 2009

Ehud Barak’s face remained expressionless. The reporters surrounded the defence minister, asking again and again, “do you have anything to say about the Russian ship?” — but he would not even look at them. His bodyguards cleared a path for him as he stepped into his official car and sped away.

None of the countries allegedly involved in the mystery of the Arctic Sea — the boat that disappeared in the Baltic Sea for several days in July after being boarded by pirates — have any interest in publicity.

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Who will teach Israel’s Ethiopians?

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2009

The plight of 102 Ethiopian-born children in the town of Petach Tikva who do not have a school place has raised serious questions about the Israeli education system.

At the centre of the argument is the refusal of three private religious schools to accept about 50 of these children into their normal classes.

The Education Ministry, the media and even President Shimon Peres have all come down hard on these three schools, accusing them of racism.

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Netanyahu uses British tactics to fight crime wave

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2009

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu has come out with a five-point plan for dealing with the rise in crime in Israel, based upon British and American experience.

Mr Netanyahu published his plan following a wave of crime in which 14 Israelis have been murdered in less than a month.

In a special radio interview, Mr Netanyahu termed the violence “inner terrorism” and said, “if missiles are fired at us, we respond fiercely immediately. In the same way I am not prepared to accept any kind of terrorism against Israeli citizens.”

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Analysis: Plot to assassinate IDF head reveals Hizbollah's real aims

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2009

An Israeli Arab man has been indicted for allegedly passing on information about the IDF Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazi, to Hizbollah, in a plot to have him assassinated.

Rawi Sultani, 23, is a law student from Tira in central Israel, who worked out at the same gym as Lt Gen Ashkenazi. He was first contacted by Hizbollah when he attended a summer camp in Morocco organised by Israeli-Arab party Balad.

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Analysis: Former PM in dock after years of allegations

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2009

The accusations against Ehud Olmert in the indictment go back 20 years, all the way to a plane ticket allegedly bought for his wife with illegal funds.

Rumours of financial wrongdoing, both on a personal level and connected to party finance, have been swirling around him since the 1970s. He still managed to become a senior minister, a two-term Jerusalem mayor, a prime minister and the second longest-serving Knesset member in Israeli history after the eternal Shimon Peres. How did he get so far and why finally now, after scaling every possible height in political life, is he facing trial?

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Corruption storm peaks in Israel

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2009

Former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert was charged on Sunday with serious fraud, breach of trust, falsifying corporate records, receiving illicit benefits and tax evasion.

Meanwhile former Shas minister Shlomo Benizri this week began a four-year jail sentence for bribery; former finance minister Avraham Hirchson began a five-year jail sentence for embezzlement of funds; and former President Moshe Katsav’s trial for rape opened.

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'For the POWs who return, captivity is never ending'

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2009

Israel is experienced in treating its prisoners of war when they return home, but may still find it hard to help Gilad Shalit adjust to freedom.

“We don’t have experience of quite these conditions that Gilad Shalit is going through,” explains Dr David Senesh, a clinical psychologist who was a POW for 40 days in Egypt following the Yom Kippur War in 1973.

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Gilad Shalit hopes 'exaggerated'

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 3, 2009

Israeli leaders are playing down reports of a breakthrough in the talks over captured IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

Meanwhile, the few details coming out from the talks in Cairo indicate that a breakthrough could be close.

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Law student held over assassination plot

By Anshel Pfeffer, September 1, 2009

Rawi Sultani, 23, passed on information about Chief of Staff, Lieutenant General Gabi Ashkenazy's movements. His arrest is probably the nipping in the bud of Hizbullah's plan to assassinate Israel's most senior soldier. It also serves as a reminder of the Lebanese organisation's true motives.

Last week, the IDF released surveillance footage of Lebanese citizens repelling Hizbollah members from their village near the border with Israel. Their intention had been to rebuild fortified positions and replenish arm caches that had been used to shell the Galilee during the Second Lebanese War.

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