Reporter who broke Nisman story in Israel, insists Argentine gov’t pursued him
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (JTA) — Damian Pachter, the Argentine-Israeli journalist who was the first to report the death of prosecutor Alberto Nisman, said he feels safe now that he has arrived in Israel.

Pachter, a writer for the Buenos Aires Herald, said he felt “pursued by the Argentine government” and that his life was in danger in Argentina, he told Argentine journalist Adrian Bono in an interview from Tel Aviv on Sunday via Skype.

Pachter, who has dual Argentine-Israeli citizenship, left Argentina on Saturday following what he said were threats to his safety after breaking the story.

He criticized Argentina’s Telam news agency and the Twitter account of the president’s office for publishing information about his plane tickets and wrongly claiming he planned to return to Argentina on Feb. 2. Pachter made similar comments in a column he published Sunday in Haaretz titled “Why I fled Argentina after breaking the story of Alberto Nisman’s death.”

In the Haaretz piece, Pachter said, “I have no idea when I’ll be back in Argentina; I don’t even know if I want to. What I do know is that the country where I was born is not the happy place my Jewish grandparents used to tell me stories about.

“Argentina has become a dark place led by a corrupt political system,” he added.

Argentina’s Cabinet chief, Jorge Capitanich, said in news conference Monday that Argentina has “full security for all journalists” and that Pachter should have provided authorities with the photograph he has of the sunglasses-wearing Argentine security agent he said followed him, so that the man could be identified.

Nisman was found dead of a gunshot wound in his home Jan. 18, hours before he was to present evidence that Argentine President Cristina Kirchner covered up Iran’s role in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center in Buenos Aires.

Asked by Bono if he was worried about his mother, who remains in Argentina, Pachter said, “I’m worried because she is a Jewish mother. I worry because she worries, but not because of something else.”

IDF dismisses reservist signers of refusal letter
TEL AVIV (JTA) — The Israel Defense Forces terminated further service for 43 reservists who signed a letter declaring their refusal to participate in activities that harm Palestinians.

The reservists, who served in the elite 8200 intelligence unit, in their open letter last September said that some of the unit’s activities abuse Palestinian rights.

In a statement Tuesday, the IDF said it was releasing the reservists from military service because their conduct violated the IDF’s standards. The statement said that the IDF “views with great severity any attempt to elude mandatory military service especially when the act is intended to make a political statement,” according to the Times of Israel.

The IDF condemned the letter at the time, as did Israel’s political leadership.

In their letter, the reservists wrote, “The intelligence gathered harms innocents and is used for political persecution and for invading most areas of Palestinians’ lives. Our conscience no longer permits us to serve this system.”

Rockets explode in Golan Heights; no injuries reported
TEL AVIV (JTA) — Two rockets landed in the Golan Heights near the Syrian border.

It was unclear who shot the rockets on Tuesday afternoon, according to Israeli reports. No injuries were reported.

In response, the Israeli army shot artillery fire into Syria and heightened security in the area.

The rockets follow a Jan. 18 strike on Hezbollah operatives in Syria that killed an Iranian general. Senior commanders of Hezbollah, the Lebanon-based terrorist group, were also among the 12 people killed in the strike.

Israel is widely believed to have executed the strike, though Israeli officials have not commented on it.

European parliaments’ speakers sign declaration against anti-Semitism
PRAGUE (JTA) — Speakers from 29 European parliaments signed a declaration against anti-Semitism.

The signing on Tuesday, International Holocaust Memorial Day, came at the end of a roundtable discussion of 30 speakers at Prague Castel during a commemoration event organized by the Czech government and the European Jewish Congress titled “Let My People Live.”

The Turkish delegation did not sign the final document, organizers said.

“Contemporary examples of Anti-Semitism in public life include the distortion or denial of the Holocaust with the intention of hurting Jews around the world and the State of Israel,” the statement read. “It is imperative that parliaments, governments, international organizations and civil societies around the world adopt a zero-tolerance policy towards these phenomena.”

“Only the Turkish delegation withheld their support for the declaration; the Roundtable of Speakers noted that in the protocol,” an EJC representative said. The discussion ahead of the signing was held behind closed doors.

The declaration is part of a plan presented in 2012 at the European Union by EJC President Moshe Kantor. The plan, presented in the form of model law on the boundaries of tolerance, is designed to delineate legal action in light of “anti-Semitism, racism and attempts to limit freedom of worship in Europe,” Kantor said.

Under the model bill, “migrants who refuse to learn the local language may face deportation due to their unwillingness to integrate,” said Yoram Dinstein, one of the documents’ co-authors and an Israeli expert in international law.

Speaking at a debate panel Tuesday, Dinstein said European parliaments should enact legislation that makes it possible to prosecute any offense also as a hate crime if warranted by the circumstances.

He cited the Nov. 30 rape of a woman in the Paris suburb of Creteil at a house that French authorities said was targeted by three robbers because it belonged to Jews.

“Years ago, I would have said that rape cannot be considered a hate crime, but now we know the opposite to be true,” Dinstein said.

Gaza rebuilding halted for lack of funds
TEL AVIV (JTA) — The reconstruction of Gaza following last summer’s war has been halted because almost none of the pledged funding has been received.

UNRWA, the United Nations agency in charge of Palestinian refugees, made the announcement Tuesday about the $5.4 billion pledged by countries at a Gaza aid conference in October. During the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, some 100,000 Palestinian homes were destroyed.

“The agency has exhausted all funding to support repairs and rental subsidies,” UNRWA said in a statement, according to the French news agency AFP. The statement called the situation “distressing and unacceptable. It is unclear why this funding has not been forthcoming.”

Since the war, UNRWA said it has paid out $77 million to 66,000 Palestinians for the rebuilding of homes, an amount the agency said is “wholly insufficient.”

Jewish visitors to Temple Mount sees 28 percent rise in ’14
TEL AVIV (JTA) — The Temple Mount in Jerusalem saw nearly 11,000 Israeli Jewish visitors last year, an increase of 28 percent over 2013.

The figures were released by Israel Police through a freedom of information request to the Temple Institute, an organization that encourages Jewish visits to the site and aspires to rebuild the Jewish Temple there.

According to the figures, 10,906 Israeli Jews visited the site in 2014, up from 8,528 in 2013 and an increase of 92 percent over 2009, when 5,658 Jewish visitors arrived.

The Temple Mount, which Muslims revere as the Noble Sanctuary, was the site of repeated clashes this year between Muslims and Jews. The site was closed repeatedly due to the unrest.

Under normal circumstances, Jewish visitors are allowed at the site only three days a week during limited hours and are prohibited from praying there.

Israeli U.S. envoy Ron Dermer chided for boosting Netanyahu’s campaign
TEL AVIV (JTA) — Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, was reprimanded by an Israeli government commission for promoting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign in a television interview.

In a December interview with American Fusion Television, a network aimed at Hispanic-Americans, Dermer was asked about the Israeli elections in March. In response Dermer, a close Netanyahu ally, said that when Israelis “look at all the people that stand for the leadership of the country, that they will have confidence in the leadership of Prime Minister Netanyahu,” according to Haaretz.

Dermer, as a state employee, is forbidden from “promoting the interest of any particular party or candidate,” according to rules publicized earlier in December by Israel’s Civil Service Commission.

Issawi Freij, a lawmaker from the left-wing Meretz party, in a complaint to the commission demanded disciplinary action.

After discussing the incident with Dermer, the commission called it a “one-time mistake,” noted that the interview was not directed at an Israeli audience, and placed a disciplinary note in Dermer’s personnel file, according to Haaretz.

Poll: Five out of six Palestinians say Israel may have aided Paris attacks
TEL AVIV (JTA) — The vast majority of Palestinian respondents to a survey believe Israel may have played a role in the terror attacks in France this month.

Conducted by the Palestinian Maan News Agency, the poll found that 84 percent of Palestinians said the attacks on the Charlie Hebdo magazine and Hyper Cacher supermarket in early January were “suspicious, and that Israel may be behind it,” according to Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli NGO that monitors Palestinian media.

Fewer than 9 percent of respondents blamed an increase in Islamic fundamentalism for the attacks.

Palestinian Media Watch cited examples of columns in Palestinian newspapers ahead of the survey alleging Israeli involvement in the attacks.

Rivlin tells black leaders in N.Y.: ‘I also have a dream’ on Jerusalem
(JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin, speaking in New York to the African-American community, compared the establishment of Israel to the civil rights movement.

Making his first visit to the United States as Israeli president, Rivlin in his address Sunday at the Christian Cultural Center also recalled the friendship of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. He said the proximity of Martin Luther King Jr. Day last week and International Holocaust Remembrance Day this week is “no coincidence.”

“I also have a dream, that we will once more hear God knocking on the door,” Rivlin said, making reference to King’s famous Washington speech in 1963. “I dream, and believe, that Jerusalem, which is a microcosm of the whole world, will serve as an example of coexistence between different religions and communities. Jews and Arabs are not doomed to live together, we are destined to live together.”

Rivlin also met with former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger on the trip. He will not be meeting with President Barack Obama, citing conflicting schedules.

Report: Israel sent messages to Iran via Russia
TEL AVIV (JTA) — In hopes of easing escalating tensions with Iran, Israel reportedly sent a message to the Iranian government via Russia.

The message, reported Saturday by Israel’s Channel 10, according to the Times of Israel, came following the Jan. 18 strike on Hezbollah operatives in Syria that killed an Iranian general. Senior commanders of Hezbollah, the Lebanese terror group, were also among the 12 people killed in the strike.

Israel is widely believed to have executed the strike, though Israeli officials have not commented on it.

According to the report, Israeli officials told their Russian counterparts that the strike was made in self-defense and that Israel did not want regional instability to follow in its wake. The Russian officials then sent the message to their contacts in the Iranian government.

Citing Israel Radio, the Times of Israel also reported that Hezbollah officials have ruled out a strike on Israeli territory in response to the Jan. 18 attack in order to prevent a war from erupting on the Israel-Lebanon border.

Netanyahu: ‘I will go anywhere’ to prevent nuclear Iran
TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defended his decision to address a joint session of the U.S. Congress regarding Iran’s nuclear program.

“As Prime Minister of Israel, I am obligated to make every effort in order to prevent Iran from achieving nuclear weapons that would be aimed at the State of Israel,” Netanyahu said Sunday at the start of his weekly Cabinet meeting. “This effort is worldwide and I will go anywhere I am invited in order to enunciate the State of Israel’s position and in order to defend its future and its existence.”

Officials from the Obama administration, as well as Netanyahu’s Israeli political rivals, have criticized the speech due to take place in March. John Boehner, speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, invited Netanyahu without first notifying President Barack Obama in what the White House said broke established protocol.

Netanyahu supports increasing sanctions on Iran, which Obama opposes because he said it could endanger ongoing U.S.-led negotiations over the Iranian nuclear program. The Israeli leader said at the Cabinet meeting that the agreement likely to emerge from the negotiations would place Israel in danger by leaving Iran with the capacity to produce a nuclear weapon.

“In the coming weeks, the major powers are liable to reach a framework agreement with Iran, an agreement that is liable to leave Iran as a nuclear threshold state, which would endanger – first and foremost – the existence of the State of Israel,” he said.

Jewish Agency-affiliated think tank composes aliyah plan for 120,000 French Jews
TEL AVIV (JTA) — The Jewish People Policy Institute has composed a plan to facilitate immigration of 120,000 French Jews to Israel.

The plan by the Jewish Agency-affiliated think tank would prepare for up to 120,000 French Jews to arrive in Israel during the coming four years. The plan cited a rise in jihadist terror attacks and a difficult economy in Europe as causes of increased immigration.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called on French Jews to move to Israel following an attack on a French kosher supermarket in early January. Some 7,000 French Jews moved to Israel in 2014, the most of any country.

Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky has said he expects up to 15,000 French Jews to move to Israel by 2016.

Because the immigrants would be leaving a First World country, the JPPI plan involves offering increased benefits and job opportunities to French immigrants upon arrival in Israel.

“The Jewish Agency welcomes all constructive discourse surrounding Aliyah,” read a statement from the Jewish Agency regarding the plan, using the Hebrew word for immigration to Israel. “The activities of The Jewish Agency and of its partners in the Ministry of Aliyah and Immigrant Absorption reflect the range of possibilities and needs at any given time, in order to best address whatever situations may arise – in France as well as elsewhere.”

Israel’s Arab parties form joint Knesset slate
TEL AVIV (JTA) — The Arab-Israeli Knesset factions have formed a joint slate ahead of Israel’s March 17 elections.

The united list formed last Friday includes representatives from the secular Balad and Ta’al parties, the Islamic Movement and the Arab-Jewish socialist Hadash party, according to Israeli reports. Haifa attorney Ayman Odeh, a Hadash member who has never served in Knesset, will head the slate.

Last year, Israel raised the threshold for parties to enter the Knesset to 3.25 percent of the vote from 2 percent. The parties combined because they feared that running individually, they could all fall short of the higher threshold.

Hadash and Ra’am-Ta’al, a joint list, each currently hold four seats, and Balad holds three, for a total of 11 seats. Polls show the united slate gaining as many as 12 seats in the March election.

Hadash lawmaker Dov Khenin, who will be No. 8 on the combined list, will likely be the only Jewish member of the slate to enter Knesset.

Liberman orders party activists to distribute Charlie Hebdo for free
TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman has told activists in his Yisrael Beiteinu party to buy up and distribute copies of the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo for free.

The directive last week came after Stiematzky, a leading Israeli bookstore chain, canceled plans to sell the magazine’s latest issue in stores. Following threats of violence, the chain said it would sell the magazine online only.

Arab-Israeli lawmaker Masoud Ganaim of the Ra’am-Ta’al faction told the Israeli news website Ynet that selling the issue could lead to tension within Israel’s Muslim community. The issue’s cover features a caricature of Muhammad, the Muslim prophet.

“If you draw the Prophet Muhammad in a degrading and hurtful way, Muslims won’t sit on their hands,” he said. “It’s my duty as a public official, an Arab and a Muslim to warn that if something like this is distributed, it will cause tension.”

The two Islamic extremist brothers who stormed the Paris offices of Charlie Hebdo on Jan. 7 and killed 12 said they perpetrated the attack in response to what they deemed offensive cartoons featuring Muhammad.

Liberman called the Stiematzky decision a “capitulation to terror.” According to Ynet, he told Yisrael Beiteinu activists to buy thousands of Charlie Hebdo copies and give them out for free.

“Israel can’t turn into an ISIS state,” Liberman told Ynet, referring to the Islamic State terror group. “We won’t let extremist Islam turn Israel into a state that capitulates to threats and hurts freedom of expression.”

Druze student beaten in Jerusalem
TEL AVIV (JTA) — A Druze student in Jerusalem was beaten with glass bottles by a gang.

Tommy Hasson, 21, told Israeli news website Ynet that he was leaving his job at a hotel on Jan. 22 when a group of people approached him and began mocking him for speaking Arabic. One man spat on him, and after Hasson hit him back, they began beating him.

Hasson escaped to the Jerusalem Central Bus Station, where an ambulance took him to a hospital. He was released soon afterward.

“They just hit me,” he told Ynet. “Glass and bottles. There were a lot of people there who screamed, couldn’t do anything and couldn’t stop it.”

A music student, Hasson was recently discharged from the Israeli army, where he served at the president’s residence. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke with Hasson and his father on the phone following the incident to express his support.

Israeli defense minister: Syria, Lebanon will pay for any Hezbollah attack
(JTA) — Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Yaalon warned that Israel would make Lebanon and Syria pay for any Hezbollah action against Israel.

Yaalon spoke last Friday during a visit to the Safed headquarters of the Israel Defense Forces’ Northern Command, the news site nrg.co.il reported.

“Israel will view governments, regimes and organizations on its northern border responsible for goings-on in their territories and will know how to exact a price in any case of attack against Israeli sovereignty, troops or civilians,” Yaalon said. “We will tolerate no attempts to target us and will know how to react with force.”

Yaalon’s visit came amid rising tensions along Israel’s northern border following a precision strike on Jan. 18 on a Hezbollah convoy traveling on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights.

Hezbollah officials vowed to retaliate against Israel, which they said was behind the attack that killed 11 of their men, including a high-ranking officer, as well as an Iranian Revolutionary Guards general. Israel has neither confirmed nor denied that it carried out the strike.

The Iranian general, Muhammad Allahdadi, was helping Hezbollah in its fight against Jabhat al-Nusra, al-Qaida’s local affiliate.

Among Hezbollah’s fatalities in the strike was Jihad Mughniyeh, the son of Hezbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh, who was killed in 2008 when a car exploded in his car in Damascus.

Israeli scribes restore Iraqi Torah scroll
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli scribes restored a 200-year old Iraqi Torah scroll that arrived in Israel under mysterious circumstances.

The Associated Press reported Jan. 22 that the scroll, written in northern Iraq by two scribes using pomegranate ink, was delivered water damaged to the Israeli Embassy in Jordan in 2007 before being transferred to Israel in 2011 when riots were sweeping the Arab world.

Otherwise, its provenance is unclear, although AP quoted Foreign Ministry officials as saying that it is now the property of the Jewish state.

The scroll was restored by a group of scribes in Jerusalem led by Akiva Garber, AP reported, and dedicated at a Jan. 22 ceremony at the Foreign Ministry.

U.S. troops uncovered a trove of Iraqi Jewish relics in the Iraqi secret service headquarters in Baghdad in 2003, much of it waterlogged.

The U.S. National Archive restored much of what has become known as the Iraqi Jewish Archive, and it remains for the time being in the United States, although Iraq claims it as property.

Much of Iraq’s 2,500-year-old Jewish community emigrated to Israel after riots before and during Israel’s 1948 War of Independence. The remainder fled after persecutions led by Saddam Hussein in 1968 and 1969.

Israeli President Reuven Rivlin ‘saddened’ by Saudi king’s passing
(JTA) — Israeli President Reuven Rivlin said he was saddened by the death of King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, whom he credited with enhancing regional stability.

Rivlin expressed his appreciation for the Saudi monarch in a statement last Friday, a day after Abdullah’s death at 90.

“I was saddened to hear of the passing of King Abdullah. He was an example of grounded, considered and responsible leadership, with a deep religious tradition,” Rivlin said in the statement. “As ‘Guardian of the Holy Places’ of Islam, King Abdullah acted as a moderator, respecting the sensitivity and sanctity of Jerusalem and sought to promote a vision of prosperity for the region. His wise policies contributed greatly to our region, and to the stability of the Middle East.”

In a statement, President Barack Obama said that Abdullah “was always candid and had the courage of his convictions,” adding, “One of those convictions was his steadfast and passionate belief in the importance of the U.S.-Saudi relationship as a force for stability and security in the Middle East and beyond.”

The White House also announced that Vice President Joe Biden would lead a U.S. delegation to Saudi Arabia in the coming days to pay respects to the king’s family.

King Abdullah, or Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, is succeeded by the crown prince, Salman, his brother, who is 79.

Abdullah in 2002, when he was Saudi crown prince, proposed a peace plan that would grant Israel comprehensive peace in the Middle East in exchange for its withdrawal to 1967 lines, including from eastern Jerusalem.

It was soon adopted by the Arab League, and became known as the Arab peace initiative, although Abdullah’s imprimatur, as the crown prince and then from 2005 the king of a leading Sunni Arab state, lent it much of its heft.

It’s not yet clear what Salman’s position is on the peace plan, although in general his views hew close to those of Abdullah.

Under Abdullah, Israel also expanded its unofficial intelligence sharing with Saudi Arabia, particularly as Iran — seen as a threat both by Israel and Saudi Arabia — in recent years appeared to be getting closer to obtaining nuclear weapons capability.

Mossad denies urging U.S. senators to oppose new Iran sanctions
TEL AVIV (JTA) — Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency has denied reports that it urged U.S. senators to vote against placing additional sanctions on Iran.

In a statement Jan. 22, the Mossad denied a Bloomberg View report that it opposes a U.S. Senate bill that would place additional sanctions on Iran should U.S.-led talks on ending the Iranian nuclear program fail. The statement praised the effectiveness of current sanctions and said strong pressure on Iran is necessary for the negotiations to succeed.

“Contrary to what has been reported, the Head of the Mossad did not say that he opposes imposing additional sanctions on Iran,” the statement read. “The Head of the Mossad emphasized in the meeting [with U.S. senators] that the exceptional effectiveness of the sanctions imposed on Iran in recent years are what brought Iran to the negotiating table.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu favors added sanctions on Iran, but President Barack Obama said in his State of the Union address on Jan. 20 that he would veto the sanctions measure if it reaches his desk.

Secretary of State John Kerry and U.S. Sen. John Barrasso (R-Wyo.) have both alluded recently to Mossad opposition to the bill, Bloomberg View reported. The Mossad statement, however, said that Mossad chief Tamir Pardo’s words were misinterpreted in a recent meeting with U.S. officials.

“We met with a number of government officials from many different parts of the [Israeli] government,” Barrasso told Bloomberg View. “There’s not a uniform view there.”

Bloomberg View reported that a separate measure that would give the Senate a vote on any accord with Iran over its nuclear program has broader approval from Israeli officials.

Negotiations over the nuclear program are slated to resume in February.

Netanyahu has accepted an invitation from House Speaker John Boehner to address a joint session of Congress regarding Iran. The address will take place on March 3.

Netanyahu speech to Congress postponed three weeks
WASHINGTON (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress was postponed for three weeks.

The move to March 3 from Feb. 11 allows Netanyahu to coordinate with his plans to address the annual AIPAC conference in Washington.

“At his request, PM ‪@Netanyahu of ‪#Israel will now address joint mtg of Congress on March 3 so he can attend ‪@AIPAC conference in DC,” Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, said Thursday on Twitter. Boehner invited Netanyahu to address both houses of Congress.

The American Israel Public Affairs annual policy conference runs March 1-3.

Boehner said he wants Netanyahu to speak in part to counter what he says is President Barack Obama’s inadequate policies for dealing with radical Islamists and with the prospect of a nuclear-armed Iran.

Republicans in Congress, with some Democratic support and with strong AIPAC backing, want to pass new Iran sanctions. Obama, backed by prominent Democrats, said he will veto new sanctions, saying they could scuttle nuclear talks with Iran now underway.

The White House said Netanyahu’s acceptance of the Boehner invitation was a departure from protocol in which heads of state clear official visits with one another.

Netanyahu is also facing domestic criticism for the visit, which is taking place just two weeks before March 17 elections in Israel.

Western Wall security guard convicted of murder at site
JERUSALEM (JTA) — A former Western Wall security guard was convicted of murder for shooting a mentally unstable man at the site’s plaza.

Hadi Kabalan, a security guard from the Druze village of Beit Jann, was convicted Jan. 21 in Jerusalem District Court of premeditated murder in the June 2013 shooting of Doron Ben Shlush.

Kabalan, who was new to the job at the Western Wall, claimed that Ben Shlush had shouted “God is great” in Arabic and tried to pull an object from his pocket near the public bathrooms before the guard fired his sidearm more than 10 times.

But an investigation reportedly found that Ben Shlush yelled “Druze, you son of a bitch” at the security guard before Kabalan shot him at close range.

Ben Shlush was well known to Western Wall security, according to reports. He and Kabalan had an altercation early on the same day, according to prosecutors, meaning that Kabalan could not have mistaken him for a terrorist.

At least 12 injured, four critically, in stabbing spree on Tel Aviv bus
TEL AVIV (JTA) — At least 12 people were wounded, some seriously, when a Palestinian man stabbed passengers and the driver on a Tel Aviv bus.

Four victims, including the driver, remained in serious condition following the Jan. 21 attack on the No. 40 bus. Initial reports said 12 to 21 people were injured.

The assailant was shot in the leg by a commander in the Israel Prison Service who was at the scene of the attack and apprehended by police. Video of the attack was later posted on YouTube.

Police identified the assailant as Hamza Muhammed Hasan Matrouk, 23, from the West Bank city of Tulkarem who had entered Israel illegally, according to media reports.

The attack was the first in Tel Aviv since a soldier was killed in a stabbing attack at a train station in November.

In a statement, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the Prison Service members who stopped the Jan. 21 attacker and drew a link between the incident and recent terrorist attacks in France and Belgium.

“The attack in Tel Aviv is the direct result of the poisonous incitement spread by the Palestinian Authority toward the Jews and their state,” Netanyahu said. “The same terror tries to harm us in Paris, Brussels and everywhere.”

According to Israeli reports, the attacker boarded the bus at approximately 7:15 a.m. and began stabbing passengers soon afterward. The driver, Herzl Biton, 55, sprayed the assailant with pepper spray as he was being stabbed, slowing him down and aiding the Prison Service employees in stopping him as he fled the scene.

“We identified in the area of the Maariv Bridge a large gathering, and people crying for help. After an initial assessment, we understood it was a terrorist incident,” said Prison Service Commander Benny Botershvili, who shot the attacker, according to the Times of Israel. “I and a team of three Nachshon fighters identified the terrorist and chased after him. We shot toward his legs, the terrorist collapsed and fell, we handcuffed him and waited for the police to arrive.”

Liel Suissa, an eighth-grader on his way to school, told the Israeli daily Israel Hayom that he broke a bus window to escape the attack after the stabbing began. He said the assailant continued chasing after people as they escaped the bus.

“Suddenly the terrorist came and began stabbing people,” Suissa said, according to Israel Hayom. “We all went to the back, and most of the people piled onto me. I sat in the bus and heard people screaming. He turned around in the bus and suddenly went to the driver and stabbed him.”

Tel Aviv Police Commander Bentzi Sau called the attack a “nationalist incident” and praised Biton’s “excellent reaction” to the stabbing. He said the police are investigating whether the attacker had any accomplices.

Hamas officials praised the attack as “heroic and courageous,” according to Israeli reports. Hamas said it was a “natural reaction of sons of the Palestinian nation to the crimes of the cruel Zionist occupier.”

U.S. bans its workers from Israel-Lebanon border without permission
JERUSALEM (JTA) — United States government workers in Israel must obtain approval if they want to travel within a mile-and-a-half of the Lebanon border.

The State Department sent a security message on Jan. 21 to U.S. citizens registered with the nation’s diplomatic missions in Israel. It also included a ban on visiting most of the Golan Heights without permission.

The message also reminded workers of the ban on traveling on public buses throughout Israel and the West Bank. The reminder came on the same day of a stabbing attack on a Tel Aviv bus by a Palestinian assailant.

Deaths of two Bedouin men involving Israel Police spark riots
JERUSALEM (JTA) — The deaths of two Bedouin citizens involving Israel Police sparked riots in Arab-Israeli towns in southern Israel.

Sami al-Jaar, 20, was killed during a police drug raid in Rahat in the Negev Desert on Jan. 15. At al-Jaar’s funeral three days later, Sami Zayadna, 45, died amid a hail of rubber bullets and tear gas directed at rioting mourners. Police said they were attacked by mourners and Zayadna suffered a heart attack during the melee.

In the al-Jaar incident, police said he was not deliberately targeted and that they shot in the air after being attacked during the bust. They said al-Jaar was standing nearby and was accidentally hit. Al-Jaar’s father said he was with his son at the time and that he was deliberately targeted.

An investigation has been launched.

Along with the death of Zayadna, nearly two dozen people were injured in the rioting at his funeral, Ynet reported.

A general strike was held in Rahat and other Arab-Israeli towns on Jan. 18 and 19 to protest the deaths. Rahat is the largest Bedouin community and the only one in Israel to be designated as a city.

Israeli human rights and Arab rights groups have accused Israel Police of using excessive force in dealing with Arabs and Bedouins.

Advocacy group: Municipal conversion courts still awaiting Chief Rabbinate approval
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Municipal rabbis who submitted requests to Israel’s Chief Rabbinate to form conversion courts have not received an answer, a religious advocacy group told JTA.

The rabbis filed their requests in early December, a month after the Cabinet passed a government regulation to reform the conversion process, according to Rabbi Seth Farber, director of ITIM.

“As of today, none of the rabbis who submitted requests to create courts have received answers,“ said Farber, who petitioned the Conversion Authority on Jan. 21 to begin implementing the Cabinet decision. “The Cabinet decision was clear: Municipal rabbis can perform conversions. Unfortunately, the Religious Ministry is refusing to uphold the law.”

The Chief Rabbinate told Israel’s Channel 2 news on Jan. 21 that it would appoint a legal committee to look into the validity of the Cabinet’s decision.

Under the measure, as many as 30 courts made up of municipal rabbis would be allowed for the purpose of conversion. Currently there are 33 rabbis and four conversion courts that can perform conversions throughout Israel. Israel’s chief rabbis have said they would not recognize conversions performed by municipal chief rabbis.

Among the rabbis who requested to form courts was Rabbi Shlomo Riskin of Efrat and former Shas party lawmaker Haim Amsalem, according to Farber.

Israeli arrested for hacking Madonna, leaking new songs
JERUSALEM (JTA) — An Israeli man suspected of hacking into Madonna’s computer and leaking songs for an upcoming album was arrested in Tel Aviv.

The man, 39, was arrested Jan. 21 following an undercover investigation by the Internet crime unit of Israel’s anti-fraud police. He also is accused of hacking into the computers of several other international artists.

The alleged hacker, whose name is being protected by the court, reportedly sold the unreleased tracks online after stealing them in December.

When the 27 tracks were released, Madonna released six early. She called the theft “a form of terrorism” and the equivalent of “artistic rape.”

The suspect reportedly was a former contestant on an Israeli reality show singing competition. He will be charged with computer trespassing, fraud and intellectual property offenses.