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Isaac Herzog elected 11th president of the State of Israel

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Following in the footsteps of his father Chaim Herzog, Isaac Herzog (pictured), currently chairman of the Jewish Agency,  has been elected Wednesday Israel’s 11th president by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

A former chairman of the Labor party, Herzog succeeds Reuven Rivlin who will end his seven years in office on 9 July and is not eligible to run again.

The vote was held in a special session during which Knesset members cast secret ballots for either Herzog or Israel Prize laureate Miriam Peretz.

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The previous day, each candidate had arrived at the Israeli parliament with teams of up to 50 relatives, friends and professionals, who lobbied members to vote for them.

Herzog is the son of the late Chaim Herzog, who—among other illustrious posts—served as Israel’s sixth president from 1983 to 1993.

The Israeli presidency is largely a ceremonial role with one of the main roles meeting the leaders of each party following legislative elections and giving a mandate to try and form a government.

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Members of US Congress call on EU to designate Hezbollah in entirety a terror group

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A bipartisan group of members in the U.S. House of Representatives initiated a resolution on Monday urging the European Union to remove its official distinction between Hezbollah as a political and military organization, and to designate the entire group as a terrorist organization, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

According to a news release, the resolution was introduced by Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), along with Reps. Kathy Manning (D-N.C.), Gus Bilirakis (R-Fla.) and Peter Meijer (R-Mich.). It was co-introduced by Reps. French Hill (R-Ark.), Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), Brad Schneider (D-Ill.), Ritchie Torres (D-N.Y.), Ann Wagner (R-Mo.) and ranking member of the Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee Joe Wilson (R-S.C.).

Hezbollah is considered a terrorist organization by the United States; however, the European Union splits the group into two branches—a political wing and a military wing.

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The military wing of Hezbollah is on the E.U.’s list of sanctioned terrorist organizations, but not what it defines as the political wing.

According to Julie Rayman, senior director of policy and political affairs at the American Jewish Committee, that distinction allows the branch designated as the political wing of the Iran-backed terrorist organization Hezbollah to spread its influence outside of the Middle East and create a terrorist infrastructure across Europe.

The United States doesn’t recognize this distinction and includes the entire Hezbollah entity on its US Foreign Terrorist Organization list.

While the EU as a whole differentiates between various wings, many individual nations recognize the entire group as a terrorist organization, including Argentina, Austria, Bahrain, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Guatemala, Honduras, Israel, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Serbia, Slovenia, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, the United Arab Emirates, as well as Gulf Co-operation Council and Arab League, according to an AJC news release.

“When you are dealing with a ruthless terrorist organization like Hezbollah, there is no distinction between political and militant wings,” said Deutch, who is chairman of the Middle East, North Africa and Global Counterterrorism Subcommittee.

“I’m pleased that many European countries took action to designate Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization, as the Arab League and the Gulf Cooperation Council have also done. But we need the European Union to cease allowing Hezbollah’s so-called political wing to freely operate by joining us in fully targeting this terrorist group and its global criminal network.”

The military wing of Hezbollah was added to the list of terrorist organizations by the EU in 2013, at the urging of Bulgaria, which experienced a terrorist attack by Hezbollah in 2012, and Cyprus, which foiled an attack planned by Hezbollah during the same year.

“The European Union’s distinction between Hezbollah’s ‘military’ and ‘political’ wing is both dishonest and does little to address its fundraising and recruitment efforts,” Meijer said in the release. “This resolution urges the E.U. to recognize the reality that Hezbollah—in its entirety—is a terrorist organization and takes steps to better combat its nefarious operations around the world.”

In addition to its terrorist activity, Hezbollah continues to engage in the illicit trafficking of narcotics, weapons, money-laundering, stockpiling explosives and surveillance in European cities. According to AJC, a recognition of Hezbollah in its entirety as a terrorist organization would hamper its abilities to fundraise, recruit and mobilize.

“We encourage swift passage of this important bipartisan resolution pressing the E.U. to do the right thing and correct the fiction of a bifurcated Hezbollah it endorsed nearly a decade ago,” said AJC CEO David Harris in a news release. “Mistakenly believing it can tame Hezbollah’s behavior, a proposition unsupported by evidence, the E.U. has created ‘military’ and ‘political’ wings within Hezbollah, when, in reality, it is a single, unified terrorist entity.”

“Hezbollah is a terrorist organization, responsible for thousands of civilian deaths in the Middle East and around the globe,” Manning said in a release. “Their impact on the disintegration of Lebanon has been devastating; they amplify the destructive influence of Iran, and they pose a danger to the entire region. I am calling on the E.U. to fully designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and to work closely with the United States to implement sanctions, share intelligence and curb Hezbollah’s malign regional influence.”

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Slovenian Prime Minister Jansa’s remarks on human rights violations in Iran draw reaction from EU’s Borrell

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Slovenian Prime Minister Janez Jansa (pictured) has declared that ‘’the Iranian regime must be held accountable for human rights violations,” a statement that drew a reaction from EU’s foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

Slovenia holds the six-month EU presidency since July 1st.

Jansa was addressing a Free Iran World Summit organized by the Iranian opposition movement, the National Council of Resistance of Iran.

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Jansa told the conference that the “Iranian people deserve democracy, freedom and human rights and should be firmly supported by the international community.”

The Slovenian Prime Minister also referred to Amnesty International’s demands to investigate the new Iranian President-elect Ebrahim Raisi over his alleged involvement in the executions. “For nearly 33 years, the world had forgotten about the victims of the massacre. This should change,” Jansa said.

In a reaction, Borrell said that Jansa may hold the rotating EU Council presidency but he “does not represent” the EU in foreign policy. Jansa’s statements also sparked tensions with Iran.

Borrell said that Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif had called him  to ask “if the declarations of the Slovenian prime minister represent the official position of the European Union, given that there had been a certain confusion related to the fact that Slovenia is currently the country holding the rotating presidency of the Council.”

The EU foreign policy representative said he told Zarif that “in our institutional setting, the position of a Prime Minister — even if he’s from the country that holds the rotating Council presidency — does not represent the position of the European Union.”

He added that only the president of the European Council, Charles Michel, could represent the EU at the level of heads of state and government.

“Foreign policy remains a competency of EU member states and each member state can have the opinion that it sees fit for each issue of international politics. … For me it’s only up to say whether Jansa’s position represents the European Union. And certainly it does not,” Borrell said.

Borrell also said that the EU had “a balanced position” on Iran “that puts political pressure when it’s considered necessary, in many areas, and at the same time looks for cooperation when it is necessary.”

The EU is currently working as coordinator to revive the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran.

A spokesperson of the Slovenian representation to the EU, quoted by Politico.eu, said that “Slovenia has no intention whatsoever of getting involved in Iran’s internal affairs.’’ He added however that Slovenia “always advocates for human rights and fundamental freedoms. This is in line with our values and legislation.”

Slovenia is considered as a pro-Israel country within the European Union. The country made a sharp U-turn in recent years as one of the one former Soviet bloc country in the EU that consistently voted against Israel in the UN. Slovenia nearly recognized a Palestinian state in 2014, but in the end the parliament opted to just call on the government to do so.

Jansa’s party, in the opposition at the time, was the only one to oppose supporting a Palestinian state.

Slovenia took two a pro-Israel actions when it changed its annual vote from abstention to opposition on a UN General Assembly resolution extending the tenure of the Division for Palestinian Rights of the Secretariat.

Contrary to the EU which has banned only the so-called ‘’military wing’’ of Hezbollah, Slovenia declared the whole Lebanese organisation a “criminal and terrorist organization that represents a threat to peace and security.”

During Israel’s recent conflict with Hamas, the Israeli flag was raised on official buildings in Slovenia in a sign of “solidarity” with the Jewish state. “In a sign of solidarity, we flew the Israeli flag on the government building,” the Slovene government said in a tweet with a photo of the standard.

“We condemn the terrorist attacks and stand with Israel,” it said.

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Free medical equipment lending network for Jewish communities starts roll-out across Europe

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One of the most pressing needs faced by many Jewish communities across Europe in the mouth of the COVID crisis was the severe shortage of medical equipment to care for community members who were discharged from hospitalization and were recuperating at home due to restrictions and the pressures on the health care systems, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

“The lending of medical equipment in the format used in Israel does not exist in many European countries and many members of the community simply could not afford to purchase the equipment. We identified this need arose from almost all our conversations with community leaders whose members contracted the disease,” explained European Rabbinical Centre (RCE) General Director Rabbi Aryeh Goldberg. The centre operates within the framework of the European Jewish Association (EJA).

He continued: “After a needs-based survey across the continent, we compiled a diverse list of equipment that will serve the members of the communities – free – from birth to old age,” he said. Rabbi Yossi Beinhaker, RCE project manager, said that each charity centre includes more than 300 items, including: oxygen generators, wheelchairs, bathing chairs, crutches, rollers, breast pumps, cots, TENS devices, blood pressure monitors and dozens more.

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In addition, the charity centers will also provide a maintenance service for the preservation, sterilization and repair of non-perishable medical equipment and accessories, and will manage a logistical system for the distribution and collection of the equipment and accessories to and in the homes of community members in need. Rabboi Beinhaker mentioned that the first charity centre on the network is already operating in the Ukrainian city of Odessa.

More branches will open in the coming weeks. It is foreseen that by the end of 2021, 26 charity centres will be lending medical equipment in Ukraine, Belarus, Bulgaria, Latvia, Romania, Poland, Croatia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Georgia, and Montenegro. “The inauguration of the first centre in Ukraine is an exciting milestone, said Schwartzman Roman Markowitz, chairman of the Association of Holocaust Survivors in Odessa.

“Holocaust survivors were already given hot meals but, in many cases, could not get up from bed and go to the kitchen to eat them. Now, thanks to the Centre, we can also get free medical equipment.” Rabbi Menachem Margolin, chairman of the European Jewish Association, congratulated the staff of the European Rabbinical Centre on the professional and rapid response to the needs of the communities in implementing the initiative and announced that the association maintains contacts with medical professionals in various European countries.

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