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Book review: 'What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?'

NEW YORK– Twelve years ago, David Harris-Gershon’s young wife, Jamie, was having lunch at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem’s Frank Sinatra cafeteria when a remote controlled bomb exploded near their table, killing two of their friends. All told, the bomb killed nine people and injured about 100. Harris-Gerson was at home when an acquaintance called to inform him that Jamie had been “lightly injured.” He should come to the hospital, the acquaintance said laconically.

Panicked, the young American careened in a taxi to Hadassah Hospital, the initially recalcitrant driver circumventing roadblocks after he learns that his passenger’s wife is amongst those wounded in the bombing. Upon arriving at the emergency room, he discovers that “lightly injured” means, in Jamie’s case, a familiar face that has been rendered unrecognizable. She had second-and- third degree burns over 30 percent of her body, and internal injuries that required emergency surgery, followed by more surgeries for skin grafts.

This is the central event in Harris-Gershon’s memoir, What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife? It is a story about how a great personal trauma can lead to a personal journey that upends long-held beliefs and ideas. The terrific thing about this book is that the author manages to tell his story without sentimentality, grandiose pronouncements, or false humility. He pulls the reader in with his unpretentious, laconic style, and with his refusal to shy away from acknowledging his own flaws.

David Harrison-Gershon (credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette)

The first half of the book, roughly 140 pages, is about the physical wounds that healed and the psychic wounds that did not. It is also about two normative American Jews who grew up in a liberal suburban milieu, met at a university Hillel event, married and, searching for a deeper understanding of their identities, came to Jerusalem to study at the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies. The second half is about the author’s search for reconciliation and psychic healing, culminating in a meeting in the East Jerusalem home of the family of the man who had planted the bomb that nearly killed his wife.

The story of meeting, falling in love with and marrying his wife frames Harris-Gershon’s vivid, urgent descriptions of the guilt, rage and grief...

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The Egyptian people rise up and overthrow Morsi - or was it the army..?

Egyptian women demonstrating in Cairo, July 1 (credit: Mosa’ab Elshamy)

Just one year after Mohammed Morsi was sworn into office, Egypt’s army responds to popular protests by deposing the democratically elected president. How did we get here and can the army be trusted to return the country to a path of democracy?

On June 29, 2012, Tahrir Square erupted in cheers as Mohammed Morsi, Egypt’s first democratically elected president, took office. On July 3, 2013, the square was once again packed with cheering Egyptians. This time, they were celebrating the military’s announcement that Morsi had been ousted, the constitution suspended and a senior judiciary figure appointed interim leader pending early elections. Meanwhile, Morsi was under house arrest.

A lot can happen in a year.

The day Morsi took office, he stood in front of the cheering crowd and opened his blazer to reveal that he was not wearing any protective gear. Stepping away from his panicked body guards, he charmed the crowd by announcing that he was not afraid because he was “one of the people.” This has always been the Muslim Brotherhood’s main claim to legitimacy — that it represents the real Egyptians. Not the city dwellers and not the liberal upper class, but the millions who live in slums, small towns and villages, struggling to make a living and adhering to a basically conservative Muslim lifestyle.

A few weeks after he took office, Morsi announced the forced retirement of several senior military officers. These included Field Marshall Tantawi, the defense minister who had headed SCAF, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, which ruled Egypt for 18 months between the overthrow of Mubarak and the election of Morsi.

Readers might remember that the army committed many acts of tremendous brutality during that interim period. Hundreds of civilian protestors were tried in military courts and handed lengthy jail terms. Female protestors were subjected to a form of sexual assault called “virginity tests.” There was the Maspero Massacre, when the army opened fire on Coptic protestors, killing 20. There was the incident of the “girl in the blue bra,” who was stripped and beaten on the street by security forces. And so on.

No wonder, then, that so many Egyptians...

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Views on the Arab revolutions from within Israeli society

In February 2011, when it was clear Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year authoritarian rule over Egypt would not survive the popular uprising that had begun on January 25, the Israeli media’s reporting was characterized primarily by a combination of confusion and unease about the big issue that concerns the country above all others – security.

On the evening television magazine shows, panels of white-haired male analysts in their 60s reminisced in tones of near-nostalgia about their army service in the 1967 and 1973 wars with Egypt. They mentioned the porousness of the border in the south and implied that without Mubarak to hold them back, hordes of hostile Arabs were just waiting for an opportunity to infiltrate the country. They offered no insight into the issues that had inspired the revolution, nothing about Egyptian society, no analysis of why Mubarak was an unpopular leader, and no logical reason for implying that the peace accord would end with his rule.

A handful of journalists with dual nationality flew in to Cairo on their alternate passports. They checked in to hotels near Tahrir Square and tried to bring some insight to their reports on the revolution. Mostly, with the exception of one television report by super journalist Itai Anghel, they failed. They could not run the risk of asking anyone to speak for attribution to the Israeli media, so they were reduced to describing the atmosphere around them in broad brushstrokes.

But somehow the enthusiasm of the popular uprising, which introduced young Israelis to telegenic, articulate young Egyptian activists via social media, did have an impact.

Fast forward five months to July 2011, when tens of thousands of Israelis took to the streets to demonstrate in what became known as the social justice uprising.

From the start, it was completely clear that the organizers of the demonstrations were profoundly influenced by the Egyptian revolution. They adopted the chants of Tahrir, customizing them for their cause. Instead of “the people demand the fall of the regime” in Arabic, they chanted “the people demand social justice” in Hebrew. They carried placards that read, “Ben Ali, Mubarak, Qadhafi … Netanyahu.” One enormous banner was emblazoned with the Arabic word “erhal” – “leave” –the same word Egyptians chanted rhythmically leading up to Mubarak’s resignation. On the same banner, in Hebrew: “Egypt is here.”

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'5 Broken Cameras' director: There is no room for guilt - only taking responsibility

NEW YORK — Before Guy Davidi co-directed and produced 5 Broken Cameras, he was involved in Indymedia and an experienced filmmaker. He was also associated with Anarchists Against the Wall, Israeli anti-occupation activists. This is how he came to know the West Bank village of Bil’in, home of the film’s co-director, Emad Burnat.

Emad Burnat (left) and Guy Davidi at a screening of 5 Broken Cameras in New York City (credit: Lisa Goldman)

“I lived in the village for two months in 2005,” he recalled, during a conversation that took place at a coffee shop in New York, where he was promoting the film ahead of the Oscars. “That was an intense time, with the [Palestinian Legislative Council] election. That was also the time of the night raids and arrests. The struggle was just beginning. I used to go out and film the soldiers, or try to stop them. And that was when I started to get to know Emad, because he used to go out and film when I did.”

Over the next five years, Burnat shot 700 hours of footage. Every Friday afternoon, week after week, through the present day, the villagers have been holding demonstrations against Israel’s wall, which severed them from their agricultural land. Burnat filmed the tear gas, the bullets, the arrests, the beatings — and the death of his cousin, Bassem Abu-Rahmeh (“Phil”), who died when an Israeli soldier shot a tear gas canister directly at his chest.

With another 300 hours of footage from other sources, Davidi and Burnat scripted and edited the film so that the narrative focuses on the 2005 birth of Burnat’s son Gibreel, who grew up against the background of the village’s struggle and all the attendant violence; and on the eponymous five cameras, broken successively by tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and similar violent incidents.  The result is a deeply moving, thought-provoking documentary that won critical acclaim and a major award at the Sundance Festival. Then came the Oscar nomination, in the category of best feature documentary.

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Despite controversy, Brooklyn College BDS panel is a non-event

NEW YORK — After more than a week of controversy, including an editorial in the New York Times and a statement from Mayor Bloomberg, Brooklyn College hosted a discussion of BDS with Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti and nothing happened. That fact alone seems worthy of a story these days.

In a post for +972, Mairav Zonszein wrote eloquently about the outrageous attempts to intimidate the college into canceling the event. Alan Dershowitz started the whole controversy, but New York City public officials were quick to follow, with several threatening to cut the college’s funding. The New York Times published an editorial of quiet dismay, noting that “critics have used heated language to denigrate the speakers,” adding, “The sad truth is that there is more honest discussion about American-Israeli policy in Israel than in this country. Too often in the United States, supporting Israel has come to mean meeting narrow ideological litmus tests.”

Mayor Bloomberg expressed himself a bit more bluntly. “If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion,” he said, “I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”

And after all that, the event turned out to be a non-event. An audience of about 300 people sat quietly and listened to Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti speak, which they did — without interruption. People lined up quietly to ask questions at the microphone during the Q&A. As always, there were a few eccentrics who made statements, usually of the UFO variety, instead of asking questions. There was some post-panel schmoozing in another room, with books for sale laid out on a table and Omar Barghouti sitting behind another table to sign his tome on BDS.

And then everyone went home.

There were no heated arguments and no disturbances. The atmosphere was relaxed and friendly. No-one shouted “death to Israel”or anything remotely similar — except a contingent of Neturei Karta, who always show up at this type of Palestine-related event.

Neturei Karta at Brooklyn College

I’m always a bit disturbed to see BDS advocates, who talk about Palestinian rights in the same breath as LGBT rights and feminism, rush to photograph and be photographed with these men, whose beliefs and lifestyle tolerate...

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New entry permits grant Israeli nationality to Palestinian, but without the rights

Entry permit for Palestinians entering the West Bank

On February 4, 2013, a Palestinian resident of the West Bank received this entry permit when he crossed the Allenby Bridge from Jordan. The big blue letters at the top inform the holder that the State of Israel’s Border Patrol has granted him entry, making it look as though the territory he was entering — Palestine — was actually Israel. Under the blue letters at the top, next to the words “Entry Permit,” the Hebrew words say, “Owner of Palestinian ID card.” But at the lower right, where it says in Hebrew “le’um,” or nationality, the border control typed ISR, for Israeli.

He is not, by the way, an Israeli citizen.

With very rare exceptions, Israeli citizens are not allowed to use Allenby Bridge; they are supposed to use Sheikh Hussein Bridge in northern Israel when they cross between Jordan and Israel, so that they do not traverse the West Bank.

Perhaps the border guard made an error when s/he typed ISR. It’s possible. But if so, it is a very telling mistake. As more and more people talk about Israel and the West Bank becoming a de facto single state, with liberty for some and unequal rights for all, the State of Israel suddenly, without any announcement, changed its procedure for Palestinians crossing Allenby Bridge. Until February 4, Palestinians entering the West Bank from Jordan used a permit issued by the Israeli army. The army also issues these permits to Palestinian applicants wishing to cross one of the checkpoints along the separation barrier. Now Allenby Bridge has become an entry point into what the State of Israel seems to regard as its territory — and its residents, like the man who received this document, are labeled “Israeli,” although they do not have any of the rights of an Israeli citizen. He cannot even visit his family in East Jerusalem; the army will not grant him a permit.

The procedure apparently changed overnight, with no prior announcement.  The person who received the document in the photo crosses the bridge frequently but was given this piece of paper for the first time on Monday crossing. A cousin who crossed on the day before (February 3) said that he did not receive...

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The Gatekeepers: 'If this film does not lead to change, there is no hope for Israel'

NEW YORK — “If this film does not lead to change, there is no hope for Israel,” said Israeli director Dror Moreh. He was referring to his new documentary The Gatekeepers, which has been nominated for an Academy Award. The title of the film refers to the six directors of the Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, who, in a series of extraordinary interviews with the director, speak about their work in detail for the first time.

Perhaps partly in response to Moreh’s personal charisma and partly out of what seems to be deep concern born of real patriotism, these men are strikingly candid and thoughtful. Avraham Shalom, head of the Shin Bet under Menachem Begin, speaks for the first time about the 1984 Kav 300 affair, when terrorists who attacked an inter-city bus were photographed alive upon arrest and were then killed in custody. Carmi Gillon speaks about his personal crisis after failing to prevent the assassination of Yitzhak Rabin. They speak openly about the great danger posed by Jewish terror, particularly given that the men who plotted to blow up the Dome of the Rock, for example, are part of the Israeli establishment. They describe in detail the process of establishing control over occupied territory — learning to speak fluent Palestinian Arabic and memorizing the layout of every Palestinian village and town, building by building, house by house. The suffocating sense they convey is that the Palestinians living in occupied territory have no personal freedom; they are under perpetual surveillance, no matter what they are doing.

What these men describe is the process by which Israel became after 1967 a state that is ruled by the Shin Bet, rather than governed by the prime minister’s office. And in doing so, they confirm everything the so-called loony left has been saying about the occupation and its destructive effect on Israeli society.

We are winning the battle and losing the war, they say. And more: The only way to resolve this conflict is to sit down and negotiate, and yes that includes speaking with Hamas; we have made the lives of the Palestinians miserable and unbearable; the occupation has made Israel into a Shin Bet state; we are the edge of an abyss; there is no-one thinking for the people in the prime minister’s office; the future is bleak and gray.

In response to a quote from Israeli philosopher Yeshayahu...

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Ex-pats launch Israeli Opposition Network, call for regime change in Israel

UPDATE: Scroll to bottom for corrections.

New York – For Yael Berda, the unexpectedly strong showing of Yair Lapid and his Yesh Atid (There is a Future) party in Israel’s recent national elections is no reason for centrists or liberals to celebrate. Lapid’s party labels itself centrist, she says, but its domestic and security policies are so similar to the right wing parties’ that it will only serve to bolster their agenda. The neophyte politician is from Israel’s wealthy Ashkenazi elite, which identifies with Europe and the United States. “In that cultural sense,” she said, “You can call Lapid a liberal.” But not in terms of his views on security and wealth distribution.

“The best way to understand Yair Lapid,” she said, “Is to see him as an Israeli Sarkozy.”

Berda, an Israeli studying for her doctorate at Princeton University, joined together with a group of Israeli academics at various universities in the United States to form a group called the Israeli Opposition Network. Yesterday they sent out a global email announcement that amounts to a sort of manifesto:

Israelis living in the United States who oppose current Israeli Leadership launch “Israel Opposition Network” warning that election results threaten democracy and rule of law in Israel

 [January 23, 2013, New York] A group of highly engaged young Israeli intellectuals and professionals living the United States who are concerned about Israel’s increasingly fragile democracy have launched the ‘Israeli Opposition Network’ , a political movement opposed to the current political leadership in Israel.

“It’s a mistake to look at the results of today’s election in Israel as a division between two blocks,” says Nitzan Lebovic, a professor of history and a member of the Israeli Opposition Network. “The large majority of the parties in both blocks represent something closer to a Conservative agenda in American and European terms.”

“As advocates for human and civil rights, we fear election results still reflect a political deadlock that stifles the possibility for change. The rise of a centrist party calling for the draft of the ultra religious is not expected to address the more serious concerns about Israel. As long as control is maintained over a large population of Palestinians with no representation and no citizenship, Israel’s label as ‘democratic’ remains an unfulfilled promise,” says Itamar Mann, an Israeli lawyer at Harvard Yale Law School.

“With over 25% under the poverty line and the wholesale privatization of national assets to a small number...

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Campaign video decrying intermarriage is labeled racist

With national elections less than two weeks away, political campaign videos are much in the news. A few days ago Noam Sheizaf wrote about the Balad party video that was banned, allegedly for mocking Hatikvah, the national anthem. Now Shas, the Mizrachi ultra-Orthodox party that is predominantly Moroccan, is getting some heat for a campaign video that some have decried as racist.

In an image that Mordecai Richler and Philip Roth would recognize, the video shows a short, swarthy, curly-haired man standing next to a gorgeous, statuesque blonde under the huppah, or marriage canopy. Behind them stands a stern-looking security guard, arms folded over his chest. Relatives frame the couple on either side. According to the script in the video (subtitled in English, below), the blonde’s name is Marina and she’s just obtained a quickie conversion, courtesy of Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteinu.

In broken, heavily-accented Hebrew, she tells him that all she has to do is dial 1-800-CONVERT on the fax machine while they’re standing under the huppah and  - voila! –  a conversion certificate pops out.

Intermarriage is a big no-no amongst religious and traditional Jews. Traditionally, Jews are not enthusiastic about converts, either. The Israeli rabbinate makes conversion a very onerous process that includes months of living under scrutiny in an Orthodox community. Non-Orthodox conversions are not accepted. Civil marriage performed in Israel is not legally binding, but there is a loophole — getting married abroad, then registering the union with the Ministry of Interior, thus bypassing the religious authorities.

But if the mother is not Jewish, the state will not recognize the children as Jewish. This can be meaningless or problematic, depending on how attached one is to having officials bless rites of passage like weddings, coming of age, army service and death / burial.

For some non-practicing Jews, the religion of their spouse is immaterial. This drives the ultra-Orthodox crazy, because it goes against a central precept of their religious and cultural practice — i.e., keeping the bloodline pure.

Like the secular-liberal parties, Yisrael Beiteinu advocates civil marriage, since a fairly large percentage of its constituents are halakhically non-Jewish. Israel defines a Jew for immigration purposes as someone who has a single Jewish grandparent on either side of the family, while according to halakha the identity is strictly matrilineal. Once in Israel, the halakhically non-Jewish Jews resent...

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IDF sends text message to Gaza mobile phones: 'The next phase is on the way'

The Israeli army is sending text messages to mobile phones in Gaza with a warning in Arabic: “The next phase is on the way. Stay away from Hamas elements.”

Using Instagram, Twitter user @RanaGaza tweeted a photo of the message on her father’s mobile phone.

Arabic text message sent by the Israeli army to mobile phones in Gaza

During the 2008-9 Israeli military assault on Gaza, the army sent thousands of similar messages to mobile phones in Gaza. But according to several friends and acquaintances who were there, the messages were often either false alarms or designed to sow panic. “What do you do if you receive a message warning you to go a safer place if you are already in the safest place in Gaza, or if you have nowhere to hide?” one friend asked rhetorically.

This same woman — a journalist — said that often the text messages would warn of impending bombardments that did not happen, in a sick version of The Boy Who Cried Wolf.


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The IDF announces a military operation against Gaza - on Twitter

Using a multi-pronged strategy, the army spokesperson’s office launched a full social media assault via YouTube, Flickr, Facebook and Twitter, with the latter in English, Hebrew, Arabic, French and Spanish. No word yet on the tumblr blog, though.

In what is possibly a social media precedent, the Israeli army spokesperson’s office (@idfspokesperson) today announced a military action against Gaza — on Twitter.

This came shortly after the IDF announced — again on Twitter — that that the Israeli Air Force had assassinated senior Hamas operative Hamas military chief Ahmed al-Jaabari.

The responses came in immediately, from various sources and in many languages.

Fania Oz Salzberger (@faniaoz), a prominent academic who is the daughter of Amos Oz, one of Israel’s most famous authors, tweeted:
Oz was in fact translating a tweet by Yossi Gurvitz (@ygurvitz), a prominent Israeli blogger and journalist who had just tweeted in Hebrew, “Did I understand correctly? Did the IDF just declare war on Twitter — and in English?”

Lt. Colonel Avital Leibovich (@AvitalLeibovich), the IDF spokesperson for the international media, went on Twitter to announce the name of the military operation — Pillar of Defense. Helpfully, she included the hashtag #PillarOfDefense in her tweet.

But Hebrew speakers immediately noted that the Hebrew name for the operation was actually Pillar of Cloud, a name taken from the Book of Exodus in the Hebrew Bible. According to the Bible, after the ancient Hebrews escaped Pharaoh and slavery in Egypt, they were guided through the desert by a pillar of cloud during the day and a pillar of fire at night.

John Cook of Gawker caught the discrepancy between the Hebrew and English names for the military operation and wrote about it, commenting:

This post was originally written for Please click here to read the whole thing.

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Amnesty International calls for release of Bassem Tamimi, prisoner of conscience

Amnesty International has called for the release of activist Bassem Tamimi, whom they define as a prisoner of conscience. The 45 year-old father of four from Nabi Saleh was arrested October 24 during a protest action at a branch of Rami Levy, a Jewish-owned supermarket chain that has several branches in Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The chain stocks settlement goods, but refuses to stock Palestinian produce or products.

Bassem Tamimi arrested at the Rami Levy supermarket protest (credit: ActiveStils)

Last year, Haaretz reported that the supermarket had instituted a policy of separating male Arab grocery baggers from female Jewish cashiers after two such employees became romantically involved.

The protest, which was staged as a sit-in, was broken up by riot police.

Tamimi’s main activism, however, is centered on his home village of Nabi Saleh, population 530. Since 2009 the village has been holding weekly demonstrations to protest the confiscation of their land by the neighboring settlement of Halamish. In 2009 the settlement, which was already built entirely on Nabi Saleh-owned land, confiscated a spring that the Palestinian villagers relied on as a main source of water for agricultural purposes. The settlers of Halamish physically prevented the Palestinians from accessing the spring; to protest, the villagers assemble and march toward the spring every Friday after noon prayers, waving flags and banners as they chant slogans. They are usually stopped before they advance 200 meters by soldiers who enter their village in armored vehicles, leap out of the back and fire volleys of tear gas canisters and rubber-coated steel bullets at close range. At that point, the young village men usually scatter and throw stones at the soldiers who have entered their village.

This past Friday, while Bassem Tamimi was still in Ofer Military Prison and denied bail following the Rami Levy protest, his 16-year-old son Wa’ed was arrested at the weekly village demonstration. He is now detained in a different section of the same prison, but his father is not allowed to see him.

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At the second presidential debate, undecided Jewish voters did not ask about Israel

The second presidential debate was held Tuesday night at Hofstra University in Hempstead, Long Island. The moderator, CNN’s Candy Crowley, chose questions that were submitted in advance by the rather small audience, all of whom were undecided voters.

According to the CNN poll conducted immediately after the debate, 73 percent of respondents thought the president did significantly better than in the first one. Given that his performance in the first debate was widely acknowledged to have been a disaster, with Daily Beast uber blogger Andrew Sullivan predicting it would lose Obama the election, a cynic might say that the president had nowhere to go but up the second time around.

But it was clear that the old Obama was back  - engaged, knowledgable, articulate, empathetic. And he was far more aggressive this time, not hesitating to call Romney out when he lied. But perhaps the best moment came when Candy Crowley interrupted an argument between the two candidates and confirmed that the president had, indeed, called the attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi an act of  terror the day after it happened – that Obama had not, as Romney claimed, waited two weeks to label the attack terrorism. U.S. ambassador Chris Stevens was killed in the consulate attack.

Besides the reference to Libya, there were no foreign policy questions. Americans tend to be uninterested in the subject, so the failure of this typically middle class, suburban audience to evidence more interest in issues beyond their borders is perhaps not that surprising. But in this case, half the questions were asked by Jews. Their names sounded, I tweeted, like my bat mitzvah guest list: Jeremy Epstein, Susan Katz, Carol Goldberg, Barry Green.

But none of these middle class Long Island Jews asked a question about Israel. They were interested in jobs, economic policy and how the two candidates perceived themselves. From the way they phrased their questions, it seemed pretty clear that they had voted for Obama in 2008 and were now primarily concerned about the same issues that preoccupy most middle class Americans – how to pay the bills, how to save for the future and how to make sure their kids find a job after college.

Last week, the vice presidential candidates argued during their debate about who was closer to the prime minister of Israel. They called Netanyahu by his nickname, “Bibi,” to indicate...

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