First Read For June 9


Two arrested in Hezbollah plot

The Justice Department Thursday said yesterday that it has arrested two men tied to Hezbollah who had been plotting attacks against Americans and Israelis in the US and Panama, the Times of Israel reports. Samer El Debek was arrested in Livonia, Michigan, while Ali Kourani was arrested in the Bronx. Both men are being held in New York City.

The Justice Department claimed that the men tried to provide support to “Hezbollah’s Islamic Jihad organization” after receiving weapons and bomb-making training. El Debek allegedly looked for potential targets in Panama, including US and Israeli embassies, while Kourani surveilled American targets, including Israeli military personnel and US military and law enforcement facilities in New York City.

William F. Sweeney Jr., head of the New York FBI office, said the charges “reveal once again that the New York City region remains a focus of many adversaries, demonstrated as alleged in this instance by followers of a sophisticated and determined organization with a long history of coordinating violent activities on behalf of Hezbollah.” 

Shul’s new home: Episcopal church

A small Jewish congregation in Rhode Island is moving into an Episcopal church, JTA reports. Congregation Or Chadash will hold a procession next week in which congregants will carry their three Torah scrolls out of their former building, which was recently consecrated as the first Hindu Temple in Cranston.

The congregation is made up of about 30 members of the former Temple Am David of Warwick, which went bankrupt and had been using space in its former building for more than a year.  

The will use a classroom in the church and share other facilities such as the kitchen and meeting room. The synagogue also plans to use a small chapel and church hall at Trinity for Shabbat services, which won’t overlap with Trinity’s Sunday services.

Jewish voter attacked at London polling station

A Jewish voter suffered “a vile tirade of anti-Semitic abuse from a thug carrying a crow bar” outside a north London polling station yesterday, the city’s Evening Standard reports. According to the paper, election staff in Clapton the Stamford Hill area were forced to rush to the aid of the victim when a man allegedly yelled “f***ing Jews, kill all the Jews, what are you doing here?” at him as he entered to vote.

The attacker then returned wielding the weapon and shouting more threats. The victim was said to be “frightened” by the attack and was led to safety by polling station staff.

Palestinians may shelve no-settlements demand

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas is willing to temporarily shelve his demand to freeze settlement construction in the West Bank as a precondition for peace talks with Israel, his financial advisor Mohammad Mustafa said yesterday, reports

Abbas, Mustafa said, will also tone down his international campaign to take Israelis to The Hague for war crimes and promote resolutions at the UN condemning Israel. “We have not made the settlements an up-front issue this time,” Mustafa said. “We think it’s better for all of us right now to focus on giving this new (American) administration a chance to deliver.”

Are Jordanian restaurants denying service to Israeli customers?

Several popular restaurants in the Jordanian city of Aqaba have reportedly begun denying service to vacationing Israelis due to their country of origin, according to the Jerusalem Post. The paper cites Channel 2, which reported that Jordanians are displeased with the visiting Israelis, and restaurant owners “have taken the extra step of refusing service to their Jewish neighbors.”

Israel and Jordan have enjoyed strong diplomatic ties since signing a peace treaty in 1994. In one recent post to Facebook, a traveler recounted how she and a friend were forced to leave an unnamed Aqaba restaurant, being told by the owner that he “was not ready to serve Israelis” and telling them to “get out.”

Survey has smoking gun: Israelis lighting up again

Smoking has increased in Israel, according to a report released last week by the Health Ministry. The Times of Israel reports that while the smoking rate there fell from about 45 percent in the early 1980s to about 20 percent or less in the years since 2011, the rate rose to 22.5 percent in 2016.

“This is unheard of in the developed world,” said Leah Rosen, who heads Tel Aviv University’s Health Promotion Department. “There’s an epidemiological curve of tobacco use, and as people start to get sick from smoking, the [smoking] rate starts going down, and it never goes back up. We have now broken that trend.”

According to the ministry, approximately 8,000 Israelis die each year for reasons linked to smoking, among them 800 non-smokers exposed to secondhand smoke inhalation. The Jewish state’s new smoking rate is comparatively high — ranking 28 out of 35 European countries, according to the World Health Organization. Europe has the highest rate of any region of the world.