March 4, 2024

The Latest (Plus Elections)

Dov Ben-Shimon Federation CEO

I’ve spent the last couple of days working with local initiatives on community outreach and dialogue, both inside the Jewish community, and with our wider friends and neighbors. There’s a lot for us to do in these areas, and we’re busy making sure that connections and relationships are deepened and strengthened.

A quick thought about the local elections last week in Israel. Amidst the backdrop of ongoing conflict in Gaza, the elections saw a notably low voter turnout of just 49.5 percent, underscoring the impact of war on civic participation. Several cities, including Haifa and Beit Shemesh, are poised for runoff elections after no candidate managed to secure a decisive 40% of the vote. Haifa’s Mayor, Einat Kalisch-Rotem, was ousted, garnering only 4.5% of the vote in a crowded field. Beit Shemesh will see a face-off between incumbent Mayor Aliza Bloch and Shmuel Greenberg in the coming weeks.

The elections were originally scheduled for 31 October 2023, but were initially postponed until 30 January due to the war, then further postponed until 27 February. In our GMW partnerships: Mayor Nissan Ben Hamo, who has served as mayor since 2015, lost by 8% to Yair Maayan. I celebrate Israel’s vibrant democracy, and look forward to meeting Yair. And I also want to publicly thank Nissan for his extraordinary service as Arad’s mayor, for his dedication and commitment to the city, and for his long partnership with Greater MetroWest. Mazal tov to Mayor Itzik Danino of Ofakim, re-elected with 73% of the vote, beating (former GMW Rishon) Tal Magera. And to Merhavim Mayor, Shai Hajaj, who was re-elected with 90% of the vote!! I’m proud of our deep relationships in these and our other partnerships, and welcome our continued cooperation and commitments.

Anyway. Here we are. The IDF has concluded its two-week operation in Gaza City, during which it reports that more than 100 Hamas terrorists have been eliminated. In a surprise attack, fifty terrorist targets were struck Saturday night in Gaza’s Khan Younis in just six minutes, according to the IDF.  This morning, the IDF killed Palestinian Islamic Jihad militants suspected of a rocket attack on Hatzerim, a kibbutz in Southern Israel.

Earlier today, one person was killed and seven others wounded in Israel by an anti-tank missile attack from Lebanon that struck an orchard near the border community of Margaliot. The victims are all foreign laborers, apparently from Thailand. The IDF attacked a vehicle in southern Lebanon via drone strike, killing three Hezbollah operatives. Among them was Abbas Ahmed Halil, grandson of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. Another wave of airstrikes took place in the Rafah area, including near the Philadelphi Corridor (along the border between Gaza and Egypt). The IDF had discovered a network of Hamas tunnels in the area.

Three IDF soldiers died on Friday in an explosion in Khan Younis; their names are Sgt. Dolev Malka, Sgt. Afik Tery, and Sgt. Inon Yitzhak. Fourteen others were wounded, five of them severely. In addition, the IDF confirmed the death of Warrant Officer Dennis Yekimov, 33, of Beer Sheva who was killed on Saturday.  A grim total of 586 Israeli soldiers have died since October 7, with 246 perishing since the beginning of the ground war on October 27. Click here for the latest update, in English, on wounded and fallen soldiers.  The IDF has also announced a full investigation of the situation last week in which Hamas accused Israel of shooting at thousands of Gazans who were desperately trying to get aid from a convoy of trucks. Israel will attempt new methods of delivering aid to northern Gaza in the wake of the incident. Meanwhile, the US and Jordanian air forces jointly airdropped 38,000 meals into Gaza over the weekend. The IDF and local Gazans have teamed up to protect humanitarian aid. The arrangement is a marker of hope for future cooperation between the two groups after the horrific stampede last Friday.


Hezbollah claims to have shelled areas near the Israeli border town of Zarit, but Israel has not confirmed this. In the Red Sea, an Italian naval ship shot down a drone in self-defense—the drone is the same type as those used by the Houthis. Italian Defense Minister Guido Crosetti said, “The Houthi terrorist attacks are a serious violation of international law and an attack on the security of the maritime traffic on which our economy depends,” he says. Meanwhile, a UK-owned ship, the Rubymar, sank over the weekend after being damaged by a Houthi missile on February 18. The ship’s cargo included more than 20,000 tons of ammonium phosphate sulfate fertilizer, the loss of which poses a significant environmental threat. The Houthis have now perpetrated five dozen attacks in the Red Sea region, which is one of the busiest commercial waterways in the world.


Officials say Israel has agreed in principle to a six-week ceasefire with Hamas in exchange for the return of hostages. But as a precondition for negotiations, Israel had reportedly demanded a list of the hostages who are still alive. Because Hamas refused to provide such a list, Israel declined to send its negotiators to Cairo, where talks were set to resume yesterday. Earlier today, Israeli sources said that negotiators were asking for information on the number of hostages still alive, rather than the names of all individuals still in captivity, as a prerequisite to continuing talks.  Hamas is demanding a permanent end to Israel’s ground invasion first. President Biden is urging that a ceasefire take effect by this Sunday, which marks the beginning of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. According to Egyptian and Qatari officials, Yahya Sinwar, the Gazan leader of Hamas, has been out of contact for more than a week. Unnamed Israeli officials have been quoted claiming that Sinwar is not interested in reaching a ceasefire.


Close to 20,000 marchers arrived in Jerusalem  on Saturday to call for the release of the hostages after walking for four days from Kibbutz Reim.  The protesters held a rally in Paris Square. With his own wife and daughter freed from captivity in November, Israeli TV writer Hen Avigdori continues to advocate for the release of the rest of the hostages. The Kan public broadcaster on Sunday leaked a recording of the three hostages who, as they emerged from hiding, were mistakenly killed by the IDF last December. Warning: this is hard, but you can hear the audio of the pleas of Alon Shamriz, Yotam Haim, and Samer Talaka here. The recording was captured by a GoPro camera attached to a canine unit dog from the IDF’s Oketz unit. Despite hearing cries for help, IDF soldiers believed that these sounds were a ruse by the enemy, intended to draw them into an ambush. It’s an awful story.


In a speech in Selma, Alabama, Vice President Kamala Harris made headlines by calling for an “immediate ceasefire” to ameliorate the dire situation in Gaza. In the same speech, however, she made clear that the onus was on Hamas to accept a six-week ceasefire and to return the hostages.  “Hamas claims it wants a ceasefire. Well, there is a deal on the table, and, as we have said, Hamas needs to agree to that deal. Let’s get a ceasefire, let’s reunite the hostages with their families, and let’s provide immediate relief to the people of Gaza.” Nevertheless, her remarks are being characterized as the most explicit condemnation of Israel’s actions in Gaza to date.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is said to be furious that War Cabinet Minister Benny Gantz is visiting Washington without his approval. Gantz is set to meet with Vice President Kamala Harris, US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, and Members of Congress from both parties. US Envoy Amos Hochstein is visiting Beirut today to attempt, through diplomatic channels, to stave off war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Rishi Sunak, the UK Prime Minister, called out the country’s anti-Israel protests on Friday, noting a “shocking increase in extremist disruption and criminality.” He implored British citizens to “stand together to combat the forces of division.”

At the recommendation of President Herzog, public broadcaster Kan has agreed to revise the song lyrics for Israel’s Eurovision entry. Kan reached out to the writers and asked them to change the words. The president said that Israel needs to be “smart and not just right” in this situation because of the importance of being represented at the contest.


In Sderot, schools reopened for the first time since October 7. Roughly 55-60% of students in the border community’s district were in attendance.

Thai field hand Sriaoun Watchara, 32, was taken hostage on October 7 along with five other field hands (two of whom have returned safely to Thailand); 11 other Thais were murdered.

A 96-year-old woman, Aviva Sela, escaped the massacre at Be’eri on October 7 even after her Filipina caregiver was murdered and her grandson, who was visiting her at the time, was taken captive. Her daughter and former son-in-law were both slain.

Thousands of ordinary Israelis have become heroes at this time of travail and tragedy.

Hope for New Gaza Ceasefire Deal Hangs in the Balance as Israel Boycotting Talks

Israel’s Newest, British-Born International Spokesperson is Raising Some Eyebrows

Meet Beatie Deutsch, a Religious Mom and Fastest Woman in Israel

Jewish Federations’ Israel Emergency Campaign has now raised a total of more than $780 million and allocated close to $375 million. For details, click here.

See these resources by Jewish Federations that give insight into some areas of Federations’ emergency allocations: At-Risk Youth LGBTQ+ Community Young Children Volunteers Women Pastoral Guidance Bedouin Communities Food Security People with Disabilities