American Jews rally for Women of the Wall

American Jews held solidarity rallies in several U.S. cities to protest Israeli limitations on women’s prayer at Jerusalem’s Western Wall. On March 11, some 125 demonstrators gathered outside the Israeli Embassy in Washington, and additional demonstrations were held March 12 in New York and Cleveland. San Francisco supporters were planning a rally for March 19. The rallies were timed to Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new Hebrew month, when the group Women of the Wall holds its monthly prayer service at the Western Wall. Women of the Wall participants have been subject to detentions and arrests for violating the site’s ban on women’s public prayer with tallitot (prayer shawls), among other restrictions. The March 12 service at the wall marked the first time in months that no one was arrested or detained. Three female Knesset members joined the gathering.


Helicopter crash kills 2 IDF soldiers

An Israeli military helicopter crashed during a routine training flight, killing two crew members. Lt. Col. Noam Ron, 49, of Oranit, and Maj. Erez Flekser, 31, of Haifa — both veteran military reservists — were killed when their Bell AH-1 Cobra crashed early March 12 in southern Israel, as it traveled from the training flight to the Palmachim Air Base. A search for the helicopter began after radio contact was lost at 1 a.m. The remnants of the helicopter were discovered at about 5 a.m., the Israel Defense Forces said in a statement. Maj.-Gen. Amir Eshel, the commander of the Israeli Air and Space Force, ordered an investigation and grounded all Bell AH-1 Cobra helicopters until the circumstances of the accident were clarified. Cobras, which are manufactured in the United States, have been part of the Israeli Air Force since the mid-1970s, according to Haaretz. Some used first by the U.S. Army are nearly 40 years old, though they have been upgraded over the years.


Napolitano addresses JCPA plenum

Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano told a Jewish conference that the country’s immigration system is broken. The United States must update its visa system, institute a nationwide verification system for employment and create a way for those in this country illegally to become citizens, Napolitano told some 300 people attending a three-day Jewish Council for Public Affairs Plenum in Washington. Reform is necessary “because the system does not work the way it was intended to,” she said. “We need an overall systemwide package” that keeps borders secure, raises the number of visas offered and institutes a verification system for employment that identifies who is working here while discouraging employers who offer low wages and no benefits. The former Arizona governor said U.S. efforts to keep secure borders and intelligence up to date will suffer due to sequestration, the automatic across-the-board budget cuts that went into effect earlier this month. Napolitano also spoke of the importance of keeping the Jewish community up to date on any possible threats to its synagogues, schools and community centers.


Deal to form Israel coalition struck

A deal to form an Israeli government coalition has been struck, according to Israeli media reports. A standoff between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid reportedly ended March 13 when Netanyahu conceded the Education Ministry to Yesh Atid and took the Interior Ministry for his Likud party. Earlier in the day, Likud had threatened to launch government coalition negotiations with the haredi Orthodox parties, citing what it called “excessive demands” from Yesh Atid. The impasse with Yesh Atid prevented Netanyahu from introducing his new government on March 13, as he had planned.  Among the coalition agreements that had already been reached are significantly reducing the size of the Cabinet, raising the electoral threshold from 2 percent to 4 percent, drastic budget cuts and a haredi draft law.

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