21 March 2018 - 6 Nisan 5778 - ו' ניסן ה' אלפים תשע"ח

In a rare development, an Israeli delegation attended a UN conference in Malaysia last month. Malaysia and Israel have no official diplomatic or formal ties.

The Israeli delegation was part of the Ninth session of the World Urban Forum (WUF), that was held from 7 to 13 February in Kuala Lumpur. Participants from 165 countries, including more than 100 Ministers and Deputy Ministers, debated concrete implementation steps and how to work together building the Cities 2030, the Cities for All. Ironically, the next event will be held in Abu Dhabi in 2020.

WUF is the world’s premier conference on urban issues. It was established in 2001 by the United Nations to examine one of the most pressing issues facing the world today: rapid urbanisation and its impact on communities, cities, economies, climate change and policies.

Malaysia has strong diplomatic support for the Palestinian cause, and anti-Israel protests have occurred over many decades. More recently, thousands of people took to the streets in Malaysia in December to protest when US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the Jewish state’s capital.

Malaysia defended the decision to allow the Israeli delegation to attend the conference. Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman said that Malaysia, as host of the international forum on urban development, had no choice but to allow all UN member states to take part.

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Israel and the Philippines mark 60th anniversary of Treaty of Friendship E-mail

On 26 February, Israel and the Philippines marked the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Friendship between the two countries.

“The treaty was signed a few months after the establishment of diplomatic relations, highlighting the fact that it’s not just political bilateral relations, it’s also a people-to-people relationship founded on the basis of deep ties bonding our two nations historically,” Israel’s Ambassador to the Philippines Effie Ben Matityau said.

On 26 February 1958, then Philippine Acting Foreign Affairs Secretary Felixberto Serrano and Israel’s Head of Mission Daniel Lewin signed the treaty for “perpetual peace and firm and lasting friendship between the Republic of the Philippines and the State of Israel and between their people”.

“We also commemorate and highlight a year of jubilees between 2017 and 2018, the 80th anniversary of President Manuel Quezon’s Open Door Policy, the 70th anniversary of the Philippines’ vote for the United Nations resolution that led to the creation of the State of Israel, and of course the 70th anniversary of our statehood,” added Ambassador Ben Matityau.

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China tourists at all-time high E-mail

The number of Chinese tourists visiting Israel hit a record high last year, according to a senior Israeli tourism official.

Figures were recently revised, showing that over 113,000 Chinese visitors travelled to Israel in 2017, up 41% year on year. So China remains Israel’s fastest-growing source of tourists, according to Bora Shnitman, China director of the Israeli Government Tourism Office.

Shnitman attributed the surge in the number of Chinese tourists to more targeted promotion campaigns, streamlined visa applications and increasingly convenient transportation with more direct flights.

Followers of Israel’s official tourism WeChat account rose more than 200% year on year in 2017, while the number of its Sina Weibo fans increased by over 60%. Chinese tourists can fly to Israel’s commercial hub Tel Aviv directly from Beijing, Shanghai and Hong Kong, and Shnitman expects more direct flight routes from southwest and southern China this year.

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Israeli intelligence foils terrorist bomb plot E-mail

The Israeli army said it provided intelligence that prevented a plot by the Islamic State to bomb an Australian flight last August.

An unnamed senior army officer said in February that the Military Intelligence Unit 8200 had thwarted the planned attack, according to The Times of Israel. “The unit provided exclusive intelligence that led to the prevention of an air attack by the Islamic State in 2017 in Australia,” the officer said. “The foiling of the attack saved dozens of innocent lives and proved Unit 8200’s position as a major player in the intelligence fight against the Islamic State.”

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Continuing strong diplomatic relations, Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, together with his wife Sara, made an official visit to India from 14 to 19 January, travelling to Delhi, Mumbai, Ahmedabad and Agra. Such was the importance of the visit that Netanyahu was the first international leader invited to India in 2018.

The visit marked 26 years since the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries, and took place approximately six months after Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s historic visit to Israel.

Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “On this visit I intend to strengthen bilateral relations even more. This visit is an opportunity to enhance co-operation with a global economic, security, technology and tourism power. Indian Prime Minister Modi is a close friend of Israel and of mine and I appreciate the fact that he will accompany me on extensive parts of my visit.” Also joining the official visit was the largest business delegation that has ever accompanied a Prime Minister of Israel.

Israeli citizen Moshe Holtzberg, 12, whose parents died in the 26 November 2008 terrorist attack on the Chabad House in Mumbai, joined the trip, as Prime Minister Netanyahu had promised him during their meeting with Indian Prime Minister Modi in Israel last July. The nanny who took care of Moshe as a baby also attended.

Prime Minister Modi welcomed Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife in person when their plane touched down in New Delhi. This was a surprise, as the Minister of State for External Affairs, Sushma Swaraj, had originally been scheduled to welcome them. Netanyahu did meet with Swaraj later. On the first day both prime ministers attended an important ceremony to rename a square in New Delhi. The square is dedicated to the Indian soldiers who fell during WWI in the fighting to liberate Haifa.

On 16 January, Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife, along with Prime Minister Modi, attended the Raisina Dialogue, at which Netanyahu was the featured speaker. Other speakers included former heads of government and senior ministers from around the world. The multilateral conference is held annually in New Delhi, and since its inception in 2016, the conference has emerged as India’s flagship conference on geopolitics and geo-economics.

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