Inside the U.S.: Pelosi opens impeachment with Israel reference; activists protest Twitter CEO; and Sheldon Adelson dies at 87
Antisemitism: Jewish homes in London and Montreal synagogue defaced; and Russian circus features Nazi images
Inside Israel: Netanyahu courts Arab voters; Gantz approves Palestinian construction; and Israel recognizes transgender identity is not a disorder
Coronavirus: Israel’s third wave slows with effect of vaccine campaign; ultra-Orthodox clash with police over school closures; prisoners to be vaccinated next week; and Jewish Agency roars over Israeli plan to vaccinate survivors
Israel’s Neighbors: IDF’s plans to strike Iran’s nuclear program; massive strike on Iranian targets in Syria; UNRWA’s new textbooks glorifying terror; and UAE lets Israelis travel visa-free
Celebrate & Remember: Germany returns Jewish artwork; and Mahmoud Abbas’ 16th year as President of PA
INSIDE THE U.S.
Nancy Pelosi opens impeachment resolution quoting famous Israeli poet
Impeachment opens with Israel reference: During her speech on the floor of the House which she used to open debate on the impeachment resolution against President Donald Trump, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quoted a “great Israeli poet.” She quoted Ehud Manor, saying: “I can’t keep silent in light of how my country has changed her face, won’t quit trying to remind her. In her ears, I’ll sing my cries until she opens her eyes. I can’t keep silent of how my country has changed her face.” Manor wrote the poem during the 1982 Israel-Lebanon war and has been used in anti-war protest songs. The quote was an obvious reference to the Capitol insurrection of January 6th when pro-Trump insurrectionists stormed the Legislative Branch, killing at least one Capitol police officer. The President was impeached by the House exactly a week after the attack, making history as the first officeholder to be impeached twice.
Jewish group protests Twitter CEO: The Jewish activist group “End Jew Hatred” protested outside the CEO of Twitter’s California home on Monday. During the protest, End Jew Hatred blasted audio recordings of antisemitic messages from Twitter that the company refuses to take down from its platform. The messages include practically boundless Holocaust denial. End Jew Hatred compared Twitter’s deletion of lies about the coronavirus to its lack of action on Holocaust denial, saying: “Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey has banned so-called ‘COVID-denial’ on Twitter. So why does [he] continue to give Holocaust deniers and Jew-haters a bigger platform today than Hitler had in his time?”
Adelson dies at 87: Sheldon Adelson, the self-made Jewish casino magnate, died at age 87 due to complications from treatment for non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Adelson was known as a kingmaker in Republican politics, pouring hundreds of millions of dollars into the party. Adelson was passionately pro-Israel and donated hundreds of millions of dollars to Jewish causes and medical research. He owned Israel’s largest daily newspaper by circulation, donated to Israel’s Holocaust Museum Yad Vashem, and helped underwrite Birthright Israel, which pays for free educational trips to Israel for young Jewish adults. Political elites in Israel mourned Adelson’s passing, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying, “Sara and I join Miri and the family in mourning a great friend, a great man, and a great Jewish patriot.” President Donald Trump also praised Adelson as a “champion of the Jewish people.” Adelson’s coffin arrived in Israel Thursday evening and his funeral is scheduled for today in Jerusalem.
Montreal synagogue vandalized with swastikas in broad daylight
Source: @ShaarHashomayim / Twitter, January 14, 2021
Montreal synagogue vandalized: One of the largest synagogues in Montreal—Westmount’s Congregation Shaar Hashomayim—was vandalized with swastikas Wednesday afternoon in broad daylight. Police received a call from the synagogue’s security guard who was able to keep the perpetrator at the scene until police arrived to arrest him. The synagogue said the man was carrying a canister of gasoline when he was taken into custody. The 28-year-old perpetrator was charged with trying to commit arson and for uttering threats. The mayor of Westmount said: “This antisemitic act is against our fundamental values and beliefs. We are an inclusive and tolerant city and we are proud of that.” The synagogue is known for having been the spiritual home for singer-songwriter Leonard Cohen.
Jewish homes in London defaced: Several Jewish homes in east London were smeared with blood in the shape of a cross in what is a suspected antisemitic hate crime. Pictures of the vandalism were circulated online by the Shomrim, a Jewish community defense group. “This attack bears similarities and invokes comparison with actions by the KKK,” Rabbi Hershel Gluck, a spokesman for the Shomrim, said. However, local police took to social media to play down the possibility of a hate crime having been committed. “Officers have spoken to the residents of these properties,” police in the London borough of Hackney wrote on Twitter. “We understand it’s likely that a local man who is well known to residents and suffers with mental ill health may be responsible. Local officers are aware and will ensure the matter is addressed appropriately.”
Russian circus features Nazi images: Images and clips of a monkey dressed up in a Nazi uniform and goats with swastika blankets draped over them performing at a Russian state-run circus circulated over social media. The event coincided with Russian Orthodox Christmas. Apparently commissioned by the Russian Orthodox Church, the Church said it symbolized the “spurning” of Nazism. In a statement, Russia prosecutors said they first became aware of the performance while monitoring the internet and have since launched “an investigation into the display of Nazi symbols.” Russia law bans the public display of Nazi symbols unless portrayed in a negative light.
Netanyahu courts Arab voters but rules out coalition with Arab parties
Netanyahu courts Arab voters: Israeli political coalitions ahead of the March election have begun to congeal, with Prime Minister Netanyahu making a hard pitch to Arab-Israelis for their vote. Netanyahu visited the Arab-Israeli pseudo-capital, Nazareth, to court voters, claiming that his 2015 anti-Arab remark to a Likud rally about the Arab community “voting in droves” was “twisted.” He apologized for the remark and said: “Whoever says we only remember the Arab public before the elections is either lying or ignorant of the facts.” Netanyahu went on to tout the Abraham Accords of 2020, of which the Arab-Israeli population greatly approves, but the Arab political elite does not. Netanyahu said: “If Jews and Arabs can dance together in the streets of Dubai, they can dance together here in Israel. A new era begins today, of prosperity, integration and security.” Netanyahu’s rare visit was coupled with a significant endorsement from the mayor, Ali Salam, who said: “[Netanyahu] wants to help the Arabs. I’m not looking back, I’m looking forward.” In Nazareth, the Prime Minister was met with significant protests by Arab-Israeli activists. Despite the Arab coalition, the Joint List, falling apart as its candidates search for new “political homes,” Netanyahu’s Likud is still maintaining that it will not form a coalition with Arab parties.
In other movement, far-right Yamina said it would not run together with the Likud-breakaway party A New Hope, with Yamina’s leader calling members of A New Hope “devious.” A New Hope announced another prominent addition, former consul-general to New York Dani Dayan, an ex-settlement movement leader. And, in an effort to bridge the rift with his old partner Yair Lapid, Blue and White head Benny Gantz apologized for saying Lapid “hates people.” Gantz also said he was wrong to join a government with Netanyahu and said he will support the anti-Netanyahu bloc of parties.
Gantz approves Palestinian construction: In an attempt to temper blowback from approving settlement construction in the runup to the Biden inauguration, Defense Minister Benny Gantz advanced permits for Palestinian construction in the West Bank. The approved construction is for Area C, which under the Oslo Accords is 60% of the territory and under full Israeli military and administrative control. A human-rights researcher dismissed the gesture, saying: “This is like mocking the poor. Most of the plans are from 2012. They’re all very small in terms of their land use and do not allow for [further] development.” Israel rarely approves Palestinian constitution in Area C which results in widespread illegal construction.
Israel recognizes transgender identity not a disorder: Following the World Health Organization’s lead, Israel’s Ministry of Health recognized that transgender identity is not a psychological disorder. According to the Ministry’s new guidelines, there is “no ethical or professional justification” for conversion therapy to attempt to alter someone’s gender identity. Additionally, the Ministry is mandating that hospital staff have at least one member who is trained on issues of transgender identity and to provide transgender people appropriate hospital conditions, including allowing them to utilize their chosen type of bathroom. The new mandate was created over a three-year period with leading Israeli LGBT organizations Ma’avarim, Gila Project, the Aguda – Israel’s LGBT Task Force, and the Lioness Alliance.
Israel’s third wave slows: As two million Israelis have received their first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, Israel recorded a record nearly 10,000 new cases in a day. However, the number of newly infected Israelis has been dropping steadily, perhaps signaling the impact of the exceptional vaccine campaign, which has now expanded to anyone over the age of 50. Initial Israeli data is showing that the first Pfizer dose curbs infections by 50% after a 14-day period. Israeli health officials believe that the massive third wave has hit its peak and are considering relieving the coronavirus lockdown restrictions currently in place. The lockdowns are facing significant pushback from ultra-Orthodox communities, with dozens of Orthodox schools in religious neighborhoods opening despite the prohibition, prompting clashes with the police.
Prisoners to be vaccinated next week; Jewish Agency “outraged” at plan to vaccinate survivors: A spokesman for Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said on Thursday that prisoners in Israeli prisons are expected to begin receiving coronavirus vaccinations next week after he received a letter from President Reuven Rivlin. Rivlin called the current ban on vaccinating prisoners “inconsistent with our values.” Meanwhile, the Jewish Agency is “outraged” at the Health Ministry’s plan to distribute coronavirus vaccines to Holocaust survivors outside of Israel. Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich wants to send an international corps of young Jewish volunteers to vaccinate the survivors across the globe, but its critics searingly called the idea “unfeasible, illegal, immoral, diplomatically disastrous and an absolute impossibility.”
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
IDF reportedly drawing up plans to strike Iran’s nuclear program
IDF plans to strike Iran’s nuclear program: Israel Hayom reported that the Israel Defense Forces is devising plans to hit Iran’s nuclear program, coming on the heels of the announcement by Likud minister Tzachi Hanegbi that Israel might attack the nuclear program if the U.S. rejoins the 2015 nuclear deal. “Iran has made progress in recent years in terms of research and development, both on enriched material and offensive capabilities, and has a regime that really wants to have nuclear weapons,” Defense Minister Benny Gantz told Israel Hayom. “It is clear that Israel needs to have a military option on the table. It requires resources and investment, and I am working to make that happen.” As Israel braces for retaliation for the killing of Iranian terror mastermind Qassem Soleimani last year, a Newsweek report said that Iran is deploying its ‘kamikaze’ drones in Yemen to its Houthi-backed militias groups, hoping that they will use the drones against Israeli targets.
Israel strikes Iranian presence in Syria with American help: In a massive Israeli airstrike within Syria, over 57 people were killed, according to Syrian observers. Many of those killed are suspected Iranian-backed militia members, including trained forces from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria. The airstrike, conducted with American intelligence, was the fourth of its kind in two weeks, although by far the largest. The catalyst was Iran’s military ‘entrenchment’ along the Syrian-Iraqi border which greatly worries Israel. Iranian forces relocated to the far east of the country after realizing that the western part of Syria would be within easy striking distance of Israel. An Israeli official said: “[Iran] is establishing a system of drones and cruise missiles and military industries [in the east] it could not sustain in the Damascus area.” Israel is also concerned that the Biden administration will reenter the Iran nuclear deal without addressing Iran’s sponsor of terrorism or other military activities outside of the nuclear arena.
UNRWA’s new textbooks glorify terror: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency (UNRWA), a branch of the UN that runs schools, health clinics, and other social services for Palestinians, produced new textbooks that contain hatred and incitement to violence toward Israelis and glorify terrorism. The textbooks are part of a new curriculum issued by the agency during the COVID-19 pandemic to facilitate distance learning. UNRWA has claimed for years that they are taking steps to address the textbooks’ glaring issues. The director of IMPACT, the Israeli watchdog that found the new textbooks, said: “UNRWA-created material is, in places, more extremist than PA [Palestinian Authority] material it complements” and “UNRWA is complicit in radicalizing schoolchildren through the glorification of terrorists, encouragement to violence and teaching of blood libels to Palestinian schoolchildren.” One day after the report was issued, UNRWA claimed that the inclusion of the offensive material was due to bureaucratic problems.
UAE approves Israelis’ visa-free travel: The United Arab Emirates approved a visa exemption travel agreement with Israel, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry. It is the first such agreement between Israel and an Arab country. Starting in 30 days, Israelis will be able to travel to the UAE without a travel visa. Israel had approved its side of the deal in late 2020, allowing Emirati citizens to travel to Israel visa-free. Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said: “The ratification of the agreement is a central part of the full and rapid realization of the many agreements that are being formed with the Emirates, Bahrain and Morocco.” Tens of thousands of Israeli have visited the UAE since the September Abraham Accords, despite the coronavirus pandemic.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas celebrates his election victory in Ramallah, January 2005
Today we celebrate Germany returning 14 pieces of art to Jewish owners. The German government relinquished 14 pieces of art from now-deceased art collector, and noted recluse, Cornelius Gurli that were stolen under the Nazi regime. While investigating tax fraud in 2014, the government stumbled upon the stolen art in Gurli’s collection. Although Gurli bequeathed the art to the Bern Museum of Fine Arts in Switzerland, a German foundation has worked to return the art to its rightful, Jewish heirs. Some of the artwork originally belonged to Dr. Henri Hinrichsen, who was killed at Auschwitz in 1942. Germany’s culture minister said: “Behind every one of these pictures stands a human, tragic fate such as that of Auschwitz victim Dr. Henri Hinrichsen. We cannot make up for this severe suffering, but we are trying with the appraisal of Nazi art looting to make a contribution to historical justice and fulfill our moral responsibility.”
On this day in 2005, Mahmoud Abbas was sworn in as President of the Palestinian Authority. His term was scheduled to last four years but continues to this day. (Yes, it is a four-year term that has lasted 16 years.) His supporters view him as a steady hand who has maintained the status quo in the West Bank since he took its helm, while his critics, both in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, view him as an ineffective and corrupt leader. At 85, Abbas, who is nicknamed “Abu Mazen,” has no clear successor and could leave a worrying power vacuum upon his death.