Antisemitism: 41% of British Jews considering leaving; AZ State Rep. makes Holocaust comparison; L.A.’s oldest synagogue defaced; and Atlanta’s The Temple cyberattacked
Coronavirus: Israel races to vaccinate ahead of British strain; 1000 dead expected in January; “green passports” to begin allowing entrance to cultural venues
Inside Israel: Small parties’ flounder; Lapid mulls unity with Gantz; controversy erupts over settlements; and Israel bans defamatory human rights groups in schools
Israel’s Neighbors: Abbas sets first election in 16 years; Iran conducts massive missile test; Europe frets as Iran nears nuclear weapons; and U.S. and Morocco sign antisemitism pact
Inside the U.S.: Pentagon transfers Israel to Central Command; and Biden appoints top geneticist
Celebrate & Remember: Israelis in Saudi Arabia at Dakar Rally; and 30 years since Iraq fired missiles at Israel
U.K. poll shows 41% of Jews considering leaving over antisemitism, despite optimism
British Board of Deputies head Marie van der Zyl, center with sign, joins demonstrators at a protest against antisemitism in British politics at the U.K. Parliament, March 2018
British survey shows mixed results: The annual British “Antisemitism Barometer” survey conducted by King’s College London for the Campaign Against Antisemitism showed a significant decrease in the number of British Jews who feel “unwelcome” in the country. Whereas 53% of British Jews felt unwelcome as of 2019, only 18% felt the same in 2021. The difference likely stems from belief in the community that it is “back from the brink” of the potential leadership of former Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn, widely considered to be antisemitic. Still, some aspects of the survey remain unchanged. A level 41% of respondents considered leaving Britain due to antisemitism in both iterations of the survey. Among non-Jews, the survey found that “12% of British adults have entrenched antisemitic views, affirming four or more antisemitic statements” and at least 45% of non-Jews agreed with at least one antisemitic statement.
AZ State Rep. makes Holocaust comparison: Arizona State Representative Mark Finchem compared the decision by Loews Hotels to cancel a fundraiser for Republican Senator Josh Hawley to “what Hitler and Stalin did” during the Holocaust, saying, “what’s next camps? ovens?” Loews Hotels called off the event because it didn’t want to be associated with Hawley, who led the charge to overthrow the results of the presidential election in the U.S. Senate. National security attorney Mark Zaid tweeted, “You are seriously comparing genocidal maniacs who murdered more than 25 million people with a business that cancelled a fundraiser?” The Auschwitz Memorial also responded: “Such words hurt. They trivialise the crimes of the two totalitarian systems and profane the memory of millions of their victims.”
L.A.’s oldest synagogue defaced: The Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) is investigating a possible hate crime after someone spray-painted the phrase “I hate your race” on the outside of Wilshire Boulevard Temple, L.A.’s first synagogue. The synagogue was founded in 1862 as Congregation B’nai B’rith. According to the LAPD, surveillance footage shows that a male in a hooded sweatshirt committed the vandalism at 2:30 a.m. on Monday. The Temple released a statement via Twitter: “Earlier today, a vandal defaced a small area on the outside of our historic sanctuary with antisemitic graffiti. Law enforcement authorities have responded and are conducting a thorough investigation. Our campuses remain secure and well protected. On this day when we celebrate the life and legacy of MLK, who chose courage over fear in the face of oppression, ignorance, and violence, we stand strong in our resolve. We condemn this hateful antisemitic vandalism. There is no place for hate in a civil society.”
Warnock service at Atlanta’s The Temple cyberattacked: While Senator-elect Reverend Raphael Warnock delivered a virtual sermon at Atlanta’s The Temple, hackers shut down the service’s livestream. Warnock was delivering his sermon during The Temple’s annual joint erev Shabbat service with Ebenezer Baptist Church, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s former preaching pulpit and where Warnock now serves in the same position. The streaming was cut off for over an hour on Friday but remained active via livestream on Facebook and YouTube. (The service was entirely remote due to the coronavirus pandemic.) Yet it was not just The Temple that felt the attack. “Malicious user agents … continuously loaded the Temple website with the objective of shutting it down. In doing so, they blocked access not only to The Temple, but to every other synagogue client website across the country,” said The Temple’s website provider. The attack constituted the “largest-ever” against the provider’s synagogue clients. The Temple, Atlanta’s largest and oldest synagogue to which Senator-elect Jon Ossoff belongs, has been hit by antisemitic attacks before: it was famously bombed in 1968 by white supremacists.
Lockdown extended in Israel as new variant strains spread
Source: @YuliEdelstein / Twitter, January 18, 2021
Pandemic faces fork in Israel: The coronavirus pandemic in Israel has come to a crossroads. As the country races to become the first in the world to achieve herd immunity via vaccination, it is also facing the new, fastly spreading variant strains of the virus crippling parts of Europe. So far, it seems the sprint to vaccinate may not be fast enough, with the government likely to extend the current virus lockdown by two weeks or so. While some officials claim that Israel is in the “final stages” of the pandemic, others are saying there is “no choice but to extend the lockdown” as the rate of infection surges to 9.1%. Current predictions estimate perhaps as many as 1,000 coronavirus deaths in January and another huge spike of cases by March. The ultra-Orthodox have been the hardest hit over the winter, with videos and images posted online of massive Orthodox gatherings for weddings and other events. Of the double standard, Avigdor Lieberman, head of the anti-Orthodox party Yisrael Beiteynu, said: “No enforcement, no closure, what’s up? […] It is impossible to come to terms with a state of state within a state.” One Israeli rabbi, to the laughter of the internet, even said that the coronavirus vaccine turns its recipients gay.
Israelis to get green passport after vaccination: Those Israelis inoculated against the coronavirus will soon have a new tool at their disposal: an immunity passport. People with the passport will be exempt from: isolation after coming into contact with an infected person; isolation after international travel; and producing a negative coronavirus test before entering certain tourist areas known as “green islands.” Tel Aviv’s mayor Ron Huldai even says that culture venues (clubs, theaters, etc.) will reopen in the city in February for those who are fully vaccinated. (The Deputy Attorney General said Huldai does not have the authority to make that call.) Israel has now opened up vaccines to the general public over 45, and all prisoners, as it continues to lead the world in per capita distribution of the pandemic solver.
Recent polls show small parties may fall below electoral threshold if they run alone
Labor asks Barak to return; he says no: The Israeli Labor Party’s board asked former leader Ehud Barak, Israel’s 10th prime minister, to return to its helm. The Labor Party has collapsed in recent years and is not expected to even retain a single seat in the Knesset for the first time in Israeli history. Writing to Barak, the party said: “There is no figure on the political map with your experience, leadership standing, and national status to succeed and lead a change in government.” Barak, however, announced he would not return to lead the party, instead remaining outside electoral politics. Barak said “there is still not the maturity needed for decisions about [forming a left-wing] bloc” to take on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s hegemony. Without the merger of Labor and another party, Labor’s demise is all but certain. And it’s not just the Labor party—according to several polls released last week, if they run alone, the smaller parties Labor, Bayit Yehudi, Blue and White, The Israelis, and Telem would fall beneath the electoral threshold.
Lapid willing to rejoin with Gantz; Sa’ar hires Lincoln Project: However nasty and personal their breakup was, Yair Lapid of the Yesh Atid party has said behind-the-scenes that he is willing to reunite with Benny Gantz and the Blue and White party to, once again, take on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Things will be different this time, though. For one, Lapid says he is willing to form a government with support from Arab parties, something that had been a red line to Gantz in previous elections. Additionally, the public’s trust in Gantz has plummeted ever since he flipped on his stringent election promise not to sit in a government under Netanyahu. Lapid is currently weighing the harm in his party’s electoral standing of reuniting with Blue and White against the benefit of Blue and White’s horde of campaign money that it retained in the divorce. There is also consideration of Ron Huldai’s left-wing The Israelis party joining the team, however both Lapid and Huldai are much more willing to merge or join forces with Blue and White should Gantz leave the party. Gideon Sa’ar has also brought on new, but American, faces. Sa’ar is enlisting the help of four founders of the anti-Trump Lincoln Project. Their effort closely mirrors Sa’ar’s own, as they were members of the Republican Party (as Sa’ar was a loyal member of Netanyahu’s Likud) who turned their back on what they viewed as the dangerous cult of personality around the party’s leader. Although the Lincoln Project had little success in electoral gains for Joe Biden, it was spectacularly well equipped in getting under Trump’s skin. The group has vowed to take on supporters of Trump wherever they may be.
Construction in the West Bank, both Jewish and Palestinian, hits controversy: Controversy has erupted at and in the Israeli government over its decision to legalize 800 new settlement homes before President-elect Biden’s inauguration. All manner of people are angry at one another: the Right is angry at Netanyahu for permitting the construction of Palestinian homes while ignoring the issue of settlement outpost construction; the Defense Minister, Benny Gantz, is outraged that Netanyahu attempted to bypass him to stop the construction of the Palestinian buildings; Netanyahu is furious at the Attorney General for blocking his attempt to legalize the outposts at the behest of the Right; and foreign governments, including Egypt and Jordan, are infuriated, with the U.K. saying its “seriously concerned” about the construction “deep within the West Bank” which “could threaten future peace negotiations.” In other construction news, a Jerusalem district court froze the construction of a new Jerusalem neighborhood over a suit by Palestinian residents alleging discrimination.
Israel bans human rights groups in schools: Groups that call Israel an “apartheid state” will be banned from lecturing at schools, Israel’s Education Minister Yoav Gallant has said. Most obviously a reaction to major human rights group B’Tselem’s decision last week to label Israel an ‘apartheid state,’ Gallant said groups that “call Israel false derogatory names” will not be allowed in schools. Israel’s leaders reject such accusations, saying that within Israel’s sovereign borders, its non-Jewish Arab minority enjoys equal rights, that it has withdrawn from the Gaza Strip to the pre-1967 lines, and that it remains open to negotiating the future of the West Bank. The decision came a day before B’Tselem’s director was scheduled to speak to a school in Haifa. The director, Hagai El-Ad, did ultimately speak at the Hebrew Reali School in Haifa, defying the Education Minister and his new edict.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
After setting election date, Palestinian Authority’s Abbas declares rival can’t run
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and then-Fatah official Mohammed Dahlan, Ramallah, Dec. 18, 2006
Abbas sets election dates: Mahmoud Abbas, President of the Palestinian Authority, has set dates for Palestinian elections this year for the first time since 2005. The election for legislature is set for May 22 and the presidential election will be on July 31. It is unclear how, or if, residents in the Gaza Strip, who are ruled over by the Hamas terrorist organization, will participate in the election. Hamas and Abbas’ Fatah party held unity talks last year that fell apart. It is also unclear if Abbas intends to run for the presidency again; he is currently 84. The Palestinians are demanding that residents of East Jerusalem participate in the election, but Israel claims the entire city of Jerusalem as its own. In the mid-2000s, Abbas won the presidential election, but Hamas won the majority of seats in the Palestinian parliament. This led to a violent struggle for power, which resulted in the Hamas-Fatah split, the former controlling Gaza and the latter controlling parts of the West Bank. Confounding the issues, one of Abbas’ chief rivals, Mohammed Dahlan, will be barred from running for the presidency by the Palestinian Authority. Two anonymous Palestinian officials said Dahlan could not run due to his conviction as a criminal (in a conspiracy theory, Mahmoud Abbas blames Dahlan for assassinating former PA leader Yasser Arafat and subsequently expelled him from the party) and his residency in the U.A.E.
Iran launches large, threatening military drill: Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, designated a terrorist group by the U.S., launched a massive and showy military drill last week in a message of intimidation to the U.S., Gulf states, and Israel. Video footage showed ballistic missiles hitting “hypothetical hostile enemy ships” at a distance of 1,800 kilometers. With missiles at such distance, Iran could potentially strike Israeli targets directly. The Iranian chief of staff said Iran does “not intend to carry out any attack,” but is ready to defend itself “with all its strength.”
E3 says Iran getting close to nuclear weapons: Britain, France, and Germany, known as the ‘E3,’ expressed deep concern over Iran’s announcement of increased uranium enrichment. The group said that Iran has “no credible civilian use” for the uranium which has “grave military implications.” The foreign minister of each country said: “We strongly urge Iran to halt this activity and return to compliance with its [nuclear deal] commitments without further delay if it is serious about preserving the deal.” France, meanwhile, went further, saying: “Iran is in the process of acquiring nuclear [weapons] capacity.” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian blamed the Trump administration’s ‘maximum pressure’ campaign, claiming it has “only increased the risk and the threat.” The incoming Biden administration has already begun backdoor conversations with Iran on returning to the nuclear deal and has been updating Israel on the progress. The Trump administration withdrew from the international pact in 2018 causing it to tailspin.
U.S. State and Morocco NGO sign antisemitism pact: In the wake of Morocco’s resuming of diplomatic relations with Israel, the U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Antisemitism signed a historic agreement with the Moroccan nongovernmental organization Association Mimouna of Morocco to address antisemitism, anti-Zionism, and efforts to delegitimize Israel. Founded in 2007, Association Mimouna of Morocco is a non-profit focused on maintaining and preserving the ancient and historic Jewish connection to Morocco. Princess Lalla Joumala, Morocco’s ambassador to the U.S. and first cousin of King Mohammed VI, said: “This new partnership is both timely and welcome as it extends the government of Morocco’s firm commitment to combating antisemitism.” The State Department signed a similar agreement with a Bahraini NGO after the signing of the Abraham Accords last year.
INSIDE THE U.S.
Pentagon moves Israel into Central Command to boost cooperation with Arab states
Pentagon transfers Israel to Middle East command: The Department of Defense has transferred Israel from its sphere of European Command to Central Command, which deals with issues in the Middle East. For decades, Israel has been relegated to European Command because of Arab hostility and inability to work with Israel. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz praised the decision, saying: “This shift will further boost cooperation between the IDF and the U.S. armed forces in confronting regional challenges, along with other friends with whom we share interests.” The move will also make it easier to coordinate against the biggest regional threat, Iran. “The easing of tensions between Israel and its Arab neighbors subsequent to the Abraham Accords has provided a strategic opportunity for the United States to align key partners against shared threats in the Middle East,” said the Pentagon. And pro-Israel organizations in D.C. also applauded the reorganization, saying: “[This] will strengthen strategic planning, defense cooperation, and deterrence against Iran by America and its regional allies.”
Biden appoints Jewish geneticist to top position: President-elect Biden appointed Eric Steven Lander, the Jewish head of the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, to be his chief science advisor. Biden also announced that the job will be elevated to the status of a Cabinet position. Lander is a world-pioneering geneticist, who helped map the human genome. This will be the first time the chief science advisor appointment will be a Cabinet position; Biden explained, saying: “science will always be at the forefront of my administration.” Francis Collins, the head of the National Institutes of Health, said “[Lander is] brilliant, visionary, exceptionally creative and highly effective in aspiring others. I predict he will have a profound transformational effect on American science.” The position of director of science and technology policy requires Senate confirmation.
Today we celebrate Israelis racing in the Dakar Rally in Saudi Arabia! In spite of the Saudi ban prohibiting the entrance of Israeli citizens to the Kingdom, nine Israeli race drivers entered the country to participate in the Dakar Rally, a famous off-road motorsport race. Some entered using Israeli passports and others were listed under the nationalities of Belgian or American. The Israelis were sponsored by MyHeritage, the Israeli genealogy and DNA testing service. The Dakar Rally only relocated from South America to Saudi Arabia last year. Israel has long had clandestine ties with Saudi Arabia and Gulf Arab states that have strengthened in recent years, as they have confronted a shared threat in Iran.
Today marks the 30-year anniversary of the launch of Iraqi Scud missiles into Israel during the First Gulf War. The missiles fired today 30 years ago injured 15 Israeli civilians. All told, the Iraqi missiles killed 74 Israelis. During the war, Israelis were issued gas masks for fear that Iraq would launch chemical weapons into the country. Although Israel was prepared to take unilateral military action to take out the Iraqi Scud missile capability, the U.S. managed to talk Israel out of it. It was Iraq’s intention to draw Israel into the war in order to fracture the U.S.-led coalition against Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Kuwait which included Arab regimes that refused to recognize Israel, particularly and importantly Saudi Arabia. The six-month war ended in Iraqi defeat and set the stage for the next war against Iraq in 2003.