Inside the U.S.: Son of Jewish Tree of Life victims sues NRA; Biden admin makes first official contacts with Israel; Jewish surfer makes history; and UCLA opens Jewish music center
Coronavirus.: Israel shuts borders; violence erupts in Israel’s ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods; and Bibi’s economic plan faces criticism
Inside Israel: Worldwide antisemitism to increase in 2021; Netanyahu and Lapid both strengthen; Labor rebuilds; and Ugandan Jews ruled ineligible to make Aliyah
Israel’s Neighbors: Gaza House Explosion; Israeli delegation to Sudan; Biden’s dialogue with Iran; UAE and Israel exchange embassies; and Israel ratifies Morocco ties
Inside Europe: Germany attempts to eliminate surviving Nazi laws; secret bunker discovered beneath Warsaw Ghetto; and Italian prince apologies to Jewish community
Celebrate & Remember: Belgian survivors reunite 70 years later; and Israel’s first ever Knesset elections
INSIDE THE U.S.
Tree of Life victims’ son sues NRA, gunmaker, killer, & gun shop
Source: @treeoflifepgh / Twitter, October 27, 2020
Son of Jewish Tree of Life victims sues NRA: Marc Simon, the son of Sylvan and Bernice Simon, who were murdered in the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in 2018, is suing the National Rifle Association, as well as the shooter, the manufacturer of the shooter’s AR-15 semi-automatic rifle, and the business that sold the gun to the shooter. In his suit, Simon is arguing that the NRA manufactured “mendacious white supremacist conspiracy theories” prompting the shooter to act on them. The complaint includes screenshots from social media posted by leaders of the NRA and its supporters with explicit antisemitic messages and imagery. The lawsuit also claims the gun manufacturer could have prevented the AR-15 from “bump firing,” a term which means the shooter was able to modify the gun to fire more rapidly. NRA Public Affairs director Amy Hunter said in an email, “The NRA promotes the safe, lawful use of firearms and is saddened by this horrific event.”
Biden admin makes first official contacts with Israel: The new U.S. national security advisor, Jake Sullivan, spoke with his Israeli counterpart, Meir Shabbat, becoming the first U.S. official from the Biden administration to make contact with Israel’s government. The pair of security officials discussed the Iran nuclear deal (and Israel’s grave concern over America rejoining it) and the Abraham Accords, Israel’s normalization agreement with the UAE and Bahrain that was negotiated with U.S. support. According to the National Security Council’s spokesperson Emily Horne, Sullivan “reaffirmed President Biden’s unwavering commitment to Israel’s security” and the two “discussed opportunities to enhance the partnership over the coming months, including by building on the success of Israel’s normalization arrangements with UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco.”
Jewish surfer makes history: Makua Rothman, a 36-year-old Jewish-Hawaiian surfer, has potentially ridden the largest wave in the history of the sport. Though speculated to be over 100 feet tall, the official estimate of the wave’s height will be released in May at the XXL surfing awards. Rothman is from Kahuku, Hawaii and told the San Diego Jewish World that while he was not raised in a particularly Jewish household, he has grown closer to his Jewish roots. He has been considered one of the best surfers in the world for over 20 years.
UCLA opens Jewish music center: The University of California at Los Angeles’ Herb Alpert School of Music opened The Lowell Milken Center for Music of American Jewish Experience, an institute to study the musical experience of American Jews. The Center was established with a $6.75 million endowment by the Milken Family Foundation. Lowell Milken said the Foundation aims for the Center to “become a national leader in the exploration of Jewish music.” Milken is a businessman and philanthropist who founded the Milken Archive of Jewish American Music which houses more than 600 recordings, 200 oral histories, and 50 albums documenting the Jewish contribution to American music.
Israel shuts down international airport for all travel purposes for first time in history
Israel shuts borders; entirely closed for first time ever: Israel has taken the unprecedented step of shutting down nearly all operations of its one international airport, practically sealing its borders. The nation is shunning outsiders, including Jews, for the first time in its history because of the coronavirus pandemic and fears of the diffusing coronavirus variants, despite the British variant’s already widespread status in Israel. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said: “We are ahead of the entire world. No nation has done what we are about to do – we are hermetically sealing the country.” Last April, Israel also shut down most flights, yet Israeli citizens and some exceptions could still fly to and enter Israel. This time, no one, save for life-threatening emergencies according to Transportation Minister Miri Regev, will be allowed in the country until January 31.
Bibi’s economic plan faces criticism: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is under criticism from the Bank of Israel for proposing an economic plan to send direct cash payments to all Israelis after Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz unveiled a new stimulus plan to combat the adverse economic effects of the pandemic. The plan would send about $230 to every Israeli adult. The Bank said: “A universal and indiscriminate distribution [of resources] — such as a grant per child, regardless of income — is ineffective.” Additionally, the Treasury was apparently kept in the dark, and the Attorney General says that the payments are illegal because of its proximity to the Knesset elections. Israeli reporter Barak Ravid said on Twitter, “My wife and I work and make a living. Why do we need to receive a [sic] grant from the state when there are hundreds of thousands of unemployed? What is this madness?”
Israel predicts steep rise in antisemitic incidents around the world in 2021
Source: @AuschwitzMuseum / Twitter, January 10, 2021
Worldwide antisemitism to increase in 2021: Due to the pandemic, worldwide antisemitism is expected to greatly increase in 2021. The finding was put forward in the Diaspora Affairs Ministry’s annual report on antisemitism, published ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, which is marked this Wednesday. The 140-page report also noted that “the rising rates of antisemitic sentiment are expected to lead to a significant increase in violence against Jews and Jewish sites in 2021. This is expected to challenge communities around the world, especially the American Jewish community.” The report also said that the recent EU ruling upholding a Belgian ban on Kosher slaughter represented “an institutional threat to Jewish religious freedom in Europe for the first time since the Holocaust.” Additionally, the report stated deep concern that the precedent could have implications on the Jewish ritual of circumcision. The Diaspora Affairs Minister, Omer Yankelevitch, said, “Throughout history, the Jewish people have served as an easy scapegoat for the world’s illnesses,” and called for a “determined and uncompromising struggle to defeat this plague.”
Netanyahu, Lapid both strengthen, Joint List falters: New polls over the past few days show Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and opposition chief Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid both gaining strength in the upcoming March election. Yesh Atid is now polling second with an estimated 16-18 seats, behind only Likud which is polling at about 31 Knesset seats. On the faltering end, the Joint List bloc is likely to change shape before the coming election. The Joint List is an alliance of four Arab-led factions from across the political spectrum which joined forces to avoid falling below the Knesset’s 3.25 percent electoral threshold. The party leaders had a meeting on Sunday night to deal with the strain the party has been under in recent months as one of the leaders—Mansour Abbas—has publicly expressed a desire to form an alliance with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. Abbas’ colleagues see him as collaborating with a prime minister who they say has long incited against Arab-Israelis.
Labor rebuilds: Merav Michaeli, a 54-year-old woman, won the Labor Party’s primary to become its new leader. Labor had a disastrous 20-year run, falling from its leading place in Israeli political life. Michaeli, the only female head of a major party, will have the difficult job of rebuilding the party, which has already seen its first benefit from her leadership: in new polls, the party is now projected to barely make it into the upcoming Knesset. (In previous polls, Labor had been left out entirely.) Should it not, it would be the first time in Israeli history that the Labor Party did not take seat in the Knesset. It is also reported that Michaeli will attempt to merge with Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s party, The Israelis, which has also plunged in the polls and is polling equal to or just above Labor. In her first act as Labor leader, Michaeli announced that her party is exiting the transitional coalition and ordered ministers Amir Peretz and Itzik Shmuli to resign from their cabinet posts. Michaeli wrote on Twitter, “The Labor party is leaving the corrupt Netanyahu-Gantz government. I have informed Peretz and Shmuli they must resign the government as soon as possible. Labor is starting anew.”
Ugandan Jews ruled ineligible to make Aliyah: Israel’s Interior Ministry has ruled that Ugandan Jews of the Abayudaya community are not eligible to immigrate to Israel, despite the Law of Return guaranteeing Aliyah (immigration) for all Jews worldwide. The Jewish Agency had previously decided that Ugandan Jews were eligible to make Aliyah, a decision which has now been reversed by the government. The decision might impact other “emerging Jewish communities,” including those descended from Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were forcibly converted during the Inquisition. The Ugandan Jewish community, however, does not have Jewish heritage. Rather, the Abayudaya began practicing Judaism about 100 years ago. Most began to ritually convert under Conservative rabbis at the turn of the 21st century. Rabbi Andy Sacks, who leads the Conservative movement in Israel, said the announcement was “outrageous” and said: “This is a time for us to bring the Jewish communities in Israel and in the Diaspora together. The disrespect shown by the government toward this community of Jews, sadly, does just the opposite.”
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Explosion in Gaza home used for Hamas weapons storage injures dozens
Gaza House Explosion: A Saturday home explosion in the Gaza Strip city of Beit Hanoun injured at least 30 people, with degrees varying from light to moderate. The explosion completely destroyed the house and damaged some surrounding structures. The Israel Defense Forces attributed the explosion to the mishandling of weapons, missiles, and ammunition stored by Hamas in the home of a civilian. Hamas, the terror organization that runs Gaza, disputed these claims and reportedly began an investigation of its own. IDF Spokesperson for Arab Media Avichay Adraee went on to say, “the story of the house is the story of many homes in the Gaza Strip…with innocent residents being the ones who eventually pay the price.” The IDF tweeted, “What terrorists in Gaza tried to do this morning: prepare explosives to attack Israel. What terrorists in Gaza actually did this morning: cause an explosion in a civilian area inside Gaza.”
Israeli cabinet minister led delegation to Sudan: Israeli Minister of Intelligence Eli Cohen became the first Israeli official to officially travel to Sudan on Monday. In a secret trip to Khartoum, Cohen discussed the normalization process with the Arab republic, including a variety of diplomatic and security issues, as well as the potential for economic cooperation. Since 1948, Israel and Sudan have been at war; Sudan only agreed to move toward normal relations with Israel last year. The city of Khartoum was the host of the Khartoum Resolution in 1967 which established the “3 Nos” of the Arab world: No negotiation with Israel, no recognition of Israel, no peace with Israel. There was no immediate comment from Sudanese officials regarding the Israeli delegation’s trip. The trip came after a report that Sudan was planning on discussing whether to cancel its law mandating a state-wide boycott of Israel. The revocation of the law would ease the normalization process between the countries.
Biden pursuing direct dialogue with Iran: A Washington official anonymously reported Monday that the Biden Administration is pursuing direct talks with Iran over reentry into the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), otherwise known as the Iran Deal. Talks are ongoing but so far unofficial, and Washington intends to bring in European mediators as well as consult with its allies in the Middle East. Iranian officials have said any return to the deal must be preceded by the U.S. fulfilling seven preconditions, and that the Islamic Republic is not open to any new terms to the deal. The U.S. has vowed to coordinate its response to Iran with Israel, but some say that while Israel struggles with its own political turmoil, Biden may not wait before he makes a deal with Tehran. Mossad chief Yossi Cohen is set to travel to Washington in the coming weeks to lay out Israel’s requests for any new version of the Iran deal. Cohen will reportedly be the first senior Israeli official to meet with President Biden. Israel’s new ambassador to the United States, Gilad Erdan, said in an interview with The Washington Post, “We’ll do everything to convince the administration of our views, because in Israel, unfortunately, we are the first to be threatened by the Iranian ayatollahs’ regime.”
UAE and Israel exchange embassies, Israel ratifies Morocco ties: The UAE’s government approved the opening of its embassy to Israel in Tel Aviv, as much of the international community does not recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. In separate, but related, news, Israel opened its embassy in the UAE’s capital, Abu Dhabi. The embassy is currently located in a temporary location until a permanent situation can be finalized. It is Israel’s third embassy currently open in an Arab country, after its embassies in Egypt and Jordan. Additionally, on Sunday, Israel’s cabinet approved the country’s normalization agreement with Morocco, which is similar to the agreements with the UAE and Bahrain.
Germany attempts to rid itself of remaining Nazi laws
Germany moves to eliminate surviving Nazi laws: Germany is attempting to rid itself of laws which were enacted by the Nazis that are still on the books, some of which have a clear antisemitic background. There are reportedly 29 German legal or regulatory texts that still use wording introduced when Hitler was in power. One of the laws in question deals with the right to change one’s name, which was introduced by Nazi interior minister Wilhelm Frick in 1938. In 1939, a change to that law was enacted to force Jewish people to add the names “Sara” or “Israel” to their first names if they did not have a name that was considered typically Jewish. The section on Jewish names was scrapped immediately after World War II, but a portion of the earlier text was incorporated into federal law in 1954. Felix Klein, the government’s point man for fighting antisemitism, pointed out that the remaining parts of the law, which deal with issues such as the right to change one’s name, are still “written as though the Third Reich still existed.” Terms such as “German Reich,” “Reich government,” and “Reich interior minister” are also used in these lingering laws.
Secret bunker discovered beneath Warsaw Ghetto: A secret bunker under the ruins of the Warsaw Ghetto was discovered recently, after demolition work for residential construction revealed the structure. The area of the former Warsaw Ghetto is being demolished by Polish authorities to make room for residential buildings. Found within the bunker were 10 pairs of Tefillin, among books, weapons, and other items. The Tefillin were clandestinely procured by an organization dedicated to Holocaust study to keep them away from the Polish government, and will be disinfected and preserved at the institute. According to the director of the Holocaust preservation group, the contents of the bunker “demonstrate the Jewish lifestyle they kept in the ghetto,” and illustrate the importance of the ghetto-fighters’ Jewish faith alongside their rebellion.
Italian prince apologies to Jewish community: Prince Emanuele Filiberto di Savoia, the grandson of the last king of Italy, issued an apology to the Italian Jewish community, Europe’s oldest, on behalf of his family’s assistance with Nazi-era discrimination policies. Di Savoia’s great-grandfather, King Victor Emmanuel III, cooperated with and supported the facist Mussolini regime, signing onto a host of anti-Jewish laws beginning in 1938. The president of the Italian Jewish community rejected the apology, saying: “No Jewish community can grant forgiveness in the name of all the Jews who were discriminated against, handed over to the authorities, expelled and murdered. The crimes of Victor Emmanuel III and of fascism were an abomination, a tragic break in Italy’s history, and they will serve as a warning for generations.” Approximately 7,500 Italian Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Wezembeek orphanage. Source: Marie Albert-Blum Family/ Former Director of the Wezembeek orphanage
Today we celebrate Belgian survivors reuniting 70 years later! A recent Zoom function brought together Holocaust survivors who, over 70 years earlier, had been young children living in Belgian orphanages. Roni Wolf, a current resident of Ra’anana, Israel who spent much of her childhood with her older sister at the Wezembeek orphanage, only recalls positive memories of her time there, saying everyone doted over her as the youngest child. She called the reunion “amazing,” appreciating the opportunity to reunite and share stories. It seems as though the children’s orphanages in Belgium did not succumb to Nazi efforts because of a covert agreement between the Nazi regime and the Queen Elizabeth of Belgium. Tomorrow, on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, we remember the 6 million Jews, among them 1.5 million children, and millions of others, murdered by Nazis and their collaborators.
On January 25, 1949, Israel held its first ever elections for its parliament, the Knesset. The election had been scheduled to take place in 1948 but was postponed due to the War for Independence. Instead of voting directly for the Knesset, the public voted on the “Constituent Assembly,” a temporary committee which morphed into the Knesset shortly thereafter. In the first election, David Ben-Gurion’s Mapai coalition (helmed by the Labor Party) won a plurality with 35.7% of the vote. Ben-Gurion established a government of 73 seats. (A coalition needs 61 to be in the majority.) Also, at the Constituent Assembly, Chaim Weizmann was elected as Israel’s first president, a mostly ceremonial role.