Antisemitism: GOP Rep. blames wildfires on Jewish space laser; White House denounces attacks on Jewish & Palestinian staff picks; Luxembourg agrees to Holocaust restitution; Lithuanian lawmaker blames Jews for Holocaust; American Jewish groups adopt IHRA antisemitism definition; and ADL gives Facebook ‘D’ on Holocaust denial
Coronavirus.: Holocaust survivors 20% of COVID-19 deaths; mutations run wild in Israel; and Israel rushes to vaccinate
Inside Israel: CENTCOM head lands in Israel to discuss Iran; former Labour head quits his party; Joint List collapses; and Gantz threatens to enlist Orthodox
Israel’s Neighbors: Pakistani court releases Daniel Pearl killer; U.S. restores relations with Palestinians; and Fatah infighting as election approaches
Inside the U.S.: Biden suspends sale of F-35 fighter jets to UAE; NYT writer arrested for acting as agent of Iran; and Yellen & Blinken confirmed
Celebrate & Remember: Foundation helps survivors during pandemic; and the nomination of Louis D. Brandeis
In unearthed posts, GOP Rep. blames wildfires on Jewish space laser
Rep. Greene insinuates Jews behind CA fires: Social media posts of Representative Marjorie Greene, Republican of Georgia, surfaced this week showing her to believe in outlandish, false, and offensive conspiracy theories. Some of the most abhorrent theories were in regards to school shootings—like the Sandy Hook Elementary school and Stoneman Douglas shootings which left scores of little kids, teenagers, teachers, and administrators dead—which she claimed were ‘false flags,’ meaning staged. Another wild theory that she wrote in her own words concerned the wildfires in California. Greene wrote that she believed the Rothschilds, the famous Jewish banking family targeted by antisemites, created the fires with a Jewish space laser. Democrats, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, called for her to be immediately removed from her Republican-appointed position on the House’s Education Committee, while others have called for her to be removed from the Congress entirely.
White House denounces attacks on Jewish, Palestinian staff picks: NBC and left-wing online journal Mother Jones published op-eds this week attacking top National Security Council official Anne Neuberger over her family’s donations to AIPAC, an American pro-Israel lobbying group. Both outlets were widely criticized for their articles, which accused Neuberger of dual loyalty, a classic antisemitic trope. The American Jewish Committee said, “Questioning the loyalty of a public servant…is not just offensive, it reeks of bigotry.” A separate op-ed by publication Jewish News Syndicate (JNS) accused another national security appointee, Palestinian American Maher Bitar, of being an anti-Israel activist who supported Islamic terrorism. A spokeswoman for the National Security Council denounced all the articles, saying “there is no justification for false … attacks based on ethnic, racial, or religious identity.” NBC has taken down the article, but Mother Jones and Jewish News Syndicate have not.
Luxembourg agrees to Holocaust restitution: On Wednesday, International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Luxembourg signed a major agreement with the World Jewish Restitution Organization to address issues of Jewish property stolen during the Holocaust. Luxembourg agreed to donate one million euros to the WJRO in symbolic recognition of the Luxembourgish victims of the Holocaust. (Approximately 2,500 Luxembourgish Jews were murdered in the Holocaust.) Luxembourg also promised 150,000 euros each year for the next 30 years to the Luxembourg Foundation for the Memory of the Shoah. Most significantly, the small country will purchase Cinqfontaines Abbey, a 1906 monastery that was converted into a Nazi internment camp in which Nazis held Jews before deporting them to death and concentration camps.
Lithuanian lawmaker blames Jews for Holocaust: The U.S. Ambassador to Lithuania sharply criticized a prominent Lithuanian lawmaker for engaging in Holocaust denial on International Holocaust Remembrance Day. The chairman of the Lithuanian parliament’s committee on national memory said on Wednesday: “There was no shortage of Holocaust perpetrators among the Jews themselves.” Outraged, U.S. Ambassador Gilchrist wrote: “It is shocking that on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, of all days, a member of [the Lithuanian parliament] should espouse distortions regarding Holocaust collaborators in Lithuania and shamefully seek to accuse Jews of being the perpetrators.” The director of the Simon Wiesenthal’s Eastern Europe bureau called on the lawmaker to resign from his post for “lying about Lithuanian history.”
American Jewish groups adopt IHRA antisemitism definition: 51 of 53 of the organizations a party to the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism. The definition is a 500-word document with an addendum of 11 specific examples of antisemitism. The Conference said its decision “reflects the broad support that exists for the most authoritative and internationally accepted definition of antisemitism as an educational tool, as well as the widespread view that it is critically important to define antisemitism in order to combat it successfully.” The two groups that did not adopt the definition were Americans for Peace Now, a progressive group, and the Workers Circle, a Yiddish cultural organization. Although it agreed to adopt the IHRA definition, the Reform movement, America’s largest Jewish religious movement, said the definition “should not be codified into policy that would trigger potentially problematic punitive action to circumscribe speech, efforts which have been particularly aimed at college students and human rights activists.” The IHRA definition has faced criticism for its position that speech demonizing the State of Israel and targeting Israel is antisemitic.
ADL gives Facebook ‘D’ on Holocaust denial: The Anti-Defamation League created its first-ever “Online Holocaust Denial Report Card” to analyze social media’s efforts to combat Holocaust denial on various platforms. The results ranged from the gaming platform Twitch, which received a B, to Facebook, the lowest scorer with a D. Although Facebook reversed its stance and banned Holocaust denial in October, the ADL found lax enforcement and rampant violations. The ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said: “While some platforms have finally stepped up their efforts to stop the amplification of denial, others are still struggling to address anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial effectively.” Also on International Holocaust Remembrance Day, Facebook announced that it would direct users who search about the Holocaust to a reputable, third-party site run by the World Jewish Congress and UNESCO to combat misinformation.
900 Holocaust survivors in Israel have died of COVID-19, nearly 20% of all deaths
Mutations run wild in Israel: With strict lockdown measures already in place, Israel’s coronavirus standing continues to, illogically, get worse. Scientists are sure this is because of the rapidly spreading mutant variants, including the British and South African strains of the coronavirus. The Health Ministry has even requested extending the lockdown past the end of this week, which had previously been off the table. Blue and White, though, refused to give its needed OK for the lockdown until the government promised to amp up its enforcement measures and increase fines. Eventually, the government agreed to double the fines for rulebreakers. Additionally, Israel’s plans for reopening schools have hit a significant issue with children being infected at a much higher rate during this wave of the virus than previous episodes. Trying to keep the mutants out, and with Israel’s airport shuttered, the country has now gone so far as to seal its very limited border crossings with Jordan and Egypt, its two Arab neighbors with which it has diplomatic ties. It is the first time in Israeli history that the country has been completely sealed off from the outside world by land and air. The pressure of the third wave is so great that one Jerusalem hospital is in the process of collapsing. One nurse said: “The first wave was a shock for us because we weren’t familiar with the disease. After a few shifts we said, ‘Ok, I understand what’s going on.’ But the third wave has hit us hard.”
Israel rushes to vaccinate: The vaccine’s rollout continues apace, while the Health Ministry revised its recommendation, saying that pregnant women in their first trimester should not receive the coronavirus vaccine. Prime Minister Netanyahu warned of a virus strain that inevitably becomes resistant to the vaccines, even as the vaccines were found to be 92% effective in Israel in the first controlled result outside of a clinical trial. The government also said that 900 Holocaust survivors in Israel died of the coronavirus, practically 20% of all coronavirus-caused deaths. According to a study conducted by Israel Hayom, the average age of people who have died from coronavirus has decreased. The average age was initially 81, which decreased to 79 in the second wave, and in the current, third wave, the average age of those who have passed away from the virus is 77.
CENTCOM leader lands in Israel after IDF head warns U.S. against Iran deal
CENTCOM head lands in Israel to discuss Iran: On Thursday, General Kenneth McKenzie, commander of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM) landed in Israel for talks with the Israel Defense Forces about Iran and other regional issues. Days prior, in a statement rocking the Israeli military establishment, IDF’s Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi warned the U.S. against rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, echoing Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Kochavi ordered the army to “prepare a number of operational plans” should Iran close in on a nuclear weapon. He said: “these plans must be on the table, in existence and trained for.” In the past, Israel has struck enemy nuclear programs, in Iraq in 1981 and Syria in 2007. Of Kochavi’s public involvement in American foreign policy decisions, one official said: “there’s never been anything like this.” U.S. Secretary of State Anthony Blinken confirmed that the Biden Administration hopes to rejoin the Iran Nuclear Deal but is still a long way away until Iran complies with its conditions. Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif shot back that, because America was the first to leave the deal, it should be first to return before demanding Iranian compliance. The Iranian army spokesperson dismissed the comments made by Kochavi and warned that the “slightest mistake” by Israel would lead the Islamic republic to “level Haifa and Tel Aviv.”
Former Labour head quits his party: Amir Peretz, the previous head of the Labour Party, has quit Labour after Merav Michaeli ordered all Labour members to leave the Netanyahu government. Peretz was famous for his epic flip-flop: shaving his mustache for the first time in 47 years during the last election to say, “read my lips: I will not join a Netanyahu government,” and then joining a Netanyahu government. Turning his back on his former party, Peretz announced his decision to stay in the government and quit the party rather than reverse with the explanation that: “this is a caretaker government; any departure of a minister from the center-left bloc would only strengthen the right-wing bloc.” In December, Peretz announced his intention to run for the largely ceremonial position of President of Israel. The move, though, might be good politically for Michaeli. This way, she is able to fully sever her party from Peretz’s unpopular leadership and argue that the party is now, actually committed to opposing a Netanyahu government. Labour is also polling much better with Michaeli leading the party. Itzik Shmuli, the Social Services Minister who is also a Labour member, announced that he was leaving Labour too.
Joint List collapses: The Joint List, an alliance of four of Israel’s Arab-majority political parties, appears to be breaking down over internal disagreements. The biggest fault line hinges on the United Arab List party (specifically its chairman, Mansour Abbas) which has drawn closer to Prime Minister Netanyahu and is socially conservative. Other members of the alliance directly oppose Netanyahu and are socially liberal. The United Arab List left the Joint List after the talks failed, but it is not clear whether the three remaining parties will run together. In its current form, the coalition had been polling at about 10 seats, down from its current number of 15.
Gantz threatens to enlist Orthodox: Defense Minister Benny Gantz is threatening to enlist all ultra-Orthodox Israelis of age to the Israel Defense Forces should his demands not be met by this weekend. Gantz’s demand of the Prime Minister is to approve his new military drafting plan or let the draft exemption expire on Monday. The plans stem from two rulings by the Supreme Court in 2012 and 2017, the blanket exemption for ultra-Orthodox from the military was ruled unconstitutional. In its ruling, the Court tasked the Knesset with finding a solution. Gantz is proposing two years of mandatory national service for Orthodox and Arab citizens (who are also exempt from military service), where individuals can choose whether to join the army or civil service. However, the ultra-Orthodox strenuously reject any form of compulsory service. “This way, for example, haredim [the ultra-Orthodox] could join charity organizations – a highly respected cause among their communities – and also learn a profession in the emergency, health and welfare organizations,” Gantz said. “Arab citizens could give back to the community, develop education organizations within it and help combat crime.”
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Pakistan court orders release of man accused of killing Daniel Pearl
A memorial for Daniel Pearl near his old neighborhood in Los Angeles
Pakistani court releases Daniel Pearl killer: On Thursday, the Pakistani Supreme Court ordered the release of one of the men accused in the 2002 murder of Wall Street Journal writer Daniel Pearl. The killer was sentenced to death for Pearl’s kidnapping and beheading, but later acquitted. An appeal by the Pearl family went to the Supreme Court and failed. The released terrorist, along with three other men convicted for their ties to Pearl’s killing, are set to be freed from jail. The Pearl family released a statement saying, “No amount of injustice will defeat our resolve to fight for justice.” The U.S. Justice Department called the ruling “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere” and stated it is ready to begin extradition proceedings and conduct a trial for Pearl’s killer in the U.S., though it is unclear on what grounds.
U.S. restores relations with Palestinians: The Biden Administration announced Tuesday it will restore relations with the Palestinian government, a reversal of the decision under former president Trump. This will include restored aid to “assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people” and a more “evenhanded approach” to the conflict, while still maintaining support for a “mutually agreed, two-state solution,” according to Acting U.S. Ambassador Richard Mills. Mills has implored both the Israeli and the Palestinian governments not to take any unilateral steps in the peace process, and says the administration views the renewal of relations not as a “favor to Palestinians,” but as a natural step in the peace process. The decision was lauded by Palestinian leaders and Jewish peace activists.
Fatah infighting as election approaches: Two weeks after President Mahmoud Abbas announced the Palestinian Authority’s first elections in 15 years, a list of candidates has yet to appear. Alongside incumbent Abbas, several key figures within the Fatah party are vying for the presidency. Many young Fatah activists are reportedly being excluded from the official Fatah ticket and are threatening to run as independents. This move could seriously hurt Fatah’s chance at winning the election, as it would lose votes both to the independents and to its rival Hamas party. A joint government between Fatah and Hamas has not been ruled out, though experts say any government run by Hamas will likely not be recognized by world powers. A summit between Palestinian parties will be held in Cairo, where they will discuss the proceedings of the upcoming elections.
Biden pauses UAE arms sale: Along with a host of arms sales made under the Trump administration, including precision-guided missiles to Saudi Arabia, the Biden administration has halted the sale of F-35 fighter jets to the UAE that was agreed to in the conditions of last year’s Abraham Accords. The U.S. State Department said the sale of billions of dollars was “temporarily paused.” Secretary of State Tony Blinken said: “It is typical at the start of an administration to review any pending sales, to make sure that what is being considered is something that advances our strategic objectives and advances our foreign policy, so that’s what we’re doing at this moment.” However, Blinken also expressed great support for the Abraham Accords. Prime Minister Netanyahu said the sale’s freeze would not have an impact on UAE-Israel relations, saying: “We’re past the point of no return.”
NYT writer arrested for acting as agent of Iran: A frequent contributor to The New York Times, Kaveh Lotfolah Afrasiabi, was arrested for acting as a foreign agent without registration. Afrasiabi disguised Iranian propaganda as objective policy analysis and expertise, spreading pro-Iran sentiment to the public through his self-described position as an expert on Iran. In truth, Afrasiabi has been on Iran’s payroll since 2007, publishing articles in the Times calling for a U.S.-Iran summit, sending Iranian president Hassan Rouhani advice on how to retaliate for the U.S. killing of Qasem Soleimani, and lobbying the U.S. government to advocate for pro-Iran policy. Afrasiabi admitted to receiving payment from Iran, approximately $265,000, but denied other accusations and called them “absurd,” saying the payments had no effect on his professional writings. If convicted, Afrasiabi could spend up to 10 years in prison.
Yellen and Blinken confirmed: Both Janet Yellen and Antony Blinken were confirmed to their cabinet posts this week by the U.S. Senate and subsequently sworn in by Vice President Kamala Harris. Blinken took the post of Secretary of State, soon thereafter speaking with his Israeli counterpart, Gabi Ashkenazi, whereas Yellen became the nation’s 78th Treasury Secretary. Her tenure is also notable for being the first female head of that agency since its founding in 1789. Blinken and Yellen are now fourth and fifth in line to the Presidency respectively. Meanwhile, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, Biden’s nominee to be Ambassador to the UN, relayed before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee that in her view the boycott movement against Israel (BDS) is “unacceptable” and “verges on antisemitism.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Louis Brandeis, the first Jewish member of the United States Supreme Court
Foundation helps survivors during pandemic: The Yad Ezer L’Haver, a Haifa-based foundation which supports Holocaust survivors, has expended its role during the coronavirus pandemic. Prior to the pandemic, the foundation housed about 100 survivors and provided food, medical, and psychological assistance to independent survivors. However, last October, Yad Ezer L’Haver started providing a 24/7 call center to those in need via electronic monitoring, installing tablets in survivors’ homes to allow for rapid, direct communication with the help desk. The founder said: “We call more than 3,500 people a day.” The system is so effective that staff members have even caught survivors who have had strokes, heart attacks, or taken a fall.
On this day in 1916, President Woodrow Wilson nominated Louis Brandeis to be an Associate Justice of the Supreme Court. Brandeis’ nomination was hit with immediate, significant backlash from the U.S. Senate, which is required to approve any judicial nomination. Despite being a well-known progressive lawyer at the time, Brandeis’ nomination was a surprise. His nomination was fiercely opposed by the previous president, William Taft, a conservative Republican who later went on to serve as Chief Justice. What made his nomination especially controversial, however, was that he was the first Jew nominated to the nation’s high court. For the first time ever, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a public hearing on a Supreme Court nomination which resulted in an unprecedented four-month gap between nomination and confirmation. (Until that point, most nominees were voted on by the full Senate on the day his candidacy was announced.) Lucas Powe, a Supreme Court historian, said his nomination was contested with “blatant antisemitism.” In the end, Brandeis became the highest-ranking Jew in the national government in U.S. history and his legal opinions, particularly around the concept of privacy and free speech, reverberate to this day.