Iran upgrades its nuke material: The International Atomic Energy Agency confirmed that Iran has started to enrich its uranium stores up to 20 percent, in violation of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accused the Islamic regime of attempting to enhance its military nuclear program. A European Union Commission spokesperson said the violation “would constitute a considerable departure from Iran’s commitments.” Experts estimated that it would take only six weeks for Iran to produce nuclear weapons. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif tweeted, “We resumed 20% enrichment, as legislated by our Parliament. IAEA has been duly notified. Our remedial action conforms fully with Para 36 of JCPOA, after years of non-compliance by several other JCPOA participants. Our measures are fully reversible upon FULL compliance by ALL.”
Iran accuses Israel of tricking U.S. into war: Coinciding with the anniversary of the killing of Iranian terror mastermind Qassem Soleimani, Iran is accusing Israel of attempting to trick the United States into starting a war with Iran. Israel dismissed it as “nonsense.” Iran’s foreign minister wrote: “New intelligence from Iraq indicate that Israeli agent-provocateurs are plotting attacks against Americans – putting an outgoing Trump in a bind with a fake casus belli.” Also coinciding with Soleimani’s death—Iran seized a South Korean oil tanker Monday in the Strait of Hormuz, claiming that the tanker was causing “oil pollution.” The tanker had been traveling from Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates when it was captured by the Iranians. The U.S. State Department called for Iran to release the tanker immediately. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz warned that the Middle East might see “events happening in the Iranian front” as the U.S. changes administrations. Since Iran failed to avenge the killing of Soleimani on the anniversary of his killing, two Mossad chiefs and a former national security council chief also said Monday that Iran would likely not do so prior to President-elect Biden taking office.
Qatar—Saudi Arabia dispute resolves: The White House and Kuwait have pieced together a breakthrough in the three-year-old dispute between Qatar and other Gulf nations, led by Saudi Arabia. The countries—all U.S. allies—will reportedly sign an agreement in Saudi Arabia today to resume diplomacy, which has been shuttered since 2017. White House advisor Jared Kushner had been in the Arabian Peninsula this week in order to finalize the deal, where he also attended the Gulf Cooperation Council. The deal will bring about the end of the blockade on Qatar that was set up by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, and Egypt. One Trump administration official said: “It doesn’t mean they will love each other and be best friends, but it does mean they will be able to work together.” The agreement, however, does not solve the underlying issues between the nations, caused by tensions over Iran’s warm ties with Qatar and Qatar’s support of terrorism in the region and Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood.
Despite vaccination progress, Israel’s 3rd COVID-19 wave is shaping up to be worst yet
Source: @YuliEdelstein / Twitter, December 30, 2020
Netanyahu fights for lockdown: Much like the critical situation in many U.S. cities and across the world, Israeli hospital chiefs warned Monday that new cases of coronavirus were flooding their facilities and that the country may be facing the worst wave of the pandemic yet. The Israeli cabinet will meet today to discuss the imposition of an even stricter national lockdown to combat the surging number of coronavirus cases. The meeting had been scheduled for earlier, but Netanyahu postponed it in an effort to whip votes for the stricter lockdown “in a final effort to eradicate the virus.” The proposed lockdown would last between 7 and 10 days and include closing nearly the entirety of the in-person education system. As Israel discovers more and more cases of the British variant of the coronavirus, the whole of Britain was shuttered by Prime Minister Boris Johnson in an effort to contain the frightening, out-of-control spread of the disease across the isle.
Israel running out of vaccines: With Israel leading the world in vaccinating its population against the coronavirus so quickly—over 14% of the population so far—the country is running out of its stores of the vaccine. Instead of sending additional doses in March, the vaccine supplier Moderna announced it will send Israel another one million doses next week. Due to the shortage, Israel may stop injecting people with the first dose, instead saving the vaccines for the second dose required to produce full immunity against the coronavirus. 240 Israelis contracted the coronavirus following their first injection of the vaccine, showing that the second dose is truly needed to provide immunity. The most urgent crisis concerns the ultra-Orthodox, who account for a quarter of all new virus cases. One in 132 ultra-Orthodox Israelis over the age of 65 has died from the coronavirus.
Media blames Israel for Palestinian lack of access: With Israel’s unparalleled success in its vaccination efforts, media organizations, critics, and some human rights organizations are alleging that Israel is responsible for vaccines in the Palestinian Territories. According to the Oslo Accords, the Palestinians are responsible for their own public health efforts. Furthermore, the Palestinian Authority has yet to formally request help from Israel for its vaccine program. Nevertheless, media organizations have cast blame on Israel for the Palestinians’ inability to begin vaccinating, with The Guardian saying Palestinians were “excluded from the Israeli vaccine rollout” despite not being under Israeli purview. Only halfway through The Guardian story does it read: “Despite the delay, the [Palestinian] Authority has not officially asked for help from Israel.”
Haredi population growing twice as fast as overall Israeli population
Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population growing rapidly: Israel’s ultra-Orthodox population is expected to double within 16 years. That is less than half the amount of time that it will take the rest of the population to do the same. Yet a report also said that “it is highly probable that the future will bring a decline in the ultra-Orthodox growth rate, due to lower fertility rates and rising age of first marriage.” In 2003, the number of births per ultra-Orthodox woman had been 7.5, but it is now down to 6.5. In terms of their income inequality (ultra-Orthodox households have a gross monthly income that is 58% lower than other Jewish households), “more among the ultra-Orthodox are employed in better-paying occupations, in the long term, we are likely to see a rise in per capita income and, as a result – an enhanced standard of living among ultra-Orthodox households.” And yet, the report noted that there are high levels of unreported income in the Haredi population which would shrink the apparent gap between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox segments of society.
Palestinians accused of robbing Yad Vashem in string of burglaries: Israeli Channel 12 News reported Monday that a group of Palestinians and a resident of East Jerusalem carried out a string of robberies, that included Israel’s Holocaust Museum, Yad Vashem, a shooting range in Caesarea on Israel’s coastline, and a museum in Kibbutz Hazorea in the Jezreel Valley. According to the chief investigator on the case, the string of thefts occurred from August 2020 up until two weeks ago, when the suspects were arrested by police. The prosecution said the gang showed sophistication and caused extensive property damage in the process. Yad Vashem said in a statement to The Jerusalem Post that, “The break-in to Yad Vashem was in its offices and not in the museum. No historical items or any items of value were stolen.” A total of 33 statues, worth millions of shekels, were taken from the museum at Kibbutz Hazorea, which has an extensive collection of items from East Asia.
24-year-old man shot by Israeli police: A 24-year-old Palestinian man, Haroun Abu Aram, is in critical condition after being shot by Israeli police in the West Bank. The incident occurred as soldiers were attempting to confiscate a generator being withheld by Aram. In a video from the scene, Palestinians can be seen scuffling with Israeli soldiers in an attempt to take back a generator apparently confiscated by the troops. After the brawl escalates, a gunshot rings out off-camera. When the camera turns back towards the scene, Abu Aram is lying on the ground, apparently having been shot. The army described the scuffle as: “a violent incident in which violence was directed at Israeli forces by a number of Palestinians.” Aram was noted to be unarmed and taken to a hospital. The B’Tselem human rights organization said Aram’s illegally constructed home had been demolished in November.
Spy Jonathan Pollard makes Aliyah: Jewish American spy Jonathan Pollard landed in Israel to start anew. He was convicted in 1987 of breaking the Espionage Act for sharing American secrets with Israel. He had been sentenced to life in prison, but Pollard was granted parole in 2015. The restrictions of his parole were formally lifted in November. Pollard was granted Israeli citizenship in 1995 while in prison. Arriving in Israel, Pollard and his wife Esther kissed the ground and were met by Prime Minister Netanyahu on the tarmac. The Israeli government will be providing Pollard with a lifelong pension.
Various anti-Netanyahu parties could muster majority despite Likud’s lead
Tel Aviv mayor forms left-wing party with Justice Minister: Tel Aviv’s longtime mayor, Ron Huldai, announced he is forming a new left-wing party to run in the Knesset’s upcoming March elections. The party is called “The Israelis” and is already gaining traction in polls. Joining Huldai on stage was Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, who was subsequently asked to relinquish his position by Blue and White head Benny Gantz. Gantz took over and is now acting as Justice Minister in addition to Defense Minister. Nissenkorn later said that Gantz had agreed to “insane” demands by the Prime Minister’s party to avert the new elections. The demands would have imperiled Israeli democracy, according to Nissenkorn, by weakening the position of the Justice Minister in the face of an onslaught of attacks from the thrice-indicted Netanyahu.
Blue and White crumbles: Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party is crumbling as dozens of official members quit and it slides dramatically in the polls. One recent poll even found Blue and White not making it into the Knesset at all come March. The party’s number two, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, announced he would leave the party and quit politics altogether, at least for the time being. For his part, Gantz lamented the exodus of members and attacked his own voters for blaming him for joining a coalition with Netanyahu. In a speech, Gantz claimed he “saved the country,” announcing he will continue to lead the party. Gantz also said, though, that the party will aim, once again, to take down Netanyahu by joining the anti-Netanyahu bloc. (This is what Gantz claimed prior to joining Netanyahu’s governing coalition.) According to a Channel 12 report Monday evening, Gantz is considering joining his faction with Naftali Bennett’s national-religious Yamina party to form an alliance for the upcoming elections. Blue and White tweeted that the report was “false.”
Surplus agreements for anti-Netanyahu bloc: A pair of two parties have signed surplus vote sharing agreements for the upcoming Knesset election. Gideon Sa’ar’s party, A New Hope, and Naftali Bennet’s party, Yamina, which are both right-wing, agreed to pool their surplus votes. Additionally, Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, and Avigdor Lieberman’s party, Yisrael Beiteynu, did the same. Yesh Atid is center-left and Yisrael Beiteynu is right-wing. The surplus agreements come into play should the parties carry additional votes that do not pass the threshold of qualifying for an additional seat in the parliament. With their agreement, they can merge their surpluses for additional seats. The agreements are common between parties with similar ideological bents. In this case, all four parties are strongly against a Netanyahu-led government, with Sa’ar announcing that he will not agree to a power-sharing coalition with the Prime Minister as Benny Gantz did. The former head of the Mossad and member of the Labor party, Danny Yatom, announced he will be running a new party for the Knesset entirely focused on retirees. Yatom is a strong critic of Netanyahu and plans to formally announce the party later this week. A similar party, “Pensioners of Israel,” won seven seats in the 2006 election.
Parties seeking Arab voters: With the Arab political alliance Joint List slipping in the polls, both Netanyahu and Sa’ar are attempting to court Arab voters. The Arab Israeli population reportedly strongly favors the Abraham Accords and normalization agreements with the Arab world, while the Joint List is opposed. This is creating opportunity for other parties to capitalize on the Joint Lists’ decrease in support, despite Netanyahu’s history, for example, of anti-Arab statements. Netanyahu’s party, Likud, and the far-left party Meretz announced new Arab members of their parties’ slates. Likud will run with Nail Zoabi, an Arab Israeli principal from the village Nein in the Lower Galilee, although it is unclear how high on the party’s list Zoabi will place. Netanyahu is also evidently seeking “young, female candidates” to add to his list after a number defected to A New Hope.
Stolen artwork returned 50 years after Holocaust survivor’s death
The Good-Natured Child, left, was seized from the Vienna apartment of Irma Lowenstein, right
Art stolen by Nazis finally returned: Nearly fifty years after her death, a Holocaust survivor’s priceless artwork is being returned to the charity that she left her estate to. Irma Lowenstein fled Austria for America in 1938 and spent the remainder of her life fighting to reclaim the possessions seized from her family by the Nazis, including three valuable works by the 18th-century painter Ferdinand Georg Waldmüller. Her stolen artwork became part of Hitler’s Führer Museum in Linz. When Lowenstein died in 1976, she left her estate to the Greater London Fund for the Blind, which was made aware of the claim to the pieces in 2018. The paintings had been on display at museums in Munich, Dortmund and Berlin for several decades. Since the signing of the Washington Principles in 1998, forty-four countries have pledged to make efforts to return paintings stolen during the war. According to a 2018 New York Times interview, expert Stuart E. Eizenstat noted that Hungary, Poland, Spain, Russia and Italy had been particularly slow or unwilling to help.
British court orders investigation over campus antisemitism: London University has refunded a student £15,000 in fees after he said he was forced to abandon his studies because he was profoundly affected by the antisemitic environment fostered by the school. An appeals panel at the University of London said that the University must investigate antisemitism on campus, affirming the complaint of the student. The student, Noah Lewis, described a series of incidents of antisemitic and anti-Zionist racism. Other Jewish students of the school testified that they did not feel welcome and said they were “shocked by the amount of antisemitic attitudes on campus;” felt “unwelcome and uncomfortable”; and called the attitude toward Israel “radically oppressive.”
France funds anti-Israel org: France’s government had granted $10 million to an anti-Israel group, NGO Development Center, which advocates for a total boycott of Israel. The group promotes an agenda rejecting “any normalization activities with the occupier [Israel], neither at the political-security nor the cultural or developmental levels.” The Israeli group NGO Monitor called on France to revoke the money to NGO Development Center, saying the government should “revise its grant in line with France’s clear rejection of BDS.” France criminalizes some form of boycotts against Israel under the 2003 Lellouche law as incitement of hate and discrimination.
Neo-Nazis march in Ukraine: In Kyiv, Ukraine, approximately 1,000 people marched in honor of a Nazi collaborator. The marchers held torches as they remembered Stepan Bandera, leader of the Ukrainian Insurgent Army, which fought with the Nazis and killed Jews and Poles. Israel’s ambassador to Ukraine said: “We strongly condemn any glorification of collaborators with the Nazi regime. It is time for Ukraine to come to terms with its past.”
Today we celebrate Israeli American Adam (A.J.) Edelman, who is training for the 2022 Beijing Olympics as a bobsled driver for Israel! Edelman, an M.I.T. graduate, realized in 2014 he had a shot at becoming an Olympian by representing Israel in a sledding sport. Israel had never had an athlete compete in Olympic bobsled, skeleton or luge. Edelman achieved his dreams and competed in the 2018 Winter Olympics for Israel in skeleton (a sledding sport where the competitor rides head-first lying face down on a flat sled). Edelman mitigated the risks of brain injury by using a longer face shield that allowed him to rest his head on the sled. He used the technique in several international races, but a last-minute ruling by skeleton officials in South Korea prevented him from using it in the Olympics. He finished the event in 28th place out 30 competitors (beating athletes from Jamaica and Ghana). Edelman is the first Orthodox Jew to compete in the Winter Olympics, and the first Orthodox Jewish male to compete in either Olympic iteration. “I know I am going to get hurt brain-wise doing this [competing in bobsled],” Edelman, 29, wrote in an interview with The New York Times. He also expects to spend more than $100,000 of his own money on the effort. “The mission is more important than my health or savings.”
On January 5, 1895, French Jewish Army officer Alfred Dreyfus was wrongfully found guilty of treason, in what would come to be the most public miscarriage of justice in France’s history and a warning sign for the rise of antisemitism across Europe. The events, known as the “Dreyfus Affair,” sparked a transnational conversation in Europe about antisemitism of which the trial and accusation stank. Though a subsequent investigation would expose the real traitor to be an Army major, Dreyfus was sentenced to an additional ten years and only released after years of public outcry led to a presidential pardon and a declaration of his innocence by the Supreme Court. He was reinstated in the army as a Major and went on to fight in the entire First World War. The 12 year “Dreyfus Affair” changed French politics forever and lead to the coining of the term “intellectual.” Theodore Herzl, the founder of modern political Zionism, was witness to the trial and out of it birthed his political philosophy of the need for Jewish statehood.