Join us for a conversation “Understanding Anti-Jewish Racism” on Zoom with author and educator Ben M. Freeman this Sunday, October 17, 2021 at 4:30pm PST/ 7:30pm EST: register here.
Today we’re diving into:
Inside the U.S.: Iron Dome funding blocked in Senate; U.S. to host Israeli, UAE foreign ministers; California ethnic studies becomes law; and author refuses to publish in Hebrew translation
Inside Israel: Jewish prayer again banned on Temple Mount; Israel to increase Golan presence; Jerusalem thanks righteous Japanese diplomat; Israel approves Palestinian permits; Kosher reforms met with criticism; and Likud’s No. 2 to challenge Netanyahu
Inside Europe: Ukraine opens largest Holocaust memorial; JNF to help Ukraine plant 1 billion trees; Auschwitz vandalized; Merkel visits Israel for last time as chancellor; Jewish musician refused service in Germany; Jewish dissident killed in Belarus; and Austrian leader, scheduled to visit Israel, resigns
Celebrate & Remember: Israeli-American wins Nobel Prize in Economics; and remembering the Yom Kippur War
Sen. Paul blocks Iron Dome funding: The replenishment of funding to Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system is being held up in the United States Senate by one Republican: Rand Paul of Kentucky. Since the expedited process in the Senate needs total unanimity, one senator can entirely block the funding. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee is comparing Paul to the liberal “Squad” of Democratic members in the House of Representatives, three out of four of whom voted against the funding and one, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who abstained. However, the vote passed in overwhelmingly bipartisan and uncontroversial fashion in the House, with 420 in favor and only nine opposed. One liberal senator, Jewish, independent Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont, is apparently willing to vote for the Iron Dome funding as long as the U.S. increases aid to the Gaza Strip. He is reportedly working with Jewish Majority Leader, Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, to accomplish that goal.
State to host Israeli, UAE foreign ministers: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken will host the Israeli and Emirati foreign ministers this week, a little over one year after those two countries normalized relations in the Abraham Accords. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said the meeting would contend with “further opportunities to promote peace in the Middle East.” Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid is also set to meet with Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi today.
California ethnic studies becomes law: Last week, California Governor Gavin Newsom signed legislation which mandates the teaching of ethnic studies for high schoolers. The legislation followed the California state board of education’s approval of a suggested curriculum earlier this year and the mandate is the first of its kind. The first draft of the ethnic studies curriculum, which the Board of Education later ordered to be redesigned, singled out Israel for condemnation, promoted the boycott campaign against Israel, and otherwise effectively erased the American Jewish experience. A revised version of the curriculum, which no longer promotes the boycott campaign and includes two lesson plans on antisemitism, was unanimously approved in March. It received mixed reactions from the Jewish community. AMCHA, a non-governmental organization that monitors antisemitism on college campuses, strongly opposed the bill and called on Newsom not to sign it into law. AMCHA Initiative Director Tammi Rossman-Benjamin argued in a statement: “the bill that passed does not, and by law cannot, prohibit schools from teaching the overtly antisemitic and roundly rejected first draft of the [curriculum], or an even more extreme [curriculum] being vigorously promoted throughout the state.” Under the law, schools will have to offer at least one class in ethnic studies by 2025, and the graduation requirement will go into effect in 2029.
Author refuses to publish in Hebrew translation: Bestselling Irish author Sally Rooney won’t allow her new novel, ‘Beautiful World, Where Are You?’, to be published in Hebrew, claiming “she supports an Israel boycott,” including a cultural one. Rooney, author of Normal People, has been open about her opposition to Israel. She has not refused for her book to be published in any other language.
Jewish prayer allowed, then banned again, on Temple Mount
Jewish prayer again banned on Temple Mount: The ban on Jewish prayer at the Temple Mount is back in effect after an Israeli court overturned the ruling of a lower court which had, in a reversal of precedent, allowed the ‘quiet’ prayer of a Jewish man. The Police Minister, Omer Barlev of the Labor Party, had appealed the decision of the lower court, saying it could lead to “a change in the existing status quo will endanger public peace and could cause a flare-up” by Muslim aggravators. The Biden administration apparently sent messages to Israel that it was concerned about the potential for violence by the lower court’s ruling. The Muslim Waqf, which under agreement since 1967 rules over the Temple Mount, had called the permission of quiet Jewish prayer a “flagrant violation” of the site’s rules.
Israel to increase Golan presence: Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett announced that the Israeli government will take steps to drastically increase the Israeli population on the Golan Heights, the northernmost part of Israel. Bennett said the government will aim to increase the number of Israelis living on the Golan from about 27,000 now to 100,000. Bennett described the initiative as a “strategic goal” and said that the effort has no connection to Syrian or Iranian activities in the region, which he nevertheless warned against. Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War and later annexed the territory. The U.S. recognized the Golan as part of Israel in 2017, a policy which has remained consistent in the Biden administration.
Jerusalem thanks righteous Japanese diplomat: The city of Jerusalem dedicated a public square to a Japanese diplomat who helped save thousands of Jews during the Holocaust in violation of Japanese government policy. The diplomat, Chiune Sugihara, who served in Lithuania during the Second World War was awarded the title of Righteous Among the Nations by Israel in 1984. His deeds were later recognized by Japan in 2000. Sugihara’s son, Nobuki Sugihara, spoke at the dedication ceremony. The mayor of Jerusalem said to the Sugihara family: “We will always appreciate what you did — and by ‘we,’ I mean the residents of Jerusalem and the people of Israel.” Sugihara died in 1986 and it is estimated that there are about 100,000 descendants of the Jews he saved.
Israel approves Palestinian permits: Israel has approved permits for hundreds of Palestinians living with undocumented status in the West Bank and Gaza, the first time it has done so in many years. One Palestinian man said: “Even if I was inside Nablus, I was scared — because I never knew when the army might come and ask for my papers and deport me.” Some of the now-approved Palestinian residents include spouses of Palestinians who were brought to the Palestinian Territories unofficially. Others include people whose births were never registered with the relevant authorities.
Kosher reforms met with criticism: Alon Tal, a Knesset member from the Blue and White party, is criticizing the proposed kashrut reform (which would modify how food is determined to be kosher in Israel) because it excludes non-Orthodox Jewish movements from the conversation. Tal said: “This ‘government of change,’ which committed to a Western Wall with egalitarian praying areas in its platform, is returning to the dark years of [Benjamin] Netanyahu.” The kashrut reform, put forward by Matan Kahana of the Prime Minister’s Religious Zionist party, would increase competition in the koshering process and lower the cost of it as well. Tal said that although the new legislation would reduce the power of the Israeli Rabbinate (the ultra-Orthodox central of religious authority), it would not allow non-Orthodox streams to dictate what is considered kosher: “When you dismantle one monopoly, you shouldn’t leave a second one in place: the Orthodox monopoly,” Tal said.
Likud’s No. 2 to challenge Netanyahu: Yuli Edelstein, the second-ranked Likud party member after former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, officially announced he will be running against Netanyahu for the top spot in the party’s leadership whenever a primary will be held. Though Edelstein said he wanted the race held “as soon as possible, no date has been set for the next Likud primary, and most of the candidates want to wait to set a date until after the Knesset votes on bills aimed at preventing Netanyahu from running again.
Jewish presidents open world’s largest Holocaust memorial
Ukraine opens largest Holocaust memorial: Ukraine has opened the memorial to the second-largest mass killing of Jews in history: Babyn Yar. The world’s two Jewish presidents, Isaac Herzog of Israel and Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, both visited the site to inaugurate it. Secretary of State Antony Blinken sent a video message commemorating the anniversary of the Babyn Yar massacre whose history was erased, swept under the rug by the Soviet Union. Over 30,000 Jews were murdered in the Kiev ravine by Ukrainians and Nazis. When the memorial is complete, it will be the world’s largest.
JNF to help Ukraine plant 1 billion trees: Ukraine has asked the Jewish National Fund to help it plant one billion trees over the next three years. This is opposed to the plan of all European Union member states to plant only three billion trees in the whole EU. The JNF will establish an Israeli-Ukrainian team to handle matters pertaining to the operation. A Ukrainian professor said to the BBC: “This is what we have campaigned for, for a very long time. It’s a good decision that will give forestry a boost, and will make the work of forest rangers more prestigious and better paid.”
Auschwitz vandalized: Nine barracks at the Auschwitz death camp memorial site in Poland were found spray-painted with antisemitic phrases and slogans denying the Holocaust. This is the second such incident in less than a year. Earlier this year the wall of a Jewish cemetery near the camp was defaced with swastikas and other Nazi symbols.
Merkel visits Israel for last time as chancellor: Angela Merkel visited Israel this weekend, her last time doing so as Chancellor of Germany. Merkel, who is stepping down as leader of the European Union’s largest member state after 16 years, made the case for strong German-Israeli relations, saying: “The topic of Israel’s security will always be of central importance and a central topic for every German government.” Merkel also expressed support for negotiations with Iran over its nuclear program. Prime Minister Bennett called Merkel “a dear friend of Israel” and said that she “paved the way for Germany’s continuing commitment to Israel’s security, which we value greatly.” Additionally, Merkel, who is a PhD in physics, received an honorary doctorate from the Technion — Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa.
Jewish musician refused service in Germany: Israeli-German musician Gil Ofarim said he was barred from checking in to a German hotel because he was wearing a Jewish Star of David pendant. Ofarim recorded a video outside the hotel saying he was “speechless.” Inside, he claims that a customer told him to “take off the star” and an employee told him to remove it as well. In the wake of protests, the hotel, The Westin Leipzig which is owned by Marriott, posted a photo of employees holding a large banner with the Israeli flag and the Muslim cresant on it. The hotel also said it took the issues raised by Ofarim “extremely seriously.” The Central Council of Jews in Germany said it was “shocked” by the incident and the American Jewish Committee called it “heartbreaking.”
Jewish dissident killed in Belarus: A Jewish dissident against the regime of Belarusian dictator Alexander Lukashenko, Andrei Zeltzer, was killed last week in the capital, Minsk, sparking protests and mass arrests in the Eastern European country. One anchor on state-run television used antisemitic tropes to describe Zeltzer, saying: “This was a cosmopolitan, enjoying state benefits to fatten himself up and live in two countries, to make money here and spend it there.” An estimated 20,000 Jews currently live in Belarus, a country with a population of over nine million.
Austrian leader, scheduled to visit Israel, resigns: Conservative Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz resigned after corruption allegations surfaced. Kurz had been scheduled to visit Israel this week. When elected in 2017, he was the youngest head of state in the world at age 31. Austria’s foreign minister, Alexander Schallenberg, was sworn in as Kurz’s replacement after his dramatic downfall over an alleged embezzlement scheme to use state funds for his own purposes. Kurz’s administration had been a very close ally of former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Today we celebrate Israeli-American economist Joshua Angrist’s winning of the Nobel Prize in Economics! Angrist was born in the United States, but lived in Israel and served in the Israel Defense Forces. He also taught at both Harvard and Hebrew universities and currently teaches at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Angrist was among two other economists to win the prestigious pride for which the chair of the Economic Sciences Committee said: “Their research has substantially improved our ability to answer key causal questions, which has been of great benefit for society.”
During this time, we remember the first few harrowing days of the Yom Kippur War, which lasted from October 6, 1973 to October 25, 1973. Egyptian and Syrian armies invaded Israel on Yom Kippur, crossing into Israeli-held Sinai and the Golan Heights respectively. From October 6 to October 9, Israel struggled to regain control after the surprise attack on the holiest Jewish day. On the evening of October 8-9, Israeli Defense Minister Moshe Dayan told Prime Minister Golda Meir that the entire defeat of Israel was imminent. However, with help from the Americans in Operation Nickel Grass, Israel turned the tide beginning on October 11-12, ultimately capturing further Egyptian and Syrian territory.