Trump Tests Positive, Lebanon—Israel Talks, & Antisemitic Justice Minister

October 2, 2020

Trump Tests Positive, Lebanon—Israel Talks, & Antisemitic Justice Minister

October 2, 2020
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Shabbat Shalom!

Today we’re diving into:

  • U.S. Election: President Trump’s positive test result; Trump wavers on white supremacy; and Democratic Nazi comparison political ad
  • Inside Israel: Record numbers of new cases; law limiting protests; and possible suspension of Prime Minister Netanyahu
  • Israel’s Neighbors: Israel—Lebanon first talks in 3 decades; Lebanon’s failure to form government; Sudan—Israel peace talks stall; death of Kuwait’s leader; and Armenia recalls ambassador in Israel
  • Inside Europe: Belgium’s new antisemitic justice minister; European Jewish hardship; Poland’s kosher meat decision; and French interior minister’s promise to Jews
  • Inside the U.S.: University BDS referendums; AOC’s boycott of Rabin memorial; and Congress’ antisemitism task force
  • Celebrate & Remember: Tel Aviv’s artistic accolades; and first Yom Kippur in Amsterdam


U.S. President Donald Trump tests positive for coronavirus

President Donald Trump positive with coronavirus: President Donald Trump tweeted early Friday morning that he and first lady, Melania are positive with coronavirus, saying, “Tonight, @FLOTUS and I tested positive for COVID-19. We will begin our quarantine and recovery process immediately. We will get through this TOGETHER!” The announcement comes only 32 days before Election Day. In a memorandum, the president’s physician Dr. Sean Conley said that the president and first lady “are both well at this time” and “plan to remain at home within the White House during their convalescence.” “Rest assured I expect the President to continue carrying out his duties without disruption while recovering,” Conley added. Prior to the Friday announcement, Trump stood only feet away from Biden at Tuesday‘s debate and neither wore a mask.
Trump wavers on white supremacy: In the first presidential debate between President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, Trump refused to explicitly denounce white supremacy. After moderator Chris Wallace asked Trump if he would condemn white supremacists and say they need to stand down during ongoing demonstrations across the country, Trump responded, “Sure, I’m willing to, but I would say almost everything I see is from the left wing, not from the right wing. I’m willing to do anything. I want to see peace.” “Say it. Do it. Say it,” Biden responded, encouraging Trump to condemn White supremacists. “Who would you like me to condemn?” Trump asked Wallace. Biden could be heard twice saying, “Proud Boys.” Trump continued: “Proud Boys—stand back and stand by. But I’ll tell you what. Somebody’s got to do something about Antifa and the left because this is not a right-wing problem.”

  • On Thursday evening, Trump told Fox News’ Sean Hannity, “I condemn the KKK, I condemn all White supremacists, I condemn the Proud Boys. I don’t know much about the Proud Boys, almost nothing, but I condemn that.”

Jewish Democratic Council faces blowback over Nazi comparison ad: A new advertisement from the Jewish Democratic Council of America targeting Jewish voters in swing states, which compared President Trump’s America to the rise of antisemitism and fascism in 1930’s Nazi Germany, was condemned by the Simon Wiesenthal Center, the American Jewish Committee and the Anti-Defamation League. The ad uses footage from Nazi Germany in a split screen with images from Trump rallies, as well as examples of antisemitism in the U.S. under Trump’s presidency. The CEO of the ADL, Jonathan Greenblatt, said, “The video from @USJewishDems is the latest in growing references to Hitler, Goebbels or other Nazi leaders. This has no place in the presidential race and is deeply offensive to the memories of 6M+ Jews systematically exterminated during the Shoah.”


Israel continues to lead world in new infections; national lockdown doesn’t seem to be working

Israel’s coronavirus catastrophe worsens: Israel’s renewed coronavirus outbreak, considered to be one of the worst in the world, is only getting worse. Another 100 people have died in the past three days, bringing the total death toll up to 1,622. Over 7,000 new cases were reported on Thursday and almost 9,000 new cases reported the day before. The ultra-Orthodox, who make up 12% of Israel’s population, now comprise around 40% of Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus. The doomsday scenario in which officials warned Israel’s hospitals will be overwhelmed once the number of serious patients rises above 800, has now occurred. Prime Minister Netanyahu told health officials to prepare a plan for the healthcare system to handle as many as 5,000 seriously ill patients at a time by November.
Lockdown could be months long: During a cabinet meeting, Netanyahu said it could take as long as six months to a year for the country to completely exit from the coronavirus closure and stressed that reopening the economy should happen slowly. The Health Ministry presented a plan to reopen based on data of infection rates—not specific dates. A Hebrew University team presented findings that there has been a large spike in deaths over the past two weeks, that the average time it takes for a patient to die has been reduced from 15 days to 11 days, and that the increased lockdown restrictions have not yet effectively curbed the spread. Coronavirus wards throughout the country are 85% full, with many hospitals at full capacity.
Israel limits protests during lockdown: Israel’s parliament approved a law to allow the government to limit public protests during the lockdown over health concerns, which drew fierce opposition in the days leading up to the decision. The regulations allow the government to ban citizens from traveling over one kilometer (0.6 miles) from home to attend a protest and to limit outdoor gatherings to a maximum of 20 people. Opponents have filed petitions against the regulations in the Supreme Court and claim that the measure is Netanyahu’s attempt to silence protests against him, which have drawn thousands of participants each week for the past several months. The protesters are demanding Netanyahu resign over corruption charges and mismanagement of the coronavirus crisis. The anti-Netanyahu Black Flag protests had over 1,000 local demonstrations on Thursday and are planning on repeating the demonstrations on Saturday.
Israel’s Attorney General suggests suspending Netanyahu: Talking to Mishpacha magazine, Israel’s attorney general, Avichai Mandelblit, said that he might suspend Benjamin Netanyahu as prime minister over his conflicts of interests during his ongoing corruption trials. Mandelblit said: “When you use your executive power as prime minister to influence your criminal [cases], that creates a serious problem.” However, he added that he has not made a decision one way or the other. About Netanyahu’s cases, he explained: “I get up every morning and my heart aches.” Additionally, Jerusalem’s district court has granted a request by Netanyahu’s lawyers to extend a deadline to respond to the accusations he faces from October 18 to November 29. The extension buys Netanyahu’s team more time as they gear up to face his trial in earnest early next year. The likely impact of the extension will be a ripple effect, causing all dates of the trial to be pushed back further. 


Official enemies Israel & Lebanon agree to first talks in 30 years to end border dispute

Israel & Lebanon agree to discuss maritime border: Though officials do not believe it will lead to more robust peace talks, Israeli and Lebanese officials have confirmed a framework to begin discussions surrounding the long-disputed maritime border, their first formal negotiations in 30 years. Lebanon, facing its greatest economic crisis since the 1975-1990 civil war, is eager to strike a deal with Israel and resume drilling in the Mediterranean Sea, where natural resources can be capitalized upon to begin repaying some of its debts. Negotiations will be held in south Lebanon after Sukkot and mediated by the United States, with the support of the United Nations. Officials from both the UN and the United States encouraged development of talks regarding Israel and Lebanon’s land border, but a Lebanese official asserted that no discussions beyond the maritime border are currently on the table. Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s energy minister who is leading the Israeli delegations in the talks, said, “We hope Lebanon will be a global capital of natural gas and will develop all of its natural resources…We don’t want to see Lebanon collapse.”
Netanyahu says Hezbollah storing more weapons in Beirut: The announcement regarding the maritime border talks comes a day after Prime Minister Netanyahu addressed the UN General Assembly, claiming that terror group Hezbollah is storing explosives in a residential neighborhood in Beirut. Netanyahu showed satellite photos of what he said was a missile factory located near a gas company, a gas station, and civilian housing. Lebanon is still reeling from August’s huge explosion in Beirut, which killed at least 190 people and injured 6,000. Lebanon’s prime minister designate Mustapha Adib stepped down from his position this week, claiming he was unable to form the government, as Iran-funded terror group Hezbollah demanded control of key ministries. France, Lebanon’s former colonial power, is attempting to help mediate the new government formation in Lebanon and accused the government’s leaders this week of “betraying this commitment [to form a government].” Lebanon will not receive billions in financial aid until a proper government is formed. 
Sudan—Israel peace talks stall: The State Department’s efforts to get Sudan to recognize Israel have stalled. Sudan is desperately seeking to be removed from the U.S.’s list of state sponsors of terrors (which comes along with a host of sanctions), but that alone has not been enough to persuade the relatively new Sudanese government (the longtime dictator was ousted last year) to recognize its historic enemy, Israel. Sudan apparently is wary of a rushed recognition of Israel that does not include enough economic incentives to persuade the public of the deal’s merits. Sudanese officials said: “Linking the lifting of Sudan from the terror list with Israel normalization is pure blackmailing. The U.S. administration is potentially undermining the transitional government.” One scholar said: “No one wants a repetition of the 1983 Israeli-Lebanese peace agreement, which, signed by a Lebanese government without popular legitimacy, collapsed in less than a year.” 
Kuwait’s leader dies, raising questions about peace with Israel: After this week’s death of Kuwait’s leader, new questions are being asked about whether Kuwait would move to recognize Israel. Sabah al-Sabah, Emir of Kuwait, had long been committed to the Palestinian cause and nonrecognition of Israel. His death at age 91 reopens the questions that were first prompted by the White House a month ago about whether Kuwait would follow the U.A.E. and Bahrain in recognizing Israel. However, unlike many gulf states, Kuwait maintains warm relations with both Iran and the U.S. The Emir’s half-brother, 83-year-old Nawaf Al-Sabah, was sworn in as his successor. 
Armenia recalls ambassador to Israel: The recent spark of a hot conflict between Armenia and Azerbaijan has drawn in Israel. In anger over Israel’s involvement in selling arms to Azerbaijan, Armenia recalled its ambassador to Israel. Armenia’s foreign ministry said: “Israel’s workstyle is unacceptable.” It’s estimated that between 2006 and 2019 Israel sold $825 million worth of weapons to Azerbaijan, including munitions, anti-tank missiles, and surface-to-air defense systems. In response, Israel’s foreign ministry said: “Israel attaches importance to our relations with Armenia and in this context sees the Armenian Embassy in Israel as an important tool for promoting them for the benefit of both peoples.” Azerbaijan and Armenia have long fought over the disputed Nagorno-Karabakh territory, which is recognized as part of Azerbaijan, which is majority Muslim, but is ethnically Armenian, an Orthodox Christian population. 


Belgium’s newly sworn in government includes antisemitic justice minister

Belgium forms new government with antisemitic justice minister: After two years, Belgium has finally formed a government, which has upset the Jewish community for many reasons, including the appointment of an antisemitic justice minister, Vincent Van Quickenborne. Quickenborne wrote in February that the “Jewish lobby is working extra hours” as criticism of the movement to ban the horrifically antisemitic carnival at Aalst, which has gained notoriety for its antisemitic costumes and floats. Quickenborne has also met with the founder of the terrorist group Hamas in Gaza. The new government’s platform includes no explicit mention of the fight against antisemitism, and there are concerns the government could move to ban circumcision and remove special protections for Jewish organizations.  There is some Jewish representation in the government—the new foreign minister will be Sophie Wilmes, previously the first Jewish prime minister of Belgium.
European Jewish communities face COVID-19 ruin: Small Jewish communities throughout Europe are facing severe troubles in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic and economic recession. Like times before, these communities are experiencing seemingly insurmountable struggles, loss and change, and economic misfortune. Just in the Czech Republic, Jewish institutions are facing a $6 million budget shortfall since the start of this year. The president of the Czech Jewish Federation said: “We need to start thinking about a new financial model.” One member of the Bulgarian community said: “We’re barely managing to pay the bills this month, but after September I don’t know what we’re going to do.” Jewish communities elsewhere in the world are amassing funds to support those in need. In the U.S., Jewish groups raised $80 million for an emergency relief fund, and the Israeli government and the Jewish Agency are providing an additional $17 million. That is in addition to $10 million already provided by the Jewish Agency to struggling Jewish communities. 
Poland attempts to ban kosher imports: The European Jewish Association is expressing outrage and alarm at a new Polish proposal that has already passed the government’s lower house which would have dire consequences on the status of kosher meat in the country. It said: “This draft law is of deep, deep, concern to European Jewry.” The EJA’s statement went on to say that the Polish law violated the EU’s charter of fundamental rights, which includes freedom of religion. The EJA said the law: “seeks to control and put a headcount on Jewish practice by giving the Minister of Agriculture the power to determine the qualifications of persons performing religious slaughter.” Furthermore, “the draft law will also require a determination of the quantity of kosher meat needed by the local Jewish community. How is this to be done? By creating and supervising a list of Jews in Poland? This law, if passed, carries with it a dark and sinister undertow for Jews.” 
French interior minister pledges safety of French Jews: France’s Interior Minister, Gerald Darmanin, is pledging to safeguard the French Jewish community after last week’s terrorist attack by an Islamic extremist in Paris. In the leadup to Yom Kippur, Darmanin visited a synagogue and said 7,000 troops were standing by to protect the community during the holiday. He said: “we know that Jews are particularly targeted by Islamist attacks and we should obviously protect them.” The attack, which seriously wounded two people, came during the trial of the Charlie Hebdo and Kosher supermarket shootings of 2015 which left scores of Parisians, Jewish and not, dead.


Two universities vote to divest from Israel during High Holy Days

Columbia & U. of Illinois students pass BDS measures: The day after Yom Kippur, students at Columbia University announced that they voted to boycott Israel and divest from any financial ties to Israel. Columbia’s president, Lee Bollinger, dismissed the vote and refused to comply with the student majority, saying Columbia “should not change its investment policies on the basis of particular views about a complex policy issue, especially when there is no consensus across the University community about that issue.” Students at the University of Illinois also passed a nonbinding resolution to divest from Israel. There, the student government passed the measure by a vote of 22-11 which tied divestment from Israel to the Black Lives Matter movement. The school’s Hillel said: “This was an attempt to paint Israel and Jews as the obstacle to racial equity, amidst the holiest time in the Jewish calendar. The Jewish students refused to submit to this anti-Semitic litmus test. Instead they issued a joint statement of principles declaring their steadfast commitment to Zionism and racial justice.”
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez boycotts Rabin memorial: Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York backed out of attending a memorial event by Americans For Peace Now honoring 25 years since the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin. After criticism from anti-Israel activists online, Ocasio-Cortez said she would look into withdrawing from the event, ultimately doing so. Rabin, Israel’s fifth prime minister, was murdered by a fanatic right-wing Israeli for his efforts to make peace with the Palestinians. Prior to his murder, Rabin was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for negotiating the Oslo Peace Accords with the PLO. Ocasio-Cortez did not provide an explanation for her boycott of the event. 
Congress establishes inter-parliamentary antisemitism task force: Congress this week announced the creation of a bipartisan, inter-parliamentary task force to focus on combating antisemitism online. Representative Ted Deutch said: “As social media posts do not stop at international borders, members of the national legislatures of the United States, Australia, Canada, Israel, and the United Kingdom have come together across party lines” to establish the effort. Part of the task force’s goal will be to hold tech and social media companies, like Google, Facebook, TikTok, and Twitter, to account. Blue and White’s Michal Cotler-Wunsh, representing Israel, said: “By working with multi-partisan allies in parliaments around the world, we hope to create best practices and real change in holding the social media giants accountable to the hatred that exists on their platforms. It is imperative that we work together to expose the double standards.” 


Today we celebrate Tel Aviv’s artistic accolades! According to research by Inkifi, a print-photography company, Tel Aviv was ranked the fifth most artistic city in the world. Israel’s second-largest city was given high marks for its “diverse art scene and its famed architecture.” “This historic Israeli city is filled with creativity, boasting more than five art galleries per square mile and UNESCO-recognized architecture,” the report said. Coming in ahead of Tel Aviv were: London, Dublin, Barcelona, and Paris. 
Today in 1596, according to tradition, the first congregation of Sephardi Jews in Amsterdam had its first Yom Kippur service. Neighbors thinking they were secret Catholics reported the Jews to the authorities and the leaders were arrested. Once it was explained that they were secret Jews rather than Catholics, they were left alone and the leaders released. After the Netherlands gained independence from Spain in 1581, relative religious freedom was allowed, which made it possible for Jews to settle there. In 1615, the Amsterdam Jewish community was officially recognized, and given permission to operate relatively freely, with a prohibition on intermarrying with Christians or from publicly criticizing Christianity.

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