Remembering Tree of Life, Hamas Convicts Peace Activists, & Israeli COVID-19 Vaccine

October 27, 2020

Remembering Tree of Life, Hamas Convicts Peace Activists, & Israeli COVID-19 Vaccine

October 27, 2020
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Happy Tuesday!

Today we’re diving into:

  • Inside the U.S.: AJU survey detailing lack of understanding; fights erupt at “Jews for Trump” rally; GOP backs QAnon candidate; and Pompeo under investigation
  • Israel’s Neighbors: Sudan—Israel normalization; approval of F-35 sale to UAE; and Hamas convicts peace activists
  • Inside Israel: COVID-19 vaccine trials; bill to connect Diaspora Jews with Israel; Islamic museum suspends sale following outrage; and Gantz addresses Israeli election timeline
  • Inside Europe: Jewish population decline; and Lithuania’s first-ever EU coin with Hebrew letters
  • Celebrate & Remember: Tel Aviv University researcher; and remembering Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life massacre


AJU survey shows half of Americans don’t know the meaning of antisemitism; published one day before the Tree of Life synagogue massacre anniversary

AJU antisemitism survey shows concerning lack of understanding: A new poll conducted by the American Jewish Committee, based on interviews carried out from September 9—October 4, have revealed that, though 88% of American Jews view antisemitism as a problem in the United States, nearly half of the American general public are not even familiar with the term. Holly Huffnagle, the AJC’s U.S. director for combating antisemitism, said of the survey, “I think this is an opportunity for education on what antisemitism is,” adding that knowledge of the term itself is important because it covers a broad range of sentiments and actions. The survey also found that while the overwhelming majority of American Jews said that antisemitism has gotten worse over the last five years, less than half of the general public agreed. The surveys included 1,010 Americans overall and 1,334 Jews.
Fights erupt during “Jews for Trump” rally in Manhattan: On Sunday, a “Jews for Trump” caravan of dozens of vehicles riding throughout Brooklyn and Manhattan clashed with anti-Trump protesters. The “Jews for Trump” convoy was organized by Orthodox leaders. Some of the supporters of President Trump got out of their cars to interact with the counter protesters, as both sides hurled political slurs like “fascists” and “anarchists” at each other, got physical, and fought over the pro-Trump flags. Videos of the encounter have shown counter-protesters throwing eggs at cars flying Trump flags and yelling “New York hates you.” Police intervened and eleven protesters were detained. All protesters have been released except for a man who threw eggs at two policemen. The president’s personal lawyer, Rudolph Giuliani, briefly greeted the Trump supporters and voiced support for the “nice Jewish people.” On Sunday, President Trump retweeted a letter written by 13 rabbis in June thanking him for his designation of religious services as “essential,” saying “Thank you Rabbis!” Ami Magazine, an Orthodox publication, has said that 83% of its readership plans to vote for Trump, a strong contrast to other polling that three quarters of American Jews intend to vote for Joe Biden.
GOP financially backed QAnon candidate: Marjorie Taylor Greene, a candidate for the House of Representatives from Georgia, has received financial support from the Republican Party, despite her history of espousing antisemitic QAnon conspiracy theories and using racist rhetoric during her congressional campaign. The National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC) donated $5,000 to Greene’s campaign after she publicly posted her support for QAnon and the conspiracy theory that Jewish philanthropist George Soros collaborated with the Nazis. She also shared a video on Facebook that promoted the “Great Replacement” theory which falsely alleges that “Zionist supremacists” have conspired to replace whites in Europe in “the biggest genocide in human history,” by flooding Europe with African, Asian, and Latino migrants. The NRCC had originally distanced itself from Greene after videos of her using racist rhetoric surfaced in June, but she received praise from Trump for her victory in the Republican Primary in August, and, after she claimed that the media was “misrepresenting her” over her QAnon support, the NRCC donated to her campaign later in September. 
Pompeo being investigated for RNC speech from Jerusalem: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is under investigation by the Office of Special Counsel for making a speech in August to the Republican National Committee while on an official trip to Jerusalem. The Hatch Act forbids the use of public funds by a federal employee for any electoral purposes. Pompeo has defended his participation in the convention, saying that it was cleared by State Department lawyers and he took part in his personal capacity and not as part of official business. Two Democrat Representatives from New York shared in a joint statement, “As we get closer to both this year’s election and his own inevitable return to electoral politics, Mike Pompeo has grown even more brazen in misusing the State Department and the taxpayer dollars that fund it as vehicles for the Administration’s, and his own, political ambitions.”


Sudan becomes the third Arab state to formally set aside hostilities in recent weeks

Jerusalem’s Chords Bridge illuminated in colors of Israeli, Sudanese flags (photo: Hananya Naftali Facebook)
Sudan agrees to normalize ties with Israel: On Friday, President Donald Trump announced that “Sudan agreed to a peace and normalization agreement with Israel,” in a deal brokered by the United States. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that an Israeli delegation will go to Sudan soon “to complete the agreement” and Israel will be sending $5 million dollars of wheat to Sudan. On Sunday, Sudan’s Foreign Ministry said that the officials will meet to discuss a variety of cooperation deals in order to “achieve the mutual interests of two peoples.” It is unclear how long it will take for an agreement to be completed, as the Sudanese premier needs approval from a parliament that has not yet been formed. Normalization was facilitated by Trump’s decision to remove Sudan from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism. A senior U.S. official also said that Sudan has committed to designating Hezbollah a terror organization as part of the deal. The deal to normalize ties has stirred controversy in Sudan, with prominent political factions rejecting any agreement. In a television interview, Sudan’s premier said that, “we are more winners than any other party,” and “reconciliation was in the interest of Sudan.” Mossad director Yossi Cohen reportedly said in closed conversations that an announcement of normalization between Israel and Saudi Arabia is close and that the Saudis were waiting until after the U.S. election before taking action.
Approval of UAE F-35 sale sparks accusations of secrecy: On Friday, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced that Israel would not oppose the U.S. sale of “certain weapons systems” to the United Arab Emirates, an apparent reference to a contested sale of F-35 stealth fighter jets. According to Netanyahu, the United States vowed to “significantly upgrade” Israel’s military capabilities in exchange for permitting this sale, in order to maintain Israel’s “security and military advantage in the region as well as its qualitative military edge in the coming decades.” After this announcement, Defense Minister Benny Gantz accused Netanyahu of keeping him and other top defense officials out of discussions with the United States, implying that Netanyahu did not consult with the military before agreeing to give an Arab nation this advanced weaponry. Gantz, who was also kept out of talks about normalization with the UAE, said that the talks surrounding the F-35 jets were “known to Israeli officials who were part of the (normalization) negotiations, but were hidden from the defense establishment, who were not involved.” On Saturday night, Netanyahu struck back against these allegations, calling them “baseless.”
Hamas court convicts three peace activists for call with Israelis: On Monday, a military court in Hamas-run Gaza convicted three Gazan peace activists of “weakening revolutionary spirit” for their role in a grassroots conversation-building initiative between Palestinians and Israelis. However, the courts ordered the release of two of the activists, citing time served for one, and halting implementation of punishment for the other after both had already spent six months in jail. The third activist was released on bail in July. Hamas had arrested these activists, along with five others, over the April initiative, but the other five were released within days of the arrest. Omar Shakir, the Human Rights Watch director for Israel and Palestine, said that these activists’ long detentions underscore “Hamas’s larger persecution of journalists, opponents and activists who do not toe the party line,” and warned that this will not be the end of arrests if Hamas keeps up its severe persecution.


Israel to begin human trials for COVID-19 vaccine on November 1

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, October 25, 2020 (photo: Benny Gantz Facebook)

Israeli Coronavirus vaccine ready for human trials by November 1: On Sunday, the Defense Ministry announced that human trials for the “BriLife” coronavirus vaccine, developed by the Israel Institute for Biological Research, will commence on November 1st. The first round will monitor the progress of 80 volunteers for three weeks, before a second phase in December with 960 people, and, if successful, a third phase with 30,000 volunteers in April/May. If all phases are successful, the goal is to manufacture 15 million rations of the vaccine “for Israel and its close neighbors” by July. Defense Minister Benny Gantz described this announcement as “a day of hope for the citizens of Israel. Just two months ago, I received the first bottle of the vaccine. Today, we already have 25,000 vaccine doses.”
Ministry announces bill to connect diaspora Jewry with Israeli government: On Thursday, the Diaspora Affairs Ministry announced plans to pass a bill that would require Israeli government ministries to interact with Jews in the diaspora when discussing issues that affect Jews worldwide. This bill comes in response to a rift between a progressive world Jewry and Israeli policies that are influenced by Israel’s Orthodox-dominated religious leadership. Examples of disputes between progressive Jews and the Israeli government include: pluralistic prayer rights at the Western Wall, Israeli conversion policies, Israeli settlement policies, and even “authentic Jewish identity.” In recent years it has been alleged that Israel has “blacklisted” American Orthodox rabbis over their inability to accept the Jewish identity of American immigrants to Israel. Diaspora Affairs minister Omer Yankelevich says that this bill will be “a declaration of the government of Israel’s commitment to repairing and elevating this relationship” as “now is the time to formalize the discourse between the government of Israel and world Jewry. The Jewish world deserves a voice in the Jewish state.” 
Jerusalem Islamic museum suspends sale following outrage: British auction house Sotheby’s has announced it will postpone an auction of 268 items from Jerusalem’s Museum of Islamic Art after the proposed sale provoked outrage from many, including Israel’s President Reuven Rivlin. “The assets have a deeper and more significant value than money,” the president said, before calling on the state to intervene. The L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem says that due to financial pressures magnified by the coronavirus pandemic it is forced to sell these items in order to stay open. Without increased financial security, the museum was likely to shut down within five to seven years. The items set to be brought to auction are owned by a private foundation, which is the major entity funding the museum’s operations.
Gantz says no Israeli election until after U.S. election: Amid multiple bills from the opposition calling for a no-confidence vote in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s government, Blue and White leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz has stated that his party will not decide whether to dissolve the government and call for new elections until after the American elections have been decided. The party is presumably waiting to see whether Prime Minister Netanyahu will still have his ally, President Donald Trump, in office next Wednesday. Head of the opposition, Yair Lapid, called the current government “the most wasteful and irresponsible government in the history of the State of Israel.” A poll conducted Monday by Israeli Channel 12 found, for the first time, that Israeli voters would prefer to see right-wing Yamina party leader Naftali Bennet as Prime Minister than Netanyahu.


New study shows that Europe lost nearly 60% of its Jewish population in past 50 years

New study shows marked decline in European Jewish population: The London-based Institute for Jewish Policy published a report on Thursday detailing how over the past 50 years, Europe lost almost 60% of its Jewish population. The report showed that only 1.3 million Jews live in Europe today, barely one-tenth of a percent of the total European population and under 10 percent of the global Jewish population. These numbers are similar to those of nearly 1,000 years ago but are considerably lower than a century and a half ago at the peak of European Jewry, when Jews in Europe accounted for 90% of the world’s Jewish population. The sharp downturn over the past 50 years is likely due to the fall of the Soviet Union, which sparked a massive wave of Jewish emigration from former Soviet bloc countries. The most significant decline in Western Europe was in the United Kingdom, which lost 25% of its Jewish population over the past 50 years. According to the report, reduction in Jewish population in Europe is also likely caused by increased intermarriage rates (over 76% of Polish Jews are intermarried) and the Israeli Law of Return, whereby 2,820,800 Europeans have immigrated to Israel because of their Jewish ancestry. Two out of every three European Jews today live in France, the United Kingdom, or Germany. 
First Euro coin minted with Hebrew letters in Lithuania: Last Tuesday, Lithuania minted a 10 euro coin as a limited-edition collector’s item to celebrate the 300th anniversary of the birth of the Vilna Gaon, the 18th-century rabbi and scholar Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, who lived and died in the Lithuanian capital of Vilnius. The coin features the Hebrew letter shin, which is the Gematria (Hebrew alphanumeric code) for 300, followed by the Vilna Gaon’s initials. The Hebrew for “the year of the Vilna Gaon and the history of the Jews of Lithuania” is written on the rim of the coin. The commemoration of individuals on bank notes and coins in Europe is usually very rare due to political sensitivity in a union made up of former foes. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu celebrated this decision, saying “It’s very exciting to have a European coin with Hebrew letters on it, commemorating one of our greatest people.”


Today we celebrate a Tel Aviv University professor, who was one of the first two scientists to receive a rare, unrestricted research grant of $2.5 million. Professor Oded Rechavi received the Polymaths Award, given by Schmidt Futures, a philanthropic initiative founded by Eric and Wendy Schmidt, that rewards “researchers exhibiting rare interdisciplinarity” by “betting early on [these] extraordinary people to make the world better.” Along with Professor Jeff Gore from MIT, Rechavi will receive a $500,000 grant every year for five years to pursue any type of research he chooses. Rechavi is an expert in interdisciplinary research, who has made scientific breakthroughs in a wide variety of fields, including decoding the Dead Sea Scrolls through DNA research and deciphering the laws of the epigenetic heredity of parental responses. Schmidt Futures hopes to continue the Polymaths Award in years to come, in order to establish a network of scientists and researchers committed to interdisciplinary research and discovery. Rechavi said he is especially grateful for the award, as he is excited to “Investigate wild ideas [he] never would have dreamed of proposing to other research foundations.” He is “proud to have been chosen and excited about the opportunity to open new fields of research.”
Today in 2018, a gunman opened fire at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh during Shabbat services, killing 11 worshippers and wounding 6 others. Antisemitic terrorist Robert Bowers entered the synagogue and opened fire on the congregants, while yelling “all Jews must die.” A white supremacist, Bowers told law enforcement that he “wanted all Jews to die” because they were “committing a genocide against [his] people.” The Tree of Life shooting was the deadliest attack against Jews in American history. Two years later, members of the community in Pittsburgh are still healing from the trauma of the attack. Audrey Glickman, a survivor of the attack says that “Some of us, as a collective, are still healing. We had different levels of injury to begin with.” Formal commemorations of the attack have been organized by the 10.27 Healing partnership, who, in light of the coronavirus pandemic, are arranging a virtual service of remembrance and Torah studies. Survivors and organizations joined together on Sunday to host a Facebook Live event to call for action, as they describe the event as at “the intersection of anti-Semitism, anti-immigrant hatred, white supremacy, and the easy availability of guns in our culture.” Members of the Tree of Life congregation will join together on November 5th, which corresponds with the Hebrew anniversary of the shooting, for a more intimate commemoration, where they will recite the Mourner’s Kaddish in memory of the loved ones they lost.
Today we remember the victims of the massacre: Rose Mallinger, Richard Gottfried, Melvin Wax, Joyce Fienberg, Jerry Rabinowitz, Irving Younger, Daniel Stein, Cecil and David Rosenthal, and Sylvan and Bernice Simon. May their memories be a blessing.

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