Inside Israel: Israel’s lowering case numbers; government officials’ violations of restrictions; COVID-19 infertility study; Netanyahu’s dwindling support; budget impasse; and Ethiopian airlift plan
Israel’s Neighbors: UAE peace deal vote; Berlin Holocaust memorial visit; Israel—Jordan historic airspace agreement; EU conditioning PA aid; and PA election vows broken
Inside the U.S.: Violent protests in NY Orthodox area; reinstatement of Holocaust denying principal; sanctions on Iran’s financial sector; antisemitic attacks on Congress members; and warning for Pittsburgh Jews
Celebrate & Remember: Jewish Nobel Prize winners; and remembering Oskar Schindler
Israel’s virus rates declining, supporting the case to for lengthier restrictions
Israel seeing lower numbers of new positive cases: The lowered rate of positive daily cases of the coronavirus seems to suggest that Israel’s lockdown is working to curb the virus’ spread, but the divide is still deep between the Health and Finance ministries which are working to combat two opposing effects of the pandemic. Finance Minister Israel Katz harshly criticized the government’s lockdown on Wednesday, charging that it is driving millions of Israelis to hunger and despair. Despite dropping case numbers, Israeli hospitals are facing dire circumstances which could remain bad for weeks. The director of the coronavirus department at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, Dr. Guy Choshen, said, “If we see a decline in national numbers testing positive, we’ll only feel it in two to three weeks.” A nationwide survey found that only 5.5% of Israelis have coronavirus antibodies, indicating the country is far from achieving “herd immunity.”
More high profile figures violate coronavirus restrictions: The Israel Defense Forces’ Chief of Staff, Aviv Kochavi, the head of Israel’s Shin Bet security agency, Nadav Argaman, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, Sara Netanyahu, have all been caught violating the country’s lockdown rules this week, prompting public outrage. Both Kochavi and Argaman hosted members of their extended families, for which both men apologized and expressed regret. Sara Netanyahu had a hairdresser come to her official Jerusalem residence. Opposition leader Yair Lapid announced on Monday that Mickey Levy will resign from the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee “by joint agreement” after violating lockdown rules by visiting family.
Israeli study shows COVID-19 can cause male infertility: A study conducted by Dr. Dan Aderka of Sheba Medical Center showed that males who suffer from moderate or severe cases of COVID-19 could experience reduced fertility. Aderka reported a 50% decrease in sperm volume, concentration, and motility in patients with moderate disease, even a month after diagnosis. He also reported changes in the testicular cells supporting sperm development and added that it’s unclear if the effects on the quantity and quality of the sperm are reversible or persistent. His team will examine the same patients six months and a year after recovery.
Netanyahu’s support tanks: A Channel 12 poll found that 65% of Israelis are dissatisfied with Prime Minister Netanyahu’s response to the coronavirus pandemic. The poll also gave Netanyahu’s Likud party 26 seats in the Knesset were a new election to be called, down a whopping 10 points from its current standing. The next largest share of the vote would go to Naftali Bennet’s far-right party Yamina, with 23 seats. Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s party would crater to just seven seats in the poll, despite currently being the second largest party in the Knesset, which has 120 seats total. Channel 12 is also reporting that the former head of the IDF, Gadi Eisenkot, and the well-known mayor of Tel Aviv, Ron Huldai, are planning to form a centrist party and run in future elections. The poll found that the pair would receive six seats in a potential election. Another poll found that 49% of the Israeli public want to call an early election rather than continue under the current government.
Continuing budget impasse may result in new elections: The latest clashes between Netanyahu and Gantz come amid Netanyahu’s continued reluctance to pass a 2020 national budget. Gantz sent a warning letter to Netanyahu on Thursday demanding the passage of the budget, as well as the concurrent preparation of a 2021 budget to be brought to the Knesset by the beginning of December. Gantz accused Netanyahu of “breaching” the coalition agreement, calling his reluctance to pass a budget “putting personal considerations above the wellbeing of Israelis.” Prime Minister Netanyahu, in response, doubled down on his assurances that he will pass the 2020 budget in late December. He also stated that the Finance Ministry will begin work on the 2021 budget, but with no intent to pass it at the same time as the 2020 budget. If the 2020 budget does not pass by the December 23rd deadline, automatic elections will be triggered for the fourth time in two years.
Bibi to push for Ethiopian airlift after protester’s remarks: Prime Minister Netanyahu is pledging to bring 2,000 Ethiopians of Jewish descent to Israel with a vote on Monday. Netanyahu’s plan includes $109 million for the project to airlift all the Ethiopians to safety. Netanyahu said: “Half a year ago, I committed to bringing the rest of the Jews of Ethiopia [to Israel],” making clear he is fulfilling a promise to the Ethiopian Israeli community. Netanyahu may also be capitalizing on the recent racist remark by an anti-Netanyahu protest leader to an Ethiopian-Israeli policewoman; the protester said, “I brought your parents from Ethiopia, aren’t you ashamed?” The rescue under consideration concerns the Falash Mura community in Ethiopia, who are the descendants of Jews who were forcibly converted or to Christianity. Upon immigrating to Israel, these Ethiopians, unlike the Jewish Beta Israel community, are required to undergo Orthodox conversion to Judaism. 30,000 Falash Mura have already immigrated to Israel since 1997.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
The UAE and Israel make a significant public gesture weeks after normalization deal signing
October 6, 2020, Berlin. Photo credit: Gabi Ashkenazi Twitter
UAE peace deal vote next week & historic visit to Holocaust memorial: Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, will have its say on the UAE-Israel peace deal next week, according to Prime Minister Netanyahu. The deal must be ratified by the Knesset before it can fully go into effect, and the vote is tentatively scheduled for next Thursday. The peace deal is more of a treaty than an informal agreement, like Israel’s deal with Bahrain, which does not require Knesset approval. The foreign ministers of Israel and the United Arab Emirates met this week in Germany and visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial while there. During their trilateral meetings in Germany, Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, apparently told UAE’s FM Abdullah bin Zayed that Israeli FM Gabi Ashkenazi’s father was a Holocaust survivor from Bulgaria. Bin Zayed was surprised by this, and personally suggested visiting the Holocaust memorial. In another show of solidarity this week, a sukkah was erected in front of Dubai’s Burj Khalifa tower—the world’s tallest tower.
Israel and Jordan historic airspace agreement: Israel and Jordan on Thursday signed a historic agreement allowing commercial flights that cross over one country’s airspace to also cross the other’s. The agreement, which has been in progress for many years but entered final stages after the recognition of the Abraham Accords, will significantly shorten flight times between Israel and east Asia, as well as flights between Asia, Europe, and North America. Notably, this will also allow for mutual use of airspace between Israel and Saudi Arabia, which first allowed Israeli travel over its land on the historic flight to the UAE. Transportation Minister Miri Regev said of the aviation agreement, “we are once again breaking new boundaries, and this time it is in the air.”
EU rebuffs more aid to Palestinian Authority: The European Union is refusing to expand aid to the Palestinian Authority until the Palestinians accept tax money owed to them by Israel. The PA has been refusing the tax money that is collected by Israel on its behalf for the better part of a year. Currently, the PA is owed at least $750 million. The PA said it was refusing to accept the money over Israel’s proposal to annex parts of the West Bank, but that proposal was sidelined as a result of the UAE—Israel peace deal. In recent weeks, the PA has requested loans from the EU to help cover its costs, while still refusing to accept the hundreds of millions of dollars of its own money from Israel’s Finance Ministry. The EU, Jordan, and Egypt all relayed similar messages to the PA that they will not cover those costs until the PA resumes accepting its tax money from Israel.
Palestinian elections not likely: After Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and the Gaza-based terrorist organization Hamas agreed to hold Palestinian elections later this year, their agreement seems to have fallen flat, as past promises have done as well. The Palestinians have not held elections since 2006, at which point Hamas was swept into power in Gaza. Just weeks ago, both parties agreed to hold elections within six months, but one Palestinian professor said: “This is merely a maneuver by Abbas to buy time before November 3, the American elections.” Despite pledging to the elections at the United Nations, Abbas has yet to formally order the government to commence its election process. The Palestinian Authority claims it will not move forward with the elections unless East Jerusalem residents can participate. Since Israel recognizes East Jerusalem as its own sovereign territory and will not agree to hold a Palestinian election within Israel’s borders, the PA knows this demand acts as an effective stalling tactic against elections.
INSIDE THE U.S.
Protests turn violent as Orthodox community roils from COVID-19 restrictions
Backlash over NY restrictions targeting Orthodox areas: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo recently placed strict COVID-19 restrictions largely on ultra-Orthodox communities in Brooklyn and Queens, citing them as sources of mass gatherings that are causing a surge in COVID-19 positivity rates nearly five times that of the rest of the state. The restrictions, which include calling for houses of worship to severely limit their occupancies, have been fiercely condemned by the ultra-Orthodox community. Protests broke out on Tuesday night in the Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, which included setting fires, burning masks, and attacking dissenters. Two members of the Orthodox community, one a journalist covering the protests, were verbally and physically assaulted for disagreeing with the protesters. Jacob Kornbluh, a reporter for Jewish Insider, was assaulted by an ultra-Orthodox mob which shouted “moyser” (“snitch” in Yiddish) at him. New York
City Mayor Bill de Blasio called the attack on Kornbluh “absolutely unacceptable” and emphasized his dissatisfaction with the police response. Jewish organization Zioness’ statement after the attack read in part, “Our hearts are with our friend Jacob Kornbluh, who was assaulted in his own community for supporting mask-wearing as an urgent public health mandate. Requiring masking and social distancing of religious communities does not impede on our religious freedom. Enforcement of these lifesaving precautions in the Orthodox community is not antisemitism. Stigmatizing all Orthodox Jews based on the actions of a few, however, is.” Many in the New York Jewish community have complained of a double standard to allow protesters gather en masse while criticizing Jewish gatherings, and also fear that singling out Jewish communities will increase antisemitism.
Florida board reinstates Holocaust denier principal: A school board in Palm Beach County, Florida voted 4-3 to rehire a principal who was fired for refusing to assert that the Holocaust happened. In 2018, the principal, William Latson, wrote, “I can’t say the Holocaust is a factual, historical event.” Although he was removed from the school at which he was working, he was formally terminated by the school board last October by a vote of 5-2. Following his termination, Latson filed a lawsuit which ruled in his favor. The board voted to rehire Latson, rather than appeal the decision and continue with the legal battle. The board’s sole Jewish member, Karen Brill, said: “If we rehire Dr. Latson, it is going to be a stain on this school district that will never go away.”
Trump slaps harsh sanctions on Iran’s financial sector: The Trump Administration has imposed severe sanctions against Iran’s financial sector in the latest hit to that country since President Trump withdrew from the 2015 Iran Nuclear Deal. Eighteen major Iranian banks will be targeted as an effort to lock Iran out of world finances. The sanctions reflect “our commitment to stop illicit access to U.S. dollars,” said Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. Major products and services falling under the restrictions include oil sales, financial activity, and shipping, but will exclude food, medicine, and other humanitarian aid. Iran hawks hope the move will collapse the Iranian economy. Critics of the move say even though there are carve outs for humanitarian aid, many global banks are already avoiding providing Iran with humanitarian aid, and these sanctions will only make it more difficult for crucial humanitarian goods to reach the Iranian people, especially during the coronavirus pandemic.
Barrage of antisemitic attacks hit Congress members: The Anti-Defamation League released a report stating there is an “astounding” number of antisemitic attacks against Jewish members of Congress up for reelection. In a random selection of 3,000 online messages toward Jewish Congresspeople, the ADL found that a full 10% were blatantly antisemitic. Furthermore, about 40% of the antisemitic content contained references to George Soros, the American-Hungarian-Jewish billionaire. Furthermore, a near 50% of the antisemitic content insinuated that Jewish members of Congress harbor dual loyalties to the U.S. and either the Jewish race or the State of Israel. Lastly, the study found that antisemitic content was greatly amplified by the far-right QAnon conspiracy theory. Irrespective of the ADL report, Facebook announced that it will ban any groups that openly support the baseless QAnon conspiracy theory from its platform.
Pittsburgh Jews warned about release of neo-Nazi: Pittsburgh Jews have been warned to remain vigilant following the release from prison of Hardy Lloyd, a known white supremacist, who has targeted the Jewish community in the past. Lloyd has been jailed three times and his most recent stint involved distributing neo-Nazi leaflets throughout the city and inciting violence online. In an online blog on April 4, 2019, Lloyd posted about an assault weapons ban: “Anyone who supports such laws must be targeted, and their families murdered. Lone Wolves GET BUSY.” The following day, he posted the law should be defeated and added “If not, well, disobey and kill, my Lone Wolves,” adding: “Target: Jewhill!” Jewhill references the Jewish neighborhood of Squirrel Hill, home to the Tree of Life Synagogue, where 11 worshippers were killed in 2018.
When Simchat Torah begins in Israel, Naftali Aklum will be celebrating the holiday at the Shavu Banim synagogue in Beersheba – “the first synagogue of Ethiopian Jews built outside Ethiopia,” Aklum said.
He will dance with the Torah scrolls, enjoy Ethiopian music and eat a festive meal, as is custom for the holiday marking the end of one annual Torah reading cycle and the beginning of another.
However, while Ethiopian Jews in Israel celebrate Simchat Torah today, it was not always this way, according to Aklum, an Ethiopian Jew residing in Beersheba, a city in the Negev that is home to a large Ethiopian community.
Isolated for centuries from the rest of the Jewish world, Ethiopian Jews did not have an Oral Torah prior to making aliyah (immigration to Israel), and thus they did not celebrate Simchat Torah.
“Ethiopian Jews believe they are the oldest Israelites,” Aklum said. “We left Israel right after the destruction of the First Temple and our customs are most similar to how they behaved during the First Temple period,” which predates the Medieval Period by about 1,000 years.
Ethiopian Jews began adopting beliefs and customs common among Jews around the world after migrating to Israel via aliyah missions from Ethiopia.
“In Israel, Ethiopian Jews have accepted the Oral Torah and, of course, celebrate Simchat Torah celebrations,” Aklum said.
When Simchat Torah comes around in Israel on Oct. 9 – in Israel, Simchat Torah and Shemini Atzeret are combined into one day, while the holidays take place over two consecutive days in the diaspora – Ethiopian rabbis, known as kessim, will lead the festivities, and the prayer and singing will be recited in the ancient Ethiopian language of Ge’ez.
Aklum is one of approximately 150,000 Ethiopian Jews living in Israel today. He arrived in Israel in 1980 at the age of one via Sudan, following in the footsteps of his late brother, Ferede, who is credited with setting in motion Operation Moses, which brought more than 8,000 Ethiopian Jews to Israel from 1984-1985.
Aklum served as a consultant on the 2019 Netflix film, “Red Sea Diving Resort,” which depicted his late brother’s effort to bring Ethiopian Jews to Israel, and he gives lectures, workshops and tours intended to educate about Ethiopian Jewry.
Since their arrival in Israel in the 1980s, Ethiopian Jews have attempted to integrate into the larger Israeli society beyond adopting Jewish holidays. This has not always been easy, according to Shosh Mitzman, director of resource development at MAKOM Communities and a liaison between MAKOM and Jewish National Fund-USA.
“As much as Israel is an immigrant country, it doesn’t always get the integration process right,” Mitzman said. “The Ethiopian community has come a long way in integrating into Israeli society, but there is still much work to be done.”
MAKOM, an on-the-ground affiliate of Jewish National Fund-USA, is focused on empowering communities, including Ethiopians, in some of Israel’s most underserved areas, particularly in the Negev and the Galilee.
The organization has been affiliated with Jewish National Fund-USA for the past seven years and currently works with nine Ethiopian communities in the south and one in the north.
Acknowledging that Ethiopians were farmers before their migration to Israel, MAKOM’s Ethiopian Hineni communities – located in southern cities Ashkelon and Kiryat Gat, among other places – have developed urban agriculture initiatives in which younger generations learn from their elders about connecting to the land.
MAKOM’s support for Ethiopians – and the more than 200 communities it works with across all sectors of Israeli society – also comes in the form of fundraising; serving as a voice in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament; and providing professional training.
The mission of the organization, Mitzman said, is multifaceted.
“MAKOM is all about people and making lives better throughout Israel. This is something that is harder and harder to find in the modern world. Members of MAKOM Communities choose to live a simple but more meaningful life. We purposely choose to move to the frontier of Israel, to the periphery, because we see the potential. We come as a strong community choosing to live in a place, focused on creating better lives for all who live there including quality education, employment opportunities, arts and cultural events,” she said. “We are modern pioneers!”
This Simchat Torah, Jewish National Fund-USA is honoring Israel’s Ethiopian community through the dedication of a Torah donated by thousands of the organization’s supporters through its Be Inscribed initiative. The Torah was recently completed by a sofer (scribe) on top of the ancient Jewish fortress of Masada and will be presented to Naftali Aklum in memory of his late father.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Oskar Schindler’s grave on Mount Zion in Jerusalem
Today we celebrate Jewish Nobel Prize winners in the areas of Physics and Literature: Two more Jewish scientists were awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics for their work on understanding black holes. Roger Penrose, a Brit, was awarded the prize “for the discovery that black hole formation is a robust prediction of the general theory of relativity.” American Andrea Ghez was thanked “for the discovery of a supermassive compact object at the center of our galaxy.” Penrose’s grandmother was a Jewish concert pianist who fled Russia for Britain, and Ghez’s father, a Tunisian Jew, fled Italy for the U.S. in the 1930s. Ghez is only the fourth woman to ever receive the Nobel Prize in Physics. Additionally, the American and Jewish poet Louise Glück won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Glück is now 77 and a professor of English at Yale University in New Haven, CT. Glück once said that her grandmother, a Jewish immigrant from Hungary, “had a tiny little anthology — it was physically a small object, as I remember — of ‘Beloved Poems,’ or some sort of comprehensive title of that kind.”
Today in 1974, Oskar Schindler passed away. Schindler was a German industrialist and member of the Nazi party who is credited with saving the lives of 1,200 Jews during the Holocaust by employing them in his factories in occupied Poland. He is the subject of the 1993 film Schindler’s List, directed and produced by Steven Spielberg and written by Steven Zaillian. Schindler bribed SS officials to prevent the execution of his workers until the end of World War II in Europe in May 1945, by which time he had spent his entire fortune on bribes and black-market purchases of supplies for his workers. Schindler moved to West Germany after the war, where he was supported by assistance payments from Jewish relief organizations. After receiving a partial reimbursement for his wartime expenses, he moved with his wife Emilie to Argentina, where they took up farming. Schindler went bankrupt again in 1958, left his wife and returned to Germany, where he failed at several business ventures and relied on financial support from “Schindlerjuden” (“Schindler Jews”)—the people whose lives he had saved during the war. He died on October 9, 1974 in Hildesheim, Germany, and was buried in Jerusalem on Mount Zion, the only former member of the Nazi Party to be honored in this way. He and his wife Emilie were named Righteous Among the Nations by the Israeli government in 1993.