Biden Mid-East Agenda, Israeli Cannabis Legalization, & Palestinian Peace Negotiator Dies

November 10, 2020

Biden Mid-East Agenda, Israeli Cannabis Legalization, & Palestinian Peace Negotiator Dies

November 10, 2020
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Happy Tuesday!

Today we’re diving into:

  • Inside the U.S: Israel congratulates Biden & thanks Trump; Trump’s plan to sanction Iran; Trump fires Defense Secretary; Biden’s Middle East agenda; and NYPD chief’s antisemitic & racist rants
  • Inside Israel: Gantz’s new budget ultimatum; Iran’s support in anti-Bibi protests; and committee’s recommendation to legalize cannabis
  • Israel’s Neighbors: Thwarted stabbing attack near Hebron; Palestinian diplomat dies of COVID-19; gate named after terrorist; and sanctions on pro-Hezbollah Lebanese politician
  • Inside Europe: Death of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks; Portugal’s Jewish law of return; and Polish bill set to ban ritual slaughter
  • Celebrate & Remember: Wally the llama; and remembering Kristallnacht


Worldwide congratulations rain down on Biden, including from Israel

Source: @JoeBiden / Twitter, November 9, 2020

Israeli leaders congratulate Biden, thank Trump: On Saturday, all major news organizations declared Joseph R. Biden as the 46th president of the United States, along with Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, the first woman elected to the position. In his victory speech on Saturday night, President-elect Biden said that “this is the time to heal America,” vowing “to be a president who seeks not to divide but unify.” President Donald Trump has refused to accept defeat and on Monday Attorney General William Barr authorized the Justice Department to probe allegations of voter fraud. While some Trump allies, such as Israeli GOP chief Marc Zell, refuse to accept Trump’s defeat without a “legal process,” Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Jared Kushner has reportedly urged Trump to accept defeat. On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Reuven Rivlin congratulated Biden and thanked Trump for the “friendship” he has “shown the state of Israel,”, though analysts note that the congratulations came more than 12 hours after news outlets announced Biden’s victory.  Congratulatory messages to Biden and thank yous to Trump also came from Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, opposition leader Yair Lapid, Yamina head Naftali Bennett, Chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog, and many other Israeli officials.
Trump plans ‘flood’ of Iran sanctions over next 10 weeks: The Trump administration has focused a lot on its Mid-East policy, and now eyes are on the White House for Trump’s final ten weeks in office. On November 18th, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is due for a visit to Israel, where he reportedly will focus on the Trump administration’s final attempt to step up Iranian sanctions. After meeting with Netanyahu and other senior Israeli officials on Sunday, U.S. envoy for Iran Elliot Abrams is expected to promote a plan in coordination with Israel and several Gulf states to impose a wide variety of sanctions on Iran in order to render it difficult for the Biden administration to return to nuclear deal with Iran. An Axios source disclosed that, in a closed briefing several days ago, Abrams said that the Trump administration wants to announce a new set of sanctions on Iran every week until Jan. 20. The UAE and Saudi Arabia, who represent both the U.S’ and Israel’s main allies against Iran, are very concerned by the Biden administration’s future Iran policy. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif publicly reached out via Twitter to Arab “neighbors,” suspected to be directed at the Gulf states, to call for dialogue and warn that, while Trump will be leaving in 70 days, Iran’s regime will remain “forever.” Zarif urged them to shift course to join Iran or suffer consequences in the future.
Trump fires Secretary of Defense Mark Esper: On Monday, President Trump fired Defense Secretary Mark Esper and replaced him with Christopher Miller, director of the National Counterterrorism Center. No reason was given for Esper’s termination, though officials speculate that he may be the first of a potential string of vindictive terminations following Trump’s loss to Joe Biden. CIA Director Gina Haspel and FBI Director Christopher Wray are thought to be the next Trump administration officials who are under threat of termination. Rep. Elissa Slotkin, who was a former Pentagon official, said that there would only be a few reasons to fire Esper: “One would be incompetence or wrongdoing, which do not seem to be the issue… A second would be vindictiveness, which would be an irresponsible way to treat our national security. A third would be because the president wants to take actions that he believes his secretary of defense would refuse to take, which would be alarming.” A representative of Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Esper’s firing “will not affect” the recent agreement signed between the US and Israel affirming Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East.
Looking forward—the Biden Middle East agenda: After President Trump’s administration leaned heavily in favor of Israel when promulgating his Middle East agenda, through initiatives such as moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, suspending certain aid to Palestinians, declaring Israeli settlements in the West Bank legal, and pulling out of the Iranian nuclear deal, experts speculate that President-elect Biden will likely return to a more traditional approach.  Israel is planning to coordinate the formulation of a new long-term military aid plan with Biden, who traditionally has been an ally to Israel in negotiations and helped to formulate the $38 billion, 10-year memorandum of understanding (MOU) for defense aid—the largest military aid package in US history—in 2016. Biden has vowed to guarantee Israel’s qualitative military edge in the Middle East due to an “unbreakable commitment to Israel’s security.”  Experts speculate that Biden may reenter the Iran nuclear deal from which the Trump administration removed the United States in 2015. Netanyahu viewed the Iran deal as wholly disastrous and an existential threat to Israeli national security. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has reportedly sent Biden messages that he would be willing to resume U.S.-brokered peace negotiations with Israel, but only from the point where they were halted in 2016 under Barack Obama, including the removal of the American embassy from Jerusalem. Though Biden criticized the embassy move, he said he would not pull it back to Tel Aviv.
NYPD anti-discrimination chief accused of antisemitic and racist rants: Deputy Inspector James F. Kobel of the New York Police Department, whose job is to combat discrimination in the department, reportedly posted racist, antisemitic, misogynist, and homophobic slurs on a message board. Using the pseudonym, “Clouseau,” Korbel posted often on a message board where law enforcement officials vent anonymously. Through an extensive investigative process, the City Council’s Oversight and Investigations Division has amassed large amounts of evidence tying Kobel to the posts, which have since been deleted. Kobel denied the charge, but has been relieved of his job pending the completion of an Internal Affairs Bureau investigation. His many racist remarks included referring to former president Barack Obama as a “Muslim savage” and describing a Black woman as a “savage” who “reproduces little carbon copies of ‘herself/hisself’… someone please throw a gallon of bleach in the human gene pool.” He also responded to a post about Orthodox Jews who were tired of being photographed by tourists, saying: “I think that eventually all of the inbreeding may lead to the demise of these clowns. The severity of birth defects will only increase. Unfortunately, the local taxpayer is going to be on the hook for the bill when the children need special programs in the local school districts and the parents continue to leach [sic] off the system.” 


Early elections likely in the near future, as Gantz sets new ultimatum after Biden win

Source: @gantzbe / Twitter, October 13, 2020
Gantz: new elections if budget is not passed by December: After months of stalling, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz announced that if a state budget is not passed by the new December 23 deadline, he will move to trigger early elections. A senior member of the governing coalition has said that Joe Biden’s election will also help to hasten the process of moving towards early elections, as the special relationship that Prime Minister Netanyahu has forged with President Donald Trump will become obsolete. Gantz reportedly met with Naftali Bennett, head of the right-wing Yamina party, to discuss dissolving the government, as Gantz is frustrated by budget delays and believes Netanyahu won’t keep his promise to hand over the premiership in November 2021 as per their power-sharing agreement. Members of Gantz’s Blue and White party have also reportedly met with the head of the opposition Yair Lapid in order to coordinate their moves.
Protests continue as evidence emerges of Iran’s support: Weekly protests against Prime Minister Netanyahu continued on Saturday night, as thousands of protesters gathered throughout the country and in front of Netanyahu’s Jerusalem home to call for his resignation. The protesters, encouraged by Joe Biden’s victory over President Donald Trump, engaged in chants such as “Trump’s out and Bibi’s next!” Facebook announced on Thursday night that it uncovered a network of Iranian Facebook and Instagram accounts involved in a deception campaign that targeted Israelis. A report said that these accounts “posted memes, images and other content in Hebrew and Arabic focusing on news and current events in the countries they targeted, including anti-Prime Minister Netanyahu protests in Israel, criticism of his policies and response to the pandemic.” Netanyahu’s Likud party responded to this discovery, saying “the backwards regime [in Iran] is supporting the left-wing protesters. The goal is a shared one: to bring down Netanyahu.”
Committee set to recommend full cannabis legalization: The Israeli government has convened a special committee to discuss Israeli cannabis policies, which is expected to announce its recommendation to fully legalize cannabis in Israel this week. The committee is made up of representatives from the Israel Police, the Public Security Ministry and the Health Ministry. Israel has taken steps in recent years to make medical cannabis available and is poised to become a major exporter of the crop, though medical cannabis users have complained of near-impossible access to the few dispensaries licensed to distribute it.


Attempted attack comes amid uptick in West Bank violence in recent weeks

Source: @IDF / Twitter, November 7, 2020
IDF thwarts attempted stabbing attack near Hebron: On Sunday, a 41-year-old Palestinian man attempted to stab Israeli soldiers outside of a refugee camp near Hebron and troops at the scene responded with fire, injuring the man. This attempted attack follows an uptick in violence in the West Bank, including an incident last Wednesday when a member of the Palestinian Authority’s security services opened fire at troops in the northern West Bank. The Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, leveled accusations against Hamas on Monday, alleging the organization was recruiting minors to execute attacks against Israel. The Shin Bet arrested two teenagers from the Palestinian town of Beit Ummar in October. The suspects confessed their plan to kidnap an Israeli citizen, among other missions to Shin Bet investigators. “The investigation shows the level of unrestrained efforts by Hamas to advance terror attacks and to build terrorist infrastructure in the West Bank while taking advantage of minors and harming their families,” the Shin Bet said in a statement.

Palestinian diplomat and negotiator dies of COVID-19: Saeb Erekat, a prominent Palestinian negotiator and Secretary General of the Palestine Liberation Organization’s Executive Committee, died Tuesday due to complications from coronavirus, at the Israeli hospital where he has been hospitalized since last month. Erekat led successive Palestinian negotiations with Israel for decades, including talks that led to the signing of the 1995 Oslo Accords, the first major peace agreement between Israel and the Palestinians. Most recently, Erekat was a prominent Palestinian voice protesting President Trump’s peace proposal. He was an outspoken and passionate advocate of Palestinian statehood, with many Israeli officials who sat across from him at the negotiating table vouching for his commitment to a two-state solution. Labor Party leader and Treasury Minister Amir Peretz was one of the first Israeli politicians to respond to the news, saying “Erekat will be remembered as a man who believed in the process and accompanied the negotiations with Israel for many years, preferring peace to violence. My condolences to his family and to the Palestinian people.” Erekat was also a controversial figure with both Israelis and Palestinians—his rhetoric embodied Palestinian rejectionism for many Israelis and many Palestinians came to blame leaders like Erekat for negotiating an arrangement that failed to deliver on its central promise — a state — even as it continued to coordinate with Israel.
Palestinian Uni. names new gate after Munich Olympics massacre planner: At Palestine Polytechnic University, the Student Union Council gifted the school with a gate named after Salah Khalaf, or “Abu Iyad” who is well known for his role as leader of the Black September terror organization and planned the 1972 Munich Olympics Massacre, when 11 Israeli athletes were killed. While dedicating the gate, Student Union Council president Saif al-Muhtasib said “We are proud of the distinguished leaders whose bodies are no more, but whose spirit remains among us.” According to Palestinian Media Watch, the Palestinian Authority “reveres the terrorists behind the Munich Olympics terror attack, and has named a school, and also a sport center, after Salah Khalaf.”
U.S. cracks down on pro-Hezbollah Lebanese politician: On Friday, the Trump administration announced that it had sanctioned Former Lebanese Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil for his corruption and ties to Iran-backed Hezbollah, a move that is “likely to upend attempts to form a new cabinet in crisis-ridden Lebanon.”  Bassil who leads the largest bloc in parliament and is the son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, has emerged as a major target of Lebanese protesters. U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin said, “The systemic corruption in Lebanon’s political system exemplified by Bassil has helped to erode the foundation of an effective government that serves the Lebanese people.”  On Saturday, Bassil slammed the move and President Michael Aoun said that the Lebanese government would seek evidence and documents from the United States that led Washington to impose the sanctions. U.S. Ambassador Dorothy Shea said that Bassil “expressed willingness to break with Hezbollah, on certain conditions. He actually expressed gratitude that the United States had gotten him to see how the relationship is disadvantageous to the party.”


Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, revered throughout the world as an ambassador for faith and morality, passed away Saturday

Source: @rabbisacks / Twitter, November 8, 2020
UK’s former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks passes away: On Saturday, Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks passed away during a third bout of cancer at age 72. Having served 22 years as chief rabbi of the United Kingdom, Sacks was a prolific Jewish thinker, writer, teacher and spiritual leader, whose extensive writings and frequent media appearances became well known worldwide. Sacks espoused values of unity and morality for the Jewish people, hoping that Jews would continue to exemplify the important values of their religion for broader society. Rabbi Dr. Rafi Zarum, dean of the London School of Jewish Studies, thinks that Sacks set himself apart from other Jewish scholars through his deep belief in modernity: “He was the most eloquent exponent of a modern Judaism that was totally integrated; knowledgeable of tradition but versed in Western civilization at the same time. He saw them as naturally integrated.” World leaders, such as Prince Charles, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin mourned the loss of Sacks. Prince Charles issued a statement remembering “a leader whose wisdom, scholarship and humanity were without equal” and whose “immense learning spanned the sacred and the secular, and his prophetic voice spoke to our greatest challenges with unfailing insight and boundless compassion. His wise counsel was sought and appreciated by those of all faiths and none, and he will be missed more than words can say.”
Portugal naturalizes 23,000 Jews under law of return: Portugal has granted citizenship to 23,000 Jews under a 2015 law that granted citizenship to descendants of Sephardic Jews. The country has approved at least 30% of 76,000 applications that have been submitted since 2015. In 2019 alone, 25,000 applications were submitted, many of which still have not been processed. In 2015, Spain joined Portugal in passing laws to grant a right of return to Jews in order to atone for the expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Jews from the Iberian Peninsula during the Spanish Inquisition. Although Spain’s law is set to expire, Portugal’s law is open-ended, and the approval process for applicants has been handed over to Jewish organizations. 
Polish bill set to ban ritual slaughter: Last Wednesday, the Polish government scrapped a bill that would have banned the production of kosher and halal meat, but vowed to introduce a new one that would be more restrictive. Poland is a major exporter of halal meat to the Islamic world, and one of Europe’s primary exporters kosher meat to Israel. Agriculture Minister Grzegorz Puda suggested that the original legislation was not restrictive enough on ritual slaughter, which constitutes a $1.8 billion industry in Poland. It isn’t the first time that Poland has banned ritual slaughter, which is controversial because it forbids the stunning of animals before their throats are cut. In 2013, the government outlawed the practice, only to see that law overturned in 2014. At the very least, the new bill is expected to include a ban on exporting the meat.


Baden Baden, Germany – Jews arrested following Kristallnacht were forced to walk through the streets with a sign reading, “God does not forgive us.” Photo: Yad Vashem
Today we celebrate Wally the llama, whose antibodies may help “millions” through the COVID-19 pandemic. Wally’s antibodies were analyzed in a lab at Hebrew University in Jerusalem by Dina Schneidman-Duhovny. Schneidman-Duhovny and her team analyzed Wally’s antibodies in order to identify which would work best in fighting the coronavirus in human patients. Her U.S.-based colleagues have tested the best antibody candidates in vitro with live coronavirus and human cells and found that they significantly reduce the virus’s ability to infect cells. Llama antibodies are referred to as “nanobodies” because they are smaller, and thus easier and cheaper to replicate artificially. The llama antibodies would not need to be introduced intravenously and would be used in an inhaler that is already being developed. Schneidman-Duhovny said that, “Unlike the types of antibodies that are currently available, such as those given to Donald Trump, these can be made very easily and cheaply.” Judged on their in vitro performance, these antibodies are also more effective than any other antibodies seen to date. The lab’s research, in coordination with the University of Pittsburgh had started exploring the efficacy of llama antibodies before the start of the pandemic, but repurposed their research to work on the novel coronavirus as llama antibodies are “ideal for addressing the urgency and magnitude of the current crisis.” 
Today we remember Kristallnacht, or the Night of Broken Glass, a wave of pogroms against Jews throughout Germany, Austria, and Sudetenland (region of Czechoslovakia) on November 9-10, 1938. The name Kristallnacht (“Crystal Night”) comes from the shards of broken glass that littered the streets after the windows of Jewish-owned stores, buildings and synagogues were smashed. Nazis torched synagogues, vandalized Jewish homes, schools and businesses, and arrested and killed many Jews. The official figure for Jewish deaths, released by German officials in the aftermath of Kristallnacht, was 91, but recent scholarship suggests that there were hundreds of deaths, especially if one counts those who died of their injuries in the days and weeks that followed the pogroms. Over 267 synagogues were destroyed, over 7,500 Jewish businesses were damaged or destroyed, and some 30,000 Jewish men were arrested and incarcerated in concentration camps. The German government immediately announced that “the Jews” themselves were to blame for the pogrom and imposed a fine of one billion Reichsmark (some 400 million US dollars at 1938 rates) on the German Jewish community. The Reich government confiscated all insurance payouts to Jews whose businesses and homes were looted or destroyed, leaving the Jewish owners personally responsible for the cost of all repairs. In the weeks that followed, the German government promulgated dozens of laws and decrees designed to deprive Jews of their property and of their means of livelihood. Many of these laws enforced “Aryanization” policy—the transfer of Jewish-owned enterprises and property to “Aryan” ownership, usually for a fraction of their true value. Kristallnacht marks the first instance in which the Nazi regime incarcerated Jews on a massive scale simply on the basis of their ethnicity. Historians view Kristallnacht as a prelude to the Final Solution and the murder of six million Jews during the Holocaust.

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