Inside Israel: Pompeo’s announcement and visit to settlements; Rivlin and Netanyahu call Biden; Gantz’s probe of Netanyahu; boycott of anti-Bibi bill; and Israeli NBA draft pick
Israel’s Neighbors: Palestinians renew ties to Israel; retaliatory airstrikes in Syria; watchdog’s Iranian nuclear report; Pakistan pressured to normalize; and first-ever Bahraini ministerial visit to Israel
Antisemitism: Pittsburgh’s white supremacy problem; Uni. of Illinois probe; SFSU BDS resolution; appointment of ex-aide with white supremacy ties to Holocaust post; and Corbyn’s reinstatement into the U.K. Labour party
Celebrate & Remember: Jewish scientists behind COVID-19 vaccines; and Jonathan Pollard’s parole expiration
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo makes history with declaration that “BDS is antisemitic” and Israeli settlement visits
Israel applauds series of historic moves made by Pompeo: U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made history during his two-day trip to Israel with an announcement that the United States will officially recognize the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) movement as ‘antisemitic’ and will withdraw U.S. government funding from groups that engage in BDS conduct. He said the State Department wants “to stand with all other nations that recognize the BDS movement for the cancer that it is.” Pompeo also became the first U.S. secretary of state to visit Israeli settlements both in the West Bank and the Golan Heights. Pompeo announced that exports made in Israeli settlements in the West Bank will be recognized by the United States as “Made in Israel,” following pressure from Republican senators. Since 1995, the international requirement has been to label these goods as “made in the West Bank.” In the visitor’s book at Psagot Winery in the West Bank, Pompeo wrote, “It is a blessing to be here in Judea and Samaria. May I not be the last Secretary of State to visit this beautiful land.” In the Golan Heights, which the State Department officially recognized as part of Israel last year, Pompeo said, “I very much wanted to come here on this trip to tell the world that we have it right.” Netanyahu applauded the series of historic moves as “wonderful,” while the Palestinian leadership condemned them.
President Rivlin and PM Netanyahu call President-elect Biden: On Tuesday evening, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin announced that he had spoken to U.S. President-elect Joe Biden. He tweeted: “as an old friend of #Israel he knows our friendship is based on values beyond partisan politics. We have no doubt that under his leadership the United States is committed to our security and success.” Biden reportedly “underscored his deep commitment to Israel’s security” and expressed excitement about “working with Israel to build an ever-stronger partnership between our two countries.” Merely 27 minutes after Rivlin’s announcement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement that he had spoken with Biden, saying that in “a warm conversation, the President-elect reiterated his deep commitment to the State of Israel and its security […] The two agreed to meet soon in order to discuss the many issues on the agenda and reiterated the need to continue bolstering the steadfast alliance between the U.S. and Israel.” There is speculation that Netanyahu has been trying to avoid offending President Donald Trump, as his congratulations to Biden was tweeted with a 12-hour delay, he has yet to refer to Biden as “president-elect,” and he waited longer than other world leaders to contact the President-elect.
Gantz may probe Netanyahu in ‘submarine affair:’ On Wednesday, it was reported that Defense Minister Benny Gantz decided to appoint an inquiry committee tasked with investigating alleged corruption involving Prime Minister Netanyahu in the procurement of submarines and other naval vessels by Israel, in the so-called “submarine affair.” This move could increase tensions between Netanyahu and his coalition partner Gantz and threaten the stability of the already weak unity government. Gantz’s Defense Ministry denied the report, saying that the process of deciding whether or not to open the investigation has not yet been completed. The submarine affair has already implicated several close associates of Netanyahu. If the inquiry committee is formed, it will likely bring down the unity government. Gantz has previously called for investigation of the submarine affair, but recently has refrained from Knesset votes on it, as he is partnered with Netanyahu’s Likud party. In response to these reports of an inquiry committee, the Likud party released a statement: “Just four months ago, Gantz explained that there’s no reason to investigate the recycled submarine affair. The answer: Blue and White is crashing in the polls and looking for a way to gather votes with worthless tricks against Prime Minister Netanyahu.”
Blue and White boycotts anti-Bibi bill: On Wednesday, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White party boycotted a vote on a bill, dubbed the “anti-Bibi bill,” sponsored by the head opposition party that would prevent anyone who is under criminal indictment from serving as prime minister. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu participated in the vote in order to ensure that he would not be kicked out of office, which another party head questioned as illegal due to conflicts of interest. In the past, Gantz has threatened to vote in favor of the bill in order to gain political leverage with Netanyahu.
Ahead of Biden presidency, Palestinians resume ties with Israel
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, September 2020
Palestinians to renew security ties with Israel: On Monday, the Palestinian Authority (PA) announced that it has resumed security and financial ties with Israel. Israel will now resume its practices of funneling taxes to and cooperating on security with the PA. The Minister for Civil Affairs in the Palestinian Authority said that the election of Joe Biden facilitated the change, as Biden announced that he will resume diplomatic ties with the Palestinians that were ended under the Trump administration. The PA cut its diplomatic ties with Israel in May, after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced plans to annex parts of the West Bank with Trump’s support. Senior Israeli and Palestinian officials who handle coordination between the two sides held their first public meeting Thursday since PA severed ties in May. Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced his pleasure with this decision, stressing that, “over the past few weeks [he] dedicated considerable efforts to renewing the security cooperation with the Palestinians. Coordination is a shared interest, beneficial to the security of Israel’s citizens, and critical to the welfare and economic well-being of the Palestinians.” The Hamas terrorist group in Gaza, announced anger over the PA’s decision, arguing that the decision “harms all the national values and principles,” and undermines “efforts to build a national and strategic fight to deal with the occupation, annexation, normalization and the ‘deal of the century’ [the Trump peace deal].”
Israel strikes Syria in response to explosives near border: In retaliation for improvised explosive devices (IEDs) found in Israeli territory near the border with Syria in the southern Golan Heights, on Wednesday Israel launched airstrikes against military sites controlled by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) and the Syrian military around Damascus, killing 3 Syrian soldiers. Along with videos of the airstrikes, the IDF issued a statement: “The attack damaged warehouses, command posts and military complexes, as well as batteries of surface-to-air missiles.” Defense Minister Benny Gantz said about the IEDs: “We have long been prepared for the possibility of terror attacks in the northern sector. The IDF has the capabilities and the determination to respond severely to any incident that occurs, both on the Lebanese and Syrian fronts. A few hours ago, explosive devices were discovered on the Golan Heights. I want to say clearly – Syria is responsible for what occurs on its territory like these explosive devices as well as in the context of the continued arms smuggling to Hezbollah. We will not move on this matter.” IDF spokesperson Hidai Zilberman said the retaliatory attack on Wednesday was intended as a message both to Iran that “we won’t allow Iranian entrenchment at all and next to the border specifically,” and to Syria that it will be held responsible for allowing Iran to maintain a presence in its country.
Iran continues to develop nuclear weapons; U.S. slaps new sanctions: On Wednesday, the United Nations’ watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), reported that Iran is pumping uranium gas into advanced centrifuges at an underground part of the Natanz nuclear facility, which constitutes another breach of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. This report comes a week after the IAEA announced that Iran has continued to increase its stockpile of low-enriched uranium far beyond the limits set by the deal. Last week, President Trump was reportedly considering the option of striking Iran’s nuclear sites, and on Tuesday, Iran warned that “any action against the Iranian nation would certainly face a crushing response.” The Trump administration announced on Wednesday that it is imposing new sanctions on Iranian officials and organizations for their violations of human rights. The sanctions were announced on the one-year anniversary of street protests by Iranians over a sharp increase in fuel prices.
Reports of pressure from Saudi Arabia for Pakistan to recognize Israel: In an interview with i24 News, prominent Pakistani journalist Mubasher Lucman said that he believes that Saudi Arabia is one of the countries placing pressure on Pakistan to recognize Israel. This report follows a statement by Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan, claiming that Pakistan is “under pressure” from the United States and other, unnamed, countries to recognize Israel. Lucman claimed: “I have no doubt that in my analysis that the other country he is talking about is Saudi Arabia, and no one else. There are only four countries that could have said this: One is the United States, second is Israel, third is India and fourth is Saudi Arabia. There is no fifth country that has that kind of influence over [Pakistan].” Lucman explained that Pakistan is not “on talking terms with Israel – officially at least. And [Pakistan] does not get along with Indians, so it’s very simple.”
First-ever Bahraini ministerial visit to Israel: On Wednesday, Bahraini Foreign Minister Abdullatif bin Rashid Al-Zayani became the first Bahraini minister to visit Israel, one month after Israeli officials visited Bahrain for the first time. The two countries agreed to open reciprocal embassies by the end of the year, and Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi will become the first Israeli minister to visit Bahrain, after he agreed to attend the 2020 Manama Dialogue, a summit of ministers from across the region on December 4-6. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin hosted a working meeting Al-Zayani on Wednesday afternoon, and told him that since “Jews and Muslims, Israelis and Palestinians” are all “the children of Abraham,” they are “not doomed to live together,” but rather “destined to live together.” A Palestinian official announced on Wednesday that Palestinians are sending their ambassadors back to the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, after recalling them in light of the peace deals.
Pittsburgh has become a hub for white supremacists two years after Tree of Life shooting
Tree of Life Synagogue, Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh’s white supremacy problem: Two years after the deadliest antisemitic attack in American history, Pittsburgh has become a pilgrimage site for white supremacists, who see the Tree of Life gunman as an inspiration. Those who monitor extremist activity say Pittsburgh has become a hub of hate activity. In the past several weeks, a white supremacist march took place downtown, about 100 participants attended a white supremacist music festival, and flyers with white nationalist slogans have been papered throughout the city. “We have, since 2018, seen a dramatic increase in white supremacist-related violent incidents and in the overall presence of white supremacists within our [area],” John Pulcastro, an FBI supervisory intelligence analyst, said at a symposium last week at Duquesne University. “If anyone thinks that this is not a huge issue in this area, having worked this for over 20 years, I can tell you this area is as worse as any that I have seen throughout the entire country,” he said. “It’s very, very important to understand that it is here.”
DOE investigates Uni. of Illinois Urbana-Champaign over antisemitism: On Tuesday, the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights announced the investigation of a complaint alleging that the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (UIUC) has improperly handled incidents of antisemitism on campus. The complaint was filed in March and alleges that the university allowed for a hostile campus climate against Jewish students and that the university’s response to antisemitic incidents on campus has been “wholly inadequate” over the past five years. It notes that, “in some cases, UIUC staff members were complicit in fostering this hostility and discrimination.” On Monday, UIUC’s administration signed a joint statement along with the Chicago Jewish Federation, the school’s Hillel and Chabad, and other groups, announcing a commitment to protect Jewish and Zionist students. The statement condemned acts that “demonize or delegitimize Jewish and pro-Israel students” and promised to set up an “Advisory Council on Jewish and Campus Life.”
San Francisco State Uni. passes BDS Resolution: The student government at San Francisco State University approved a resolution that supports the school’s divestment from investments in companies that do business in Israeli settlements. Nearly two dozen students offered testimonies in favor of both sides, but the resolution passed 17-1 with two abstentions. The passage of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions resolution is expected to increase tensions between pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students on campus, and Jewish groups such as the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the San Francisco Hillel have already condemned the resolution. The JCRC released a statement saying that the resolution “will further exacerbate tensions at SF State, and we call upon the university leaders to ensure Jewish students are welcomed and protected. At JCRC we support coexistence advancement, including mutual cooperation to promote the economic and social welfare of the region and a two-state solution to end the conflict.” Student government resolutions are not binding on the school.
Trump appoints ex-aide with white nationalist ties to Holocaust committee: On Wednesday, President Donald Trump nominated Darren Beattie, a former White House speechwriter who was previously fired for attending a meeting of white nationalists, to the Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, which oversees memorials commemorating the Holocaust genocide. The commission was founded out of a concern that European governments may neglect Holocaust sites in order to diminish the legacy of the genocide and further communist goals. Beattie, who refers to himself as a “proud Jew,” attended a conference that “has hosted some of America’s most prominent white nationalist ideologues in the past and serves as a safe space for professors to vent their racist views.” The CEO of the Anti-Defamation League Jonathan Greenblatt called on Trump to rescind Beattie’s appointment, calling it “downright shocking.” Rep. Ted Deutch tweeted, “To nominate a person who proudly participated in a white supremacist conference to a commission focused on preserving Jewish sites in Europe is profoundly misguided and offensive, not to mention incredibly insensitive to Holocaust survivors and their descendants.”
Jeremy Corbyn reinstated into the Labour party: On Tuesday, Jeremy Corbyn was reinstated into the Labour party 19 days after the party suspended him for refusing to accept the damning results of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which said his office had broken the law in its handling of antisemitism complaints by Jewish members. In response to criticism from groups such as Labour Against Antisemitism, who said that the decision to reinstate Corbyn “ignored and failed” the Jewish community, party leader Keir Starmer announced that he would not restore parliamentary membership to Corbyn, stating: “I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. The disciplinary process does not have the confidence of the Jewish community. That became clear once again yesterday.” The same day that Corbyn was admitted back into the Labour party, two large graffiti acts with the words “Jewish lies matter” were found in the city of Brighton and Hove. A Brighton and Hove resident said that she has “no doubt” that the graffiti was a reaction to the Labour meeting about Corbyn and based on “the allegation that Jews are making up the charges of antisemitism.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Jonathan Pollard sitting in the back of a government vehicle after appearing in a U. S. District Court, November 27, 1985
Today we celebrate two Jewish scientists behind the coronavirus vaccines. The CEO of Pfizer Albert Bourla is a Jewish veterinarian and biotechnicist from Greece, while Tal Zaks, the Chief Medical Officer of Moderna, is an Israeli. The Pfizer and Moderna vaccines have been shown in recent days to be more than 90% effective at preventing symptomatic COVID-19. Zaks received his doctorate from Ben-Gurion University of the Negev and served in the Israel Defense Forces as a medic. He came to the United States to study tumor immunology at the National Cancer Institute, then completed his clinical training in internal medicine at Temple University Hospital followed by a fellowship in medical oncology at the University of Pennsylvania. Bourla comes from a Sephardic family of Jewelers and real estate developers that fled Spain nearly five centuries ago. His family comes from Thessaloniki, a Greek city where a once thriving Jewish community was almost completely exterminated by the Nazis. Bourla left Greece in 1993 to pursue a job in pharmaceuticals in the United States. Bourla was named the most “preeminent Greek leader” of the global pharmaceutical industry in 2019 by the United States Ambassador to Greece. Bourla has faced antisemitic slurs in Greek media in relation to the vaccine, including a front page news article warning readers that Pfizer’s Jewish CEO will “stick the needle” into them.
Today in 2015, Jonathan Pollard was released from prison on parole after 30 years behind bars. Pollard was arrested on November 21, 1985 and convicted of spying for Israel. He was the only American ever sentenced to life in prison for spying for an ally and the only one to serve more than 10 years in prison for the crime. As part of a plea deal in 1987, Pollard was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility of parole after 30 years. Today, unless the U.S. Justice Department, in coordination with U.S. intelligence bodies, extends Pollard’s severe parole restrictions, they will expire. The implications include the possibility that Pollard and his wife, Esther, will be allowed to leave New York, or even immigrate to Israel, which is their ultimate goal. “I’d characterize the situation as one of cautious optimism,” said Alan Dershowitz, among the attorneys who have been involved in Pollard’s case since his conviction. In 1984, Pollard and his then-fiancée, Anne Henderson, volunteered to spy for Israel while Pollard was working as an intelligence analyst in the U.S. Navy’s counterterrorism center. Pollard spied for Israel for over a year until he was caught in 1985. In Israel and throughout the Jewish world, committees were established to fight for Pollard’s release, but every effort by Israeli premiers, ministers and lawmakers ran into stiff opposition from the U.S. intelligence community. In 2000, as President Bill Clinton’s term in office was drawing to a close, he said he was ready to pardon Pollard, but then-CIA director George Tenet threatened to resign and the pardon was shelved. If the Justice Department does not commute Pollard’s sentence, President Donald Trump has the authority to pardon him, which many have lobbied for.