Israel’s Neighbors: Netanyahu’s meeting with Saudi Crown Prince; Egyptian singer facing charges over photos with Israelis; first Israeli delegation to Sudan; Gaza rocket fire; and West Bank bombing attempt
Inside Israel: Submarine affair probe; Rabbinate’s Jewish status investigations; and cannabis legalization bill
Inside the U.S.: Biden’s Jewish cabinet choices; Iran deal opinions; and increased pressure campaign against Iran
Antisemitism: Rashida Tlaib’s antisemitism panel; German antisemitic incidents; and Toronto renames street after Nazi
Celebrate & Remember: Female entrepreneurs; and remembering the 2008 Mumbai terrorist attacks
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Netanyahu and Saudi Crown Prince hold first known meeting; Saudis reportedly said no normalization yet
Netanyahu travels to Saudi Arabia, meets with Crown Prince: On Sunday, in a first visit of its kind, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accompanied by Mossad chief Yossi Cohen, reportedly traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Flight tracking websites documented the trip, which could have easily remained under the radar if officials were concerned with maintaining its secrecy, and three officials close to Netanyahu seemed to confirm that the meeting occurred. Though Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister denied that the meeting took place, one Saudi adviser did confirm the meeting and told the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) that, although no agreements had been reached during the visit, both normalization and their mutual enemy Iran were discussed at this semi-secret meeting. One of the Saudi advisers familiar with the talks told the WSJ that though U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also in Saudi Arabia wrapping up his seven-nation tour, he merely helped to arrange the meeting, as he did not join it. Pompeo called his own meeting with Salman “constructive,” but did not reference Israel’s presence. Any potential normalization deal between Saudi Arabia and Israel would be extremely significant because of Saudi’s size, wealth and standing in the Muslim world. A report on Israel’s Channel 12 quoted an unnamed senior Israeli official Monday evening as saying that no breakthrough was expected anytime soon.
Egyptian singer facing charges over photos with Israelis: Egyptian singer Mohamed Ramadan has been ordered to appear in an Egyptian court after taking a picture with Israeli singer Omer Adam in Dubai. An Emirati journalist shared the photo on social media with the caption, “The most famous artist in Egypt with the most famous artist in Israel, Dubai brings us together,” but deleted it after the outrage grew. Another widely shared photo of Ramadan with Israeli soccer star Diaa Sabia caused a stir online with the hashtag “Mohamed Ramadan is a Zionist” trending on Twitter. The reports said Ramadan, who reportedly remarked he was unaware of Adam’s heritage, is accused of “offense to the Egyptian people” for being in the pictures. Ramadan is a 32-year-old actor and rapper who has millions of followers in the Arab world. He is also a close friend of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI. Ramadan’s case will be heard on December 19 in Cairo. Though Egypt officially has ties with Israel, its government has not encouraged a warm peace with Israel and normalization remains frowned upon there.
First Israeli delegation sent to Sudan: Israel sent its first ever official delegation to Sudan on Monday for talks on the normalization deal announced last month. Though there was no official comment made by Israeli or Sudanese officials, the delegation will reportedly prepare the groundwork for a larger visit of higher-level Israeli officials in the coming weeks. The Sudanese military and civilian echelons of the transitional Sudanese government have been divided over how fast and how far to go towards normalizing relations with Israel. These talks will likely focus on how Israel will help Sudan’s agriculture, food security, water supplies and health care, according to a Reuters source, who declined to be identified by name or nationality.
Rocket fired from Gaza to Ashkelon, rogue retaliatory IDF tank fire: On Saturday night, a rocket was fired from Gaza to the Southern city of Ashkelon and struck an empty warehouse, causing damage to its structure. A pregnant woman was injured as she ran to a bomb shelter. No Gazan group has claimed responsibility for this rocket, and, on Sunday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz issued a warning to Hamas and Gazans, saying that “The price that we exact for each attack on our sovereignty will continue to grow and increase. In this, there will be no special coronavirus discounts.” On Sunday morning, in response to the rocket fire, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) launched strikes against “two rocket manufacturing sites, underground infrastructure and a training facility for the Hamas terror group’s naval force.” Following the confrontation, an IDF tank fired without authorization at a Hamas position; the military is probing this unauthorized fire, which it considers to be very grave.
IDF prevents bombing in Northern West Bank: On Sunday, the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) found improvised explosive devices (IEDs) intended to attack troops near Ramallah in the Northern West Bank. There were no injuries or damages resulting from the bombs, which were covered with dirt for camouflage and rigged to blow if a soldier stepped on them. After announcing investigations into the source of these explosives, the IDF said: “IDF soldiers and security forces will continue to operate day and night to ensure the security of residents of the region.” This follows Friday night, when border police found two IEDs in the West Bank, one north of Jerusalem and one near Rachel’s tomb.
Gantz’s decision to probe the ‘submarine affair’ could further destabilize the government
Gantz decides to probe submarine affair, in a blow to unity gov’t stability: On Sunday, Defense Minister Benny Gantz announced that he would form a committee to investigate allegations of a massive bribery scheme in the multi-billion-shekel state purchase of naval vessels from German shipbuilder Thyssenkrupp, in what is called the ‘submarine affair’ or Case 3000. Setting up this inquiry commission has inflamed tensions with coalition partner Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is alleged to have been part of the bribery scheme and has previously tried to block efforts to form a parliamentary inquiry committee. Model submarines have appeared widely as props in the anti-Netanyahu marches and protests that occur weekly outside the prime minister’s official residence. The inquiry committee will have limited powers, as it lacks legal authority and will not be able to force Netanyahu and his associates to testify, unless it is approved by his government, but it may carry public and moral weight.
Gantz had previously opposed forming the inquiry commission since Israel’s Attorney General said it was unnecessary, but analysts believe he took this step to pressure Netanyahu into fulfilling the coalition agreements. Likud has said that “the only thing that has changed since then is Blue and White sinking in the polls and looking to gain votes by targeting the prime minister with worthless maneuvers.” After Gantz’s announcement on Sunday, Coalition chairman, Miki Zohar of the Likud said that “this is yet more proof that Gantz is forcefully dragging Israel to elections during a global crisis.” Leader of the Opposition, Yair Lapid, announced that next week the opposition will propose a bill to disperse the Knesset and call for new elections, saying, “Nothing good will come of this government. It is a group of politicians focused only on themselves, on their own jobs, on their petty arguments. They’re not working for the people of Israel, they’re only working for themselves.”
Israeli Rabbinate must explain investigations of Jewish status: The High Court of Justice has ruled that the Israeli Rabbinate must explain why it has conducted Jewish status investigations into Israeli citizens who have not approached the Rabbinate or rabbinical courts. This is the first time that the Rabbinate has been held legally accountable for explaining why it has revoked the Jewish status of hundreds of Israeli citizens. The Chief Rabbinate has been suspicious of the Jewish status of Soviet immigrants in recent years and has used the rabbinical court for Jewish status investigations to question the Jewish lineage of those who apply for a marriage license, sue for divorce or require another service provided by the Rabbinate. Recently, when forming its blacklist of citizens that are unable to marry under its auspices due to a lack of Jewish heritage, the Chief Rabbinate has also initiated investigations into maternal relatives of citizens who are on the list, without them having ever approached the Rabbinate or requested such a process. An attorney of one of the NGOs that petitioned the High Court against third-party investigations argued that the Rabbinate has been “compiling lists and databases about citizens without their consent.”
In Israel, marriages can be performed only under the auspices of the religious community to which couples belong, and no inter-faith marriages performed in the country are legally recognized. However, civil marriages performed abroad are recognized in Israeli law, including same-sex marriages. The director of the NGO who petitioned the court said that, “For centuries, the Jewish people have followed the approach…that those who say they are Jewish should be believed and allowed to marry other Jews. This system, based on trust, has maintained the integrity of the Jewish people over generations. By rejecting it, the Chief Rabbinate has broken with Jewish tradition, and created a harmful rift in Israeli society.”
Draft of Israeli cannabis legalization bill published for comments: On Saturday evening, Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn published the first draft of the Israel Cannabis Market Regulation Law, about which members of the public can make comments until December 11th, when a final version of the law will be drafted. The final draft will be brought before the Knesset’s Special Committee on Drug and Alcohol Use and undergo a legislative process led by the Blue and White party Knesset Member Michal Cotler-Wunsh. Once the law is approved, it will take nine months before it can go into effect. The draft is based on the recommendations of a special committee of experts and lawmakers who were tasked with establishing a plan to legalize, decriminalize, and regulate the cannabis market in a responsible manner. The drafted law stipulates that cannabis will only be legal for those above the age of 21 who smoke it inside residences.
INSIDE THE U.S.
Biden’s Secretary of State choice Tony Blinken is ‘a friend of Israel,’ ex-officials say
President-elect Biden chooses Jewish Sec. of State and Homeland Security Secretary: The Biden-Harris administration Monday was given the formal go-ahead by the General Services Administration to begin transition efforts, and President-elect Biden announced several picks for key positions in national security and foreign policy roles. Anthony Blinken, a diplomat and international relations expert, will be Biden’s Secretary of State. Blinken is Jewish, the step-son of Samuel Pisar, Holocaust survivor and prominent lawyer, and has been praised by Michael Oren, former Israeli ambassador to the U.S., as a “true friend of Israel.” President-elect Biden also announced the nomination of Alejandro Mayorkas, a Cuban and Romanian Jew who is the son of a Holocaust survivor, as Homeland Security Secretary. Mayorkas serves on the board of Jewish immigration group HIAS and has repeatedly emphasized the dangers of rising antisemitism in America, saying the threats to the Jewish community “keep [him] up at night.”
In anticipation of Biden’s tenure, leaders express opinions about Iran deal: On Sunday, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made clear to U.S. President-Elect Joe Biden that Israel would oppose the United States rejoining the 2015 Iran deal that it left in 2018. Chris Coons, a Democratic senator who was shortlisted for U.S. Secretary of State under Biden, said that he would not support rejoining the deal unless it was amended to limit Iran’s nuclear progress and support for proxy wars. Michèle Flournoy, who experts expect to become the next U.S. Secretary of Defense, supported the 2015 deal, and lauded it as succeeding in “putting time on the clock [in terms of] pushing back against Iran’s nuclear program.” Biden has said that he would rejoin the Iran deal if Iran were to first resume strict compliance. In response to recent weeks’ discoveries that Iran has been compiling illegally high amounts of nuclear material, German Foreign Ministry officials have accused Iran of “systematically violating” their 2015 nuclear deal.
Iran warns allies not to provoke U.S., as Trump increases pressure: According to a Friday report, the United States and Israel are planning an increase in pressure on Iran, through “covert operations” and sanctions during U.S. President Donald Trump’s final months in office. Historically, Israel and the United States have reportedly engaged in various covert operations against Iran’s nuclear programs, including infiltrating the Stuxnet computer virus to sabotage parts of Iran’s nuclear enrichment process a decade ago and recent sabotage attacks on Iranian nuclear facilities. According to Iraqi officials, Iran has told its allies in the Middle East to be on high alert and avoid provoking the United States during Trump’s final weeks in office, so as not to give the Trump administration an excuse to launch attacks against Iran.
Rashida Tlaib, accused of being antisemitic, set to speak on panel about antisemitism
Flyer for “Dismantling Antisemitism, Winning Justice: A Panel Discussion”
Rashida Tlaib accused of antisemitism & set to speak on antisemitism panel: On Sunday, in response to President-elect Biden’s choice of Anthony Blinken, who is Jewish, as Secretary of State, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who has previously been accused of antisemitism, tweeted: “Just make sure he doesn’t try to silence me and suppress my First Amendment right to speak out against Netanyahu’s racist and inhumane policies.” Some responses to her tweet highlighted the antisemitic nature of this dual loyalty charge, with one asking Tlaib: “Why? Because he’s Jewish? Left wing Anti-Semitism is sickening and contrary to everything we as progressives stand for. I’m all for two-state Palestinian liberation, but this tweet is a classic example of the dual loyalty trope.” Tlaib is also under fire for being included on a panel about antisemitism with other panelists who have also been accused of antisemitism. In addition to concerns over previous statements made by the participants, critics are concerned by the identity of the speakers, only one of whom is Jewish. Twitter users have called the antisemitism panel “absurd,” asking in jest whether renowned antisemites Louis Farrakhan and Richard Spencer were unavailable to speak. Tlaib still has not apologized for pushing a blood libel against Israel earlier this year.
Spate of antisemitic incidents in Germany draws condemnation of FM: A recent burst of antisemitic activity in Germany has seen swastikas carved into headstones in a Jewish cemetery in Haren, Germany, as well as the shattering of windows of an Essen synagogue by a large cement block thrown by someone from outside the synagogue. Both incidents are being investigated as hate-crimes, but no suspects are in custody. Separately, a speaker at an anti-mask protest in Hanover compared herself to Nazi victims over mask-related restrictions. She drew condemnation from Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, who called the comparison “a mockery of the courage it took to stand up to the Nazis.” Additionally, far-right Dierechte party members have organized a rally in Brunswick, Germany condemning “Zionism,” which will take place in front of a synagogue between 7:33 and 7:45 pm, symbolizing the twelve years of Nazi Party rule from 1933 to 1945. City authorities said they have not authorized the demonstration and will disperse it if it takes place.
Toronto suburb convinced to remove Nazi officer’s name from street: The town council of Ajax, a suburb of Toronto, voted 4-3 last week to rename Langsdorff drive, a street named for Nazi naval officer Hans Langsdorff. The town of Ajax was named for a British ship, HMS Ajax, that won a battle against a ship commanded by Langsdorff. The change was advocated for by B’nai Brith Canada, a Jewish organization that garnered more than 900 signatures on an online petition. The change came after a Holocaust survivor spoke to the town council. This follows a vote in August, where the town council changed the name of the Street from Graf Spree, the warship Langsdorff commanded, as the mayor said having a street named after a Nazi warship “crossed the line a little bit.” B’nai Brith Canada’s CEO Michael Mostyn said, “Taking action against the glorification of Canada’s enemies and a man who fought for the most evil regime in history sends the right signal to those concerned about the rise of hate in our time.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Moshe Holtzberg with his nanny Sandra Samuel in 2010. She rescued the boy from the Chabad House attack in Mumbai and came with him to Israel
Today we celebrate a report by the Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE) which named Israel as the best country for female entrepreneurs in 2020, citing Israel’s increased support for small and medium-sized businesses, as well as its ambitious goal of doubling the number of women entrepreneurs in the country over the next two years. The report called Israel “a prime example of gender-specific support mechanisms having swift and significant results,” which propelled Israel from fourth place in 2019 to its current top spot. The U.S., Switzerland, and New Zealand came in second, third, and fourth, respectively. New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, among other female leaders, also drew MIWE’s praise for her leadership ability in the coronavirus pandemic, which has affected 87% of female entrepreneurs globally.
Today we remember the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, India, consisting of 12 coordinated shooting and bombing attacks lasting four days from November 26—November 29, which killed at least 174 people. A Chabad center was one of sites specifically targeted by gunmen belonging to the Lashkar-e-Taiba terrorist group and among the victims were six Jews, including Chabad emissaries Rabbi Gavriel Holtzberg and his wife Rivka. This year’s annual commemoration of the attack will take place online as a result of the pandemic. Moshe Holtzberg, son of the Holtzberg emissaries, who was 2 years old at the time of the attack, was saved by his Indian nanny Sandra Samuel. Sandra took refuge in a storage room on the first floor of the six-story building at the time of the attack, and hours later she heard Moshe’s cries coming from the second floor. She left her hiding place and ran up the stairs to a room where she found the rabbi and his wife bleeding on the floor – presumably dead – and Moshe sitting on the floor with them, splashed with their blood, crying. Sandra grabbed Moshe and escaped from the house. The Chabad movement’s leaders decided Moshe should be relocated to Israel where he had family. They insisted that Sandra be allowed to come with him, because, as a Chabad spokesperson stated: “At this point she’s the only one the boy is responding to.” Both Moshe and Sandra still live in Israel. Sandra is a caretaker for children with special needs and still sees Moshe often, who has promised he will return to Mumbai as a Chabad emissary himself.