Morocco normalizes with Israel: A fourth Arab nation, Morocco, has agreed to normalize relations with Israel. This announcement follows prior agreements in the preceding months between Israel and the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan. Morocco has a long history of backdoor communication with Israel and the Jewish community as well. The agreement came about in exchange for U.S. recognition of Moroccan territorial claims over the disputed Western Sahara region, which makes the U.S. the only Western country to do so. Morocco annexed Western Sahara in 1975 after the former colonial power, Spain, surrendered control. The local Sahrawi population fought Morocco for independence until the UN brokered a peace agreement in 1991. The peace agreement called for an independence referendum, which has never been held. In a press statement, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the “historic decision,” saying there will be a “very warm peace” between the two nations. The Moroccan Foreign Ministry’s statement went on at great lengths about the U.S.’s recognition of Morrocan sovereignty over Western Sahara. According to U.S. sources familiar with the negotiations, the U.S. is also negotiating the sale of at least four large, sophisticated aerial drones to Morocco, though the sources did not indicate whether it related to the normalization agreement.
Palestinians denounce deal & Israel establishes direct flights: For their part, the Palestinians were extremely displeased by the trilateral announcement. The Palestine Liberation Organization said: the agreement “is unacceptable and increases Israel’s belligerence and its denial of the Palestinian people’s rights.” King Mohammad VI of Morocco spoke with PA President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday, saying that “his position was unshakably supportive of the Palestinian cause.” The King expressed a commitment to a two-state solution between Israel and the Palestinians. Also following the normalization announcement, El Al and Israir both announced that their airlines are working to quickly establish direct flights from Israel to Morocco — possibly even 20 direct flights a week. Israir’s CEO said: “If all parties are serious, it will be possible to open direct lines within three months.”
Israel seeks embassies in UAE, Bahrain: Israel is rushing its plans to set up embassies in the UAE and Bahrain before the end of this year. Representatives of the Israeli Foreign Ministry were in Manama, Bahrain’s capital, this week scouting out a location for the embassy. In the UAE, Israel plans on two diplomatic missions: an embassy in Abu Dhabi, the capital, and a consulate in Dubai. The two cities are just over 100 miles from one another. After setting up a temporary embassy in Abu Dhabi, Israel plans to construct a permanent one, which will be one of its largest embassies anywhere in the world. The only two other Arab nations in which Israel has embassies are Egypt and Jordan.
Burj Khalifa lights up for Hanukkah as Israeli trade and tourism soar: Dubai’s legendary Burj Khalifa, the tallest building in the world, lit up on Thursday evening to mark the start of Hanukkah, the first celebration of the holiday since the signing of the historic Abraham Accords. “You are witnessing Jewish history,” singer Yishai Lapidot said as he performed for the audience. An Emirati leader said Monday that initial bilateral trade between Israel and the UAE could be worth $5 billion. Some 5,000 Israelis visited Dubai in November and, based on ticket reservations, some 50,000 are expected to visit the most populous city in the UAE in December. The expectation of tens of thousands of Israeli visitors has proved to be a major headache for the Shin Bet and Mossad, which are fearful of Iranian revenge attacks over the killing of an Iranian nuclear mastermind pinned on Israel.
In a political earthquake shaking Israeli politics, former #2 Likud party member breaks away
Elections spark political realignment: In a ‘political earthquake’ shaking Israel, Gideon Sa’ar, who was once called the “heir apparent to the Likud throne,” announced he will split from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the Likud party and form a new, right-wing party to run in upcoming elections. Of his decision, Sa’ar bitingly said: “The [conservative] movement has become a tool to serve the interests of the prime minister, including those related to his criminal trial.” Sa’ar’s new party will be called A New Hope (Tikvah Hadasha) and other lawmakers have begun to announce their intention to join. The Likud party sharply criticized Sa’ar, saying “Sa’ar is leaving because he was defeated in the primaries and, in recent internal polls conducted by the Likud, he has fallen below tenth (slot on the Likud slate).” One flash poll found that the number of votes Sa’ar’s new party stands to gain could cost Netanyahu the premiership in the next election. Netanyahu may look for ways to avert an election at the last minute, even if it means passing a state budget and handing the rotating premiership to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, as he promised in May. Sources close to the Prime Minister expressed hope that a deal to avoid elections will be reached with Blue and White in the next week.
Knesset advances own dissolution with March 16 election date: The Knesset has advanced legislation to dissolve the current government, setting the date for new elections for March 16. The measure will be sent back to the Knesset for a vote next week. With possible new elections, Israeli ministers are making a last-minute effort to vote on their promises to their constituencies. As a result, the parliament is taking up a slate of controversial political measures. One is an amendment to Israel’s Basic Laws — a sort of diffuse constitution — embedding equality into the law, something which has only been implicitly read into it by the courts. It would also practically outweigh the Nation-State Law, which prioritizes the Jewish character of the country. The measure cleared a first hurdle, but it has three more rounds of voting to go. Another law aims to require a referendum on any future evacuation of a West Bank settlement. Lastly, a vote to end the discrimination against same-sex couples in adoption failed to pass its threshold. The draft legislation had been approved by Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn and Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, a gay man. Currently, Israeli law states that only a “man and a woman” can legally adopt a child.
Israel’s High Court set to rule on conversion: Israel’s Supreme Court is finally ready to rule on one of the most contentious issues it has faced in the 21st century: what or who constitutes a Jew under Israeli law. This case regarding the recognition of non-Orthodox conversions performed in Israel has been sitting before the court for 15 full years and was filed by the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel on behalf of converts seeking Israeli citizenship. A similar case four years ago ruled that Jews who converted through a non-state, independent Orthodox rabbinical court must be able to apply for citizenship under the Right of Return, just like any other Jew. The liberal movements believe that, due to the similarity of the cases, the ruling is likely to be handed down in their favor. Rabbi Andy Sacks of the Masorti (Conservative) Movement said: “Too many people have waited for too long, been left in limbo and denied the [Right of Return]. We hope the court’s decision will recognize that the conversion process is not the monopoly of the few.” The ultra-Orthodox vociferously oppose any attempt to seize their monopoly on Jewish status, and their parties in Knesset have sought to pass legislation circumventing the Supreme Court should it rule against them.
Israel to randomly test Palestinian workers: Israel announced that it will begin randomly testing Palestinian workers entering Israel through checkpoints for the coronavirus. About 100,000 Palestinians work either in Israel or Israeli settlements in the West Bank. The government said that if a Palestinian worker refuses to be tested, he or she will not be permitted to enter Israeli territory. There are currently over 15,000 active coronavirus cases in the West Bank. Around 37.4 percent of coronavirus tests came back positive in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday, indicating that large numbers of cases could be going undetected.
INSIDE THE U.S.
U.S. Senate rejects efforts to block F-35 stealth jet and arms sales to UAE
Bipartisan measures to stop UAE F-35 sale fails: The bipartisan effort to block the Trump administration from selling arms to the UAE in the wake of the Abraham Accords was dealt a deadly blow in the U.S. Senate. Senators voted nearly along party lines (46-50 and 47-50) in two votes to let the deal go forward. Only Democratic Senators Mark Kelly and Kyrsten Sinema, both of Arizona, voted in favor of the deal, while Republican Rand Paul of Kentucky, a strict isolationist, worked to block it. Jewish and pro-Israel groups found themselves at odds over the deal, with more hardline groups, what would have been unthinkable mere months ago, strongly supporting the sale of arms to the Arab regime. Taking its cue from Israel, AIPAC lobbied on behalf of the arms sale, which included the coveted F-35 fighter planes, and J Street rallied to stop it, saying that the UAE is too deeply involved with the killings of civilians in Yemen.
Despite Israel’s enthusiastic support of the arms sale to the UAE, Israeli military officials are increasingly worried that the Trump administration will attempt to push through a similar sale to Saudi Arabia before the end of the term. The reason for the distress is apparently threefold: a) Saudi Arabia’s western border falls practically within 10 miles of Israel (while the UAE’s is a good 1,500 away) b) the stability of the Saudi monarchy, especially under pressure from extreme Sunni groups, is under question and c) the UAE sale was done with the wholesale embrace of Israel under the Abraham Accords, something the Saudis have so far been unwilling to outwardly support.
House Dems urge Biden to reenter Iran deal: Leading members of the House Democratic caucus, including strongly pro-Israel members, are urging President-elect Biden to return to the Iran nuclear deal without preconditions come January. A letter, being circulated by Illinois’ Jan Schakowsky, North Carolina’s David Price, and California’s Barbara Lee, says: “We strongly endorse your [Biden’s] call for Iran to return to strict compliance with the nuclear deal, the United States to rejoin the agreement, and subsequent follow-on negotiations.” Included in the signatories of the letter is California’s Brad Sherman, perhaps one of the top pro-Israel Democrats in the House. Gregory Meeks, the incoming Chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, also signed on. One major group not enthusiastic about an immediate rejoining of the deal is AIPAC. AIPAC said the best way to reenter the deal would be to first negotiate and “fix the flaws” under the leverage of current U.S. sanctions against Iran.
Kamala Harris’s Jewish husband to teach law at Georgetown: First-ever Second Gentleman and the first Jewish spouse of the Vice President Doug Emhoff announced his plans to teach law at Georgetown University. Emhoff, who left his entertainment law practice to work on the presidential campaign, will also serve as a Distinguished Fellow of Georgetown Law’s Institute for Technology Law and Policy — part of a new entertainment and media law initiative for the school. Incoming First Lady Jill Biden has also stated that she intends to continue teaching community college alongside the duties of the executive office.
Passengers threaten to blow up Belgian train unless ‘cancer Jews’ get off
4 men threaten to blow up train: Police in Belgium are looking for four men who used a train’s public address system to threaten a bombing of the train unless the “cancer Jews” got off. “Attention, attention,” the men said in Flemish, “the cancer Jews need to leave the train now or we’ll blow you all up,” witnesses said. Security personnel were unable to locate the perpetrators. A Belgian Jewish lawmaker has filed parliamentary questions to the Transportation Ministry about the incident. The ministry has two weeks to respond.
Anne Frank memorial vandalized with swastikas: A memorial in downtown Boise dedicated to Holocaust victim Anne Frank was vandalized this week, with stickers displaying swastikas along with the message, “We are everywhere.” The memorial is managed by the Wassmuth Center and its founder, Bill Wassmuth, has been targeted before. Wassmuth escaped the bombing of his home after he left the Catholic church and joined a coalition to combat the Aryan Nation in the 1980s. “Frankly, it’s a sad day,” Wassmuth Center Executive Director Dan Prinzing told CNN. “The Memorial is located in the heart of the capital city; we are the heart of the city. Such a blatant act of hate, directed in such a fashion, emboldened to occur, is just sad. We also recognize that now we must fundraise to add a security system in the Memorial.”
Man sentenced for neo-Nazi plot targeting journalists: An Arizona judge sentenced a 21-year-old to 16 months in jail this week for his role in a plot to terrorize and silence journalists and others whose work exposed antisemitism. Three other men associated with the neo-Nazi group Attomwaffen are also being charged in the plot. On January 25, 2020, the man placed a poster on the bedroom window of an editor at a local Jewish magazine, which depicted a figure in a skull mask holding a Molotov cocktail in front of a burning home, along with the warning “You have been visited by your local Nazis.” The hate group, which has been called “White supremacists on steroids,” has been connected to several murders.
Jewish cemetery in Ukraine desecrated: A news report in a remote town in Ukraine 300 miles from Kyiv says that a Jewish cemetery was desecrated by local farmers three years ago. Half an acre of the cemetery was destroyed. Under Ukrainian law, desecrating a cemetery is a criminal offense, however no parties have been charged with the crime. Some local residents saved bone fragments of the dead out of respect and in case of reburial. No Jews live in the vicinity any longer.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
A conceptual schematic for the Beresheet 2 lander, released to the media on December 9, 2020 (Haim Zach/GPO)
Today we celebrate Israel’s new space mission plans, perhaps jointly with the UAE! On Wednesday, Israel unveiled its second mission to put a spacecraft on the moon. The project is titled Beresheet 2. In April last year, a first iteration, Beresheet (which translates to Genesis), crash-landed on the moon due to a technical malfunction. This mission is a combined project of the SpaceIL nonprofit, the Israel Aerospace Industries, and the Israeli Space Agency at the Ministry of Science and Technology. The aim is to launch the new spacecraft by the year 2024. This second iteration, however, may include something the last one never dreamed of: a joint venture with the UAE, one of seven countries that has considered joining.
Today we remember the victims of the Kosher supermarket shooting, which took place on December 10, 2019. Four victims were murdered in Jersey City just prior to Hanukkah: Moshe Deutsch, Mindy Ferencz, Douglas Miguel Rodriguez, and Detective Joseph Seals. The assailants also wounded one customer and two police officers. Detective Seals was shot and killed by the assailants at a nearby cemetery just before the grocery store attack. The assailants were part of the Black Hebrew Israelite movement, which has no connection to mainstream Judaism. It is designated as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. New Jersey’s top law enforcement officials gathered virtually Thursday, the first night of Hanukkah, to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the shooting. “One year ago, we saw the very worst of humanity,” state Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said at the beginning. But while Dec. 10, 2019 was the “deadliest domestic terrorist event in New Jersey history,” the way communities came together to care for others also represented the very best of the state, he said.