Antisemitism: Violent Kentucky attack; Chinese ethnic cleansing of Jews; cyber-attack of Jewish high school; Representative posts neo-Nazi news; and Austrian-German neo-Nazi police operation
Peace Deals: Israel-Bhutan normalization; Sudan removed from terror list; Morocco investments after Israel deal; and fallout which made Morocco deal possible
Inside Israel: Bill to dissolve Knesset delayed; plan to encourage ultra-Orthodox to join workforce; COVID-19 deaths in Israel; and Israel to end fossil fuel use
Israel’s Neighbors: Israel and Hamas negotiate prisoner swap; U.S. sanctions Iran over death of FBI agent; and Iranian cyber-attack on Israeli companies
Inside the U.S.: Congress passes defense funding bill; Pence’s planned trip to Israel; and Foo Fighters Hanukkah Sessions
Celebrate & Remember: Polish diplomat who helped save hundreds of Jews; and “Candles in Saudi Arabia”
Violent antisemitic attack reported at Chabad menorah lighting in Kentucky
Source: Chabad of the Bluegrass / Facebook, December 12, 2020
Violent antisemitic attack in Kentucky: A Chabad in Lexington, Kentucky was subject to a violent antisemitic attack during a public menorah-lighting ceremony. A driver yelled slurs at the gatherers and when a participant tried to send the attacker away, the attacker ran the man down with his car, crushing one of the participant’s legs. As bystanders rushed to help him, though, the injured man insisted the ceremony continue before getting medical attention, the Chabad’s rabbi said. Governor Andy Beshear said: “The anti-Semitic attack reported Saturday night outside of the Jewish Student Center is an outrage. This hate has absolutely no place in the commonwealth.” The Chabad reported vandalism, including to its menorah, multiple times in recent months and will have an increased police presence for the rest of Hanukkah.
China erasing Jewish history and forcing Jews underground: The U.K. daily The Telegraph reported that the Chinese government is cracking down on the tiny Jewish community in Kaifeng numbering only 1,000 and settled more than a millennium ago, forcing its observances underground. Judaism is prohibited and authorities have torn down every Jewish relic, including a 12th century synagogue and stones which were engraved as far back as 1489 with the community’s beliefs. The authorities have also torn down the city’s few Hebrew signs that once marked the Teaching Torah Lane. The same lane now has propaganda plastered on it about China’s “management of religious affairs,” including reminders that Judaism is prohibited. Since 2015, Chinese leader Xi Jinping has waged a harsh campaign against unapproved religion and foreign influence, part of a push to ‘Sinicise’ faith. The government has also detained more than a million Muslims in the western Xinjiang region. “Every time we celebrate, we are scared,” said a member of the Jewish community. “Whatever we do, we’re always very careful to make sure the authorities don’t find out.” Chinese officials often come around on religious occasions to enforce the ban against Judaism, pressuring Jews to renounce their faith and sometimes calling Jews in for interrogations.
Jewish school’s website hacked with Nazi imagery: A Long Island Jewish high school was the target of an antisemitic cyber-attack Monday. The hacked website displayed images of Adolf Hitler, a video clip of marching Nazi SS guards, and other Nazi imagery, as well as antisemitic slurs. The hackers also leaked the personal information of students and teachers. Nassau County Police officials say they have begun an investigation into the cyber-attack, but no details have been released. New York State Senator Anna M. Kaplan released a statement about the attack, which she shared over Twitter and said: “We must ALL speak out against anti-Semitism and hatred in no uncertain terms. We reject it, and we stand with the students, families, and staff of the North Shore Hebrew Academy during this difficult time.”
New Hampshire Representative posts article from neo-Nazi website: Dawn Johnson, a Republican just elected as a state representative in New Hampshire, posted an article from neo-Nazi websiteThe Daily Stormer on her social media account. The article pushes a conspiracy theory about the presidential election in Georgia and contains an antisemitic cartoon of a Jewish person that says “Riggers, Jews… Bad News.” Though Johnson was initially angry that Facebook censored the article, she later apologized saying, “I have removed the report as it came from a source I do not agree with and thanks to a couple of people who showed me.” Johnson declined to comment to InDepthNH about why she was reading material posted on a neo-Nazi website.
Joint Austrian-German police operation targets neo-Nazis: In a joint operation between Austrian and German police, several men with ties to neo-Nazi groups who planned “to establish a far-right network” in Germany were arrested Saturday, according to Austrian Interior Minister Karl Nehammer. The police executed the raids on known neo-Nazi sympathizer groups, and seized semi-automatic weapons, ammunitions, narcotics, cash, hand grenades, and explosives. Nehammer said that the individuals were “known for a while already.” The raid was executed after several months of investigation and surveillance by the Austrian police. Investigators uncovered the link between the organized drug crimes and extremist organizations beginning with drug deals in Germany from which money was used to buy the firearms. Also recovered were items issued by the Wehrmacht, Germany’s military in World War II.
Israel inks deal establishing diplomatic relations with Bhutan
Israeli and Bhutanese ambassadors to India sign an agreement for the establishment of diplomatic relations, December 12, 2020
Israel and Bhutan establish diplomatic relations: Israel’s spate of normalization deals continues with another country: Bhutan. Unlike the four agreements that preceded this one—those with the UAE, Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco—Bhutan is not a Muslim majority nation and the deal was not brokered by the United States. Rather, the small, landlocked South Asian country is known for its seclusion on the world stage. Not even America has an embassy in the country. In fact, Bhutan only has diplomatic relations with approximately 50 countries worldwide. The deal struck between Bhutan and Israel was signed in India, Bhutan’s astronomically larger southern neighbor. Israel’s ambassador to India, Ron Malka, said: “This agreement will open up many more opportunities for cooperation for the benefit of both our peoples.” A source claims that Oman and Indonesia are likely next candidates to normalize diplomatic relations with Israel.
U.S. removes Sudan from terrorism list: The November decision by the Trump administration to remove Sudan from its terror sponsor list came into effect Monday, after the requisite waiting period. Sudan will gain an economic and political boost as a result, supporting the transitional government and lifting sanctions that have made Sudan unable to engage with international organizations like the World Bank. Sudan has not yet been given sovereign immunity for the 9/11 attacks, which may still hurt them economically, though Trump reportedly offered $700 million to victims of the attacks in an effort to advance the deal. Sudan has said that without this part of the deal, normalization with Israel may fall through. No official visits between Israel and Sudan have yet taken place.
U.S. considering $3B in Morocco investments after Israel deal: After the historic normalization agreement between Israel and Morocco, negotiated by the White House with help from the Saudi regime, the New York Times reported that the Trump administration is considering investing $3 billion into Morocco. The plan would include a $1 billion sale of weapons to the Arab Kingdom. Two Moroccan officials told the Times that Morocco’s king was hesitant to normalize with Israel, even with U.S. recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara, but was persuaded by the addition of the U.S. promise of billions of dollars worth of investment. A Trump administration official denied the connection of the normalization agreement to the investment of billions of dollars.
Fight between Trump & GOP senator made Morocco deal possible: Axios reported that the Israel-Morocco normalization agreement came about in large part due to a feud between President Trump and Republican Senator Jim Inhofe of Oklahoma. Inhofe is perhaps Congress’ most vocal supporter of the Polisario Front of Sahrawi, the independence movement in Western Sahara. For at least two years, the Trump administration had an agreement between Israel and Morocco that hinged on U.S. recognition of Western Sahara as Morocco. The one person standing in the way, however, was Jim Inhofe. Things changed, though, when the Senate took up this year’s National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA). This iteration of the law, which is passed each year, included a provision stripping American military bases of the names of Confederate soldiers. Despite pressure from Trump, Inhofe, who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, refused to delete the provision last week, apparently even shouting at the President over the phone. Enraged, Trump gave the go-ahead on the Western Sahara bid as a measure of payback against Inhofe. Following the announcement of the change in U.S. policy with regard to Western Sahara, Senator Inhofe said: it is “shocking and deeply disappointing.”
Bill to dissolve Knesset and call early elections delayed until next week, angering Gantz
Bill to dissolve Knesset delayed: The legislation to dissolve the Knesset and call early elections has been pushed back twice by the Knesset Speaker, a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party, and will now likely be held next week. The move is in contradiction of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s party, Blue and White, which has demanded that the parliament be disbanded in favor of new elections over Netanyahu’s unwillingness to accept a two-year budget. Additionally, Gantz fired one of two ministers from his party who are set to join Gideon Sa’ar’s new party, A New Hope, after Sa’ar announced that he was leaving Likud last week. Sa’ar is ruling out serving in a government led either by Prime Minister Netanyahu or Opposition Leader Yair Lapid. Should Netanyahu retain control of the government after the next elections, Sa’ar has vowed to serve in the opposition rather than join with his former Likud boss. Blue and White has plummeted significantly in polls in recent days, reportedly due to Gantz’s indecisiveness and willingness to bend to the circumstances dictated by Netanyahu.
Officials devise plan to encourage ultra-Orthodox into job market: A new plan to avert another standoff by political leaders over the drafting of ultra-Orthodox men into the army would instead encourage the ultra-Orthodox to join the workforce. The plan put forth by treasury officials would make moderate adjustments to the draft regulations, while lowering the age of exemption for ultra-Orthodox to 21. This way, those who study in yeshivas, religious schools, from 18 to 21 would be able to join the workforce at the same age as non-Orthodox Israelis. The disagreement over the drafting of ultra-Orthodox came to a head after 2018, when the Supreme Court overturned the de facto exemption for ultra-Orthodox men from Israel’s required draft and ordered the parliament to devise new law that maintained equality between the Orthodox and non-Orthodox populations. Only about 50% of ultra-Orthodox men currently participate in the Israeli workforce.
Israel passes 3,000 total pandemic deaths: On the same day that the U.S. reported over 300,000 deaths from the coronavirus, Israel surpassed its own grave milestone with 3,000 dead. The nation-wide vaccination campaign is scheduled to begin Sunday, December 20, moving up so-called “V-Day” by a week from its original date. Israel will use Pfizer’s vaccine, which has yet to be approved in the country but has been approved for emergency use in the U.S. and elsewhere. According to the plan, at least two million Israelis would be vaccinated by the end of January. Currently, Israel is in possession of 313,000 doses of the vaccine and expects to have a total of 3.8 million by the end of this month. Experts are grappling with how to encourage the wary to get the shot, while contending with those who refuse to. One plan being weighed by the Health Ministry is to restrict travel and access to public spaces for individuals who choose not to get vaccinated. The Ministry could potentially issue a “green passport” to vaccinated individuals to differentiate them from the general population.
Israel to stop using fossil fuels by 2050: Israel announced it will stop using fossil fuels nationwide by 2050. This pledge mirrors that of the majority of Western nations. Prime Minister Netanyahu revealed the commitment when speaking before the international Climate Ambition Summit in the U.K. this past weekend. Israel also maintains its interim goal of achieving 30% renewable energy by the end of the decade. And, by 2025, Netanyahu said Israel will no longer use coal as a source of energy at all.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Israeli Defense Committee Chairman furious over possible prisoner swap
Israel and Hamas negotiate prisoner swap: Israel has reportedly begun talks with Hamas over the release of two Israeli captives and the remains of two IDF soldiers who were killed in the 2014 Gaza war. The negotiations include increased coronavirus aid from Israel to Gaza and the release of Palestinian terrorists from Israeli prisons. This news comes as the Palestinian Territories have recorded their deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic so far, with 17 deaths in the West Bank, three in East Jerusalem, and 12 in Gaza. Knesset member and Defense Committee Chairman Zvi Hauser condemned the deal, saying it would put “hundreds of terrorists back in the cycle of terror.” Hamas officials denied claims of negotiations towards a deal, calling it a ploy by Prime Minister Netanyahu to ramp up public opinion ahead of the new elections. Also on Monday, the 33rd anniversary of its founding, Hamas vowed to continue resistance against Israel, calling for its eradication.
U.S. sanctions Iran over death of Jewish FBI agent: Over thirteen years after the disappearance of retired Jewish FBI agent Robert Levinson, the Trump administration has for the first time formally laid the blame for his presumed death on Iran. Levinson was sent on an unauthorized mission by the CIA in March 2007, and his fate has not been known since proof-of-life photos were sent to his family in 2011. United States officials named and sanctioned two Iranian intelligence officers accused of involvement in Levinson’s disappearance, and also said that the Iranian government had authorized the abduction and covered up its engagement through widespread disinformation campaigns. Iran has acknowledged Levinson’s “ongoing case,” but denied any involvement in his disappearance.
Iran likely culprit of cyber-attack on Israeli companies: Upwards of 60 Israeli companies were targeted in a massive cyber-attack earlier this month that reports now claim to have been orchestrated by Iran. The hackers stole immeasurable quantities of data. This attack follows four suspected Iranian cyber-attacks that took place earlier in the year, including one on Israeli civilian water infrastructure, a war crime.
INSIDE THE U.S.
Congress passes defense funding bill and maintains security assistance to Israel
Congress passes National Defense Authorization Act: Congress passed 2021’s defense funding bill last week, which included a total of $3.3 billion in aid to and cooperation with Israel. The bill includes continued support for defense systems such as the Iron Dome and David’s Sling, and U.S.-Israel cooperation on energy, water, and agriculture technologies, among others. Funds were also allocated for future cooperative medical projects between Israel and the U.S., mostly in efforts towards detecting, treating, and curing the coronavirus. The bill passed in the House of Representatives 335-78, and in the Senate 84-13. AIPAC commended the bill for its “significant pro-Israel provisions,” though President Trump has threatened to veto the bill over concerns about China and his perception of unfair social media bias against conservatives.
VP Pence planning trip to Israel week before inauguration: According to reports which were confirmed by Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis, Vice President Mike Pence is planning to make a last trip to Israel as Vice President one week before President-elect Biden will be sworn into office. The exact date of arrival seems to be January 13, which is the same day that Prime Minister Netanyahu is required to be at a plea hearing for his corruption cases. The reason for the trip is thought to be the announcement of another country’s, or multiple countries’, normalization of relations with Israel. One country, Saudi Arabia, was reportedly ruled out as a possibility.
Foo Fighters front man covering songs by Jewish artists for Hanukkah: Dave Grohl, front man for the Grammy winning band Foo Fighters has teamed up with Jewish producer Greg Kurstin to cover eight songs of Jewish artists for each night of Hanukkah. Dubbed the “Hanukkah Sessions,” the caption accompanying the first promotional video read, “Festival of Lights?! How about a festival of tasty LICKS! So hold on to your tuchuses… we’ve got something special coming for your shayna punims.” So far the duo has covered the Beastie Boys, who came from Jewish backgrounds; Drake; 70’s rock band Mountain, led by Leslie West (neé Weinstein); Peaches, stage name of the provocateur Merrill Nisker; and Bob Dylan.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate a Polish diplomat who helped to saved hundreds of Jewish refugees fleeing the Nazis during World War II and whose story has not been written about before. A report by Israel Hayom on Friday revealed that Wojciech Rychlewicz, a Polish diplomat serving in Turkey during World War II, helped save hundreds of Jews by issuing them false certificates that identified them as Christians. Rychlewicz, then a consul in Istanbul, provided the documents to the European refugees at no pay. They could then obtain visas in countries that had policies in place to prevent Jewish refugees from entering. Rychlewicz, who died in 1964, has not yet been recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations, the title conferred by Israel to non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews from the Holocaust. Key to the effort to document Rychlewicz’s actions has been a Jewish physician from Los Angeles named Bob Meth, whose grandfather obtained a Brazilian visa using one of the false certificates. Israeli Holocaust museum Yad Vashem is reportedly looking into the new information.
On this day in 1990, Ari Goldman published an op-ed in the New York Times entitled: “Candles in Saudi Arabia.” In the piece, Goldman writes of the approximately 500-800 Jewish-American soldiers stationed in Saudi Arabia who were forced to celebrate the holiday of lights as their ancestors did, secretly and without fanfare. Although Jewish soldiers were sent care packages from Jewish organizations in the U.S., the groups were careful not to ship anything made in Israel, which would be in defiance of the Muslim kingdom’s strict policies. Today, 30 years later, Saudi has reportedly played a role in Israel’s recent normalization agreements and could even potentially normalize relations with Israel soon.