Thank you so much for your support this year! We will not be sending our usual Friday newsletter. See you next week! Today we’re diving into:
Inside Israel: 20,000 immigrants in 2020; Israel’s election shakeups; and attacks on Christmas trees
Coronavirus: Israel’s fast paced vaccinations; third lockdown; and Knesset’s coronavirus outbreak
Israel’s Neighbors: Hezbollah’s threats of revenge; Gaza’s planned military drill; plans to eliminate UNRWA; and Netanyahu’s call with Moroccan King
Inside the U.S.: NY’s investigation of Orthodox clinic; Jewish candidate’s fundraising record; Wonder Woman’s box office record; and Jewish group’s pardon efforts
Celebrate & Remember: Israel’s Standard for Green Building; and establishment of the Jewish National Fund
Despite the coronavirus pandemic, Israel welcomed 20,000 new immigrants in 2020
Source: @JewishAgency / Facebook, December 22, 2020
20,000+ people immigrated to Israel in 2020: Despite the coronavirus pandemic affecting the world for the majority of the year, Israel managed to welcome approximately 20,000 new immigrants in 2020, according to newly released Jewish Agency figures. The figure is a drop of roughly 59% from 2019, which saw some 34,000 immigrants, the largest annual figure in the past decade. The immigrants, who came from 70 different countries, mostly arrived from Russia, Ukraine, the United States, and France, according to the agency. Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said, “A wonderful thing happened to us—20,000 Jews immigrated to the State of Israel during this pandemic year; 20,000 people who were ready to leave everything behind, in a challenging period of global turmoil, to come build a new life in Israel.”
Israel’s election shakeups continue: Party shakeups ahead of Israel’s March elections continue across the board with A New Hope, Yesh Atid, and…. another new party. Gideon Sa’ar’s A New Hope party is reportedly courting Gadi Eizenkot, the former IDF Chief of Staff who is highly sought-after by all. Eizenkot has apparently not decided whether he is going to participate in upcoming elections at all, given that he’s only recently left the military and would require more time — a “cooling off period” — for him to achieve a ministerial portfolio, such as Minister of Defense. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid’s party, Yesh Atid, is also seeking Eizenkot and, perhaps, another big name: Tzipi Livni. Israel’s former Foreign Minister and almost-Prime Minister, Livni is in talks with Lapid to return to politics and run with Yesh Atid. Lipni would bring with her a chunk of money that has been left sitting in her old party’s coffers. At the same time, Lapid is considering dropping one of his partners, Moshe Ya’alon, another former Chief of Staff, in whose political capabilities Lapid is disappointed.
Blue and White Knesset Member Michal Cotler-Wunshannounced today that she will not run as a candidate for Blue and White in the March elections, as the party continues to disintegrate. Despite being the largest party in the Knesset last year, Blue and White is now slated to just barely make it into the upcoming Knesset elections. Lastly, Tel Aviv’s well-known and admired mayor, Ron Huldai, is expected to launch a new, left-wing party. Huldai has been the mayor of Tel Aviv for 22 years. With practically no formidable left-wing party in the mix, Huldai’s entrance is conceivably a significant shakeup in the race for the Knesset majority. Even Naftali Bennett, Israel’s most prominent supporter of West Bank annexation, is backtracking his previous enthusiasm for the idea in an effort to shore up moderate support before the election. All these political decisions are in service of one uniform goal: dethroning Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu— whether that be from the right, left, or center.
Attack on Christmas in northern Israel: Two Christmas trees in the northern, primarily Arab-Israeli town of Sakhnin were set on fire in a suspected arson attack. One of the trees was positioned outside of a Catholic church, while the other was outside an Orthodox church. The two churches filed criminal complaints. A leader from the Christian community said: “We demand that the security forces and the state authorities treat the incident as a terrorist attack. It is mandatory to bring the terrorists to justice.” Israeli police responded to the incident by saying: “The police will use all the means at their disposal to prosecute the perpetrators.” Masud Ganaim, a resident of the town and former Member of the Knesset, said the attack was an effort to sow divisions between the town’s Muslim and Christian populations. Head of the Arab Joint List, Ayman Odeh, said: “[This was a] despicable act that attacks the Christmas spirit and the spirit of unity in Arab society.”
Israel is leading the world in vaccinating its population for COVID-19
Source: @PresidentRuvi / Twitter, December 20, 2020
Israel is world’s fastest vaccinator: Israel is blazing through vaccinating its population against the coronavirus, with almost 500,000 Israelis inoculated so far. At this pace, Israel seems to be vaccinating over 1% of the population a day, the fastest in the world per capita. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the country aims to be vaccinating 150,000 people a day by this week, which would put the country at around two million people inoculated by the end of January (the current vaccines require two doses per person separated by a number of weeks). If that holds true, it will account for over one-quarter of Israel’s total population. Netanyahu said, “This is the entire at-risk population: all the medical teams, all the people over 60. Once we finish this stage, within 30 days we can get out of the coronavirus [pandemic], open the economy and do things that no other state can do.” The vaccination effort is operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Israel has also reportedly informed Palestinian security prisoners that they will begin to receive the vaccine within a few days. The vaccines will not be compulsory, but the coronavirus is known to spread widely within prisons.
Lockdown #3 begins: As of Sunday night, Israel has entered its third national lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic. So far, compliance with the looser lockdown seems to be halfhearted, with traffic practically unchanged and GPS data showing only an 18% reduction in the population’s movement, in comparison with over 50% for the last lockdown. The Health Ministry reported 5,815 new cases of the coronavirus in the past 24-hours — the highest daily tally in nearly three months. In a last-minute decision, the Knesset overruled the cabinet’s decision to partially close schools (which applied only to grades 5-10). The Knesset nixed the regulations, keeping schools open entirely, a “wretched” decision according to the Health Minister. The lockdown is expected to cost 2.5 billion shekels a week, cause 100,000 Israelis to become employed, and will end up saving as few as an estimated 500 lives. At the same time, Jerusalem hospitals have become overwhelmed, and the Health Ministry informed emergency services that some coronavirus patients should be taken to hospitals outside the city.
Knesset experiences own outbreak: The Knesset seems to be experiencing a coronavirus outbreak, with at least a cafeteria worker, a guard, a spokesperson, and two Members testing positive this week. The cafeteria worker may have been a nexus, as the person apparently served a large number of Members of the Knesset. Unconnected to the recent outbreak, Likud member David Bitan remains in intensive care after contracting the coronavirus. Although he was in very serious condition, his state is noted to be improved and steady.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Hezbollah says it’s doubled arsenal of missiles; can hit any part of Israel
An image published on Ali Khamenei’s official website on September 25, 2019 showing Khamenei, the Iranian supreme leader, left, alongside Hezbollah chief Hassan Nasrallah, center, and IRGC commander Qassem Soleimani (Khamenei.ir)
Nasrallah threatens revenge; claims Hezbollah doubled its arsenal: In a wide-ranging interview Sunday with the pro-Hezbollah al-Mayadeen news website, Hezbollah’s leader Hassan Nasrallah said the terror group has doubled the number of its precision missiles over the past year and claimed they have the ability to accurately hit any part of Israel. Nasrallah claimed that Israel has been deterred from attacking Hezbollah by the increase in Hezbollah’s military presence. He also said his group still intends to avenge the July death of its fighter, Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, who was killed in a series of airstrikes in Syria that were attributed to Israel. A week ahead of the one year anniversary of Iranian terror leader Qassem Soleimani’s death, Nasrallah also claimed that a Saudi, American, and Israeli operation sought to assassinate him and connected Soleimani’s assassination to his own situation.
Gaza launches rocket to Israel and terror groups plan military drill: For the second time in under a week, rocket sirens blared in southern Israel early Tuesday morning after a projectile was fired at Israel from Gaza. The Israel Defense Forces tweeted that, “Terrorists in Gaza just fired a rocket toward Israel. The rocket did not cross into Israeli territory.” The failed rocket terror attack comes ahead of a planned large-scale military drill in the Gaza Strip between several terrorist groups. According to the Gaza-based Joint Operations Room (a group consisting of various terrorist factions), the military drill “comes in the context of enhancing cooperation and joint action between the resistance groups to raise their combat readiness permanently and continuously.” The main groups expected to participate are Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, and Fatah.
Israel and UAE reportedly trying to eliminate UNRWA: Israel and the UAE are reportedly working together to eliminate the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA). The agency, founded in 1949, supports Palestinian refugees, using a politicized version of the term that carries refugee status down from generation to generation. This is unlike any other class of refugee in the world. Although Israel has long opposed the agency, saying that it is corrupt, inefficient, and does more harm to the peace process than good, the UAE has been one of its biggest financial backers. The report states that the UAE is working to let the agency “gradually disappear.” The U.S. cut funding to UNRWA in 2018. Last year in November, the UN General Assembly approved the extension of UNRWA’s mandate for three more years, only a week after its commissioner-general Pierre Krahenbuhl resigned over a UN ethics report alleging mismanagement and abuses of authority among senior officials.
Netanyahu welcomes Moroccan interest as delegation arrives: Celebrating their renewed ties, Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to the king of Morocco, Mohammed VI, and invited him to visit Israel. Netanyahu’s office released a statement saying: “The leaders congratulated each other over the renewal of ties between the countries, the signing of the joint statement with the U.S., and the agreements between the two countries.” Morocco’s statement noted “the consistent, unwavering and unchanged position of the Kingdom of Morocco on the Palestinian issue.” Morocco’s tourism minister also announced that there will be direct flights between Israel and Morocco within two to three months. Additionally, a Moroccan delegation just arrived in Israel this week for the first time since normalization between the countries was announced earlier this month. The delegation is expected to discuss establishing mutual embassies between the two countries. The Moroccan diplomats have meetings scheduled in the Israeli Foreign Ministry, but their visit does not include any public events or statements.
INSIDE THE U.S.
NY’s health commissioner investigating Orthodox clinic’s vaccine distribution
ParCare CEO Gary Schlesinger is pictured at his Williamsburg facility
NY investigating Orthodox clinic: New York’s health commissioner announced that the state is investigating an Orthodox-run network of health clinics for reportedly administering the coronavirus vaccine to members of the public against state regulations. At present, New York is only vaccinating front line healthcare workers and residents and staff of nursing homes. Health Commissioner Howard Zucker said: “We take this very seriously and [the Department of Health] will be assisting State Police in a criminal investigation into this matter. Anyone found to have knowingly participated in this scheme will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law.” The healthcare network’s CEO, Gary Schlesinger, had posted a photo of himself getting the vaccine on Twitter.
Jewish Senate candidate crushes previous fundraising record: Jewish Senate candidate Jon Ossoff has shattered the previous fundraising record for a Senate candidate, raising $107 million in two months. The previous record-holder, Democrat Jaime Harrison, raised $57 million in the same amount of time earlier this year, himself almost doubling the previous record. Ossoff and fellow Democrat Raphael Warnock are challenging incumbent Republican Georgia Senators David Perdue and Kelly Loefler respectively in what will surely be an incredibly close race. (Joe Biden won the state by less than 0.25%.) The once-in-a-generation race not only has both competitive Senate seats up for a runoff on January 5 at the same time, but the two seats will decide the Senate majority, which currently stands at 50-48, Republicans to Democrats.
Wonder Woman hits COVID-era ticket record: Wonder Woman 1984, the new Hollywood blockbuster starring Israeli actress Gal Gadot, had the biggest box office debut of any film during the coronavirus pandemic so far. Christmas weekend, Wonder Woman earned $16.7 million from ticket sales, despite its concurrent premiere on streaming services. On the international stage, the movie garnered $19.4 million during the previous week, adding up to $85 million in total since its premiere. The movie’s distributor, Warner Bros., announced in a groundbreaking move that it would release all of its 2020 films on streaming services and in theaters simultaneously. The company’s Executive Vice President said: “During these very difficult times, it was nice to give families the option of enjoying this uplifting film at home, where theater viewing wasn’t an option.” On Sunday, Warner Bros. confirmed plans for a third Wonder Woman film in the superhero franchise.
Jewish group sought pardons from Trump: The New York Times reported that The Aleph Institute, a Hasidic non-profit affiliated with the Chabad Lubavitcher movement, was instrumental in convincing President Donald Trump to pardon high-level Jewish convicts, like his son-in-law’s father, Charles Kushner, and Philip Esformes. Kushner was found guilty in 2005 for, among other things, witness tampering, illegal campaign contributions, and tax evasion. Esformes was convicted for orchestrating the largest Medicare fraud scheme in U.S. history. One FBI agent said: “Philip Esformes is a man driven by almost unbounded greed.” Both the Kushners and the Esformeses donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to The Aleph Institute, whose mission is to advocate for those in prison. Nearly without fail, presidential pardons are handed down by way of a thoroughly reviewed process in the Justice Department, without political influence, and given to those with disproportionate punishments or who are remorseful and in extenuating circumstances. The Trump administration has not conducted its pardon review in the same manner.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
KKL-JNF Stamps (Source: KKL-JNF Photo Archive)
Today we celebrate that Israel’s Standard for Green Building is becoming more widespread with voluntary adoption before its regulations become mandatory in 2022. The standards are aimed at construction that is “energy-efficient, cutting pollution, reducing construction waste, and promoting recycling and a circular economy.” First begun in 2005, 50% of plans within Israel’s Forum of 15—Israel’s largest 15 cities led by Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai—now fall within its parameters. The Forum had only taken on the standards in 2013.
On this day in 1901, the Jewish National Fund was officially established. Originally conceived of at the First Zionist Congress in 1897, the Fund quickly began to purchase poor quality land in Ottoman, later British, Palestine to transform and reafforest it into arable farmland and land for Jewish settlement. In 1948 alone, the JNF purchased over 200,000 acres of land in Israel with an unheard-of price tag of $880 million. Many foundational elements of modern Israel were created using JNF land, including the establishment of the City of Tel Aviv and the Technion Research Institute in Haifa. Much of the funds came from the JNF’s sales of oranges worldwide and tens of millions of stamps, as well as its ubiquitous blue tzedakah boxes in Jewish homes and synagogues in the United States. Without the JNF, the dream of rebirth in the Jewish homeland may never have been achieved.