Escalation with Iran: Coordinated responses to possible Iranian retaliation; and Iranian law pressuring Biden
Peace Deals: Bahrain labels West Bank goods “Israeli”; PA rekindles Gulf ties; and Sudan normalization at risk
Inside Israel: Vote to dissolve Israeli government; new Ethiopian immigrants; and Czech opens Jerusalem office
Israel’s Neighbors: Appeal in Daniel Pearl’s murder trial; tax transfer to PA including ‘pay-for-slay’ money; and EU’s draft declaration against antisemitism
Inside the U.S.: More Jews added to Biden’s cabinet; Senate vote to prevent UAE arms sale; Young Republicans call Cuomo aide a ‘court Jew’; and rapper engages in Holocaust denial
Celebrate & Remember: Israel’s special UN event for persons with disabilities; and remembering Richárd Weisz
ESCALATION WITH IRAN
New Iranian law ramps up uranium enrichment and bans UN inspectors— if Biden doesn’t reenter nuclear deal
Source: @HassanRouhani / Twitter, February 1, 2018
U.S. & Israel coordinating response to possible Iranian retaliation: Iran has been vocal about exploring multiple avenues to retaliate against Israel, which it blames for last week’s assassination of nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh. The options include a proxy response through Hezbollah in Lebanon or Syria, whose Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has reportedly moved to Iran amid the high tensions in the region. Israel warned citizens that they may be at risk of Iranian attacks abroad in neighboring countries to Iran, including in UAE and Bahrain—Israel’s new peace partners. Embassies and Jewish targets such as synagogues worldwide are also on high alert. The Israel Defense Forces and the U.S. military are coordinating possible responses to Iranian attacks, such as tightening links between both militaries and joint detection of rocket fire against Israeli or American targets. On Thursday, the U.S. also levied further sanctions against Iran, this time against a company accused of involvement in chemical weapons research. President Trump has reportedly given Secretary of State Mike Pompeo free reign regarding Iran policy as long as he avoids “World War III”.
New Iranian law pressures Biden to reenter Iran deal: Iran has implored the UN Security Council (UNSC) to condemn the assassination and punish the perpetrators, though Reuters reported Tuesday that the UNSC is unlikely to act on the request. The Iranian parliament passed a law Wednesday halting UN inspections of its nuclear facilities and raising the enrichment level of their nuclear material if U.S. sanctions are not lifted by February. Though the Iranian government is now obliged to carry out this law, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani opposed the legislation and called it counterproductive. The law is seemingly intended to pressure President-elect Biden into rejoining the Iran nuclear deal as soon as he assumes office. Tom Friedman wrote a recent New York Timesopinion piece arguing that Biden should not give up leverage achieved from President Trump’s sanctions to reenter the deal without getting more concessions from Iran. In a subsequent interview with Friedman, Biden responded that he intends to rejoin the deal if Iran also returns to strict compliance of the conditions stipulated in the deal, saying “the best way to achieve getting some stability in the region” is to address the nuclear program. Biden said he will re-enter the Iran deal without new conditions, and then renegotiate a new agreement to address additional concerns. However, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif asserted that Iran will “never” renegotiate the deal.
While in Israel, Bahraini minister says West Bank goods to be labeled ‘Israeli’
Source: @Gabi_Ashkenazi / Twitter, December 2, 2020
Bahrain will label West Bank goods as Israeli: While on his visit to Israel, Bahraini trade minister Zayed bin Rashid al-Zayani said Thursday that products from Israeli settlements in the West Bank will be labeled ‘Israeli’ in his country and will not be subject to distinctions between products made within Israel and those from settlements. “We will treat Israeli products as Israeli products. So we have no issue with labelling or origin,” he said. Other parts of the world, such as the European Union, require products made in settlements to be clearly labeled as such. Palestinian leaders were quick to criticize the announcement, saying it “contradicts international and UN resolutions.” Last month the Trump administration removed U.S. customs distinctions between goods made within Israel and in settlements. While in Israel al-Zayani said, “We are determined and committed to make this [peace accord] a success story and to make it a case study for others to follow.”
Palestinian President Abbas seeks to restore ties with Gulf states: The King of Bahrain and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke on the phone recently after a months-long freeze in their relationship—which included the withdrawal of the Palestinian representative from the Bahraini capital of Manama—due to Bahrain’s normalization of ties with Israel. The King called Abbas to offer condolences for the death of the PLO’s secretary-general who died of the coronavirus. Abbas returned condolences for the death of 84-year-old Prince Khalifa bin Salman Al Khalifa, Bahrain’s longest-serving Prime Minister who died in November. The conversation comes as Abbas has reinstated the Palestinian representative in Manama and as his unity talks with the terrorist organization Hamas fell apart. One unnamed Palestinian official said: “Abbas has chosen reconciliation with the Arab countries over unity with Hamas.”
Israel-Sudan normalization at risk over lack of U.S. immunity legislation: Israel’s bid for peace with Sudan, previously an enemy country, seems to have encountered problems that stem from U.S. Congress, according to theNew York Times. In exchange for normalizing ties with Israel, Sudan was promised that past U.S. sanctions and actions taken against the country for its sponsor of international terrorism would be cleaned from the slate. While the U.S. under President Trump has moved forward with removing Sudan from the official list of state sponsors of terror—which would unshackle the country from webs of U.S. sanctions—Sudan apparently seeks for the U.S. to pass legislation granting the country immunity from lawsuits to hold terrorist actions accountable. American lawmakers, however, have been unable to agree on whether to grant Sudan immunity, which would block terror victims from suing the state. Without the congressionally approved immunity, foreign investors may be reluctant to do business with Sudan for fear they could end up financing potentially billions of dollars in compensation to terror victims. With the Trump administration rushing to finish the peace deal by the end of its term, Sudan’s faltering might not allow for a resolution at all.
Preliminary vote moves Israel toward fourth election in two years, but unlikely compromise could prevent it
Preliminary vote approved to dissolve government: Defense Minister Benny Gantz and his Blue and White party voted with the opposition to dissolve the Knesset and send Israel to new elections. The decision comes as Prime Minister Netanyahu and Gantz have been unable to agree on passing the budget, with Netanyahu insisting on only passing the 2020 budget (which still has not been passed), despite previously promising a two-year budget. Netanyahu will not agree to the two-year budget because if he does, it will be much harder to get out of the power sharing agreement, which gives Gantz the premiership in 2021. If the one-year budget is passed, Netanyahu can dissolve the government without handing over the premiership to Gantz. In a last-ditch effort to prevent new elections at this time, Israel’s Finance Minister, Israel Katz, will present Gantz with a budget proposal. Should Gantz and Netanyahu agree to a two-year budget, the new round of elections—the fourth in two years—would be averted, for now. Netanyahu is unlikely to agree, as he has no desire to follow through on the rotation deal. Current polls predict Netanyahu’s Likud to garner the greatest number of seats in the Knesset, but nowhere near an outright majority. The far-right party Yamina, headed by Naftali Bennet, seems to be placing second in most polls. This likely means that a new Knesset would be more to the ideological right than the current one.
Hundreds of Ethiopian immigrants welcomed to Israel: Beginning its process of bringing thousands of Falash Mura, forcibly converted Ethiopian Jews, to Israel, 316 immigrants landed in Israel on Thursday. Another plane is set to arrive on Friday, bringing roughly 200 more new immigrants to Israel. 1,500 more are expected to arrive by the end of January. The Ethiopian-Israeli community has grown to be 140,000-strong, including 50,000 born in Israel. The bulk of Ethiopia’s Jewish community arrived in Israel between 1984 and 1991 under the Law of Return, which guarantees Israeli citizenship to all Jews. As Thursday’s immigrants landed in Israel—greeted by the Prime Minister no less!—some wept and kissed the ground. The mood was festive and Hebrew songs blared over loudspeakers. Netanyahu said: “This is the essence of our Jewish story, the essence of the Zionist story.” Pnina Tamano-Shata, Israel’s first Ethiopian-born minister, personally traveled to Ethiopia and back with the immigrants to welcome the families.
Czech Republic opening ‘diplomatic office’ in Jerusalem: The Czech Republic, long one of Israel’s steadiest supporters in the European Union, is planning on replacing its ‘honorary consulate’ in Jerusalem with a ‘diplomatic office.’ The latter is a more permanent and formal diplomatic mission, but Prague was careful to say this does not change the status of its embassy, located in Tel Aviv. Czech President Milos Zeman has backed the idea of relocating the Czech embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv, though no steps have been taken. The Czech government said the move was part of an effort “to further strengthen Czech-Israeli relations.” The new office will open midway through 2021. Israeli Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, writing on Twitter, said he had spoken with his Czech counterpart and congratulated him on a decision that “emphasizes our strong friendship and strategic partnership.”
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Appeal begins against the reversal of murderer’s conviction in Daniel Pearl killing
A memorial for Daniel Pearl near his old neighborhood in Los Angeles
Appeal begins against reversal of the conviction of Daniel Pearl’s murderer: A Pakistani court began the hearing of an appeal against the decision by a lower court to overturn the conviction of Daniel Pearl’s killer. The British-born murderer, Ahmed Sheikh, as well as three other accomplices, were vindicated by the lower court in May of this year, sparking outrage. Pearl’s parents immediately filed appeal against the ruling. Sheikh had been sentenced to death before his conviction was thrown out. Instead, the court sentenced him to seven years of prison under charges of ‘kidnapping.’ Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi, Pakistan in January 2002 while researching a story about Islamist militants. A graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the U.S. consulate nearly a month later. His last words, recorded on a video in which he discusses his Jewish heritage and his family’s connection to Israel before being killed, became a rallying cry for Jewish solidarity and inspired a book of reflections by notable Jews on what it means to be Jewish.
Israel transfers billions to PA without deducting terror stipends: Israel has transferred 3.7 billion shekels it collected in tax revenue to the Palestinian Authority (PA). Despite a 2018 law that mandates Israel withhold money to balance the amount the PA pays in rewards to terrorist acts against Israelis (“pay-for-slay” funds), Israel did not do so. Israel said the deductions would resume in January. A PA government spokesman said on Monday, “We consider these deductions illegal, and we shall not accept it, and we shall remain faithful to the families of martyrs and the wounded.” For most of this year, the Palestinians have refused to collect their own tax money from Israel’s government as a pressure tactic against potential Israeli annexation of the West Bank. The boycott ended in November.
EU adopts draft declaration to fight antisemitism: The Council of the European Union, made up of ministers from all EU countries, adopted a draft declaration committing to fight antisemitism “in all its forms.” The Council said it was determined to “protect Jewish life and make it more visible as part of Europe’s identity.” The declaration went on to say: “Judaism and Jewish life have contributed considerably to shaping European identity and enriching Europe’s cultural, intellectual and religious heritage.” The World Jewish Congress praised the statement and said that it enshrines the effort to fight antisemitism into the executive mission of the European Union. Though Jews comprise less than 1% of the European population, a report by the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights last month found that 22% of hate crimes recorded in the pan-European region during 2019 were antisemitic incidents.
INSIDE THE U.S.
More high-profile Jews added to President-elect Biden’s cabinet
Janet Yellen nominated as country’s next Treasury Secretary: The incoming Biden administration added more high-profile Jews to its soon-to-be cabinet this week. In one of the most influential and important posts—particularly as the country faces a catastrophic, pandemic-induced economic crisis—President-elect Biden named Janet Yellen to be the country’s next Treasury Secretary. Yellen was born to Jewish parents who immigrated to the U.S. from Poland. She was born and raised in Brooklyn and served as Chair of the Federal Reserve under President Obama. Yellen would be the first woman to lead the Treasury Department. Another top economist position went to Jared Bernstein, a trusted Biden advisor. Bernstein is known as a progressive economist, and he announced his joy on twitter by saying: “I’m verklempt!” Biden is also reportedly considering naming Rahm Emanuel, President Obama’s former Chief of Staff and the former Mayor of Chicago, to be Transportation Secretary. Emanuel, whose brother serves on Biden’s exclusive coronavirus advisory board, is controversial for his handling of issues of police brutality during his stint as Chicago’s mayor. Liberal lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as well as the NAACP, have announced their opposition to his potential nomination. Other Jewish cabinet members previously announced include Alejandro Mayorkas, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of Homeland Security who is a Latino Jew, the son of a Cuban Jewish father and Romanian Jewish mother, and Anthony Blinken, Biden’s nominee for Secretary of State, who hails from a family of immigrants, refugees and a Holocaust survivor.
Senate vote to prevent Trump’s massive UAE arms sale: The United States Senate is set to vote next week on a measure attempting to prevent the Trump administration from going through with its large-scale sale of arms to the United Arab Emirates in the wake of the Abraham Accords with Israel. Many Senate Democrats have been opposed to the arms sale given the UAE’s involvement with the civil war in Yemen which is an epic humanitarian disaster. Yet Republican senators have also expressed “unease” about the deal. Senator Marco Rubio, Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, said he was concerned about the deal’s security implications for Israel. In 2019, Congress passed a measure blocking arms sales to Saudi Arabia; Trump vetoed those laws.
New York Young Republicans call Andrew Cuomo aide a ‘court Jew’: The New York Young Republicans accused an aide to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo of being a ‘court Jew.’ When the aide, Jake Adler, criticized the Young Republicans’ decision to host an in-person conference during the coronavirus pandemic, the group responded by saying: “You are a disgrace and pathetic. Shouldn’t you guys be arresting Orthodox Jews in BK? Keep being a good boy for your failed corrupt boss.” The group went on to call Adler and one of his Jewish defenders “court Jews.” The Anti-Defamation League condemned the message. The term is meant to evoke the historical trope of Jewish members of royal courts who worked under privileges not afforded to other Jews, particularly under antisemitic regimes.
Rapper engages in Holocaust denial; broadcasts on Facebook: In a recorded podcast and video with Nation of Islam’s Rizza Islam, the controversial rapper Lord Jamar, who has over 110,000 followers on Instagram and thousands more on other platforms, engaged in Holocaust denial. Jamar falsely said that 500,000 Jews, at most, were killed during the Holocaust. He said: “There wasn’t even six million Jews in Europe at that time.” Islam responded by saying, “That’s a fact.” Despite supposedly banning Holocaust denial on its platform, Facebook has yet to take the video down.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Richárd Weisz 1908 matchbox label
Today we celebrate the Israeli delegation to the United Nations which hosted a special virtual event on the internationally recognized Day for Rights of Persons with Disabilities. Israel’s ambassador to the UN in Geneva said: “We have decided to break the taboo and to raise the issue of people with disabilities at the UN.” In related news, Israeli activist Odelia Fitoussi, who suffers from muscular dystrophy, was elected on Monday to represent Israel at the UN Committee on the Rights for People with Disabilities. She will fill one of nine spots on the Committee. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin tweeted: “I am sure your important voice at the UN will be a positive influence for people with disabilities around the world. We are so proud of you!” Marking the International Day of Disabled Persons on Wednesday night, the Jerusalem municipality lit up several iconic buildings across the city in purple to raise awareness about people with disabilities.
Today in 1945, Richárd Weisz, a Jewish heavyweight wrestler from Hungary, passed away. Weisz, born in Budapest, became Hungary’s first Olympic wrestling champion when he won a gold medal in the Greco-Roman Heavyweight class at the 1908 Olympics in London. The legendary “strong sportsman” was also his country’s first national weightlifting champion.