Inside the U.S.: Backlash over Rep. Greene’s conspiracies; Biden slows Netanyahu call; Kushner and Berkowitz nominated for Nobel Peace Prize; industry leaders launch Black-Jewish alliance; and Jewish “Saved by the Bell” star dies
Iran: Blinken delivers warning on Iran; Israeli leaders butt heads on strategy; details emerge on Delhi explosion; and terror attack against embassy thwarted
Inside Israel: Kosovo and Israel establish ties; mergers and drop-outs precede election deadline; Likud fined for violations; Bible’s ancient purple cloth found in Negev; and Israel provides homes to Guatemalans who faced volcano
Coronavirus: Lockdown extended, again; Palestinians get vaccines from Israel and abroad; and famed rabbi and psychiatrist dies of COVID
Inside Europe: Belgian PM’s home defaced with swastikas; survivor donates to town that saved him; and Netanyahu urges Europe to respect kashrut
Backlash over Rep. Greene’s conspiracies: Republican Congresswoman Marjorie Greene, a QAnon conspiracy theorist and far-right activist, is facing condemnation from American Jewish organizations for resurfaced antisemitic comments and posts. Among her long list of false conspiracies, Greene said that mass shootings, like at the Sandy Hook Elementary School, are fake, 9/11 was an inside job, President Obama is Muslim, the Clintons killed JFK, Jr., and other nonsense. She also repeatedly indicated support for executing prominent Democratic politicians in 2018 and 2019 before being elected to Congress. One conspiracy raising eyebrows and laughs is her post that Jewish space lasers, somehow manufactured by the Rothschilds (??), purposefully started California wildfires. Although Greene is facing calls for expulsion from Democratic Members of Congress, the Republican minority in the House appointed her to sit on the Education Committee. Speaker Pelosi called the appointment “appalling.” The Republican Jewish Coalition and the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations condemned Greene, but former President Trump offered his full support of her over the weekend. In response to the backlash, Greene wrote: “I’ll never back down.” Democrats are demanding Republicans remove Greene from the Education Committee and censure her. Without Republican action, Democrats will do it on their own, they said. On Monday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell blasted Greene’s embrace of “loony lies and conspiracy theories” as a “cancer for the Republican Party.”
Biden slows Netanyahu call: President Biden has yet to call Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he has done with other foreign leaders, both of major allies and adversaries. Jake Sullivan, the U.S. National Security Advisor, made his third call to Israel’s National Security Adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi was U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken’s 12th call on the job. President Obama called Prime Minister Olmert on his first day in office, and President Trump made his third call to Netanyahu. Leader of the left-wing party Meretz, Nitzan Horowitz, mocked the Prime Minister’s cool reception by Biden, saying: “Biden is screening Netanyahu’s calls… Netanyahu is now reaping the rotten fruit of the rift he created with the Democrats.” And former Israeli ambassador Michael Oren said: “There’s a message in [Biden’s] order.” Their first phone call is expected to happen imminently.
Kushner and Berkowitz nominated for Nobel Peace Prize: American Attorney Alan Dershowitz nominated Jared Kushner and Avi Berkowitz for the Nobel Peace Prize for their role in negotiating four normalization deals between Israel and Arab nations known as the “Abraham Accords.” In a letter sent to the Nobel committee, Dershowitz wrote, “The Nobel Peace Prize is not for popularity. Nor is it an assessment of what the international community may think of those who helped bring about peace.” Dershowitz served on the legal team representing former President Trump during his first impeachment and is eligible to nominate individuals for the Nobel prize based on his status as a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School. Among others nominated for the prize this year are Russian dissident Alexei Navalny, the World Health Organization, climate campaigner Greta Thunberg, and the former Georgia Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams. Kushner said in a statement he was honored to be nominated for the prize, which will be awarded in October.
Industry leaders launch Black-Jewish alliance: Over 170 Black and Jewish voices from across the entire entertainment industry have banned together to launch the Black-Jewish Entertainment Alliance (BJEA), a joint initiative devoted to countering racism and antisemitism. Entertainers including Billy Porter, Antoine Fuqua and Jeremy Piven have Joined executives like Maverick Founder Guy Oseary in releasing a statement announcing the initiative’s goals. “The Black and Jewish communities, who have a long history of supporting and working together, are so much stronger when we stand together in the fight against hate,” said Warner Records co-chairman and CEO Aaron Bay-Schuck. Additional signatories of the alliance include Nick Cannon, Tiffany Haddish, and the late Larry King.
Jewish “Saved by the Bell” star dies: Dustin Diamond, 44, best known for his portrayal of the character Samuel “Screech” Powers on the hit television sitcom “Saved by the Bell,” died Monday morning from stage 4 lung cancer. Diamond, who was Jewish, first shared news of his cancer diagnosis last month. He also starred in a handful of reality television series. Diamond’s “Saved by the Bell” costars, Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Mario Lopez, and Tiffany Thiessen, paid tribute to the late actor on social media. Diamond also faced some legal troubles, serving three months in jail for his involvement in a stabbing altercation at a bar in Wisconsin in 2014.
U.S. Secretary of State says Iran possibly ‘weeks away’ from nuclear weapon
Blinken delivers warning on Iran: In an interview with NBC News, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said, at its current rate, Tehran is months or potentially weeks away from being able to produce material for a nuclear weapon. However, Blinken reiterated the Biden administration’s intention to return to the Iran nuclear deal, if Iran first resumes its compliance. Last month, Tehran announced it was beginning to enrich uranium up to 20% – far beyond the 3.5% permitted under the nuclear deal, and a relatively small technical step away from the 90% needed for a nuclear weapon. Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz said in an interview Sunday that Israel is still keeping open the possibility of taking action against Tehran’s nuclear program if necessary. Further, Iran rejected France’s call for new participants to be a party to the deal, specifically Saudi Arabia, Iran’s regional foe. France’s President, Emmanuel Macron, said that there is a “very short time” to prevent Iran from manufacturing nuclear weapons and that any new discussions over the deal should be “strict.” In an interview with Christiane Amanpour on Monday, Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif seemed to offer a way forward when he asked the European Union to coordinate a synchronized return of both Washington and Tehran into the nuclear deal. In other Iran deal news, the Biden administration named Rob Malley, Obama’s Iran deal negotiator, to be America’s envoy to Iran. This led to criticism of him as an anti-Israel pick, but signaled a strong willingness on the U.S.’s part to return to the deal.
Israeli leaders butt heads on Iran strategy: Leaders in the Israeli military establishment are apparently at odds over their approach to the Biden administration. After Chief of Staff of the Israel Defense Forces Aviv Kochavi sharply warned the White House against rejoining the Iran nuclear deal, the Mossad chief called Kochavi “irresponsible” behind closed doors. One defense source criticized the leak, saying: “The Iranian issue doesn’t belong to [Mossad leader] Yossi Cohen and even if there are differences of opinion it is better that they stay behind closed doors.” Kochavi’s statement was also not coordinated with the Prime Minister or Defense Minister, according to a report. Defense Minister Gantz, though, seems to be more inclined with Kochavi, despite a lukewarm rebuke, visiting the headquarters of the IDF’s long-range attack sector in a posturing move against Iran.
Details emerge on Delhi explosion: Last Friday, a bomb exploded near the Israeli embassy in New Delhi, India’s capital. No one was injured in the explosion, but there was property damage around the site. Police found a note reading: “for the Israeli embassy,” which confirmed suspicions that the embassy was the target of the attack. Additionally, the note cited the killings of Iranian terror mastermind and nuclear head, Qassem Soleimani and Mohsen Fakhrizadeh respectively, as motive for the attack. The Israeli and Indian foreign ministers spoke by phone, as well as Prime Ministers Netanyahu and Modi, pledging support to one another and the Mossad is apparently involved in the ongoing investigation. New evidence links Iran to the assault, while the terror group Jaish-ul-Hind claimed credit. In the wake of the terror attack, Israeli embassies worldwide have ratched up security.
Iranian terror attack against embassy thwarted: According to a report Monday by Israeli news site Kan, an Iranian terror attack on either an American or Israeli embassy in an unnamed East African country was thwarted. In connection with the planned attack, several Iranian agents who scouted out the Israeli, American, and Emirati embassies in the unnamed East African country have been arrested. Some held dual European and Iranian citizenship, and some were arrested in the East African country, while others were apprehended in different countries. The report noted the planned attack was in retaliation for the killings of Soleimani and Fakhrizadeh.
Israel and Kosovo establish diplomatic ties over Zoom
Source: @Gabi_Ashkenazi / Twitter, February 1, 2021
Kosovo and Israel establish ties: The disputed Balkan nation of Kosovo, a Muslim-majority country, formally recognized Israel and established diplomatic ties yesterday, with the Muslim-majority country recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. The Kosovar Foreign Minister, Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla, and Israel’s Gabi Ashkenazi conducted the ceremony remotely. Ashkenazi said on Twitter, “In our conversation, the Foreign Minister emphasized Kosovo’s commitment to recognizing Hezbollah as a terrorist organization and shared with me its program to promote the memory of the Holocaust, care for Jewish cemeteries and the opening of a Jewish cultural center this year.” Haradinaj-Stublla said: “Recognition by Israel is one of the greatest achievements for Kosovo, coming at a key moment for us, thanks to the United States of America, our common and eternal ally.” When the Trump administration announced the mutual recognition, the announcement included Serbia, Kosovo’s primary adversary, relocating its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem. That has yet to happen.
Mergers and drop-outs precede election deadline: With three days to go until party lists have to be finalized, mergers, drop-outs, and additions are happening in all parties up for March’s Knesset election. Moshe Ya’alon, the former Chief of Staff of the IDF who joined forces with Benny Gantz in Blue and White for the last rounds of election, withdrew from the running, pulling his Te’elem party entirely. Ya’alon, whose party was falling below the threshold needed to make it into the Knesset, said his decision was an effort to help rally around the center-left coalition. Opposition Leader Yair Lapid is polling higher, likely at the expense of Netanyahu breakaway Gideon Sa’ar. And, in surprising news, Avi Nissenkorn, the former Justice Minister whose protection by Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz against Netanyahu’s attempts to corrupt the justice system basically caused this new round of elections, quit his new political home, just weeks after joining. In dramatic fashion, Nissenkorn had joined Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s The Israelis party as the number two. Perhaps defections are unshocking, because The Israelis has seen its standing in the polls fall drastically since Huldai announced the formation of the party. Likely Labour’s rallying behind its new leader Merav Michaeli has a lot to do with The Israelis cratering. Huldai is calling for mergers between the center-left parties; it remains to be seen if Michaeli (or Lapid?) will heed his call.
Israel fines Likud for violations: Israel’s State Comptroller told the Prime Minister’s Likud party that it must stop using the Prime Minister’s residence, a government-owned property, for political events. Likud said that it had received state permission to use the property in advance of some political events but also said it would not do so again. Nir Barkat, one of Likud’s members, was fined NIS 25,000 for his illegal use and documentation of campaign funds. Barkat, the former mayor of Jerusalem and a venture capitalist, is worth about NIS 500 million, so he’ll be fine.
Bible’s ancient purple cloth found in Negev: In an excavation site near the southern Israeli city of Eilat, Israeli researchers found the type of ancient cloth dipped in purple dye which is discussed at length in the Torah. Scientists were able to date the artifacts to approximately 1,000 BCE, or 3,000 years ago. The time period in question would be about the rule of King David in the Land of Israel. “It is a very early period to find ‘true purple,’” also known as ‘Tyrian purple,’ “in use and it’s a very strange location,” said Professor Erez Ben-Yosef of Tel Aviv University. The color is also strongly associated with ancient Phoenicia, modern Lebanon. The remarkable find is 1,000 years older than the previously oldest known cloth of the same dye, from the time of the Roman Empire. The location of the discovery makes it likely that the area belonged to the Edomite Kingdom at the time. Luckily, southern Israel’s “arid desert” has preserved many artifacts that would otherwise have been lost.
Israel provides homes to Guatemalans who faced volcano: The Israeli government built houses for 39 families in a Guatemalan town that was destroyed by a 2018 volcano blast. The Fuego explosion killed more than 190 people in the town, Escuintla. Israel’s ambassador to Guatemala, Matty Cohen, personally delivered the housing deeds to their new owners. Cohen said: “The State of Israel promised, and we are happy. Israel will always continue to assist our friend and ally Guatemala.”
Lockdown extended again as 30% of Israeli COVID-19 deaths were in January alone
Source: @YuliEdelstein / Twitter, January 13, 2021
Palestinians get vaccines from Israel and abroad: The Palestinians received thousands of doses of vaccine from Israel and are expected to receive approximately 50,000 later this month from international sources. The Palestinian Authority, which has control over public health matters, was offered much of its vaccine supply from the Russian-made Sputnik vaccine. Israeli health officials have stressed that herd immunity in Israel is dependent on the Palestinians also reaching a certain threshold of inoculation.
Famed rabbi and psychiatrist dies of COVID: Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, a Torah scholar and renowned physician who became a leading authority on drug treatment and addiction, died of the novel coronavirus in Israel at the age of 90. Twerski was a Wisconsin native and spent much of his professional life in Pittsburgh, where he sought to break down stigmas about abuse, addiction, and mental-health issues. Graduating medical school in 1960, he spent two decades as the clinical director of the psychiatric unit at St. Francis Hospital in Pittsburgh. In 1972, Twerski helped found the Gateway Rehabilitation Center in Pittsburgh. He was also the author of some 60-90 books, most of which were aimed at Jewish audiences but some of which were for mainstream audiences. He was a big fan of the comic strip “Peanuts” and authored two books with creator Charles Schultz. Twerski also wrote a book in 1996 about domestic violence and other forms of abuse in the Orthodox community. According to a friend and colleague, Rabbi Dr. Tzvi Hersh Weinreb, “To this day, he is defamed in certain circles because he dares to speak about it.” Twerski is survived by his second wife, Gail Bessler and four children as well as grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Belgian Prime Minister’s home vandalized with swastikas
Belgian PM’s home defaced: The home of Belgium’s Prime Minister Alexander De Croo was defaced with several spray-painted swastikas, triggering an investigation by authorities on Monday. The PM deplored what he called “an attempt to intimidate his family and children,” according to a statement issued by his office. A spokeswoman for the town’s public prosecutor’s office said that an investigation is underway. A total of seven swastikas were spray-painted in light green paint on the facade and letterbox of De Croo’s family home, the Het Laatste Nieuws newspaper reported, showing images on its website.
Survivor donates to town that saved him: A Holocaust survivor from Austria bequeathed his significant fortune to the French village that saved him during the Second World War. The survivor, Eric Schwam, died in December at age 90. Schwam left about $2 million to the town, “a large amount” for the small town, said the mayor. After fleeing Austria at a young age, Schwam sought refuge in Chambon-sur-Lignon, a southeastern mountain city in France, in 1943. The survivor later married a French Catholic woman from the nearby region of Lyon. Schwam was not the only Jew to be hidden in Chambon-sur-Lignon. Approximately 2,500 found support in the town which was honored as a community of Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum.
Netanyahu urges Europe to respect kashrut: In a letter to European leaders this week, Prime Minister Netanyahu asked for Europe to respect the strictures of kashrut (Jewish dietary law) and not block or outlaw ritual slaughter. Addressed to the heads of Germany, France, Italy, Poland, Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Ireland, and Finland, Netanyahu wrote: “I… would be very grateful if you announce that the freedom of religion of minorities will continue to be secure, and that religious slaughter will continue to be permitted.” The appeal comes in the wake of the six-week-old decision by the European Union Court of Justice to allow the implementation of a ban on ritual slaughter in large parts of Belgium. Netanyahu said that the “decision threatens the religious freedom of Jews throughout Europe.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Then-Israeli Ambassador to the UN Abba Eban speaks at the General Assembly in New York in the early 1970s
Today we celebrate Israeli scientists who discovered cancer’s “Achilles heel”! Israeli scientists at Tel Aviv University have discovered a way to isolate and locate specific cancer cells, thereby potentially making treatment much more effective. The “breakthrough” study concerned aneuploidy, when cancerous cells have an abnormal number of chromosomes. (Any typical cell in the human body should have 23 pairs, but mutant cells do not.) Aneuploidy is found in 90% of solid tumors and 75% of cancerous blood cells. Therefore, targeting aneuploidic cells is a surefire way to attack cancerous cells at large. Dr. Uri Ben-David called aneuploidy—or the ability to target the “unique vulnerabilities of the aneuploid cells”—the “Achilles’ heel” of cancer. So far, the isolating treatment study has just been conducted in test tubes. The next step will be mice. As Ben-David said: “Killing cancer cells is very easy: You can pour bleach on them and they will die, but the hard part is to do it without killing normal cells.” Should these scientists be able to replicate the targeting of the aneuploid cells in animals, they might just have found the “Holy grail” of cancer treatments, one that neutralizes cancerous cells without affecting normal ones.
On this day in 1915, the famous Israeli statesman Abba Eban was born in Cape Town, South Africa. Eban, Israel’s first ambassador to the United Nations, became a monumental figure in Middle East politics. As foreign minister during both the Six Day and Yom Kippur wars, Eban became often quoted for saying “[the Arabs] never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.” Eban served in many capacities including Deputy Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, and Israeli Ambassador to the United Nations. He studied oriental languages (he was fluent in 10 languages) and classics at Cambridge University, England, where he was a lecturer in Arabic from 1938 to 1940. Of Eban, Henry Kissinger said: “I have never encountered anyone who matched his command of the English language.”