Blinken’s call with Israeli Foreign Minister: U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Israeli Foreign Affairs Minister Gabi Ashkenazi yesterday that America is opposed to the biased treatment Israel receives in international forums. This is consistent with longstanding U.S. policy. The call came a day before Blinken is set to address the UN Human Rights Council, which has passed more resolutions condemning Israel than any other state by far. During the call, Blinken “emphasized the Biden administration’s belief that the two-state solution is the best way to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state, living in peace alongside a viable and democratic Palestinian state,” the State Department said.
Conservative conference cancels antisemitic speaker: After being confronted by several publications and social media users, the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) canceled the scheduled appearance of a speaker who has engaged in virulent antisemitism. Among past antisemitic statements, American musician Young Pharaoh told his followers that: “Judaism is a complete lie,” Jewish people are “thieving fake Jews,” and “all the censorship & pedophilia on social media is being done by Israeli Jews.” Leading Republican officials are set to speak at the conference this week, including former President Donald Trump, Governor Ron DeSantis (FL), and Governor Kristi Noem (SD). On its website, CPAC describes itself as “the largest and most influential gathering of conservatives in the world.” In a brief statement Monday afternoon, CPAC wrote, “We have just learned that someone we invited to CPAC has expressed reprehensible views that have no home with our conference or our organization. The individual will not be participating at our conference.” Ironically, the theme of the event is “cancel culture.”
Canada charges political leader with antisemitism: A Canadian politician was arrested this week and charged with willfully promoting antisemitism, reportedly a first in Canada. The arrest of Travis Patron, the founder of Canada’s far right Canadian Nationalist Party (CNP), is based on a video he circulated in 2019 called “Beware the Parasitic Tribe.” The video claimed that Jews “infiltrate the media, they hijack the central bank, and they infect the body politic like a parasite,” and “what we need to do … is remove these people, once-and-for-all, from our country.” Patron has also denied the Holocaust multiple times on social media. Charges against Patron were originally filed in 2020, and he will appear in court in March, where the maximum sentence he could face is two years in prison.
Israeli Ambassador visits South Carolina: In his first trip in his new role, Israeli Ambassador to the U.S. Gilad Erdan visited Charleston, South Carolina “to engage, listen and learn about the African-American community.” He said he chose Charleston because of Black History Month. In a short video he said: “I was eager to learn about the history of the African American communities and their important contribution to the American story.” Erdan posted photos of his trip and shared how moved he was “hearing the stories of slavery at the McLeod Plantation in Charleston.” He went on, “No one should suffer such inhumanity, anywhere, anytime.”
SNL comedian uses antisemitic joke: On Saturday Night Live, comedian Michael Che perpetuated an antisemitic libel, saying, “Israel is reporting that they’ve vaccinated half of their population. I’m going to guess it’s the Jewish half.” All over 16 are eligible to receive the vaccine, including non-Jewish citizens and residents. Social media erupted in debate, with some Jewish users defending Che, saying he has a right to point out the injustice in the occupation, while others said he does not have the right to spread mistruths and lies. The American Jewish Committee sent out alerts urging its members to sign a petition calling on Che and SNL to apologize for the “antisemitic canard.” Even the liberal Union for Reform Judaism condemned the disinformation. Additionally, the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations issued a statement saying that “NBC should know better, and must not only stop spreading harmful misinformation, but take action to undo this damage caused by propagating Jew-hatred under the guise of comedy.”
Garland credits family’s escape: Responding to a question from Senator Cory Booker, Judge Merrick Garland credited his family’s escape from antisemitic persecution as his motivation for giving back to the country. Garland said as much when speaking before the Senate during his confirmation hearings to be the next Attorney General. Choking up, Garland said: “I come from a family where my grandparents fled antisemitism and persecution. The country took us in and protected us. I feel an obligation to the country to pay back.” Later, Senator Jon Ossoff questioned Garland and spoke of his own family’s flight from Eastern European. Of Ossoff’s great-grandparents and Garland’s grandparents, Garland joked, “They probably knew each other.”
Israel faces one of its ‘most severe ecological disasters’
Israel faces disastrous oil spill: Israel is facing its worst environmental disaster in a decade or more as an immense oil/tar spill off Israel’s Mediterranean coast from Haifa to Gaza wreaks havoc. It is unclear what caused the spill, but thousands of Israeli soldiers and volunteers have begun cleaning along the shore despite toxic fumes. Covered in oil, dead marine life are washing up on shore, including a 56-foot whale. Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel said: “This is a hazard of a magnitude we have not seen in years. We are doing everything in order to find those responsible for the destruction, and are preparing for the difficult and long task of rehabilitating the beaches and preventing further injury to animals. This is a crime against the environment and ecosystem.” In a surprising and very unusual move, an Israeli court issued a seven-day gag order on subjects related to the origin of the spill and its investigation. The court’s decision seems to be related to the international source of the spill. With Egypt’s Energy Minister in Israel for a rare, ongoing visit amid sensitive energy talks, some are speculating his trip is the source of the gag order.
Equatorial Guinea will move embassy: The small West African nation of Equatorial Guinea announced it will move its embassy in Israel to the capital, Jerusalem. Equatorial Guinea’s president, Teodoro Mbasogo, conveyed the message to Prime Minister Netanyahu via telephone. Israel said: “Netanyahu welcomed the trend of countries moving their embassies to Jerusalem … Israel is continuing to deepen cooperation with African countries.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement that, “Israel is returning to Africa and Africa is returning to Israel in a big way.” Equatorial Guinea becomes the second African nation after Malawi to move its Israeli embassy to the capital. Only in 2019 did Equatorial Guinea open an embassy in Israel, in Tel Aviv. However, neither Malawi nor Equatorial Guinea has provided a timetable or expected date of the move.
Israel expresses sorrow for disappeared Yemenite Children: For the first time, the Israeli government expressed regret over the disappearance of over 1,000 children in the 1950s—one of the most controversial and sensitive issues in Israeli society. The state set aside approximately $50 million to compensate the families of the children that disappeared. There are two sets of families receiving compensation: those whose children died and who were informed at the time, and those who were never told about their children’s whereabouts. The latter category will receive higher compensation. The government said: “No financial plan is capable of providing relief from the suffering caused to the families. Nevertheless, the State of Israel hopes that it will assist in the rehabilitation and healing process of the social wound.” Almost all of the children were those of Jewish Yemenite refugees who fled to Israel following its establishment. Although rumors and investigations have been conducted over the last 70 years, the government came to the conclusion that nearly all of the children died of illness in immigration camps.
Gantz urged to drop out of election: With the latest polling showing Blue and White, Benny Gantz’s party, not even crossing the threshold to make it into the Knesset, 130 former top leaders within Israel’s defense apparatus are calling on Gantz to withdraw from the race. The leaders say Gantz is syphoning votes away from the anti-Netanyahu bloc, essentially wasting critical votes. One of the officials is former Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak. Gantz called the letter a “shot in the back.” Polls show neither the anti- nor pro-Netanyahu blocs being able to form a government (which needs 60 votes) without the crucial piece: Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party. However, Netanyahu’s Likud is not sparing any opportunity to play tricks for more votes. One Likud member has apparently been in touch with the Palestinian Authority to ask for its support in convincing Arab-Israelis to vote for Likud. Although Likud denied the report, the Palestinian Authority might be worried that an even more right-wing candidate than Netanyahu (mildly put, not its closest ally) could become prime minister.
Israel has lowest COVID-19 positive rate in almost 2 months
Source: @YuliEdelstein / Twitter, January 12, 2021
Israel reopens after 2 months: The coronavirus rates in Israel are steadily declining, with the lowest positivity rates in two months, since the extended lockdown began. An Israeli study showed that even the first dose of the Pfizer vaccine produces 75% protection, prompting officials to consider delaying the second dose in order to vaccinate more people more quickly. This is particularly urgent because the shipments of Pfizer doses may be coming to an end in as soon as two weeks. The end of the lockdown has brought about the reopening of many malls, gyms, and stores, as well as schools. Only those vaccinated against the coronavirus or who have recovered from it may enter the public spaces, while most schools are only open to certain grades. To protest the government restrictions on schools, some have begun operating inside malls, with 15 cities illegally reopening grades 7 through 10. The tentative stability of the pandemic in Israel will be tested later this week as officials brace for Purim. The Minister of Health is pushing for a curfew during Purim to prevent celebrations and parties that could become spreader events.
Israel will reportedly vaccinate Palestinian workers: After senior Israeli Health Ministry officials met with their Palestinian counterparts in Ramallah on Friday, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry announced that Israel will vaccinate 100,000 Palestinians who work in Israel. The Israeli ministry said in a statement: “Understanding that Israel and the Palestinians live in one area and that an outbreak of COVID-19 among the Palestinian Authority may also affect the infection rate among Israeli residents, senior ministry officials visited with the PA Health Ministry and received a briefing on the coronavirus situation in the PA, morbidity data and the epidemiological investigations that are taking place.” The Israeli Health Ministry has not commented on the PA’s announcement of the agreement.
Muslim nurse recites Shema for patient: An Arab-Muslim nurse recited Shema on behalf of a dying Orthodox patient in Israel. At the Ha’emek Medical Center in northern Israel, a coronavirus patient, Shlomo Galster, had been treated by the hospital’s head nurse, Ibrahim Maher, for over a month. As the staff realized Galster was nearing death, Maher offered to recite the Shema prayer in case Galster’s family was unable to reach him in time. Maher said: “I don’t know the entire prayer exactly, but I knew how important it was that he hear the words ‘Shema Yisrael.’” Although Galster’s family was able to reach him before he died, they were so happy to know that he had heard the Shema prayer one last time. His daughter said: “My father never stopped talking about the devoted care he received and how thankful he was to Maher and the entire team.”
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Netanyahu pans Iran deal after U.S. says ready to negotiate
U.S. keys in Israel on Iran: According to a high-level source, the U.S. did inform Israel of its intentions ahead of its announcement of its openness to reentering the 2015 Iran nuclear deal. In his first major global speech, President Biden said the world must confront Iran’s destabilizing activity. However, Biden did say the U.S. is “prepared to reengage in negotiations with the [parties to the Iran nuclear deal] on Iran’s nuclear program.” In a statement, Prime Minister Netanyahu said the nuclear deal will “pave Iran’s path to a nuclear arsenal” and that Israel’s “position has not changed.” On Monday, Iranian Supreme Leader Ayotallah Ali Khamenei said on Twitter that Iran is not after nuclear weapons but if it was, even those more powerful than the “international Zionist clown” would not be able to stop them.
PA orders release of political detainees: In an effort to “promote public freedoms” before the upcoming Palestinian elections, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas ordered the release of all Palestinian prisoners held by the PA security forces on account of their political affiliation and has pressed Hamas to do the same. PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh said more than 80 political detainees were being held in Hamas prisons in the Gaza Strip. Hamas responded that it was not holding any political detainees in its prisons. Hamas has begun its internal process of electing leadership, which starts with secretly polling security prisoners detained in Israeli prisons. Rumors are circulating that Khaled Mashaal, Hamas’s recently ousted leader, is looking to head the organization again. In a report released Monday, the PA reportedly spent more than $150 million dollars in salaries to incarcerated or released terrorists in 2020.
Pope Francis visits Holocaust survivor in Rome
Source: Vatican Media
Pope visits Holocaust survivor: On Saturday, the Pope left the Vatican to visit a special resident of Rome: Edith Bruck. Bruck was born in Hungary in 1932 and survived the Holocaust, passing through multiple concentration camps including Auschwitz, Dachau, and Bergen-Belsen. Speaking to a Vatican newspaper, Bruck said she survived the Holocaust as a worker, forced to dig trenches and lay railway sleepers. After reading her story, which included the death of both her parents at the hands of the Nazis, Pope Francis was so moved he decided to pay Bruck, now an Italian writer, a visit. The Pope said: “I have come here to thank you for your testimony and to pay homage to the people martyred by the insanity of Nazi populism.” The Pope spent about an hour with Bruck. Ronald Lauder, head of the World Jewish Congress, said: “I am deeply appreciative of Pope Francis’ tremendous compassion in visiting Edith Bruck. The pope has demonstrated a sincere commitment to both personal kindness for the experiences of others and to the urgency of continuing to draw attention to the inhuman atrocities of genocides including the Holocaust.”
95-year-old Nazi deported to Germany: On Saturday, a 95-year-old former Nazi concentration camp guard who has been living in Tennessee was deported back to his home country of Germany. He assisted in “Nazi-sponsored persecution” when he served as an armed guard at the Neuengamme Concentration Camp system in northern Germany. During his trial, the Nazi acknowledged that he still receives a pension from Germany for his wartime service to the Third Reich. Acting Attorney General Monty Wilkinson said the man was deported because the U.S. is not “a safe haven for those who have participated in Nazi crimes.” The man was not arrested after arriving in Germany, but may face questioning by German authorities in the coming weeks.
German attacker evades jail: The man who attacked a Jewish synagogue-goer in Hamburg in October will not go to prison, ruled a judge last week. The man beat the Jewish man with a shovel so severely that he had life-threatening injuries. The court has ruled that the attacker was psychologically unstable during the attack and thus cannot be held responsible for his actions. He will stand trial for attempted murder with a possible additional hate charge but will be treated at a psychiatric care facility regardless of the trial’s outcome. The decision was protested by members of the Jewish community. Germany’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited a synagogue in Cologne on Sunday to warn the world to take an “honest look” at Jewish history to reckon with rising antisemitism and to praise the contributions of Jews to German culture and history.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Dr. Jonas Salk, the scientist who created the polio vaccine, administers an injection to an unidentified child at Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, PA, in 1954
Today we celebrate an Israeli nanosatellite launch! The first nanosatellite to be completely designed, developed, assembled, and tested by an Israeli university launched into space Saturday. The nanosatellite, named TAU-SAT1, took off from the NASA launch facility in Virginia. TAU-SAT1 is only 10 by 10 by 30 cm, and weighs less than 5.5 lbs. It entered space on a NASA resupply spacecraft destined for the International Space Station. TAU-SAT1 is meant to conduct several experiments while in orbit (every 90 minutes it will complete an orbit around Earth), including the measurement of cosmic radiation around the earth. Dr. Meir Ariel, director of TAU’s Center for Nanosatellites explained, “The scientific information collected by our satellite will enable the design of protective means for astronauts and space systems.”
On this day in 1954, a group of children from Arsenal Elementary School in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, received the first injections of the new polio vaccine developed by Jewish American virologist and medical researcher, Dr. Jonas Salk. Dr. Salk performed every shot personally in the school’s gymnasium. Polio attacked the nerve cells and sometimes the central nervous system, which caused muscle deterioration, paralysis and even death. The most famous victim of a 1921 outbreak of polio in America was future President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, then a young politician. The disease spread quickly, leaving his legs permanently paralyzed. In 1938, five years after entering the White House, Roosevelt helped to create the National Foundation for Infantile Paralysis, later renamed the March of Dimes Foundation, which became the primary funding source for Salk’s vaccine trials. Salk never patented or profited from the vaccine. Instead, he believed that it belonged to the people, asking, “Could you patent the sun?” The second polio vaccine was also created by a Jewish doctor, Dr. Albert Sabin. Thanks to a successful vaccination program, the United States has been polio-free since 1979.