Inside Europe: Polish court orders Holocaust scholars to apologize; Guardian fires columnist for antisemitic joke; countries stand by Israel after ICC ruling; Swiss shuls desecrated; antisemitic incidents in Britain; and antisemitic flyers on German tram
Inside Israel: Israelis investigated over illegal missile sale; Netanyahu makes deal with racists; Spielberg wins Genesis Prize; flying pizza in Israel come June; and soldier discovers ancient coin
Coronavirus: Vaccine bumps slow Israeli drive; and Israeli miracle drug to help struggling nations
Court orders Holocaust scholars to apologize: On Tuesday, a Polish judge ordered two Holocaust scholars to apologize to the niece of a small-town mayor whom they allege in their academic study collaborated in the murder of 18 Jews. The niece had sued them for libel. Yad Vashem, the world’s largest Holocaust museum, said the case was a “serious attack on free and open research” and that it is “deeply disturbed by [the ruling’s] implications.” Scholars the world over are worried the case will stifle or have a chilling effect on Holocaust research in Poland. The two scholars plan on appealing. In 2018, Poland passed a controversial Holocaust law that called for three years of imprisonment for anyone who claims that Poland was involved in the crimes of the Nazis during World War II. The law’s criminal clause was soon canceled after facing international pressure; however, citizens are still subject to legal action based on other sections of the Polish law.
Guardian fires columnist for antisemitic joke: A columnist was fired from The Guardian for posting ‘a joke Tweet’ making light of the U.S.-Israel relationship. In December, Nathan Robinson wrote: “Did you know that the U.S. Congress is not actually permitted to authorize any new spending unless a portion of it is directed toward buying weapons for Israel? It’s the law.” The Guardian’s U.S. editor, John Mulholland, said the statement was an example of “fake news,” given that “no such law exists.” Mulholland further said: “Saying that the only Jewish state controls the most powerful country in the world is clearly antisemitic. The myth of ‘Jewish power’ informs murderous hatred. Delete this and apologize.” Robinson said the response from his Guardian editors was “clearly nonsense” given the prolific use of sarcasm on the internet.
Countries stand by Israel after ICC ruling: After the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled that it has jurisdiction to investigate any potential war crimes committed by either Israel or Hamas within Israel and the Palestinian Territories, many nations professed outrage or disagreement with the ruling. Germany’s foreign minister said the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Palestinian Territories, since the Territories do not constitute a sovereign state which has agreed to the ICC’s charter. Hungary said much in the same. Other nations expressed similar objections, including Austria, Australia, Brazil, the Czech Republic, Uganda, and, of course, the United States.
Swiss shuls desecrated: Two synagogues in Switzerland were violated with pig meat left at their doorsteps. One synagogue was located in Lausanne and the other in Geneva, about a 45-minute drive southwest. The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities said that there were different perpetrators at either synagogue, and police are investigating the complaints. The Jewish community makes up about 0.25% of the entire Confederation’s population.
Concerning numbers of antisemitic incidents in Britain: A report by the Community Security Trust (CST), a British-Jewish security agency, showed that antisemitic incidents in Britain saw only a slight decline in 2020, despite the lockdowns enforced for COVID. 2020’s tally for antisemitic incidents was 1668, only an 8% drop from 2019, and still one of the three highest recorded tallies. Violent altercations did see a 39% decline, however incidents around homes increased 33%. Similarly, Jewish university students in Britain are reporting a significant increase in antisemitism on campus. The CST reported 65 antisemitic incidents on campus in the 2019-2020 academic year, the highest ever recorded, despite it being cut short because of COVID. A representative for the Union of Jewish Students simply said, “Jewish students are being failed by many universities.”
Antisemitic flyers on German tram: Antisemitic flyers were found on a German train on Wednesday, blaming Jews for the COVID-19 pandemic. The flyer read: “Do we really have a Corona problem? Or do we have a Jewish problem?” and pictured a Star of David as well as the names of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and other prominent German politicians. The flyer claimed the politicians are Jewish, and that “The more Jews in politics and media, the worse things are!” (None of the people listed are Jewish.) The flyers were found by an activist group called Grandmothers Against the Right, a democratic, civilian initiative that demonstrates against antisemitism, racism, and far-right extremism in Germany. The group said it filed a complaint with the police.
20 Israelis suspected of illegally developing missiles for Asian country
Still from video released by Israel Police allegedly showing Israelis testing weapons for sale to an unnamed Asian nation
Israelis investigated over illegal missile sale: Over 20 Israelis are under investigation by the Shin Bet and the Israeli Police for alleged illegal manufacturing, testing, and selling of missiles to an unnamed “Asian country.” This country is reportedly not an enemy of Israel’s. Many of the Israeli collaborators have previous ties to the defense industry, while others seem to be known to the Shin Bet through prior investigations. The police released a video showing one of these loitering missiles, whose sale is not approved by Israel because it may end up in the hands of a nation intending to violate human rights. “This affair underscores the potential damage to the security of the state,” said the Shin Bet in a statement. Israel will have to update its counterparts in America, which have historically been frustrated with similar investigations in Israel.
Netanyahu makes deal with racists: As Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attempts to retain control of the government in the March election and to form a coalition despite an exodus of many of his own party’s members, he is growing increasingly desperate and reaching new lows. Netanyahu signed a vote-sharing agreement with the extremist party he egged into forming alliances, including a racist, anti-Arab faction. This means the parties will be able to pool together additional votes which would otherwise have gone to waste, thereby adding up to additional seats in the Knesset. However, at least one senior Likud member, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, said that joining a future coalition with the anti-Arab wing headed by Itamar Ben Gvir is “unacceptable” and “unrealistic.” Gideon Sa’ar, the breakaway Likud member who formed the A New Hope party, said: “[Ben Gvir] is a man who put up a picture in his living room of someone who murdered 29 people at prayer. Netanyahu has reached the point where that’s his way to muster a coalition — with extremists like Ben Gvir.” Sa’ar was referencing Ben Gvir’s glorification of an ultra-Orthodox Jewish extremist who murdered Muslim worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in the West Bank in 1994. Ben Gvir also appealed to the Central Elections Committee to disqualify all Arabs running for the Knesset, claiming that they all sympathize with various terrorist organizations. Ben Gvir himself was convicted of supporting a terrorist organization and incitement to racial violence in 2007.
Spielberg wins Genesis Prize: The filmmaker Steven Spielberg won Israel’s Genesis Prize, the world’s most prestigious Jewish award given by the Genesis Prize Foundation and the Jewish Agency, for his contribution to film and philanthropy, and his efforts to preserve the memory of the Holocaust. The Prize carries with it a $1 million award. Spielberg is, of course, one of the most successful directors and producers of film ever, creating “Jaws,” “E.T. the Extra Terrestrial,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Jurassic Park,” Schindler’s List,” and “Saving Private Ryan.” In addition to the Genesis Prize, the creator has also been awarded the U.S. Presidential Medal of Freedom and an honorary knighthood from Queen Elizabeth. Spielberg also founded the University of Southern California’s Shoah Foundation to study and remember the Holocaust which has conducted 55,000 interviews in 32 languages with Holocaust survivors from 56 countries. Dozens of Spielberg’s father’s relatives from Ukraine were murdered in the Holocaust.
Flying pizza in Israel come June: A joint venture between Pizza Hut and Israel will have pizzas delivered by drone starting in June in some spots in Israel. One Pizza Hut location in a small town near Netanya will begin to test the drone deliveries which will be used to evaluate the safety and effectiveness of the process. The drones will not deliver to residences, but rather 12 ‘drop spots’ where people will be able to pick up their orders. Pizza Hut Israel’s CEO said: “The country likes this project because it could be a very cost-effective and efficient way to change the way products are transported and decrease the amount of traffic on the road.” If all goes well, other companies and restaurants may be able to try it themselves by the end of next year.
Soldier discovers ancient coin: An Israel Defense Forces soldier discovered a very rare 1,800-year-old coin during a training exercise in northern Israel. The coin featured the face of Roman emperor Antonius Pius and, due to a year minted on the coin, was dated by the Israel Antiquities Authority to 158-159 CE. The head of the Authority said: “This coin joins only eleven such coins from known locations in the National Treasures Department collection. All the coins were found in northern Israel.” One inspector said: “The coin was probably lost by its owner on one of the roads that cross this area, until the soldier spotted it almost 2,000 years later.”
Israel set to limit access to cafes, culture and more for non-vaccinated
Vaccine bumps slow Israeli drive: Israel is facing the uphill battle of vaccinating its remaining residents now that it has gone through much of the low-hanging fruit who wanted it. Ultra-Orthodox hesitancy remains a large issue, which is why some vaccination sites are offering up a side of cholent (a traditional Jewish stew) along with the vaccination appointment. With a 30% drop in severe illness in Israel, more younger Israelis are now hospitalized for the coronavirus than those over 60, a sign of the targeted effort to vaccinate the elderly. Israel has also started vaccinating all those within its borders, not just citizens. Asylum seekers, migrant workers, nuns, and Palestinian workers, for example, are all receiving the vaccine, and Israel is set to open up the age requirement to teenagers 12 to 15 with health conditions. Additionally, Israel is looking at other ways to entice or pressure people to get the vaccine, such as allowing employers to mandate vaccinations among employees and excluding the non-vaccinated from entering spots like cafes, gyms, and culture hubs, which are set to reopen within weeks. Three malls opened early to vaccinated and immune folks, but the police shut the illegally operating facilities down.
Israeli miracle drug to help struggling nations: The inventor of the “miracle drug” which saved 30 out of 30 coronavirus patients suffering from moderate to severe coronavirus, 29 of them within five days, said the drug may be very helpful to countries that can’t afford the coronavirus vaccines. Professor Nadir Arber said: “We can produce this drug effectively, efficiently, and cheaply, so this could be a partial solution for countries that can’t currently afford a vaccination. This is our duty, to bring the message of hope to the entire world.” Greece is already set to test the new drug called EXO-CD24, which is taken through inhalation.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Iran admits seeking nukes— will be “front and center” of U.S. Mideast policy
Iranian official admits to maybe seeking nukes: Despite the Iranian leader’s fatwa (an official Islamic ruling) forbidding the manufacturing of nuclear weapons, the Iranian intelligence minister said the country may go ahead anyway. “The fatwa by the supreme leader has forbidden nuclear weapons, but if they push Iran in that direction, then it wouldn’t be Iran’s fault but those who pushed it,” said Intelligence Minister Mahmoud Alavi. It is a very rare occasion that Iranian officials will admit they might seek nuclear weapons. Israel, however, is said to be adamant that any return to the 2015 Iran nuclear deal by the U.S. and Iran must include a permanent ban on weapons-grade uranium. Israel believes Iran is only two years away from the capacity to build nuclear bombs. (The U.S. says it is something more like a matter of weeks.) United States Representative Ted Deutch (D-FL), who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on the Middle East, North Africa, and Global Counterterrorism, told The Jerusalem Post that regarding the Biden administration’s priorities: “Iran and its pursuit of nuclear weapons is front and center.”
ADL finds Iranian textbooks traffic antisemitism: A report by the Anti-Defamation League found that Iranian textbooks teach hate and blatant antisemitism. For example, the books say that “Jews have conspired against Islam from its earliest days.” The textbooks also include coronavirus denial, saying that the West is exaggerating the scale of the pandemic in order to pacify Iran. ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said: “It is no secret that the Iranian regime continues to promote extremism and terrorism and feeds its people on a steady diet of anti-Semitic and anti-American propaganda. Iran’s textbooks show how deeply ingrained this official campaign of incitement is within society.”
Gaza registers voters; terrorist mulls Palestinian presidency bid: A Palestinian official confirmed Thursday that security prisoner Marwan Barghouti is considering running for president in the upcoming Palestinian elections. Barghouti, currently serving five life sentences in Israeli prison for his leading role in the Second Intifada, has long been seen as a rival for incumbent president Mahmoud Abbas. A poll of Palestinian voters showed that, should Barghouti face Abbas head-to-head, he is likely to win the Fatah nomination. Gazans began registering Palestinian citizens to vote on Wednesday, though many are skeptical about whether the elections will even take place. President Abbas also has to contend with the Hamas party, a terror organization which, according to a high-ranking IDF official this week, has replenished its arms stock since the 2014 war with Israel, currently outfitted with 30,000 rockets and hundreds of other missiles.
INSIDE THE U.S.
University of California, Irvine student government passes BDS legislation
UC Irvine passes BDS: University of California at Irvine’s student government overwhelmingly passed a measure aimed at boycotting the State of Israel, what it called an “apartheid” state. The legislation passed 19 to 3. Under the measure, the University would be required to divest from any companies that do business in Israel, like Lockheed Martin, Boeing, 4M, and Ford, for example. The proposal, however, also claimed that it was in “no way related to Judaism.” For its part, the university administration rejected the student government’s action, saying “[UC Irvine] is committed to providing a welcoming environment for its Jewish students” and that the vote has “no impact on [UC Irvine’s] operations.” Three BDS resolutions were defeated at Florida State University (FSU) earlier this week following efforts by pro-Israel organizations. The resolutions were tabled by the Student Senate President who reportedly made antisemitic statements in the past which led to his removal as senator, though he was later reinstated.
Speculation of rift grows as Netanyahu awaits Biden’s call: Three weeks into his term, President Biden has yet to have a phone call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Some Middle East experts and diplomats see it as a snub to Netanyahu, who had conversations with Trump and Obama early on. Other analysts have said there is little to read into the situation, saying that President Biden’s other priorities, domestic and foreign, take precedence at the moment. Press Secretary Jen Psaki said Biden and Netanyahu will speak “soon,” while Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has maintained contact with his Israeli counterpart, Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi.
TV star fired after Holocaust-U.S. comparison: A star of the television show The Mandalorian was fired after she wrote statements comparing the treatment of conservatives in the U.S. to Jews during the Holocaust, mocking mask wearing, and ridiculing transgender people. Gina Carano, who stars as Cara Dune in The Mandalorian, wrote: “most people today don’t realize that to get to the point where Nazi soldiers could easily round up thousands of Jews, the government first made their own neighbors hate them simply for being Jews. How is that any different from hating someone for their political views?” Lucasfilm, which produces the show, said Carano’s statements were “abhorrent and unacceptable,” and let her go.
Jewish lawyers lead impeachment trial: The impeachment trial of former President Trump in the U.S. Senate involved a Jewish lead prosecutor and Jewish lead defense attorney. Congressman Jamie Raskin is leading the House Managers in their quest to prove that President Trump incited the January 6 insurrection. Congressman Raskin represents Maryland’s 8th district and is a former legal scholar. Trump’s lead lawyer is David Schoen, an Alabama-based civil rights attorney who has represented figures like the Ku Klux Klan and Roger Stone. Schoen is an Orthodox Jew who observes Shabbat and will not be working on the trial this Saturday. Social media noticed that Schoen covered his head when drinking water during the trial as a sign of respect while saying a blessing. The following day, Schoen wore a kippa to the trial. Richard Cohen, the former President of the Southern Poverty Law Center, said that while he thinks Trump deserves to be convinced, he considers Schoen “a good lawyer and a good person” who is attracted to complex and challenging cases and is not afraid to take on unpopular clients.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Carl Lutz and his first wife, Gertrud Fankhauser, 1943
Today we celebrate a potentially life-saving Israeli drug that was found to be very successful in late-stage trials. Gamida Cell Ltd., a Jerusalem-based drug manufacturer, published the results of its study showing that its new drug for those with blood cancers works to produce successful bone marrow transplants. The Phase 3 trial proved that patients who received bone marrow transplants while on the drug resulted in reduction in the time until patients begin making healthy, new cells. The drug also works to make transplants for non-perfect matches more successful which is very important given that 40% of eligible patients in the U.S. do not have a perfect match. (Not receiving a transplant from a perfect match can cause the recipient’s body to reject the transplant.) Gamida said it expects to submit an application for the drug’s approval by the Food and Drug Administration later this year.
On this day in 1975, Carl Lutz, a famed Swiss diplomat, died. During his tenure as Swiss Vice-Consul in Budapest at the time of the Second World War, Lutz was personally responsible for saving the lives of approximately 62,000 Hungarian Jews, including 10,000 children. It was the single largest rescue operation of Jews during the Holocaust. One day, Lutz even dove into the Danube River in a full suit and tie to save a Jewish woman who had been shot by a death squad. After the war, Lutz was initially criticized by the Swiss government for jeopardizing its ‘neutral’ status. However, Lutz later became the first Swiss to be honored as a Righteous Among the Nations by Yad Vashem in 1965.