Inside the U.S.: Greene removed from committees; Republicans target Omar in retaliation; Palestinian and U.S. officials connect; Senate confirms Jewish Homeland Security head; and SCOTUS dismisses cases by Holocaust victims
Antisemitism: Dem Rep. blames occupation for antisemitism; Facebook considers limiting “Zionist”; Nebraska school quotes Hitler; Dutch receiving stipends for helping Nazis; Germany recognizes IHRA definition; and first conviction under Romanian Holocaust denial law
Israeli Elections: Finalized slates for upcoming elections; Tel Aviv Mayor drops out, Joint List splinters; and Likud appoints first-ever Arab Muslim candidate
Inside Israel: Israel demands Burmese leader’s release; Holocaust survivor asks Israel not to deport family of rescuer; Serbia and Turkey upset with Kosovo peace; investments in Arab high-tech; and Tesla beginning rollout in Israel
Coronavirus: Israel’s vaccine rollout slows; U.S. Democrats urge further Israeli-Palestinian vaccine cooperation; and Arab-Israeli funeral breaks restrictions
Celebrate & Remember: Shira Haas’ Golden Globe nomination; and Woodrow Wilson’s veto of the Immigration Act of 1917
INSIDE THE U.S.
House votes to remove GOP Rep. Greene from committees
Motion to remove Marjorie Taylor Greene: After House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) released a statement Wednesday condemning but refusing to punish Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene for her past comments endorsing violence such as assassinating Democratic politicians and conspiracy theories, including one that Jewish lasers started California wildfires, the Democrats scheduled a vote to strip Greene of her committee assignments (House Committee on Education & Labor and House Committee on Budget). The vote—which only required a simple majority—passed by 230 to 199, with 199 Republicans voting against the measure. Greene will now be the only current member of Congress not to serve on any committees. Greene refused to apologize for her past comments, only stating that “school shootings are absolutely real,” “I also want to tell you 9/11 absolutely happened,” and “these are words of the past… none of us are perfect.” Another tweet she liked was recently unearthed, which said “Mossad was on the ground on in Dallas on 11/22/1963,” which is the location and date of John F. Kennedy’s assassination.
Republicans try to strip Omar of committees in retaliation: In retaliation for Democrats removing Greene from her committee assignments, Congressional Republicans are trying to do the same to Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MI) for past antisemitic comments, such as her tweet in February 2019 that support for Israel among U.S. lawmakers was “all about the Benjamins.” Following strong condemnations from both sides of the political aisle, Omar apologized for the remarks and acknowledged that she was learning about “the painful history of antisemitic tropes.” The proposal to strip Omar from her committee assignments is all but certain to go nowhere, as Democrats hold a majority in the House. Many Jewish Democrats have rejected the attempts to tie Greene to Omar, especially since Omar apologized and did not threaten violence.
U.S. Senate approves amendment to keep embassy in Jerusalem: Late on Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted 97-3 in favor of an amendment to the COVID-19 budget resolution that affirmed the country’s intention to keep its embassy in Jerusalem. The three opposing votes were Democratic Senators Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tom Carper of Delaware. Republican Senator Jim Inhofe, who put forward the amendment with Republican Senator Bill Hagerty, said on the Senate floor that the “amendment should not be controversial to anyone. It has been our position in the US for 25 years. Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and we should have our embassy in Jerusalem.” The vote is largely viewed as symbolic since the Biden administration has already stated that it has no intention of relocating the embassy.
Palestinian and U.S. officials speak for first time in 4 years: Palestinian and American officials spoke this week for the first time in many years, since the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. A Palestinian representative, who spoke with the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Israeli-Palestinian Affairs, said the conversation was “positive” and that the two “agreed to continue communication.” Under President Biden, the U.S. plans to reopen its diplomatic mission to the Palestinian Authority and to restart aid to the Palestinians. State Department Spokesman Ned Price said: “We’re not [restoring aid] as a favor, but because it’s in the interest of the United States to do so globally.”
Senate confirms Jewish Homeland Security head: The U.S. Senate confirmed Alejandro Mayorkas, the first immigrant and second Jew to serve as the Secretary of Homeland Security. Mayorkas’ confirmation was controversial, with a vote of 56-43. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) dismissed Mayorkas as a “partisan lawyer.” Mayorkas was born in Cuba as the son of two Jews, his mother having left Romania to escape the Holocaust. Vice President Harris officially swore Mayorkas in on Tuesday.
SCOTUS dismisses cases by Holocaust victims: The Supreme Court unanimously threw out two cases by Holocaust survivors, one case seeking restitution from the German government and the other from the Hungarian government. The survivors allege that their property—in the case of the German survivors, the famous Guelph Treasure—was illegally confiscated or sold under duress during the Nazi era. The U.S. government typically does not permit citizens to sue foreign governments via American courts. Two lower courts had ruled with the survivors before SCOTUS dismissed the cases.
Democrat says antisemitism tied to Palestinian rights
Dem Rep. blames occupation for antisemitism: At an online panel on Monday, Representative Andy Levin of Michigan seemed to blame Jews for causing antisemitism by saying, “unless Palestinian human rights are respected, we cannot fight antisemitism.” The sentiment is not uncommon in some fringe left-wing circles that believe not only are all Jews responsible for the actions of the Israeli government, but that Jews have therefore brought antisemitism upon themselves. Levin was speaking to the radical anti-occupation group IfNotNow, which is far left of the American Jewish perspective on Israel. Levin is the son of longtime Congressman Sander Levin and the nephew of longtime Senator Carl Levin. In the same conversation, Levin added a new member to his storied family, Rashida Tlaib, his fellow congressperson from Michigan, whom he called his “sister.”
Facebook may limit antisemitic use of “Zionist”: Facebook is facing backlash from anti-Israel groups after saying it might censor the term “Zionist” when used in a derogatory way as a stand-in for Jews. One Facebook employee wrote: “We are looking at the question of how we should interpret attacks on ‘Zionists’ to determine whether the term is used as a proxy for attacking Jewish or Israeli people.” Anti-Israel groups like Jewish Voice for Peace immediately began circulating a petition demanding Facebook not review use of the word “Zionist.” A Facebook spokesperson said the company would not allow the term Zionist “when it’s used as a proxy for Jews or Israelis in a dehumanizing or violent way.”
Nebraska school quotes Hitler: A middle school in Omaha, Nebraska is apologizing for publicizing a statement from Adolf Hitler as the “quote of the day.” The school sent a message to all student families saying it was “extremely sorry” for the “mistake.” The school also said it regretted “the insensitivity this showed to our Jewish population and to other students.” A spokeswoman said the school has set up talks with the Anti-Defamation League to promote diversity and inclusion in the school.
Germany reveals Dutch citizens receiving stipends for helping Nazis: Germany has revealed to the Netherlands Dutch nationals who receive army stipends from Germany for having participated in the military under the Nazis, including some by staffing Auschwitz. The list is of 34 currently living Dutch citizens. Most of the people receiving the stipends are veterans of the SS or their relatives. Citing privacy laws, Germany had for years refused requests from the Netherlands to reveal the names of the individuals receiving the stipends. Only this past week did Germany finally turn over the names. The Netherlands intends to somehow deduct the pension amount from its recipients or increase tax by the same amount to nullify the stipends.
Germany recognizes IHRA definition of antisemitism: One day after the Biden administration reaffirmed the U.S. government’s commitment to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, the German government announced it would do the same. Citing that “the Holocaust was downplayed in [sic] unbearable way[s],” Germany said it would legally recognize the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance as an international institution on par with all others. And, just yesterday, the City of Paris said it would do the same. The IHRA definition of antisemitism has been criticized by anti-Israel activists for including anti-Zionism as a form of modern-day antisemitism with examples like “using the symbols and images associated with classic antisemitism (e.g., claims of Jews killing Jesus or blood libel) to characterize Israel or Israelis.”
First conviction under Romanian Holocaust denial law: A court in Bucharest confirmed yesterday that a former Romanian intelligence officer was sentenced to 13 months in prison for Holocaust denial. This marks the first conviction under a 2002 law which criminalizes Holocaust denial, with the punishment ranging between six months to three years in prison. Vasile Zarnescu, 74, who worked for eleven years for Romania’s Intelligence Service (SRI), was convicted for writing several online articles in which he described the Holocaust as a “fraud.” Alexandru Muraru, the government’s special representative for fighting antisemitism and xenophobia said, “It’s the first conviction for denying the Holocaust and it’s a strong message from the justice system, one that shows important progress.”
The slates for Israel’s upcoming elections are finalized—here’s where things stand
Party leaders ahead of the 2021 elections (from left): Yair Lapid, Naftali Bennett, Benjamin Netanyahu, Gideon Sa’ar, Benny Gantz
Netanyahu rivals in good place to form majority coalition: Thirty-nine parties registered their candidate lists for the March 23 elections by last night’s deadline, though no more than 13 are seen as having realistic chances of winning seats in the 24th Knesset. Former Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni will not run in the election with her former fellow minister Yair Lapid. Lapid’s Yesh Atid party continues to rank second in Israeli polls, putting him in a very strong position to form a government coalition following the March election. With Labor returning from the brink of exclusion from Knesset for the first time in history, under its new leader Merav Michaeli the party decided not to merge with any other left-wing parties in advance of the election. Labor believes it is now in a solid state to be voted in with more seats and that it does not need a merger to survive. Included within the top four of her slate, almost certain to make it into the Knesset, is the Reform Movement’s leader in Israel, Gilad Kariv. This would give progressive Judaism a remarkable seat at the table, probably for the first time. Labor’s primary was conducted via cellphone for the first time among its 18,000 plus members due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Tel Aviv Mayor drops out; Joint List splinters: Labor’s revival, though, seems to have come at the expense of Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s new party, The Israelis. The Israelis, which started out polling above other well-established left-wing parties like Meretz and Labor, fell below the threshold to make it into the Knesset, according to recent polls. With the party faltering, the long-time mayor of Tel Aviv ultimately decided to drop his run for the Knesset. The anti-Netanyahu bloc seems so united that one top Meretz member even said the party would be willing to back Gideon Sa’ar, a very right-wing politician who broke away from Likud, for Prime Minister if it meant ousting Netanyahu, whom he called “a fundamentally corrupt person.” One party of the four members of the Arab Joint List broke away after its members drew closer to Netanyahu and alienated and angered the other three parties. The faction, Ra’am, an Islamist party, will run on its own and is unlikely to pass the electoral threshold alone. Lastly, at Netanyahu’s urging, the (very) far-right parties began merger talks. They included the Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party, which is anti-Arab ideologically. This will consolidate the far-right vote, so as not to waste it on parties that will not make it into the Knesset.
Likud appoints first-ever Arab Muslim candidate: For the first time, Netanyahu’s Likud party, Israel’s largest political party, will include an Arab Muslim candidate on its slate for parliament. (How it makes sense that Netanyahu is forming a coalition with anti-Arab parties while having Arab members of his own party is….Israeli politics!) The candidate is Naeel Zoabi, a proud Israeli high school principal. Likud, however, has placed Zoabi 39th on the slate, even though it’s very unlikely to get elected to 39 seats in the parliament. Unless Zoabi swaps out with members who leave to become ministers (as according to the new so-called ‘Norwegian Law’), he may not make it into the Knesset at all. Since the Abraham Accords last fall, Netanyahu has been courting support from Arab society, which has traditionally not been fond of Netanyahu (who has made anti-Arab statements in the past).
Israel’s calls to release Myanmar leader
Demonstrators hold up images of Aung San Suu Kyi outside the Embassy of Myanmar in Bangkok on Feb. 1
Israel demands Burmese leader’s release: After the Burmese military conducted a coup d’etat, arresting the civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, governments and allies across the world called for the military to step down and immediately release the recognized leader. Israel’s foreign ministry, which has close ties with the Burmese military, was no exception. The ministry shared its “concern” over the situation and said “call[ed] for the release of the head of state, Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as of the leaders and public figures who have been arrested.” Israel also said it “continues to support the people of Myanmar [also called Burma] and the process of democratization, and calls for the preservation of peace, quiet and rule of law in the country and for the prevention of violence.” The Israeli government said it is in contact with its embassy personnel in Burma (the internet lines have been cut) and Israeli citizens currently within the country.
Holocaust survivor asks Israel not to deport family of rescuer: An Israeli Holocaust survivor, Simi Liebel, is asking Israel not to deport the great-granddaughter of the woman who saved and hid her in the Netherlands during the genocide. The young woman, Marloes Sonnenveld, is a university student in Jerusalem who is having trouble extending her visa. It was her great-grandmother, Truus Meijerink, who hid Liebel in her home for three years during the Holocaust. Israeli law allows Righteous Among the Nations and their children and grandchildren to become citizens of Israel, but that does not extend to their great-grandchildren. Sonnenveld’s mother, brother, and grandparents all live in Israel and she calls Israel her home. Liebel said she “will do anything” to keep Sonnenveld in Israel.
Israel to conduct drone delivery tests: Through the Israel Urban Air Mobility Initiative, Israel will conduct a large-scale drone delivery test to ascertain whether the program is safe and effective to be rolled out in earnest. The plan will include hundreds, maybe even thousands, of flights each day run by different private companies all coordinating with one another to make sure the airspace is free, avoiding collisions. The test will begin in agricultural areas on the coast between Tel Aviv and Haifa, and later expand to low-rise urban locations.
Israel and Kosovo rattle neighbors: Two major players in southeast Europe are not too pleased with Israel and Kosovo’s mutual recognition earlier this week. Serbia, an ally of Israel, said it was “not happy” with the recognition. Serbia is strongly opposed to an independent Kosovo, which broke away from Serbia in the mid-2000s. The announcement of the intent to recognize, which took place last year under the guise of the White House, included that Serbia would be moving its embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Given Serbia’s upset with Israel’s recognition of Kosovo, it is unclear as to whether it will affect the embassy move. The region’s most powerful force, Turkey, was also displeased, but unlike Serbia not as much with the recognition of Kosovo per se. It was Kosovo’s decision to eventually open its embassy in Jerusalem that irked Turkey, which was among the first nations in the world to recognize Kosovo. A Turkish foreign ministry spokesperson said: “It is clear that any step towards this direction [moving the Kosovar embassy to Jerusalem] will not serve the Palestinian cause and undermine the vision of a two-state solution.”
Israel invests in Arabs in high-tech: Israel’s Ministry of Economy is investing approximately $4 million to incentivize employers in the high-tech sector to hire Arab-Israelis who are students or recent graduates. Israel will pay up to 40% of the salary costs per Arab-Israeli employee and the gross salary must be a minimum of 6,890 shekels per month. 700 or so Arab-Israelis engineers enter the high-tech sector in Israel every year.
Tesla to begin rollout in Israel: Tesla, the electric car manufacturer, will begin selling in Israel with lower prices than what was expected. It was last year that the CEO, the world’s second richest person Elon Musk, said that Tesla would start selling in Israel in the early part of this year. Tesla will launch its sales agency in Ramat Aviv Mall in Tel Aviv. The prices will begin at $51,500 for the basic Tesla Model 3.
Israel hits 5,000 deaths from COVID-19, as vaccine rollout slows
Source: @YuliEdelstein / Twitter, January 18, 2021
Israel’s vaccine rollout slows: Israel registered its 5,000th death from the coronavirus on Thursday night. With the country’s vaccine drive slowing—the number of vaccinations dropped by half in the course of a week—the government has expanded eligibility to all people over the age of 16. Previously, young adults in their 20s and early 30s were ineligible to receive the vaccine if not for a particular reason, like being an educator or having comorbidities. The slow-down is especially worrisome given that the spread of coronavirus is increasing in Israel, despite the strict lockdown. So far, some 3.3 million Israelis have received the first dose, including 1.9 million who have received the second one.
U.S. Democrats urge further Israeli-Palestinian vaccine cooperation: As Israel has delivered thousands of vaccines to the Palestinian Authority, so too have the Palestinians begun receiving tens of thousands of Russian-made Sputnik vaccines. Some Congressional Democrats who had criticized Israel’s lack of assistance to the Palestinians (despite the Palestinians not requesting aid until recently and, according to the Oslo Accords, retaining independent control over their public health programs), have praised Israel’s shipments of vaccines to the Palestinians. Senator Tim Kaine said he was “glad to see this news.” New York Democratic Congressman Jamaal Bowman sent a letter to Israel Nitzan, Israel’s Acting Consul General in New York, criticizing the Israeli government for not doing more to vaccinate Palestinians and comparing the discrepancy to racial inequality in the United States. Though Nitzan tweeted back that he believes “the situation is more complex and I see it differently,” he thanked Bowman for his “sincere letter” and welcomed the opportunity for “an open conversation about your concerns.” The letter to Nitzan came five days after Bowman deleted a tweet that more harshly criticized the Jewish state over not vaccinating Palestinians.
Arab-Israeli funeral breaks coronavirus restrictions: In brazen defiance of the government’s coronavirus lockdown, approximately ten thousand Arab-Israelis gathered for a funeral in the northern city of Tamra. The funeral was for Ahmed Hijazi, a 22-year-old nursing student who was accidentally shot and killed during a shootout between police and underground criminals. Hijazi’s coffin was draped in the Palestinian flag and many in attendance blamed the Israeli police for his death. The mass funeral follows two of the same in Jerusalem earlier this week which were for ultra-Orthodox rabbis who died of the coronavirus. Police did not prevent those funerals from taking place either. This comes as studies showed that residents in mostly secular Tel Aviv were fined 2.5 times as often for breaking the coronavirus lockdown as residents in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak.
Today we celebrate Shira Haas, who became the first Israeli actress ever to be nominated for a Golden Globe with her role in “Unorthodox.” In the four-episode Netflix series, Haas took the lead role as Esther Shapiro, an ultra-Orthodox woman from Williamsburg, Brooklyn escaping her oppressive community. The show was based on Deborah Feldman’s true story. “Unorthodox” was also nominated for best limited series or TV movie. Haas shared her excitement online in Hebrew, saying (in translation) “I’m very, very excited. I wanted to say thank you to all the supporters and fans. I’m still taking it in.”
On this day in 1917, Congress overrode President Woodrow Wilson’s veto of the Immigration Act of 1917. The immigration law contained a literacy test and was strongly opposed by Jewish organizations. Jewish groups viewed the law as a subversive way to ban Jewish immigration from eastern and southern Europe, particularly due to the literacy test. The 1917 law ended a twenty-year battle between the Legislative and Executive branches over the immigration laws, with Congress attempting to restrict immigration at every turn. The situation was only worsened in 1924 with a new Immigration Act that established harsh quotas on Jewish immigration.