Inside Israel: International Criminal Court’s Israel probe; Naftali Bennett as political kingmaker; and Netanyahu formally pleads not guilty
Coronavirus: Israel’s possible vaccine incentive programs; the miracle coronavirus treatment; and emergency flights from NY to TLV
Israel’s Neighbors: Biden’s refusal to lift sanctions on Iran; Palestinian election talks in Cairo; and Morocco’s call for diplomacy with Israel
Inside the U.S.: U.S. rejoins UN Human Rights Council; Blinken backs off recognizing sovereignty of Golan; Jewish SoCal frat vandalized; Marilyn Manson’s abuse allegations; and Jeff Bezos’ Jewish replacement
Inside Europe: Secretary charged with Nazi crimes; British teen convicted as youngest-ever terrorist; police probe journalist for writing about Holocaust complicity; and antisemitic Baroness resigns
Celebrate & Remember: Shoshana Ovitz’s legacy; and the first Jew to win a presidential primary contest
U.S. has ‘serious concerns’ about ICC decision on Israel war crimes probe
ICC says it has authority to investigate Israel: On Friday evening, the International Criminal Court, the world’s body responsible for prosecuting war crimes, declared it has the jurisdiction to investigate any potential crimes committed by Israel or Hamas in the Palestinian Territories and Israel. In doing so, the ICC recognized the “State of Palestine” as a legitimate nation-state entitled to bring suit before the court. Israel and the U.S. expressed disappointment and outrage over the probes that Israel says is based on false, misleading, and politically motivated charges. The U.S. said it “opposes actions that seek to target Israel unfairly,” and Prime Minister Netanyahu called it “pure antisemitism.” In fact, figures from across the political spectrum in Israel called the ruling “shameful.” (Even then-Senator Kamala Harris signed a letter last May saying the ICC prosecutor’s call to investigate Israel was ‘dangerously politicized’ and ‘biased.’) Despite the decision also opening up Hamas, the terrorist organization, to investigations of its war crimes against Israeli civilians, Hamas praised the decision as a means to “stop Zionist crimes.” According to reports, Israel is taking the ruling so seriously that it will brief top Defense Ministry and army officials for fear they may be arrested when traveling abroad. Despite the decision from the ICC that it has the authority to open an investigation, though, it has yet to actually do so. In the interim, Israel is planning on asking its allies to pressure the Court not to open an investigation into Israel. Along those lines, Secretary of State Tony Blinken and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi spoke about the ICC and Iran by phone yesterday.
Election maneuverings: With Israel’s March Knesset elections fast approaching, one man seems to be a decisive tiebreaker: Naftali Bennett. Bennett, who runs the far-right Yamina, is polling around 11 seats, just enough to tip the balance for one Knesset bloc or another. (A bloc needs 60 seats to take control.) Bennett has previously indicated his discomfort with serving under Netanyahu, but it would be very precarious to serve under Opposition Leader Yair Lapid (or Likud-defector Gideon Sa’ar) in a coalition with left-wing parties, like Meretz and Labor. United Torah Judaism, the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party, said it will “probably” support Netanyahu for Prime Minister, leaving open the possibility it might consider supporting Lapid under some circumstances. However, Yisrael Beytenu’s Avigdor Lieberman, whose seats are needed for Lapid to take control, said he would never sit with the ultra-Orthodox and is running an explicitly anti-ultra-Orthodox campaign. With UTJ and Yisrael Beytenu both receiving seven seats in latest polls, Lapid could conceivably swap one out for another in his coalition. Netanyahu has also attached himself to, and probably orchestrated, the far-right extremist alliance forming under Bezalel Smotrich. Netanyahu is strengthening the far-right to bolster his sagging bloc. This included Smotrich inviting in Itamar Ben-Gvir, an anti-Arab fanatic, to the horror of many, including even right-wing Gideon Sa’ar.
Bibi in court: Yesterday, Prime Minister Netanyahu visited court once again to plead not guilty in his corruption trial. With hundreds of protesters outside, Netanyahu spent about 20 minutes in the courtroom. His lawyers asked the three-panel judges to postpone the trial until after the March Knesset elections, despite the fact that the trial has been postponed already due to the coronavirus pandemic. The presiding judge seemed to rebuke the request, sharply stating: “This case should have started months ago. It didn’t start because of the coronavirus Why are we seeking to press on, you ask? Because it’s been a year since the indictment was filed.” Several legal pundits have predicted that the evidentiary stage of the trial will be delayed until after the election.
Israel may implement incentive programs as demand for vaccines plummets
Source: @YuliEdelstein / Twitter, January 13, 2021
Virus stagnant in Israel: Most health officials say that Israel will never reach herd immunity from the coronavirus without vaccinating its 2.5 million children. However, a more pressing concern is that the vaccine drive is slowing by 50%, perhaps due to “fake news” and vaccine mis/disinformation. The Health Ministry and some private firms are looking at ways to incentivize Israelis to go and get their shots, including a plan which would allow health organizations to give salary bonuses to staff members who persuade patients to get vaccinated. Israel began the process of exiting its strict lockdown on Sunday, despite brutal, searing attacks hurled from Netanyahu to Gantz and back that was leaked to the media in which Netanyahu accused Gantz of having ‘blood on his hands.’ However, the government has yet to decide how or whether to reopen schools. The Prime Minister’s office said ministers are likely to back a plan that will allow for the partial reopening of some schools beginning Thursday. Israel now has the highest rate of coronavirus infections per capita of any country with a population over seven million people. And, all the while, ultra-Orthodox masses in the thousands continue to gather to mourn rabbis who died of the coronavirus, in a seemingly cyclical process.
Israel’s miracle coronavirus drug: A new Israeli coronavirus treatment being developed at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Medical Center has successfully completed phase 1 trials and appears to have helped numerous patients suffering from moderate-to-severe cases of the coronavirus quickly recover. All patients who received the treatment recovered, most of them within three to five days. The “game changing” treatment reportedly fights what’s known as the cytokine storm—a potentially lethal immune overreaction to COVID-19 that is believed to be responsible for many of the deaths associated with the disease. The treatment is now moving on to further trial phases. Ichilov director Roni Gamzu, the former coronavirus czar, said the research “is advanced and sophisticated and may save coronavirus patients. The results of the phase 1 trial are excellent.” Greece will be the first nation outside Israel to begin to test the new Israeli drug.
Emergency flights from NY to TLV: Israel’s plan to send emergency flights to pick up Israeli citizens stranded abroad during the coronavirus-induced border shutdown has expanded to the U.S. Although El Al, the Israeli airline, had intended to fly only from Frankfurt, Germany and Dubai to Tel Aviv, it will now conduct at least two rescue flights from John F. Kennedy International Airport in NY back to Israel today and two later this week. The onboarding citizens must have approval from the Israeli Exemptions’ Committee and most have exceptional reasons, like medical issues, warranting their return. Ticket prices will be capped at $600.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Biden says U.S. sanctions will not be lifted before Iran returns to deal
Palestinian factions begin election talks in Cairo: The Cairo summit between Palestinian political parties began Monday for Fatah and terror group Hamas, as well as smaller political parties, to discuss the upcoming elections. Palestinians have not held a national election since 2006, when a Hamas victory over Fatah led to a bloody power struggle for control of the Gaza Strip, which Hamas ultimately won. Rumors have been circulating in recent weeks about a possible joint list of candidates for government between Fatah and Hamas, though clear ideological differences between the parties threaten the chances of the parties successfully joining. Fatah, which recognizes Israel’s right to peaceful statehood, fears the victory of Hamas, a recognized terrorist organization that has vowed to destroy Israel. A Hamas win would hurt their credibility on the world stage. Internal power struggles within Fatah also threaten Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s chances at victory, as other Fatah leaders have voiced their intent to run against him on Fatah’s list. The election talks come on the same day as an emergency Arab League meeting, also held in Cairo, to discuss Palestinian statehood.
Morocco calls for greater diplomacy with Israel: As leaders from rival Palestinian factions Hamas and Fatah held election talks in Cairo, Morocco’s Foreign Affairs Minister addressed the Arab League at an emergency meeting Monday, saying “the common Arab action needs a new dynamic” for dealing with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which would include greater diplomacy with Israel. He reminded the other countries of Morocco’s dedication to a two-state solution and diplomacy with both sides. The Arab League is likely to release a statement showing similar support, now that President Joe Biden has taken over the White House reigns. It is still unclear how new relations between Israel and the Arab League will look, but as Jordan and Egypt have had peace treaties with Israel long before Morocco, likely the three nations would lead any discussions on how to proceed. During the meeting, Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan condemned Iran’s destabilizing activities in the wider region. “One of the most dangerous threats facing our region is the Iranian regime’s continuous violations of international laws, charters and norms by threatening the security and stability of our countries, interfering in their internal affairs and supporting armed militias that sow chaos, division and devastation in many Arab countries,” he said.
INSIDE THE U.S.
Biden rejoining UN Human Rights Council, which Trump left over ‘anti-Israel bias’
U.S. rejoins Human Rights Council: The United States is moving to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council, an entity American Secretary of State Tony Blinken called “flawed.” In explaining the decision, Blinken said the Council “needs reform, but walking away won’t fix it. We are reengaging and ready to lead.” Under President Trump, the U.S. withdrew from the Rights Council due to its obsessive focus on Israel. As Israel is no fan of the Council, the decision is likely to be unwelcome by the Israeli government, which praised the Trump move as a “courageous decision against the hypocrisy and the lies” of the UN. There are 47 member states on the Council, and current members include countries that have been accused of grave human rights abuses like China, Russia, and Venezuela. It is unclear whether the United States will run for full membership this year, an effort that might face resistance from China. When the Trump administration quit the council in 2018, then-U.S. Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley called it “a protector of human rights abusers, and a cesspool of political bias.”
Blinken backs off recognizing sovereignty of Golan: In an interview with CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Monday night, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken outlined the Biden administration’s foreign policy plans for the Middle East. Blinken reiterated that Iran must make the first move if they want sanctions to end, he praised the Abraham Accords, and confirmed that the administration will continue to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Blinken also noted that the Golan Heights was important territory for Israel’s security, but stopped short of endorsing the Trump administration’s recognition of it as part of Israel. Biden’s advisers had said previously that he would not withdraw U.S. recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan.
Jewish SoCal frat vandalized: On Shabbat evening, the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity building at California Polytechnic State University in San Luis Obispo was defaced with antisemitic graffiti, including swastikas. The Jewish fraternity said: “We awoke to multiple swastikas and antisemitic statements spray-painted on and in front of our house. This was targeted at us, as the Jewish fraternity, and we would like to let the world know we do not tolerate or condone this behavior.” University President Jeffrey Armstrong sent a campus-wide message saying the police had begun a criminal investigation into the incident. So far, the police have no leads and there are no known witnesses. The “emotional scars will last much longer” than the physical vandalism, said one resident. The university made the news in 2018 because of a push to increase funding to all student groups except those with a “Zionist ideology.”
Evan Rachel Wood accuses Marilyn Manson of antisemitic abuse: Actress Evan Rachel Wood accused musician Marilyn Manson of abusing her for several years, including with antisemitic harassment. Wood alleged that Manson called her “‘Jew’ in a derogatory manner” and “would draw swastikas on [her] bedside table when he was mad at [her].” Wood also pointed to three of Manson’s tattoos, which she said he did not have when they began dating, as further proof of antisemitism. The tattoos look similar to the Nazi swastika and the SS skull and bones designs. Wood and Manson began dating in 2005, when she was 18 and he was nearly two decades older. Manson’s record label, talent agency, and the TV series American Gods dropped him in the wake of the allegations. One of Manson’s other accusers claimed this week he had once asked her to buy Nazi memorabilia for him.
Bezos’ Jewish replacement: Jeff Bezos, the world’s richest man who is stepping down as Amazon’s CEO, is set to be replaced by Amazon’s Jewish head of Web Service, Andy Jassy. Jassy is from Scarsdale, NY and attended Harvard University for both his undergraduate and graduate degrees. Joining Amazon in 1997, Jassy later envisioned and created the world’s first cloud computing system and became Bezos’ right-hand man. Also in 1997, Jassy married Elana Caplan in a Jewish ceremony. The couple has two children.
German woman, 95, charged with complicity in 10,000 murders in Nazi death camp
Heinrich Himmler visiting the Stutthof death camp in November 1941
Secretary charged with Nazi crimes: German prosecutors charged a former secretary at a Nazi concentration camp with complicity in the murders of 10,000 people. The 95-year-old woman worked at the Stutthof camp near what was Danzig, now Gdansk, in then-Nazi-occupied Poland. About 65,000 people were murdered at Stutthof. The woman, who is identified only as Irmgard F. (pursuant to German privacy laws), was charged based on testimonies from survivors of the camp who now live in the United States and Israel. Prosecutors said the indictments resulted from a five-year investigation. The woman will be tried in a juvenile court because she was under 21 when she worked at the camp.
British teen convicted as youngest-ever terrorist: A 16-year-old was sentenced in a British court as its youngest-ever terror convict. At 13, the boy began making bombs and Molotov cocktails, and building AK-47s. He also shared terror content and said he wanted to ‘gas’ Jews and ‘shoot’ gays. The boy even managed to recruit other terrorists, including other 13-year-olds. Since he is a minor, the boy will be sent to a rehabilitation center for two years, rather than prison.
Police probe journalist for writing about Holocaust complicity: Polish journalist Katarzyna Markusz was questioned by Warsaw police last week after publishing an article exploring Polish involvement in the Holocaust, which authorities claimed “slandered the good name of the Polish nation.” Among other things, Markusz’s article questioned, “Will the day come when the Polish authorities admit… that Polish participation in the Holocaust is a historical fact?” Defending her article, Markusz said, “how can someone be offended by the truth?” Her arrest comes ahead of a separate case against two Holocaust researchers who published a book exploring cases of Polish collaboration with Nazis. They are charged with defamation of a Polish mayor who they allege aided in the massacre of 22 Jews in a northern Polish town. One of the defendants called the case “very dangerous for freedom of speech.”
Antisemitic Baroness resigns: Jenny Tonge, a baroness, will resign from the House of Lords in Britain. Tonge was criticized for her antisemitic rhetoric, including saying Israel is a “puppet-master” over the British government. She also said that Israel was responsible for the Tree of Life synagogue shooting due to its policies with regard to the Palestinians. Tonge said: “I have always promised myself and my family that I would retire when I am 80 years old which is in mid- February.” But she also said: “[I will] continue to campaign for justice for the people of Palestine.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Holocaust survivor Shoshana Ovitz celebrates her 104th birthday with 400 descendants in August 2019
Today we celebrate Shoshana Ovitz, a Holocaust survivor with over 400 descendants, who passed away at the age of 105. Ovitz’s 2019 birthday celebration went viral after she gathered with hundreds of her descendants at the Western Wall. During the Holocaust, Ovitz survived her stint in the Auschwitz death camp. Although most of her family was murdered in the Holocaust, one cousin survived, whom she later married and had four children with.
On this day in 2016, Vermont’s Senator Bernie Sanders, an independent, became the first Jew to win a presidential primary election in American history. Sanders skyrocketed to notoriety during the 2016 Democratic primary, during which he proposed many progressive policies. On February 9, 2016, Sanders won the New Hampshire primary election, but lost the series to Hillary Clinton. Sanders also ran for president in 2020, coming in a distant second to then-ex-Vice President and now President Joe Biden. With the Democratic takeover of the Senate in January of this year, Sanders assumed the very powerful position of Chair of the Senate Finance Committee. Though Sanders claims he does not support the Boycott Divest and Sanctions (BDS) effort against Israel, he has taken heat from Jewish leaders for his welcoming support of Representatives Ilhan Omar (D-MN) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), whose anti-Israel rhetoric has often been antisemitic according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition. Sanders has also protested the bipartisan American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference and accused it of providing a platform for ‘bigotry,’ which Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt called “offensive” and “irresponsible.”