Israel’s Neighbors: U.S. holds talks with Israel on Iran; Israel targets illegal Iranian oil ships; Egypt and Israel hold large conference in Sinai; Hamas election results; Abbas ousts Yasser Arafat’s nephew; and Hamas refutes blame for death of 3 Gazans
Elections & Coronavirus: Polls show deadlock approaching; Israel’s election begins with diplomat votes; vaccinations of Palestinian workers; and Czech, Hungarian leaders visit Israel
Inside Israel: Bibi’s UAE trip humiliatingly canceled; Ethiopian immigrants arrive in Israel; Bibi insults Reform, Conservative conversions; boy finds ancient artifact; and Israel X Factor judges announced
Singapore & Europe: Singapore arrests national serviceman attempting to stab Jews; Nazi murderer deemed unfit for trial; Russia said to give Israel Eli Cohen item; and Swiss Jews appalled by anti-Muslim vote
Inside the U.S.: NBA player fined over anti-Jewish slur; Rosen named chair of int’l Jewish lawmakers; and Roger Waters targets Stevie Wonder
Celebrate & Remember: Ben-Gurion University’s climate school; and remembering Oskar Schindler
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Biden administration holds talks with Israel on Iran
U.S. and Israel kick off Iran talks: Administration officials from both Israel and the U.S. held the first session of a bilateral strategic group aimed at preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon, as the Biden administration considers its approach to confront Tehran. The meeting was led by White House National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat. The White House released a vague statement saying, “the two sides shared perspectives…and expressed their common determination to confront the challenges and threats facing the region.” The talks came after Secretary of State Antony Blinken stressed before Congress that the administration is committed to consulting with Israel and other Gulf nations “regarding anything that we might do going forward on that agreement” with Iran. Blinken also said the U.S. will not make any concessions to Iran (such as lifting sanctions) in order to bring the country to the negotiating table toward a return to the 2015 nuclear deal. While Iran continues to brazenly violate many terms imposed by the nuclear deal from which the Trump administration withdrew, the Iranians have held firm to demands that there be a full lifting of the sanctions Trump reimposed before it renegotiates. It seems unlikely that the U.S. could get Iran to return to compliance with the accord in quick enough order considering the rapid pace with which Iran is approaching a nuclear weapon. In a letter to Blinken on Tuesday, a bipartisan group of 140 House lawmakers (70 Democrats and 70 Republicans) urged the administration to take a “comprehensive” approach to threats posed by Iran beyond just reviving the 2015 nuclear deal.
Israel targets illegal Iranian oil ships: Citing “U.S. and regional officials” as sources, the Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that since late 2019, Israel has targeted at least 12 ships bound for Syria, most of them transporting Iranian oil, with water mines and other weapons. This marks a new front in the shadow war between the two countries. The naval attacks were conducted, at least in part, out of the concern that petroleum profits are being used to fund extremism in the Middle East. The attacks also targeted Iranian efforts to move weaponry through the region. Iran ships millions of barrels of oil to Syria in violation of both U.S. sanctions on Iran and international sanctions on Syria. As a result of the dozen or so attacks, none of which sunk a tanker, at least two of the vessels returned to port in Iran. Israel blamed Iran for a blast on an Israeli-owned ship in the Persian Gulf last month which Iran has denied.
Egypt, Israel hold large conference in Sinai: Some 60 Israeli and Egyptian officials held their largest bilateral conference in the past 20 years this week in the town Sharm el-Sheikh. The Israeli delegation was headed by Intelligence Minister Eli Cohen who had met with Deputy Intelligence Minister Nasser Fahmi of Egypt during the conference. Fahmi said: “Egypt is interested in promoting cooperation with Israel in all fields. We will continue to act to bolster economic and bilateral ties in the future.” Sharm el-Sheikh is not just a beautiful destination for Israeli tourists on the Red Sea, but also a symbolic city that exchanged Israeli and Egyptian hands multiple times over the 1960s, 70s, and 1980s. Israel last retained sovereignty over it in 1982 when it handed back control to the Egyptians.
Hamas election results; Abbas ousts Yasser Arafat’s nephew: As the first Palestinian election in 15 years draws nearer, changes in the political landscape could have dramatic effects on the outcome. Following Hamas party elections, incumbent Yahya Sinwar narrowly held his position as Hamas leader in Gaza. He answers to Ismail Haniyeh, the overall leader of the terrorist group. Within the opposing Fatah party, Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas expelled Nasser al-Qidwa, the nephew of former Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat, who has been a vocal critic of Abbas and called for “radical change” within PA politics. Al-Qidwa was given an opportunity to recant his statements and fall in line with Abbas’s view of the party, but has instead begun looking at launching a new party, the National Democratic Assembly.
Hamas refutes blame for death of 3 Gazans: Hamas released a statement Thursday blaming Israel for the deaths of three Gazan fishermen who were fishing near the Gazan city of Khan Younis when their boat exploded. With little proof, Hamas’s Interior Ministry alleged that the explosion was caused after an Israeli drone that was caught in the fishermen’s net exploded. Israeli officials said immediately following the incident that there had been “no Israeli fire” towards Gaza and that the explosion “is an internal Gazan incident,” but has not responded to Hamas’s allegations. Hamas announced after the incident that it would conduct an investigation but has dismissed the idea that a mortar shell struck the boat, despite witnesses saying they saw mortars being fired prior to the explosion.
ELECTIONS & CORONAVIRUS
11 days until Israel’s election; polls predict political deadlock
Polls show deadlock approaching: With Israel’s election fast approaching in less than two weeks, the polls have tightened and are predicting a potential political deadlock. Most notably, two parties have emerged as contenders for Knesset, Israel’s parliament, that were previously irrelevant or nonexistent: the historic Labor Party and Religious Zionism, an extremist right-wing party that Netanyahu has promoted. Other parties have faltered, like A New Hope and Blue and White, which might not make it into the Knesset at all. The potential coalitions are uneasy, with the next government very much up in the air. Although there is more cohesion in the pro-Netanyahu camp, they don’t have enough seats to form a government without Naftali Bennett’s Yamina, which indicated it would not sit under Netanyahu. Meanwhile, the anti-Netanyahu bloc has more seats, but is falling to pieces over any number of issues that divide the ideologically diverse group. The biggest issue, though, is who would lead should they take charge, with both Yamina and Gideon Sa’ar’s A New Hope saying they do not want it to be Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, the current Opposition Leader.
Israel’s election begins: Israel’s election has technically already begun. Although Israelis abroad are not allowed to vote, the law makes exception for diplomats and their families and staff. So, Israel’s ambassador to New Zealand became the first Israeli to cast a vote in the March 23 election this week. Diplomatic missions will have two days to cast their ballots with the final votes being cast in the Israeli missions in Los Angeles and San Francisco. For the first time ever, Israelis will cast their votes in Israel’s new missions and embassies in Morocco, Bahrain, and Abu Dhabi and Dubai following last year’s Abraham Accords. About 4,000 Israelis are eligible to cast their ballots under this system.
Israel vaccinates Palestinian workers: With infection rates plummeting in Israel, most of the country is reopen, at least to those who are vaccinated against or recovered from the coronavirus. Israel is also sharing new research that vaccinated mothers may pass on their antibodies to breastfeeding children and aspirin may protect against coronavirus. However, even close by places are not doing as well. In the West Bank, most Palestinian hospitals are at capacity as the territory surges with coronavirus cases. Yet Israel has begun vaccinating over 120,000 Palestinian workers employed in Israel after international criticism about the lack of Palestinian access to vaccines. Although the Palestinians are in charge of their own public health measures under the Oslo Accords, Israel agreed to provide vaccines because of a) humanitarian reasons and b) epidemiological reasons. (There would be no herd immunity in Israel without vaccinating Palestinians!) Some Palestinians were very happy to receive vaccines from Israel, claiming they did not trust the Palestinian Authority’s vaccines nor its competency. One Palestinian woman simply said: “I trust [the Israeli] vaccine more.”
Czech, Hungarian leaders visit Israel: Following last week’s visit by the Austrian and Danish leaders, the prime ministers of Czechia and Hungary both visited Israel to discuss Israel’s coronavirus vaccine rollout. Hungary’s leader, Viktor Orban, who has been accused of trafficking in antisemitism, said: “[Israel is] the world champion in fighting against [the] pandemic… We try to understand during the visit how to follow you.” During the visit, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis opened his country’s diplomatic mission in west Jerusalem, its first step in moving its embassy from Tel Aviv to Israel’s capital. The move is an upgrade of the Czech presence already in Jerusalem which had been a cultural and trade center opened in 2018. Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi said: “We want to thank the entire Czech government and the prime minister for leading the change in Europe toward the city of Jerusalem as a whole.” No European country has its embassy located in Jerusalem, although Kosovo announced that it will be opening one.
Netanyahu’s first UAE trip canceled amid disagreements with Jordan
Bibi’s UAE trip humiliatingly canceled: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was forced to cancel his first official trip to the United Arab Emirates because Jordan delayed approving his flight path. The delay did not seem to be due to the sudden hospitalization of his wife, Sara Netanyahu, for an appendix infection, but rather in retaliation for a Jordanian-Israeli dispute earlier in the week. On Wednesday, Crown Prince Hussein bin Abdullah became involved in a spat with Israel when he canceled his planned visit to the Temple Mount. En route to Israel, the prince arrived at the Israeli border, but apparently had more guards that were more heavily armed than had been agreed to. The additional guards were not permitted to enter Israel, so Hussein consequently canceled the visit altogether. Jordan is very sensitive to its role as the guardian of the Temple Mount, so the cancelation of Hussein’s visit to a site his family controls was embarrassing. So, when Netanyahu aimed to fly through Jordanian airspace the next day, it seems Jordan slow rolled the flight’s approval for so long that the window of opportunity passed. This is the fourth time Netanyahu’s first-ever visit to the UAE has been postponed, the earlier three stemming from coronavirus-related restrictions. Reports also indicated that Netanyahu had been scheduled to visit with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Saudi Arabia) and/or Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok during the one-day visit. What was supposed to have been a public campaign booster for Netanyahu 12 days before the election instead turned into a national embarrassment. Defense Minister Benny Gantz appeared to accuse Netanyahu of responsibility for the incident on Thursday, saying that Netanyahu has been “heavily damaging” the relations with Jordan in recent years, without going into further detail.
Ethiopian immigrants brought to Israel: Operation Tzur Israel, the Israeli mission to rescue about 2,000 Ethiopians waiting to immigrate to Israel which began in December, has completed with the arrival of 300 Ethiopians in Israel this week. At Ben Gurion Airport, the new Israelis were met by Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, herself of Ethiopian descent, and Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog. Most of the immigrants had family already in Israel. Herzog said: “The final Operation Tzur Israel flight arrived today, reuniting countless families after far too many years apart. This is a moment that tugs at the heartstrings, reminding us that our mission to bring the remaining members of the community waiting to [immigrate] is far from over.” There are about 10,000 members of this same Ethiopian community waiting to immigrate to Israel, many of whom live in the northern region of Ethiopia that has seen recent intense conflict and accusations of genocide from its northern neighbor, Eritrea.
Bibi insults Reform, Conservative conversions: In an English-language interview with the Jerusalem Post’s Lahav Harkov, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu derided the Israeli Supreme Court’s allowance of Reform and Conservative conversions for purposes of immigration. Claiming that Israel would have had a million African migrants overflowing the country if he had not put up a security fence on the border with Egypt, Netanyahu said: “We have to prevent fake conversions.” Apparently under the impression that Reform and Conservative Jewish conversions are not as legitimate as ultra-Orthodox ones, Netanyahu insinuated that migrants would attempt to convert to Judaism in order to seek refuge in Israel. Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Israel’s Reform movement leader and a Labor candidate, said: “Prime Minister Netanyahu has proven that he has no ability, nor real will, to heal the frictions within the Jewish people.” The director of Israel’s Conservative movement, meanwhile, said: “Just as our conversions have been done with a deep sense of responsibility, so they will continue in the future.”
Boy finds ancient artifact: A young Israeli boy, Zvi Ben-David, discovered a 2,500-year-old figurine during a hike in southern Israel. The Israel Antiquities Authority said the figurine, depicting a voluptuous naked woman, was used as an amulet to protect children or increase fertility. Ben-David’s mother is a licensed tour guide and immediately contacted authorities upon her son’s discovery. Archeologists said: “The figurine that Zvi discovered is rare and only one such example exists in the National Treasures collection. It was probably used in the sixth–fifth centuries BCE, at the end of the Iron Age or in the Persian period).”
Israel X Factor judges announced: Eurovision winner Netta Barzilai and television star Simon Cowell will judge the upcoming season of “The X Factor” in Israel. Although he is not new to judging, this will be the first time that Cowell, who created “The X Factor,” judges outside the U.K. or U.S. Cowell said: “I can’t wait to see what Israel has to offer.” Meanwhile, Barzilai said: “I’m very lucky to be sitting next to Simon and not in front of him, Because otherwise I would s**t my pants.” Cowell’s father was Jewish and Cowell has fundraised for the IDF.
SINGAPORE & EUROPE
Singapore arrests national serviceman attempting to stab Jews
Maghain Aboth Synagogue, Singapore
Singaporean plotted knife attack on Jews: A Singaporean man was arrested for his plan to stab local Jewish community members after their prayer service at Maghain Aboth Synagogue. The man was serving as a in the Singapore Armed Forces at the time of his arrest and is believed to have been self-radicalized from a young age. The man did not have any links to outside terror groups. According to local Singapore news, he reportedly planned several attacks, going so far as to practice stabbing movements with a practice knife, learning about the human body in order to carry out an effective attack, and visiting the synagogue to familiarize himself with it. About 10,500 Jews call Singapore their home.
Nazi murderer deemed unfit for trial: A 96-year old man accused of being a guard at the Stutthof concentration camp during the Holocaust has been found “unfit to stand trial.” Named only as “Harry S.,” the accused man was due to stand trial for having “aided and abetted [the] murder [of] several hundred [people],” allegedly having guarded the transport of Jews and other prisoners to Auschwitz. Because of his physical state, though, he cannot not represent himself effectively and therefore his case will not be tried. However, due to the court’s judgement that there is a “high degree of probability” of his guilt, Harry S. will be made to pay for his own legal expenses. Stutthof also had gas chambers and was notorious for the terrible conditions in which some 100,000 inmates were kept. Many died of disease and starvation, while others were gassed, shot or given lethal injections.
Russia said to give Israel Eli Cohen item: Russia is said to have given to Israel an item that belonged to Eli Cohen, the Israeli spy who was executed in Syria. Prime Minister Netanyahu confirmed that there are searches underway (almost certainly by Russia) to locate Cohen’s remains in Syria, but his office denied that one of Cohen’s possessions was given to Israel. Cohen’s daughter, Sophie Ben-Dor said: “They didn’t speak to us. I have no idea if this is only political spin ahead of the [March 23] elections.”
Swiss Jews appalled by anti-Muslim vote: In a public referendum, the Swiss people voted to ban Muslim head coverings in a thin 51-49 vote. Swiss Jews reacted with outrage, saying that it “restricts and violates several conditions of religious freedom.” The Swiss Federation of Jewish Communities and the Platform for Liberal Jews in Switzerland said they are “concerned that further legislative or federal popular initiatives could further undermine religious freedom in the future.” The ban on Kosher animal slaughter from 1892, for example, remains in place to this day in Switzerland. Pinchas Goldschmidt, the president of the Conference of European Rabbis who lives in Zurich, said that the vote was “ironic” given the mandated face coverings during the time of the coronavirus pandemic. France, Belgium, and Austria have similar laws on the books.
INSIDE THE U.S.
NBA player fined, suspended over anti-Jewish slur
Source: @MeyersLeonard / Twitter, October 13, 2020
NBA player uses antisemitic slur: In a video that surfaced on Tuesday, Miami Heat NBA player Meyers Leonard used an antisemitic slur while livestreaming his playing a video game. Leonard later apologized on social media, claiming he did not know what the word meant, saying: “my ignorance about [the word’s] history and how offensive it is to the Jewish community is absolutely not an excuse.” As punishment, the NBA fined Leonard $50,000, suspended him from the Miami Heat’s facilities, and banned him from team activities for one week. Jewish New England Patriots player Julian Edelman invited Leonard to a Shabbat dinner to learn more about the Jewish community.
Rosen named chair of int’l Jewish lawmakers: Senator Jackie Rosen, a Democrat from Nevada, was appointed Chair of the International Council of Jewish Parliamentarians. The Council is supported by the Knesset, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the World Jewish Congress. It hosts Jewish lawmakers from across the globe with a mission to “promote an ongoing dialogue and a sense of fraternity among Jewish legislators and ministers” and “support Israel,” among other things.
Roger Waters targets Stevie Wonder: Roger Waters, a former bassist for Pink Floyd, called on the great singer-songwriter Stevie Wonder to reject the Wolf Prize awarded to him by Israel. Wonder was awarded the prize last month owing to “his tremendous contribution to music and society.” Waters, a long-time supporter of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement and whose anti-Israel rhetoric often falls within the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism, uploaded a video to Facebook on Monday in which he implored Wonder not to accept the award. He said, “This is an apartheid regime. This is Israel. You will be whitewashing them beyond all belief if you accept the prize,” before saying he was “rambling” and “not making much sense” after having “nearly a whole glass of wine.” Stevie Wonder has not responded to Waters or the video.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Oskar Schindler’s grave Jerusalem
Today we celebrate Ben-Gurion University opening a climate school! Ben-Gurion University, located in Israel’s southern Negev desert, is establishing a school on climate change, becoming the first Israeli university to do so. The university president said: “It is a natural step for the University, acknowledged globally for its environmental, energy and sustainability research, to harness that research in service to humankind’s greatest challenges.” He continued: “Survival in the desert has always been predicated on human ingenuity, and, given the challenges facing the world, we are committed to sharing our knowledge through the creation of the School of Sustainability and Climate Change at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev.” The school plans to create collaborations with industry, the Israeli government, and international organizations.
On this day in 1943, Oskar Schindler, the influential German industrialist and namesake of the movie Schindler’s list, changed the course of countless lives. As a well-connected member of the Nazi Party, Schindler learned that the Krakow ghetto was to be liquidated the next day. Schindler warned his workers to stay in the factory overnight as not to be sent to their deaths. Witnessing the horror of the liquidation, Schindler began to work with the Jewish underground in order to save Jews from the Holocaust. Destitute after the war, Schindler later survived only on donations sent to him from Schindlerjuden, Jews he saved. He is the only former Nazi Party member to be buried on Mount Zion in Jerusalem.