The Americas: Capitol Police officer suspended after antisemitic text discovered on desk; Brazil raids antisemitic church; GOP reps attack Iran via Congress; Democrats urge change on Israel; and neo-Nazi insurrectionist charged
Inside Israel: Kosovo opens Jerusalem embassy; vicious campaigning with one week left; possibility of 5th election; ⅓ of Arab-Israeli voters want Bibi as PM; Israel’s UN rep. pushes antisemitism definition; and study shows cannabis may limit chemo effect
Coronavirus: Restaurants fully booked as Israelis go back to public life; Ben-Gurion airport lifts restrictions; and Palestinians reenter lockdown
Israel’s Neighbors: Israel points to Syrian owners for tanker spill; sparks fly between Israel & Jordan; Interpol drops warrant for Sbarro pizzeria bomber; Iran and Israel attack each other’s ships; and Iran’s new missile facility
Inside Europe: College head says he’d allow Holocaust denier; France to return Nazi-looted Klimt painting; Ukrainian academic proposes to rename city for Nazi collaborator; and Bibi speaks with Ukraine’s Zelensky
Celebrate & Remember: Potential Israeli cure for rare disease; and remembering Golda Meir
Capitol Police officer suspended after antisemitic text discovered on desk
Capitol Police officer suspended: A U.S. Capitol Police officer has been suspended after a printed copy of “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion” was discovered near his work area on Sunday. Originally published in 1903, it is a fabricated antisemitic text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. The Protocols played an important part in Nazi propaganda during the Holocaust. Zach Fisch, chief of staff to New York Democrat Rep. Mondaire Jones, took photos of the antisemitic text Sunday evening while leaving the Capitol and shared them with the Washington Post. Seeing the document there “horrified me,” Fisch said in a series of tweets Monday evening. Acting chief of Capitol Police Yogananda D. Pittman on Monday said she had suspended an officer pending an investigation “after anti-Semitic reading material was discovered near his work area on Sunday.” “We take all allegations of inappropriate behavior seriously,” Pittman said in the statement. “Once this matter was brought to my attention, I immediately ordered the officer to be suspended until the Office of Professional Responsibility can thoroughly investigate.”
Brazil raids antisemitic church: Brazilian police raided a church in Rio de Janeiro, accusing its pastor of inciting violence against Jews. The operation’s code name was “Shalom” and police confiscated some of the church’s literature. In a video recorded last year, the pastor prayed before his congregation: “Massacre the Jews, God, hit them with your sword, for they have left God, they have left the nations.” It was only after the Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro sued that police took action. Although the Federation was disappointed that the pastor was not detained, the community was nonetheless relieved that the raid took place, calling it “a big development.”
GOP reps attack Iran via Congress: Republican Congressmen have been circulating legislation in both the House and Senate seeking to tie the Biden administration’s hands over Iran. Almost all of the legislation is especially critical of the Iran nuclear deal, which the Obama administration negotiated with Iran and which Biden publicly supports. The lawmakers also would mandate stricter sanctions enforcement against Iran and block the U.S. from reentering the Iran nuclear deal entirely. With Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress, the measures have very slim chances of getting anywhere.
Democrats urge change on Israel: Democratic U.S. Senators and Congresspeople wrote separately to Secretary of State Tony Blinken on the issue of Israel and the Palestinians. The Senators, Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Tom Carper of Delaware, Sherrod Brown of Ohio, and Jeff Merkely of Oregon, said that Israel has a responsibility to “do more to help Palestinians” combat the coronavirus crisis and share its vaccines. Although the Oslo Accords, agreed to by Israel and the Palestinians, give the Palestinians responsibility over their own matters of public health, the Senators argued that “the Accords do not supersede Israel’s responsibilities under the 4th Geneva Convention” to consider the health of the Palestinians as the occupying power. Democratic members of Congress, however, took a broader approach, prodding the Biden administration to do more to condemn the occupation and adjust the U.S.-Israel relationship. In a letter co-signed by 13 Congresspeople and authored by two, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, the group wrote: the U.S. should “ground its engagement on Palestine and Israel in international law and human rights,” undoing the “damage” caused by the Trump administration. Co-signers included high-profile progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, and Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts. The letter referred to Israel’s settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a form of “settler colonialism.”
Neo-Nazi insurrectionist charged: One of the insurrectionists who stormed the Capitol on January 6, and who became infamous for his Hitler-style mustache, was arrested and charged for his actions. Prosecutors allege the man is a neo-Nazi with white supremacist views. An Army reservist, the man was known as a Nazi sympathizer to his coworkers. One Navy seaman said the insurrectionist once said to him that “he would kill all the Jews.” Following January 6, the man was discharged from the Army and barred from military bases.
Muslim-majority Kosovo opens embassy to Israel in Jerusalem
Kosovo opens Jerusalem embassy: The Muslim-majority nation of Kosovo opened its first embassy to Israel this week after establishing formal diplomatic ties late last year. Kosovo placed its embassy in the capital, Jerusalem, becoming the first Muslim-majority nation to do so—much to the consternation of the Turkish government, Kosovo’s regional influence. The Palestinians and Arab League criticized the moves of both Kosovo and Czechia, which upgraded its own mission in Jerusalem last week, saying that they violate international law, despite the fact that both missions are located in west Jerusalem which has always been Israeli territory, not over the 1967 Green Line.
Vicious campaigning with one week left: With one week left before Israel’s election day, several parties desperate for votes have begun smear campaigns against one another. Naftali Bennett, whose Yamina party may end up deciding the fate of the election, has heavily criticized Netanyahu recently, but political commentators are increasingly skeptical that Bennett will be able to break away from his former mentor if given the opportunity to return to the coalition. The conservative Arab party Ra’am looks to be in a similar kingmaking position, and its chairman Mansour Abbas said they have not ruled out cooperating with either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs. After months of downplaying the issue and criticizing other party leaders for their “personal ambitions,” Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid first announced Monday that he would be “honored” to serve as Prime Minister if his bloc leads the anti-Netanyahu camp (his party has the second most votes after Netanyahu’s Likud). Should Netanyahu win on his “right wing-extreme right-ultra-Orthodox coalition,” he will likely cajole a parliamentary decree of immunity from his trials for corruption and continue to pursue anti-secular legislation in an effort to strengthen his hold on power.
Israel may face 5th election: There is a good chance that Israel’s political troubles do not end with next week’s election. Michael Oren, Israel’s former ambassador to the United States, said to Jewish Insider: “My sense is we’re going to a fifth round.” In explaining his view, Oren made clear that the difference of opinions in the anti-Netanyahu bloc—religious and secular parties, left-wing and right-wing parties—will have too many differences to put them aside to defeat Netanyahu. Should neither the pro- nor anti-Netanyahu camps consolidate enough seats to retain 61 votes in the Knesset, then the Knesset will again dissolve and, as has happened four times in the past two years, head to another election. Netanyahu vowed that there would not be a fifth election, but his predictions have failed before!
⅓ of Arab-Israeli voters want Bibi as PM: Perhaps surprisingly to outsiders, 1 in 3 Arab-Israeli voters say they want Prime Minister Netanyahu to remain in charge of the country, according to a new poll. Meanwhile, 56% of Arab-Israelis and 52% of Jewish-Israelis do not want Netanyahu to continue on as prime minister. Netanyahu has been heavily courting Arab voters this election cycle, despite aligning himself with the vehemently anti-Arab Religious Zionism party. Over the last month, Netanyahu visited with a Bedouin community and received the endorsement of the mayor of Nazareth, Israel’s largest Arab-Israeli city.
Israel’s UN rep. pushes antisemitism definition: Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations, Gilad Erdan, said he is advocating for the UN to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition on antisemitism. The IHRA definition includes forms of anti-Zionism as manifestations of antisemitism and has been adopted by dozens of countries and the U.S. State Department. Erdan said he is working with the UN’s envoy on antisemitism, Miguel Moratinos, to accomplish the goal. Erdan explained: “The UN’s adoption of an official definition could reduce some of the incitement against Israel in the UN that some member states have grown accustomed to, and could grant all UN bodies the ability to better fight antisemitism.”
Cannabis may limit chemo effect, Israeli study shows: A news Israeli study shows that cannabis consumption can prevent major chemotherapy side effects in cancer patients. Most especially, the study found that nerve damage caused by chemotherapy comes about much less frequently in those patients who consumed cannabis. About 70% of patients who use oxaliplatin, the specific form of chemotherapy studied by these researches, develop nerve damage. However, with cannabis use, that number decreased significantly to 40%. The lead researcher said the findings suggest that “cannabis administration before the start of oxaliplatin treatment can allow for higher doses of treatment without the development of nerve damage.”
Restaurants fully booked as Israelis go back to public life
Israel reopens: As almost 60% of the Israeli population has received at least one dose of the coronavirus vaccination and almost 50% are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, most restaurants, schools, theaters, and malls have been able to open up to the public almost entirely. Entrance into most public venues is limited to Green Pass holders, those who are either fully vaccinated or have had the virus and recovered, and several restaurants reported over the weekend that they were fully booked and had 10-day waiting lists of people itching to get back into public life. Despite infection numbers dropping and coronavirus czar Nachman Ash saying society may be back to normal in time for Passover, health experts are warning the government not to repeat the winter’s mistake of lifting restrictions too quickly. Israel’s public health chief, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, said to reporters that, “The issue that scares us the most is the entry of variants. The British strain rules here with 90 percent [of the cases], but the vaccine is effective against it. We also have the South African strain, which constitutes 1% [of cases], and against which the vaccine is less effective. We’re afraid that additional strains that are unaffected by the vaccine will enter.”
Ben-Gurion airport lifts restrictions: In the run-up to next week’s election, Israel is lifting restrictions on flights into the country, allowing them from all locations. Citizens will be able to fly into the country, however they will need to be tested for the coronavirus and to quarantine upon arrival. To the outrage of some advocates, the government decided to keep a 3,000 person cap per day on Israelis re-entering the country. One vocal advocate said: “We are only a week before the election. It is imperative to allow Israelis who want to return home the opportunity to do so, and to exercise their most basic democratic right.”
Facing UK strain, Palestinians reenter lockdown: Despite Israel’s world-leading success with its rollout of the coronavirus vaccine, the Palestinians have not gotten their epidemic under control. In fact, with hospitals across the West Bank at 100% capacity, the Palestinian Authority ordered another week-long lockdown of the entire territory. The Palestinian health ministry spokesperson said: “The virus is spreading incredibly widely and quickly. There’s been nothing like this since the beginning of the pandemic.” There has been a nightly curfew and weekend lockdown imposed across the West Bank for the past two weeks, but unfortunately to little effect. A member of the PA’s coronavirus committee said: “there’s been little adherence to social distancing or mask-wearing.” Palestinian officials are blaming the British variant for the explosion in cases, which they say can infect and harm younger people and children at a much more alarming rate.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Israeli spy firm Black Cube says oil spill from Syrian ship
Israel points to Syrian owners for tanker spill: Israel said that the oil tanker which caused its biggest ecological disaster in decades has Syrian owners. Through shell companies in the Marshall Islands, Israeli spy organization Black Cube was able to trace the ship’s ownership back to the Malah family in Syria. Black Cube also said that the ship is insured by The Islamic P&I Club, which is well-known for insuring Iranian ships sanctioned by the U.S. and the international community. The ship is estimated to have leaked 1,000 tons of tar and oil onto Israeli (and southern Lebanese) shores. The spill will require years, if not decades, to fully clean up.
Sparks fly between Israel, Jordan: Simmering tension between Israel and Jordan, which Israeli opposition figures put at the feet of Prime Minister Netanyahu, exploded last week. Israel turned away some of Jordanian Prince Hussein’s guards as he was attempting to go about his scheduled trip to the Temple Mount, which prompted him to cancel the visit altogether. In retaliation, Jordan blocked Netanyahu’s flight to his first-ever meeting in the U.A.E., a great embarrassment to a man who is running much of his campaign for prime minister on his good relationships with foreign leaders and the friendly Arab world. As such, it was reported that Netanyahu was so furious at Jordan’s messing with his trip to the U.A.E. that he briefly ordered all flights from Jordan to be turned away from Israeli airspace. The order, which could have sparked an even bigger conflict, seems to have been rescinded before it was implemented. Perhaps as a gesture of appeasement, Israel allowed 700 Jordanians to begin working at Israeli hotels in the southern city of Eilat, vaccinating them upon their admittance to Israel. Israel also plans to phase out coronavirus restrictions on the southern border crossings between Israel and Jordan.
INTERPOL drops warrant for Sbarro pizzeria bomber: INTERPOL, the international organization that facilitates worldwide police cooperation, released a letter to Arabic-language media earlier this month announcing it removed convicted terrorist Ahlam Ahmad Al-Tamimi from its “most wanted” list. Al-Tamimi was one of the terrorists behind the infamous 2001 Sbarro pizzeria bombing in Jerusalem which killed 15 people, including eight children and two U.S. citizens. She had been serving 16 life sentences before she was released as part of the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner swap. Al-Tamimi has been living in Jordan since her release, which has refused to extradite her to the United States for trial. The FBI has a warrant out for her arrest and she remains listed as a “most wanted terrorist” by the FBI. In a letter to the Secretary General of INTERPOL, Simon Wiesenthal Center Director for International Relations Dr. Shimon Samuels demanded the return to “Most Wanted” status of Al-Tamimi, calling the decision “an outrageous step [that] would encourage further terrorism and deny justice and closure for the victims and survivors.”
Iran and Israel attack ships: Iran accused Israel of attacking one of its cargo ships in the Mediterranean Sea on Friday. The ship, Shahr E Kord, was lit aflame late last week, although there was no serious damage done to it nor were there any serious injuries. Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman said: “[Israel] finds its survival in war, crisis and chaos. Iran would consider all options when it finds out who has been involved in this operation, and will resort to them to protect its legitimate rights.” This accusation comes after Israel blamed Iran for targeting Israeli ships in the Gulf of Oman. It also comes after the Wall Street Journal released a report detailing that, over the last year, Israel targeted at least 12 Iranian ships bound for Syria carrying oil and weapons illegally. According to a media report, senior Israeli defense officials, including IDF Chief of Staff Avi Kochavi, are urging a tactic of de-escalation with Iran over the attacks on each other’s ships.
Iran’s new missile facility: Iranian state TV reported Monday that the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) established a new underground missile storage facility. Though the report did not note where the “missile city” is located or how many ballistics it holds, footage shows dozens of missiles with a range of 1,200 miles, which puts Israel, as well as much of the Middle East, squarely within their range. IRGC commander Major General Hossein Salami said in the report, “What we see today is a small section of the great and expansive missile capability of Revolutionary Guards’ naval forces.” Iran’s homegrown arms program is one of the strongest in the region, as the UN arms embargo bars Iran from buying weapons from other countries.
College president apologizes after saying Holocaust denier would be allowed to speak
University College London (UCL)
College head says he’d allow Holocaust denier: The provost of University College London publicly apologized after claiming he would allow Holocaust deniers to speak to students on campus. In an interview, Michael Spence said he would allow a Holocaust denier to speak while “mak[ing] sure Jewish and other students were looked after, [and] that the event took place in an environment in which other views were expressed.” The chair of the Pinsker Centre which fights antisemitism said: “the fact the murder of six million Jews occurred is not up for debate.” Spence recanted and wrote: “I fully acknowledge the emotional impact that Holocaust denial has on Jewish and other members of the community. I will do my upmost to ensure UCL remains the kind of place in which such a speaker would never be invited. I apologize if my response could be understood as suggesting otherwise.”
France to return Nazi-looted Klimt painting: A painting by Gustav Klimt that was looted from a Jewish family by Nazis will be returned by France to the rightful heirs. The painting, which has resided at Paris’s Musee d’Orsay for decades, was owned by the family of Nora Stiasny, a Holocaust victim who was forced to sell the painting in 1938. The museum reportedly did not know the painting’s origin until recent years, as it is one of many Nazi-looted works that wound up in Allied possession after the war. France’s Culture Minister, Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin, said that the decision to return the painting “illustrates our commitment to the duty of justice and reparation vis-à-vis plundered families.” Recently, France has made many efforts to return unclaimed looted works to their rightful owners.
Ukrainian academic proposes to rename city for Nazi collaborator: A professor at Ukraine’s oldest and most prestigious state university called on the government to rename the city of Uman, a major Jewish pilgrimage site, after a Ukrainian Nazi-sympathizer. Professor Bohdan Bilinsky proposed the name “Bandera City,” after Stepan Bandera, a nationalist who collaborated with Nazi Germany against the Soviet Union and whose troops reportedly killed thousands of Jews. The proposal comes as a response to Jewish criticism of naming other sites for Ukrainian-nationalist Nazi collaborators, such as a stadium in Ternopil honoring Roman Shukhevych.
Bibi speaks with Ukraine’s Zelensky: Prime Minister Netanyahu spoke to the Jewish leader of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, promising to renew the Hasidic pilgrimage to the grave of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov in the city of Uman. Netanyahu said the pair spoke about “cooperation on the vaccine and recognizing Israel’s Green Pass so that the vaccinated can soon visit Ukraine, including Uman.” The conversation with Zelensky came after the Bratslav community, who conduct the pilgrimage to Uman, threatened that they would boycott the upcoming election over the ban on travel to Uman. The threat obviously caught Netanyahu’s attention, for it was only days later that he spoke with Zelensky and publicized their conversation.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Scott and Ilissa Reich, with their son Eli and their daughter Emelia, at home in New York (courtesy of the Reich family)
Today we celebrate a potential Israeli cure for rare disease! A New York toddler may have found a treatment for his highly unusual brain disorder by way of Tel Aviv University researchers. Eli Reich, aged 2, was diagnosed with a degenerative disease that leads most who suffer from it to die before their teenage years. When his father heard the diagnosis, he said: “We have to go to Israel.” Using Eli’s DNA, researchers combed through approved medications to determine which, if any, would be able to help. Having identified seven candidates, they hope to get FDA approval as soon as possible. The scientists will use Eli’s own stem cells to mimic his brain cells, testing the drugs out in the lab before using them on him.
On this day in 1969, Golda Meir became Israel’s first female prime minister. Meir, who was born in Ukraine and grew up in Wisconsin, was a founder of Israel, and a leading labor activist and Zionist. She took on the role as the country’s first Labor minister—a big deal in a socialist country!—first ambassador to the Soviet Union, her former home when it was the Russian Empire, and later was the Foreign Minister and Internal Affairs Minister. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion, Israel’s founding father, called Meir: “the best man in the government.” Some refer to Meir as “grandmother of the Jewish people.”