Israel’s Election: Israel’s election is underway; President Rivlin implores voters; Rivlin will wait to give mandate; polling and last-minute maneuverings; and protesters give final push against Netanyahu
Inside Israel: Israel revokes Palestinian FM’s VIP pass after ICC meeting; Israel launches nano-satellites; and Pollard defends spying for Israel
Coronavirus: Israel closes vaccination sites; Israeli nasal spray kills COVID; and Israelis develop oral COVID vaccine
Antisemitism: Pregnant Jewish woman attacked in London; Brazilian politician spreads antisemitic blood libel; CA approves ethnic studies curriculum; and imam gives antisemitic sermon in Miami
Israel’s Neighbors: UNHRC encourages arms embargo against Israel; Saudis say no normalization without Palestinian state; Iran continues to breach nuclear deal; Shin Bet asks Abbas to cancel elections; and Daniel Pearl killer moved to safe house
Celebrate & Remember: Abraham Accords Friendship Cup; and remembering Emmy Noether
Israel’s fourth election in less than 2 years today
Israel’s president implores voters: In an opinion piece published earlier today for the Jerusalem Post, Israeli President Reuven Rivlin implored Israelis to make their voices heard at the ballot box today. Rivlin said, “In its 73 years of independence, the State of Israel has not experienced a political crisis like the one we are currently in.” He explained, “In the days after the elections, I will meet the people’s representatives in the Knesset that you are voting for today, and I will ask them which candidate they recommend should be entrusted with forming a government. These people are your representatives. They speak on behalf of you. They are the voice of the public, the voice of the Israeli people. Only you, citizens of the State of Israel, determine the allocation of seats, according to which I can decide.” He concluded, “Citizens of the State of Israel, I am committed to you. I want to hear your voice. In order for me to understand what you would like me to do, what you think is right and proper for the State of Israel, you must exercise your right to vote.”
Rivlin will wait to give mandate: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin is anticipated to wait longer than usual for the final vote results before starting consultations with party leaders. Because no party has ever gained a majority with 61 seats, a party must be able to form a coalition with others to reach 61+ seats. After an election, Israel’s president (currently Rivlin) chooses the Knesset member most likely to form a viable coalition government. He will do this after meeting with all the party heads who make it into the Knesset and hearing who they recommend as the candidate for prime minister. Typically, the leader of the party receiving the most seats is given the first shot of forming a coalition government, but it is not required to be so. The election results will be formally presented to Rivlin on March 31 and then he will begin consultations with the party leaders. The deadline for Rivlin to give his 28-day mandate to build a coalition is April 7. The head of the Central Elections Committee warned yesterday that some could use the delay to sow confusion and unrest.
Polling and last-minute maneuverings: According to pollsters, about 15 out of the Knesset’s 120 seats are still in undecided territory. In recent weeks, Netanyahu’s camp has had growing strength while the anti-Netanyahu bloc has fractured, but the latest polls show a chance for Netanyahu’s right-wing bloc and the anti-Netanyahu bloc both winning 60 seats. On television over the weekend, Yamina head Naftali Bennett, a Netanyahu rival, signed a pledge saying he will not sit under Yesh Atid and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid as prime minister. He therefore greatly increased the chances of a fifth election should Netanyahu not be able to form a coalition himself. (Basically a huge all-around win for Netanyahu.) Lapid, however, said “we will see” when asked about the pledge. Gideon Sa’ar of A New Hope also criticized Bennett’s pledge, publicly saying “Bennett collapsed into the arms of Netanyahu amid lies and political spin created by his master.” According to a report, Sa’ar also called Bennett a “despicable cheat” behind closed doors. Sa’ar refused to rule out a government led by Lapid.
One thing Bennett and Sa’ar agree on is hammering home Netanyahu’s failed promise to annex parts of the West Bank, aiming to draw settler votes away from Netanyahu, who is still courting the settler vote hard. Netanyahu in his final pitch refused to debate Lapid, despite not having debated his rivals in over a decade, and claimed he would not attempt to cancel his corruption trials should he retain control. Lastly, during a closed-door meeting, President Reuven Rivlin reportedly said he will not act to help form another unity government (like the current power-sharing unity government between Likud and Blue and White) following the elections.
Protesters give final push against Netanyahu: Tens of thousands of anti-Netanyahu demonstrators gathered for one of the largest protests in the movement’s 39-week history on Saturday night. The weekly protests against Netanyahu have taken place for nine months. They have lost some strength in recent months in part due to cold winter weather and after the early elections were declared in December (not to mention the coronavirus outbreak). The grassroots protest movement says Netanyahu cannot serve as prime minister while he is on trial on multiple corruption charges. Many are also concerned that should Netanyahu win the election, he will form the most religious and conservative coalition in the history of the country, which could challenge the democratic character of the country. For protection and to nip any violence in the bud, about 20,000 police will be deployed to polling stations across the country today. Knesset security services are also preparing for a potential scenario in which masses attempt to storm the parliament building during or after the election, in case of a copycat of the U.S. Capitol insurrection.
Israel revokes VIP border pass of Palestinian Foreign Minister after ICC meeting
The International Criminal Court building, The Hague, Netherlands
Israel revokes Palestinian FM’s VIP pass: In retaliation for meeting with the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor, Israel confiscated the VIP border pass of Palestinian Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki. VIP status allows senior Palestinian officials to move without restrictions within the West Bank as well as into Israeli territory and Jordan. During the meeting, al-Maliki asked the ICC to expedite the investigation against Israel. A senior Israeli official said: “Against the background of this activity of al-Maliki, which was intended to harm Israel, it was decided that there was no place for him to enjoy any more privileges [while] at border crossings.” A Palestinian Authority official said: “we regard this as an attack against the State of Palestine.”
The ICC sent Israel and the Palestinians a letter last week officially alerting them to the one-month period during which they can request a deferral of the investigation. Aviv Kochavi, the head of the IDF, condemned the International Criminal Court’s investigation of war crimes in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. He said: “The Hague is living in the old world. In the Middle East, there is a new area of terrorism.” He continued: “It is our enemies who have chosen to settle in populated areas and place thousands of missiles and rockets there that by definition hit civilians.”
Israel launches nano-satellites: A rocket launch in Kazakhstan sent three Israeli nano-satellites into space, among 38 in total from 18 different countries. The satellites were made at the Technion in Haifa and are the size of a shoebox. They will be over 370 miles above the earth in rotation for three years. The satellites aim to test if they, much smaller, cheaper, and lighter satellites, can in combination do the job of a much larger satellite. Pini Gurfil, the engineer, said: “This opens new possibilities for locator beacons, and for the miniaturization of satellites which is an important focus internationally, and seen as a disruptive innovation.”
Pollard defends spying for Israel: In his first interview since immigrating to Israel, Jonathan Pollard defended his spying for Israel in the 1980s. Pollard, who sold secrets to Israel from his post in the U.S. Navy, said he had “no choice,” and felt that America “stabbed Israel in the back” by withholding critical secrets. Having made aliyah late last year, Pollard and his wife Esther get recognized in the street often, and say that people enjoy knowing “someone was willing to sacrifice his life for them.” Pollard mentioned that he feels regret that his 30 years in prison have left him childless, but mostly expressed happiness and relief at living as a free man in Israel.
Number of new infections and daily deaths at the lowest in months
Israel closes vaccination sites: The coronavirus trends in Israel are highly encouraging, with the virus czar saying a fourth wave of the virus is unlikely. The country has seen a big drop in infections and number of serious cases. The country’s borders have also reopened, both to land and air. Ben Gurion had about 60 flights on Sunday, when before it had only been in the single digits or fewer. Israel’s vaccination success is so pronounced that mass inoculation centers are starting to shut down. A court ruled that schools can prohibit unvaccinated and untested staffers, setting a precedent across the country. The court said that the children’s safety outweighed the staffs’ rights to refuse testing and vaccination. The defendant’s lawyer said: “Every employee has the right to vaccinate or not. But every employee also has to bear responsibility for that decision. The responsibility definitely shouldn’t be placed on the employers, whose goal is to protect their employees and the general public served by them.”
Israeli nasal spray kills COVID: An Israeli nasal spray that kills 99.9% of virus particles has begun production. The product is designed to be a “hand sanitizer equivalent for the nose,” which will prevent people from being infected with the coronavirus (among other viruses). Gilly Regev, who designed the spray, said: “We are hoping that our nasal spray will now save many lives of people in countries that are waiting for the vaccine.” It has been given approval for sale in Israel and New Zealand so far. A Tel Aviv factory is hoping to produce between 200,000 and 500,000 units by May and then 1 million per month following that. The spray was designed prior to the coronavirus pandemic, mainly for use during flu season.
Israelis develop oral COVID vaccine: An Israeli-American company is set to begin its trials of an oral coronavirus vaccine, the first in the world. The company, Oramed Pharmaceuticals Inc., designed the oral vaccine with technology developed at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem. CEO Nadav Kidron said: “An oral COVID-19 vaccine would eliminate several barriers to rapid, wide-scale distribution, potentially enabling people to take the vaccine themselves at home.” The company hopes to conduct trials in the United States, Israel, Europe, and Mexico and to have initial data within three months.
Man arrested in connection with attack on Jewish pregnant woman in London
Pregnant Jewish woman attacked in London: A man has been arrested in connection with an attack on a pregnant Jewish woman in the London neighborhood of Stamford Hill. On Thursday evening, a white, male suspect approached the woman from behind, placed a pillow over her head, and punched her in the stomach several times. The local Shomrim neighborhood watch organization initially asked the public for help locating the suspect. The Stamford Hill neighborhood has a large ultra-Orthodox population. The Shomrim reported that the woman, who is 27-weeks pregnant, was injured and taken to the hospital, but the fetus was apparently unharmed. It also said there has recently been an increase in attacks on lone women in the neighborhood. The police said a motive still not has been established and that the incident is not believed to be linked to any other attacks.
Brazilian politician spreads antisemitic blood libel: On Friday, Roberto Jefferson, the head of a major Brazilian party, posted an antisemitic blood libel on Instagram, saying: “Baal, Satanic deity, Canaanites and Jews sacrificed children to receive their sympathy. Today, history repeats itself.” The post has since been taken down by Instagram. In response, Jewish groups have filed a criminal complaint against Jefferson. Jefferson has led the Labor Party (PTB as it is known in Brazil) since 2003. The Brazilian Israelite Confederation called Jefferson’s post “one of the vilest ways” to attack Jews. The Confederation wrote in a statement on Saturday: “This features [the] crime of racism with an increased penalty for having been committed through a social network…Screenshots and comments of followers, which can also be characterized as a crime, have been preserved for criminal investigation.”
CA approves ethnic studies curriculum: California has approved its public school ethnic studies curriculum that came under fire for its section on Jews. California state assembly member Jesse Gabriel said: “The model curriculum approved today by the State Board of Education is a vast improvement over prior drafts and a win for everyone who fought to remove bigoted and discriminatory content about Jews and Israel.” Originally, the curriculum contained antisemitism and had endorsed the boycott movement against Israel, but that was stripped from the final language. The Simon Wiesenthal Center said: “The just-approved model curriculum, while not perfect, addresses the major concerns our community identified nearly two years ago.” Not all Jewish groups or organizations were in favor of the approved curriculum. The Lawfare Project, in partnership with End Jew Hatred (EJH), the grassroots Jewish liberation movement, protested the curriculum and released a statement before its passage, saying: “Although the proposed model curriculum has undergone three rounds of drafting, it still contains elements of Jew-hatred and must not be enacted in its current form.” Hilary Hawn, a Jewish online activist (@hilalove), said, “The ethnic studies curriculum attempts to shove Jews into a construct in which we do not fit, dissecting and dividing us. And we are not the only group who is deeply concerned. Teaching students that Jews are viewed as white and privileged while noting that antisemitism, a racialized hatred, is rampant in the United States, is hypocritical to say the least.”
Imam gives antisemitic sermon in Miami: An imam in Miami called Israelis “descendants of pigs and apes” when criticizing Arab normalization with Israel in a sermon last week. The speech was posted to the mosque’s Facebook page and transcribed by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). Of the Arab nations, Imam Fadi Yousef Kablawi said: “You sold your religion, your people, your creed, your nations, and your nationalism, and you stand for nothing, because you are losers.” Kablawi immigrated to the United States from Jordan. He also seemed to call the Catholic Church and the Pope “idol worshippers.”
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
UN Human Rights Council encourages arms embargo against Israel
UN strengthens call for arms embargo: The United Nations Human Rights Council, on which human rights abusers such as China sit, voted in favor of an arms embargo against Israel over supposed human rights concerns in the country. It is the fourth consecutive years that the UNHRC has done so. The text of the resolution reads: “[countries should] refrain from transferring arms [to Israel] when such arms might be used to commit or facilitate serious violations or abuses of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law.” The UNHRC will also vote today on resolutions committing to Palestinian self-determination, a rejection of Israeli settlements, and a demand that Israel withdraw from the Golan Heights. The UN Security Council’s standing agenda item number seven deals with Israel and forces regular votes to condemn Israel. Israel is the only country that has a standing item and faces routine condemnation from the UN.
Saudis say no normalization without Palestinian state: Officials from both Saudi Arabia and Qatar said they would not normalize relations with Israel until the Palestinians have a state. However, one influential Saudi operative said: “the door to normalization is open.” Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir said: “our position remains that normalization can only come if there’s an agreement on peace.” Nevertheless, during the election campaign, Prime Minister Netanyahu said: “We will have direct flights for Muslim Israeli pilgrims from Tel Aviv to Mecca.” Netanyahu has been heavily courting Arab and Islamist voters.
Iran continues to breach nuclear deal: Every few days, new breaches by Iran to the nuclear deal are being documented. According to the latest reports received by Western intelligence officials, “hidden” equipment used to enrich uranium to weapons grade and materials used in the production of advanced centrifuges are being stored at secret sites in Iran. A senior Western intelligence source said: “The new revelations that Iran is trying to conceal vital elements of its nuclear programme from the outside world shows that Tehran has no intention of complying with its international obligations under the terms of the nuclear deal. It is yet another indication that the regime remains committed to acquiring nuclear weapons.” Also this week, intelligence officials discovered that earlier this year Iran considered an attack on the Washington, D.C. Fort McNair Army base, and made threats against one high-ranking general there, General Joseph M. Martin. In a speech bringing in the Persian New Year, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said his country was in “no hurry” to return to the nuclear deal. Khamenei stated that Iran has “a lot of patience,” and that “there is nothing wrong with” letting the deal die if the U.S. does not return to compliance with its part.
Shin Bet asks Abbas to cancel elections: According to reports, the head of the Shin Bet, Israel’s security service, asked Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas to cancel the Palestinian elections if Hamas, the Gaza-based terrorist organization, took part. Nadav Argaman’s request to Abbas took place within the last two weeks when the two met in Ramallah. Abbas apparently rejected the request and is moving forward with the elections, with Hamas included. Ahead of the first Palestinian parliamentary elections in 15 years, party lists are now being submitted to the Central Elections Commission. According to CEC regulations, candidates for parliament must not have any prior felony convictions, which disqualifies both Marwan Barghouti and Mohammed Dahlan, who were seen as major challenges to Abbas. The parties have until March 31st to submit their lists.
Daniel Pearl killer moved to safe house: Ahmad Saeed Omar Sheikh, the Pakistani-British man who was sentenced to death in 2002 for killing the Jewish American journalist Daniel Pearl, was acquitted by the Sindh High Court in Pakistan in April of last year and was this week moved to a safe house owing to “security concerns.” Sheikh is being kept in custody despite his acquittal, and security officials say he will not be able to leave the safe house, which is guarded in a secure, unknown location. Since Sheikh’s release from death row, the U.S. government and Pearl’s family have tried to overturn the decision multiple times, calling it “an affront to terrorism victims everywhere.” Pearl was the South Asia bureau chief for The Wall Street Journal when he was abducted in Karachi, Pakistan in January 2002 while researching a story about Islamist militants. A graphic video showing his decapitation was delivered to the U.S. consulate nearly a month later. His last words, recorded on a video in which he discusses his Jewish heritage and his family’s connection to Israel before being killed, became a rallying cry for Jewish solidarity.
Today we celebrate the Abraham Accords Friendship Cup, a friendly rugby tournament between Israel and the UAE! Israel won big: 33 to 0! After the first match, the players abandoned their national teams and began a second match of Blue versus White teams, in which players from both countries played on each team. White beat Blue 50 to 40. Israeli President Reuven Rivlin congratulated both teams, praising the “wonderful expression of the new spirit of people-to-people peace.” He continued: “true peace requires people on both sides to build bonds of friendship and cooperation in every arena.” After the match, the Israeli team stayed in Dubai and held an outdoor Shabbat ceremony to celebrate their win. Also in the UAE, a Russian-Israeli tennis player Aslan Karatsev won the Dubai tennis open, claiming his first title on the international stage. He was the first wild card to win the title since 1997, 22 years ago. Although he plays under the Russian flag, Karatsev grew up in Israel as a child. He still holds an Israeli passport and speaks fluent Hebrew.
On this day in 1882, Emmy Noether was born to a Jewish family in Erlangen, Bavaria. With a famous mathematician as her father, Emmy became one of the most celebrated mathematicians of the 20th century. She earned a doctorate in mathematics and came to teach at the University of Göttingen, despite very few women engaging in academia at the time. Her specialty was abstract algebra. Albert Einstein said of her: “In the judgment of the most competent living mathematicians, Fräulein Noether was the most significant creative mathematical genius thus far produced since the higher education of women began. In the realm of algebra, in which the most gifted mathematicians have been busy for centuries, she discovered methods which have proved of enormous importance in the development of the present-day younger generation of mathematicians.” In 1933, she was dismissed from her teaching post due to the Nazi’s prohibition on Jews in higher education. Noether fled Germany for the United States, where she taught at Bryn Mawr college. Of her colleagues like Einstein who fled Germany for Princeton, she said: “[it is] the men’s university, where nothing female is admitted.” She died in 1935 at the age of 53.