Inside Israel: Election leaves no clear path for Netanyahu; fifth elections possible; Netanyahu banned from appointing justice officials; Erdan speaks with Mayorkas about visa-free travel; IDF posts secret bases by accident; rockets fired at Netanyahu in Beersheba; and coronavirus continues decrease in Israel
Israel’s Neighbors: Iran strikes Israeli cargo ship; Biden restores aid to Palestinians; Palestinians argue for ‘soft’ statehood; China wants to be involved in Mid East; and Suez closed
Inside the U.S.: White House hosts Passover event; senators push for broader Iran deal; Levine becomes first trans person confirmed by Senate; and Jessica Walter dies
Antisemitism: Complaint filed after soccer fans’ antisemitic chants; new antisemitism definition excludes Israel boycotts; football coach fired after antisemitic play calls; and University of Illinois forms Jewish council
Inside Europe: New Auschwitz names discovered; surprises at UN votes against Israel; Germany to help survivors get vaccinated; and MI6 accused of helping to cover up war crimes
Celebrate & Remember: World’s first synthetic cornea; and Egypt & Israel’s peace treaty
Netanyahu falls short: With virtually all outstanding ballots counted Thursday, it seems that neither the anti- nor pro-Netanyahu camps will be able to form a logical government in Israel. The blocs both fall under the 61 votes needed to form a government, despite this being the fourth round of elections in under two years. The pro-Netanyahu bloc currently has 52 seats while the anti-Netanyahu bloc has 57. Voter turnout was the lowest in the last four election campaigns. With Yamina, the right-wing party headed by Naftali Bennett, and Ra’am, the Arab-Islamist party, being the potential tie-breakers, it is unclear how the two could work together to back one single bloc. (Netanyahu would need both parties to achieve a narrow majority.) The right-wing parties won’t work with the extreme Arab parties, which rules out a Netanyahu bloc backed by Ra’am, and a left-center coalition backed by the Joint List (which Yamina, A New Hope, and Yisrael Beiteinu will likely not be willing to do) would be very tenuous. Formal election results will be presented to President Reuven Rivlin next Wednesday. The Central Elections Committee noted there was a possibility of change until then, but that is highly unlikely.
Netanyahu’s Likud party has also reportedly formed a team to search for potential mistakes and problems with votes for the Joint List in order for Likud to gain an additional seat (Currently, the Joint List has a buffer of 2,521 votes, below which it loses its 6th seat. Likud is closest to an additional seat by number of votes, so it would gain from the Joint List’s loss.) Likud has also reportedly offered a ministry position to the number two lawmaker in the Likud breakaway New Hope party in order to gain an additional seat.
Fifth elections possible: The prospect of fifth elections is on the horizon, but with over 61 seats, the anti-Netanyahu bloc may be able to actually pass a law banning Netanyahu, as a person under criminal indictment, from running for prime minister again. Also, should fifth elections occur beyond November, Benny Gantz might become prime minister under his rotation agreement with Netanyahu from last year. Netanyahu wants neither scenario to occur, so some have speculated he may run for president of Israel (which is up for Knesset elections at the end of spring) in order to maintain immunity from prosecution. Jewish groups and politicians in America (not to mention liberal groups in Israel) are expressing outrage that the Jewish extremist party Religious Zionism will likely be asked to join a government under Netanyahu. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said it would maintain its boycott of the faction, while the Democratic Majority for Israel group said it was “appalled” by Religious Zionism’s inclusion. Behind-the-scenes, Israel’s new Gulf allies are also saying that the inclusion of extremists in the government will taint their countries’ relationships with Israel.
Netanyahu banned from appointing justice officials: Several months after Israeli attorney general Avichai Mandelblit imposed severe restrictions on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s ability to appoint law enforcement, the High Court of Justice has ruled in Mandelblit’s favor. In the High Court’s statement, Chief Justice Esther Hayut said: “the reality in which a prime minister is serving while an indictment is pending against him…is an exceptional situation that requires…prohibiting a person in public office from being in a situation of conflict of interest.” With this ruling, Netanyahu will not be able to appoint top police and prosecution officials, Jerusalem district court nominees, or High Court nominees, who might hear his appeal if he is convicted. Netanyahu is currently standing trial for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust, and witnesses will begin testimony on April 5th.
Erdan speaks with Mayorkas about visa-free travel: Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Gilad Erdan, said he spoke with Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas about visa-free entry for Israelis to the United States, a very big issue for many Israelis. Erdan called the conversation “productive,” and said that they would be setting up a joint team to review the status of Israeli visa-entry. In the past, Israel has had trouble gaining access to the list of 39 countries whose citizens can enter the U.S. without a visa, because the U.S. requests access to Israel’s fingerprint data, which it won’t provide. The U.S. also wanted Israel to allow free access to Palestinian-American citizens to fly to America via Ben Gurion airport.
IDF posts secret bases by accident: The IDF accidentally posted the location of secret bases online before taking it down when asked about it. The Israeli military posted a map with the precise location and boundaries of bases, including their names, on the internet. Following the reveal, Haaretz asked about the disclosure of the bases and their locations, and the IDF took down the maps. The army said the pictures were from “a civilian website that provides global public services for making maps accessible around the world and in Israel. Marking the IDF camps and bases was not done by the military, but copied from the existing map on the website.”
Rockets fired at Netanyahu in Beersheba: After Prime Minister Netanyahu made a campaign stop in Beersheba, terrorists launched rockets at the city from the Gaza Strip. One rocket landed in an open field. Following the rocket launch, the Israeli Air Force hit targets in Gaza. The IDF said: “The Hamas terrorist organization bears responsibility for what happens inside and outside of the Gaza Strip, and will bear the consequences of terrorist acts against Israeli citizens.” Hamas has previously targeted Netanyahu campaign stops, like a 2020 event in Ashkelon.
Iran strikes Israeli cargo ship: An Israeli-owned cargo ship was struck by an Iranian missile in the Arabian Sea on Thursday. This comes amid escalating tensions in the shadow war between the two countries, who have reportedly been attacking each other’s ships over the past year. The ship, which was making its way to India from Tanzania, is owned by XT Management, an Israeli company. The ship will continue to sail to India where damage control will be conducted. The military said that at this stage, it would not comment on the report. One month ago, another Israeli ship was struck in the Strait of Hormuz. Iran vehemently denied blame for the attack, but experts say the attack looks similar to previous strikes by Iran. A Wall Street Journal investigation reported that, since late 2019, Israel has targeted a dozen Iranian ships, most transporting oil to Syria.
Biden restores aid to Palestinians: Two years after former President Trump halted communications with and aid to the Palestinians, President Joe Biden has restarted aid with an announcement today of $15 million in funding for COVID-related response. The funds will not be distributed directly to Ramallah, but instead given to non-profit organizations operating in the West Bank and Gaza. The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said: “This urgent, necessary aid is one piece of our renewed commitment to the Palestinian people… [it’s] consistent with our interests and our values, and it aligns with our efforts to stamp out the pandemic and food insecurity worldwide.” The Biden administration will continue rekindling talks with the Palestinians, while maintaining support both for Israel and the two-state solution.
Palestinians argue for ‘soft’ statehood: Two advisors to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas are pushing for a version of Palestinian statehood with ‘soft’ sovereignty. Arguing that a completely sovereign Palestinian state will never be viable, Hussein Agha and Ahmad Samih Khalidi recommended a version of statehood that gives joint control over the borders to other nations. The pair wrote in Foreign Affairs magazine that Palestinians have the choice of “self-defeating chimera of hard sovereignty” or “adopting softer versions,” which would include trilateral “border security arrangements in both the West Bank (Jordanian, Israeli, and Palestinian) and Gaza (Egyptian, Israeli, and Palestinian).” They also said that Israeli normalization with Arab nations necessitated such action, because the Palestinians are being left behind as the Arab world moves past its conflict with Israel. They wrote: “In short, Palestinian diplomacy has failed massively. It takes exceptional talent to transform an almost complete consensus among Arabs and Muslims on the future of Palestine and Jerusalem into just another matter on a packed Arab agenda.”
China wants to be involved in Mid East: Seeking to become more involved in Middle East affairs, China said it would host Israeli and Palestinian officials for a summit. Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that China will propose a five-point plan to solve the Israseli-Palestinian conflict in order to achieve “regional peace and stability in the Middle East.” Also this week, China said it would protect the Iran nuclear deal, strengthening the Sino-Iranian relationship.
Suez closed; first in 45 years: Not since 1975 has the Suez Canal been closed, until this week. A mega-ship called Ever Given got lodged in the Suez at an awkward angle, apparently due to strong wind. The ship has caused a complete shutdown of traffic through the Canal, with a backlog of over 150 ships so far. Some said the ship, acting like a “beached whale,” could be stuck for days or even weeks more. The world’s trade and energy consumption hangs in the balance, with tens of thousands of ships passing through the Canal each year. The stranded ship reportedly is holding up an estimated $400 million an hour in trade based on the approximate value or goods that are moved through the Suez every day.
INSIDE THE U.S.
“Next year in Jerusalem!”: White House hosts Passover event
Source: The White House / YouTube (screenshot), March 25, 2021
White House hosts Passover event: The White House hosted a virtual event celebrating Passover on Thursday evening. It featured many Jewish members of the Biden administration, including Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff. It was hosted by Rabbi Sharon Brous of Ikar Synagogue in Los Angeles. President and First Lady Biden spoke, saying, “Next year in Jerusalem…and in person!” Vice President Kamala Harris and Emhoff also spoke about the importance of the holiday. Some commentators called the event, watched by approximately 20,000 people live, one of the “widest-reaching Jewish events of the internet age.” Yair Rosenberg, a senior writer for Tablet magazine, wrote: “The seat of U.S. government is running an official event for Passover, featuring members of the current administration openly celebrating the holiday’s message and their own Jewishness. This may sound normal, but it’s not. You’d never see this in any other non-Jewish country.”
Senators push for broader Iran deal: Forty-three senators wrote an appeal to President Biden on Thursday, advocating against rejoining the 2015 Iran nuclear deal and instead pushing for a new agreement with broader scope. Senators Bob Menendez and Lindsey Graham led the call, supported by 41 other senators of both parties, which stated that politicians are “united on preventing an Iranian nuclear weapon and addressing the wide range of Iranian behavior.” The senators are pushing not only for a curtailing of Iran’s nuclear program, on which the 2015 deal focused exclusively, but also for halting Iran’s arms deals in the Middle East and its support of terror, as well as the release of political prisoners. The call could potentially see support from Israel’s prime minister, who has been a vocal opponent of the deal since 2015.
Levine becomes first trans person confirmed by Senate: Earlier this week, Dr. Rachel Levine became the first-ever transgender person to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate. Levine, who is Jewish and went to Hebrew school, was confirmed as the Assistant Secretary of Health by a vote of 52 to 48. All Democrats voted in favor of her. President Biden said: “[Levine] will bring the steady leadership and essential expertise we need to get people through this pandemic—no matter their zip code, race, religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability –and meet the public health needs of our country in this critical moment and beyond.”
Jessica Walter dies: Jewish actress Jessica Walter died at her home. She was 80. Walter was best known as the character Lucille Bluth on the TV show “Arrested Development.” She was nominated for an Emmy Award for her performance as Bluth, but won an Emmy for her title role in NBC’s Amy Prentiss. She has one child, Brooke Bowman, who is an executive at 21st Century Fox Television.
Argentine Jewish group files complaint after soccer fans chant about ‘killing the Jews to make soap’
Complaint filed after soccer fans’ antisemitic chants: The Argentinian Jewish umbrella organization filed a criminal complaint after a viral video showed at least 1,000 fans of a Buenos Aires-based soccer team chanting about “killing the Jews to make soap” before a game against a team with a history of Jewish fans. The chant related to the debunked myth that the Nazis used Jewish bodies during the Holocaust to make soap. The chants occurred before a game between rivals Chacarita, a Buenos Aires-based team, and Atlanta, a team historically linked to Argentina’s Jewish community. The Jewish-Argentine community numbers around 300,000 people. The Delegation of Argentine Israeli Associations (DAIA) said it wanted authorities to investigate “a possible crime” breaking Argentina’s anti-discrimination laws. DAIA said: “The episode is an incitement to violence, to persecution, to hate, and represents a threat against the Jewish community as a whole, as well as other collectives vulnerable to discrimination.” In 2012, the Argentine Football Association made a decision to award a match to Atlanta, which initially finished 1-1, after Chacarita fans chanted antisemitic, “racist and xenophobic” songs.
New antisemitism definition excludes Israel boycotts: Little over a week following the Nexus Task Force’s document outlining an alternative to the widely-accepted International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism, an additional document outlining an antisemitism definition has been written, published, and endorsed by over 200 Jewish scholars, this one explicitly excluding boycotts of Israel or opposition to Zionism. The Jerusalem Declaration, as the proposal is called, claims to delineate “what antisemitism is — and, in the context of Israel and Palestine, what it is not.” The Declaration, as its authors write, can either be used instead of the IHRA definition or as a supplement to IHRA’s shortcomings. Several Jewish activists have come out in fierce opposition to the Jerusalem Declaration, calling its points “fantasies with no basis in reality.” One online Jewish activist, Michal Cohen, said on Twitter: “I’m genuinely curious what the authors of the “Jerusalem Declaration of Antisemitism” think Zionism is. They state it is antisemitic to “deny the right of Jews in the state of Israel to exist and flourish, collectively and individually, as Jews, in accordance with the principle of equality.” They just defined Zionism, but then say it’s ok to oppose Zionism.”
Football coach fired after antisemitic play calls: A Massachusetts high school fired its football coach after the team used antisemitic language, including a mention of “Auschwitz,” in its on-field play-calling during a recent game. The antisemitic language was used to call audibles (a verbal instruction to change a play at the last second). The words used included “rabbi,” “driedel,” and “Auschwitz.” Duxbury school officials issued a statement saying that the responsibility lies with the coaches on the team. The executive director of the Anti-Defamation League of New England, Robert Trestan, said: “It’s deeply hurtful to the Jewish community to learn that the plays somehow connect to the Holocaust and Judaism. This is really a serious situation. There are indications of a systemic failure both on and off the field.” Duxbury’s game today has been canceled, and officials are determining how, if at all, the season will resume.
University of Illinois forms Jewish council: Chancellor Robert Jones announced that the University of Illinois is establishing a Jewish advisory council to fight antisemitism on its campuses. Erez Cohen, executive director of the University’s Hillel, said: “This is a step forward, a good step forward, in solving the problem of dealing with antisemitism on campus. We’ve seen that Jewish students, Jewish faculty and Jewish staff members were not consulted in these situations, and the response was much more general. So, having more involvement in helping solve our community’s problem is really critical.” The advisory council is modeled after a similar one at the University of California at Berkeley.
Archives uncover forgotten names of Auschwitz inmates
A group of child survivors stand behind a barbed wire fence at the Nazi concentration camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau in southern Poland, on the day of the camp’s liberation by the Soviet Army, Jan. 27, 1945. The children were dressed in adult uniforms by the Russians.
New Auschwitz names discovered: The names of an additional 4,000 inmates imprisoned at the Auschwitz concentration camp were discovered after thorough research conducted by Ewa Bazan, an archivist. Bazan and the research team uncovered additional information about another 26,000 inmates. The records were found at the Arolsen Archives in Germany, which contains about 30 million documents in total. About 100,000 names of Auschwitz prisoners remain unknown to this day.
Surprises at UN votes against Israel: As expected, the United Nations Human Rights Council, on which human rights abusers like China sit, passed a measure calling for the world to establish an arms embargo against Israel, and Israel alone. The UNHRC hosts these votes against Israel annually, but this year something was different: Bahrain abstained for the first time. This is due to the fact that Israel normalized relations with that Arab nation last year. Also, European countries voted en masse against a resolution condemning Israel for its presence in the Golan Heights. The German ambassador to the UN said: “While hundreds of thousands of Syrians suffer at the hands of the regime, this text focuses only on Israel.” It appears countries are getting tired of the repetitive, biased, and ridiculous censures against Israel passed all the time at the UN with the only regular agenda item targeting one country, Item 7.
Germany to help survivors get vaccinated: The government of Germany is offering over $13 million for plans to vaccinate Holocaust survivors around the world against the coronavirus. The money for the Claims Conference will go toward helping 190,000 Holocaust survivors, all remaining survivors outside Israel, book vaccine appointments and get their shots. Germany also relaxed rules for descendants of Holocaust survivors toward obtaining German citizenship. Germany’s interior minister said the law is about “apologizing in profound shame.” Previously, those Jews who fled Nazi Germany and were stripped of their citizenship because of it (and their descendants) were not eligible to reclaim citizenship. Austria also relaxed its similar laws in 2019.
MI6 accused of helping to cover up war crimes: Jewish leaders in the United Kingdom are calling for an investigation into a BBC bombshell about the government covering up war crimes of Nazi collaborators who became MI6 informants during the Cold War. The allegations originate with Polish-British Stanislaw Chrzanowski, who was suspected by his stepson to have been a Nazi sympathizer. German intelligence believe Chrzanowski could have been tied to the murders of over 30 people, but U.K. police have said there was “insufficient evidence” to prosecute him. Security experts posit that Chrzanowski was recruited by MI6 to work at the Marienfelde refugee camp during the Cold War, despite knowing his Nazi background. MP Robert Halfon called the BBC’s findings “horrific and frightening,” and says he plans to call on the parliamentary security committee to conduct a further investigation.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Egyptian President Anwar Sadat, U.S. President Jimmy Carter, and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin on the north lawn of the White House, March 26, 1979
Today we celebrate the world’s first synthetic cornea! The Israeli start-up company, EyeYon, is working on an implant that would be attached to the back of the cornea in a minimally invasive surgery. The goal of the implant is to offer an alternative to the millions of people waiting for a donor cornea who may end up losing their vision entirely without either a donation or the artificial implant. EyeYon has raised a total of $36 million in funding and has begun clinical trials in Israel, Spain, Germany, and the Netherlands. EyeYon hopes that the new funding will go towards expanding clinical trials and gaining FDA approval, ultimately having the implant roll out in 2022 in Europe, and later China and the US.
On this day in 1979, Egypt and Israel, after having fought four wars since 1948, concluded a formal peace treaty. The first such agreement between an Arab country and Israel, it was signed by Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin, and witnessed by President Jimmy Carter at a ceremony on the South Lawn of the White House. The accord came 16 months after Sadat had traveled to Jerusalem — an unprecedented move by an Arab leader that angered much of the Muslim world — to meet with Begin and address the Israeli parliament. It ended the state of war that had existed between the two countries since 1948 and resulted in all three leaders, Begin, Sadat, and Carter, being awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The 1979 peace treaty called for normalization of relations between Egypt and Israel and the full withdrawal by Israel of its armed forces and civilians from the Sinai Peninsula, which Israel had captured during the Six-Day War in 1967. Egypt turned Sinai into a demilitarized zone and provided for the free passage of Israeli ships through the Suez Canal and recognition of the Straits of Tiran and the Gulf of Aqaba as international waterways.