Israel’s Election: Anti-Netanyahu bloc attempts coalition government; Lapid meets with party heads; and Israel’s unlikely kingmaker
Inside Israel: Passover returns to normal-ish; three terror attacks averted; ancient Temple coin discovered in Jerusalem; and Israel reconsidering mask mandate
Israel’s Neighbors: Iran and China sign megadeal to challenge U.S. pressure; Suez Canal reopens after ship freed; and Netanyahu delays water aid to Jordan
Antisemitism: Jewish actress sent death threats on Passover; antisemitic murderer appeals death sentence; article under fire for reported inaccuracies; antisemitism found on Auschwitz Google Maps site; and antisemitic vandalism in South Florida
Celebrate & Remember: Linoy Ashram wins gold; and remembering Maimonides
Opposition attempts to come together: With the dust of last week’s election settling, it seems that the anti-Netanyahu bloc of parties is going to attempt to cobble together a government in an effort to oust Netanyahu. The bloc of parties supporting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has 52 seats and the anti-Netanyahu bloc has 57 seats, with Yamina and Ra’am (at 7 and 4 seats, respectively) still undecided. Naftali Bennett, the head of Yamina, reportedly will not talk to Opposition Leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid) unless Lapid offers him the position of prime minister, which Lapid will not do. Although this may be the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s best shot yet, observers still say a fifth election is quite likely. It will be up to President Reuven Rivlin to give the mandate to form a government to whomever he chooses (most likely either Prime Minister Netanyahu or Opposition Leader Yair Lapid) and that person shall get the first shot at forming a government. Should the first choice fail, the President will ask someone else to try and form a government. The President will be meeting with the coalition partners on Monday, the day that Prime Minister Netanyahu’s corruption trial resumes.
Lapid meets with party heads: Opposition Leader Yair Lapid is wasting no time talking with party heads from all ends of the spectrum. He sat down with Avigdor Lieberman of Yisrael Beiteinu who is extremely right-wing, but working very hard to take down Netanyahu. Lieberman said he will back Lapid for prime minister and recommend him to President Rivlin. He also said his party will introduce legislation to set term limits on prime ministers (Netanyahu has been prime minister for a cumulative 15 years) and to bar people under indictment from becoming prime minister (Netanyahu is under indictment in multiple criminal cases). Even if the next government is only temporary and unstable, it will likely be able to pass such measures given Netanyahu’s unpopularity. Lapid is even meeting with his former ally Benny Gantz of Blue and White, an alliance that broke down quite dramatically last year. Gantz said that he wants both Lapid and Gideon Sa’ar of the right-wing New Hope to work together to oust Netanyahu for the good of the country.
Israel’s unlikely kingmaker: Lastly, Lapid held discussions with a more curious figure: Mansour Abbas of the Ra’am Islamist party. Although it’s very hard to imagine a coalition of Ra’am with hard-right parties like Lieberman and Sa’ar’s, if they all put aside their differences to oust Netanyahu, it might just work. Abbas apparently told Lapid that he wants investment in Arab (especially Bedouin) communities, a commitment to fighting rising violent crime in Arab areas, and his party’s freedom to vote against issues of LGBT equality, which the homophobic party deeply opposes. Ra’am also met with Netanyahu’s Likud, but said it would not work with Religious Zionism, the extremist anti-Arab Jewish party. Both Lieberman and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar gave indications they may be ready to sit with non-Zionist Arab parties solely for the purpose of taking down Netanyahu (which will likely be necessary to avoid a fifth election). If neither side can build a government, a fifth election will be held in the fall.
Three terror attacks averted: Two potential terrorist attacks in the West Bank were averted by quick thinking military personnel. A ramming attack near Ma’ale Adumim was unsuccessful when the assailant hit cars instead of people. The terrorist was arrested and is in Israeli custody. The border police also prevented a bombing at a military court in Salim (near Nablus) when they noticed a young man acting suspiciously. This accused terrorist is 17 years old; he had placed explosives on his body. Additionally, on Monday a 33-year-old Arab man with special needs tried to attack an Israeli police officer with a knife in central Haifa. Police shot the man, fatally wounding him.
Ancient Temple coin discovered in Jerusalem: A restoration project at Jerusalem’s Tower of David uncovered a “Tyre” coin (also called Tyrian shekel or tetradrachmas) from the Second Temple era which would have been used by pilgrims to pay the Temple tax on their way to make sacrifices at the Holy Temple. Such taxes were paid during the three pilgrimage holidays to the Temple, including Passover. The coin was discovered during the restoration within a box of artifacts from the 1980s that were forgotten about or misplaced. These types of coins were minted in the city of Tyre, Lebanon between 135 BCE and 66 CE, when they stopped due to the start of the Great Revolt in Judea. Very few Tyrian coins have been discovered, but their significance is clear from historical accounts of the Roman period.
Israel reconsidering mask mandate: Coronavirus infections continue to fall so rapidly in Israel that the coronavirus czar, Nachman Ash, said that mask guidelines may be relaxed following Passover. The cabinet has also, though, quietly approved the purchase of some 30 million vaccines for $2.1 billion, but it is unclear as to why. (Israel’s population is only 9 million and a majority are already vaccinated.) And yet the meeting to discuss the issue was canceled after Defense Minister Gantz, who is temporarily acting as the Justice Minister as well, demanded that Prime Minister Netanyahu appoint a permanent Justice Minister, which he would not agree to do.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Iran and China sign megadeal to challenge U.S. pressure
Iran & China sign cooperation agreement: On Saturday, Iran and China signed a multibillion dollar 25-year economic and security cooperation agreement. Iran will supply China with cheap oil and in exchange, China will invest $400 billion in Iran over the next 25 years in dozens of fields including banking, telecommunications, ports, railways, health care, and information technology. An earlier version of the agreement which was leaked to TheNew York Times last July also called for greater military cooperation between the countries, including weapons sales and intelligence sharing. The deal could also deepen China’s influence in the Middle East and undercut efforts to keep Iran isolated. Amos Yadlin, the former IDF chief of Military Intelligence, expressed concern about intelligence sharing between the two countries. Both countries are currently subject to U.S. sanctions and some view the partnership as a challenge to U.S. pressure. Just last week, the United States, United Kingdom, European Union, and Canada sanctioned senior Chinese officials involved in the genocide against Uighur Muslims in the Xinjiang province. It is not immediately clear how much of the Sino-Iranian agreement can be implemented during the U.S. dispute with Iran over its nuclear program. China was one of the five world powers that signed the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. In reaction to a leaked U.S. media report that the Biden administration would offer a new proposal to jump start nuclear deal talks, Iranian state television said the new offer would be rejected, quoting an unnamed official.
Suez Canal reopens after ship freed: The colossal container ship that was stuck in the Suez Canal for the past week and caused billions of dollars of loss globally was freed Sunday night thanks to salvage teams and a supermoon that brought high tides. “We pulled it off!” said Peter Berdowski, CEO of Boskalis, the salvage firm hired to extract the Ever Given container ship The question will now turn to how this happened in the first place, including any human errors in addition to the weather issues. Even if pilot error is found to have contributed to the accident, Egyptian law makes clear that pilots are not liable for any damage during their watch of the ship.
Netanyahu delays water aid to Jordan: The growing rift between Jordanian and Israeli leadership is experiencing another crisis as Prime Minister Netanyahu delays approval of Jordan’s urgent request for water. Netanyahu has apparently withheld his go-ahead despite Israeli ministers and water officials signing off. This comes after months of tension in which Israel blocked the Prince of Jordan’s unapproved security detail from visiting the Temple Mount and Jordan subsequently prevented Netanyahu from flying through its airspace to the UAE.
Romania probes death threats against prominent Jewish actress
Source: Maia Morgenstern / Facebook, January 11, 2021
Jewish actress sent death threats on Passover: A Jewish-Romanian actress and her children were sent death threats via email during the start of Passover. The actress, Maia Morgenstern, runs the Jewish State Theatre in Bucharest. The email was sent by a group claiming to be “the far right Alliance for Uniting Romanians.” However, that organization’s leader said the threats did not come from them. The Romanian police are investigating.
Antisemitic murderer appeals death sentence: The man who murdered three people at two Jewish sites in Kansas City in 2014 is appealing his death sentence to Kansas’ Supreme Court this week. He was convicted in 2015 of his crimes and sentenced to capital punishment. The criminal and his lawyers are now arguing that he should not have been allowed to represent himself at his trial due to his mental health issues. Despite planning and wanting to kill Jews, all of his victims were Christian. The man is a founder of a chapter of the Ku Klux Klan and a veteran.
Article under fire for reported inaccuracies: A New Yorker article by Masha Gessen is being criticized by the Auschwitz museum, the Polish government, and even the CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC) for containing fabrications. The article discussed the cases of two Polish Holocaust scholars who were recently sued, inaccurately stating that they were put on trial by the government (it was a civil suit brought by a right-wing group friendly with the government). The director of the Auschwitz museum said: “[the article] contains so many lies and distortions that I find it a bit hard to believe that it is a coincidence. When it concerns the Holocaust, any distortion of historical truth is very dangerous.” David Harris of the AJC said the article was “defamatory.” The issue up for debate revolves around the degree to which Poles abetted the Nazis during the Holocaust, which is a very sensitive issue in Poland. In 2018, Poland even passed a controversial law that called for three years’ imprisonment for anyone who claimed that Poland was involved in the crimes of the Nazis during World War II. Facing international pressure, the law’s criminal clause was canceled. However, historians, journalists, and the general public, including Holocaust survivors and Holocaust researchers, are still subject to legal action in Poland because of their work on the subject, based on other clauses in Polish law. Polish participation in the horrors of the Holocaust is well documented, including pogroms and turning in Jewish neighbors.
Antisemitism found on Auschwitz Google Maps site: The Auschwitz museum was also subject of another controversy this week when it was discovered that comments on Google Maps were filled with antisemitism. The Chief Executive of the Holocaust Education Fund said: “Google needs to take responsibility for the hate being shared on their site and take steps to monitor and remove such abhorrent content, and improve and change their moderation and policies.” In response to the outrage, Google said: “We are appalled by these reviews on our platform and are taking action to remove the content and prevent further abuse.”
Antisemitic vandalism in South Florida: On the day before Passover, a Holocaust survivor’s car was vandalized with swastikas in Hallandale Beach, Florida. One resident said: “It’s a terrible occurrence anytime, but that’s especially so on the eve of a Jewish holiday.” In another incident in Miami, the phrase “Communism is Judaism” was spray-painted on the wall of a car repair service.
Today we celebrate an Israeli winning gold at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup! Competing in various categories, Linoy Ashram, 21, won two gold medals and one bronze medal at the Rhythmic Gymnastics World Cup in Sofia, Bulgaria. The Israeli rhythmic gymnast arrived in Bulgaria two days after Israel’s rhythmic gymnastics team won gold in the group all-around category. The World Cup acts as a qualifier for the 2021 Olympics (which were postponed from last year due to the coronavirus pandemic). This puts Ashram in a good place to compete for Israel and perhaps win at the Olympics.
On this date, two monumental events in Jewish history occurred, both in Spain. On this day in 1135, at the close of the Golden Age of Spanish Jewry, Rambam (Maimonides or Moses Ben Maimon) was born in Cordoba. After he was exiled from Muslim Spain, Rambam rose to become personal doctor to Saladin, the Sultan of Egypt and Syria in his new home in Cairo. However, Rambam is best known for his work on Jewish law and interpretation which fundamentally shaped the next 1,000 years of Jewish practice. He is most especially remembered and studied for his books the Mishneh Torah and the Guide for the Perplexed. A little over 350 years later, on this date in 1492, the Catholic monarchs of Spain, King Ferdinand of Aragon and Queen Isabella of Castile, signed the Alhambra Decree expelling or forcibly converting 300,000 Jews from their territory. Thus came to an end the 1,000 years of Jewish prosperity in all aspects of Spain that perhaps peaked in the life of Rambam. The edict was only repealed by Spain in 1968, 476 years later.