Europe & South Africa: French antisemitic murder case goes to appeal; Germany puts far-right party under observation; academics condemn U.K. university over antisemitic professor; South Africa judge ordered to apologize for pro-Israel statement; and Amsterdam kosher restaurant defaced again
Inside Israel: Minister accuses Iran of oil spill and defense disagrees; ultra-Orthodox rail against pro-Reform, Conservative court ruling; Pfizer’s CEO postpones Israel trip; and Eichmann witness dies
Coronavirus: Israel begins to vaccinate Palestinian workers; Israel’s vaccine program praised; and S. American immigrants arrive in Israel
Israel’s Neighbors: ICC investigating Israel; E3 drop planned resolution despite more Iranian attacks; survivor tells of Iraqi ghetto; and senior Fatah official declares support for new bloc
Inside the U.S.: Blinken praises IHRA definition; Shira Haas to star as Golda Meir; Adelson’s companies sell off Vegas properties; and Amazon changes logo
Celebrate & Remember: Israel’s Sheba Medical Center; and remembering “Black March”
EUROPE & SOUTH AFRICA
French high court debates whether or not cannabis use excuses antisemitic murder
Sarah Halimi’s murderer was not prosecuted because lawyers attributed his actions to a “massive psychotic episode” caused by smoking marijuana (Source: Simon Wiesenthal Center)
Antisemitic murder case goes to appeal: On Wednesday, France’s highest court began deliberations on whether to overrule a lower court’s decision to not prosecute the murderer of Sarah Halimi, a Jewish woman. The lower court decided that the murderer could not be criminally responsible because he smoked cannabis prior to the murder, which rendered him mentally unfit. On April 4, 2017, the murderer brutally beat Halimi, his neighbor, before throwing her out of the window of her third-floor apartment to her death. He screamed Islamist and antisemitic slogans as he killed Halimi. A lawyer representing the Halimi family said that French citizens had an important stake in the trial, as they would then be able to establish whether “the consumption of narcotics can be a cause for exonerating from penal responsibility in criminal matters.” She said that French law actually mandates further penalties for individuals who commit crimes under the influence of alcohol or drugs. “I want to recall that for several offenses, for example the crime of rape, taking narcotics is an aggravating circumstance. In willful violence, it is also an aggravating circumstance,” she said. According to Algemeiner, if the criminal’s conduct is excused by the highest court, he will be held in mental health institutions until doctors deem him fit to be released back into society. The only penalty he would receive would be to be banned from visiting the site of the killing and having contact with Halimi’s family for 20 years.
Germany puts far-right party under observation: Six months before a national election, Germany’s domestic intelligence agency has formally placed the biggest opposition party in parliament, Alternative for Germany (AfD), under observation due to suspicions of far-right extremist sympathies. AfD is the first party to be monitored in this way since the Nazi era ended in 1945. The designation reportedly opens up members to surveillance such as wiretapping and email monitoring, but the domestic intelligence agencies have agreed not to monitor the AfD’s elected officials while a court case in Cologne remains ongoing between the party and German authorities. Some members of AfD have been linked to neo-Nazi groups and in 2018, a party leader dismissed the Nazi era as merely a “speck of bird poop” on an otherwise admirable history of Germany. Four years ago, the German government decided against banning the neo-Nazi National Democratic Party (NPD), which won a handful of seats in a number of regional state assemblies. The Constitutional Court ruled that it was too weak to endanger democracy, despite its similarity to Hitler’s Nazi party.
Academics condemn U.K. university: More than 500 academics from around the world signed an open letter accusing Bristol University of “absolute failure of their duty of care” following the university’s decision not to condemn the antisemitic acts of sociology professor David Miller. The letter accuses Miller of making “morally reprehensible” comments that “risk the personal security and well-being of Jewish students and, more widely, Jews in the U.K.” Miller accused Jewish students of being “directed by the State of Israel” to pursue a “campaign of censorship” that endangers Muslim and Arab students. He also described Zionism as “an enemy to be targeted,” blamed the “Zionist movement” as one of the “five pillars of Islamophobia,” and branded Israel a “violent, racist, foreign regime engaged in ethnic cleansing.” Also in the U.K., a Palestinian member of the UK’s Labour Party lodged a complaint against the party after it hired a former IDF soldier as a digital campaign contractor.
South Africa judge ordered to apologize: South Africa’s chief justice was ordered on Thursday to apologize for and retract remarks he made last June which were seen as pro-Israel. The judge, Mogoeng Mogoeng, declared he was advocating for peace and would “pray for Jerusalem” in a speech which jarred heavily anti-Israel South Africa. A complaint filed by local activist group #Africa4Palestine prompted the country’s Judiciary Conduct Committee to conduct an investigation, after which they provided Mogoeng with an apology which he has been ordered to release. The committee’s report found that Mogoeng’s pro-Israel remarks were “offending” and “particularly aggravating.” In actively disengaging from Israel, South Africa is, Mogoeng has said, losing “a wonderful opportunity of being a game-changer in the Israeli-Palestinian situation.”
Amsterdam kosher restaurant defaced again: HaCarmel, a kosher restaurant in Amsterdam, was vandalized last Friday night, with the slogan “Find Jews” written on the establishment’s windows. The restaurant’s owner, Daniel Bar-On, said he found the same slogan written on the windows last May as well. An investigation into the incident has been opened, but meanwhile Bar-On says he has “lost count” of the number of antisemitic acts against his business. “There are many restaurants owned by different nationalities along this street, but we are the only one subjected to these kinds of incidents.” In recent years, other attacks against HaCarmel have included a fake bomb and graffiti, and a window being smashed. Police are looking for witnesses to come forward and help their investigation.
Minister blames Iran for eco-disaster; defense establishment disagrees
Minister accuses Iran of oil spill: Israel says it has identified the culprit for its worst environmental disaster in decades, the colossal oil spill that began to wash up on Israel’s Mediterranean shore last week. The oil leaked from a Libyan ship called Emerald which was spotted anchored off Iran’s coast in January. Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel went much further than either the IDF or the Mossad by publicly accusing Iran of a “direct link” to the “eco-terror” against Israel. The accusation was without much evidence and as a result the Mossad and the IDF were ‘blindsided’ by Gamliel’s decision to publicize it. Israel’s defense establishment apparently “does not share [Gamliel’s] assessment” and was taken aback by her sidestepping the normal channels. Greenpeace Israel said Gamliel’s announcement “reeks of election propaganda.”
Ultra-Orthodox rail against pro-Reform, Conservative court ruling: Ultra-Orthodox officials in Israel are still reeling from the Supreme Court’s decision to mandate the acceptance of non-Orthodox conversions in Israel for the purposes of those people immigrating to Israel (making Aliyah) under the Right of Return. United Torah Judaism, the primary Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox party, released an election advertisement likening Reform and Conservative Jewish conversions to dogs wearing kippot. Overtop of the dog, the narrator says: “In the High Court of Justice, this is a Jew!” Opposition Leader Yair Lapid said: “anti-Semites in every generation always compare Jews to dogs. Now UTJ has joined them. Disgusting,” and the Union for Reform Judaism’s president, Rabbi Rick Jacobs, wrote: “It’s outrageous that ultra-orthodox Israeli political parties are spewing out antisemitic hate towards Reform Jews.” However, the ultra-Orthodox are not just turning to gimmicks and mockery; they also seek to actually overturn the ruling of the Supreme Court by way of the Knesset. Both UTJ and Shas, the Sephardic ultra-Orthodox party, said they would only join coalitions in the upcoming Knesset that pledge to overturn the Supreme Court’s decision.
Pfizer’s CEO postpones Israel trip: Pfizer’s Greek-Jewish CEO, Albert Bourla, is postponing his visit to Israel until after the March election. Bourla was asked to postpone his visit by Israeli scientists and watchdog groups who feared his meetings with Netanyahu would become unjustified fodder for Netanyahu’s reelection campaign. Bourla was set to arrive in Israel at the same time as 10 million new Pfizer doses to Israel, and he was also expected to discuss Pfizer’s potential building of a vaccine manufacturing facility in Israel.
Eichmann witness dies: One of the last living witnesses at the trial of Adolf Eichmann died in Jerusalem at age 94. Mordechai Ansbacher, born in northern Germany, lived through the Theresienstadt Ghetto and the camps at Auschwitz and Dachau. He also served as a soldier in Israel’s War of Independence, as did thousands of other Holocaust survivors. However, Ansbacher’s service went further; during the Six Day War, he participated in the Battle of Jerusalem, liberating its East side, and continued the fight to Bethlehem and Hebron in the West Bank. During the 1961 Eichmann trial in Israel, Ansbacher was one of over 100 witnesses who provided firsthand accounts of the horrors of the Holocaust. The Eichmann trial was credited with waking the world to the truth of the Holocaust and providing the Jewish world with some sense of collective grief.
Israel vaccinates Palestinians: Israel has begun vaccinating approximately 120,000 Palestinian workers who are employed within Israel or in Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank against the coronavirus. The vaccinations will take place at checkpoints and industrial zones across the West Bank. Only very minimal numbers of vaccines have reached the Palestinians in the West Bank so far, although after a sustained international pressure campaign, Israel donated thousands of vaccines to the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. This is despite the fact that the Oslo Accords give the Palestinians control over their own public health measures. Recent reports, however, say that the Palestinians did not use the vaccines to inoculate the most vulnerable or essential workers. Rather, they provided at least some of the vaccines to the political elite and soccer stars. The Americans and European officials, including U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and Representatives Rashida Tlaib and Jamaal Bowman, who demanded Israel provide the Palestinians with vaccines have yet to comment. The Jerusalem Post is also reporting that Israel will prioritize vaccinating all Palestinians over the age of 16 when it begins to have surplus doses, mostly using the Moderna shots.
Israel’s vaccine program praised: In Israel, 88% of Israelis over the age of 50 have been vaccinated or recovered from the coronavirus. Uncoincidentally, severe cases of the coronavirus have fallen to under 700 people for the first time since 2020. The Austrian Chancellor and Danish Prime Minister visited Israel to discuss joint vaccine collaboration (to the seeming consternation of the rest of the EU, especially France). Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen said Denmark is “very inspired by Israel’s ability to roll out the vaccine.” The Spanish Senate also hosted a virtual collaborative event with the chairman of the Israeli national advisory experts’ team on the coronavirus to discuss vaccine distribution. During the event, Spanish officials of all ideological backgrounds praised the chairman and Spanish representatives reaffirmed that “Israel and Spain have a long history of close relations.”
S. American immigrants arrive in Israel: 137 new immigrants from Brazil and Argentina landed in Israel after 40 days of uncertainty over Israel’s coronavirus-induced border closure. At least part of the group had been scheduled to take off from Sao Paulo in January, but Israel halted all flights in and out of the country just prior to that. One immigrant said: “There were moments when I thought we’d give up. It was a continuous exercise of patience, persistence and wish.” The Jewish Agency and the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews worked together to get the immigrants to Israel as fast as possible. Typically, about 650 Brazilians immigrate to Israel each year seeking a better life in the Jewish state.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Sparking fury, ICC to investigate war crimes in the Palestinian territories
ICC investigating Israel: The International Criminal Court, located in The Hague, announced it is opening a formal investigation into any potential war crimes committed in the Palestinian territories or East Jerusalem, which most of the international community does not consider part of Israel. Israeli officials reacted with outrage, with Prime Minister Netanyahu calling the decision “pure antisemitism.” Nevertheless, Israel warned its top defense officials, including Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, that they could be subject to arrest warrants in foreign countries. Secretary of State Tony Blinken said: “The United States firmly opposes and is deeply disappointed by this decision. The ICC has no jurisdiction over this matter.” According to reports, some Western diplomats are warning that the ICC’s investigation of Israel could put the entire institution at risk of delegitimization. At the same time, the ICC won’t launch investigations into substantial crimes against humanity and war crimes in Syria, Iran, North Korea, or China, for example. Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas welcomed the decision.
E3 drop planned resolution despite more Iranian attacks: Despite another attack believed to be by Iranian-backed militias on U.S. forces in Iraq which killed one civilian contractor, the E3 European powers (France, Germany, and Britain) have dropped a planned resolution to criticize Iran at the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) for reducing its cooperation with the watchdog’s regulations. After news of the E3’s decision was publicized, Iran released a statement saying it will meet with the UN over concerns at nuclear sites across the country. Republicans in the U.S. have demanded that President Biden impose a new arms embargo against Iran in light of the latest attack. Senators Joni Ernst and Bill Hagerty wrote in a statement, “Iran has made it clear that they are a threat to our nation…and the entire global community.” In a phone call between Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Vice President Kamala Harris, Netanyahu reiterated his intent not to allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons. Also during the call, Harris praised Israel’s COVID vaccination campaign and the two leaders agreed to cooperate on further coronavirus research and technological advancements.
Survivor tells of Iraqi ghetto: In the new book The Untold Story: The First and Last Ghetto in Iraq, Daniel Sasson, an 85-year-old Jewish man from Iraq, writes about his life in Diwaniya, Iraq during the Second World War. Sasson testifies to the anti-Jewish laws imposed by the Nazi-friendly Iraqi regime which culminated in the Farhud massacre of hundreds of Jews in Baghdad. During the war, the Iraqi government forced its Jewish residents into ghettos, much like in Europe. Sasson recalled: “Inside the ghetto there were difficulties. There was hunger. The police were armed with spears when we arrived, and it was very hard, this month.” Along with hundreds of thousands of other Iraqi Jews, Sasson and his family eventually fled to Israel in 1951, leaving a country in which they were no longer welcome.
Senior Fatah official declares support for new bloc: As Palestinian elections near, diplomats who were initially skeptical are more convinced that elections will take place as scheduled. A major setback for Palestinian Authority President Abbas has come as one of his top officials, Nasser Al-Qidwa, said he supports the establishment of a third bloc (aside from Fatah and the Hamas terror group) which would run in the elections. Al-Qidwa also said he hopes Marwan Barghouti, a terrorist who is imprisoned in Israel over his leadership in masterminding terror attacks during the Second Intifada, will lead the new party, which would be called the National Democratic Forum. Abbas’s position as PA President is already tenuous, with many Palestinians accusing him of corruption. The establishment of a third party will likely hurt Abbas and Fatah more than it hurts the rival Hamas party.
INSIDE THE U.S.
Blinken reaffirms support for IHRA antisemitism definition
Blinken praises IHRA definition: In response to a congratulatory letter from the American Zionist Movement, U.S. Secretary of State Tony Blinken wrote: “The Biden administration enthusiastically embraces the 2016 International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s working definition of antisemitism.” He continued: “The United States will continue to be a strong partner in fighting efforts to delegitimize Israel.” Since 2007, the State Department has endorsed the IHRA’s working definition of antisemitism, which includes anti-Zionism as a possible form and manifestation of antisemitism. The Trump administration went further, codifying the definition via executive action.
Shira Haas to star as Golda Meir: Israeli actress Shira Haas of Unorthodox fame will star as Golda Meir in an upcoming TV series. The show is called “Lioness” and will be based on the book of the same name. Viewers will follow Meir from her birth in Ukraine to her life in Wisconsin to her rise as Israel’s first female Prime Minister. Barbra Streisand will lend her star power to the show, serving as a producer for the first time on a TV series.
Adelson’s companies sell off Vegas properties: Las Vegas Sands Corp, a management company founded by the late Sheldon Adelson which owns many Vegas casinos, has sold all of its properties and exited Las Vegas business. The sale, coming a couple months after Adelson’s death, is worth $6.25 billion. Instead, Las Vegas Sands is looking to focus on its future in Asia: specifically, Singapore and Macau, a gambling and casino haven whose revenues has topped Vegas’s. In the wake of coronavirus, Las Vegas Sands reported almost $2 billion in losses in 2020, the most in its 30-year history.
Amazon changes logo: Amazon released a new logo for its smartphone app on Monday after the previous logo drew comparisons with Adolf Hitler’s mustache. The old logo featured tape with ragged edges, signifying a taped-up box, and the Amazon arrow underneath. After critics likened the image to Hitler’s infamous mustache, Amazon released a new logo without jagged edges. A spokesperson for Amazon said, “We designed the new icon to spark anticipation, excitement, and joy,” but did not say whether the logo change is a direct result of the comparison to Hitler’s mustache. Kara Alaimo, a Hofstra University professor, said she thinks Amazon did not anticipate people drawing the comparison, however, “if you’re a brand, you want to be driving and influencing cultural changes — not catching up to them.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Sheba Medical Center, Ramat Gan, Israel
Today we celebrate an Israeli hospital named top 10 in the world! For the third consecutive year, Newsweek named Israel’s Sheba Medical Center located in Ramat Gan as one of the world’s top 10 hospitals. The American magazine said the top 10 hospitals, led by the Mayo Clinic, were picked for “their consistent excellence, including distinguished physicians, top-notch nursing care and state-of-the-art technology.” Sheba’s director said the nomination “underscores Israel’s image as a small country with world-class medicine.”
At this time in 2002, Israel experienced what has come to be known as “Black March,” the darkest period of the Second Intifada. Palestinian terrorists carried out fifteen suicide bombings, with one taking place every two days. They included attacks on hotels, cafes, and other ‘soft targets’ of Israeli civilians. However, the attacks did not end in 2002. On this date a year later in March 2003, 17 people were killed by a suicide bomb on a public bus in Haifa. The Intifada, which disputably ended either with the death of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in 2004 or Israel’s unilateral withdrawal and disengagement from Gaza in 2005, has had a long-lasting impact on Israeli-Palestinian relations. The most prominent reminder is the security barrier along the West Bank border which resulted in an almost complete reduction in suicide bombings in Israel. We remember the over 1,000 Israelis killed during the Second Intifada.