Israel’s Neighbors: Pope visits Iraq in historic visit, sends greeting to Israel; U.S. issues warning to Iran with B-52 flyover; Saudis under fire; Hamas rocket misfire kills three Palestinians; and Israel and neighbors to share energy
Inside Israel: Three attempted terror attacks in 48 hours; woman who crossed into Syria charged; Meretz head says ICC investigation legitimate; Liberman buoys Lapid; and Labor party head clarifies position on settlements
Coronavirus: Israel’s lockdown ends; top Brazilians visit Israel to talk COVID; and Israel hosts first concert since COVID
Inside Europe: Guards prevent attack on Jews in France; religious divorce refusal now criminal offence in U.K.; British child assigned antisemitic homework; Russian-Israeli jailed for Putin opposition; and Ukrainian synagogue collapses
Inside the U.S.: Muslim star harasses Jews at Michigan store; UCLA student government passes anti-Israel resolution; and Utah passes anti-BDS legislation
Celebrate & Remember: Successful drug testing without animal trials; and remembering Menachem Begin
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Pope visits Iraq in historic visit, sends greeting to Israel
Pope’s historic trip and message to Israel: Pope Francis flew over Israel on his way to his historic visit to Iraq, becoming the first pope to ever travel to that country. On the flight, Francis sent a message to President Reuven Rivlin of Israel, saying: “To His Excellency Reuven Rivlin, President of the State of Israel. Entering Israeli airspace on my Apostolic journey to Iraq, I send warm greetings to you and the people of the nation. Praying that almighty God will bless you all with His gift of harmony and peace. Franciscus Papa.” The surprise message was a delight to President Rivlin who said he was “deeply moved by the kind words from the Pope.” While in Iraq, Pope Francis visited the birthplace of Abraham in Ur to host an interfaith dialogue. Notably absent, however, was any Jewish representation among the faiths. According to reports, the Iraqi government prevented Jews from entering the country to attend the Pope’s events. The once flourishing Jewish community of Iraq has long since disappeared since the overwhelming majority fled the country in the early 1950s for Israel.
U.S.- Israel show of force to Iran: In a targeted show of force to Iran, Israeli fighter jets escorted American B-52 bombers in Israeli airspace after the B-52s flew over the Persian Gulf amid rising tensions in the region. The U.S. military said the flight was to “deter aggression and reassure partners and allies of the U.S. military’s commitment to security in the region.” In response to recent Iran-backed attacks on U.S. forces in Iraq, the U.S. Secretary of Defense, Lloyd Austin, said: “We’ll strike if that’s what we think we need to do at a time and place of our own choosing. We demand the right to protect our troops.” Iranian Defense Minister Amir Hatami threatened Israel the same day, saying: “if [Israel] does a damn thing, we will raze Tel Aviv and Haifa to the ground.” Additionally the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) reported Monday that Iran has further violated nuclear restraints imposed by the 2015 deal, enriching uranium with a third cluster of nuclear centrifuges in order to produce nuclear fuel. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif said on Friday that Iran will soon present a “constructive” plan of action. The Islamic Republic had refused to take part in a meeting brokered by the European Union between world powers and the United States on reviving the nuclear deal.
Saudis under fire: Well-guarded, highly important oil sites in Saudi Arabia were attacked by missile and drone strikes on Sunday. The Saudis said they intercepted the rockets, but prices of crude oil subsequently shot up. The attacks are claimed by the Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen, who have been engaged in Yemen’s civil war since 2014. The serious attack is the first known incident of its kind since a 2019 strike temporarily shut down half the kingdom’s crude production. At the time, the Houthis claimed responsibility, but the U.S. said the attack was launched from Iraq or Iran, which denied the accusations. The U.S. embassy in the kingdom said in an Arabic-language Twitter post, “The heinous Houthi assaults on civilians and vital infrastructure demonstrate lack of respect for human life and disregard for peace efforts. The United States stands by Saudi Arabia and its people. Our commitment to defend the Kingdom and its security is firm.”
Hamas rocket misfire kills three: Three Gazan fishermen were killed off the coast of Khan Younis, Gaza Sunday when their boat exploded after being struck by a mortar shell. The explosion appears to have been a result of Hamas rocket misfiring and striking the boat more than two miles offshore. Early Palestinian reports blamed Israel, but the IDF denied the claims. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights backed the Israeli report, saying the incident “mostly likely occurred as a result of [Palestinian militant] training.” Hamas has announced that they will begin an investigation into the incident. World outrage usually aimed at Israel has been so far silent on the deaths. Last month, another incident occurred when a civilian building used for storing Hamas arms exploded, injuring 36 Gazans.
Israel and neighbors to share energy: Israel, Cyprus, and Greece, three eastern Mediterranean allies, have signed an agreement to begin negotiations to lay the world’s longest undersea power cable, thereby linking the electricity grids of all three countries. The cable, deemed the EuroAsia Interconnector, will be 1,200 kilometers long (about 750 miles). The countries said the program will be a “major step forward” in integrating renewable energy systems across international borders. Israel’s Energy Minister said the cable will allow Israel “to receive electricity backing from the power grids of the European continent in times of emergency and… significantly increase reliance on solar power generation.” If all goes well, the first stage will be complete by 2025. The European Union said the project is ‘of common interest’ by boosting “energy security,” which makes it eligible for EU funding.
Terror attacks in the West Bank: The IDF responded to three separate terrorist attacks in the past 48 hours in the West Bank. On Sunday night, a terrorist attempted to stab a soldier who was patrolling the town Tubas. The soldier managed to push away the terrorist, and a commander at the scene was able to subdue the terrorist. The soldier was lightly wounded in the altercation. On Monday, a Palestinian woman was arrested after entering an outpost in the West Bank and attempting to stab the wife of a farm owner. The Palestinian woman was subdued by civilians living in the outpost and turned over to the military. In a third incident, the IDF arrested two suspects seen throwing Molotov cocktails at passing Israeli vehicles on a road by the town of al-Khader.
Woman who crossed into Syria charged: The woman who illegally crossed the Israeli border into Syria and was returned via a prisoner exchange with Syria last month was charged in an Israel court Sunday. The identity of the woman and the content of the indictment have not been published, but charges include illegally exiting the country. The woman, a 25-year-old who left the ultra-Orthodox community of Modi’in Illit, has previously been stopped from attempting to illegally enter both Jordan and Gaza and has been seen scoping out the Lebanese border as well. Arguing against the indictment, her defense said, “It’s clear to all that the young woman…did not intend to harm national security.”
Meretz head says ICC investigation legitimate: The head of the left-wing Israeli party Meretz stirred a great deal of controversy by saying that the International Criminal Court’s widely condemned investigation into war crimes in the West Bank and Gaza (committed by either Israel or the Palestinians) is justified. In an interview Israeli media, Nitzan Horowitz said: “Israel also has responsibility” in the cause of the investigation. He added: “Israel needs to ask itself what it needs to do to prevent that.” In response, Israeli ministers from across the spectrum condemned Horowitz. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party said: “[Horowitz] is abandoning IDF soldiers who guard him and all of us,” while Defense Minister Benny Gantz called the comments “unacceptable.” Horowitz did not apologize or back down, but instead doubled down on the remarks after facing such intense criticism. Recent polls show Meretz not making it into the Knesset following this month’s upcoming election, with much of its support probably being siphoned off by Labor.
Additionally, Meretz presumably lost even more of its base this week when it’s number four candidate, Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi, said in an interview with the Kul al-Arab channel that she would abstain on legislation outlawing “conversion therapy” for LGBT people if such a law were presented to the Knesset, “out of respect to my conservative community.” Meretz’s leader Nitzan Horowitz is openly gay and was quick to clarify that “all Meretz members, Jewish and Arab, are fully committed to the campaign for equality and advancement of the rights of the gay community.” Rinawie Zoabi later said she would “support all legislation for LGBT rights,” including an anti-conversion-therapy law.
Liberman buoys Lapid: Avigdor Liberman, the head of Russian immigrant-backed Yisrael Beiteinu party, said he would support the head of the largest party in an effort to make him or her prime minister—except for Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud Party (of which he used to be a member). Most likely, the second largest head will be Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid, thus providing him the edge to cajole support from A New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar and Yamina’s Naftali Bennett, both right-wing like Liberman but who have said they would not support Lapid for prime minister. The election is fast approaching on March 23.
Head of left-wing party clarifies position on settlements: Merav Michaeli, leader of Israel’s left-wing Labor Party, said Monday at a virtual conference that any two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict will not involve evacuating the inhabitants of the settlements in Judea and Samaria, otherwise known as the West Bank. “No one thinks that half-a-million Israelis will be evacuated from Judea and Samaria,” Michaeli said, noting that Israel will not necessarily return to pre-1967 lines. Instead, she believes Israel and the Palestinian Authority will negotiate land swaps, so that the West Bank will cede certain Area C settlements, which is currently under Israeli control, and gain other territory. Labor hopes to regain crucial footing in the coming election, as it’s currently polling at six seats.
With 40% of its population vaccinated, Israel reopens economy and culture
Israel’s lockdown ends: Israel’s lockdown is over. With its five millionth shot of the coronavirus vaccine administered, the government reopened much of Israel, including restaurants and universities, to the vaccinated. Some things remain at issue, like the airport reopening to almost all citizens (they will have to wear a bracelet monitor) but not to most foreign nationals. Additionally, the virus czar is considering scrapping the outdoor mask requirement, saying it is largely unnecessary. The sector of the population still suffering disproportionately from the virus are Arab-Israelis, who have been much less willing to get inoculated. Half of serious coronavirus patients are currently Arab, while they only make up about 20% of the country’s population. The Palestinians, though, have also not gotten vaccinated on the whole, even though Israel began to vaccinate 120,000 Palestinian workers employed in Israel or settlements in the West Bank. This came after there was a temporary hiccup concerning the budget for the Palestinian vaccination program. With the upcoming election, the government is planning on new processes to allow coronavirus patients to vote, including using special buses to bring them to and from special polling stations. The government also may set up election booths in the airport so that returning citizens are able to vote despite the required quarantine restrictions.
Top Brazilians visit Israel to talk COVID: A group of senior Brazilian officials landed in Israel to discuss Israeli technology working to combat the coronavirus vaccine, especially a nasal spray treatment which Prime Minister Netanyahu called a “miracle.” The delegation includes Brazilian’s president Jair Bolsonaro’s son, Eduardo. Due to the coronavirus restrictions for travelers, the meetings all took place in a coronavirus-specific hotel.
Israel hosts first concert since COVID: Israel hosted its first (legal) concert since the coronavirus pandemic with an outdoor gathering of hundreds in Tel Aviv. The crowd gathered to hear the gay pop icon Ivri Lider perform, although the stadium, which usually seats tens of thousands at capacity, only held 500. The attendees were all vaccinated and masked.
Security prevents stabbing attack on Jews in France
Guards prevent attack on Jews: Security guards in the French city of Marseille prevented a man from carrying out a stabbing attack outside of a Jewish school and kosher market. Police arrived to detain and arrest him. Surveillance of Jewish sites in the city has been increased according to local authorities. The man, who appeared to be in his sixties, was noticed by security personnel while behaving suspiciously. The guards followed him as he attempted to enter the kosher shop and wrestled him to the ground. The schoolchildren were put under lockdown as police searched for more weapons or any potential explosives. Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog said the incident is “a warning bell for the antisemitism bubbling under the surface.”
British law addresses ‘chained’ women: A new British law makes clear that a husband’s refusal to allow his wife a “Get,” a Jewish divorce, will constitute coercive, criminal behavior under the secular law. Wives who are stuck with husbands that refuse to grant them a divorce are called “Agunah,” figuratively ‘chained’ to their marriages. One Jewish activist said the new law addresses the very serious problem of men extorting their wives into accepting less divorce settlement so they will agree to the Get: “To say, ‘I won’t give you your freedom unless you take less money than the court has ordered you’ is a clear manipulation and a clear act of control.” Baroness Altmann, an Orthodox member of the House of Lords, said: “Finally, a Jewish wife can get support to stand up and say this is not OK.”
British child assigned antisemitic homework: After a British mother complained about her seven-year-old’s antisemitic homework assignment, Topmarks, the education website responsible for creating and distributing the homework, simply blocked her. Slides from the homework assignment portrayed Jews as “bloodthirsty” and claimed that Jews were responsible for the death of Jesus of Nazareth. A day later, Topmarks unblocked the mother and its director Tweeted at her to apologize, saying he was “young and naive” when he put the homework together. The schoolteacher who assigned the homework and the school apologized as well. The mother initially wrote on Twitter: “Got to love Britain. Why not teach the Blood Libel? What harm has it ever done to portray Jews as bloodthirsty?”
Russian-Israeli jailed for Putin opposition: Mikhail Iosilevich, a Russian-Israeli businessman, was jailed by the Russian government this week for supporting oppositional groups organizing against the rule of Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. In 2013, Iosilevich founded Open Russia, an organization that advocates for human rights and democracy within Russia. The group was banned in 2017 as an “undesirable organization.” With similar language, the government said it was jailing Iosilevich for “carrying out the activities of an organization recognized in the territory of the Russian Federation as undesirable.” The government also says that he illegally failed to disclose his dual nationality. He was sentenced to prison in Nizhny Novgorod, 200 miles east of Moscow, until at least the end of March pending further government action.
Ukrainian synagogue collapses: Much of the ceiling of the Great Synagogue of Brody in western Ukraine, an 18th-century construction, collapsed. The building is an official Ukrainian monument, but the government has not taken steps to prevent its deterioration, as is the case with perhaps hundreds of synagogues across Ukraine. A Jewish organization working to safeguard Jewish heritage sites in Ukraine said: “At the moment, the synagogue continues to collapse, and if no changes take place in the near future, we will once again lose one of the most unique monuments of sacred architecture in Ukraine.” During World War II, the building was severely damaged when Nazis attempted to explode it. However, it survived and was used as a warehouse under communism. Although once a home to thousands of Jews, Jews no longer live in Brody.
INSIDE THE U.S.
Muslim social media star harasses Jewish kosher store shoppers
Muslim star harasses Jews at MI store: A Muslim social media star, Dulla Mulla, went viral this week for harassing Jewish storegoers for entertainment. For his bit, Mulla showed the phrase “Free Palestine” to buyers at a Kosher supermarket, asking them to speak the phrase aloud. After commentators pointed out the inherent antisemitism in cornering and harassing random Jewish people, he responded “[My direct messages are] filled with Jews, Antisemitic my a**.” Mulla has 291,000 TikTok followers, 292,000 Instagram followers, and 26,900 YouTube subscribers. Many of the comments on his post supported his antisemitic harassment.
UCLA student government passes anti-Israel resolution: On March 3, the UCLA student government passed a resolution calling for the University of California system to divest from “the war industry,” which included language accusing the Israeli government of committing “ethnic cleansing” against the Palestinians. It also promoted the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (BDS) resolution against Israel passed by the student government in 2014. The proponents of the resolution reportedly hid it from the Jewish and pro-Israel student leaders by not releasing the language ahead of time. StandWithUs CEO Roz Rothstein said in a statement to the Jewish Journal, “We condemn BDS activists for pushing this vote secretly behind the backs of Jewish and pro-Israel students in order to avoid an open debate about their hateful agenda… We call on UCLA’s administration to strongly condemn and reject these efforts.” On March 5, the UCLA student government sent an apology to Hillel at UCLA over the resolution being “inadvertently hidden from the Jewish community and the public at large” and promising that the student government will make sure it doesn’t happen again.
Utah passes anti-BDS legislation: The state of Utah passed legislation which prohibits a government entity from contracting with a person that boycotts the State of Israel. The bill is now headed to Governor Spencer Cox, who is expected to sign it into law. Once signed into law, Utah will be the 33rd state to adopt a law targeting the anti-Israel BDS movement. The Christians United for Israel Utah state director Craig McCune said, “[The law] is essential to demonstrate Utah’s continued support of Israel’s rights as a nation to engage in free trade without the unwarranted attempts to do damage to its economy. Israel is the U.S.’s best friend in the region and we should stand with her as opportunities allow.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin
Today we celebrate successful drug testing without needing animal trials. An Israeli research team has, for the first known time, successfully tested a drug without needing animal or human testing. Instead, the Hebrew University team used a technology that simulates the human body with real tissue and bionic parts in order to test a cancer drug. The trial worked so well that the team is fast-tracking its approval to the U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration, skipping over the normally required animal testing. The lead researcher, Professor Yaakov Nahmais, said: “This is the first demonstration that we can use such technology to circumvent animal experiments, and this could lead to faster, safer and more effective drug development. Getting a drug to the point of clinical trials normally takes four to six years, hundreds of animals and costs millions of dollars. We’ve done it in eight months, without a single animal, and at a fraction of the cost.”
On this day in 1992, former Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin died at the age of 79 in Tel Aviv. Begin, who was born in Poland in 1913, was an underground commander, parliamentarian, the founder of the right-wing Likud Party (formerly the Herut Party), and the sixth Prime Minister of the State of Israel. Prior to 1948, Begin headed the Irgun, a Zionist paramilitary organization which was an offshoot of the older and larger Jewish paramilitary organization Haganah (both the Irgun and Haganah were absorbed into the Israel Defense Forces at the start of the 1948 Arab-Israeli War). The Irgun was founded due to feelings of disappointment that the Haganah was not adequately defending Jewish interests in the region. Following the establishment of the state, Begin became the first non-Labor head to become prime minister, forming the country’s first right-wing government. Begin became a surprising peacemaker at the 1979 Camp David accords with Egypt which won him the Nobel Peace Prize. In exchange for peace with Egypt, Begin withdrew from Sinai, including the town of Yamit and the other Jewish settlements. Under Begin’s leadership, Israel also attacked Iraq to destroy a nuclear reactor near Baghdad and invaded Lebanon in response to Palestinian terrorist acts against Israeli citizens from Lebanese territory. The strains of office, failing health and the death of his wife caused Menachem Begin to resign from his post in September 1983 and to retire to the seclusion of his home.