Israel’s Election: Mansour Abbas addresses the nation; Lapid aims to take down Netanyahu; and Haredi leaders face dilemma
Inside Israel: Israel ready to vaccinate teens; Israeli COVID test gets EU approval; Netanyahu excused from parts of his trial; Netanyahu refuses to appoint Justice Minister; and Israelis travel all over the country
North America: Jewish family attacked in Manhattan; ADL says ¼ Jews experienced recent antisemitism; U.S. says West Bank is “occupied”; Montreal police filmed engaging in antisemitism; B’nai Brith calls on Disney to retract Passover PSA; and Amazon union battle led by Jewish man
Israel’s Neighbors: Majority of Yemen’s remaining Jews leave; Palestinian prisoner challenging Mahmoud Abbas; EU says Israel won’t allow observers; PA tortured Palestinians seeking peace; Iran nuclear deal meeting today; and Israel warns travelers about Iranian attacks
Inside Europe: First person sentenced in UK for Holocaust denial; Turks seize 2,000-year-old Torah; baby dolls with antisemitic message hung near synagogue; Poussin painting returned to owners; Holocaust monument desecrated; and oldest Righteous Among the Nations dies
Celebrate & Remember: Microsoft to invest $1 billion in Israel; and the first ship to bear the Zionist flag
A plea for coexistence from potential kingmaker, head of Islamist party
Source: @mansourabbas.me / Instagram, March 25, 2019
Mansour Abbas addresses the nation: In a historic, prime-time, Hebrew-language speech last night, the leader of an Islamist Knesset party addressed the nation to urge Jewish-Arab cooperation. The spot is usually only reserved for major figures like the Prime Minister himself. Mansour Abbas, head of Ra’am, said he doesn’t rule out serving with any bloc in the Knesset, including Netanyahu’s right-wing. The remarkable speech was a most unusual occurrence for the country, hearing from an Arab-Israeli directly in Hebrew. Abbas refrained from controversial topics and did not label himself Palestinian nor did he explicitly call for a Palestinian state. He began: “I, Mansour Abbas, a man of the Islamic Movement, am a proud Arab and Muslim, a citizen of the state of Israel, who heads the leading, biggest political movement in Arab society, courageously champion a vision of peace, mutual security, partnership and tolerance between the peoples.” The four seats in the Knesset that Abbas controls may be enough to put either the pro- or anti-Netanyahu blocs over the top of the necessary 61 seats. In 2019, Netanyahu criticized Blue and White’s Benny Gantz for flirting with the Ra’am party, but now Netanyahu is doing the same thing himself. Meanwhile, Gantz, who formed a coalition with Netanyahu last year, told Abbas that Netanyahu will “renege” on all his promises.
Lapid aims to take down Netanyahu: As Opposition Leader Yair Lapid scrambles to scrape together enough seats to oust Netanyahu, he has apparently said that he is willing to serve in a rotation agreement with Yamina’s ultra-right Naftali Bennet and go second as prime minister. This is despite the fact that Bennett said during the campaign that a member of parliament serving as prime minister from a party with fewer than 10 seats would be “undemocratic.” (In this election, his Yamina won seven seats, but Bennett is still demanding to be prime minister.) Gil Hoffman, Jerusalem Post’s chief political correspondent, said on Twitter, “Sources close to kingmaker Naftali Bennett confirm he will not recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Yair Lapid form the government. His choices are himself or [Prime Minister] Netanyahu” Gideon Sa’ar of A New Hope, another right-wing party, would be willing to serve in a government rotation between Bennett and Lapid as well. In an address to the nation, Prime Minister Netanyahu called on the right-wing parties, namely Yamina and A New Hope, to “come home” to the right-wing pro-Netanyahu bloc, something that A New Hope subsequently rejected.
Haredi leaders face dilemma: Some ultra-Orthodox, particularly the Lithuanian sect of the United Torah Judaism party, are trying to find a way to keep the right-wing coalition together, even if it means expelling Netanyahu from leadership. The party said it is investing great efforts to avoid a fifth election in two years, adding it would be “a disaster for the economy and for Israel.” The Joint List Arab coalition is likely to support Lapid for prime minister, but Bennett and Abbas have yet to decide whether to back Netanyahu. Lastly, President Reuven Rivlin says he will choose whichever party head he thinks will be most likely to form a government, but Netanyahu’s Likud members are condemning that decision as a political move, falsely claiming the president does not have the power. (The president is able to choose whoever he feels may best form a coalition, not just the largest party’s head as Likud members are saying.)
Coronavirus cases drop to lowest levels since June; Israel ready to vaccinate teens
Israel ready to vaccinate teens: Coronavirus cases in Israel are at their lowest levels since June of last year and Israel is gearing up to continue its vaccination drive with the next cohort: teens. Once the U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration approves the coronavirus vaccine for people aged 12 through 15, Israel is set to begin vaccinating its hundreds of thousands of teens. With Pfizer saying its vaccine is 100% effective on teenagers, Israel is prepping to get shots into the arms of its 600,000 residents in that age group. The rapid return to normalcy impelled the Knesset to expire the coronavirus tracking program of the Shin Bet, Israel’s security service. It had been criticized for its widespread tracking of Israelis without permission or oversight.
Israeli COVID test gets EU approval: An Israeli rapid coronavirus test received European approval. The test is expected to be deployed in airports, thereby speeding up the return to international travel. The test by SpectraLIT is handheld and shines light on its samples, giving immediate results about infection. Rather than ship samples to labs, staff on hand can have a result in 20 seconds! The SpectraLIT is currently in pilot use at 36 hospitals worldwide and just received the go-ahead from the European Medical Devices Directive. The U.S.’s Food and Drug Administration said these kinds of tests are “less sensitive and less specific than typical molecular tests run in a lab.”
Netanyahu excused from parts of his trial: As Prime Minister Netanyahu’s corruption trials resumes in earnest, Netanyahu’s lawyers have asked the courts to excuse him from being present at further proceedings. Although Netanyahu was ordered to attend Monday’s hearing, the court said he can skip upcoming testimony from some witnesses. However, the judges also made sure that Netanyahu is aware his absence cannot be used as an excuse to appeal the verdict: “assuming that [Netanyahu] understands the significance of his non-appearance, including the failure to raise further allegations arising from his absence,” he may be excused, wrote the judge.
Netanyahu refuses to appoint Justice Minister: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s decision not to appoint a new justice minister is causing absolute turmoil in the highest levels of the Israeli government. Outgoing temporary Justice Minister Benny Gantz (who is also Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister) has held up all functions of the government in order to pressure Netanyahu into appointing a permanent justice minister. As of midnight this morning, Gantz’s term as justice minister, having taken over for Avi Nissenkorn who resigned, ended and the country has no one filling the crucial role. Gantz is consulting with the Attorney General over whether Netanyahu could be suspended as prime minister for failing to appoint a new justice minister, while Gideon Sa’ar of A New Hope called it the culmination of “Netanyahu’s campaign to dismantle the state and its institutions.” The interference with the justice ministry represents a “clear instance of conflict of interest,” according to Gantz, due to Netanyahu’s ongoing corruption trials.
Israelis travel all over the country: With international travel still mostly quiet, but Israel’s internal restrictions lifted, Passover travelers are facing more traffic in Israel than ever. Monday’s traffic was reported to have been the worst Passover traffic in Israel’s history. Traffic police and volunteers numbering in the hundreds will be deployed through Saturday, Passover’s end. Tens of thousands camped at the Kineret/Sea of Galilee, causing police to shut it down due to overcrowding.
Belgian Jewish family visiting New York for Pesach stabbed, including baby
Jewish family attacked in Manhattan: A knife-wielding man attacked an ultra-Orthodox family Wednesday in Lower Manhattan, slashing a husband, wife, and child. According to the local news site BoroPark24, the father fought off the attacker and suffered injuries to his head that needed 12 stitches, the mother suffered injuries to her lip, and the baby to his chin. The victims were visiting from Belgium for Pesach. A 30-year-old parolee who was released from jail last month was later arrested in connection with the attack. A spokesperson for the New York Police Department said the attack was deemed a “possible bias incident” and the city’s Hate Crime Task Force was also investigating. Andrew Yang, who is running as a Democrat for mayor of New York City, responded to the news on Twitter: “This is heartbreaking. There is too much pain and violence in our City right now. Whether against Jews or Asians or anyone, we need to stand up together to stop the hate that’s afflicting our city.”
ADL says ¼ Jews experienced recent antisemitism: An Anti-Defamation League annual survey found that in the past five years a quarter of American Jews have personally experienced antisemitism and that most American Jews have witnessed antisemitic comments targeting others. 59% of respondents said they feel Jews are less safe in the United States than they were a decade ago. Especially alarmingly, nine percent say they have been physically attacked in the last five years because they are Jewish. The ADL said: “Our latest survey reveals the sad truth that antisemitism is still very much a part of Jewish Americans’ lives.”
After confusion on stance, U.S. says West Bank is “occupied”: Clarifying its stance after the release of a report that used language adopted by former President Trump’s administration, the Biden administration said that Israel’s control of the West Bank is indeed “occupation.” The State Department released its annual report on human rights, which seemed to downplay the term. State Department Spokesman Ned Price said the report does use the term ‘occupation’ in the context of the current status of the West Bank. “This has been the longstanding position of previous administrations of both parties over the course of many decades,” he said. Under the Trump administration, the report renamed the section on “Israel and the Occupied Territories” as “Israel, West Bank and Gaza.” The report issued Tuesday by the Biden administration used the same language but said it was not meant to convey a position. The Biden administration is also ramping up financial aid to the Palestinians in a reversal of Trump’s policy to cut off nearly all assistance. A day after the Biden administration announced it was giving $15 million to the Palestinians, it notified Congress it will give another $75 million for economic support.
Montreal police filmed engaging in antisemitism: Twice over the past week Montreal police were filmed asking if certain reporters were the “Jew media” or “Jews.” The reporters were from Rebel News, a Canadian far-right political and social commentary media website which was co-founded by a Jewish person. Ezra Levant, who confounded Rebel News, said: “Something’s deeply wrong with Montreal’s police. They arrest, handcuff and ticket our reporters, asking if we’re ‘Jews.’ They gave us $10,000+ in fines even though reporters are legally exempt from lockdowns.” Rebel News is sometimes cast as Canada’s version of Breitbart News.
B’nai Brith calls on Disney to retract Passover PSA: B’nai Brith, the famed and historic international Jewish institution, is calling on Disney to retract its Passover PSA after it offensively recharacterized Jewish tradition. Disney altered the final prayer of Passover, “Next year in Jerusalem,” to be “Next year in the Holy Land,” thereby stripping the message of its specific plea for the holy city. B’nai Brith wrote: “We are deeply dismayed that Disney Channel is running Passover PSAs that replace the traditional refrain .. This is a deliberate negation of Jerusalem as the eternal Jewish capital. We call for the Disney Channel PSA to accurately depict this sacred Jewish custom related to our holiest city.” The phrase has been recorded in use during the seder since the 15th century.
Amazon union battle led by Jewish man: The dramatic union battle at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama is being led by the national leader of the Retail, Wholesale and Department Store Union, a Jewish man named Staurt Appelbaum. Appelbaum even sent out an addition to the Passover seder reading: “Just as matza symbolizes the hardship of slavery and the Jewish people’s hasty transition to freedom, in the modern day it symbolizes the difficult working conditions and treatment as well for working women and men at Amazon warehouses everywhere and their fight for change, dignity and respect.” The union vote at the location of 6,000 of Amazon’s workers is the biggest labor flashpoint in years, with even President Biden weighing in. The vote to unionize took place earlier this week and its results are expected shortly.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Most of Yemen’s remaining Jews leave the country; community of 50,000 down to 6
A Yemenite family walking through the desert, 1949
Majority of Yemen’s remaining Jews leave: Thirteen of Yemen’s remaining Jews fled the country for Egypt pursuant to an exit agreement reached with the Iran-backed Houthi militias. Only six Jews now remain in Yemen. The majority of Yemen’s 50,000 Jews emigrated to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s after facing violent pogroms. An earlier report said that the Jews had been expelled, but the Times of Israel reported that the Jews left willingly. The Jews received an offer to go to Israel, but they declined. An official said: “They wanted at first to go to the United Arab Emirates, but that proved impossible, so they went to Cairo. In Cairo, they have family there.” Several Yemeni Jewish families have been resettled in the U.A.E. in recent months. The families were given what the official deemed “very good financial conditions,” including housing units. Despite the fact that Jews in Yemen consistently face systematic human rights violations at the hand of the Houthis, the remaining Jews have rejected previous proposals to immigrate to the U.S. or Israel.
Palestinian prisoner challenging Mahmoud Abbas: After reportedly considering the issue for months, a Palestinian who is in an Israeli prison for several acts of terrorism decided to run his own list of candidates against Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s official Fatah list in the upcoming legislative elections. Prisoner Marwan Barghouti’s brother Muqbil told Qatar-based Al-Araby TV: “The decision came after it was confirmed to [Marwan Barghouti] that the Fatah movement did not comply with what was agreed upon with regard to choosing the names on the movement’s list.” Barghouti’s faction joined forces with Nasser al-Kidwa, a nephew of former PA President Yasser Arafat and a former Palestinian envoy to the United Nations, who split from Fatah this year. Analysts believe their alliance could split Fatah’s vote, possibly acting as a spoiler that could benefit Hamas, the terrorist militant group that controls Gaza. Officials have speculated Barghouti would not himself run in the upcoming legislative elections, instead keeping his eyes on the presidential vote scheduled to follow them. The Palestinian legislative elections are scheduled for May 22, while presidential elections are set for July 31.
EU says Israel won’t allow observers: The European Union said Israel is preventing it from sending observers to the upcoming Palestinian elections. The Palestinian Authority requested European help in monitoring the elections back in January of 2021. The EU said it needed to access the situation on the ground right now in order to prepare for May’s election. One official wrote: “The delay has considerably reduced the EU option to observe the May 22 legislative elections.”
PA tortured Palestinians seeking peace: According to the a U.S. report on human rights, the Palestinian Authority targeted, and in some cases tortured, participants of the Trump administration’s 2019 “Peace to Prosperity” economic workshop in Bahrain. The report stated: “Some of these individuals, labeled ‘collaborators’ for working with, or engaging with, Israelis on political initiatives the PA did not support, reported direct and indirect threats of violence from Fatah.” The statement went on: “They reported damage to personal property and businesses. There were reports that the families of those targeted were pressured to disown them, which would decrease risks for attackers to injure or kill them, and that they and their family members were denied medical treatment in PA health facilities, which allegedly contributed to greater health complications, including death.”
Iran nuclear deal meeting today: The European Union said that officials from Iran, China, Russia, France, Germany, and Britain will meet virtually today to discuss a possible return of the United States to the 2015 nuclear deal. The efforts to restart negotiations have been deadlocked because Iran refuses to come back to the table until the U.S. lifts all sanctions, which the Biden administration is unwilling to do. Every few days, new breaches by Iran to the nuclear deal are being documented, including more this week. The U.S. and Iran are communicating indirectly through European nations according to Western officials. Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei said this month that his nation was in “no hurry” to revive the nuclear deal. Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif spoke on Clubhouse (the new audio-only social networking application) on Wednesday and said that President Biden hasn’t made any changes to Trump’s “maximum pressure” policy, but if the U.S. fully returns to compliance with the deal, Iran would follow suit.
Israel warns travelers about Iranian attacks: As Israelis begin to resume outbound travel, Israel is warning its citizens that they may be targeted by Iran abroad. The Israeli National Security Council issued an advisory this week saying that Iran was behind the embassy bombing in New Delhi earlier this year and that it may be planning to attack other Israeli targets. Israel warned that the highest threats were in Georgia, Azerbaijan, Turkey, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Iraqi Kurdistan, Egypt, and Jordan.
UK sentences person to prison for Holocaust denial for first time
First person sentenced in UK for Holocaust denial: In a landmark decision, a woman became the first U.K. citizen sentenced to prison for Holocaust denial this week. Alison Chabloz was convicted of “disseminating grossly offensive material or messages” under the 2003 Communications Act. Though the U.K. currently has no specific law against antisemitic hate speech, Chabloz, who was previously convicted of a similar charge in 2017, was sentenced to 18 weeks. Along with many other grossly antisemitic statements, Chabloz accused Jews of inventing the Holocaust in order to profit financially.
Turks seize 2,000-year-old Torah: Turkish police seized fragments of what they say is a 2,000-year-old Torah scroll. Going off of a tip, police stopped a car and found 19 pages of a gilded Torah framed in leather. The Police detained five people who are suspected of trafficking in illegal archaeological finds. Also, the remains of an ancient, abandoned synagogue caught fire in Turkey in suspected arson. The Kasturya Synagogue is a registered archeological site and undergoing renovations.
Baby dolls with antisemitic message hung near synagogue: Baby dolls covered in blood with antisemitic messages were found strung up near a synagogue in Norrköping, Sweden on the first night of Passover. According to Prime Minister Kjell Stefan Löfven, antisemitism has been a problem recently, with the memory of the Holocaust “falling into oblivion” and the “massive influx of Middle Eastern immigrants.” Photos of the vandalism were posted the following day by the neo-Nazi group Nordic Resistance Movement.
Poussin painting returned to owners: A painting stolen by the Nazis from a French Jewish family in 1944 has been returned to its owners. The work, called “Lot with his two daughters serving him drinks” by Nicolas Poussin, was recently discovered in northeast Italy. In 1947, the painting was listed in the “Directory of property looted in France during the 1939-1945 war.” The remaining heirs include a 98-year-old Swiss woman.
Holocaust monument desecrated: A monument for Holocaust victims in Częstochowa, Poland was defaced with Nazi symbols and swastikas, the European Jewish Congress said. The monument is a testimony to Częstochowa’s 48,000 Jews, all killed by the Nazis during the Holocaust. It is located at the place where the Nazis deported 40,000 Jews, most from Częstochowa, to Treblinka in the fall of 1942.
Oldest Righteous Among the Nations dies: Anna Kozminska, the oldest surviving Righteous Among the Nations, died at the age of 101. She was buried in Warsaw, Poland. Kozminska and her stepmother saved an 8-year-old boy, sheltering him in secret for three years. The pair also helped rescue another three people as well. In 1991, Kozminska and her stepmother were honored by Yad Vashem as Righteous Among the Nations. She was also awarded the Medal of the Centenary of Regained Independence of Poland in 2016.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate Microsoft, which is planning to invest $1 billion in Israel! According to reports, Microsoft is set to spend over $1 billion in Israel for a new data center and to expand its chip research and development activities. The CEO of Microsoft, Satya Nadella, apparently spoke to Prime Minister Netanyahu last month to inform him about the plans. Nadella said that Israel is “a very important development center for Microsoft.”
On this day in 1925, the SS President Arthur arrived in Haifa as the first ship to bear the Zionist flag. The ship, operated by the American Palestine Line, inaugurated regular service between America and the British Mandate of Palestine, bringing hundreds of prominent Jews to Israel’s shores. When the ship departed New York, a crowd of 15,000 gathered to send it off, singing in English and Yiddish. The ship also happened to be the first ocean liner to ever have a female officer.