Israeli Election: One week left for Netanyahu to form government; anti-Netanyahu bloc in intense negotiations; and panel approves proposal to resume Knesset activity
Inside Israel: Gaza rocket fire and Israeli response; Jerusalem ‘rabbi’ outed as undercover Christian missionary; and Israel lifts outdoor mask mandate
Israel’s Neighbors: Iranian Foreign Minister says the military runs the show, claims John Kerry spilled secrets; Iran elected to UN’s women commission; and Abbas to delay long-awaited Palestinian election
Inside Europe & Canada: Worldwide protests demand justice for Sarah Halimi; Quebec upholds law banning kippahs; and Austria hits record antisemitism
Inside the U.S.: Spate of antisemitism in the Bronx; AP Style changes antisemitism spelling; Jews applaud Biden’s recognition of Armenian genocide; Jewish reporter killed in MO; Mandy Patinkin learns of family killed in Holocaust; and DHS announces internal investigation to address extremism
Celebrate & Remember: Hebrew U discovers oldest known evidence of human life in caves; and remembering the Reagan administration barring Austrian President Kurt Waldheim
Netanyahu’s time to form government is running out
One week left for Netanyahu to form government: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s slim chances at retaining power continue to slip further away. With his back against a wall, Netanyahu is becoming increasingly more desperate and creative in his attempts to continue to lead. First, Netanyahu proposed joining together the Arab-Islamist party and the Jewish extremists. That failed when the Jewish extremist leader, Bezalel Smotrich, accused the Arabs of being terror-supporters and ruled out working with them. (Netanyahu has since launched attacks against Smotrich, despite Smotrich being one of his few remaining supporters.) Then, Netanyahu sought to bring public elections directly for prime minister, attempting to win support for that idea from the opposition. That idea also fell flat. Now, Netanyahu is reportedly trying to woo Defense Minister Benny Gantz into another rotation agreement, with Gantz going first as prime minister. This, of course, is the singular promise that Netanyahu broke which prompted the election in the first place. Netanyahu’s reported next move is to offer former ally Gideon Sa’ar a rotation deal with himself and Naftali Bennett, with Sa’ar to serve first as prime minister. Reporter Gil Hoffman called Netanyahu’s proposals ‘dizzying chutzpah.’ Netanyahu’s turn to try and form a government expires in only seven day and it is widely expected that Israeli President Reuven Rivlin will tap Opposition Leader Yair Lapid with the next opportunity to form a government.
Anti-Netanyahu bloc in intense negotiations: While Netanyahu’s chances at forming a government vanish, the anti-Netanyahu bloc’s seem to grow stronger every day. Although far from a done deal, the parameters of a new government are starting to take shape. So far, it seems that the plan is for Yamina’s Naftali Bennet, an extreme right-wing lawmaker, to become Prime Minister, despite only seven seats in the Knesset (out of 120). Opposition Leader, centrist Yair Lapid, would be Alternate Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, and other top posts like Justice Minister, Defense Minister, and Finance Minister would be dolled out to Gideon Sa’ar, Benny Gantz, and Avigdor Liberman respectively. Labor and Meretz, the two leftist parties, would get to appoint much of the smaller roles, like the heads of education, health, and infrastructure. (This is despite the fact that Labor, for example, has the same number of seats as Yamina, which would be leading the country.) The most divisive right-wing priorities — annexation of the West Bank and ‘reform’ of the judiciary — would be off the table for the government, and the left-wing’s social priorities — civil marriage and reform of the rabbinate — would be put off too.
Panel approves proposal to resume Knesset activity: The Knesset Arrangements Committee approved proposals from both the pro- and anti-Netanyahu blocs for committee chairs and deputy Knesset speakers, allowing the Knesset to resume activity for the first time since parliament was sworn in weeks ago. The approvals seemed to be a victory for the pro-Netanyahu bloc, as neither the Knesset speaker nor the three new deputy Knesset speakers (who determine which legislation can be brought before the plenum) are from the anti-Netanyahu bloc. Islamist Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas made a deal last week with the anti-Netanyahu bloc to take control over the powerful Knesset Arrangements Committee, but later decided to cooperate with Likud with an offer for Abbas to head the new Arab affairs committee. Meretz Knesset member Issawi Frej responded to the announcement, saying that the formation of Abbas’s panel was “political bribery.”
Israel’s cabinet approves broad response if Gaza rocket fire continues
Palestinian-Israeli tensions soar: Since Friday, terror groups in the Gaza Strip have fired more than 45 rockets at southern Israel, fueled partially by Palestinian/Arab-Israeli and right-wing clashes and protests in Jerusalem. The Israeli security cabinet signed off on a broad military response if the terrorists continue shooting at Israeli civilians. In response to the rocket fire, the Israel Defense Forces conducted a limited number of airstrikes on Hamas sites and barred Palestinians from fishing off the Gaza coast. The violence initially began in Jerusalem, in part due to Palestinian anger at an Israeli police decision to prevent crowds from gathering outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate at the start of Ramadan. The Muslim holy month of Ramadan normally sees increased tensions around the Old City, which houses the Temple Mount site, revered in both Judaism and Islam. Meanwhile, Israelis were angered by videos on social media showing Palestinian youths striking ultra-Orthodox Jews in Jerusalem, drawing calls by right-wing politicians for tougher police action. Violence peaked on Thursday, as hundreds of far-right Israelis marched through central Jerusalem toward Damascus Gate chanting: “Death to Arabs!” The violence partially subsided over the weekend and Israeli police ordered the removal of the barriers at the Gate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for calm on both sides, saying, “we maintain the freedom of religion as we do every year, for all residents and visitors in Jerusalem…we demand that everyone comply with the law.”
Jerusalem ‘rabbi’ outed as undercover Christian missionary: A man living in Jerusalem as a ‘rabbi’ has been uncovered as a secret Christian missionary. A nonprofit which tracks missionary activity in Israel exposed the fake rabbi after a yearslong investigation. The man, who is from New Jersey, posed as an Orthodox rabbi and a mohel (ritual circumciser). He even forged fake papers to immigrate to Israel in order to proselytize. In Israel, “missionary or proselytizing activity directed at minors without the permission of their parents” is outlawed. The man is likely to be deported.
Israel lifts outdoor mask mandate; zero covid deaths: Israel’s coronavirus success has allowed the country to rapidly return to pre-COVID normalcy. With over 80% of adults fully inoculated against the coronavirus, the Health Ministry lifted the outdoor mask mandate, as zero cases and deaths due to the virus were reported on at least one day in the past two weeks. Gathering restrictions are set to be lifted as well, but the government is also planning on halting flights from India, which is experiencing one of the worst outbreaks the pandemic has seen. Due to that, Israel is also planning on sending aid such as medical supplies and therapeutics to India to help stem that country’s failing medical care system. And Birthright, the free trip to Israel for Jewish young adults, will resume its program in Israel for Americans beginning in May.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Iranian Foreign Minister says the military runs the show, claims John Kerry spilled secrets
Iran’s FM laments IRGC interference: In a leaked audiotape released by Iran International and The New York Times, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif admitted that Iran’s military, the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), calls the shots and holds most of the political power in the country. The foreign minister added that he has “sacrificed diplomacy for the military field, rather than the field servicing diplomacy.” Oftentimes, he said, the then-leader of the IRGC, Qassem Soleimani, would force him to make decisions that would benefit Iran’s military, including conspiring to sabotage the previous nuclear deal. The leaked audio also extraordinarily revealed Russia’s opposition to the 2015 nuclear agreement. Zarif said that Russia “put all its weight” against the deal because, as the NYT explains, “it was not in Moscow’s interests for Iran to normalize relations with the West.” Russia was one of six countries which negotiated the deal with Iran. Mark Dubowitz, the CEO of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, said on Twitter, “Zarif has no power, as he now admits, but his mendacity on behalf of the brutal regime continues to beguile naive westerners who pretend he does. They are unwittingly (or, in some cases, wittingly) serving the IRGC and Khamenei.” Iranian officials have sought to downplay the significance of the recording, suggesting that Zarif’s comments are “personal opinions.” It is unclear what effect these developments will have on the nuclear talks in Vienna, but some have called for Zarif’s resignation, saying he has portrayed democratically elected officials as figureheads for a military regime.
Zarif made another explosive claim in the leaked audio: that former U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry, who was instrumental in negotiating the 2015 deal, told him about over 200 covert Israeli attacks on Iranian interests in Syria during former President Donald Trump’s administration. Zarif added that he was surprised that Kerry would reveal that sensitive information to him. Kerry denied Zarif’s account, calling the allegations “unequivocally false.” Republicans on Monday called on Kerry to resign as President Joe Biden’s Climate Envoy over the claims.
Iran elected to UN’s women commission: The UN elected Iran to its Commission on the Status of Women, which aims to promote gender equality. This is in stark contrast to the fact that women’s rights are severely restricted in Iran. Hillel Neuer, the head of UN Watch, said: “Electing the Islamic Republic of Iran to protect women’s rights is like making an arsonist into the town fire chief. It’s absurd — and morally reprehensible. This is a black day for women’s right and for all human rights.”
Abbas almost certain to delay long-awaited election: Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas will likely postpone or possibly cancel the upcoming Palestinian elections—their first national vote in 15 years. A diplomatic source told The Times of Israel: “Our expectation is the elections are going to be postponed, but it will come at a very heavy price for Abbas.” Abbas announced Sunday that without the vote of the Palestinian/Arab-Israeli residents of East Jerusalem, the Palestinian territories would not hold its scheduled parliamentary or presidential elections. Abbas’ opponents claim that Abbas is using Jerusalem’s status as an excuse to back away from holding the vote because he fears political defeat. Lahav Harkov, senior contributing editor for the Jerusalem Post, said on Twitter, “The Palestinian Authority, not Israel, prevented Jerusalemites from voting absentee. That is something they could have done without involving Israel at all. But they refused, as Shtayyeh himself said in the European Parliament last week.”
INSIDE EUROPE & CANADA
Worldwide protests demand justice for Sarah Halimi
Source: @CombatASemitism / Twitter, April 25, 2021
Protesters demand trial for Halimi’s murderer: Following the French high court’s decision not to prosecute the antisemitic murderer of French Jewish woman Sarah Halimi, worldwide protests took place Sunday to express outrage and demand justice. Protests were organized in Paris, London, Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Washington, D.C., Los Angeles, Miami, and elsewhere across the world. Over 20,000 protesters marched in Paris (the largest Jewish gathering in France in at least a decade) and hundreds showed up in the other offshoot protests. Israeli Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich warned of the implications of letting Halimi’s killer walk free. The killer, who beat Halimi and threw her out of a window while calling Halimi a demon and screaming “Allahu Akbar,” will not stand trial because he smoked cannabis beforehand and, according to the court, cannot be held responsible because the cannabis put him in a psychotic state. One activist said that the court’s decision “spits in the face of the Jewish community of France” and is an “additional reminder that antisemitism still rages in Europe.” At the time of the ruling, the President of the Representative Council of Jewish Institutions in France said: “From now on in our country, you can torture and kill Jews with complete impunity.”
Quebec upholds law banning kippahs: Quebec’s Superior Court upheld a provincial law allowing employers to ban symbols of religion in public workplaces, including religious garb like kippot. The court found that the law did not violate Canadian human rights. The Centre for Israel and Jewish affairs said: “[the law severely restricts religious freedom and the ability of Jewish Quebecers and other faith-based communities to freely pursue careers in the public sector.” Critics say the real aim of the law is to discourage Muslim women who are state employees from wearing hijabs to work.
Austria hits record antisemitism: In 2020, reports of antisemitism in Austria rose to its highest levels in 19 years, since it started being recorded. Incidents rose 6.4% from the previous year, 2019. The report said: “the protests against the government’s coronavirus measures also left their mark, leading to a strong increase in antisemitic incidents.” On the ideological scale, the largest number of attacks came from right-wing individuals or groups. And abusive, rather than physically violent, behavior accounted for the lion’s share.
Bronx synagogues vandalized: Since Thursday, four synagogues were vandalized in seven separate attacks in the Bronx area of New York City, where 50% of the total hate crimes are committed against Jews. No one has been arrested yet in connection with the hate crimes, but police believe that one suspect is responsible for the coordinated attacks. The Riverdale Jewish Center (RJC), Chabad of Riverdale, Young Israel of Riverdale, and Conservative Synagogue Adath Israel of Riverdale (CSAIR) were all vandalized. The NYPD Hate Crimes unit released photos of the suspected antisemitic attacker and Mayor Bill de Blasio said: “We will take swift action against the perpetrators.” One of the vandalized synagogues was previously the target of a foiled 2009 bomb plot. Many of the local politicians, like Representative Jamaal Bowman, have spoken out against the antisemitic crimes, but noticeably missing is Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who represents the neighboring district, which also sees antisemitic crime at similar rates.
AP Style changes antisemitism spelling: The Associated Press Stylebook has finally changed its direction on the spelling of “antisemitism.” Instead of “anti-Semitism,” the word will now be written in all lower case and without a hyphen. Leading the charge has been Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt who argued that “anti-Semitism” conceals the specific hatred against Jews with the vague idea of “Semitism” that doesn’t mean anything in reality. (In that way, the spelling “anti-Semitism” is antisemitic itself…both in founding and practice!) Instead, the term should be written as simply a word, not a concept – as “racism” or “prejudice” are just words.
Jews applaud Biden’s recognition of Armenian genocide: Jewish groups celebrated Biden’s recognition of the Armenian genocide, a long-awaited action by an American president. The Anti-Defamation League said the decision “is vital for raising awareness about the atrocities committed against the Armenian people and in efforts to address other mass atrocities occurring today.” Meanwhile, Turkish President Recep Erdogan responded harshly to President Biden’s announcement, calling Biden’s address “groundless and unfair” and insisting that America cannot dictate Turkish history. He later urged America to “look in the mirror” before accusing other countries, referring to treatment of Native Americans and Black Americans, among others. Erdogan called for Biden to take back his comments, calling it a “deep wound” on top of an already-tense relationship with the United States. Biden, however, noted that he is looking forward rather than back and expressed optimism for the presidents’ upcoming meeting. After President Biden became the first U.S. president to recognize the Armenian genocide, Israel’s opposition leader, Yair Lapid, called on Israel to do the same. Lapid called it a moral issue, arguing that Israel should not remain beholden to Turkish and Azerbaijani political calculations.
Jewish reporter killed in MO: A Jewish reporter for NPR affiliate in Kansas City was killed by a stray bullet. Aviva Okeson-Haberman was only 24-years-old. She was found on Friday night after a stray bullet entered her first-floor apartment in Kansas City. Okeson-Haberman was supposed to start a new position covering social services and criminal justice in May. She had said: “I’ll ask the hard questions, dig into the data and spend time building trust with sources. It’s what’s required to provide an unflinching look at how state government affects those entrusted to its care.” May her memory be a blessing.
Mandy Patinkin learns of family killed in Holocaust: Appearing on an episode of the PBS series “Finding Your Roots,” Jewish actor Mandy Patinkin discovered for the first time that his family was murdered in the Holocaust. Learning of his relatives being rounded up with thousands of other Jews from the Polish town of Bransk and killed at the Treblinka concentration camp gas chambers, Patinkin broke down saying, “I don’t have words.” Of the Holocaust, Patinkin said, “My job is to imagine, that is my profession. I have never been able to get ahold of that.”
DHS announces internal investigation to address extremism: The U.S. Department of Homeland Security announced an internal investigation into the potential threat of domestic violent extremism within its own ranks. The department said in a statement that a group of senior DHS officials “will immediately begin a comprehensive review of how to best prevent, detect, and respond to threats related to domestic violent extremism within DHS.” Jewish Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas wrote in a message to staff: “As we work to safeguard the nation and our values, we must be vigilant in our efforts to identify and combat domestic violent extremism within both the broader community and our own organization.” The U.S. military, too, has faced concerns over white nationalism and other extremism within its ranks after current and former military service members were found to have participated in the attack on the Capitol.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Professor Ron Shaar of Hebrew University’s Institute of Earth Sciences inside the Wonderwerk Cave in South Africa (Source: Michael Chazan at the University of Toronto)
Today we celebrate a team of researchers from Hebrew University and the University of Toronto, who have discovered the oldest known evidence of human life in caves! The researchers studied minerals in the Wonderwerk cave in South Africa and found evidence that early humans used fire and complex tools inside caves, rather than out in the open, almost one million years earlier than previously thought. In a statement discussing the findings, Hebrew University professor Ron Shaar said: “We can now say with confidence that our human ancestors were making simple Oldowan stone tools inside the Wonderwerk Cave 1.8 million years ago.” The team was able to tie the minerals in the tools to the direction of the earth’s magnetic field. This new information could have implications for climate science, navigation systems, and evolutionary science.
On this day in 1987, the Reagan administration barred Austrian President Kurt Waldheim from ever entering the United States, the first time the U.S. had ever taken such action against a head of state. The Department of Justice said that Waldheim had “participated in activities amounting to persecution” of Jews in Germany and Yugoslavia when he served in Hitler’s army during World War II. Waldheim had served as Secretary General of the United Nations for 10 years. Eli Rosenbaum, General Counsel at the World Jewish Congress, said: “History has at last caught up with Kurt Waldheim.”