Let’s start with the good news! Israel celebrated a victory this week: the number of people recovered from coronavirus surpasses active cases in the country. Nevertheless, Israel’s Health Ministry Director-General, Moshe Bar Siman Tov, announced that malls and other large markets throughout the country will probably open only after development of a tracking system designed to monitor the number of visitors. The government doubled fines for those who violate social distancing rules or who are caught without a mask. Members of the public who were already fined for violating the guidelines made an appeal to Reuven Rivlin’s office, Israel’s President, to cancel the fines. In return, Rivlin offered governmental review of the requests.
COVID-19 & Surveillance: Governments across the world have stepped up surveillance to track the spread of the virus. The Knesset, Israel’s legislative branch, has extended surveillance of residents by five days, allowing the Shin Bet, Israel’s security agency, to track the movements of coronavirus patients. The High Court ruled that the surveillance measures must be addressed by legislation, so that these extreme measures don’t lead to a slippery slope of privacy invasion without justification.
Antisemitism stemming from pandemic: Many people, including world leaders, have expressed concerning antisemitic and anti-Zionist sentiments and conspiracy theories surrounding the coronavirus crisis. New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio lashed out at Hasidic residents after he broke up a crowd of hundreds of mourners gathered for the funeral of a rabbi. De Blasio’s tweets targeted and stereotyped the Jewish community, according to the sentiments of Jewish groups across the political spectrum. World Jewish Congress President Ronald Lauder said in a statement: “This type of horrible stereotyping is dangerous and completely unacceptable at any time, but particularly while the world is gripped in fear and the worst among us are looking for scapegoats… Mayor de Blasio should know better than to throw gasoline on a smoldering fire.”
Conspiracy theories: Also of concern are the dangerous new antisemitic conspiracy theories emerging on the dark web about coronavirus, claiming Jews are responsible for the coronavirus, spreading the virus intentionally in order to cement their power.
Iran: the world’s chief trafficker in Antisemitism: A report by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) published this week referenced statements by a US Special Envoy that Iran is the “world’s chief trafficker in antisemitism” and that “antisemitism isn’t ancillary to the ideology of the Islamic Republic of Iran. It is a central foundational component of the ideology of that regime, and we have to be clear about it, and we have to confront it and call it out for what it is.”
Antisemitism in Canada: It was also reported this week that antisemitic incidents in Canada, rose to a record high for the fourth consecutive year.
Not all bad: Despite the horrific consequences of the pandemic, some unexpected consequences are helping to alleviate the pain. The creators of jewishLIVE, an online one-stop-shop, seek to create a new paradigm for Jewish involvement and engagement while social distancing. This comes at an opportune time, while many Jews are grappling with the closures of Jewish summer camp and all other communal activities.
Unity government: Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, weighed in on a few issues presented to the High Court. Mandelblit said that there is no legal basis to stop Benjamin Netanyahu from forming the country’s next government while Netanyahu awaits trial for criminal charges. Mandelblit suggested that all petitions against the coalition agreement should be rejected and he also proposed that the legality of various unity government provisions be addressed at a later time.
On Sunday, the Supreme Court will weigh a few issues, including:
Whether Prime Minister Netanyahu must resign his post before going to trial on the charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust — all of which stem from a corruption probe originally opened in 2015.
The legality of the coalition agreement between the Blue and White party, led by Benny Gantz, and Netanyahu’sLikud party.
Netanyahu’s trial is supposed to begin at the end of May (it was already postponed once!) and he vehemently denies all allegations of wrongdoing. The High Court plans to broadcast the Sunday hearings over livestream.
Changes to Israel’s Basic Laws: The unity government establishes a ruling coalition in Parliament between the two rivals, Gantz and Netanyahu. Their agreement proposes changes to Israel’s Basic Laws (which serve as a foundation for Israel’s system of government) that may be necessary to address the political circumstances, but tinker with longstanding constitutional arrangements. The coalition agreement is a welcome change to the political dysfunction of the past year in which the country held three national elections, but substantially amending the Basic Laws to serve one unity government without proper foresight may serve as a future constitutional time bomb.
May 7 deadline: There is a May 7 deadline for the formation of a new government and if the coalition deal stalls, the Knesset will dissolve the agreement and call for new elections, the fourth time in 16 months.
So far, the Knesset has passed the first of three votes to uphold a bill meant to ensure the coalition rotation happens. The rotation allows for Netanyahu to serve as prime minister for one and a half years, after which Gantz takes over. The bill sets out parameters and sanctions if either Likud or Blue and White violates the coalition agreement. A Blue and White party source said that final passage of this legislation is required in order for them to recommend Netanyahu be reappointed as prime minister to President Reuven Rivlin.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
P.F.L.P. Bankruptcy: The Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (P.F.L.P.) is facing bankruptcy after Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas cut funds to the organization. P.F.L.P. was founded in 1967 and is the second largest group forming the Palestine Liberation Organization (P.L.O.) behind Abbas’ Fatah faction. The P.F.L.P.’s representatives have boycotted participation in the P.L.O. Executive Committee in recent years, claiming that Abbas and Israel were working together to eliminate them. This week the P.F.L.P. accused Abbas of political blackmail for withholding funds. The P.F.L.P. does not recognize Israel and opposed the Oslo Accords, which were signed between Israel and the P.L.O. in 1993. The P.F.L.P. has been designated a terrorist organization by the U.S., the E.U., Japan, Canada, Australia, though a report from earlier this year exposed Western nations funneling of millions of dollars to Palestinian N.G.O.s with direct links to the P.F.L.P.
In Hebron, a Palestinian holding an explosive device designed to maim Israeli motorists was instead himself wounded when it went off in his hand . There were no Israeli casualties. The Palestinian Red Crescent said medics treated the assailant in his home after which they transferred him to a hospital.
Even before the coronavirus outbreak, Israel’s neighbor to the north was facing a debilitating economic crisis and months-long large-scale government protests, primarily targeting corruption and economic mismanagement. The policies enacted as a result of the virus have exacerbated public anger. The failing economy prompted the government to trigger protective measures, which have limited the ability of citizens to withdrawal dollars and other foreign currency. This has only further inflamed popular upset. The Iranian-funded terror group Hezbollah has openly controlled both the legislative and executive branches of government since the elections of May 2018, which has led to devastating effects on the Ministry of Public Health and a steep decline in foreign investment.
Iran slashed its funding of Hezbollah due to its own economic fallout from the sanctions imposed by the US, though this hasn’t stopped Hezbollah from taking provocative measures including recently sabotaging Israel’s security barrier. Information leaks reveal that Hezbollah seeks to maintain its appearance as continuing to pose a threat to Israel, but does not appear to want war, especially at a time where it’s caught up in its own internal struggles.
Iran may be able to soon buy weapons which have been barred for decades. The U.N. arms embargo on Iran established in the Iran nuclear deal from which the U.S. withdrew in 2018, is set to expire in October. The U.S. government has stated its firm opposition to any arms sales to Iran when the embargo ends and has drafted a resolution — given to Britain, France, and Germany — to extend the embargo. The U.S. has not shared the resolution with the remaining 11 members of the U.N. Security Council, including Russia and China, which maintain close ties with Iran and are reportedly eager to begin selling armaments to Iran.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate Birthright! Birthright Israel has shifted its focus to help with pandemic fallout over the past few weeks, including with the creation of a tool to provide assistance to the elderly. Furthermore, the organization launched an “Olim task force,” which provides assistance to recent immigrants to Israel facing a wide variety of COVID-19 related problems.
Today in 1985, Israeli movie star and Wonder Woman, Gal Gadot was born. Mazal tov, Gal!