Numbers decreasing: Slowly but surely, the number of coronavirus cases in Israel is decreasing. The country has finally gone two weeks recording fewer than 200 new cases per day. In fact, this past weekend has seen as little as 18 new cases per day. Currently, the total number of deaths in Israel is hovering around 250, about the same as South Korea. Outdoor markets and commercial malls are open, with the Prime Minister indicating all restrictions may be lifted by mid-June.
Some areas of normal life are still in turmoil following the lifting of government restrictions. Due to social distancing requirements, thousands of toddlers are barred from returning to daycare. Even the children that are allowed to return to school are waiting in hours-long lines with their parents to enter. Israel’s Justice Ministry introduced a bill to allow for video chat and telephone communications with criminal suspects and criminal hearings to curb the spread of the virus.
Working together: Members of the Israel Defense Forces, Arab-Israelis, and Palestinians continue to work together to avoid outbreaks of the virus in areas such as East Jerusalem.
Unlike in Israel, the U.S. has not seen steady decline in cases. There seems to be “no end in sight” to the restrictions in New York, said the Orthodox Union. Synagogues elsewhere, though, may slowly begin to once again open their doors, said doctor Anthony Fauci in a conversation with Jewish leaders. Synagogues grappling with when and how to reopen have their sights set on the High Holidays, which begin in late September this year. American Jews are not sitting passively by. At the forefront of the American fight against coronavirus are healthcare workers such as Jewish and Orthodox nurses.
HARDSHIP & HELP
Diaspora deaths & hardship: Devastatingly, Jews are dying from the virus in much higher numbers in the Diaspora than in Israel. While numbers are impossible to pin down exactly, at least 1,300 Jews have died in France, with some estimates as high as 2,000. In Britain, at least 366 Jews have died of the virus, representing 1.7% of all coronavirus deaths, despite being only 0.3% of the population. The Haredi media is reporting 700 Jewish deaths in New York City alone.
Italian Jews: The Jewish umbrella of the Italian financial assistance union wrote to Jewish Agency Chairman Isaac Herzog asking for help, pleading that “the Jewish community in Italy cannot at this time raise money from local donors.” The President of the Italian union said that 10 times more Jewish families are now seeking aid than before the outbreak and estimates that 1 in 5 Jewish families in Italy need financial aid.
Worldwide help: Jewish communities around the world have taken it upon themselves to assist those in need of help during the pandemic. The State of Israel, for one, has been shipping medical supply around the world, including 2,000 medical masks to Nigeria. Jews in New York will soon be receiving supplies from abroad as well, namely from the Prague Jewish community, which started donating en masse.
In New Orleans, Israeli chef Alon Shaya has transformed his restaurant into a soup kitchen for those in need. This is not new to Shaya, who did the same in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
NY Times Accused of Disparaging Israel Again: On May 8th, the New York Times tweeted the first line of an article about the I.D.F.’s lifesaving responses to the pandemic: “The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up, now it is turning to saving lives.” with a link to an article about the measures and innovative steps the I.D.F. is taking to save lives during this pandemic. According to many Jewish organizations, the tweet and article lead misrepresented the central mission of the I.D.F.— to defend human lives. The response was swift from defenders against antisemitism, including by the Anti-Defamation League, which pointed out the “sensationalist, degrading and demonizing language” used by the Times. The Times article itself went into detail about how well Israel is doing fighting the virus and saving lives.
Not Michael Che too: Michael Che joked on S.N.L. that the winner of the “Miss Hitler” pageant was “Miss Israel.” “Miss Hitler” was a real online pageant taken off the internet days ago by the web hosting company, GoDaddy.
In other disturbing news, the U.S. Department of Justice released a transcript from the FBI investigation into the Trump campaign’s possible ties to Russian efforts to interfere with the 2016 election. In the transcript an agency source speaking with former Trump aide George Papadopulos called Israelis “all fucking spies” who should be executed.
In San Diego, a man was walking around local stores wearing a medical mask with a Nazi swastika flag affixed to it.
More problems in Germany and France: Germany’s foreign minister, Heiko Maas, is calling for strengthened efforts to address its growing antisemitism problem. He confirmed that antisemitism has become a part of everyday life for Jews in Germany and that he wouldn’t be surprised if every Jew in Germany has thought about leaving the country. He wrote: “That people of Jewish faith no longer feel at home here is a real nightmare — and a disgrace, 75 years after the liberation of Auschwitz.”
The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the human rights organization dedicated to fighting antisemitism, sent a request to Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo to help remove antisemitic stickers found throughout many different areas of the city.
El Al bailout: Israel’s Finance Ministry has agreed to provide a government-secured loan in the amount of $400 million to bail out Israel’s airline, El Al. Like most other airlines, El Al has suffered huge losses from the pandemic. The loan will be conditional on cost-cutting measures, including layoffs.
Yamina joins the opposition: Yamina, Israel’s far right political alliance (“Yamina” literally means “right” in Hebrew), announced it would not join the unity government between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader, Benny Gantz, and is instead joining the opposition.
Wait, how does Israel’s government work again? Israel’s government operates under a proportional representation system. Israelis vote for parties, not individual candidates; the last election saw 29 parties competing. The more votes a party gets, the more seats the party is awarded in the Knesset, Israel’s parliament. There are 120 seats in the Knesset and whichever party wins at least 61 seats controls the government. No party has ever outright won 61 seats, so typically the party with the most votes is tasked by the president with forming a coalition with smaller parties to reach the necessary 61 seats.
Back to Yamina… Yamina, a former Likud coalition partner, has publicly slammed Netanyahu for “selling out to the left” and has been sparring with him over the distribution of ministerial positions. Netanyahu accused Yamina head Naftali Bennett of attempting to punish the coalition for Yamina’s lack of coveted cabinet seats. Netanyahu and Gantz each have half of all cabinet positions and Yamina was only offered two ministries- education and Jerusalem affairs.
And that’s politics, baby!
Mike Pompeo Visiting Israel: American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is expected to visit Israel this week. In Israel, Pompeo will meet with both PM Netanyahu and Blue and White head Benny Gantz. This will be Pompeo’s first time leaving the United States since the start of the coronavirus crisis. The American and Israeli leadership will discuss the challenge of the pandemic and other regional events, such as Israel’s potential annexation of part of the West Bank.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
UNRWA Financial Troubles: As in Israel, the Palestinians are coping with the medical and economic fallout of the pandemic. Although with only four deaths in the West Bank and none in Gaza, it seems the Palestinians are dealing with a much smaller crisis than in Israel proper. UNRWA, a United Nations agency tasked with assisting Palestinians, has launched a $93.4 million appeal for COVID-aid to the Palestinians.
The U.S. was previouslyUNRWA’s biggest donor but President Trump halted payments to UNRWA in 2018, calling for reforms because of UNRWA’s ties to terror organization Hamas, politicized definition of “refugee,” demand for a “right of return” of Palestinians to Israeli land, funding of books used in Palestinian classrooms that promote hate of Israelis and Jews, and overall ineffective policy of helping the Palestinian people. Though not without its faults, UNRWA’s assistance to the Palestinian community is substantial and even the Israeli government urged the U.S. to reconsider before the U.S. made its decision final.
Pay for Slay Payments, Deducted and Now Returned: Israel has decided to loan hundreds of millions of shekels to the Palestinian Authority. The loan is meant to help the PA deal with its current economic crisis, which was worsened after Israel passed legislation to penalize the PA for monetarily rewarding the families of slain or imprisoned terrorists. The loan, which is a similar amount to that which was deducted, has made many Israelis feel like it undermines cutting the funds in the first place.
Iran’s hostile activities
Even as the coronavirus pandemic continues to batter its citizens, Iran is still conducting its nefarious, terrorist activity. An Israeli security company identified an Iranian cyber-attack on the U.S. drug company manufacturing Remdesivir, a possible treatment for coronavirus. Furthermore, Israel was shocked to observe an Iranian cyber assault against Israel’s water infrastructure. Attacking civilian infrastructure flies in the face of the “codes of war,” said senior officials within the Israeli military.
In other Iranian news, Iran’s army said that 19 soldiers were killed in a friendly fire accident on Monday, where a warship was hit during a naval exercise.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
We celebrate and thank a municipal worker in London, Paul Anastasi, who helped arrange a Jewish funeral and service for Herbert Fraenkel, who passed away from the coronavirus. Fraenkel was a 95-year-old man who lived alone in London, originally from Berlin. When Anastasi noticed a Menorah in Fraenkel’s home, he alerted a local rabbi. The two worked together to make sure Fraenkel was given a proper, Jewish burial and even recruited a genealogist to locate the burial place of Fraenkel’s relatives. They found the burial site of his parents in London, where they came with their only son in the 1930s as refugees from Nazi Germany. The rabbi officiated the funeral alone, according to social distancing protocol, and livestreamed it on Facebook to hundreds of viewers.
Today in 2011, a former concentration camp guard, John Demjanjuk, the subject of Netflix’s “The Devil Next Door,” was convicted by Germany as an accessory to the murder of 27,900 Jews and sentenced to five years in prison. He was convicted years prior in Israel, thought to be “Ivan the Terrible,” but the conviction was later overturned based on reasonable doubt over his true identity. After his release from Israeli prison, U.S. prosecutors sought to deport him as a war criminal and his citizenship was revoked in 2002. He later appealed the judgement. Finally, in 2009, Germany requested his extradition. He died in a nursing home a year after his second conviction.