Some numbers: Though certain statistics remain inaccurate, and with much depending on a country’s ability to run large-scale testing, the coronavirus pandemic continues to barrage countries across the world in different ways and to different degrees. The United States now accounts for approximately 32% of all known cases, and 28% of all known deaths. The combined numbers for New York and New Jersey make up 33% of all known U.S. cases and 36% of all known U.S. deaths. The rates of infection and death vary drastically even within the regions of a given state.
Compare this to Israel, which seems to be moving at the speed of light. The pace of Israel’s re-opening may be too hasty and irresponsible or right on track, depending on whom you ask. Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a full reopening of its schools just before reporting that there are fewer than 4,000 active coronavirus cases in the country. Even still, some schools emailed parents that they cannot ensure full compliance with the Health Ministry’s guidelines.
Russia: Meanwhile, the New York Times is reporting that Russia is being silently besieged by the virus, with healthcare workers being hit especially hard. As Covid-19 hits entities as colossal as the Russia Federation, so too does it strike at the most vulnerable…
Secret Mission to Save Jews in Morocco: Through diplomatic ties with Morocco, the Israeli government worked secretly to bring home a group of 26 Israelis that had been stuck in Morocco for over a month. Out of an original group of 36, 10 Israelis died from the coronavirus while waiting to return. The return process was complex because Morocco does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel. An Israeli lawmaker and former Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat (Likud), along with casino magnate Sheldon Adelson worked together to arrange a private flight and bring the Israelis back home.
300% Increase in American aliyah requests: The organization Nefesh b’Nefesh, dedicated to the immigration of diaspora Jews to Israel, has seen a 300 percent increase in requests from American Jews wanting to move to Israel since the start of the coronavirus crisis.
Israeli coronavirus advancements: The science continues to lag behind the pandemic, but humanity is beginning to catch up. Israel’s advancements in the areas of testing, treatment, and virus pathology have been especially promising. Israeli scientist Gabby Sarusi of Ben-Gurion University invented a 20-second to one-minute coronavirus breath test. The test currently remains under scientific review. Israeli biotech company Bonus BioGroup just completed a preliminary study of a drug that treats acute respiratory distress in COVID-19 patients. The drug, MesenCure, was found to reduce inflammation, promote the regeneration of the diseased lung tissue, and alleviate respiratory and other symptoms in laboratory and animal models.
Spike in Violence
Amit Ben-Ygal, a 21-year-old Israeli soldier, was killed by a large rock thrown at his head by an unknown Palestinian assailant. His unit was completing a nighttime arrest in a Palestinian village near Jenin, in the northern West Bank. In response, the terrorist organization Hamas praised the killing, claiming it was a response to Israeli political deliberations over annexation of the West Bank. Palestinian social media also celebrated Ben-Ygal’s death, claiming it a “heroic act.” The army is searching for the killer.
While the I.D.F. was conducting an arrest raid in Hebron following the murder of Ben-Ygal, clashes broke out in the West Bank and a Palestinian teen was killed, further fueling the fire.
Vandals spray-painted Hebrew graffiti stating “I do not sleep when blood has been spilled here” and “The lives of our soldiers come before the lives of the enemy” in the West Bank village of Bilin.
Another Israeli soldier, 20-year-old Shadi Ibrahim, was wounded in a car-ramming attack near Hebron and had his leg amputated as a result. The Palestinian assailant was shot and died at the scene. A security official said the Palestinian assailant left a suicide note “with religious characteristic.”
Unity government swearing-in delayed
And so the unity government saga continues! The government was set to be sworn in Thursday night after Prime Minister Netanyahu announced the official formation of a government coalition, but Netanyahu pushed the swearing-in to Sunday. This was in part due to U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s visit to Israel and also to last minute disputes within the Likud party over allotment of ministries, which extended the political uncertainty. Once the swearing-in occurs, the Knesset will then be asked to vote for confidence in the new government. If the vote passes, the ministers will be sworn in. The swapping of ministries to various allies and foes are continuing to the last minute. Two senior Likud members, Tzachi Hanegbi and Avi Dichter, both former ministers, released statements they would boycott the vote because Netanyahu had not offered them any government positions.
In a sign of mistrust, Benny Gantz, Netanyahu’s former elections rival, resigned as Speaker of the Knesset and then revoked his resignation due to the delay in swearing-in. If the new government is sworn in on Sunday, he will resign again on Friday to take on his new roles. Gantz had success in naming allies to high government positions, including making history with the ministry appointment of an Ethiopian-born Israeli, Pnina Tamano-Shata.
New ambassador: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Likud minister Gilad Erdan as Israel’s ambassador both to the United Nations and the United States, replacing Danny Danon and Ron Dermer respectively. It will be the first time the same person holds both roles since Abba Eban in the 1950s. On Israeli television, Erdan, 49, acknowledged that he will have his hands full in the coming months with challenges ranging from fallout over possible annexation to pressure from the U.S. with respect to Israel’s relationship with China and,in the case of a Biden presidential win, trying to restore Israel’s relationship with the Democratic party.
Lag b’Omer arrests: The coronavirus’ spread, and the resulting social distancing mandates do not rest for the holidays, as a group of ultra-Orthodox Jews who sought to celebrate Lag b’Omer found out in Israel. In defiance of Israel’s laws against large gatherings, 300 or so sought to congregate on Mount Meron, to remember the day on which the plague of Rabbi Akiva’s students stopped. How ironic. Police responded in kind, arresting and detaining the rulebreakers.
POMPEO’S 8-HOUR VISIT TO ISRAEL
U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo arrived for a diplomatic visit to Israel on Wednesday morning that lasted less than a day. He met with both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and incoming deputy Prime Minister Benny Gantz separately to take the temperature of the new government under the unity leadership and to better acquaint himself personally with Gantz. In his brief visit, Pompeo offered gratitude and praise for Israel’s coronavirus fighting measures and condolences for the I.D.F. soldier, Amit Ben-Ygal, who was killed the day before.
U.S. wants Israel’s loyalty when it comes to China: Some analysts suggest that Pompeo’s primary objective for his trip was to make sure Israel will stand with America in its opposition to China. Recent years have brought closer ties between Israel and China, which has been a rare instance of contention between the U.S. and Israel. The U.S. has previously cautioned Israel against potential security threats from Chinese investment in its economy, which resulted in Netanyahu setting up a committee last year to vet such projects.
Iran’s regional influence: Pompeo and the Israeli leaders also discussed Iran’s “malign influence” in the region and resulting security issues. Both the U.S. and Israeli are in agreement as to Iran’s threat to regional stability.
Annexation talks: Another major topic of discussion during Pompeo’s visit was Israel’s possible application of sovereignty in parts of the West Bank, also known as Judea and Samaria. Although the Trump administration will allow for annexation if Israel meets certain conditions in the Kushner-led peace plan, Pompeo seemed to advocate for a slow-down. There has been a lot of talk throughout the world about Israel’s unity government contemplating redrawing the country’s borders. The coalition agreement allows for annexation to be voted on July 1st at the earliest. Arab and European states are urging Trump to withhold its approval of annexation, arguing it would be destabilizing to the region and create an influx of Palestinians into Jordan.
The Anti-Defamation League reported that the number of antisemitic incidents in 2019 exceeded that of any year since it began tracking over forty years ago. Last year recorded an 18% increase in episodes since 2018. The A.D.L. tracks acts of vandalism and harassment, as well as violent outbursts. Recent violent incidents include the shootings in a synagogue in Poway, CA last April and a kosher supermarket in Jersey City, NJ in December, in addition to the stabbing at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, NY during Hanukkah.
Facebook takedowns: Facebook reported a large increase in the number of posts it removes for promoting violence and hate speech. The social media giant deleted 4.7 million posts connected to hate organizations in the first quarter of 2020, up from 1.6 million removed posts from the previous quarter. The company further removed 9.6 million posts containing hate speech, compared with 5.7 million in the prior period. Facebook has also put warning labels on about 50 million pieces of content related to the coronavirus, in an effort to ban harmful misinformation. And it’s working: according to C.E.O. Mark Zuckerberg, ninety percent of the time someone sees a label, they won’t click to see the content.
NRA’s anti-Holocaust mission: The National Rifle Association, the highly controversial pro-gun lobbying organization, has latched on to the following argument when defending their political positions: ‘Look What Happened to the Jews.’ Frank Smyth, an investigative journalist, writes in his new book about efforts by the N.R.A. to tie the Holocaust to gun control, contending that had Jews in the Holocaust had access to firearms they would have been able to defend themselves against Hitler’s atrocities. For its part, the N.R.A. loved the book, giving it “rave” reviews.
Fear in Ukraine: The police department in the town of Kolomyya, Ukraine sent out a letter demanding a list of all the Jewish residents of the town, sparking outrage. Though the police claimed they wanted the details as part of an investigation into “ethnic” crime groups, this sent shivers down the spine of the Jewish community in the community that remembers the murder of perhaps a million Jews in Ukraine during the Holocaust.
GWU names BDS supporter as dean: George Washington University’s School of International Affairs named a supporter of the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions campaign against Israel as its interim dean. The supporter, Ilana Feldman, has made inflammatory and controversial statements in the past. The appointment resulted in concern from the school’s Jewish students, who feel that Professor Feldman’s outward anti-Israel sentiments will exacerbate the discrimination and hatred they face daily.
Married couple attack Jews in Brooklyn: A married couple, Paulo Pinho, 35, and Clelia Pinho, 46, in New York were arrested and face hate crime charges after jumping out of their car and attacking a group of Hasidic Jews in Brooklyn. According to eyewitnesses, they yelled “the Mayor said you Jews are the reason we’re getting sick.” New York Mayor Bill de Blasio recently singled out the Jewish community for flouting social distancing restrictions after he broke up a large gathering of Hasidic Jews attending a funeral. De Blasio’s tweet drew fury for fueling the fire of Jew hate in New York, with its very high incidence of antisemitic hate crimes.
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.