The return to normal is ongoing and bumpy across many parts of the globe. Latin America surpassed Europe and the U.S. with the largest portion of new daily cases, with Brazil as the new epi-center. Numbers suggest the U.S. is improving by many metrics, with the exception of a few southern states. However, many states are believed to be opening prematurely, prior to reaching important benchmarks in controlling the spread, such as adequate testing capabilities. According to a new study, 39% of Israelis think that their country is reopening itself to daily life too quickly.
Privacy issues vs. public health: As countries grapple with further containing the virus while reopening, privacy issues are coming to the forefront of the battle. Some countries have adopted tracking measures which infringe on what are considered privacy rights for the sake of public health, while other countries are trying to adopt methods of voluntary sharing. Most voluntary phone applications which governments are promoting to track the spread of the virus have not been widely adopted. Apple and Google released long-awaited voluntary apps, which are expected to be adopted by several countries and U.S. states, though the public’s interest in participation is questionable at best. In an effort to curb privacy infringement, French judges have banned the use of surveillance drones to monitor public compliance with COVID-19 restrictions.
Birth rates & greenhouse gases declining: The U.S. had its lowest number of newborn births in 35 years in 2019, and experts believe the impact of the coronavirus will suppress numbers further. An unexpected positive result from the virus disruption: greenhouse gases are down and the trajectory of global warming has been altered. The amount of carbon dioxide humans are responsible for generating fell by 17% in April as compared to the daily average for 2019. Most of the reduction came from manufacturing, power generation, transportation, and shipping. Though the aviation carbon footprint shrank by 60%, it actually has a smaller impact on the climate than other industries.
Synagogues reopening & De Blasio vs. the NYC Jewish Community
In New York, the worldwide epicenter of the pandemic, synagogues may begin to reopen as early as next week, according to Governor Andrew Cuomo. New York’s secular laws, allowing for the capacity of up to ten individuals inside the prayer houses, comports with Jewish law, which requires the same number of individuals be present for a quorum. The New York Jewish community, the second largest in the world after Israel, was hit particularly hard by the pandemic. A Westchester County synagogue saw the first cases in the state.
Likewise, Europe saw many of its synagogues begin to reopen this week, including in Italy and Germany. Communal prayer has returned to these areas with strange new hallmarks of the virus. Singing is prohibited for fear it may spread the disease, and worshippers cannot kiss the Torah as is customary on those days of the week on which it is read. As in New York, the synagogues have severely restricted capacities.
At a time when many communities are growing weary of social distancing restrictions, certain New York Yeshivot (Jewish religious schools) and synagogues have been caught disobeying the prohibitions, creating further tensions with city authorities. New York shut down one such Yeshiva in Brooklyn, with the mayor tweeting that the behavior was unacceptable. With violations happening all across the city, some are suggesting that de Blasio is unfairly singling out the Jewish community, and at a time when antisemitic violence has reached shockingly high levels. Texas Senator Ted Cruz called for a Federal investigation into the mayor’s actions regarding the Yeshivot and other recent tweets about the Jewish community, maligning de Blasio’s “gleeful” statements “about sending cops after Jews.”
Co-governing pains: Everyday politics continues as usual in Jerusalem, with Prime Minister Netanyahu reportedly becoming upset at his ex-rival/ now-alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s recent statements about Netanyahu’s involvement with specific provisions of the coalition agreement. In a statement to the press, Gantz blamed Netanyahu for a clause which allows for both Netanyahu and Gantz to live in state-funded housing even though they are not serving as Prime Minister simultaneously. Additionally, an advisor to Gantz told the Army Radio that he expected Gantz to become Prime Minister sooner than the November 2021 switch off date because of Netanyahu’s criminal cases.
What is the Norwegian Law? The Norwegian Law is an amendment to an Israeli Basic Law, which allows ministers appointed by the Prime Minister to resign from the Knesset (Israel’s legislature) but continue to remain a minister, with their Knesset seat taken by the next person on their party’s list. The law limits each party to one resignation and replacement. The legislation became commonly known as the ‘Norwegian Law’ due to a similar system being in place in Norway.
· Why is it coming into play now? There is new expanded legislation to enable five ministers in Blue & White and two Likud ministers to step down from the Knesset and remain ministers, but the Knesset has decided not to vote on it. The law was reportedly shelved because the governing coalition was worried it might backfire and empower the opposition. This would happen if members of the Blue and White Party, which Gantz leads, stepped aside for other members who may retain support for ex-Gantz ally and now leader of the opposition, Yair Lapid.
Netanyahu’s corruption trial is almost here: After months of delay, Netanyahu’s corruption trial is slated to begin in Israel on Sunday. As a last attempt to avoid being present at the trial, Netanyahu’s lawyers had filed a motion to keep him away, claiming it would cost the taxpayers too much to have him there. The prosecution responded in kind, saying that Netanyahu must be at his trial just like every defendant in any other case.
Women sue to be considered for all I.D.F. combat units: Four 18-year-old women filed a petition to the High Court to allow for women to be considered for all combat and commando units. Prior to their draft into the I.D.F., the army holds “sorting days” which assess the physical and mental attributes of men for commando and combat units. The petition seeks for women to be similarly tested- not guaranteed- to serve in these units. There are currently women who serve in co-ed combat units, but the number is relatively low. There is still a categorical denial of women in many combat units, which this petition seeks to change. Other similar petitions have been filed in the past. The High Court has instructed the government and I.D.F. to file a preliminary judgment within two months.
U.A.E. first flight to Israel: In a first, a United Arab Emirates plane landed in Israel. The plane was carrying medical supplies bound for the Palestinian Territories. The U.A.E. and Israel do not have formal diplomatic relations, but their budding behind-the-scenes cooperation in recent years is well documented. The Palestinians rejected the desperately needed medical supplies, claiming they do not want to benefit from the U.A.E.-Israel relationship or be responsible for helping to establish more direct ties. Iran was also displeased with its Arab neighbor, denouncing the Emirates for their “betrayal” and “treachery.”
Extreme heat in Israel: An extreme heatwave in Israel, with temperatures soaring over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, has prompted officials to reexamine their mask-wearing policy, especially with regards to children. At first, Israel’s Health Ministry had rejected the request of the Education Ministry to revoke the requirement that students wear masks at all times. Instead, the Health Ministry altered the policy to allow the removal of masks in open-air spaces and non-air-conditioned classrooms.
All of a sudden, it’s very real: Following the swearing-in of Israel’s new government, the annexation discussion – which for the last year had been merely an election talking point – became real both in Israel and around the world. After Netanyahu’s inaugural address, in which he said that the time to annex is now, parties across the world and nearby started responding. In the U.S., Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to Washington, began a hard-lobbying campaign to push lawmakers, particularly Republicans, to accept/avoid criticizing potential Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. Dermer is reportedly motivated by the upcoming U.S. elections.
Biden’s take: Presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden made it very clear that he is opposed to annexation, denouncing such Israeli moves as a “choke” on peace. Biden also said he opposes altering or revoking U.S. aid to Israel should Israel move forward with annexation and he did not say whether he would seek to reverse any moves if annexation is enacted prior to the election. Biden intends to “reverse” Trump administration decisions that he believes adversely affect the prospects of Israeli-Palestinian peace, including repairing ties with Palestinian leaders and resuscitating aid to the Palestinian Authority and other Palestinian programs. He did not share what other specific Trump administration policies he would seek to reverse.
Canada & Europe: In the north, Canada’s Prime Minister also condemned potential Israeli annexation this week. Justin Trudeau,reminded all of the deep friendship between his country and Israel, but urged Israel to abide by international law. Other nations, such as France, issued statements to a similar degree, and Germany released a joint statement with the Palestinian Authority condemning any measures by Israel to annex parts of the “occupied Palestinian territories including East Jerusalem.” The E.U.’s representative on foreign affairs, Josep Borrell, said much of the same, noting his “grave concern” at the plans.
Palestinian Authority response: Nowhere was the angst over annexation more palpable than in the West Bank itself. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas voided all of his government’s security agreements with both the U.S. and Israel, a move he has threatened in the past but has never followed through with. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he “regrets” Abbas’ decision and hopes that security cooperation will continue. On the flip side, the U.N. agent responsible for Middle East peace said Abbas’ announcement was a “cry for help” to preserve the prospect of peace.
Why does this matter? There is widespread concern that annexation and its lead-up could incite chaos and violence which, whether the Palestinian security forces try to suppress or not, could cause the Palestinian Authority to collapse and force Israel to resume day to day control over the area. If the already fraught P.A. collapses, there is also fear that Hamas could rise to power in the West Bank.
The Hamas of it all: Hamas, the human rights abusing terrorist organization which controls Gaza, remains active in the West Bank and has recently called for an end to the rift with its rivals in Fatah, the controlling faction in the West Bank. A Hamas official stated that the only way to confront the Israeli annexation plan is by achieving national unity among Palestinians and by escalating resistance, meaning violence, against Israel, especially in the West Bank. Hamas intends to take advantage of the void in security coordination. Abdel Latif Qanou, a Hamas spokesperson, said should Israeli annexation be implemented, Hamas expects President Abbas to give Hamas a free hand to operate more in the West Bank from which to launch attacks against Israel.
Lack of unified Palestinian response: Some believe that there is a growing indifference in the Palestinian public due what they perceive as (1) lack of real leadership among their representatives and (2) multilayered oppression. Palestinians do not know whether to first protest Abbas, Hamas, Egypt, or Saudi Arabia, in addition to Israel. This could cause a spike in lone wolf attacks, compounding the chaos.
Russia is reportedly seeking to host a summit with the purpose of mending fences between the U.S. and the Palestinians. The Russian government plans to invite officials from the E.U., the U.N., and other Arab entities, such as Egypt, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and the U.A.E.
In other P.A. news: After scrutiny from the European Union, the Palestinian Authority has decided to change the school textbooksprovided to Palestinian schools across the West Bank. Until now, included within the textbooks were “incitements to violence” and “antisemitic material,” said the European Parliament. Palestinians still balked at the suggestion that they were being influenced by international powers, remarking that educational decisions are a “sovereign Palestinian matter.”
Counter(cyber)attack: Another shot has been fired in the ever-running cold war between Israel and Iran. Reports say that Israel launched a covert cyberattack on an Iranian port in retaliation to a similar Iranian attack on Israel’s water system, a civilian target. Although Iran played off the damage from the attack, a foreign government security official said the attack was “highly accurate” and “more serious than described.” It is possible that this attack was intended to send the message to the Iranian regime that the targeting of Israeli civilian infrastructure will not be tolerated, and that Israel has the capability to interfere with Iranian economic systems.
Antisemitic Tweeting: The Supreme Leader of Iran, Ali Khamenei, tweeted an antisemiticcartoon this week which called for the Nazis’ “final solution” against Israel. After receiving intense criticism, Khamenei defended his statement by saying that he merely called for the destruction of Israel, rather than that of the Jews. After tweeting the cartoon, Khamenei tweeted that Iran will back any entity that fights “the Zionist regime.”
Delayed response to Iran killing protestors: The worldwide human rights organization Amnesty International called Iran’s killing of over 300 protestors six months ago “ruthless” and urged the U.N. to investigate. The demonstrations, which broke out in November 2019, were in response to an announcement to raise Iranian gas prices over 200 percent. Amnesty said the vast majority of the protestors were killed by unlawful use of force since there was no evidence the protestors were in possession of firearms or posed an imminent threat to life.
ANTISEMITISM & EXTREMISM
The Anti-Defamation League announced that there was a 50% increase in arrests of individuals connected to “domestic Islamist extremism” in the U.S. last year. Many of the incidents, 70% of which were “inspired by” the Islamic State terrorist organization, reportedly involved the targeting of religious institutions, including mosques, churches, and synagogues. The A.D.L. noted that all acts of religious extremism actually carried out last year were by white nationalists.
Big news for BDSers: The National Lawyers Guild (“NLG”), an organization that supports the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions (“BDS”) campaign against Israel has settled a lawsuit with an Israeli company, Bibliotechnical Athenaeum. Bibliotechnical argued that the NLG’s refusal to grant advertising space on one of its publications was illegal discrimination based on Bibliotechnical’s national (Israeli) origin. The ramifications of the settlement could be large, given the acceptance by the NLG that this type of discrimination on the basis of national origin violates anti-discrimination laws, which is the essence of the B.D.S. campaign. Bibliotechnical is represented by Jewish civil rights group, The Lawfare Project.
More bad news out of Brazil: In Brazil, a political commentator on C.N.N. asserted that Jews “chose” the country’s health minister, Nelson Teich, thereby causing the coronavirus pandemic to spread out of control in Brazil. The statement reeks of antisemitism, not only the blood libel that Jews are responsible for the proliferation of coronavirus, but also that Jews are somehow pulling the strings of the Brazilian government. C.N.N. released a statement saying that the news outlet “never intended to cause any discomfort to the Jewish community,” without reprimanding the political commentator.
Roger Waters at it again: Pink Floyd band leader Roger Waters is again accused of antisemitism in his anti-Israel rhetoric. Participating in an event with the U.K. Palestine Solidarity Campaign, Waters replaced the lyrics to one of his songs with the phrase “we’ll take back the land, from the Jordan to the sea.” This sentiment seems to advocate for the eradication of Israel and the removal of all its Jews. Also participating was the founder of the B.D.S. campaign against Israel, Omar Barghouti. In his speech, Barghouti claimed Israel was responsible for the refugee crises of western Africa and that “Israel treats African asylum seekers as a cancer that must be eradicated.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate an Israeli man, Dr. Tal Zaks, who is responsible for a potential coronavirus vaccine causing much buzz. Zaks’ biotech institution, the American company Moderna, announced the results of a preliminary study involving a vaccine. In the eight subjects for which it was used, the vaccine produced immunity comparable to having had the disease itself.
Another Israeli scientific breakthrough might make it possible to disinfect entire surfaces or physical spaces for months without reapplication. Scientists from the Technion in Haifa are working to manufacture a disinfectant that coats surfaces and renders them entirely virus-free. Instead of having to disinfect surfaces multiple times a day, these scientists claim that their invention will require reapplication only every couple of months. Although their research has yet to be peer-reviewed, the gold standard of scientific experimentation, the polymer could just be a “game changer.”
Today in 1967, in violation of international agreements, Egypt closed the Straits of Tiran, blocking all Israeli shipping from the south and access to the Red Sea (international waters). Under international law, a blockade is an act of war. Less than a month later, Israel launched a surprise strike which began the Six-Day War.