U.S. Numbers: Though the number of deaths and new positive cases continue to decline in hot spots such as New York, the coronavirus pandemic is far from over. According to one recent study, the virus — which has already killed nearly 100,000 Americans—could be spreading unabated in 24 U.S. states, mostly in the South and Midwest. The NY Times dedicated their Sunday paper’s front page to those whose lives were lost to coronavirus.
Fear of second wave: With little sign that a potential vaccine will be available before mid-2021, there is growing concern about a second wave of infection in the fall, even as the first wave continues to hammer the U.S. The longing for a return to normalcy was apparent with enormous crowds celebrating Memorial Day this weekend. Photos of vacationers in places such as Lake of the Ozarks violating social distancing orders without masks have authorities very concerned.
Brazil on track to be worst hit country: Brazil’s case numbers continue to rise and the country is now the world’s number two hotspot for coronavirus cases after the U.S. The White House announced travel restrictions from Brazil, prohibiting most non-U.S. citizens from traveling to the U.S. if they were in Brazil within two weeks. Younger people are dying at a much higher rate in Brazil—15 percent of deaths are people under 50, 10 times greater than in Italy or Spain.
Higher number of bot activity: Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have found that over half of the accounts from a pool of 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 related issues were bots. Additionally, they determined that 66% of tweets about “reopening America” came from accounts that were possibly humans using bot assistants to spread their tweets more widely, and 34% came from bots. The origins of the bot activity have not been determined.
President demands houses of worship re-open: President Trump commanded a mass re-opening of houses of worship, which was met with backlash from some faith leaders. Synagogues across the country, including the entire membership of the Reform Movement, announced that they will remain closed and “continue to look to the wisdom of medical professionals.” Rabbi Jack Moline, President of Interfaith Alliance wrote, “The virus does not discriminate between types of gatherings, and neither should the president … The illness and death that afflicts religious communities who follow the president’s dictates will be his responsibility.”
Different world in Israel: With the virus largely under control in Israel, institutions of business, study, and worship are open once again. The Church of the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem, Christianity’s holiest site, was set to reopen its doors after roughly two months of closure. It was the first extended closure of the pilgrimage site since the Black Death in 1349. Nevertheless, the Church may stay closed for even longer than expected. Sunday’s reopening was postponed after the legally required social distancing restrictions posed too great a difficulty to manage its operations.
· Israel’s bus capacity had been limited to 25% but will now be increased to 75% capacity. Additionally, the country’s railway system will be operational by June 8. On June 14, the government will allow cultural events at venues to resume as well, but also at 75% of normal capacity. Concerned about the economic fallout from the pandemic, the Israeli government is pumping in billions of dollars into the economy ($28 billion to date) to avoid a collapse.
Good news for Israeli tourists: the hotspot destination of Cyprus will soon be open to Israeli visitors once again. The small island nation is relaxing its restrictions on tourists, but only from a select few countries, Israel included. Cyprus had been closed off to tourists because of the pandemic, but with fewer than 1,000 cases on the island, and the virus well under control in Israel, travel can soon resume between the two countries. Israelis traveling to Cyprus before June 19 will be required to undergo a coronavirus test within 72 hours prior to take-off. After June 19, that requirement will be lifted as well.
Trump Praised Henry Ford’s bloodlines: At an event at Ford factory in Michigan, President Donald Trump praised the company’s founder, Henry Ford, and his “good bloodlines.” Ford is widely known to have been a staunch antisemite and a proponent of eugenics, said the C.E.O. of the Anti-Defamation League. Adolf Hitler even singled out Henry Ford for praise in his autobiographical manifesto, Mein Kampf. Ford was the only American to be mentioned favorably in Mein Kampf.
A town in New Jersey is being sued in federal court by the Justice Department for engaging in what the D.O.J. deemed “antisemitic conduct.” The town of Jackson, NJ passed new housing ordinances apparently aimed at discriminating against Jewish residents and Orthodox Yeshivot learning centers. The town and its neighbors include a sizable ultra-Orthodox population.
U.K. believes Jews created COVID-19: Conspiracy theories that Jews are carriers of disease and poisoners of the general welfare have returned with a vengeance during this pandemic. According to a recent study from the University of Oxford, 19.1% of the adult English population, almost 1 in 5, believe to some extent that “Jews have created the virus to collapse the economy for financial gain.”
Netanyahu’s trial begins
History has been made: Benjamin Netanyahu became the first sitting Prime Minister in Israel’s history to become a defendant in a courtroom when his trial opened on Sunday. Before entering the courtroom, Netanyahu gave a short statement in the halls of the courthouse to the Israeli public, claiming that the case against him is a sham, while berating the police and the justice ministry. Netanyahu also said that “under no circumstances” will he take a plea bargain with the prosecutors, which would equate to an admission of guilt. It is possible Netanyahu will not be required to physically attend the court proceedings for the next few months, or even until next year, but images of him standing in the courtroom have already made their mark on the Israeli public.
Protection for the prosecution: Israel’s Justice Ministry assigned a security detail to the Deputy State Prosecutor Liat Ben Ari, who will be accompanied by bodyguards and assigned a separate entrance in and out of the Court. Last week, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit, who indicted Netanyahu for bribery, fraud and breach of trust, filed a police complaint after receiving threats on his personal phone.
Opposition’s take: Opposition leader Yair Lapid accused Netanyahu of attempting a “coup” with Netanyahu’s conduct and statements in and outside of the courthouse. Netanyahu brought individuals with him to the trial who select and oversee the judicial system and judges themselves, which many read as a thinly veiled attempt at intimidation.
More countries weigh in on annexation
· A perplexing controversy erupted in Czechia last week over potential Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. —The Foreign Minister, former Foreign Minister and Culture Minister of that country’s government lambasted Netanyahu’s administration for considering annexation in a flashy op-ed in the Czech paper, Právo. Yet Prime Minister Andrej Babis disagrees with that sentiment and stated as much following the op-ed’s publishing, thereby undermining his own top officials. The Prime Minister called the conduct of the Foreign Minister “unacceptable” and his press secretary announced that the op-ed “denied the current policy of the Czech Republic to the State of Israel.”
· Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan condemned Israel’s annexation plans and lent his support to Palestinians in a video statement to U.S. Muslims. Erdogan said Turkey “will not allow” Israel to move forward with annexation plans.
East Jerusalem revitalization plan: A review of Jerusalem’s two year plan to revitalize East Jerusalem is proving to have mixed results. 40% of the Jerusalem population are the Palestinian inhabitants of East Jerusalem. The 2018 Israeli plan called for $2 billion shekels (about $600 million) to bolster security and economic development in the community. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, the plan has made strides in education reform, but infrastructure investment has so far failed to bear fruit. The project was the result of an extraordinary combination of circumstances, in which right-wing politicians and former Shin Bet treasury officials joined forces to persuade the cabinet to approve and fund the plan.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR AND NOT SO FAR
Effects of coronavirus: The tightly controlled Gazan borders were shut down by Hamas this week in an effort to minimize risk of exposure to coronavirus. One 77-year-old woman died last week from the virus as Gaza continues to deal with about 40 cases. The territory’s two border crossings, one with Israel and the other with Egypt, will remain entirely shut until June 30. In Hebron, the Palestinian Authority struggled to maintain order over the Eid al-Fitr holiday with hundreds of Palestinians ignoring curfew and demanding to pray in mosques. The PA had banned attendance in church and mosques during the holiday in order to avoid the spread of coronavirus. In furtherance of that goal, the Muslim religious authority of Jerusalem, Grand Mufti Mohammad Hussein, allowed for Muslims to ritually observe Eid al-Fitr services at homes.
High Court rulingon razing home of terrorist: During the Second Intifada, the I.D.F. adopted a policy to demolish houses of terrorists in Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip in order to deter terrorism, following a wave of suicide bombings. This week, Israel’s High Court ordered the military to stop the planned demolition of the family home of a Palestinian man convicted for his involvement in the murder of an 18 year old yeshiva student, Dvir Sorek, last year.
• Why does this matter? This is the first time the Court has blocked a home demolition of a convicted terrorist.
• Court’s reasoning: The High Court said the family of the suspected terrorist did not support his actions and razing the home would have no effect as a deterrent. The Court also said that too much time had passed since the attack for the demolition to discourage future attacks. • Many opinions: Israel’s Defense Minister Naftali Bennett responded that the ruling will weaken Israel’s policy of deterrence and called on Netanyahu to demand a rehearing of the case. In a statement, Bennett said: “Over the past half a year, we dramatically increased the impact on terrorists and their surroundings, something which has led to great deterrence and zero murderous attacks against Israelis…If the government doesn’t act to reverse the High Court decision it will be a message of weakness and slackness toward the terrorists, the opposite of what we did until now.” On the other hand, over the years a number of I.D.F. officials have questioned the efficacy of the practice.
More violent statements from Iran
Marking Iran’s anti-Israel “Quds Day,” Iran’s Supreme Leader, Ali Khamenei, argued that the “Zionist regime” (i.e. Israel) is comparable to the coronavirus. As the coronavirus must be eliminated, so too must the “long-lasting virus of Zionism” be uprooted, he said. He also called Israel a “deadly, cancerous growth.” This comes just days after the Supreme Leader shared an image of a “liberated” Israel titled the “Final Solution,” a reference to the Nazi mission of the Holocaust. Sticking with the message, Iran’s Foreign Minister, Javad Zarif, called for the destruction of Israel, claiming Israel to be the “greatest threat to international security.” Another Iranian pal, Hezbollah’s head Hassan Nasrallah, celebrated “Quds Day” by praising the recent murder of a 22-year-old Israeli soldier and by calling for Israel to “be destroyed.”
• Israel reacts: In reaction to these violent statements, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz labeled them “signs of weakness.” Furthermore, Israeli Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen wrote to Twitter’s C.E.O. to demand the removal of the Supreme Leader for “anti-Semitic and genocidal” messaging. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said they resembled “Hitler’s calls for genocide,” and the E.U.’s Foreign Affairs Minister designated the words as “totally unacceptable” and a cause for “a deep source of concern.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate a group of volunteers who have been busy repairing a Jewish cemetery which has been the target of attacks in Namestovo, Slovakia.
Today in 1948, at the United Nations, the Arab States “indicated a willingness to stop the fighting on condition that the Jews would regard the proclamation of statehood as null and void and that no further Jewish immigration would be accepted. Abba Eban, who at the time was the Israeli liaison to the U.N. responded; “If the Arab states want peace with Israel, they can have it. If they want war, they have that, too. But whether they want peace or war, they could have only with the sovereign independent state of Israel.”