Today is the holiday of Shavuot! It falls at the end of the seven-week period after Passover, a solemn time when weddings and parties with music are not allowed. Shavuot, also known as the Pentacost or the Feast of Weeks, commemorates the giving of the Ten commandments to the Israelites on Mount Sinai, following their escape from slavery in Egypt. “Shavuot” is a Hebrew word which means “weeks,” emphasizing the conclusion of the seven-week journey of trekking through the desert to get to Mount Sinai. Shavuot is celebrated by lighting candles, staying up all night to learn Torah, hearing the reading of the Ten Commandments and eating dairy foods. Milk is considered to be a symbol of the Torah, which nourishes the people.
Total numbers & U.S. reopening: More than 5.6 million people have been infected with the coronavirus globally and more than 349,555 people have died from it. As the U.S. starts to open, there’s an “unmistakable” rise in cases, which is an unfortunate but expected effect of reopening. The New York Stock Exchange reopened its trading floor after a 2-month shutdown, with new protocols in a place. California also continues to re-open slowly, now allowing hair salons and barbershops open in most counties.
Brazil further declines: Brazil has registered a new grim record: they reported more than 1,000 deaths in a 24-hour period. Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro has repeatedly played down the dangers of the virus and continues to call for a rapid reopening of businesses. Bolsonaro has sparred with the governors of Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro and with two health ministers publicly. Brazil is currently the second worst hit country after the U.S., but Brazil’s numbers of infections and deaths are growing exponentially, while the numbers in the U.S. are trending downwards.
Israel cases: Israel reported a sharp rise, with 79 new cases in a single day. Many of the new cases stem from an outbreak in a school. The Israeli government has slated bars, restaurants, and tourist sites to reopen this week, albeit modified from their previous operation. Both customers and servers/employees are required to abide by social distancing measures and hygiene will be strictly enforced. Masks will be required at these opened locations. Even public pools will be reopening with social distancing guidelines.
Israel’s economy: Israel’s economy contracted significantly in the first quarter. The 7.1% shrink in the economy was the country’s first decline since 2012. Private consumer spending was cut by over 20% and imports fell a whopping 27%.
Getting into Israel: Ben Gurion airport said that Israel is unlikely to open the country to foreign travelers in any significant numbers before July, and tourists will be the last group to receive permission to enter. Right now, any foreigners wishing to enter Israel must contact their local consulate for approval. The 14-day quarantine still applies for most people who are entering the country.
New protocols must be implemented: Israel is emerging from the crisis as a leading country in dealing with the pandemic due to the rapid and severe lockdown protocols. Experts say the extreme protocols are directly responsible for the drastic difference in infection and death rates and in order to maintain these low numbers, several new contact tracing protocols must be in place while the country quickly reopens.
Israeli developments: Scientists at the Israel Institute for Biological Research announced promising news about a potential therapeutic treatment. Two drugs intended to stem the debilitating genetic illness of Gaucher’s disease have shown results in providing antiviral treatment to combat coronavirus. One of the drugs, Cerdelga, has already been approved by the Food and Drug Administration to treat coronavirus. The other, Remdesivir, has been granted an emergency use order by the F.D.A. Danny Gold, head of Israel’s Defense Research and Development Directorate, who was the driving force behind the Iron Dome missile defense system, is working to facilitate 100,000 coronavirus tests a day across Israel by utilizing new express kits, which will be a game changer for Israel.
ISRAEL V. ARAB STATES
Israel’s Changing Relationship with Gulf States
Frenemies; peace without a deal: For the past handful of years, Israel and the Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E., and Bahrain, have all benefited from warming relations. Inwardly, much is rumored to be happening on the intelligence and security side. Outwardly, Netanyahu has been received in Oman by the late sultan and he’s met with Emirati and Omani foreign ministers in the U.S. Israel’s minister of culture has visited Dubai, and recently Bahrain reached out for Israel’s help with coronavirus. Israeli athletes have even recently competed in the U.A.E., where the Israeli national anthem was played and flag displayed.
Why and how is this possible? Contrary to warnings for years from analysts and world leaders, Israel seems to be making huge strides towards slight normalization with a large part of the Arab world without any near-term hope for a peace deal with the Palestinians. How is this possible? The answer is that there is a much bigger common enemy bringing them together: Iran and Iran’s funding of terrorism in the region. The Iran nuclear deal under President Obama’s administration alienated both Israel and Saudi Arabia, and no one could have guessed it could possibly bring the two together. Trump’s administration has been eager to run with this in the service of its anti-Iran and pro-Israel agenda.
Arab willingness to accept annexation: Despite public statements of opposition stating the contrary, multiple Arab nations, including Saudi Arabia, the U.A.E. and even Jordan, have signaled a willingness to ignore or accept Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank, according to a report in Israel Hayom. The acceptance of the Israeli plan would be a sea-change from the days of Arab unity against any Israeli moves opposed by the Palestinians. Gulf Arab states and Jordan are thought to be on board and accept the notion that the Israeli plan to annex 30% of the West Bank does not interfere with the Arab cities or the vast majority of Arab residents.
Palestinians refuse aid package from U.A.E.: The U.A.E. recently sent a coronavirus aid package to the Palestinian Authority, which was refused by the PA and has just been sitting on an Israeli runway. The Palestinian government rejected the Arab help out of disgust at the Arab-Israeli cooperation showcased in the first ever direct flight between Abu Dhabi and Israel to transport the aid to the Palestinians. The 14 tons of medical equipment and supplies will be transferred to an Israeli facility in the city of Ashdod. The United Nations hoped to eventually transfer 65% of the aid to the Gaza Strip, if the Palestinians would accept it.
Security officials fear for intense violence: Israeli experts on security, including the leaders of the IDF such as the Israeli liaison to the PA, are continuing to warn that annexation could spark an intense wave of violence in the region. They also warned that the IDF are unprepared for such a spike in violence. This also comes at a time when Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas announced he would dissolve security cooperation with Israel.
Iran announced this week that it will ban the purchase or use of any Israeli technology in its country. Israel, known for its tech-savvy sectors, produces machinery of all kinds: computing, cellular, medical, environmental technology and more. The law doesn’t just ban Israeli hardware; Iran outlawed Israeli software as well. This includes everything from essential computer programs and navigation software to video games. Tech analyst Saul Singer said that in order for Iran to truly rid itself of all Israeli tech, it “would have to go back to pen and paper.”
Iran’s support of Assad: An Iranian lawmaker revealed in a rare estimate that it has invested a staggering $30 billion in propping up Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime since the civil war in Syria erupted in March 2011. By comparison, Iran’s entire defense budgetlast year came to $16.6 billion.
Humanizing evidence: In other news out of Israel, a new study by researchers out of Hebrew University (among other institutions) shows that Jews and Arabs both share common ancestry in the ancient Canaanite people of the Land of Israel/Canaan. This groundbreaking research sought to connect the links of genetic material from ancient Israel (between 2,500 B.C.E. and 1,000 B.C.E.) with the modern Semitic peoples. This study may go far to show that “there is a deep genetic connection of many Jewish groups today across the Diaspora and many Arab groups to this part of the world thousands of years ago,” said a leading geneticist from Harvard University.
Germany’s serious antisemitism problem: Not only is antisemitism on the rise in the U.S., but Germany saw the largest number of antisemitic incidents last year since recording began in 2001. Politically motivated crimes were up overall, and it was specified that 93% of the perpetrators of antisemitic crimes were associated with the far-right, including the synagogue attack in Halle last year that resulted in two people killed. Germany’s Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, said the issue of rising antisemitic hate and violence is of “great concern” to the country. Domestic intelligence agencies have taken a harder look at far-right extremist groups since last year, but they have yet to slow the tide.
Oklahoma enacts anti-B.D.S. bill: Oklahoma became the 30th state in the U.S. to enact a bill against the anti-Israel Boycott, Divest and Sanctions (B.D.S.) movement. The legislation prohibits the state authorities from entering into contracts with companies or organizations that boycott Israel, though it exempts contracts under $100,000. The bill states that “Companies that refuse to deal with United States trade partners such as Israel make discriminatory decisions on the basis of national origin that impair those companies’ commercial soundness.” The law also requires verification from entities for not participating in boycotting Israel.
Ilhan Omar says Israel has too much influence on Trump: Ilhan Omar is in the news again for her disparagement of Israel and perceived use of antisemitic tropes. In an interview with the London Sunday Times, Omar stated “There’s an alarming connection to the really destructive policies Israel is proposing and how much of it is being rubber stamped by this administration… and how much of it is being urged by Americans who have connection and influence with this administration.” The story mentioned that her new approach is to pivot to Saudi Arabia, so she isn’t always singling out the Jews.” Omar likened Saudi Arabia’s influence on the Trump administration to Israel’s, saying both countries relied in part on money to bring about their preferred outcomes.
Bi-partisan Holocaust education legislation: New legislation has passed in the U.S. which will expand Holocaust awareness. The “Never Again Education Act” will allocate $10 million toward expanding the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum’s education program, supporting a website with curriculum materials for teachers and hosting workshops in Holocaust education throughout the country.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate the announcement that the “Fiddler On The Roof” is getting a film remake, from “Hamilton” director Thomas Kail and MGM, 56 years after its premiere on Broadway.
Today in 1972, Morris “Moe” Berg, the Jewish major league baseball catcher who doubled as an American spy, passed away at the age of seventy years old. As a Jew wanting to fight Nazism, Berg volunteered to serve when America entered the war. At great risk as a Jew, Berg spent parts of 1944 and 1945 in Germany working for the C.I.A., helping arrange for the capture of several prominent German atomic scientists by U.S. troops.