As the nation deals with the colossal toll of the coronavirus pandemic which has disproportionately devastated the black community, a wave of protests and riots have spread across the U.S. in the aftermath of the police killing of George Floyd. Protests against racism and police violence have erupted in nearly 75 U.S. cities, every U.S. state, and in other countries around the world.
In an address to the nation, President Trump threatened, “If a city or a state refuses to take the actions that are necessary to defend the life and property of their residents, then I will deploy the United States military and quickly solve the problem for them.” Trump then walked over to the St. John’s Episcopal Church holding a Bible for a photo-op, after police violently dispersed nearby protesters using tear gas and rubber bullets.
Half of the country has activated the National Guard and more than 17,000 members of the National Guard are standing ready to support local law enforcement, which is approximately the same number of active duty troops deployed in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan. In Los Angeles and other Jewish hotspots around the U.S., like New York City and Chicago, enforced curfews have been implemented to stem looting. Not since 1943, under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, has a city-wide curfew been imposed upon New York.
Jewish Solidarity: As America faces its greatest civil unrest in many years, Jews are being impacted in a myriad of ways. White supremacy is a common enemy to both Jewish and black communities. Many Jewish organizations and individuals across the world are expressing solidarity in a number of ways, including taking to the streets in support of the protests. One example is members of Jewish activist groups like Jewish Community Action of Minnesota which seeks to unite Jews on a path toward racial justice and economic reform.
Unfortunately, some Jewish communities have been subject to the wrath of opportunistic rioters and vandalism. Synagogues in Los Angeles and Richmond were vandalized with antisemitic messages during the protests, along with several Jewish businesses and restaurants. The Los Angeles chapter of the Anti-Defamation League responded to the harassment with the statement: “Vandalism is never ok. Antisemitism is never ok. The answer to hate and bigotry is not more hate. We are better than this Los Angeles.”
Coronavirus: Israel is not yet in the clear. A recent, sharp uptick in the number of coronavirus cases due to societal reopening has led Prime Minister Netanyahu, in a televised speech to the country, to warn of the pandemic’s possible re-emergence if the country is not careful. A small number of individual schools who faced outbreaks of the virus in recent days will remain closed, but the government has decided to keep all other schools open. Things are not back to normal, however, and Netanyahu is even proposing his government retain emergency powers for another year until March of 2021. After the fivefold rise in confirmed cases, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein called on the public to get tested if they came in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 patient, even if the person is asymptomatic. “We are able to conduct 15,000 tests per day and if you feel you are sick or were near someone who is sick, get tested,” he said.
Police Killing: A police killing has also spurred unrest in Israel and the Palestinian Territories in recent days. Iyad al-Halak, 32, was shot and killed by Israeli police in East Jerusalem. According to a statement, police officers claim he was holding a suspicious object and not responding to commands. As the police told him to stop, Halak attempted to flee the scene and the police started shooting. The police claimed that they thought the man was intending to commit a terrorist act. Instead, Halak was on the autism spectrum, a revelationwhich has caused intense upset among the Israeli and Palestinian people.
Responses: There have been protests over the killing in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, with hundreds of people rallying in the city centers. Israeli government opposition leader, Yair Lapid, whose daughter is autistic called the death “heartbreaking.” The police called the death a “rare incident” and said that the case was immediately referred for an internal affairs investigation. The officer was placed under house arrest and his commander was released from custody under restrictive conditions. The West Bank’s Fatah Party called the Israeli action a “war crime” and an “execution” which will, in their eyes, provoke a Palestinian “revolution.”
Temple Mount Reopens: The Temple Mount opened to visitors once again after having been closed for two months due to the pandemic. Police braced for potential clashes at the site due to the heightened tension caused by Halak’s killing. Even though the compound has reopened, its two mosques, the Dome of the Rock and al-Aqsa, remain closed. Worshippers are permitted to gather in asocially distanced manner in designated areas on the Mount with no greater than 50 people.
Annexation: Yossi Cohen, the head of Mossad, Israel’s notorious intelligence agency, secretly met with Egyptian security officials last week. Cohen was reportedly in Cairo to discuss the security concerns and case scenarios with possible Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank come July. Prime Minister Netanyahu has signaled his intent to extend sovereignty over 30% of the West Bank after July 1, in accordance with the Trump administrations “peace plan.” Egypt and Jordan are the only two Arab-majority countries in the Middle East that have formal peace agreements with Israel. Jordan has threatened to reconsider relations with Israel if annexation is carried out.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR AND NOT SO FAR
19 Islamic militants killed in Egypt: The Egyptian military said it killed at least 19 Islamic State soldiers in raids and airstrikes in the northern part of the Sinai Peninsula, a region of Egypt directly next to Israel. The military also said that the raids and airstrikes had left five of their own troops dead. Egypt has been fighting the Sinai affiliate of the Islamic State for years and has struggled to re-establish control over the border area, which has caused many Egyptian army casualties. Israel has been understandably anxious about an ISIS stronghold so close with its border in Egypt.
Israel- Sudan flight: A highly unusual, or perhaps unprecedented, flight occurred from Israel to Sudan, two countries without official diplomatic relations. The secret flight was the result of backchannel negotiations for an Israeli medical team to fly in and treat a Sudanese diplomat suffering from coronavirus. The diplomat, Najwa Gadaheldam, had apparently been acting as a covert liaison between the Israeli and Sudanese governments. The flight was only revealed due to its appearance on public flight-tracking web services. The Israeli doctors were unable to save Gadaheldam, who died within the day.
Iran vows to strengthen its nuclear capabilities: The tit-for-tat cycle of U.S. sanctions and Iranian doubling down continues. Following U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s announcement that the U.S. would revoke all but one of the sanctions waivers covering the civil nuclear cooperation, Iran vowed their ‘determination’ to strengthen their nuclear capabilities. The U.S. withdrew from the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, commonly referred to as the Iran Nuclear Deal, in 2018. The waivers in question allowed Russian, European and Chinese companies to continue to work on Iran’s civilian nuclear facilities without drawing American penalties. The U.S. re-imposition of sanctions against Iran are crippling the economy, and Iran has been pressuring other nations to help it economically. Iran has built up its nuclear facilities in defiance of the still-standing agreement with world powers excluding the United States.
OTHER DIASPORA NEWS
Antisemitism in Montreal: A synagogue in Montreal suffered a brutal antisemitic attack when criminals raided the Orthodox house of worship. Over the course of the incident, vandals sprayed antisemitic graffiti on the synagogue’s walls and desecrated the holy Torah scrolls, flushing parts of shredded parchment down the toilet. B’nai Brith of Canada, one of the top organizations monitoring antisemitism in the county, said it was one of the worst attacks in recent years.
Rabbis allowed in the German Military: For more than a century, only Christian clergy have been represented in the German military as soldiers’ religious guides. This is not an accident; since the Nazi era, only Christian clergy have been legally allowed to engage in the military, with all others barred. In a return to century-old precedent, rabbis will once again be allowed in the German military as official religious representatives. Though there had been tens of thousands of Jewish soldiers in the German military before the Second World War, nowadays only 300 or so remain.
AIPAC 2021 cancelled: The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (“AIPAC”) has canceled its upcoming 2021 policy conference, its annual gathering of thousands of Israel supporters in D.C. Earlier this year, AIPAC faced a genuine scare when it was discovered that not only had members of the conference been silently sickened with the coronavirus as they attended, but that they had possibly passed it along to Members of Congress in addition to others.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate more important interfaith work in the fight against coronavirus. Jonathan Gootenberg and Omar Abudayyeh, two Americans of Jewish and Palestinian ethnicity respectively, are working together to help develop a coronavirus at-home test from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The two men have worked together very closely over the last five years and credit some of their productivity to their diverse backgrounds.
Today in 1941, French law called for “administrative arrest” for all Jews. France’s persecution of Jews during the Holocaust began in 1940, which culminated in deportations of Jews from France to concentration camps in Germany and Poland. Of the 340,000 Jews living in metropolitan/continental France in 1940, more than 75,000 were deported to death camps, where about 72,500 were killed.