Street demonstrations combating racism and police brutality are continuing and now taking place in all 50 states and several other countries, including Israel. The protests are being captured in real time on social media, as well as by the traditional news. Protestors demands seem to be working in creating immediate change: Minnesota’s Attorney General Keith Ellison is upgrading the charges against Derek Chauvin, the police officer who held his knee on George Lloyd’s neck until he died, to second degree murder and is filing lesser charges against the three other police officers involved.
Jewish solidarity: Many Jews and Jewish groups in the U.S. are standing in solidarity with the protestors. 130 Jewish organizations collectively signed a pledge to join forces with the black community to “see through…changes to law enforcement, end systemic racism, and work for a more just American society.”
George Soros as a scapegoat: A familiar scapegoat has emerged as the provocateur of U.S. racial and civil upheaval: George Soros. The Anti-Defamation League says a tidal wave of antisemitic invective pointed at Soros and the Jewish community has risen dramatically against the backdrop of the nationwide protests in favor of Black Lives Matter, not to mention the coronavirus pandemic. The pinning of Soros as a puppet master behind rioters, looters, and protestors is not new, and is being perpetrated by the far-right. The number of tweets attacking Soros specifically jumped from 20,000 to a staggering 500,000 a day in the recent period. Even U.S. Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, who is currently running for Senate, dismissed criticism of political commentator and former U.S. District Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara as someone on “George Soros’s speed dial.”
Authoritarian regimes celebrate the chaos: Iran’s media has pushed stories that highlight the “collapse” of the United States while quoting Russian sources, such as a tweet from Russian parliamentary member Aleksey Pushkov. Pushkov wrote that the U.S. was crumbling and cited the racial rebellion, U.S.’s poor COVID-19 response, the inability of the U.S. to help other countries, and the U.S. withdrawals from Afghanistan and Syria. He also said America has been on a “hysterical” tirade against China.
Dua Lipa Petition: A petition calling for songs by British pop star Dua Lipa to be banned by certain radio stations is circulating in Israel, after the singer capitalized on the Floyd tragedy and posted antisemitic conspiracy theories about Israel on her Instagram. The post read “While everybody’s in the mood to talk about human rights, this is what happens EVERYDAY in Palestine, paid for by our taxpayer dollars. The big bad tough guys of the #IDF thoroughly enjoy beating and shooting children.”
U.S. case numbers and fear of spikes: Coronavirus is already disproportionately affecting the black community and there is now concern that case numbers will explode in the next few weeks due to the widespread protests. Government officials have largely avoided criticizing protestors and are instead encouraging them to get tested. Though the number of new deaths has been curving downward, the virus continues to circulate widely, and case numbers are increasing in the South and West regions of the country. The U.S. is still in the number one slot for the total number of cases and deaths due to the virus.
Israel shuts schools as cases jump: Israel’s bumpy path to reopening after the coronavirus shutdown has hit more troubles this week. The country’s schools, particularly in Jerusalem, are facing a crisis of outbreaks of the virus. In just one school, over 150 cases were reported. As a result, thousands of students and hundreds of teachers and school staff are in quarantine. The head of the country’s schooling system, Education Minister Yoav Gallant, instructed any school with at least one case to shut down. Following the recent flare-ups of cases in schools, Israeli parent associations have called for parents to voluntarily pull their children out of schools. This has led to mass absences of children from school.
Some numbers: For Israel, opening schools has been critical to getting parents to return to the workplace. Israel’s economy contracted 7.1% in the first quarter and unemployment went up to 27% in April. The death count in Israel is 291 out of a total of 17,429 confirmed cases, though initial antibody tests indicate that some 200,000 Israelis, or 2.5% of the population, have had the virus. The antibody tests are a key component to better understanding the virus’ spread and how the government should shape policy in the coming months.
Large spike in immigration to Israel: The Jewish Agency for Israel is predicting a considerable increase in Jewish immigration to Israel in the coming year, a result of the pandemic hammering Jewish communities around the world. The Agency said that Israel may face around 50,000 new immigrants, a dramatic increase from previous years. Israel’s relatively low number of deaths and its ability to effectively control the virus will be attractive to alarmed Jews from all walks of life.
More Israeli ingenuity: A disinfection tunnel, the product of Israeli innovation, might help sterilize the entrances of public spaces of gathering in the near future. This is especially important seeing as coronavirus spreads easily among large crowds. The tunnel was designed at Bar Ilan University, a research institute located in the suburbs of Tel Aviv, and acts as a method of eliminating bacteria and viruses as people pass through it. By emitting disinfecting, environmentally-safe water particles using newly designed electrochemical processes, the tunnel is able to safely sanitize. An experimental prototype will be installed in a Jaffa soccer stadium, with plans to replicate the structure at locations like schools and hospitals.
ISRAELI – PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
Annexation discussions continue: Israeli Defense Minister and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz told Israeli Defense Forces officials to brace themselves for “diplomatic steps on the agenda in the Palestinian arena,” an obvious euphemism for annexation of parts of the West Bank. The I.D.F. and Shin Bet, Israel’s security services, are expected to engage in training for certain scenarios with regard to annexation. Almost in the same breath, Gantz reaffirmed Israel’s commitments with its closest Arab allies (and neighbors), Egypt and Jordan. Israel’s relationship with Jordan has been under strain due to the annexation debate. In recent days, Jordan’s foreign minister said that there will be “grave consequences” for regional peace and the two countries’ bilateral relationship should annexation move forward. Other analysts have suggested that the Jordanians would not actually risk their standing with Israel, something which is vital to their own national security.
PA official response slammed by some: Certain Palestinian voices have condemned the Palestinian Authority’s rejection to engage with Israel or the U.S., claiming that doing nothing or rejecting the deal without engaging and providing a reasonable alternative is tantamount to giving Israel the green light to act unilaterally.
Pushback from supporters: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is also dealing with two groups who are surprisingly unsatisfied with his annexation plans: Israeli settlers and the U.S. government.
Why is that? Netanyahu is struggling to appease both the settlers, who want a more extreme annexation proposal, and the U.S., which reportedly wants a slowdown of annexation plans. He has reportedly told settlers that the Trump administration “may have lessened its enthusiasm” over annexation prospects. The Prime Minister has dispatched top Israeli officials to Washington to lobby on behalf of a quicker timeline, while he at home aims to regroup with the right-wing settler community.
Bad timing: In the midst of a worldwide pandemic and large scale protesting on the streets across the U.S., the Trump administration may not want to deal with the ramifications of annexation now.
One of Israel’s top Democratic defenders in the U.S. Congress is urging Israel to be cautious when evaluating its plans to annex parts of the West Bank. Ted Deutch, a representative from south Florida, said that Israel should not be making rash decisions simply due to the U.S. presidential election’s timeline. The Congressman expressed his concern for Israel’s security should annexation move forward. Deutch went on to say that the U.S.’s relationship with Israel should not be conditioned on the policies of annexation, for the U.S.-Israel alliance is much more complex and multifaceted than one issue.
PA refuses tax revenues from Israel: In a move likely to cause much greater economic hardship on Palestinians in the West Bank, the Palestinian Authority said it will no longer accept tax revenue transfers from Israel. Palestinian Civil Affairs Commission director Hussein al-Sheikh explained, “we assert that we refused and continue to refuse the delivery of the tax revenues in adherence to the decision of the Palestinian leadership that we are absolved of all understandings and agreements with Israel.”
Backup a minute… On May 21, Palestinian Authority President Mamoud Abbas declared that the PA was absolved of all agreements with Israel and the U.S. because of Israel’s stated intention to unilaterally annex parts of the West Bank.
How substantial is the tax payment the PA is not accepting? In 2019, the tax revenue transfer from Israel to the PA accounted for approximately 60% of the Palestinian budget.
Not the first time: This is not the first time the PA has rejected tax payments from Israel. In April 2019, the PA refused tax revenues due to conflicts over PA payments to families of convicted terrorists, which resulted in a standoff for many months.
Pay for slay decision suspended: The Israeli government has suspended a decision to sanction banks that transfer money to convicted terrorists and their families on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The move was made in hopes to avoid increased violence that may come with the policy, at a time of already heightened tensions. The original order obliged banks to close accounts belonging to convicted terrorists and place them under threat of legal proceedings. Israel’s prior Defense Minister, Naftali Bennett, slammed the decision, tweeting that, “The Netanyahu-Gantz government gave significant support to terrorism this morning, by authorizing the PA to pay the murderers and their families.”
U.S. ruling on sponsors of terrorism: Four sponsors of terrorism—Iran, Syria, Hamas and Islamic Jihad—can be held liable in the U.S. for the terrorist crimes committed by “lone-wolf” assailants, a U.S. federal court ruled. The court has yet to rule, however, on whether or not the groups owe sums of money to victims of the attacks and their family members. Instead, the judgement simply made clear that, for the first time, these large sponsors and perpetrators of international terrorism can be held financially and legally liable for their incitement. The ruling specifically addressed the killing of American Taylor Force by a Palestinian terrorist in Israel. Force’s death spurred a 2018 change to U.S. law which ceased economic aid to the Palestinian Authority until that entity stops providing financial rewards to the families of terrorists.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR AND NOT SO FAR
Rising tensions between Israel and Lebanon: For the first time since the conclusion of the Second Lebanon War in 2006, Israeli troops crossed over its northern border into uncharted territory. Although they did not cross into Lebanese territory and remained on the Israeli side of the so-called Blue Line (there remains a no-man’s land between the two countries which is occupied by U.N. peacekeeping forces), the action provoked a Lebanese military response. Lebanese forces, armed with grenade launchers, arrived at the scene, as did the U.N. troops. The tense situation eventually de-escalated.
Why did this happen? No official statement has been released, but analysts believe Israel crossed over to show control over the Israeli enclave on the other side of the border. There has been a recent uptick in smuggling and infiltration attempts along the Israeli- Lebanese security fence. The terrorist organization Hezbollah operates freely in southern Lebanon, which means it is either intentionally turning a blind eye to the misconduct and thereby sanctioning it or losing control over the border region.
In Jordan, five Jordanian citizens are on trial for allegedly plotting suicide terrorist attacks in the West Bank. The suspects were accused of plotting the attacks on Israeli targets, including Israeli buses travelling on West Bank roads. Jordan is one of only two Arab countries to have a formal peace treaty with Israel and the two countries are known to have tight security and intelligence cooperation. The foiled attack comes amid increased strain with Israel over potential annexation plans. Israel has made no immediate comment on this case.
Troubling Holocaust trivialization in Germany: Yellow Stars of David are causing issues again in Germany, though this time for being banned. The government of Germany officially prohibited the donning of yellow stars of David, reminiscent of the Holocaust, from protests against the state’s coronavirus measures. The protestors are concerned about being forced to vaccinate against coronavirus in the future. Protestors are using the symbol of the star as meant to equate to the strict measures the government has taken to combat coronavirus with the treatment of Jews during the Holocaust. The leader of the Central Council of Jews in Germany said that the protestors’ actions were “Holocaust trivialization.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate Shuly Rubin Schwartz who will be the first woman chancellor in the 134-history of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
There have also been huge research strides on the Dead Sea Scrolls. The Dead Sea Scrolls, fragments of ancient (2,000+ year old) Jewish text found in desert caves at the edge of the Dead Sea, have revealed new secrets through scientific analysis of their parchment. As the scrolls are made up of animal hide, scientists at Tel Aviv University were able to perform DNA analysis of very small pieces of scraped off skin. The results prove that at least parts of the scrolls were written at locations other than the caves by the Dead Sea, for the animal material consists of cow hide and cattle breeding does not occur in the desert. The researchers also proved that the scrolls were written at different times and from the hides of different animals.
Today in 1847, Andrew Saks was born, who later went on to open Saks and Company with his brother Isadore, later known as Saks Fifth Avenue. Saks was born in Baltimore, MD, to a German Jewish family. He worked as a peddler and paper boy before moving to Washington, D.C. where he established the store.