Coronavirus by the numbers: On Wednesday, it was reported that 300 people in Israel were diagnosed in one day- the highest 24-hour spike in positive cases since April. There are currently 4,177 active patients in the country, including 38 in life-threatening condition. The death toll is currently 303 people. Several Israeli officials have voiced concerns over the growing number of cases and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he will not roll back any further restrictions while the numbers keep rising.
Concerning unemployment rate: In April, Israel hit a hard-to-believe figure of a 27.5% unemployment rate. This means that nearly 3 in 10 Israelis were out of work. In May, it decreased slightly to 23.5%. About 1 million workers in the country are currently out of a job and seeking one. Simultaneously, the number of available jobs is plummeting as well. The figures are even more shocking in comparison to the pre-pandemic statistics. In February, Israel’s unemployment rate was at 3.9%. Due to the large number of individuals seeking work, the government’s employment service said it expects wages to decline, particularly for the lowest wage jobs. Workers’ bargaining power will also take a massive hit, as people scramble to replace lost jobs.
Israeli prisoner dies in Peru: An Israeli man serving jail time in Peru for cocaine charges died of coronavirus. Hebrew media confirmed the man’s name was Tzachi Moalem and he was serving a 20-year sentence. The coronavirus has surged in the region and Peru has recorded the second most cases in Latin America after Brazil.
Large immigration wave to Israel: The next 18 month’s wave of immigration to Israel is expected to explode with up to 90,000 newcomers during the time of the international health crisis and huge problems with worldwide antisemitism. 35,000 immigrated in 2019, which was a high for the 2010 decade. The 90,000 figure is nearly triple that. Minister of Immigrant Absorption Pnina Tamano-Shata, who herself moved to Israel from Ethiopia at age three, announced the government estimate, while the Jewish Agency said they expect 45,000 immigrants in 2021.
OTHER NEWS INSIDE ISRAEL
Bill to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy: The Ministerial Committee on Legislation is meeting Sunday to consider a bill that would make conversion therapy for members of the LGBTQ community illegal. The bill was proposed by the Meretz party leader Nitzan Horowitz, who is one of five current gay Knesset Members. The legislation would remove the license of any psychologist who practices the therapy, as well as fine them and send them to jail for repeat offenses. The Ministerial Committee is also set to vote on two bills that would legalize cannabis, which were postponed last week.
Greek PM meets with Bibi in Israel: With the tourism industry decimated due to coronavirus, the Prime Minister of Greece visited Israel to discuss getting back to normal. Netanyahu announced that Israel will resume civilian flights to Greece on August 1, even though Greece is already open to most European Union citizens. The coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the unique trilateral relationship between Greece, Israel, and Cyprus. The three countries, which are geographically close to one another on the eastern side of the sea, exchange millions of tourists each year. The nations are also constructing a major oil pipeline that will feed Israeli oil into Europe. During their meeting, the Greek PM also commented on Turkey’s recent aggression in the eastern Mediterranean and Libya, which is of concern to all members of the trilateral relationship.
Knesset Member forced to give up seat: Shas, the primarily Sephardic and Mizrahi ultra-Orthodox party in coalition with the Netanyahu government, forced a candidate for the Knesset to resign his seat. Rabbi Baruch Gazahi gave up his seat under pressure from party leaders. This came after it was revealed that he blamed “immodesty” for women’s miscarriages and breast cancer, a sexist and false claim.
Major music company launches Israel division: Universal Music Group launched a Tel Aviv division, which is the first standalone operation established by a major music company in Israel. Universal Music Israel (UMI) intends to focus on signing and developing domestic talent, along with taking advantage of commercial partnerships and new technologies with Israeli companies. UMI appointed a managing director, Yoram Mokady, who was previously the Vice President of Content for Israeli cable provider HOT Telecommunications.
Ancient Christian town discovered: Just about a mile south of Israel’s border with Lebanon, an ancient Christian town was discovered by archeologists. The community, called Pi Metzuba, was destroyed in the seventh century of the Common Era when the Sasanian (Persian) Empire went to war against the Byzantines, who controlled Israel. In its heyday, Metzuba was prominent enough to be mentioned in the Jewish Talmud as a Galilean town. Although researchers have only unearthed a small portion of the former town so far, they are confident it was an early Christian site. So many Christian symbols and items were found in one home that the archeologists at first guessed it was a church.
Full annexation not likely: With pronounced international pushback and opposition from foes and allies in Washington and Jerusalem, Netanyahu’s plans to annex large swaths of the West Bank are growing more unlikely by the day. Nevertheless, Netanyahu may be aiming to implement smaller but still meaningful changes to Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank, such as by applying Israeli law to a few important settlement blocs. The fast-approaching July 1 deadline Netanyahu set for himself is certainly his biggest hurdle. There is still no final map, no green light from the U.S., and no agreement between the two major coalition government parties—Likud and Blue & White.
Possible two-phase plan: Netanyahu is reportedly now considering a two-phase plan of applying sovereignty to West Bank areas, which would start off with annexation of 10% of the territory, rather than the roughly 30% of land allowable by the Trump peace plan. Afterwards, the Palestinians would be invited to hold negotiations and if no talks materialize, Israel would apply sovereignty to the remaining 20%.
Opposition, including from unlikely sources: Opposition continues to be voiced from many heads of state, policymakers, analysts, and laypeople. Surprisingly, some of the loudest opponents are settlers themselves who disagree with the proposed borders and the limitations that will come with them. They also worry about losing a large number of Jewish archaeological, historical, and religious sitesin the West Bank, which would be placed or remain under Palestinian control according to the Trump peace plan. Many others worry about the possibility of a Palestinian state resulting from any unilateral Israeli moves and creating another Gaza-like terror entity in the heart of the country.
Boris Johnson states opposition to annexation: One of Netanyahu’s strongest allies, Boris Johnson, announced his opposition to annexation of parts of the West Bank. Claiming that annexation would “breach international law,” Johnson did not go further and call for the implementation of sanctions. This is a remarkably forceful condemnation of an international leader Netanyahu counts on to be supportive of his actions or to at least stay neutral. Other Western powers, including Germany and Canada, have announced similarly unambiguous condemnation.
Jordan continues to push back: Jordanian King Abdullah II is fighting to stop Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank—not in Jerusalem and not even at the White House, but in the halls of Congress. Abdullah has made repeated calls and pleaded with high-ranking elected officials in both the Senate and House of Representatives to avert annexation. Jordan views annexation as a threat to its own national security; the country is over 60% Palestinian and a pan-Palestinian backlash to annexation would certainly provoke unrest in Jordan. The King met not only with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, but also with the Senate and House committees on foreign affairs. According to one official, Jordan’s press statements on the meetings did not encompass just how passionately the King expressed his view. The statement was “mild” compared to Abdullah’s actual remarks.
U.A.E. walks back hardline stance: Mohammed Gargash, the United Arab Emirates Minister of Foreign Affairs, told a public forum hosted by the American Jewish Committee that the U.A.E. can and should keep communication open with Israel in spite of potential Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank. It is a remarkable statement for a country without formal ties to Israel and in a region that has historically been openly hostile to any negotiation or cooperation with the Jewish state. Gargash’s talk with the AJC was historic in its own right: he became the highest ranking Arab official to speak at a forum hosted by a major American Jewish organization.
Just last week the U.A.E. Ambassador to the U.S. published an op-ed in Hebrew in an Israeli publication warning that annexation would cause a reversal of the warming relationship between Israel and the U.A.E. The statement from Gargash swings the pendulum back from this hardline stance.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS; NEAR & NOT SO FAR
IDF stops Hamas weapons smuggling attempt: The IDF thwarted an arms smuggling attempt by Hamas into the Gaza Strip from the Sinai Peninsula. The operation led to the arrest of two operatives of the terror group as they were en route. One of the terrorists captured was a senior Hamas smuggler. An IDF spokesperson explained, “This action is part of a series of counterterrorism missions aimed at disrupting Hamas’ armament plans and significantly damage their military capabilities and is part of the ongoing effort to thwart terrorist activity of any kind against Israeli citizens.”
U.S. sanctions Syria: The U.S. imposed its toughest sanctions ever on Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in a bid to force an end to the country’s decade long war, with a law called “The Caesar Act.” The new sanctions choke off revenue and place restrictions and financial sanctions on Assad’s inner circle, including his wife, brother, sister, a few senior generals, and Iranian militia. This campaign of economic and political pressure comes at a time of severe economic crisis and amid a rare outbreak of protests in government-held areas.
Sanction demands: Sanctions can be lifted if certain demands are met, such as ending bombing of civilians, releasing thousands of detainees, and allowing for the “safe and dignified return” of refugees.
Conflict numbers: Current estimates say that half of Syria’s population is displaced. Hundreds of thousands have been killed as a result of the war.
Sanctions targeting backers of regime: Assad has won back most of the territory formerly held by rebels with the help of his backers—Iran and Russia. Most of the territory is destroyed from years of fighting. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the sanctions are also meant to target anyone who helps the Assad regime.
Compounding problem: The situation in Syria is compounded by a deep financial crisis in Lebanon, Syria’s neighbor and traditional conduit of goods and finance for Syria. Lebanon has also been rocked by months of anti-government protests. In a televised speech, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah said, “The Caesar Act aims to starve Lebanon just as it aims to starve Syria.” Hezbollah, another ally of Assad, is a designated terror organization funded by Iran and based primarily in Lebanon. Nasrallah also accused the U.S. of collapsing the Syrian currency.
U.S. pressing Jordan to extradite terrorist: Jordan is facing pressure from the Trump administration to turn over a long sought-after terrorist living in freedom in that country. Ahlam Aref Ahmad Al-Tamimi, among others, was responsible for a suicide bomb attack in a Jerusalem restaurant during the Second Intifada.
“Most wanted” person: The U.S. considers Tamimi a “most wanted” person and the incoming U.S. ambassador to Jordan is threatening to potentially withhold aid to that country if Tamimi is not turned over to U.S. authorities. The attack killed 15 people, two of whom were American. After, Tamimi was tried in Israel, found guilty of murder, and given multiple life sentences in prison.
Exchanged as part of Gilad Shalit’s release: In exchange for Hamas’ release of Israeli soldier Gilad Shalit, who was held in captivity by terrorists for five years, Tamimi and over 1,000 other terrorists were freed by Israel into Jordanian safety.
Ireland BDS bill rejected: Although Ireland tends to be one of Israel’s loudest critics in the E.U., the parliament squashed a bill aimed at boycotting Israeli products. The proposed bill, which would be valid for the next five years, would have imposed a €250,000 fine on any Irish people selling goods made in the Golan Heights, East Jerusalem, or the West Bank. Ireland does not recognize those territories as part of Israel and instead calls them all “occupied.” Despite the bill’s demise, the government aims to vociferously oppose Israeli annexation of parts of the West Bank in all forums.
Spain’s Balearic Islands passed a bill condemning antisemitism, pertaining to Ibiza, Majorca, Palma, and other areas. The bill uses the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of antisemitism.
Polish Jews fighting for LGBTQ community: What remains of the Jewish community in Poland is taking a stand against the right-wing government’s targeting of LGBT people. In a letter to the government, the Board of the Jewish Community of Warsaw wrote ““We have observed politicians… cynically undertake to foment hostility and hatred towards LGBT persons. We Jews – the descendants of Holocaust survivors – cannot and will not remain indifferent to words that would dehumanize LGBT persons.” Although Polish President Andrzej Duda claims he is not homophobic, he has also called homosexuality an “ideology” which seeks to destroy the Christian (in Poland, Catholic) way of life.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate Israel’s investment in renewable energy! Israel’s Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz announced that the target for renewable energy by 2030 is being raised from 17% to 30%, a plan to cost $22 billion (NIS 80 billion) over the coming decade. Steinitz wrote on Facebook that the decision means that solar installations will be built to produce the equivalent of all electricity produced today, which will lead to a 93 percent reduction in air pollution, and a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions per capita. He did not give details on how the figures were reached. He also said the plan would result in 80% of Israel’s electricity generated by solar energy at peak hours.
Today in the U.S., it is the holiday Juneteenth. It is celebrated annually on June 19th and commemorates the emancipation of the last remaining enslaved African Americans in the Confederacy, specifically in Texas, on June 19, 1865. Today we observe the holiday in celebration of African American history and heritage. Americans are calling for Juneteenth to be a national holiday as hundreds of thousands have protested nationwide and worldwide, while calling for police reform and an examination of the U.S.’s history of racial inequality.