Today we’re diving into: the further declining coronavirus situation worldwide; the U.S. reportedly not allowing Israel to move forward with annexation just yet; protestors arrested in front of Bibi’s home; bombshell report on Russia’s pay for American slay program; vicious hate crime in Madison, Wi.; and Iran’s arrest warrant for Trump.
Numbers drastically rising: The world’s coronavirus death toll has surpassed 500,000 with no end in sight to the raging pandemic that has infected over 10 million. The overwhelming majority of cases are in the United States, but Brazil, India, and Russia also have significant numbers. According to Reuters, about 4,700 people are currently dying from coronavirus every day. Despite early optimism, the virus has resurfaced in locations in the U.S. that had been out of the thick of it.
California is set to close bars as the state faces a huge upswing of cases. Los Angeles county has been averaging more than 2,000 new cases each day and has now surpassed 100,000 cases. More than 7,000 new cases were announced across California on Monday—2,800 cases of which were in Los Angeles—which has been the highest single day total during the pandemic. Other states, like Florida, Texas, and Arizona, are pausing or reversing their openings as cases skyrocket.
New York strikes down restrictions on religious gathering: In New York, where nearly all of the state has at least begun Phase 3 reopening, a judge has struck down “unduly harsh” restrictions on the size of religious gatherings relative to secular ones. The state government had set the limit on all gatherings to 50% of the normal capacity indoors, but capacity for religious services was restricted to 25%. In invalidating the regulation, Federal Judge Gary Sharpe said that religious institutions, including synagogues, “will be burdened and continue to be treated less favorably than comparable secular activities” under the regulations. Some of the plaintiffs are Orthodox Jews from Brooklyn, as well as Roman Catholics.
Israel setting new disturbing records: Though nowhere near as bad as the outbreak in the U.S., the number of new coronavirus cases in Israel continues to rapidly increase. In the last 24 hour period, the country had reported 637 new infections, a sharp increase from previous weeks. Additionally, there were over half a dozen new deaths this week, even a 19-year-old with preexisting conditions including obesity and high blood pressure.
The increase in cases was so dramatic that this past week saw a greater number of new infections in Israel than the entire month of May. A number of locations across the country are under full or partial lockdowns, such as neighborhoods of the coastal city of Ashdod and countrywide educational facilities.
Starting July 9, cultural events and performances will still be allowed with 100 people or fewer in attendance, which is a cut from the current limit of 250 people. Other events, such as ceremonies and funerals, will be capped at 50 people.
E.U. opening but excluding U.S. and Israel: The European Union, recovering from an onslaught of coronavirus cases in February and March, is once again opening its doors (and borders) to international travelers. Only some countries, however, have met the criteria to have citizens allowed back into the bloc. The nations excluded from such allowance include both the U.S. and Israel, two countries still battling with serious, albeit quite drastically different, coronavirus outbreaks. This move by the E.U. is a great embarrassment to both the U.S. and Israeli administrations that had sought to put forth signs of confidence with regard to their handling of the crisis.
U.S. says annexation announcement not happening this week: According to multiple U.S. sources, Israel will not announce any steps to extend its sovereignty in the West Bank this week.
Backup a little… The Trump peace plan (officially titled Peace to Prosperity: A Vision to Improve the Lives of the Palestinian and Israeli People) allows for Israel to annex about 30% of the West Bank, with the remaining 70% of the West Bank to remain as a future Palestinian state. Israel can only move forward on annexation with the backing and approval of the White House. Reports suggest that due to the worldwide backlash and security concerns involved, Israel is considering annexing a much smaller area than the 30% allowable by the Trump peace plan.
Trump’s election woes: The White House is also currently preoccupied with the reality that Trump is predicted to lose the upcoming election by a large margin, according to recent polling. The reality that Trump may not win another election may galvanize Prime Minister Netanyahu into speeding up any annexation moves, but Trump may push back on this if he thinks it will further risk his chance of winning re-election.
Gantz support vital? No matter the size of annexation, the U.S. is reportedly undecided and will only back the plan if Alternate Prime Minister and Defense Minister Benny Gantz publicly supports the move. Netanyahu contradicted this sentiment and reportedly told his party that the issue is not dependent on Gantz’s support. In a meeting Monday morning, Gantz told U.S. Special Envoy for International Negotiations Avi Berkowitz that he does not see July 1 as a “holy date” and that fighting the coronavirus and its effects on unemployment are of greater priority to him.
Much smaller annexed territory being discussed: According to reports, Israel is now only mulling whether to annex two to three settlement blocs in the West Bank, likely the three that would almost certainly be part of Israel in any two-state negotiations: Ariel, Ma’ale Adomim, and Gush Etzion. Although this area is far less than the 30% of potentially annexed territory as according to the Trump plan, it nevertheless greatly worries peace advocates who fear serious security concerns no matter what the size of the annexation is and the devastating effects it may have on an eventual two-state solution. Annexing less territory might also do little to temper harsh reaction from the international community and Israel’s neighbors.
PA text to peacemaking Quartet: A Palestinian Authority text sent to the international peacemaking Quartet said the Palestinians are “ready to resume direct bilateral negotiations where they stopped” in 2014. This comes after a continual refusal to negotiate, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas even refusing a telephone call from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week.
Ordered demolition of settler area: Settler buildings in the village of Einot Anar in the West Bank must be demolished, the Israeli Supreme Court ruled. The court recently annulled the Settlement Regulations Law, which said that retroactively legalized settler construction on private Palestinian land, in exchange for monetary compensation to the Palestinian landowners.
The particular area set to be razed was constructed on private Palestinian land in 2014. The case was brought by liberal Israeli organizations Yesh Din and Emek Shaveh on behalf of the wronged Palestinians.
Protestors arrested in front of Bibi’s home: Israeli police arrested several protesters on Friday who were demonstrating against Prime Minister Netanyahu, including a former brigadier general of the Israeli Air Force Amir Haskel. The protesters blocked a main road and prevented cars from passing, which the police deemed an illegal protest for disturbing the public order. Haskel refused to be released under certain conditions, such as staying away from the Prime Minister’s Residence, and therefore has remained in police custody. The police shared the following in a public statement: “The Israel Police will continue to allow every person the freedom of expression and protest but won’t allow anyone to so blatantly violate the law and obstruct public order in violation of the law.”
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid responded to the incident by saying “The public security minister tweeted ‘zero tolerance for blocking roads.’ What about zero tolerance for bribery? Zero tolerance for fraud? I call for the immediate release of Brig. Gen. Haskel. Israel isn’t a dictatorship and every citizen is allowed to express their opinion, including, yes, about the prime minister.”
Hundreds attend smaller pride parades: Although Tel Aviv’s famed pride parade did not continue this year as normal due to the coronavirus pandemic, other pride celebrations across Israel, with hundreds of participants, are continuing. Israeli Police detained 27 and arrested 3 individuals from an extremist far-right anti-LGBT group, who were planning to disrupt the Jerusalem pride events. Their plan was to infiltrate and disrupt pride celebrations by donning colorful attire and mimicking LGBT-friendly language and body movements. The Court ordered the release of the individuals, citing that there was no suspicion the men had broken the law.
Cyber-attack on Israel Philharmonic concert: A suspected cyber-attack disrupted a free virtual concert hosted by actress Helen Mirren and featuring the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra (IPO), which prevented tens of thousands of viewers from watching the event. No group has claimed responsibility for the cyber-attack and though the live event was sabotaged, the concert was still recorded, so it can now be found on YouTube.
Sale of three buildings in Old City declared valid: The controversial sale of three buildings in Jerusalem’s Old City formerly owned by the Greek Orthodox Church to a right-wing Jewish group has been declared valid by the Jerusalem District Court. The Court has the final say-so and ends the 16-year legal battle that has been raging between the parties since 2004.
Dispute specifics: The dispute stems from the original sale of three buildings which exist on what is considered a strategic location at the entrance to the Old City. The sale enraged the broader Greek Orthodox Church and led to the unprecedented firing of the Patriarch of Jerusalem, Irineos I. This had never before occurred since the Patriarchy was established in 33 C.E. Irineos’ successor, Theophilos III, the current Patriarch, tried to undo the sale. After 16 years, the courts have declared the original sale legal and binding, to the abject dismay of the Church. There were serious questions raised over the course of the trials as to whether the right-wing Jewish organization, Ateret Cohanim, had intended to or gone through with bribing Church officials.
New poll cites clear right-wing majority: If another Israeli election were held today, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White Party would fail to clear even 10 seats, according to a new poll. Not only would the Blue and White Party lose about two thirds of its seats, but Netanyahu would retain his right-wing majority regardless. This is bad news for the moderate faction which, under the Gantz and Lapid alliance, had won the plurality of seats in the last election. The breakup of Gantz and Lapid—their parties being Blue and White and Yesh Atid respectively—and Gantz’s joining of a coalition with Netanyahu has caused lingering resentment and frustration among Israeli liberals. Additionally, Netanyahu’s favorables as he’s handled the coronavirus have started to dip, a sign that the public is beginning to lose faith in his ability to curb the crisis.
INSIDE THE U.S.
Russia reportedly offered militants bounties to kill U.S. troops: According to multiple substantiated news reports, the Russian government has been offering Taliban and other Afghan terrorist organizations money to slay American troops. The U.S. government has reportedly known about the scheme, which possibly led to actual American deaths, since even before January. Under President Trump, the U.S. government has taken no action to sanction Russia or even demand a cessation of the arrangement. Apparently, the army added additional safeguard for troops in response. Trump has claimed he was not briefed on the intelligence, but members of Congress and outside groups are calling foul—either Trump was not briefed which is a colossal failure of the intelligence agencies or the administration is lying.
Republicans push for answers: Senate Republicans are vowing to get to the bottom of the outrageous reports. Key committee chairs said they will press the White House for explanations and will push for Trump to exact punishment if the claims are true. The GOP’s pressure on Trump could reignite a rift between the White House and Republicans with respect to Russia policy.
Facebook advertising boycott: A growing list of companies are now participating in a campaign called “Stop Hate For Profit” to boycott Facebook advertising. The Anti-Defamation League, which started the boycott, as well as the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and other groups are demanding that Facebook take “unequivocal actions called for by the campaign to stop its platform from being used to spread and amplify racism and hate.” Facebook has faced immense public pressure and employee backlash in recent months.
Companies participating: Ben & Jerry’s, whose founders and namesakes are Jewish icons, joins other companies like Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Patagonia, North Face and REI in boycotting Facebook advertising. The movement also has prominent behind-the-scenes backers in the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle. SodaStream became the first Israeli company to join the Facebook boycott. Facebook’s shares have gone down by 7% since the onset of the boycott.
New policy announced: Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerburg announced Friday that the company will remove posts that incite violence or attempt to suppress voting—even from political leaders. He also said Facebook will stop allowing paid ads that stoke hate. Civil rights leaders were not satisfied with the new concessions, noting that Facebook already supposedly had strict policies against voter suppression and that the modest changes were “too little too late.” Facebook has been wrestling with how to enforce its policies against hate speech, citing a fundamental belief in free expression.
Vicious hate crime in Madison, WI: The police department in Madison, Wisconsin is investigating a violent assault on a biracial Jewish woman, Althea Bernstein. Four white men poured lighter fluid on Bernstein as she was stopped at a red light and then threw a flaming lighter at her. Bernstein heard the men yell out a racial slur while they attacked her. She was treated for burns, including to areas on her face and told a local news organization that medical professionals “had to pretty much scrub the skin off, which was extremely painful… Burn pain is something I can’t even really describe. I don’t know how to describe it. It was horrible.”
Meghan Markle called Althea Bernstein after the incident to voice her solidarity and sympathy and to talk about the importance of self-care and healing. Meghan and Bernstein reportedly formed a connection over being biracial.
Two pizza shop employees terminated for swastika on pizzas: An Ohio couple was shocked and appalled when they opened their Little Caesars pizza box to see pepperonis arranged in the shape of a swastika. The couple posted images of the pizza on social media, which Little Caesar Enterprises got wind of. Two employees admitted responsibility and were immediately terminated.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR AND NOT SO FAR
Rocket fire from Hamas: Following the launch of two rockets from Gaza into Israel, which luckily landed in open fields and did not harm anyone, the Israeli Defense Forces struck terrorist organization Hamas outposts in the territory. One of the locations that Israel targeted was a “workshop” in which Hamas manufactures its rockets. The usually fraught border between Israel and Gaza has been inordinately quiet in recent months as a result of the focus on handling the coronavirus pandemic both in Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Iran issued arrest warrant for Trump: Iran has issued an arrest warrant for President Trump over the U.S. drone strike which killed the commander of the terrorist group Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), Qasem Soleimani. Tehran attorney general Ali Alqasi Mehr said Trump would be prosecuted as soon as his presidency term ends. Iran also asked Interpol (the International Criminal Police Organization) to issue a Red Notice (an international arrest warrant) for Trump and 35 other individuals in connection with the Soleimani killing. The U.S. and Interpol both dismissed the idea of acting on such a warrant. U.S. Iran envoy Brian Hook said the warrant was a “propaganda stunt” of a political nature, which has nothing to do with national security.
Soleimani’s daughter marries Hezbollah leader’s cousin: Qasem’s 28-year old daughter, Zeinab Soleimani, married a close relative of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah over the weekend, Riza Safi al-Din. Riza’s father, Hashin Safi al-Din heads Hezbollah’s Executive Council and is widely considered the No. 2 in the organization. The marriage between Zeinab and Riza seems to imply a tighter relationship between the terrorist organization and Iran.
U.S. congress urges E.U. to designate Hezbollah a terrorist group: An unusually large and bipartisan group of congresspeople sent a letter to the European Union urging that institution to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist group. The letter reads in part: “We strongly urge the EU to designate the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist organization. Unfortunately, Hezbollah has increasingly used Europe as a launching pad for its criminal and terrorist activities, including money laundering, drug smuggling, recruitment, and training. In particular, Hezbollah’s fundraising and illicit business activities have generated additional annual revenue which the organization uses to support its global terrorism.”
Ukrainian Jews fight to save synagogue: An over 100-year-old synagogue in Odessa, Ukraine is on the verge of collapse. The synagogue, which was built in 1909, has withstood Soviet and Nazi occupation, and was once even used as a KGB outpost. Until the fall of the Soviet Union, the synagogue had been confiscated out of Jewish hands. It was one of the first buildings returned to Jews in the city following the Union’s demise in the 90s. Since then, the building has been operating as a JCC for at least 1,000 Jewish families in Odessa. The JCC is also home to possibly the largest Jewish library currently standing in Ukraine. With the city permitting a new apartment building to be constructed practically on top of the synagogue, congregants are worried that the old and fragile building will collapse.
South African Chief Justice faces criticism after favorable comments towards Israel: The Chief Justice of South Africa, Mogoeng Mogoeng, is receiving criticism for comments he made during a webinar hosted by the Jerusalem Post and the country’s Chief Rabbi, Warren Goldstein. The comments that sparked controversy were: “I cannot, as a Christian, do anything other than love and pray for Israel because I know hatred for Israel by me and my nation can only attract unprecedented curses upon our nation.”
South Africa’s ruling party, the African National Congress, is known as being hostile to Israel, so it comes as no surprise that party leadership blisteringly criticized Mogoeng. Another party, the Economic Freedom Fighters, demanded the judge “submit to the collective wisdom and call by the oppressed people of Palestine.” Last year, South Africa downgraded its embassy in Tel Aviv.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we’re celebrating the new outstanding Israeli television series, Tehran! Apple TV has bought the series from the Kan Israeli Public Broadcasting Corp., which will be aired in 135 countries. The show is already being raved about, with some saying it’s even better than Fauda (gasp!).
Today in 1948, the last British armed forces left Israel through the port of Haifa.