Today we’re diving into:Israel’s spike in coronavirus case numbers and probable shutdown; Israeli think tank’s take on annexation; WZO’s plan to help French Jews; Israel’s ban on prostitution; Israeli Air Force’s new wing; Arab-Israeli’s revolutionary donation to LGBTQ organization; Hamas’ hysteria as commander flees for Israel; Houthi rebels’ arrest of Yemen’s remaining Jews; more mysterious explosions in Iran; and the desecration of Europe’s oldest Jewish cemetery.
CORONAVIRUS IN ISRAEL
Thousands protest the government’s handling of the crisis as another lockdown is “a step away”
Israel’s coronavirus problem: In Israel, coronavirus’s second wave continues to scourge the country with a vengeance. Over 1,500 Israelis have been diagnosed with the disease in a single day, leaps and bounds over what was thought possible just weeks ago. At least half a dozen members of Israel’s parliament, including the Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz, have entered quarantine over the past week, as the health care system’s contact tracing ability is stretched to its limit.
Thousands of Israelis protest coronavirus handling: Over 10,000 Israelis took to the streets on Sunday to protest against what they say is economic hardship caused by the poor mishandling of the coronavirus crisis. The protestors are also angered that the compensation payments have been slow to arrive. Over 800,000 Israelis are still out of work, a figure which is once again on the rise.
Public opinion turning against Bibi: Although the public had been in the Prime Minister’s corner just weeks ago, 60 percent of Israelis now say they are unhappy with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s handling of the country’s affairs. Israel has the third highest coronavirus infection rate among the countries tangential to Europe, after Russia and Kazakhstan.
Orthodox protests: Yisrael Eichler, ultra-Orthodox lawmaker, said that ultra-Orthodox members of parliament should strike over “selective” lockdowns of Orthodox neighborhoods. His call came after lockdown orders went into effect in five towns and cities hit hard by the virus, most of them predominantly ultra-Orthdox. Monday night was the third night in a row that ultra-Orthodox men and boys in Jerusalem staged protests, with police arresting 16 on Monday.
Think tank says annexation unlikely in the face of “dramatic repercussions”
Think tank says annexation highly unlikely: A well-respected Israeli think tank has run a simulation indicating Israel is likely to cease annexation plans when faced with the inevitably dramatic consequences of that decision. The simulation concluded that after Israel took steps to annex parts of the West Bank “almost immediately, a series of escalating events began in the Israeli-Palestinian sphere and beyond.” The findings also predicted that Jordan would cancel or freeze its peace treaty with Israel, that a wave of violence would erupt in the West Bank, and that Mahmoud Abbas, head of the Palestinian Authority, would declare independence in the West Bank.
WZO’s plan to help French Jews: The World Zionist Organization offered a plan to the Israeli government to bring 50,000 French Jews to Israel quickly and efficiently, and bring another 500,000 French Jews to Israel in coming years. Due to the recent uptick in violent antisemitism and economic decline in France, the WZO expects a large number of Jews to leave their country for lack of an alternative. Although thousands of French Jews have immigrated to Israel in the 21st century, the pace has slowed since 2015. The WZO’s Deputy CEO, Yaakov Hagoel, suggested removing the various bureaucratic processes that can complicate the process of Aliyah.
Hiring prostitutes now a crime in Israel: 19 months after the original bill was passed, a law criminalizing the hiring of sex workers came into effect last week, over the objections of some government offices and welfare groups. The new law punishes those who are caught seeking out prostitution services.
Pushback: The law was designed to come into effect many months after passage in order to allow sex workers to find alternative livelihoods. Some groups are now saying the law shouldn’t be enforced at a time when unemployment and uncertainty sweep the nation and when little was done to help sex workers find another profession. Two LGBT and transgender rights organizations have petitioned the High Court for a delay.
Israeli Air Force has new wing: The new 7th Aerial Special Forces Wing of the Israeli Air Force will bring all of its special forces under one roof in order to streamline operations and strengthen its effectiveness. Prior to this, the units operated independently within the Air Force. Israel’s premier search-and-rescue unit will now be part of this wing. The division opened without the expected public fanfare due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Bidder for El Al: A New York millionaire’s son is looking to purchase a large portion of the ailing Israeli airline El Al. Eli Rozenberg, the son of Kenny Rozenberg who founded Central Heath Care, is representing his father due to the fact that Eli has Israeli citizenship—a condition for obtaining a permit for the control of El Al. The announcement sent shares of El Al’s stock up. The airline has been hit especially hard since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Last week, El Al’s board of directors accepted the Finance Ministry’s government bailout plan, which gives the government control of about 61% of the company. Nevertheless, Israel has no intention of maintaining ownership.
SHIFTS IN THE ARAB WORLD
An Arab-Israel’s donation to Israeli LGBTQ organization defies political and cultural norms
Revolutionary move—Arab-Israeli funds LGBTQ hotline with Israeli organization: Last week the Arab-Israeli owners of a tahini company called Al-Arz made a large donation to fund a crisis hotline for Arab LGBTQ youth with the Aguda, Israel’s leading LGBTQ organization. Arab society in—and certainly outside of—Israel has historically shunned the LGBTQ community. This move in particular is exceptional because the Arab-Israeli family chose an Israeli organization to work with.
Arab boycott: Many Arab grocery stores and citizens are boycotting the tahini company and even threatening the company owners with violence. There are videos on social media of Arab-Israeli shoppers and store owners throwing containers of Al Arz tahini in the trash in protest.
Arab supporters: There are also some vocal supporters in the Arab community, showing that a change of opinion may be underway. Some members of Joint List, the main Arab political party in Israel, have spoken out in support of the move. Joint List Welfare Committee Head Aida Touma Suleiman said that “gay rights are human rights” and Arab “communities get one step closer every day to acceptance.”
Saudi Professor publishes Hebrew article in Israel: In another unprecedented move between Arabs and Israelis, a Saudi professor, Mohammed Ibrahim Alghbban, published an article in Hebrew in an Israeli academic journal in an effort to bring the two countries closer together. Alghbban’s article argues that the prophet Muhhamad had good relations with Jews and his clashes with them were political, not religious.
Warming relations between Saudi – Israel: Alghbban’s article comes at a time where Israel and the Arab Gulf states, including Saudi Arabia, have benefitted from warming relations. While there are no formal diplomatic relations between the countries, much is happening behind the scenes with intelligence cooperation and toward strides in outward normalization. Israel and Saudi Arabia were initially brought together because of their common enemy: Iran and Iran’s funding of terrorism in the region. But the increased ties have led to partnerships in other fields.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Senior Hamas Commander flees to Israel and Houthi rebels arrest Yemen’s last Jews
Senior Hamas commander flees Gaza for Israel: A senior naval commander in Hamas’ military wing who was suspected of “collaborating” with Israel has reportedly fled Gaza for Israel. The discovery has sent senior Hamas leaders into a “state of hysteria.” The terrorist group has subsequently made dozens of arrests in search of additional suspects and has launched an investigation into the matter. Unconfirmed reports claim the naval commander oversaw Hamas’ divers’ unit and left Gaza on board an Israeli military vessel with a cache of secret Hamas documents and surveillance equipment. In recent years, Hamas has executed dozens accused of collaboration with Israel, typically without any due process.
Houthi rebels in Yemen arrest last remaining Jews: In an effort to ethnically cleanse the country of its last remaining Jews, the Houthi rebels in Yemen, who are aligned and backed by Iran, have sought to arrest and expel the country’s few remaining Jews. The militia forced the members of the Jewish community to “sell” their homes to the Houthis and are also pressuring them to flee Yemen entirely. The Jews in Yemen have consistently faced systematic human rights violations at the hands of Houthis. Though only about 100 Jews remain in Yemen, it is the home of one of the world’s most ancient Jewish populations, with some claiming that Jews originally settled there over three thousand years ago. The majority of Yemen’s 530,000 Jews emigrated to Israel in the 1940s and 1950s after facing violent pogroms.
More mysterious explosions in Iran: Yet another explosion has happened at a gas facility in eastern Iran, which is the latest in a series of explosions and fires at Iranian infrastructure, industry, and nuclear sites throughout the country. Iranian media has referred to most of the cases as accidents, though certain reports have claimed at least some of the incidents involve foul play. The most recent explosion caused extensive damage to the gas facility and the causes are currently under investigation. These incidents are not thought to be at the top of Iran’s agenda at the moment, while it’s dealing with a severe economic crisis.
Speculation that Israel & U.S. behind some of the incidents: An unidentified Middle Eastern intelligence official told the New York Times that Israel was definitely behind the most serious of the incidents, the destruction of Iran’s Natanz nuclear facility, which may have set the Iranian nuclear program back by two years. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has declined to comment on the developments.
Retaliation measure expected: Western and Israeli officials are anticipating some type of retaliation, either against American or allied forces in Iraq or a renewal of cyberattacks—such as prior attacks which have been directed at American financial institutions, a major Las Vegas casino, a dam in the New York suburbs, and most recently the water supply system in Israel.
Cost-Benefit Analysis: Although Iran has said little about these incidents, the explosions have reportedly shaken the regime, proving that its enemies have sophisticated means of infiltrating and destroying the country’s most secret and most well-guarded military targets. Some argue that the approach in targeting Iran this way—while successfully setting back the nuclear program in the near term—may serve to drive Iran’s nuclear program further underground in the longer term, thus making it harder to detect.
Oldest cemetery in Europe vandalized: The oldest Jewish cemetery in Europe, located in Worms, Germany, had dozens, even up to 100, graves vandalized. Rabbi Joseph Havlin of nearby Frankfurt said: “We are witnessing, and not for the first time, desecration of German cemeteries alongside a disturbing rise in antisemitism in the entire public sphere. We call on the German government to declare an uncompromising fight against antisemitism to ensure that such acts do not are no longer repeated.” The oldest grave in the cemetery comes from the 11th century, the time when Rashi lived in Worms.
Poland’s President rejects Holocaust restitution claims: President Andrzej Duda of Poland was narrowly elected to a second term after the votes were counted Monday. A few days prior to the election, President Duda announced that “There won’t be any damages paid” for Jewish property confiscated or destroyed during the Holocaust. Continuing, he said, “I will never sign a law that will privilege any ethnic group vis-a-vis others.” Of all the members of the European Union, only Poland has no laws to provide restitution or the right of return to Jews who were victims of the Holocaust.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate Angel Sanz Briz, a Spanish diplomat who reportedly saved over 5,000 Jews from Nazi persecution in Hungary. Sanz Briz was given an online tribute last week 40 years after his death. He was appointed to a diplomatic post in Hungary in 1944 and as the Holocaust worsened, he offered to protect Jews of Spanish origin and bring them Spanish passports. Sanz Briz received the consent of the Hungarian authorities to enable 200 Spanish Jews to receive the documents, but he turned that into 200 families and kept increasing the number. In 1966, Yad Vashem recognized Sanz Briz as Righteous Among the Nations, meaning a non-Jewish person who risked their life to save Jews during the Holocaust.
Today in 1933, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Party officially declared itself the only political party in Germany and outlawed the formation of all others.