Today we’re diving into: Coronavirus in Israel by the numbers; more cyber-attacks against Israel’s water system; Netanyahu’s trial resuming; Diaspora Minister’s warning; U.S. Jews mourn congressman’s death; Nikki Haley’s address to Republican Jews; Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue rebuilds; lawmakers’ urge to EU regarding Hezbollah; Hamas’ ban on Saudi reporters in Gaza; and Iran’s execution of “Israeli spy”.
CORONAVIRUS & PROTESTS
New stimulus package announced as Israelis continue to protest the government’s coronavirus response
Case numbers and shutdown decisions: Israel has seen 415 deaths from the virus and there are nearly 30,000 active cases in the country. At Sunday’s coronavirus committee meeting, the Health Ministry presented statistics over the past week of cases, reporting that a majority of Israelis caught the virus at home, followed by schools and events. The opposition leaders in government are demanding that closures and strategy decisions should only be based on organized data, in order to limit the economic toll of restrictions. The government is at odds over restrictions on restaurants, beaches, and pools.
Nurses end nationwide strike: After negotiations with the government collapsed, nurses across the country went on strike on Monday to protest the shortage of staff and conditions in hospitals. The nurses called off their strike Monday night after the Health and Finance ministries agreed to provide the healthcare system with 2,000 new nurses, 400 doctors, and 700 support staff that will be rolled out in stages.
Economic and anti-corruption protests continue in full force: Israel has been rocked by protests for months, which have seen more participants over the past few weeks and become more violent. Some protesters are demanding compensation for the economic damage suffered due to the virus while others are demanding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu step down over his criminal indictments. Even Israeli government leaders are taking part in them.
New stimulus proposal after the first plan was heavily criticized: After facing widespread criticism over the economic response to the pandemic, Netanyahu initially suggested a stimulus proposal whereby every Israeli over the age of 18 would get a stimulus check. This plan was heavily criticized by the Finance Ministry because in addition to the high cost, the plan proposed distributing income to all Israelis—regardless of income or whether they were hurt economically by the shutdown. The new stimulus package announced on Monday will allocate 6 billion shekels ($1.75 billion USD) for grants, which will be given to all citizens with the exception of those earning over NIS 640,000 ($186,000 USD).
Israel thwarts more cyber-attacks on its water system, in what some believe to be the latest in Israel’s shadow war with Iran
Cyber-attacks against Israeli water infrastructure: In recent weeks Israeli media reported that two cyber-attacks have been carried out against Israel’s water infrastructure, but that no damage was done to the systems. Officials did not say who carried out the attacks, but Iran is widely believed to be responsible amid an escalating tit-for-tat between the two countries. In April, Iran tried to hack into Israel’s water system and poison it by increasing chlorine levels in water flowing to residential areas. These cyber-attacks come after Iran has been hit with a series of mysterious explosions to sensitive facilities such as its nuclear enrichment complex, factories, and gas pipelines. Two more fires at power plants in Iran erupted in the last week.
Netanyahu’s trial set to resume in January 2021: The second hearing of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial took place on Sunday, with Netanyahu’s attorney asking the court to delay the trial for six months due to the coronavirus. The court decided that the trial will resume starting in January of 2021 with hearings to be held three times a week, which is two months earlier than Netanyahu’s team had asked for. Netanyahu was not in court for this most recent hearing.
Pipeline project approved between Israel and Europe: Israel’s cabinet approved a $6 billion plan, formulated by the energy ministers of Israel, Cyprus, Greece, and Italy, to lay a pipeline that will facilitate the export of natural gas found in Israeli waters to European markets. A survey of the route is being performed and the aim is to complete the project by 2025.
Attorney General attempting to stop auction of concentration camp notebook: Israel’s Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, is appealing before the Jerusalem District Court to stop the auction of a rabbinic notebook from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp. The Attorney General says the state should have control over the Holocaust relic and preserve it in Yad Vashem, the world’s largest Holocaust museum located in Jerusalem. The recently discovered notebook was scheduled to be put up for auction starting at $4,000. Mandelblit said: “This notebook is clearly a public asset, an irreplaceable cultural asset for the Jewish people and all of humanity.” Israel’s government is also concerned that should the notebook’s auction proceed it would set a precedent for other discovered relics to be sold in private markets.
Diaspora Affairs Ministry says 80% of diaspora Jews unconnected: Israel’s Diaspora Affairs Minister informed the Knesset in an annual report that the world’s Jewish population is about 14.4 million, 12.7 million of whom live in either the U.S. or Israel. Dvir Kahana, the director-general of the ministry gave a grim estimation—that 80% of diaspora Jews do not feel connected to Judaism and their Jewishness. The report also highlighted Israeli concern that small diaspora communities are dwindling, especially given the coronavirus pandemic. One member of parliament suggested funding Jewish education outside of Israel, saying that “in the U.S., you have to sell a kidney to send your kids to Jewish schools. If Israel will invest in this, it could help bring down assimilation.”
INSIDE THE U.S.
The U.S. Jewish community mourns the loss of Congressman John Lewis, a political force and ally for marginalized communities nationwide
John Lewis, civil rights icon and founder of Jewish coalition: Civil rights trailblazer and long friend of the Jewish community John Lewis died on Friday after a bout of pancreatic cancer. He was 80 years old. At the time of his death, Congressman Lewis had served the people of Georgia in the U.S. House of Representatives for 33 years. Prior to that, Lewis started the Atlanta Black-Jewish Coalition. For his work on bridging the Black and Jewish communities, he was awarded the Elie Wiesel Award of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in 2016, the only congressman to ever receive the award. Members of Atlanta’s Jewish community recalled Lewis’s decades long commitment to the fight against antisemitism and support for Israel.
Nikki Haley speaks against Biden in an online event to Republican Jewish Coalition: Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley spoke to the Republican Jewish Coalition in a virtual panel over the weekend. Haley drew a stark contrast between President Trump’s and Biden’s records on Israel and said if Biden is elected, he will rejoin the Iran nuclear agreement. Haley also said that Biden is “moving closer to [Rep. Ilhan] Omar and to [Sen.] Bernie [Sanders] to make his foreign-policy and domestic-policy decisions.” She stressed that China is the U.S.’s number one threat and that many presidential administrations, including President Obama’s, have been “naïve” to China’s “strategic mission.” According to Biden’s top foreign-policy advisor, Biden would have all the U.S. sanctions on Iran stay in place until Iran comes back into full compliance of the deal. Biden has also said that his “commitment to Israel is absolutely unshakable.”
Southern Poverty Law Center names Trump aide ‘extremist’: Civil rights organization Southern Poverty Law Center added White House advisor Stephen Miller to its database of extremists, which includes Klu Klux Klan leader David Duke and Nation of Islam’s Louis Farrakhan. Although Miller is Jewish, the Southern Poverty Law Center concluded that he promotes white supremacy. Miller, who champions the administration’s anti-immigration efforts, has been denounced by his own family.
Pittsburgh Tree of Life Synagogue takes step toward rebuilding: The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh took a small but significant step toward rebuilding, following the deadliest attack on Jews in American history in 2018. Congregational leadership hired two consultants to establish a plan for rebuilding the site and the fundraising campaign needed to pay for it. Many Pittsburgh organizations, schools, and universities are interested in collaborating and creating programming that has a broader message of anti-hate and tolerance. The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh also hopes to open a Holocaust museum in the space.
Jewish wedding for David and Victoria Beckham’s son: The British tabloid Daily Mirror reported that Brooklyn Beckham and fiancée Nicola Peltz are planning on having a big traditional Jewish wedding next year. The two reportedly bonded over their Jewish heritage when they started dating. The Mirror noted that David Beckham is half Jewish and Nicola’s father, Nelson, is Jewish.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
EU urged by 230 lawmakers to designate Hezbollah a terror organization, and end the false distinction between its ‘military’ and ‘political’ arms
Lawmakers urge the EU to designate Hezbollah a terrorist organization: 230 international lawmakers, including members of the U.S. Congress, wrote to the European Union to ask that it designate Hezbollah—Iran’s most deadly proxy based in Lebanon—as a terrorist organization. The dignitaries demanded that “the EU [sic] end this false distinction between ‘military’ and ‘political’ arms – a distinction Hezbollah itself dismisses – and ban the entire organization.” The letter was timed to coincide with the anniversary of the Hezbollah terrorist attack on a Jewish community center in Buenos Aires in 1994 that killed 85 people.
German group funneling money to Hezbollah in Lebanon: According to reports, a community center in Bremen, Germany is funneling money to the Hezbollah headquarters in Lebanon. Additionally, dozens of Hezbollah followers regularly gather at the community center to strategize support. The report noted that there are over 1,000 Hezbollah members across Germany. Germany designated Iran-backed Hezbollah a terrorist organization in April and banned all activity from the group.
IDF neutralizes Lebanese drone: The Israel Defense Forces captured a Lebanese drone flown into Israeli airspace in the north. The drone was likely on a surveillance mission and not armed with weapons. Since 2019, the IDF has had the technology to commandeer drones in midair and land them without harming the hardware or software. This way, Israel can extrapolate whatever information the operators were in search of.
Hamas bars two Saudi news organizations from reporting in Gaza: Hamas banned two Saudi-owned news organizations from reporting in Gaza. The news organizations, Al-Arabiya and Al-Hadath, were targeted by Hamas for reporting on Hamas’ arrest of one of its own members for allegedly collaborating with Israel. A Palestinian journalist who works with Al-Arabiya said the new order bars “anyone or any business from providing services” to either network.
Palestinian journalist union condemns move: In a statement denouncing the ban, the Palestinian journalist’s union said: “restrictions on press freedom and repeated shutdown of media” in Gaza are “contrary to national values and principles.”
Bigger picture: Hamas relies on substantial aid from Qatar, which remains the target of a Saudi-led regional blockade. Saudi Arabia, U.A.E., Bahrain, and Egypt cut diplomatic trade and ties with Qatar, claiming that Qatar supports terrorism and is too close to Iran.
Iran executed man accused of spying for Israel: Iran executed a man it said was a spy paid for by Israel’s Mossad and the United States’ CIA. The man, Mahmoud Mousavi-Majd, was detained by Iranian authorities in 2018. Iran blamed Mousavi-Majd for passing along information that led to the killing of Iranian general and terrorist leader Qassem Soleimani in January, though Majd was arrested prior to Soleimani’s assassination. Iran also said last week it had executed another man convicted of spying for the CIA by selling information about Iran’s missile program.
Iran halts execution of three men for now: With economic turmoil roiling Iran, the country has caved to domestic and international pressure to halt the execution of three men who Iran says acted against the national interest by protesting against the government last November. The government says it has evidence that the three men set fire to banks, buses, and public buildings. Demonstrations erupted in Iran last November after the government more than doubled fuel prices overnight, exacerbating the economic crisis. Protesters torched petrol stations, attacked police stations, and looted shops before security forces stepped in and killed at least 230 protestors and injured thousands.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate Israel’s ingenuity with creating assistive technologies for children who live with a wide range of disabilities. Alyn Hospital in Jerusalem has teamed up with Microsoft Israel to adapt Xbox controllers to help children with their treatment and to enable remote treatment for patients who can’t show up in person due to the coronavirus. Alyn Hospital often teams up with tech companies to develop rehabilitative products—the hospital outlines the patient needs and the tech firms provide the technical knowhow to spearhead the development.
Today in 1938, Morris Michtom passed away, a Jewish American immigrant from Russia, who, along with his wife, invented the teddy bear. The Michtoms’ founded the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company, which after Morris’ death, became the largest doll making company in the U.S. The teddy bear was inspired by a cartoon depicting U.S. President Theodore Roosevelt—commonly called “Teddy”—having compassion for a bear at the end of an unsuccessful hunting trip in 1902. Michtom saw the drawing and created a tiny plush bear cub which he sent to Roosevelt. After receiving permission to use Roosevelt’s name, Michtom put a plush bear in the shop window with a sign that said “Teddy’s bear.”