Today we’re diving into: the appointment of Israel’s new coronavirus czar; the tug of war between Bibi and Israel’s legislature over coronavirus handling; the ongoing anti-Netanyahu and economic protests; Israel’s passage of LGBTQ conversion ban; discord in coalition government with talk of new elections; rising tensions with Hezbollah; UK Labour Party’s apology and settlement; German Foreign Ministry’s new anti-Israel hire; and the conviction of a former concentration camp guard.
CORONAVIRUS & PROTESTS
Chaos continues to mount in Israel over coronavirus and economic crises
Israel seeing over 2,000 new daily cases: This is the second day with over 2,000 new reported cases in Israel over a 24-hour period and there are currently around 300 people in critical condition across the country, higher than it’s ever been. Israel’s death toll sadly reached 433. The forecasting model predicts at least 250 more patients to be in serious condition by next week.
Advancements in testing: In coordination with and approval from the top scientist in India’s government, a team of Israeli experts are heading to India to launch a new type of wide scale testing process. The team is recruiting thousands of Indians to participate in the study which will hopefully pave the way to a new “rapid” coronavirus test that could show results in in a few minutes or less.
New coronavirus czar appointed after chaotic back-and-forth: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has appointed a coronavirus czar to rein in the out-of-control pandemic. Professor Gabriel Barbash was initially set to accept the appointment but withdrew his name from consideration over disagreements in how to handle the crisis and the scope of his role’s authority. Professor Roni Gamzu, the current CEO of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, accepted the position hours after Barbash relinquished it. Gamzu was previously the director general of the Health Ministry.
New czar not a fan of lockdown: Gamzu says he will try all available options before reimposing a general lockdown on the economy and will work to earn the public’s trust. On July 3rd, Gamzu posted on Facebook that “the doomsday weapon of a widespread lockdown is not a solution to the coronavirus crisis.” Barbash, Netanyahu’s first choice, favored much more restrictive measures to curb the virus.
Power move by Netanyahu? Netanyahu said Gamzu will have “all the authority” to curb the outbreak and that the government will form policy in coordination with Gamzu’s recommendations. It is possible that Gamzu’s appointment is a power move by Netanyahu: Netanyahu will have someone reporting directly to him rather than continuing to allow the Knesset to make or overrule policy decisions. Government critics are concerned that the parliament’s coronavirus committee will be effectively powerless.
Tug of war between Israel’s parliamentary and executive branches: Gamzu’s appointment came right as the Knesset passed a controversial law on Thursday that grants the executive cabinet more powers to impose virus restrictions with little oversight—the parliament will have 24 hours to approve or reject any new restrictions and the cabinet will have the power to bypass the Knesset with any measures deemed “urgent.” The so-called “Great Coronavirus Law” was passed after the coronavirus committee reversed a series of cabinet lockdown restrictions on public areas, such as restaurants and beaches, infuriating cabinet ministers. An increasing amount of the public has lost trust in the government’s handling of the crisis. Many feel that the imposed restrictions are not based on evidence and that the measures don’t justify the economic consequences.
Thousands more demonstrate near PM’s residence: Thursday night saw thousands more anti-Netanyahu protesters on the streets near his residence in Jerusalem. The protesters are calling for Netanyahu’s resignation over his indictment on corruption charges and (mis)handling of the coronavirus pandemic. There was a pro-Netanyahu counter-rally nearby with several hundred participants. Police employed water cannons to disperse the protesters after the 11 p.m. curfew. A number of women removed their shirts following the example of a protester who removed her shirt on Tuesday while atop a large Menorah near the Knesset.
Economic protests in the streets and in the government: In addition to the anti-Netanyahu demonstrations, mass protests are continuing over the government’s economic policies in connection with the pandemic. Some of the economic protests have combined forces with the anti-Netanyahu protests. The tensions and fighting over the government’s economic response even extended to the Prime Minister’s government allies. A public altercation took place earlier this week during a finance committee meeting over economic assistance for businesses affected by the shutdown.
Details of internal fighting within Prime Minister’s Likud party: Finance Minister Israel Katz accused coalition chairman Miki Zohar of pushing for policy changes which benefit Zohar’s family—namely, to increase compensation for businesses forced to close down during the pandemic. In response, Zohar issued a public call for Netanyahu to fire Katz. Netanyahu summoned both Likud party members to his office to sort out the dispute and called for “unity and responsibility and nothing else.”
Israel sets new records with LGBTQ ruling and talk of new elections
Conversion therapy ban bill passed by Knesset: The Knesset approved a measure to ban LGBTQ conversion therapy by psychologists in the country. Of the vote, Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz said: “Conversion therapy was born in sin and its place is outside of the law and the public norm. We will make sure that everyone, from every background and sexual orientation, in Israel will have free choice and security in their identity.” The bill was put forward by the liberal Meretz party and was backed by Gantz’s center-right Blue & White party.
Israel most progressive toward LGBTQ in the Middle East: This is another big win for the Israeli LGBTQ population, who are protected by more robust anti-discrimination laws, adoption laws, same-sex inheritance rights, and military acceptance than anywhere else in the Middle East or Asia. The country now has a record number of openly gay members of the Knesset and has appointed its first openly gay minister last year.
Upset religious and right-wing parties: The Knesset’s ultra-Orthodox parties, also part of the ruling coalition, were in a fury over the measure’s passage, specifically condemning the Blue & White party. The split has been so ferocious that some parties have threatened to cease cooperation with their coalition partner Blue & White. In retaliation, the United Torah Judaism party submitted two proposals opposed by Blue & White: one that allows the Knesset to overrule Israel’s Supreme Court and another that would ban food not kosher for Passover from hospitals during Passover.
Reports that Netanyahu seeking new elections: The fraught coalition government took another hit as sources close to Netanyahu said on Wednesday that the Prime Minister decided not to pass the budget for 2020 and will call for another general election in November of this year. That would be the fourth election in two years. The government is required by law to pass a budget by August 24th or else it will trigger another election.
Rivlin responds with ire: Israeli President Reuven Rivlin responded to the reports with a firestorm of tweets demanding that the government “get a grip” and that the country “is not a rag doll you drag around as you squabble.” Netanyahu responded on Thursday that he “isn’t aiming for an election” and reports to the contrary were “absurd.” Netanyahu placed the blame for the delayed budget talks on Gantz’s Blue & White party.
Foreign Minister says annexation not currently on Israel’s agenda: Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi told Israeli publication Yediot Aharonot that there are currently “no discussions” in the cabinet about West Bank annexation and that the commitment is “to addressing the [coronavirus] disease and the economy.”
Former U.S. National Security Advisor’s warning to Israel: In an interview with an Israeli radio station, former National Security Advisor to President Trump John Bolton offered a stark warning to Israel, saying that Trump is only interested in Israel for domestic political purposes and that Israel should look out for its own best interests. In cautiously worded phrasing, Bolton said: “I think the next few months are an optimal time for Israel to act in its own national security interests.” Bolton also warned that Trump’s policies are not making the Middle East safer.
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Israel-Hezbollah tensions escalate as IDF sends more troops to Northern border
Suspected Israeli airstrike in Syria kills Hezbollah terrorist and raises tensions: After a suspected Israeli strike in Syria killed a member of the Iranian-backed and Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorist organization, Ali Kamel Mohsen Jawad, Hezbollah threatened Israel with retaliation. In addition to Jawad, five Iran-backed militants were reportedly killed. Multiple Hezbollah-linked social media accounts said Israel should be fearful of a Hezbollah strike. The threats from Hezbollah have prompted Israel to increase its military presence in the north.
Iran signs deal with Syria to boost air defenses: The purported Israeli airstrikes come a week after Syria and Iran signed an air defense pact to upgrade Syrian air defenses, which are mostly of Russian origin. The airstrikes also come two weeks after the explosion at Iran’s nuclear facility Natanz. Lt.-Gen. Kenneth McKenzie, head of the U.S. Central Command, told The Washington Post that Israel will not allow for such weapons to be transferred to Syria, as they could be used against Israeli jets.
Iranian passenger plane swerves to avoid American fighter jet: Several passengers were injured on Thursday over Syria after a pilot swerved and dropped abruptly to avoid collision with an American fighter jet. The flight was heading from Tehran to Beirut. A spokesman for the U.S. Central Command said that the American F-15 was on “a routine air mission” near a small American military base and conducted “a standard visual inspection” of the Mahan Air passenger airliner. The U.S. and Israel have long accused Mahan Air of trafficking weapons for Iranian- backed guerrilla fighters in Syria and Lebanon.
U.K. Labour Party apologizes over mistreatment of antisemitism whistleblowers: Britain’s main opposition party, the Labour Party, apologized to seven former staffers who raised alarms about antisemitism within the party’s ranks. In court, Labour agreed to pay substantial damages to the former staffers to settle a libel action and acknowledged a targeted campaign by party leadership to smear them. Labour’s new leader, Keir Starmer, has promised to visit Israel “as soon as possible,” in a sign of his new vision for a Labour Party inclusive of the country’s Jewish community. Starmer also vowed to fight the BDS campaign, which former leader Jeremy Corbyn endorsed. Jeremy Corbyn publicly condemned the apology and settlement deal, causing astonishment among the litigants.
German Foreign Ministry hires Islamist who supports Israel’s destruction: The German Foreign Ministry has come under fire for hiring a woman in the department of culture and communication who advocates for Israel’s destruction. The Jerusalem Post reported that the new addition, Nurhan Soykan, has often posted in favor of the antisemitic Iranian backed al-Quds rallies, which calls for the destruction of Israel, as well as supporting antisemitic academics, and supporting the Boycott, Divest, and Sanctions campaign against Israel. Despite the criticism, the German Chancellor’s office defended the decision to hire Soykan. German politicians and Jewish organizations have called for the al-Quds rally to be banned.
Trial for German synagogue killer: The trial for a man responsible for murdering two people outside a synagogue last year on Yom Kippur in Halle, Germany began this week. The terrorist expressed no regret for the murders, saying he has “no problems with religions but with Semitism.” The only point for which he did express regret was for his killing of a woman on the street whom he thought to be Jewish. For that he said: “I didn’t want to kill whites.” Judge Ursula Mertens cut him off and warned him that she can exclude him from the proceedings for pushing his racist worldviews. The attacker said he was inspired by the terrorist attack on a mosque in New Zealand in 2019 that killed 51 people.
German court convicts former concentration camp guard: A former guard of the Stutthof concentration camp in Poland was convicted by a German court of 5,232 counts of accessory to murder. The SS guard was only 17-years-old at the start of his military service, so despite his age of 93, his case was heard in juvenile court. In a sign of remorse, the man said in court: “I want to apologize to all of the people who went through this hellish insanity.” The man was given a two-year suspended sentence, which the Simon Wiesenthal Center accused of “tainting the process” and “an insult to the survivors.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate the first hospital in the world—Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital – to send recovered COVID-19 patients into virus wards in order to relieve patients’ loneliness. Of the 25 volunteer visitors, 20 are ultra-Orthodox and are motivated by a Jewish tradition of bikur holim, or visiting the sick—a mitzvah that most people cannot carry out with coronavirus patients.
Today in 1918 twelve foundation stones for Hebrew University were laid on Mount Scopus. The university opened its doors several years later on April 1, 1925 with an event presided over by Dr. Chaim Weizmann, then president of the World Zionist Organization who later served as the first President of Israel.