Today we’re diving into: escalating tensions between Israel and Hezbollah; U.S. Army General’s visit to Israel; Israeli hospitals reaching critical capacity; Israel’s latest stimulus package; Arab lawmakers divided over LGBTQ rights; U.S. aid package; Venezuela’s embassy move; antisemitic tirades on social media; antisemitism by U.S. lawmakers; and remembering the trial of Leo Frank. Thank you, Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle, for this incredible feature on A Wider Frame!
TENSIONS WITH HEZBOLLAH
After thwarted Hezbollah attack, Netanyahu warns that Israel will respond swiftly and Hezbollah is “playing with fire”
Tensions high with Hezbollah as IDF thwarts attack: The IDF apparently thwarted a Hezbollah terrorist attack Monday afternoon along Israel’s border with Lebanon. According to reports, a Hezbollah cell of 3-5 operatives crossed Israel’s northern border, known as the Blue Line, several meters into Israeli territory. The IDF opened fire on the operatives, and they fled back into Lebanon without firing back. A Hezbollah-affiliated news outlet reported that the operatives were unharmed and later released a statement saying that Israel had made up the incident and that there had been no clash.
Warning to Hezbollah: In a televised address, Netanyahu said Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah was “embroiling Lebanon” at the behest of Iran and that “Hezbollah needs to understand that it is playing with fire” and “any attack against us will be met with great strength.” Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz also publicly warned Lebanon, saying enemies of Israel should take care not to test Israel. Hezbollah, designated a terrorist organization by most of the West and the Arab League, is both an armed group and a political party in Lebanon and is heavily backed by Iran.
De-escalation attempt by Israel: This thwarted attack comes after an airstrike attributed to Israel killed a Hezbollah fighter in Syria, to which Hezbollah has vowed to respond. At the same time, Israel has reportedly stepped up its strikes in Syria to undermine Iran’s influence in the country. In order to de-escalate rising tensions between Hezbollah and Israel, Israel reportedly sent a message to Hezbollah either by way of the United Nations or Moscow or both, claiming that the killing of its fighter in Syria was wholly unintentional and that it was unaware of Hezbollah military activities in the area.
Hezbollah leader says war not likely as Lebanon in tatters economically: Over the weekend, the deputy leader of Hezbollah said that an all-out war with Israel is unlikely in coming months. Lebanon is in the throes of its worst economic crisis in decades, as bad planning and corruption have caused its currency to collapse. The threat of hunger is apparent for many and the situation has been exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdown. Iranian funding of Hezbollah has also dried up considerably because of Iran’s own economic hardships in the face of U.S. sanctions and the pandemic.
U.S. Army General visits Israel amid rise in tensions: Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Mark Milley visited Israel and met with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, IDF chief Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, and Director of the Mossad Yossi Cohen. Milley also spoke with Netanyahu over a video conference call and discussed ongoing security threats posed by Iran in the region. Milley’s visit comes amid the U.S. and Israel’s increased unease with Iran, Hezbollah’s primary backer. Beyond the American killing of General Qassem Soleimani in January, Iran has been rocked by a dozen mysterious explosions targeting its nuclear program in recent weeks and has apparently attempted a number of cyberattacks against Israel in response.
New stimulus plan approved as Israel’s largest hospitals report over 100% capacity
Hospitals strained with increasing case numbers: Israel has crossed the “red line.” Hospitals have officially surpassed maximum capacity as the number of active COVID-19 patients in Israel is up to 36,378 with the death toll at 474. The rising numbers of COVID-19 cases are placing a strain on Israel’s healthcare system, as coronavirus wards at four of Israel’s largest hospitals are full, with a fifth nearing total capacity. While Israel has a high number of coronavirus cases per capita, it still remains relatively low for deaths per capita.
New stimulus plan passed cabinet vote, headed to parliament: As increasing numbers of Israelis have reported feeling anxiety and concern over their ability to pay bills, the Israeli cabinet approved the government’s plan to send stimulus checks to most Israelis. The bid will now go to the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, for approval. At the most recent cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu also said that the government is working on additional plans to stimulate the economy and channel funds to those who have been hurt most by the virus’s toll.
Coronavirus research advancements call for more Vitamin D: Researchers at Bar Ilan University have seemingly found that Vitamin D—sunlight—improves a person’s ability to fight the coronavirus. The recently published study found that Vitamin D acts “like a steroid;” individuals with unusually low amounts of the vitamin were nearly 1.5 times more likely to be hospitalized after contracting the coronavirus than those with an adequate level of the vitamin. One of the researchers suggested that rather than limit outdoor activity, public policy should be encouraging socially distant excursions outside.
LGBTQ rights divide Israeli Arab lawmakers: The passage of a law which bars psychologists from performing conversion therapy for LGBTQ individuals has angered many Arab lawmakers in Israel. The Joint List, which is a political alliance of the main Arab- majority political parties in Israel, has been divided on recent LGBTQ advancements in the country. Ayman Odeh, the Joint List leader who has historically kept his opinions on LGBTQ rights largely to himself, voted in favor of the law and said his support for it “is based on a value system that respects every human being for who he or she is.”
Joint List members speak against it: A Joint List lawmaker called its leader’s support of the bill “particularly problematic,” stating that it went against the views of “the vast majority of a society that elected him.” He also asserted that the “phenomenon of gays is almost nonexistent in Arab society” and if it exists at all it is “of limited dimensions.” Some members of the Joint List are reportedly demanding dissolution of the alliance over members’ support of the law.
Started with LGBTQ donation: The question of LGBTQ acceptance erupted in the Arab community a few weeks ago when an Arab-owned tahini company decided to fund a crisis hotline for Arab LGBT youth with an Israeli LGBTQ organization. The donation sparked a strong backlash in the Arab community in Israel, with many Arab-Israelis boycotting the company’s products. Only one lawmaker from the Joint List—Aida Youma Sliman—came out publicly in favor of the tahini company owner and the LGBTQ community.
AIPAC praises Israel aid package: The U.S. Congress approved $3.8 billion earmarked for aid to Israel under the National Defense Authorization Act. Although the aid was criticized by a few Democrats, the bill sailed through both chambers of Congress with broad bipartisan support. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee said that the money “will help Israel protect itself against continuing security threats.” The House also passed $250 million for programs designed to facilitate Israeli-Palestinian dialogue, a project of retiring Representative Nita Lowey. The Alliance for Middle East Peace said: “We know the transformative power of people to people interactions and believe them to be a prerequisite for long-term peace.”
Guaidó in Venezuela seeks to open embassy in Jerusalem: Juan Guaidó, one of two men who lay claim to Venezuela’s presidency, has announced his intention to open Venezuela’s embassy in Jerusalem. More than 50 countries, including Israel and the U.S., have recognized Guaidó’s, rather than Nicolás Maduro’s, claim to the presidency since last year. Maduro, however, has remained in the presidential palace, with control over the police, military, and other key institutions such as the electoral body and the Supreme Court. In 2009, Venezuela, under its authoritarian leader Hugo Chavez, cut all diplomatic ties with Israel and Guaidó has sought to restore them.
Thousands join 48-hour Twitter boycott as eruptions of antisemitism occur worldwide, including by U.S. lawmakers
Antisemitic tirades spark social media walkout: Two rappers, Wiley of Britain and American rapper Jay Electronica, posted extensive antisemitic rants over the past few days on social media. Wiley called for the murder of Jews using the slang phrase “hold some corn,” which means to “receive bullets,” and said “There are 2 sets of people who nobody has really wanted to challenge #Jewish & #KKK.” Jay Electronica directed people to passages of the Christian Bible referring to the “synagogue of Satan” and praised antisemitic leader of the Nation of Islam, Louis Farrakhan. Electronica also called the rabbi that spoke with Nick Cannon following his antisemitic remarks a “devil.” Wiley’s hate rant, which is now subject to a police investigation, was allowed to remain on Twitter’s platform for days.
48 hour blackout: As a result of Twitter and Instagram’s failure to react promptly to remove the antisemitic rants, Jewish groups planned a 48-hour boycott which started Monday. The hashtag “#NoSafeSpaceForJewHate” was used in promoting it. One senior British Jewish official said, “We are calling for all social media platforms to adopt the international definition of antisemitism.” Britain’s Home Secretary, the country’s top national security minister, said she wrote to Instagram and Twitter demanding an explanation as to why they had not removed the antisemitic posts.
Philadelphia NAACP head posts antisemitic meme: The Jewish community of Philadelphia is calling for Rodney Muhammed, the head of the Philadelphia NAACP, to resign after he shared an antisemitic post online. The post depicted a Jewish man in a yarmulke pressing down on a faceless mass of people and read: “To learn who rules over you, simply find out who you are not allowed to criticize.” The image also included supporting pictures of recent celebrities accused of antisemitism like Ice Cube, DeSean Jackson, and Nick Cannon. The Anti-Defamation League’s local chapter’s head said: “It is inconceivable that a person who theoretically works to uphold civil rights would engage in such blatant hate.” Muhammed took down the photo and the Philadelphia NAACP office released an apology.
Georgia Senator deletes ad of opponent’s altered nose: Democratic candidate Jon Ossoff denounced an antisemitic Facebook ad used by sitting U.S. Senator David Perdue’s campaign, that appeared to make Ossoff’s nose look bigger. The now deleted ad claimed that “Democrats are trying to buy Georgia” with black-and-white photos of Ossoff and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is also Jewish. Ossoff tweeted that “This is the oldest, most obvious, least original anti-Semitic trope in history.”
Rep. Ilhan Omar criticized for campaign mailer: U.S. Representative Ilhan Omar is receiving criticism again for alleged antisemitism. Omar’s campaign sent out a mailer attacking her primary opponent titled “Can We Trust Antone Melton-Meaux’s Money?” The mailer highlights only Jewish donors to her opponent’s campaign. The spotlighted names included a man named Stanley Weinstein and a man called “Michael from Scarsdale.” A Minneapolis Rabbi who has previously defended Omar said, “[I am] beyond dismayed. Most disappointing were the presence of tropes that we’d personally discussed as hurtful, as offensive.”
German celebrity chef accuses Jews of funding Holocaust: The German government’s head official fighting antisemitism has called for an investigation into celebrity chef Attila Hildmann. Hildmann has recently used his social media accounts to call Jews and Zionists “parasites” and “subhumans.” He also questioned “Who financed the Holocaust?” and proposed “Zionists” as the answer. The German official, antisemitism czar Felix Klein, said that Hildmann’s speech is “relevant under criminal law [as] antisemitic agitation, revitalization of the Holocaust and mockery of Holocaust victims.”
International Olympic Committee posts photo of Nazi Germany: The International Olympic Committee expressed regret after posting a “Throwback Thursday” photo of the 1936 Olympics which took place in Nazi Germany. The image included a caption praising the “Berlin” Olympics. The Auschwitz museum responded by saying, “For 2 weeks the Nazi dictatorship camouflaged its racist, militaristic character. It exploited the Games to impress foreign spectators with an image of a peaceful, tolerant Germany.”
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Lucille Frank and Leo Frank, July 17, 1909
Today we celebrate Steffi Berg, a survivor of the Holocaust and now also a survivor of COVID-19. Steffi fled Breslau, Germany during World War II for the Jewish ghettos of Shanghai where for 12 years she battled typhoid fever, dysentery, and boils. While in Shanghai, she met her future husband. Tragically in March, Steffi’s husband succumbed to double pneumonia suspected to have arisen from COVID-19. Steffi fell into a coma from the virus and shortly thereafter her daughter, Judy Wolfson, tested positive for COVID-19. After Judy recovered, she donated plasma which Steffi received and a few days later, Steffi awoke from the coma. Steffi calls herself a “fighter” and says she is getting better every day.
Today in 1913, Leo Frank, a Jewish American, went on trial for the murder of Mary Phagan. Frank was falsely accused of murdering Phagan, a 13-year-old employee of the Atlanta pencil factory that Frank managed. Despite the lack of any physical evidence linking Frank to the murder, shoddy police work, gross inconsistencies in the evidence, and Frank’s housekeeper placing him at home at the time of the murder, Frank was found guilty of the murder and the judge sentenced Frank to death. Georgia’s governor later commuted his death sentence and soon after the commutation, a mob stormed the prison where Frank was being held and lynched him. Southern Jewish historians note that the Atlanta Jewish community, which suffered a traumatic synagogue bombing in 1958, has still not recovered from the trauma of the Leo Frank case.