Today we’re diving into: Israel’s high infection rate and low death rate; Tisha B’Av observance in Israel; Likud’s sanctions on its own party; violence at anti-corruption protests; the possibility of another election; Democratic party’s platform on Israel; the refusal of Twitter and Facebook to curb antisemitism; Seth Rogen’s comments on Israel; and remembering the Hebrew University bombing.
Israel has one of the lowest death rates of any country, but surpasses U.S. with cases per capita
Israel’s high infection rate: Israel has stunningly overtaken the U.S. in the number of coronavirus patients per capita, with approximately 2,000 new cases reported every day. Despite having just months ago squashed the epidemic, Israel now has the fifth highest ratio of coronavirus patients in the world. With over 320 patients currently in critical condition, the death toll stands at 500. According to the Health Ministry, one in every 11 (almost 10%) of the coronavirus tests come back positive, well over the generally acceptable figure of 3%. In a conversation with world leaders, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced that Israel aims to test 30,000 people a day.
Low death rate: A Johns Hopkins University study said that Israel has among the lowest death rates from coronavirus of any country at 0.7%. By way of comparison, Britain has the highest death rate, at over 15%. In addition to excellent critical care facilities, Israel’s death rate remains relatively low due to the country’s young population. The novel coronavirus disproportionately impacts the elderly.
Subdued and socially distanced Tisha B’Av in Israel: Tisha B’Av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, began on Wednesday evening. It is a day the Jewish people mourn several calamities occurring in history, including the destructions of the First and Second Temples in Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E. and 70 C.E. respectively. This year in Israel, Tisha B’Av was observed in a subdued manner at the Western Wall with 1,000 mourners, all of whom were syphoned off into 20-person pods. The observance of this day calls for certain prohibitions, including eating, drinking, and washing. Israel’s chief Ashkenazi Rabbi, David Lau, has issued new halacha (Jewish law) in light of the coronavirus: that all are required to wash hands and that those diagnosed with coronavirus, whether with symptoms or without, should not fast in observance of Tisha B’Av.
Infighting on coronavirus and LGBTQ policies test the stability of the Likud party, as protests continue to rage throughout the country
Likud party sanctioning its own members: Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party reprimanded and sanctioned members of its own party this week for taking positions against the party line. Likud faction and coalition chairman Miki Zohar announced sanctions, including the dismissal of Yifat Shasha-Biton from her position as the Knesset coronavirus committee chairwoman. Shasha-Biton sparked political furor last week after ruling to keep gyms and pools open, despite Netanyahu’s orders to close them. She has led the coronavirus committee since June and has overturned a number of cabinet decisions to restrict businesses during the pandemic. Shasha-Biton said she acted according to her conscience and refused to vote on anything that wasn’t backed by evidence, in order to limit the economic toll of restrictions.
Conversion therapy vote: The party also penalized 11 Likud members who did not show up to vote against a law banning gay conversion therapy, and one who voted in favor of the ban. Twenty-one of the 36 Likud lawmakers absented themselves during the vote prohibiting conversion therapy. Tensions are rising within the Likud party, with whispers that some of the sanctioned members are trying to oust Miki Zohar as the chair.
Gay Likud Minister invokes Norwegian Law: Public Security Minister Amir Ohana of the Likud party, who is openly gay, was the only member of his party who voted in support of the law banning gay conversion therapy, in opposition to his party’s position. Ohana was one of the 12 Likud members who was penalized by the party. On Tuesday, Ohana invoked the ‘Norwegian Law’ which allows for his resignation from the Knesset while keeping his cabinet position as Minister of Public Security. Ohana is the first member of government to invoke the law.
What is the Norwegian Law? The Norwegian Law is an amendment to an Israeli Basic Law which allows ministers appointed by the Prime Minister to resign from the Knesset (Israel’s legislature) but continue to remain a minister; their Knesset seat is subsequently taken by the next person on their party’s list. The party list is the slate of candidates a party puts up for election and any number of them do not actually make it into the parliament. This legislation became commonly known as the ‘Norwegian Law’ due to a similar system in place in Norway. The Norwegian Law has faced criticism for its high cost by adding more lawmakers to the government, especially during a financial crisis stemming from a global pandemic.
Why did Ohana invoke it? Ohana has voted in opposition to his party’s stance on LGBTQ issues in the past, but more often has refrained from voting for legislation in support of the LGBTQ community in order to spare confrontations with the rest of his party. Ohana claims that he decided to step down from the Knesset (but not the cabinet), so he could focus more on his duties as Security Minister and free up his Knesset seat for a “member who can be more involved in the legislative process.” Ohana’s resignation from the Knesset will spare any further confrontations with his party over any LGBTQ votes.
Ohana’s residence now a protest location: As anti-corruption and economic protests continue to rock the country, an audio tape that was leaked to the press featuring Security Minister Ohana unloading on Jerusalem police and other officials drew fire away from Netanyahu and on to himself. In the tape, Ohana told the police they were failing to crack down on the escalating demonstrations in front of Netanyahu’s official residence. On Tuesday, thousands of protestors demonstrated in front of Ohana’s Tel Aviv apartment building and at least five people were wounded after being attacked by right-wing activists who infiltrated the march.
Football club fans responsible for violence? Eyewitnesses said the violent attacks on the protesters Tuesday night in front of Ohana’s residence were committed by members of “La Familia,” a group of fans of the Israeli football club Beitar Jerusalem. The club members are far-right and pro-Likud activists who are known for routinely abusive behavior toward opposing players. It was reported that at least 16 members of the group were arrested after the attacks.
President Rivlin responds to violence: President Reuven Rivlin and Defense Minister Benny Gantz denounced the assault of protestors. Gantz said that the violence could drive the country to “civil war.” Rivlin defended the right of protest and warned that violence and incitement “will not be tolerated.” Meanwhile, the Knesset has taken over a review of police tactics, especially the issue of firing water cannons at protesters. There was another anti-corruption protest in front of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s residence Monday evening of over 1,500 protestors with no arrests or reports of violence. More anti-Netanyahu protests are planned for this weekend not only in Israel, but in San Francisco, New York, London, and Berlin.
Another election looms as budget talks fail: Despite Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statements to the contrary, Israel may be on the verge of calling for new elections this year, which would be the fourth election in two years. Though Netanyahu agreed to a two-year budget in the coalition agreement, he now only wants to pass a budget for the remainder of the current year. Alternate Prime Minister Gantz, meanwhile, is insisting on sticking to the agreed upon two-year budget. Netanyahu is believed to be doubling down on the one-year budget as a way of leaving himself the option to dissolve the government next year. That way, he could avoid Gantz automatically becoming prime minister according to the coalition agreement. Should the budget talks fail to come to a conclusion by August 25, an election will be automatically triggered for this November.
INSIDE THE U.S.
Democratic party will not condition aid to Israel but seeks to return to “mutual compliance” of Iran deal
Democratic platform will not condition aid to Israel: The Democratic National Committee’s platform voted Monday to reject any language which would condition U.S. assistance to Israel if Israel moves forward with plans to apply sovereignty to parts of the West Bank. The party’s platform, which guides the party’s policy agenda for the next four years, mentions the need of a “strong, secure and democratic Israel” which is “vital” to U.S. interests. The platform pledges to maintain security funding for Israel and backing for a two-state solution.
On Jerusalem and Iran: The platform states that “while Jerusalem is a matter for final status negotiations, it should remain the capital of Israel, an undivided city accessible to people of all faiths.” This presumably means that the U.S. embassy which President Donald Trump moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem will remain in Jerusalem. On Iran, the platform calls for “returning to mutual compliance” with the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, from which the U.S. withdrew in 2018.
Iranian-Jewish prosecutor running to be Manhattan’s DA: A prominent, progressive, Jewish candidate has announced a run for Manhattan’s district attorney, unequivocally the most important role of its kind. Tali Farhadian Weinstein is an Iranian-born Jew who came to the U.S. as a child, via Israel, after the Iranian Revolution. Farhadian Weinstein, 44, said, “Pursuing cases that don’t advance public safety and that might actually perpetuate injustice instead, like racial disparities or criminalized poverty, those are things that we should stand down from.” Weinstein has a very impressive background, including a clerkship with Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. Not only did former Attorney General Eric Holder endorse Farhadian Weinstein, but he narrated her campaign’s launch video. The election is next year.
Social media giants Facebook and Twitter refuse to curb antisemitism on their platforms
Knesset hearing on antisemitism with Twitter exposes double standard: During a Knesset hearing on antisemitism, a representative of Twitter said that the site will not censor or remove messages from the Ayatollah of Iran that call for the destruction of Israel and genocide of Jews. Although Twitter has flagged some tweets of U.S. President Donald Trump, the site refuses to do the same for Ayatollah Khamenei, instead saying that his posts are “comments on political issues of the day.” Twitter officials also said they would not remove Holocaust denial, saying that they will only remove posts “if the content tries to directly threaten or harass on the basis of religion.”
Holocaust survivors pressure Facebook to remove Holocaust denial posts: Well-known Holocaust survivors from around the world started an online campaign to pressure Facebook to remove posts that constitute Holocaust denial. The campaign is promoting the message that “Holocaust denial posts on Facebook are hate speech and must be removed.” Facebook, and its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg, refuse to classify Holocaust denial as hate speech and therefore refuse to remove it. Facebook will only restrict access to this content in countries where Holocaust denial is illegal. A Facebook spokesperson said, “while we object to many ideas expressed on Facebook, including those who deny facts about the Holocaust, we do not remove content from Facebook simply for being false.”
Seth Rogen comments that “Israel doesn’t make sense”: Seth Rogen drew criticism this week for comments he made about Israel on Marc Maron’s WTF Podcast in a discussion about Jewish identity. Rogen questioned why the Jewish state should exist and without providing evidence said he was “fed a huge amount of lies about Israel.” Maron concurred and said, “I get frightened to talk about it.” Rogen said about Israel’s existence, “If it is for religious reasons, I don’t agree with it, because I think religion is silly. If it is for truly the preservation of Jewish people, it makes no sense, because again, you don’t keep something you’re trying to preserve all in one place — especially when that place is proven to be pretty volatile, you know? ‘I’m trying to keep all these things safe, I’m gonna put them in my blender and hope that that’s the best place… that’ll do it.’” Seth has tweeted responses to criticism that his comments were meant to be humorous.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
Today we celebrate the creators and stars of the Netflix show “Unorthodox,” which was nominated for three Emmy awards for Best Limited Series, Best Directing, and Best Acting for Israeli lead Shira Haas! The four-part television series won much critical acclaim as a dramatic portrayal of one woman’s story of leaving the ultra-Orthodox Satmar community.
Today in 2002, an East Jerusalem Hamas cell carried out a terror bombing attack at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, killing nine people, including five Americans. About 85 people were injured, including Israelis, Arabs, Americans and South Koreans. The Hamas cell responsible for this attack and other attacks are serving multiple life sentences in Israeli prison. The attack, which sparked a celebration in Gaza City, was condemned by several countries and United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan.