Shabbat Shalom and Merry Christmas to those who celebrate!
Today we’re diving into:
Inside Israel: Israel’s third lockdown; new political parties; UN’s anti-Israel bias; Orthodox protest over draft dodger arrest; and West Bank goods now “Israeli”
Peace Deals: Delegation to Morocco; and possibility of normalization with Indonesia
Israel’s Neighbors: Palestinian murderer caught; Iran rocket attack; Pakistan’s release of Daniel Pearl’s murderers; and Azerbaijan’s mediation between Israel and Turkey
The Americas: Argentinian terrorist freed; U. California’s antisemitic professor; NYT’s antisemitic editorial; and blaming Israel over the COVID-19 relief bill
Inside Europe: Vandalisms throughout Europe; Jews spreading tolerance in Belgium; and Ukraine Airlines to settle with Jewish couple
Celebrate & Remember: Treatment for deafness; and Christmas 2020
Israel ends 2020 in a lockdown with a vaccine push, and new elections
Source: @YuliEdelstein / Twitter, December 22, 2020
Israel to commence third lockdown Sunday: Facing its third wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Israel announced it will commence a third lockdown of the country beginning Sunday, December 27. Currently, 40 people are known to have tested positive for the U.K. strain of the virus that is apparently 70% more transmissible, perhaps accounting for the exploding case numbers. Since Wednesday evening, Israel has been closed off to outsiders, barring entry to all except Israeli citizens who must stay in government-operated coronavirus hotels for 10 days upon their entry to Israel. Although the lockdown is scheduled to last for two weeks, it is likely to be extended beyond. The lockdown had originally included having schools partially remain open only until 1 p.m. each day, however after swift backlash, the government reversed its position, saying that, for certain ages, schools will remain open. On the vaccine front, Israel is outpacing most of the world, ranking second in number of vaccine doses doled out per capita, only to Bahrain. The government has approved using an extra dose found in each of the Pfizer vaccine vials, which could mean an additional 800,000 people can be vaccinated in the coming months. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the bold claim that the Jewish state could be the first in the world to overcome the pandemic “within a few weeks.”
Knesset dissolves as Netanyahu’s allies turn on him: Israel’s parliament has dissolved as political players blamed one another and jockeyed into their best positions ahead of Israel’s fourth elections in two years. Ex-Likud member Gideon Sa’ar and ex-Yesh Atid member Ofer Selah both quit their respective parties, independently from one another, saying they do not trust the leaders Prime Minister Netanyahu and Opposition Leader Yair Lapid to dig Israel out from the current political crisis. Although Selah has not managed to siphon any additional members away from Yesh Atid, Sa’ar has, in quite dramatic fashion, stolen some of Netanyahu’s most important allies. One such addition was Ze’ev Elkin, whose joining Sa’ar’s party was kept secret until the very last minute. Elkin has stood by Netanyahu’s side for decades, yet he blasted the Prime Minister for the repeated fall of the government over recent years and called the Likud party a “cult of personality” in an astonishing rebuke. Two other Likud members switched sides this week. One of them, Michal Shir, pretended to be sick and, in a move that sparked fury and outrage from her Likud colleagues, secretly snuck into the parliament to vote against a bill that would have averted new elections. Continuing Netanyahu’s disastrous week, one other former Netanyahu ally, Yamina’s Naftali Bennet, announced he would not support Netanyahu for Prime Minister, saying: “When we needed him most, he simply wasn’t there. We need to thank for his years of service, but we need to move on.”
UN passes 17 condemnations of Israel; more than double rest of world: The United Nations this week passed two more resolutions of condemnation against Israel, bringing this year’s total to 17. During the same period, the UN has passed a total of six resolutions condemning all other countries, fewer than half the number against Israel. One such resolution was aimed at North Korea, for example, and another one at Syria. The four other condemnations concerned Myanmar, Iran, and two for Russia’s occupation of Crimea. The executive director of UN Watch said: “The UN’s assault on Israel with a torrent of one-sided resolutions is surreal. It’s absurd that in the year 2020, out of a total 23 of UN General Assembly resolutions that criticize countries, more than 70 percent were focused on one single country: Israel.” Although the U.S. stood firmly against all the resolutions targeting Israel, other Western allies, like Britain, France, and Germany, voted in favor of them more than two-thirds of the time. Examples of the resolutions targeting Israel were titled: “the Exercise of the Inalienable Rights of the Palestinian People,” “Permanent sovereignty of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem,” and “Israeli practices affecting the human rights of the Palestinian people in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.” The many resolutions which mentioned holy sites in Israel referred to the Temple Mount solely as “the Haram al-Sharif.”
Orthodox protest arrest of draft dodger: After a 20-year-old ultra-Orthodox draft dodger was arrested, thousands of ultra-Orthodox protested in the streets of Jerusalem, shutting down some traffic. The protests were denounced by the IDF Chief of Staff for being “wild and unrestrained.” One police officer was struck in the head by a bottle thrown at him, requiring medical care. Two demonstrators were arrested for their behavior. Avigdor Lieberman, head of the right-wing, secular party Yisrael Beiteinu, said: “When they want to recruit [around a common goal], they sure do know how to.” Ultra-Orthodox Israelis have historically not been conscripted into the military like all other Jewish citizens, but the Israeli Supreme Court recently ruled that the Knesset must revise its statutes exempting yeshiva students.
U.S. to require West Bank imports be labeled “Israeli”: Changing longstanding U.S. policy, U.S. Customs and Border Protection will now require products from certain areas of the West Bank to be labeled “Made in Israel.” Products made specifically in Area C, the part of the West Bank under full Israeli control as designated in the Oslo Accords, are to have their labels changed. Products from Areas A and B will retain their designation of “Made in West Bank.” CBP said the change came in response to “guidance from the U.S. Department of State that the country of origin marking requirements for goods produced in certain areas of the West Bank be updated to reflect the fact that producers in these areas operate within the economic and administrative framework of Israel.” There will be a 90-day period for importers to implement the change.
Israel & Morocco ink deals, agree to reopen mutual offices within weeks
U.S. and Israeli delegation travel to Morocco: After Jared Kushner and senior American and Israeli diplomats marked the first direct flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat, Morocco, Israel and Morocco signed an agreement to “resume full official contacts.” The delegation met with Morocco’s king, Mohammed VI, who has been a tepid proponent of contacts with Israel. The agreement, however, did not go as far as the normalization agreements Israel signed with the UAE and Bahrain under the Abraham Accords. Israel is pushing to accelerate normalization and commence full bilateral diplomatic relations. Unlike the Gulf states, Morocco has had diplomatic relations with Israel in the past. The ties were severed two decades ago at the start of the Second Intifada. In Morocco, Kushner announced that the U.S. will open a consulate to Morocco in Dakhla in the Western Sahara, signaling its full commitment to recognition of Moroccan sovereignty over the territory. Direct flights between Israel and Morocco are expected to launch “within two to three months,” according to Morocco’s Tourism Minister.
U.S. enticing Indonesia to normalize with Israel: The head of the newly created U.S. International Development Finance Corporation, a governmental body charged with infusing capital into development projects in lower-income countries, said that the Trump administration is seeking to entice Indonesia into recognition of Israel. In the waning days of the Trump administration, Adam Boehler, USIDFC’s CEO, said the government would be willing to provide Indonesia with up to $2 billion more in investment for recognizing Israel. One Congressional aide, though, warned Indonesia to be wary of Trump administration promises in its final days. The aide also criticized Boehler’s attempts at politics, saying: “The Development Finance Corp. was designed as a development tool, not an incentive for political developments.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that “many, many more countries” would be signing normalization agreements with the Jewish state “a lot sooner than people expect.”
ISRAEL’S NEIGHBORS, NEAR & NOT SO FAR
Palestinian arrested and reportedly confesses in terrorist killing of Israeli mother of six
A photo released by the IDF shows soldiers in the West Bank detaining a suspect in the suspected murder of Esther Horgen (Source: @IDF / Twitter, December 24, 2020)
Palestinian murderer caught: The Israeli security services arrested a 36-year-old Palestinian man they said was responsible for the murder of an Israeli woman in the West Bank last week. The man, who is from the Palestinian city of Jenin, was arrested alongside an unstated number of suspected accomplices. The Palestinian man apparently confessed to the murder, saying he had been waiting in the forest nearby the Israeli settlement of Tal Menashe to strike at any Jewish passersby. The victim, Esther Horgen, was 52 at her death and the mother of six children, the youngest of whom was just Bar Mitzvahed.
Iran rocket attack may lead to U.S. closing Iraq embassy: In what could be a prelude to retaliation against Iran, the U.S. is reportedly considering quickly closing its embassy in Baghdad, Iraq after a series of rocket attacks on Sunday on Iraq’s Green Zone by Iranian-backed militias, according to two sources in Axios familiar with the discussions. The attack killed at least one Iraqi civilian and damaged the embassy compound. President Trump warned Iran on Wednesday, “Some friendly health advice to Iran: If one American is killed, I will hold Iran responsible. Think it over.” Trump’s post was followed by a statement from United States Central Command, which called the attacks on Sunday the largest in a decade. Officials say an American strike in response could be inevitable if any Americans are killed before Inauguration Day. January 3 marks the anniversary of the American strike that killed Qassim Soleimani, Iranian terror mastermind — a killing that Iranian leaders regularly insist they have yet to avenge.
Pakistan releases men accused of killing Daniel Pearl: Four men accused of orchestrating the 2002 kidnapping and murder of American journalist Daniel Pearl were released by a provincial court in Pakistan on Thursday, including the main suspect earlier sentenced to death for masterminding the killing. Though the men were acquitted earlier this year, the court previously ordered that they should remain in custody while the Pearl family appeals. The suspects will remain free unless the family is successful in overturning the acquittals.
Azerbaijan seeks to mediate between Israel and Turkey: According to Barak Ravid at Axios, Azerbaijan is attempting to mediate between Israel and Turkey, its mutual allies whose relationship has deteriorated significantly in the last decade. The decision on Azerbaijan’s part comes after both Israel and Turkey assisted in its war with Armenia since September that resulted in its victory and successful capture of parts of Nagorno-Karabakh. Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, reportedly raised the prospect of Azerbaijani-mediated talks between Israel and Turkey on a call with Turkish President Recep Erdoğan. One Israeli official said: “Aliyev and his senior advisers have communicated that they want to see both of their good friends — Turkey and Israel — getting back to normal relations and they are willing to help to make that happen.”
Argentinian man found not guilty in deadly bombing at Jewish center
The aftermath of the AMIA bombing which killed 85 people, July 18, 1994
Terrorist responsible for deadly attack on Jews freed: The terrorist suspected of being responsible for delivering and providing the bomb that detonated at the Jewish organization, Argentine Israelite Mutual Association, in Buenos Aires in 1994 has been found not guilty by an Argentinian court. The AMIA and umbrella organization Delegación de Asociaciones Israelitas Argentinas sharply criticized the decision, saying: “Of course we intend to appeal the court’s decision. We’re very concerned for the Argentinian judiciary system.” They also said: “the ample evidence provided against the defendant had the forcefulness and relevance needed to be able to convict the one who collaborated so that the attack could be carried out.” The AMIA bombing, which killed 85 people, is the deadliest attack on Jews since the Holocaust and the largest terrorist attack in Argentinian history; it was perpetrated by Hezbollah with funding from Iran. In 2017, Former Argentinian President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner was charged with high treason for her pact with Iran to jointly investigate the bombing, which acted as a cover-up. Argentina is home to a Jewish community of between 180,000- 270,000, the largest in Latin America and sixth in the world outside Israel.
U. California professor deletes Twitter account full of antisemitism: J. The Jewish News of California discovered a professor at the University of California Merced’s engineering school is the owner of a Twitter account that was full of antisemitic posts. The content was described by the Anti-Defamation League as “repulsive” and promoting “antisemitic tropes.” On June 14, Professor Abbas Ghassemi tweeted “… reality bites!!!!!!” along with a photo of a “Zionist brain” with labels such as “frontal money lobe,” “Holocaust memory centre,” and “world domination lobe.” On Dec. 13, wrote, “the Zionists and IsraHell interests have embedded themselves in every component of the American system, media, banking, policy, commerce … just a veneer of serving US interest and population — everyone pretends that is the case.” The account was recently deactivated, and the university did not say whether they would take any action against Ghassemi.
NYT publishes editorial with antisemitic falsehoods: On Tuesday, The New York Times printed an opinion piece by contributing opinion writer Viet Thanh Nguyen titled “The Post-Trump Future of Literature” containing antisemitic falsehoods, such as arguing that Israel is a natural ally for the U.S. because they are both of “settler colonial origins” and that, “The only Americans — many of Palestinian descent — getting canceled by being fired, denied tenure or threatened with lawsuits are the ones who denounce Israeli settler colonialism and speak out for the Palestinian people.” Journalist Jesse Singal tweeted, “How does a sentence like this that is just completely, obviously false, and which is debunkable with about two seconds of Googling, get published in the Times?” to which Israeli journalist Haviv Rettig Gur replied, “let me suggest, in the spirit of rooting out systemic prejudices and structural inequalities, that there’s a reason this specific falsehood can get printed. Some lies are more valid and acceptable than others.”
Trump threatens to reject COVID-19 relief after viral, false Israel aid post: The U.S. COVID-19 relief bill, which overwhelmingly passed the House and Senate this week, was ridiculed online for including aid to Israel, even though it did not actually include those provisions. The relief bill was passed alongside the annual omnibus spending bill, which does include foreign aid, including $500 million earmarked for Israel in 2016 by the Obama administration. The misinformation, however, spread rapidly online, targeting the aid to Israel despite the bill’s inclusion of hundreds of millions of dollars for other nations as well. The inaccuracies became so widespread that it seems to have made its way to the president, who threatened to veto the COVID-19 relief over the foreign aid, even though it was his own administration’s demand to include the aid in the spending bill.
Several European Jewish sites vandalized in spate of attacks
Source: @ShalomBulgariaOrganization / Facebook, December 23, 2020
Five antisemitic vandalisms hit Europe: A string of five antisemitic vandalisms occurred at Jewish sites throughout Europe this week. Outside of Sofia, Bulgaria, a synagogue was defaced with the words “Free Palestine Israel=Nazis Antifa Bulgaria.” A Jewish cemetery near Madrid, Spain similarly had its gates defaced with the language “good Jew dead Jew” and “murdering Jews we will hang you.” In Halle, Germany, a memorial to those killed in the Yom Kippur shooting last year was smashed and lit on fire. Krumbach, Germany had its cemetery desecrated and, lastly, Babruysk, Berlarus’ Jewish cemetery had its metal fences and railings torn down. The Federation of Jewish Communities in Spain said the incidents were “intolerable.”
Jewish students spread tolerance on Belgian trains: Belgium’s Union of Belgium’s Jewish Students took to train stations this week in response to an antisemitic incident from earlier this month. On Dec. 9, four men hijacked a train’s public address system to broadcast the following message: “the cancer Jews need to leave the train now or we’ll blow you all up.” The train was journeying from Antwerp to Mechelen, from which the Nazis deported Jews to death camps in Poland. Jewish students this week instead broadcasted a message of tolerance: “We would like to wish the Jews, but also all the other people present on this train who are discriminated against on the basis of their culture, their religion, their gender, their sexual orientation or their skin color, an excellent journey on board the SNCB trains (the National railway company of Belgium).” The perpetrators of the Dec. 9 incident have not been identified or caught.
Ukraine Airlines to settle with Jewish couple: After a suit was filed in court in Israel, Ukraine Airlines will settle with Jewish passengers who say they were subjected to antisemitic taunts by airline employees while attempting to board a flight from Vienna to Tel Aviv last year. The Israeli couple say that when their luggage was over the weight limit, they removed items (a heavy coat in particular) from within and attempted to don them on the flight. When doing so, employees remarked “why do Jews always have issues with paying?” and “it’s only €60 and the Jews have a problem paying it.” The court said the passengers were treated “in a way that suggests that they were humiliated because of their religion and country of origin.” The Israeli couple will be compensated with 5,000 Israeli shekels.
CELEBRATE & REMEMBER
The Christmas tree in Mary’s Well Square, Nazareth, December 21, 2020 (Credit: Eyal Toueg)
Today we celebrate a new study, in which a team of scientists at Tel Aviv University and Harvard Medical School announced their “promising” development of a treatment to cure children born with a genetic predisposition to deafness. The treatment uses a specially designed synthetic virus, which inserts itself into the body’s cells and recodex the genes with the mutation that leads to deafness. The cure has successfully treated mice with the genetic mutation but has yet to be tested on humans. The scientists explained, “We injected the virus into the inner ear of the mice, so that it entered the hair cells and released its genetic payload.” Although one in 200 children are born with a hearing disability, this treatment would only potentially work for children born with a very specific mutation that it is designed to edit.
On this day, December 25, 2020, Gregorian Christmas is being celebrated worldwide and in Israel and the Palestinian Territories in an unprecedented manner. This will be the first Christmas in history where access is entirely restricted to Christian holy sites in cities like Bethlehem in the West Bank and Nazareth in Israel. With no tourists allowed entry into Israel, businesses that make their year’s living off of the Christmas tourist season are struggling to survive. Sadly, church bells will ring to empty courtyards. “Bethlehem is dead,” said one Palestinian hotel owner.