News Digest — 1/19/21

Could Israel’s Skies Remain Closed To Foreigners For The Rest Of 2021?

As Israel powers through its campaign to vaccinate the entire population against coronavirus, concerns remain high about the rapidly developing variants of the virus, which were the subject of a meeting attended by high-ranking civil aviation officials in Israel recently.

The meeting, the main points of which were obtained by Israel Hayom, discussed a few optimistic points about the Israeli vaccination program.  However, officials present said it was “not an exaggeration” to expect that no foreign citizens would be allowed to enter Israel for the rest of 2021, a scenario that would decimate the nation’s tourism sector.

Officials in the meeting also discussed an expected recovery in the aviation sector as Israelis who are vaccinated and issued “green passports” resume travel abroad.  Destinations mentioned as likely to be popular with Israelis included Cyprus, Dubai, Bahrain, Morocco and the Seychelles.

Ben Gurion International Airport is working to make itself a COVID-free space by implementing a number of steps that will likely include frequent COVID tests for airport employees and strict enforcement of public health protocols.

As of Monday (18th), nothing said in the meeting had been formally announced.  Decisions are expected to be taken over the next few weeks—although not by the Israel Airports Authority officials who were in the meeting, although they are in regular contact with the political echelon that does make policy decisions.

The population administration in the Interior Ministry, which issues visas for foreign citizens confirmed that no decision about entry for foreigners had been made.

As far as Israeli citizens, as of this week, any Israeli returning from any destination abroad is required to quarantine at home for 14 days, unless the Health Ministry approves a shorter quarantine after two negative tests.  Israelis returning from the United Arab Emirates, Brazil, South Africa, and Zambia are required to quarantine at a dedicated government-run hotel facility due to the spread of the South African COVID variant in these countries.

Anyone who refuses to be tested for COVID upon arrival from any country will also be required to quarantine at the hotel.

Meanwhile travel agents are reporting growing demand for vacation reservations for this coming spring and summer, due to the rapid vaccination effort, and the likelihood that fully vaccinated citizens will not be required to quarantine upon arrival.



US Embassy In Jerusalem Recognizes City’s Link To America’s Founding Values

The US Embassy in Jerusalem, along with the United States Commission for the Preservation of America’s Heritage Abroad, held a special ceremony at the City of David on Monday (18th) in recognition of the “seminal role” the archaeological site plays “in connecting its visitors to the origins of the values that helped shape America.”

“The archaeological discoveries at the City of David bring Biblical Jerusalem back to life and reaffirm the prophetic messages of freedom, justice and peace that inspired America’s founders,” read a statement released by the embassy.

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman and commission chairman Paul Packer dedicated a plaque in honor of the site.

“In modern America, we are inspired by many monuments that remind us of the history of our republic,” said Friedman at the ceremony.

“I’ve often wondered what monuments inspired our Founding Fathers.  When the drafters of the Declaration of Independence proclaimed that our Creator had endowed each and every American with certain unalienable rights, what monuments inspired them?  I suggest that those monuments are located right here, in the ancient city of Jerusalem.”

Friedman said that he hoped that the plaque would prompt all those who read it to think of the Judeo-Christian values upon which America was founded and “how those values were inspired by ancient Jerusalem and its inhabitants.”

Friedman, the first sitting US Ambassador to tour the City of David, has since visited with numerous senior US officials.

On June 30, 2019, he participated with other American dignitaries in the City of David’s inauguration of the “Pilgrimage Road,” the path taken by millions of pilgrims ascending from the Pool of Siloam up to the Temple more than 2,000 years ago.

In his remarks, Packer commended the City of David for its contribution to America’s heritage, adding that with the ceremony, “we are fulfilling another, larger purpose: to unify Americans around our foundational principles and values.  The City of David serves as a living testament to those enduring values, and it is our duty to ensure it remains for generations to come.”

The plaque reads in part: “As the prophet Isaiah said, ‘Out of Zion shall go forth the law and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.’  The spiritual bedrock of our values as a nation comes from Jerusalem.  It is upon these ideals that the American Republic was founded, and the unbreakable bond between the United States and Israel was formed.  The City of David serves as a proud member of the glorious heritage of the United States of America.”



French MP: Rescind Award Of Honorary Paris Citizen To Abbas Over Killing Of Esther Horgan

French Jewish MP Meyer Habib called on the mayor of Paris to rescind an award which she gave to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, following the murder of Esther Horgan earlier this month.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo presented Abbas with the Grand Medaille de Vermeil de la Ville de Paris medal on September 15, 2015.  The move made Abbas an honorary citizen of the French capital.

MP Habib spoke to Binyamin Horgan, the husband of Esther Horgan, who appealed to him to repeal the award which was given to Abbas.  Esther was a French citizen, as is Binyamin.

Habib agreed with the demand, saying: “It is unbearable that the city of Paris, the city of lights, the capital of France, pays homage to a person who publicly supports terrorism and pays terrorists in return for their attacks.”

“We can’t condemn terrorism when it hits the French in Paris on the one hand and at the same time close our eyes when the same terror strikes French citizens in Israel,” he said.

“It’s impossible to have ‘Tel Aviv on the Seine,’ to inaugurate a plaza in the name of Jerusalem in the heart of Paris, and in the same breath praise a former partner of Hamas, who for years opposed any attempt at true peace, condemns countries that dare to make peace with Israel, and who dreams of a Palestinian state not alongside Israel, but in place of Israel.  Mrs. Hidalgo, Esther was a Parisian girl, she grew up and studied here and the City of Lights was always in her heart.  Paris cannot remain indifferent to the brutal murder of one of its children.”



Iran Loses UN Voting Rights Over Unpaid Dues – Blames US Sanctions

Iran and six other countries lost their right to vote in the UN General Assembly, because they have not paid their dues, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said on Monday (18th).

Iran blamed US sanctions for blocking the Islamic Republic from paying its required contribution to the UN.

Guterres wrote a letter to General Assembly President Volkan Bozkir of Turkey that the countries in arrears to the UN will have their UNGA voting rights suspended in accordance with the UN charter, which calls for the suspension of voting rights if a member state fails to pay its fees for more than two years.

Iran owes $16.2 million, more than any other country.

Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said the funds designated for UN payments are frozen in two South Korean banks, due to US sanctions.  He said the Islamic Republic has a total of $7 billion in those banks.

Khatibzadeh demanded that the UN guarantee the payments be safely transferred without using US banks. 

“The other countries losing their UNGA voting rights are Niger, Libya, the Central African Republic, Congo Brazzaville, South Sudan and Zimbabwe.



Kinneret Rises Almost 2 Inches Amid Wet Winter Weather

The Kinneret (Sea of Galilee) rose by almost 2 inches on Monday (18th), rising to 668.6 feet below sea level as rain fell across Israel on Sunday (17th) and Monday (18th).  Snow also fell on Mount Hermon.

The lake is now 3.6 feet below the upper red line threshold, which marks 685 feet below sea level, and 10 feet above the lower red line, which marks 698.8 feet below sea level.

On Sunday night (17th), snow fell on Mount Hermon with about 4 inches accumulating on the bottom of the ski resort and about 10 inches at the peak.  It was a chilly 30.2 F there Monday morning (18th).  Mount Hermon is currently closed to visitors due to the coronavirus lockdown, and has not received permission to open as some other parks have, according to its spokesperson.

Further rain and snowfall is expected on Tuesday (19th) and Wednesday (20th), with strong winds on Tuesday and concerns of flooding on Wednesday.

The past two years have featured above average rainfall in Israel, with the Israel Hydrological Service announcing in May that the country had, for the first time in 30 years, experienced its second straight year of such rainfall with 24% more recorded.

In April, the Water Authority decided to open a canal to divert five billion liters of water from the Kinneret to the southern Jordan River, with the goal of bypassing the Daganya Dam to avoid negatively affecting pumping stations in the area and the financial costs required to open the dam.

The expectation had been that if the lake exceeded the upper red line threshold, the dam would be opened and the water would be diverted to the Jordan River.  The last time it was opened was in 2013.  The dam had been expected to be partially opened at the beginning of May to prevent flooding, according to the Kinneret Draining Authority.

Until only 15 years ago, the lake was one of Israel’s primary sources of drinking water, as the country’s first large-scale desalination facility in Ashkelon only became operational in 2005.