News Digest — 12/2/20

Bahraini Minister: We Will Make Peace With Israel A Success Story

Israel and Bahrain are working to quickly bring the normalization of their ties to fruition, Bahraini Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed bin Rashid Al Zayani said in Jerusalem on Wednesday (2nd).

Al Zayani said “the whole world is watching, and we are determined to make this a success story and a case study for others.”

The Bahraini minister led the first-ever trade delegation from his country to Israel, since normalization was announced in September.  He arrived on Tuesday (1st) with 40 government officials and businesspeople.  Israel and Bahrain signed agreements to cooperate in tourism and culture during Al Zayani’s visit.

The Bahraini minister met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi on Wednesday (2nd).

Peace between Bahrain and Israel “leaves this world a better place for future generations than the one we inherited,” he told Netanyahu.  “Peace has been signed, the foundation has been laid, it is now upon us…to move forward and forge peace by having direct, constant integration between business communities, which we believe will filter down to the common citizen.”

“We are genuine about this and fully committed…We’re moving at quite a fast pace because we want to catch up on lost time,” Al Zayani said.

The Israeli and Bahraini economies are diverse with many opportunities for synergy to improve citizens’ lives, the minister told Ashkenazi.

Netanyahu said peace between Israel and Bahrain is being realized “because of the courageous decision made by Bahrain’s King Hamad bin Isal Al Khalifa and because of the extraordinary energy and initiative of Bahrainis and Israelis who are eager to raise one another up, get to know one another and do business with one another.”

Ashkenazi spoke of the importance of peace, saying that as someone who spent decades in the IDF, becoming its chief of staff, he is “fully aware of the price of the alternative.”

“I am happy and proud and privileged that during the time I am serving as foreign minister of Israel, we are seeing the beginning of change in the region and bringing peace,” he said. 



TIME Picks 6 Israeli Inventions For Its Best Of 2020 List

Six Israeli products on TIME magazine’s “Best Inventions of 2020: 100 Innovations Changing How We Live” were cited as inventions “making the world better, smarter and even a bit more fun.”

Nominations from the magazine’s global editors and correspondents were judged on the basis of “originality, creativity, effectiveness, ambition and impact.”

Augmedics (headquartered in Chicago with R&D in Yokneam Illit) won a place on the list for Xvision, “a headset that uses augmented reality to turn a patient’s CT scan into a 3-D visualization that helps guide a spinal surgeon through operations.”

Beewise of Beit HaEmek was cited for Beehome, its artificially intelligent hive that monitors inhabitants and responds automatically to dangers such as parasites or irregular temperatures.  Beehome can “double pollination capacity and honey production, while decreasing colonies’ mortality rate.”

City Transformer’s folding electric car, a two-seater still in the prototype phase, was chosen for its ability to “retract its wheels, pulling them closer to achieve a one-meter width for narrow streets and snug spots” yet able to reach speeds of up to 55 miles per hour.”

Incredo Sugar by Petah Tikva-based food-tech company DouxMatok made the list for “a newly engineered form of the sweetener that allows bakers and food companies to reduce sugar content by 30-50% while retaining the same level of sweetness.”

Carfoldio’s Mifold Hifold Fit-and-Fold High-back Booster Seat got the judges’ nod for being “the world’s most adjustable high-back booster seat,” designed for kids from 33 to 100 pounds.  The seat has “adjustable head, torso and seat panels and collapses to roughly the size of a backpack for easy toting.”

TrialJectory earned a spot on TIME’s list for “a service that uses AI to read through thousands of clinical trials and extract information about the sorts of patients the researchers are looking for.  Its algorithm then matches users with the clinical trials,” mostly focused on experimental cancer treatments.  The company has offices in Tel Aviv and New York. 



Iran’s Parliament Advances Bill To Stop Nuclear Inspections

Iran’s parliament Tuesday (2nd) advanced a bill that would end UN inspections of its nuclear facilities and require the government to boost its uranium enrichment if European signatories to the 2015 nuclear deal do not provide relief from oil and banking sanctions.

The vote to debate the bill, which would need to pass through several other stages before becoming law, was a show of defiance after the killing of prominent Iranian nuclear scientist Mohsen Fakhrizadeh last week.  Iranian supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has the final say on all nuclear policies.

Iran’s official IRNA  news agency said 251 lawmakers in the 290-seat chamber voted in favor, after which many began chanting “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!”

The bill would give European countries three months to ease sanctions on Iran’s key oil and gas sector, and to restore its access to the international banking system.  The US imposed crippling sanctions on Iran after US President Donald Trump withdrew from the nuclear agreement, triggering a series of escalations between the two sides. 

The bill would have authorities resume enriching uranium to 20%, which is below the threshold needed for nuclear weapons but higher than that required for civilian applications.  It would also commission new centrifuges at nuclear facilities at Natanz and the underground Fordo site.

Parliament would need to hold another vote to pass the bill, which would also require approval by the Guardian Council, a constitutional watchdog.  Lawmakers have pressed for a more confrontational approach since the US withdrew from the nuclear agreement in 2018.

Some Iranian officials have suggested that the International Atomic Energy Agency, which has been regularly inspecting Iran’s nuclear facilities in recent years as part of the 2015 agreement, may have been a source of intelligence for Fakhrizadeh’s killers. 



Pandemic Robs Bethlehem Of ‘Christmas Cheer’

The coronavirus has cast a pall over Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem, all but shutting down the biblical town revered as Jesus’ birthplace at the height of the normally cheery holiday season.

Missing are thousands of international pilgrims who normally descend upon the town.  Restaurants, hotels and souvenir shops are closed.  The renowned Christmas tree lighting service will be limited to a small group of authorized people, as will church services on Christmas Eve.

One of the hotels was the site of the town’s first coronavirus outbreak – when a group of Greek tourists came down with the virus last March.  Since then the hotel was forced to close until the COVID-19 pandemic is over.

Elyas al-Arja, the head of the city’s hotel association, said Bethlehem received some 3 million tourists in 2019.  He said that number is close to zero this year.

“Sixty percent of the city relies on tourism, and their income disappeared when the tourists disappeared,” said al-Arja, a cousin of the Angel Hotel owner.

The Ambassador Hotel, which is located near the Church of the Nativity – built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was born – has reopened one floor in hopes that some local visitors may come celebrate in the coming weeks.

However, the Palestinian Authority this week imposed a new nighttime curfew to help contain a spike in coronavirus cases.  People must remain in doors from 7 p.m. until 6 a.m. – and Bethlehem is included in the lockdown.

Officials say the lockdown could be extended through Christmas and into the New Year.

Bethlehem’s Mayor, Anton Salman said that the famed Christmas tree lighting, scheduled for Thursday (3rd), will be limited to 15 guests.  Salman said that the Midnight Mass at the church will also be scaled back.

“No one wants to take the responsibility for inviting large numbers of people to our Christmas events,” said Salman, “so nothing will be the same during the pandemic.”  



Dead Pig Found Outside Rabbi’s Door In Heavily Orthodox New Jersey Town

A dead pig’s body was found outside the door of a rabbi in the heavily Orthodox township of Lakewood, New Jersey.

The body was found on Shabbat, according to the Lakewood Scoop, and the local police department is treating the incident as a bias crime.  Pigs are seen as the quintessential unkosher animal and have long-been used as an anti-Semitic symbol.

“We will not tolerate such acts in our town,” Lakewood police chief Greg Meyer told the Scoop, a local publication in the south Jersey town of 106,000.

The New York-New Jersey office of the Anti-Defamation League linked the incident to previous acts to Anti-Semitism in Ocean County, which includes Lakewood.

“The incident that took place in Lakewood on Saturday (11/28) is absolutely horrifying,” ADL NY/NJ regional director Scott Richman said in a statement.  “No individual or group deserves to be targeted in this way.  ADL has been deeply concerned by the rising tide of anti-Semitism in Ocean County, and this matter is no exception.”