News Digest — 2/26/20

Netanyahu Stops Shaking Hands Over Coronavirus Fears

Amid an election campaign when handshakes are at the center of the effort to win as many votes as possible in the March 2 Knesset election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is nevertheless trying to avoid such contact with the people he meets each day, as fears grow over the spread of the coronavirus.

The prime minister was seen on a video which aired on Monday (24th) on Kan Israel public television showing a visit earlier in the day to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, one of Judaism’s holiest shrines, where the Jewish religion’s patriarchs and matriarchs are buried.

As Netanyahu mingled, a voice is heard calling out “no handshakes.”

The prime minister’s wife, Sara, adds: “It’s a government directive.”

The premier smiled as he greeted those around him.

Fears of a potential massive outbreak of the coronavirus in Israel surged over the weekend when the Health Minister announced that several people among a group of 77 South Koreans who had been on an eight-day tour of Israel tested positive for the potentially life-threatening disease after returning home earlier this month.

Among the places where the South Korean tourists had visited  was the Cave of the Patriarchs on February 13, according to the ministry.

“Netanyahu is acting responsibly and has recently cut down on handshakes due to the various reports and due to the fact that he meets with thousands of people a day,” said a source who was present during the visit by the prime minister to the Hebron shrine, as cited by Kan.



Bennett On Gaza Escalation: “We Are Preparing Something”

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett addressed the recent escalation in the south in an interview with Channel 12 News Tuesday evening (25th).

“I do not want short rounds [of fighting].  Now we have eliminated terrorists in both Gaza and Damascus and made a new rule.  The Prime Minister is telling the truth, we are preparing something – but we need a little patience,” the defense minister said.

Bennett explained the decision to end the current round of confrontation, saying, “I don’t want to do this campaign in a dragged-out manner because then you lose a good deal of effectiveness.  You don’t shoot a terrorist when he’s a thousand yards away from you but wait for him to reach 50 yards.”

Later, Bennett emphasized the link between the situation in the South and the 2005 Disengagement from Gaza.  “It has been 15 years since this stupidity of tearing away a piece of land and handing it over to the Arabs. I won’t give anymore – I won’t give another inch of land to the Arabs.”

“We need a regular plan under our conditions, not under their rules – we will set the rules.  They have another last chance to behave well,” Bennett explained.

The defense minister was asked about criticism of the use of a bulldozer to retrieve the body of a terrorist on the Gaza border and said: “I have been criticized for days from the left that it does not look good,  But I fully back the IDF troops, including the chief of staff, because I prefer to send a thousand bulldozers to Gaza that will protect IDF soldiers and not send soldiers like sitting ducks in a shooting range. I really like hearing advice from [former Defense Minister Moshe] Ya’alon.  We saw how during Operation Protective Edge he was afraid of destroying terror tunnels.”

“I have set a goal to bring home the bodies of Hadar Goldin and Oren Shaul and the others.  How will I do it?” Bennett asked. “If things have to be done that don’t look good on TV – I will do it.  And if more bodies are to be collected – I will collect more bodies, and if we have to pick up live terrorists, we will do that too.  We will produce bargaining cards to hurt them, it will be enough to present in front of Hamas.”



‘Deal Of The Century’ Takes Off, Israel-U.S. Mapping Team Tours Samaria

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Tourism Minister Yariv Levin, U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and the Israeli-American mapping team toured the Ariel area in Samaria Monday (24th), a preparatory stage toward implementation of President Donald Trump’s ‘Deal of the Century’ peace plan.

The Israeli-American team is mapping Judea and Samaria ahead of the application of Israeli sovereignty in parts of the region, as stipulated by the U.S. President’s peace plan.

The Israeli team includes Ronen Peretz, acting director-general of the Prime Minister’s office and Meir Ben-Shabbat, head of the National Security Council.

Aryeh Lightstone, senior adviser to Ambassador Friedman, and Scott Leith, director of Israeli and Palestinian affairs at the U.S. National Security Council, are on the American team.

Netanyahu stated that the mapping of Judea and Samaria “is a major mission.  The area has a 500 mile perimeter. There is serious work, but we will work as quickly as possible to get it done.”

“For the mapping process, we must consider every valley, every section, every nook and every line, this is serious.  We are determining lines here that have historic implications. Therefore, the work will be done as quickly as possible, and we will not stop for anything,” he added.

“In recent weeks we brought enormous news for the State of Israel.  My friend President Donald Trump clearly stated that he would recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley, the northern Dead Sea, and all Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria, as well as a broad area encompassing them,” Netanyahu said at an Israeli cabinet meeting on February 16.  



Netanyahu Expresses ‘Deep Sorrow’ Over Death Of ‘Personal Friend’ Mubarak

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday (25th) eulogized former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, who died earlier in the day at the age of 91 in a Cairo hospital.

“On behalf of the citizens and government of Israel, I would like to express deep sorrow on the passing of President Hosni Mubarak,” Netanyahu said in a statement.

“President Mubarak, my personal friend, was a leader who led his people to peace and security, to peace with Israel.  I met him many times. I was impressed by his commitment; we will continue to follow this common path.”

Netanyahu added that he sends condolences to Egypt’s current President, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, as well as to Mubarak’s family and to the Egyptian people.

The Israeli prime minister was one of the first international leaders to comment on Mubarak’s passing.

Israel’s Embassy in Cairo took to Twitter to express “great sadness” at the former president’s death.

The former Egyptian president maintained close ties with all Israeli leaders.  His last meeting with Netanyahu, in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheikh, took place in January 2011, about a month before he was deposed.

Mubarak rose to power after Islamic extremists assassinated his predecessor Anwar Sadat, then steered the nation through the turmoil that buffeted the Middle East with wars, terrorism and religious extremism.



Dozens Of New Immigrants Arrive In Israel From Ethiopia

JERUSALEM — More than 40 new immigrants arrived in Israel on Tuesday (25th) from Ethiopia, less than a week before national elections.  The new immigrants are from nine families and are being reunited with relatives who live in Israel. They are part of the Falash Mura community, which claim links to descendants of Jews who converted from Judaism generations ago, but seek to return to it.

The Israeli government earlier this month announced that it had approved the arrival of nearly 400 of the Falash Mura waiting in Gondor to immigrate and that it would try to bring them all to Israel before the March 2 elections.  But it only managed to locate 43 that it could immediately bring over.

Some 8,000 Falash Mura in Ethiopia are awaiting permission to immigrate to Israel, most of whom have some family members in Israel.  A Cabinet Resolution in 2015 committed to bring all 8,000 to Israel by 2020, but limited money has been allocated in successive budgets to make that happen.  In October 2018, the Cabinet approved a plan for the immigration of 1,000 in the following year who met the criterion of having first-degree relatives who entered Israel under previous government decisions regarding the Falash Mura community.  But in 2019, only 600 arrived.

About 140,000 Ethiopians live in Israel.



Carnival Float In Spain Features Nazi Uniforms And Trains With Crematoria

At a carnival procession in Spain on Sunday (23rd), participants dressed like Nazis and Jewish concentration camp prisoners were seen dancing next to a float evoking crematoria.

The Israeli Embassy in Madrid on Tuesday (25th) protested the display this weekend at the annual carnival procession in Campo de Criptana, a town situated about 80 miles southeast of the capital.

“We condemn the vile and repugnant representation that disrespects the victims of the Holocaust, while making fun of the murder of millions of Jews by the Nazis.  European nations must collectively fight anti-semitism,” the embassy wrote on Twitter.

A video of the procession shows the participants marching in their fake Nazi uniforms.  Behind them dancers wearing striped outfits evoking concentration uniforms followed waving Israeli flags.  Moving behind them was a float shaped like a train locomotive with two large chimneys.