News Digest — 3/16/20

Netanyahu And Gantz Meet With Israel’s President To Explore Unity

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz met on Sunday evening (15th) at the request of Israeli President Reuven Rivlin who led the meeting at his official residence in Jerusalem.

The discussion centered around the possibility of establishing an emergency unity government according to reports.

Early on Sunday (15th), Rivlin, who in the role of president is tasked with selecting the candidate most likely to succeed in forming a government, said he had decided to give Gantz the first opportunity after consulting with leaders of all the parties elected to parliament.

However, pundits have cast doubt on Gantz’s abilities to form a government.  Channel 12 journalist Amit Segal on Sunday (15th) said that the odds that Gantz would succeed were “zero,” noting that two members of Gantz’s own party would oppose a “minority government” – that is, one that would rest on the support of the Arab party, the Joint List.

Segal said that neither of the two parties wants to go to a fourth election.  He said that the chances were high that some kind of unity government would emerge.

At the president’s urging, after the meeting the two sides agreed to continue discussions between the Likud and Blue and White negotiating teams, according to a statement from Rivlin’s office.



Battling Coronavirus: Defense Minister Authorizes Call-up Of 2,000 Reservists

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett signed an order Sunday (15th) authorizing the Israeli Army to call up 2,000 reservists to help the country deal with the coronavirus crisis, Ynet news reported.

The army has been mobilizing reserve soldiers who are part of the Homefront Command, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) unit assigned to protect civilian areas.  The troops will be used to bolster the Magen David Adom national ambulance service, assist municipalities and help answer the tens of thousands of questions called in by worried Israelis on a daily basis.

The Homefront Command helps to “guide the public in preparation and behavior in time of emergency” by training Israel’s civilian population to be prepared for calamities ranging from rocket attacks to earthquakes.

The unit has an international reputation for its search and rescue brigade that responds to natural disasters, providing rescue and medical assistance in the wake of major earthquakes in Haiti, Turkey and Nepal.

Bennett held a briefing later Sunday (15th) with defense ministry officials including the head of the National Emergency Authority, the IDF’s deputy Chief of Staff, the head of the Homefront Command and the Coordinator of Operations in the Occupied Territories, where Israel has been working with the Palestinian Authority to help contain a coronavirus outbreak in Bethlehem.

As of Sunday (15th) there were over 200 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Israel, with tens of thousands of Israelis under mandatory two-week home quarantine having been in the vicinity of a known carrier.  To date there have been no fatalities in Israel associated with the virus.



Al-Aqsa Mosque And Dome Of The Rock Closed By Coronavirus

The coronavirus outbreak has caused the closures of the Temple Mount’s Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock until further notice, reports Reuters.

“The Islamic Waqf department decided to shut down the enclosed prayer places inside the blessed Aqsa Mosque, until further notice, as a protective measure to prevent the spread of coronavirus,” said Sheikh Omar Al-Kiswani, the Director of Al-Aqsa Mosque.

“As an alternative, the courtyards surrounding the two mosques will remain open for worshipers,” said Al-Kiswani.

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus on Israel’s shores, Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders have been cautioning worshipers to stay away from religious sites.

On Thursday (12th), Israel Sephardic Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef ruled that “according to Jewish law, praying at the Western Wall, the last remaining wall from the Second Temple Complex, should be avoided due to the danger of infection.”

“The corona virus can pass from a completely healthy person to someone else and endanger that second person.  That means absolute obedience to the instructions of health officials is required, even if they are difficult and inconvenient,” said Israel’s Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi David Lau, on Thursday (12th)

Following the outbreak of the deadly virus in Bethlehem earlier this month, the Church of the Nativity, built atop the site where Jesus is thought to have been born according to the Christian faith, closed until further notice.  



Almost 20,000 Americans Leave Israel In Past Two Weeks

Close to 200,000 foreign nationals left Israel in the past two weeks as the coronavirus grew worse, while in the opposite direction Israelis returned home in almost the same numbers, the Population and Immigration Authority reported Sunday (15th).

191, 242 foreigners left Israel including 13,309 who departed in one day last Thursday (12th).  During the same period 216,843 Israelis returned home, the Authority said in a press release on its website.  Those leaving the Holy Land included 19,246 Americans and at least 17,000 Europeans.

Since the decision last week to bar entry to foreigners unless they had a private home to self-quarantine for two weeks, some 500 people were turned away.

As the coronavirus epidemic spread, Israel was among the first countries to restrict air travel when it halted flights to and from China at the beginning of February.

The coronavirus has hit Israel’s airlines hard, with national flag carrier ELAL laying off 80% of its workforce and the tourism industry, a significant part of Israel’s economy, paralyzed by a total shutdown of the country, resulting from the latest moves by the government to stop the spread within Israel of what is now considered a pandemic.



Top Iranian Cleric Okays Buying Future Israeli Coronavirus Vaccine

A prominent Iranian cleric has said it is permissible to use a future coronavirus vaccine developed by Israel if “there is no substitute.”

The Iranian regime views Israel as a mortal enemy.  But Iran has also faced one of the most severe outbursts of the COVID-19 coronavirus outside its origin and epicenter in China.

“It is not permissible to buy and sell from Zionists and Israel,” Grand Ayatollah Naser Makarem Shirazi, 93, told the Iranian daily Hamdeli on Wednesday (11th).

“Unless the treatment is unique and there is no substitute,” he added, “then this is not an obstacle.”

Shirazi, one of the highest authorities in Shiite Islam and a former member of the regime’s Assembly of Experts that appoints the Supreme Leader, is considered among the regime’s more hard-line ideologues.

He has called the Holocaust a “superstition,”  opposes owning pets and objects to efforts allowing women to attend athletic events.

The response may reflect a regime in crisis.

At least 429 people have died in Iran from the coronavirus outbreak, according to Iranian officials, and more than 10,000 people were confirmed infected as of Thursday (12th).  International estimates suggest the death toll could be higher.



Italy: Jerusalem Stands With You

The walls of the Old City of Jerusalem were lit Sunday evening (15th) in green, white and red, the colors of the Italian flag in a show of solidarity with the people of Italy during the crisis over the coronavirus.

“Italy, Jerusalem stands with you,” said Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Leon.  “I wish all those suffering from coronavirus in Italy, in Israel and all over the world a swift and full recovery.”

Italy has placed itself in total lockdown in response to the coronavirus outbreak.  368 people in Italy have died in the last day as a result of the coronavirus. As a result, the death toll from the virus in Italy rose to 1,809 people.  In addition the number of infections in the country increased to 24,747 people.