News Digest — 3/17/20

No General Lockdown, But Netanyahu Announces New Restrictions To Thwart Coronavirus

While Benjamin Netanyahu specified on Monday (16th) that Israel was not instituting a “general lockdown,” the prime minister introduced a series of new restrictions in an effort to thwart the spread of the deadly coronavirus, including the possibility of locking down specific local areas with high concentrations of coronavirus cases.

Among new emergency restrictions that Netanyahu announced were a general reduction in economic activity in the private sector and digital tracking measures to monitor people who have the virus.  As of Tuesday (17th) private firms are expected to reduce on-location staff by 70 percent.

Essential services such as banking, medical facilities and pharmacies are continuing to operate.  Public transportation will also continue for the time being, but there will be changes in service.

Netanyahu also stressed the need to maintain a 6-foot “social distancing” perimeter at all times to avoid contracting the deadly virus.

The new measures will be in place until after Passover in April, said the prime minister.

Following Netanyahu’s address, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon made a number of announcements regarding benefits and government assistance for individuals financially affected by the corona crisis.

These efforts include facilitating unemployment benefits with greater ease and arranging grants for small businesses.



Sharansky: They’re Saying Jews Are To Blame For Coronavirus

Natan Sharansky warned at a conference held virtually under the auspices of the Combat Anti-Semitism (CAS) movement that anti-Semites are distributing materials blaming the Jews and Israel for the coronavirus pandemic, Israel National News  reported Monday (16th).

The famous Soviet refusenik said that Iran, Turkey and other countries are blaming Jews for spreading the coronavirus.  For example, Iran’s state-media is accusing “Zionists” of being responsible for the disease, which it falsely claimed was developed by Israeli scientists, Sharansky said.

Iran has pushed this line repeatedly.  On March 5, a headline blared on Iran’s state-funded Press TV: “Zionist Elements Developed Deadlier Strain of Coronavirus Against Iran.”

“They are blaming the Jews, accusing us of trying to destroy the Iranian economy in order to make money,” Sharansky said.

“They also blame Israel for causing the virus.  We know that accusing Jews of spreading plague is nothing new.  We saw it in the Middle Ages, during the Black Plague that swept through Europe.  Then, too, they accused Jews of causing the spread of disease,” he said.

“The difference between then and now is that today, we have a strong State of Israel, and we are determined to fight anti-Semitism and defeat it,” Sharansky said.

The conference had been scheduled to take place at the National Museum of American Jewish History in Philadelphia, but was held online due to the coronavirus outbreak.  Over 30,000 participated online.

Also participating in the event was the Trump administration’s Special Envoy for Monitoring and Combating Anti-Semitism, Elan Carr.

CAS’s director, Sacha Roytman-Dratwa, said, “The coronavirus epidemic provides fertile ground for the propagation of anti-Semitic propaganda.”

“Due to this, and in light of a general increase in anti-Semitic acts in recent months, we urge governments to take a firm stand against any emergence of anti-Semitism, and we also advise Jewish communities to take extra precautions,” he said.

CAS describes itself as a “non-partisan, global grassroots movement of individuals and organizations, across all religions and faiths, united around the goal of ending anti-Semitism.”



Coronavirus Kills Leading Iranian Ayatollah, As Worries Intensify

A member of the Assembly of Experts, which has the power to appoint or dismiss the country’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, has died from the COVID-19 illness caused by the virus, the semi-official Fars and Tasnim news agencies reported Monday (16th).

Ayatollah Hashem Bathaei, 78, is the latest of several Iranian officials to have been infected.  Cabinet Ministers, members of parliament, Revolutionary Guard members and Health Ministry officials have caught the virus, compounding fears about Iran’s response to the global pandemic.  A member of another clerical body that advises Iran’s supreme leader died earlier this month. Several other officials have also died.

Khamenei, who is 80 years old and has been in power since 1989 wore disposable gloves at a recent public event, apparently as a precaution.

Iran’s death toll from the new coronavirus has reached 853, with 129 new deaths in the past 24 hours, a Health Ministry official said on Monday (16th), adding that 15,000 people have been infected across Iran.

To contain the outbreak in Iran, one of the deadliest outside of China, officials have called on people to stay at home.

“Based on the figures, we have passed the peak of the outbreak, but I still suggest people stay at home, and in case of urgency, observe all health protocols,” said President Hassan Rouhani.



Plague Of Locusts Set To Descend Upon Middle East In Time For Passover

A plague of locusts, the likes unseen for over 30 years, is about to hit Africa and the Middle East.  Adding to the perfect Biblical storm, the current coronavirus pandemic is affecting travel of international experts and in-country gatherings for training to combat the locust threat, said Rome-based Senior Locust Forecasting Officer, Keith Cressman on Monday (16th).  

Cressman works at Locust Watch, a division of the United Nation Food and Agriculture Organization, which gives emergency assistance to countries facing desert locust invasions and constantly monitors the state of potential infestations.  According to the organization’s most recent forecast report, there are new “extremely alarming” swarms forming in the Horn of Africa.

Cressman, who has worked with the organization for over three decades, told the Times of Israel on Monday (16th) that the previous time the region had been in such danger was during the plague of 1987-89.

The Desert Locust (Schistocerca gregaria) “is the most destructive migratory pest in the world,” according to the Locust Watch website.  As depicted in the Book of Exodus, when the highly mobile swarms of Desert Locust form, they are ravenous eaters who consume their own weight per day, targeting food crops and forage.”  Swarms can grow to millions of individuals with the capacity to eat the same amount of food in one day as 35,000 people.

It appears that the hardest hit countries will include Kenya, Ethiopia, Somalia, Iran, Pakistan and Sudan.

Not all regions of the Middle East will be affected, however.  Despite the proximity to the Jewish holiday of Passover, according to the useful forecast maps on the Locust Watch website – and confirmed by Cressman – it appears that the swarms will not hit Israel or the country’s crops.



Jewish Cemetery Vandalized In Hungary

Gravestones in the Jewish cemetery of Kiskunfelegyhaza were pushed over and severely damaged, the Mazsihisz Federation of Jewish Communities in Hungary said in a statement on Thursday (12th).

The damage was discovered on March 5, said the federation, which filed a criminal complaint with the police.

The repairs could cost more than $8 million, Hungary Today reported.

The extremist Hungarian party Jobbik has been blamed for much of the anti-Semitism in the country in recent years.

In November of 2012, one of Jobbik’s members released a statement saying that a list should be compiled of all the Jewish members of government.

He was followed by another Jobbik member who called publicly for the resignation of a fellow MP who claimed to have Israeli citizenship.

In 2014, a town mayor linked to Jobbik was filmed ordering the hanging of effigies of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former President Shimon Peres in support of the Palestinian conflict in Gaza.

In 2018, a Jobbik leader resigned following the release of a recording of admission of an anti-Semitic act.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has come under fire for failing to condemn the anti-Semitism of the Jobbik party.