News Digest — 3/25/21

Coronavirus: Israel Eyes End Of Pandemic As Cases Continue To Decrease

Coronavirus numbers continued to improve on Wednesday (24th), weeks after the country started to significantly ease restrictions, suggesting that Israel might really be ready to leave the pandemic behind.

Only 679 new coronavirus cases were reported on Tuesday (23rd), according to a Wednesday morning report by the Health Ministry, less than half compared to a week before, when some 1,563 newly infected people were identified, and less than a quarter from the week before that, when the cases were 3,120.

The number of daily cases is not the only index that is experiencing a dramatic decrease.  The rate of tests returning a positive result has been steadily under 2% for days, while the R-rate – or reproduction rate – measuring how many people each virus carrier infects on average – stood at 0.59, the lowest in months.  When the R-rate is below 0.8, the disease is deemed to be receding.

In addition, the number of patients in serious condition stood at 500 on Wednesday (24th).  They were at 573 a week earlier and at 673 two weeks earlier.  In the past, health officials suggested that Israel’s health system could handle some 800 serious patients without compromising the quality of care.  At the peak of the third wave in the country in January, there were more than 1,200 people seriously ill.

Election Day also offered proof of how fast the situation is improving.  The authorities were ready to handle some 12,000 infected eligible voters, and another 39,000 in isolation, but they ended up with 6,700 and 22,000 respectively.

“We made sure that everyone who wanted to vote would be able to do so,” health Minister Yuli Edelstein said Tuesday (23rd) while visiting a special corona polling station.  “I’m happy that there are not many voters here because there are not many sick people in general.”

Experts and authorities agree that the success of the vaccination campaign has been the key to taming the virus.



Palestinians Using Postal Bank For ‘Pay-To-Slay’ To Avoid Israeli Law

The Palestinian Authority (PA) will use the government’s Postal Bank to distribute “pay-for-slay” payments to Palestinian terrorists to avoid penalties by Israeli law that could be imposed on Palestinian banks that distribute the payments, Qadri Abu Bakr, the PLO’s Director for Commission of Prisoners’ Affairs, told the Turkish Andolu Agency on Tuesday (23rd).

An Israeli law last year set a deadline of December 31, 2020, for banks to stop handling the payments and to permanently close the relevant accounts. So the accounts were closed by the end of the year to avoid possible penalties.  However, the PA paid terrorists three months worth of their monthly payments near the end of the year in preparation for the move.

The law states that any person that makes a financial transaction which “supports, promotes, funds or rewards” terrorist activities will be subject to a prison sentence of up to 10 years, according to a report by the NGO Palestinian Media Watch (PMW).  The law was originally supposed to come into effect on May 9, 2020, in the West Bank.

Three weeks before the law was to come into effect, PMW warned banks of their liability if they were to continue payments to terrorists.  The Association of Banks in Palestine wrote to the PA’s Finance Minister to describe the consequences the banks would go through if they maintained accounts that make payments to terrorists.

“Based on the plenary session of the Association of Banks [in Palestine], all the banks hereby ask Your Honor to stop transferring any sums into these accounts,” wrote the bank representatives.  “The banks will transfer the balances in these accounts to the Ministry of Finance’s account.”

The decision to distribute the payments through the postal bank was made due to the fact that it is for mail transactions and is not a banking institution and is therefore not subject to the law.  Eventually, ATMs will be installed and cards will be issued to distribute the payments.

The PA is also trying to conceal the “pay-for-slay” payments by creating thousands of new civil and security positions that can only be held by those imprisoned in Israel, meaning that the payments will be disguised as paychecks, according to PMW.

“Pay-for-slay” payments can reach up to NIS 12,000 per month, according to the Shurat HaDin organization, which has filed a number of lawsuits on the issue to the International Criminal Court, also known as The Hague, in the past decade.  To date, The Hague has not issued any response to the lawsuits.



Report: China Plans To Invite Palestinians And Israelis For Talks

The Chinese government plans to invite Israelis and Palestinians to hold talks in China, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV quoted Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Wednesday (24th) as saying in an interview.

Wang, who started a Middle East tour this week, also voiced support for a Saudi initiative announced on Monday (22nd) to end the war in Yemen, according to the Saudi-owned, Dubai-based Al-Arabiya TV channel.

China has offered itself several times in the past as an alternative to the United States in mediating between Israelis and Palestinians, saying it is working on proposals to end the decades-old conflict. 

“We will invite Palestinian and Israeli public figures to have talks in China,” Al-Arabiya quoted Wang as saying.  He did not elaborate, and it was not immediately clear whether he had government representatives in mind.

On Yemen, Wang said: “We call for implementing the Saudi initiative for a settlement in Yemen as soon as possible.”

The Saudi peace initiative includes a nationwide ceasefire and the reopening of air and sea links with the territories held by the Houthi group in Yemen.  However, the Iran-aligned Houthis have said the offer falls short of their demands.



UNHRC Arms Embargo Call Against Israel Passes 32-6

The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) approved a resolution calling for an arms embargo against Israel that had the support of many European countries but received a nod of disapproval from Bahrain, which was absent for Tuesday’s (23rd) vote.

The measure dubbed the accountability resolution, passed 32-6, with eight abstentions.  It included some of the harshest language against Israel out of the four resolutions that the 47-member UNHRC is expected to approve, as the 46th session ends this week.

The six countries that opposed the resolution were Austria, Brazil, Bulgaria, Cameroon, Malawi and Togo.

In an unusual move, Bahrain, which typically approves texts bashing Israel at the United Nations, was absent for the vote.  It is the first time this has occurred.

In addition, the following eight countries abstained: the Bahamas, the Czech Republic, India, Marshall Islands, Nepal, Philippines, Ukraine, and the United Kingdom.

Among the 32 countries that approved the text were five European ones, including nations that typically abstain from such votes as a show of support for Israel.  Denmark, France, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland all voted in favor of the resolution.

The text of the resolution called for UN member states to “refrain from transferring arms to Israel when, in accordance with applicable national procedures and international obligations and standards, they assess that there is a clear risk that such arms might be used to commit or facilitate serious violations or abuses of international human rights law or serious violations of international humanitarian law” 

Israel’s Ambassador to the UN in Geneva, Meirav Shachar said that the resolution did not address the issue of bias against Israel.

“The text makes no mention of Hamas and only mentions terrorism and incitement when condemning Israel, and does not attribute any responsibility to Palestinian actors,” she said.

Nor does it mention the positive cooperation between Israel and the PA on combating the COVID-19 pandemic, she said. 

The purpose of this text “is not to ensure accountability and justice, nor to objectively assess the human rights situation.  The sole purpose of the resolution, by those who wrote it and those who support it, is to negate Israel.”

“Any member state who votes in favor of this resolution, and backs its narrative, cannot be an honest broker when it comes to peace in the Middle East,” Shachar said.  



‘Auschwitz’ Play Lands High School Football Team In Hot Water

School officials in Massachusetts disclosed on Wednesday (24th) that a high school football team has used anti-Semitic language in its on-field play-call system, including references to the Nazi Holocaust.

The language was used as part of the Duxbury High School team’s system for adjusting plays during games, according to a letter sent to the community from Duxbury Superintendent John Antonucci, Assistant Superintendent Danielle Klingaman and high school Principal James Donovan.

“As our investigation continues to unfold, it has become clear that members of the Duxbury High School football team did, in fact, use anti-semitic and potentially other inappropriate and derogatory language,” Antonucci said in a statement on Wednesday (24th).

The team was accused of using terms like “Auschwitz” while calling plays during a contest against Plymouth North High School last month.

“We are continuing our investigation and will have further comment at a later time,” Antonucci said.

The Director of the Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) New England office said he wanted to know how long the offensive language had been in use.

“Auschwitz is one of history’s worst known death camps,” the ADL’s Robert Trestan said.  “It really has no place being used as a substitute for a football play.”  Trestan said that other words with Jewish significance were also used such as “rabbi” and “dreidel.” 

Head coach David Maimaron apologized for the language in a separate statement.

“I want to extend my apology for the insensitive, crass and inappropriate language used in the game on March 12th.  Using the team this way was careless, unnecessary and most importantly hurtful on its face – and inexcusable,” Maimaron said.

According to reports, coach David Maimaron has been fired.