News Digest — 3/9/20

Purim: Coronavirus Crashes Some Of Judaism’s Biggest Parties

Every Purim, Richard Roberts sponsors a party for more than 2,000 people in the heavily Orthodox New Jersey city of Lakewood, where he gives out, by estimation, some $200,000 in charity.

This year because of the coronavirus, the party is canceled.

Roberts, a philanthropist and former pharmaceutical executive, made the decision Wednesday afternoon (4th), five days before the festive Jewish holiday, which begins on Monday night (9th) and runs through sundown Tuesday (10th).

“There’s a real reason to think that we are right now, in the United States, at the inflection point,” he told the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.  “You’re going to see a spike of people infected, that’s going to go well into the thousands or tens of thousands or more.  So I just didn’t feel in good conscience that it was medically sound to have an event.”

All over the world, people like Roberts are making tough decisions about whether to proceed with long-planned events with the coronavirus surging.  For Jews, those decisions are centering right now on Purim, the one-day holiday that communities of all levels of observance tend to celebrate with large, raucous parties and festivals for children.

On Wednesday (4th), Israel banned gatherings of more than 5,000 people, prompting many cities in the Jewish state to scrap their celebrations.

In the United States the Rabbinical Council of America, has not asked rabbis to cancel their religious services, as Orthodox Judaism requires one to hear the Megillah, or Book of Esther read aloud in person on Purim.  But the group sent out a Jewish legal ruling that would allow people who are quarantined to hear the Megillah via livestream or phone.

The Conservative Movement also agreed that livestreaming the Megillah was permissible for medical reasons.

Roberts, the New Jersey philanthropist is not sure when he expects things to return to normal.  The next event he is to host is a free carnival for Passover, which occurs a month after Purim. That usually draws 11,000 children, but as of now, he can’t say if that will happen this year.

“However, things could look entirely different in two to four weeks from now,” he stated.



US Backs Off Iron Dome Purchases As Israel Refuses To Hand Over Source Code

The US Department of Defense has decided not to buy anymore Iron Dome missile defense systems from Israel following integration issues involving two Iron Dome batteries bought in 2019.

“We believe we cannot integrate them into our air defense system based on some interoperability challenges, some cyber challenges and some other challenges,” reported Gen. Mike Murray, head of Army Futures Command, to the House Armed Service Tactical Air and Land Forces’ subcommittee on Thursday (5th).

According to multiple media outlets, the reason behind the decision is that Israel has refused to hand over the source code for the technology.

Without the source code, the technology only partly helps the military achieve its military goal of properly defending against short-range ballistic missiles.

“So what we ended up having was two stand-alone batteries that will be very capable, but they cannot be integrated into our air defense system,” Murry told the committee.

According to Murray, the US Defense Department will have to find alternative ways to address its security needs. 

“So we’re working on a path right now…on a way forward,” said Murray.  “We anticipate a shoot-off open to US industry or foreign industry, to go after whatever is the best solution to provide that capability.”

Last year Congress authorized the purchase of two Iron Dome batteries with the possibility of buying more until 2023.  The project would have cost an estimated $1.5 billion.

Developed by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, the Iron Dome has played a crucial role in defending Israel against terrorist rockets launched from Gaza.  Since its deployment in 2011, it has had a success rate of over 90 percent.



Israel’s Problems Are Real, But So Is Its Progress – Jonathan S. Tobin

→ Israel has too many cars and not enough roads to accommodate them.  Israel needs more hospital rooms to deal with the needs of its growing population.  And while some high-tech entrepreneurs have gotten rich, many poorer Israelis and those in the middle class feel left behind, as in the case of many other prosperous nations.

→ But a little historical perspective is needed.  Israel is only 71 years old. A century ago, Zionism was a dream dismissed as a fantasy.  Even after the state was declared, smart people thought it could not survive.

→ Who could have predicted that a poor community of 600,000 Jewish souls could withstand the might of the rest of the Middle East, and then, with the financial help of the Diaspora, provide homes for hundreds of thousands of survivors of the Holocaust in Europe and a still larger total of Jews who were forced to flee their homes in the Arab and Islamic world?

→ For the last five decades, we’ve been told that Israel cannot thrive or survive in the long run without peace with the Palestinian Arabs, only to see it grow stronger and wealthier even though an end to the conflict is nowhere in sight.

→ Today, Israel has become a First World powerhouse, with many of its enemies recognizing that the nation is simply too strong and too wealthy to be destroyed.  Its dramatic makeover is the envy of the world.



PA Official Arrested For Suggesting Abbas Is Senile

On Friday (7th) Palestinian Authority official Hussam Khader’s daughter tweeted that her father was “brutally and barbarically” arrested by PA security forces.

“PA Protective Security Services broke into our house, accompanied by the Joint Forces from Balata, in Nablus and took my father forcefully,” wrote Amira Khader.

Khader’s arrest came shortly after suggesting that PA Leader Mahmoud Abbas is senile after Abbas condemned a physicians’ strike.

“I’m surprised what Abbas said.  I wonder about the mental health of this old man.  I call on the Physicians’ Union to form a medical committee to examine him and his mental health condition,” Khader wrote on his Facebook page March 2.

PA official Jamai Tirawi condemned the arrest.

“This is a dangerous development in the Palestinian area.  This is an attempt to silence the voices of our people,” he said.  “Khader is a political leader and there was no reason to treat him in such a violent and humiliating manner.”

This is not the first time that the 84-year-old’s mental capacities were questioned.

In 2018, Israel’s Channel 10 News cited unnamed Palestinians who said Abbas did not remember who they were when they visited him during scheduled meetings.  Officials in Abbas’ office immediately rejected the claims of mental disorientation saying that the PA leader was on a full work schedule.

Abbas’ physical health has been deteriorating.  He suffers from heart problems and prostate cancer and has been hospitalized several times.

Abbas has been in power since Palestinian Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat Passed away in 2004.



Anti-Israel Party In Germany Discusses Shooting Rich People, Forced Labor

The German Left Party, which opposed last year’s anti-BDS Bundestag resolution, held a conference last week in the city of Kassel in which calls to shoot wealthy Germans and impose forced labor on them were discussed.

A Left Party attendee named Sandra L. explained what needed to be done post-revolution, after “we have shot the one percent of the richest.”

The head of Left Party, Bernd Riexinger, responded that, “We don’t shoot them, we use them for useful work.”  Forced labor was one of the extermination methods used by the Nazis and their collaborators to murder European Jews during the Holocaust.

Writing in the Berlin daily, Tagesspiegel on Saturday (7th), columnist Harald Martenstein wrote that, “Almost at the same time as the shooting debate, eight left-wing politicians filed a criminal complaint against Chancellor Angela Merkel for ‘aiding and abetting the murder’ of the Iranian terrorist general Soleimani and that Germany had supported the murder.  At least Israel haters don’t have to be afraid of the Left.”

Critics view the German Left party, along with the British Labour Party (on former Prime Minister candidate Jeremy Corbyn’s watch), as the two largest anti-Israel parties in Western Europe.

The Jerusalem Post reported last month that Christine Buchholz, a Left Party Bundestag deputy, is on the advisory board of the pro-BDS German-Palestinian Society.  Buchholz has defended Hezbollah and Hamas terrorism against Israel as a justified form of “resistance.”

German Jews and NGOs urged all Bundestag MPs on the board of the German-Palestinian Society (GPS) to resign.  

The GPS joined the international BDS campaign against the Jewish state in 2015 and campaigned against the anti-BDS resolution initiated by Germany’s Free Democratic Party in 2019.