News Digest — 5/14/20

Political Crisis Ends: Israel’s 35th Government To Be Sworn In Thursday Night

Israel’s parliament is set to approve a new government of national unity Thursday night (14th) ending almost 18 months of political uncertainty, but challenging politicians to overcome fractious infighting to face the unprecedented coronavirus crisis.

The Knesset is set to convene at 6 p.m., to begin the formal process leading up to the vote of confidence in the new government and the office swearing-in that might not take place until after midnight.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White Chairman Benny Gantz will both address the house to outline their government’s strategy for tackling the economic crisis in which Israel’s once robust economy has been humbled and unemployment has skyrocketed.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid will give his rebuttal and leaders of all factions will address the plenum before the vote is held.

The policy guidelines of the Netanyahu-Gantz government were issued late Wednesday (13th) and center on two basic goals of fighting the economic crisis caused by the pandemic, and national reconciliation after the intense political acrimony of the three inconclusive national elections.

The new government is the 35th since the establishment of the State of Israel and the fifth government headed by Netanyahu.

Under the unity deal, Netanyahu will serve for 18 months as prime minister with Gantz as defense minister.  Gantz will then take over as national leader for the following 18 months.  If the unity government survives that long, the two will alternate again for six months each in the prime minister’s role.



Coronavirus Could Put 4,500 Restaurants Out Of Business

The Associations of Restaurants and Bars in Israel fears that 4,500 restaurants and cafes across the country will close by the end of the year, Ynet reported Tuesday (12th).

Although some 4,500 shopping malls have reopened, restaurants and cafes do not see the end of the crisis with 70% of all eateries still closed and suffering huge losses while the rest are trying to survive with only take-away service allowed.

The Health Ministry’s plans to allow restaurants, cafes and bars to open to half of their occupancy are not economically viable, industry leaders said.

Before the coronavirus, there were 14,000 restaurants, cafes, bars and food stalls operating in Israel, and within a month and a half of the crisis, 90 percent of them were closed and only 10 percent were able to offer home delivery.

As health restrictions were eased earlier this month allowing the public to travel more than 100 meters from their homes, another 20 percent of food businesses opened for take-away, with sit-down meals still banned.  Officials said that 70 percent of Israel’s food business remains completely closed and the head of the Association of Restaurants and Bars, Shai Berman, estimates that by the end of the year 4,500 restaurants will be out of business.

“Without a minimum 70 percent occupancy, restaurants will lose money and remain closed,” said Berman.

While the Ministry of Finance wants to open restaurants now, the Health Ministry is sticking to its policy of not allowing them to do so before June, if then.



Jordan’s Top Court Says Gas Deal With Israel Cannot Be Terminated

Only King Abdullah II has the legal ability to break the recently signed multi-billion dollar gas deal with Israel, according to Jordan’s Constitutional Court.

The court’s decision came in response to a parliamentary proposal to terminate its natural gas deal with Israel, reported The Jerusalem Post on Tuesday (12th).

Under Jordan’s constitution, only the king can amend or cancel any ratified international agreements, and in addition, the proposal is “completely inconsistent” with obligations stipulated in the 1994 Jordan-Israel peace agreement, the court said as cited by the Post.

In January, Israel began pumping its first supply of natural gas to Jordan via the Leviathan gas field, off the Israeli coast, under the terms of a $10 billion dollar gas deal agreement with the kingdom.

The Leviathan is the largest natural gas field ever discovered off the coast of Israel, lying some 77 miles west of Haifa.  It is estimated to have 22 trillion cubic feet of gas, enough to make the country a gas exporter for the first time in its history, which would bring billions of shekels into its coffers.

However, a few weeks later Jordan’s government was pressured to end the deal after thousands of people took to the streets of Amman in protest.

As a result, a motion was unanimously passed by Jordan’s parliament on January 19 to not only withdraw from the deal but also permanently bans gas imports from Israel.

Even before the gas deal was signed, Jordanians took measures in their own hands by torching two electric transformers in the country’s northern region intended for the transport of natural gas.

Jordan’s relationship with Israel has been deteriorating ever since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared his intentions to annex the Jordan Valley and the north Dead Sea region last year.

Now that Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz have agreed to form a government together, it looks like the prime minister’s promise will soon be delivered.



‘Virus Of Hate:’ Anti-Semitism Adapts To Corona Outbreak, Says New Report

Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs on Tuesday (12th) published a new report “The Virus of Hate” detailing recent anti-Semitic rhetoric linking Israel and the Jews to the coronavirus.

The report highlights, through detailed examples, the common anti-Semitic coronavirus motif and libels shared by both “classic anti-Semitism” against Jews and “new anti-Semitism” against the State of Israel.

According to the report, “classic anti-Semitism is “consistent with the centuries-old traditional blood libels against Jews, including the spreading of viruses and plague.  This anti-Semitism is perpetrated by the radical right in North America and Europe, and to a minor extent, by the general public and the radical left.”

New anti-Semitism is “consistent with the campaign to delegitimize Israel.  This anti-Semitism is perpetrated by governments and quasi-governmental actors, terror organizations and civil society, specifically: Iran, the Palestinian Authority, Hamas and the BDS [Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions] movement.”

The report points out that “the leaders of the BDS movement and the delegitimization campaign against Israel have insisted that their anti-Zionist and anti-Israel rhetoric was not anti-Semitic, but rather, legitimate political criticism.”

“Now, however, the current wave of hateful rhetoric relating to the coronavirus demonstrates simply and clearly how both classic anti-Semites on the far-right and far-left Israel delegitimizers, including BDS, are using a common anti-Semitic motif and libel,” the report says.

According to the report, “this common motif is the equation of Jews and/or Israel to the coronavirus with the libel that Jews and/or Israel are using or spreading the virus for political or economic gain.”

The report quotes U.S. Special Envoy to Monitor and Combat Anti-Semitism, Elan Carr, who says that “anti-Semitism, in order to remain relevant, always adapts to current events.”  

The current coronavirus outbreak has produced a perfect “test case,” says the report, for observing how the new anti-Semitism of the BDS movement is really just a modern adaptation of the same old hate.



Doctors And Nurses Died As Iran Ignored Virus Concerns – Maggie Michael

Interviews with more than 30 medical professionals and a review of communications by doctors on messaging apps paint a fuller picture of the extent of the disjointed Iranian response as the coronavirus spread through Iran’s population.  Medical workers say they were defenseless to handle the contagion.  During the first 90 days of the outbreak, one medical staffer died each day and dozens became infected.

According to official figures, around 6,500 Iranians have died.  But a report by the research-arm of Iran’s parliament said 11,000 may have died.  In Tehran, the municipal council said it had to add 10,000 new graves to its largest cemetery, Behesht e-Zahra.

Several medical professionals said Iran’s leaders delayed telling the public about the virus for weeks, even as hospitals filled with people.  One doctor said he and his colleagues were even discouraged from using protective equipment.  He said government officials claimed that wearing masks would cause panic – they called physicians’ pleas for a quarantine “medieval” and floated theories that the U.S. created the virus to spread fear.  The Revolutionary Guard kept health facilities under tight control and medical statistics were treated as “top secret.”