News Digest — 5/4/20

Israeli Government To Vote Today On Reopening Malls, Libraries, Gyms By Friday

The Israeli government will vote on Monday (4th) to decide whether to further ease coronavirus restrictions, enabling malls, libraries, gyms, watersports and non-medical treatment clinics to resume operations as early as Friday (8th).

Once malls reopen, they will reportedly be required to collect information from shoppers as they enter and move between shops in an attempt to monitor and prevent the further spread of the virus.  The use of exercise equipment at public parks and sitting on the beach is unlikely to be permitted at this stage.

The government debate comes as the number of active cases in Israel decreased to 6,145 on Monday morning (4th), a decline of 73 cases overnight.  To date, 16,237 coronavirus cases have been confirmed, 234 citizens have died and 9,858 have recovered from the virus.  A total of 93 patients are in serious condition and 72 require intubation.

As part of a long-term strategy-proposal advanced ahead of the meeting Monday (4th), the Finance Ministry demanded that all shopping malls, national parks, and single-room vacation cabins be permitted to open from Tuesday (5th).  Next week, all preschool and kindergartens will open as currently planned.

However, officials are wary that the easing of restrictions too soon could allow a return of the rise in coronavirus numbers and a re-tightening of rules to contain the pandemic.



Israel Remembers Herzl On 160th Anniversary Of His Birth – David Isaac

The Herzl Institute, over the weekend held an all-day conference to commemorate the contributions of Zionism’s founder on the 160th anniversary of his birth.  Theodor Benjamin Zeev Herzl (May 2, 1860 – July 3, 1904) founded the Zionist Congress and set the Jewish people on the path to statehood.

An Austro-Hungarian Jewish journalist and playwright, Herzl became obsessed with the “Jewish question,” influenced by the trial of Alfred Dreyfus in Paris, a French military captain who was falsely accused of treason because he was a Jew, as well as the rise of anti-Semitism in his hometown of Vienna, (eventually leading to the election of Mayor Karl Lueger), Herzl concluded that a Jewish state was the only solution.

Herzl recognized that the emancipation of Jews in Europe wasn’t enough.  It needed to be followed by the legal recognition of the Jewish people and the founding of a Jewish State, where all Jews could find a homeland, with a life of freedom, labor and honor.

Herzl put his ideas into a book, The Jewish State, which was published in February 1896.  The book, according to reports of the time, hit the Jewish people like a thunderbolt.  Herzl found himself thrust to the forefront of a movement that had already begun to coalesce.

On August 29, 1897, the first Zionist Congress assembled in Basle, Switzerland, organized by Herzl.  It became a kind of parliament-in-exile for the Jewish people.

In a quite remarkable prophecy, Herzl wrote in his diary on his return to Vienna following the Congress:

“If I were to sum up the Basle Congress in a single phrase – which I would not dare to make public – I would say: In Basle I created the Jewish State.  If I said this out loud today, I would be answered by universal laughter.  Perhaps in five years, and certainly in 50, everyone will know it.”

It was 50 years and 8 months after Herzl wrote these words, on May 14, 1948, that David Ben Gurion announced the birth of the State of Israel, as a picture of Herzl looked down on the proceedings.



Hamas Allows Gaza Doctors To Get Covid-19 Training In Israel – Entsar Abu Jahal

A group of doctors and nurses from Hamas-run Gaza received training inside Israel without coordination with the PA Health Ministry in Ramallah, Fathi Abu Warda, an adviser to the ministry, told Al-Monitor.  “Four doctors from the Gaza government, including the director of international cooperation in the Gaza Health Ministry, Abdul Latif al-Hajj, received training inside Israel.  Six nurses and lab technicians underwent another training session inside Israel, also without PA Health Ministry knowledge.  Everyone was taken aback that Gaza had coordinated such training, since the PA is known for coordinating with the Israeli side, not the Hamas government,” said Abu Warda.

He noted that the Gaza government also refused to send samples to Ramallah to be tested for the coronavirus and sent them to Israel instead.  Nor was the ministry informed about the laboratory to be established in Gaza with donations from Chinese and Israeli companies.  “It seems that Gaza was able to find a direct outlet to communicate with the Israeli side without us knowing,” Abu Warda said.

A well-informed source in the Gaza government said they do not want to talk to the media about the issue so as not to publicize that there are relations between Israel and the Gaza government.  Sources claim Hamas hides the relationship to avoid accusations of normalization with Israel.



Israel Seizes Palestinian Municipal Power For Tomb Of Patriarchs Elevator

Israel seized municipal power from the Palestinian Authority in Hebron on Sunday (3rd), when the Defense Ministry issued the final approval for construction of an elevator that would make the Tomb of the Patriarchs wheelchair accessible.

Under the terms of the 1997 Hebron agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, such construction would typically need the approval of the Hebron Mucicipality, which is run by the Palestinians.

The site of the Tomb of the Patriarchs itself, however, is under the auspices of the IDF.  In light of the Hebron Municipality’s objection to the project, the only way for Israel to move forward is to place the project under the auspices of the Civil Administration.

Hebron’s Jewish community and right-wing politicians and activists have long lobbied to make the site wheelchair accessible.  At present the Jewish sanctuaries in the tomb can only be reached by climbing a long staircase.  

This project has been delayed for years, Defense Minister Naftali Bennett said on Sunday (3rd).

“The time has come to move forward.  We have green-lighted the elevator project to end the many years of discrimination at the site.  Every person, irrespective of whether or not they are disabled, should have the opportunity to visit the tomb, which is an important Jewish heritage site.  This is what it means to develop the settlements, with deeds and not words.  I thank Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for his help in this matter,” said Bennett.



Aliyah Groups Hold Emergency Meeting To Prepare For Expected Wave Of Jewish Immigrants

Following the Jewish Agency’s estimation that the worldwide pandemic will lead to a larger wave of Jewish immigration to Israel from the Diaspora, representatives of various aliyah groups met for an emergency meeting last week, Makor Rishon reported.

Jewish Agency chairman Isaac Herzog reportedly expects that up to 100,000 people may leave their home countries for Israel or make aliya (literally “ascent”), once the current global health emergency is under control.

Groups participating in the meeting included the Jewish Agency, The World Zionist Organization, Nefesh B’Nefesh, the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews, Ofek Israeli and Nativ.

The meeting participants discussed the large number of applications from prospective immigrants that they’ve been receiving.  A representative of Nativ, which is responsible for aliyah from the Commonwealth of Independent States, the post-Soviet republics, said that the group has received 20,000 applications.  It received 6,000 before the coronavirus hit.

Zev Gershinsky, Nefesh B’Nefesh director of government advocacy, said the group has seen a 20-percent rise in requests for forms to open immigration files, according to Makor Rishon.  Nefesh B’Nefesh deals with aliyah from North America.

The French immigrant aid group Qualita says it received 2,000 requests from French people interested in making aliyah.  Ariel Kandel, its director general, told Makor Rishon that Qualita was fielding the requests because the Jewish Agency offices in France are closed due to the pandemic.  As soon as the offices open, he says, he expects the Agency to see “a big wave” of applications from French citizens seeking aliyah.

Herzog said last week that Israel’s well-publicized relative success in battling the pandemic is one reason for the high-level interest.

“In parallel to the global crisis, they look at the way Israel is functioning well, comparatively, and I am receiving many reactions about it from all over the world,” he said.

Over 100 new immigrants have landed in Israel in the past several weeks, in the midst of the health crisis, as a special exception to the general lockdown on travel.  This number includes 72 Ethiopians who have been waiting for years for permission to reunite with family in the Jewish state, as well as 44 Americans ranging in age from infants to retirees.



Al Quds Day Rallies In Iran Likely To Be Canceled This Year

“Al-Quds Day,” a date designated for anti-Israel demonstrations, is unlikely to be celebrated as usual in Tehran this year due to the coronavirus pandemic, Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) spokesman Ramezan Sharif announced on Sunday (3rd).

“It will most likely not be possible to hold an Al-Quds Day March in Tehran this year,” Sharif said as quoted by Iran’s semi-official ISNA news outlet.

In an effort to control the coronavirus, the regime divided the country into white, yellow, and red areas, depending on the severity of the outbreak.  Low-risk cities fall under the “white area” designation.

Sharif dismissed the idea of holding rallies in “white areas” because of the negative optics.

”If this march is held in some cities only, it would bring more harm, as the foreign media looks at Tehran to assess the success of the Al-Quds March,” said Sharif.

Instead of the rally, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Seyed Ali Khamenei is to live-broadcast an anti-Israel rant.

Al-Quds Day, first instituted in 1979 during the final week of Ramadan by Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, the founder of Iran’s Islamic Republic, features marches and rallies calling for the elimination of the State of Israel and the “liberation” from the “infidels” of Jerusalem – known to Muslims as “Al-Quds.”

Alongside Tehran, Beirut, and Damascus, Al-Quds Day rallies are held in several European and North American cities, among them London, Berlin, and Toronto, under the auspices of pro-Iranian Muslim organizations.

As well as providing a platform for openly anti-Semitic speakers, the rallies have become notorious for proudly displaying the flag of Hezbollah, Iran’s proxy terror organization in Lebanon.