News Digest — 8/31/22

Jewish Groups Mourn Gorbachev As A Man Who Freed Soviet Jewry

Jewish organizations mourned the death of Mikhail Gorbachev on Tuesday (30th), remembering him as the leader who lifted the Iron Curtain and allowed some two million Soviet Jews to practice their religion freely or emigrate, which the vast majority did.

Gorbachev who was in power between 1985 and 1991, led the policy of “glasnost” or openness, allowing Soviet Jews to openly practice their faith, to speak Yiddish and Hebrew, print and distribute Jewish publications and study Jewish texts.

Eventually, he fully opened the gates of the Soviet Union and allowed the country’s Jews to emigrate, most of them going to Israel but many moved to the United States, Canada and Europe.

From 1989 to 1999, over three-quarters of a million Soviet Jews immigrated to Israel alone according to data collected by Hebrew University’s Mark Tolts.  The professor said that the Jewish population of the former Soviet Union dropped from over two million in 1970 to less than a quarter of a million by 2019.  (In the aftermath of this year’s Russian invasion of Ukraine, it dropped by an additional 31,000.

As the first, last and only president of the Soviet Union – Gorbachev in 1991 publicly acknowledged what had long been known: the Soviet Union had an antisemitism problem.

“The venomous sprouts of antisemitism arose even on Soviet soil,” Gorbachev wrote in a speech that was delivered by his aide in 1991 at Babyn Yar in Ukraine, the site of a mass shooting of Jews during the Holocaust.

For Gorbachev’s role in permitting the revival of Judaism in the Union of Soviet Social Republics and in allowing most of the country’s Jews to eventually emigrate, Gorbachev was eulogized as a statesman and a humanitarian by top Jewish organizations and leaders, including Rabbi Pinchas Goldschmidt, President of the Conference of European Rabbis, The American Jewish Committee, The World Jewish Congress and more.

Israel’s President Isaac Herzog said, “Mikhail Gorbachev was one of the 20th century’s most extraordinary figures.  He was a brave and visionary leader, who shaped our world in ways previously thought unimaginable.  I was proud to meet him during his 1992 visit to Israel.  Heartfelt condolences to his family and friends.”



Japan, Israel Step Up Defense Ties Amid Regional Tensions

The defense ministers of Japan and Israel shared concerns on Tuesday (30th) about growing global tensions from Asia to the Middle East and signed an agreement to step up cooperation in military equipment and technology.

Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said he welcomes stronger military ties with Israel as a way to achieve a “free and open Indo-Pacific” vision advocated by Japan and the United States to counter China’s growing assertiveness in the region.

Hamada said peace and stability in the Middle East would also help Japan’s peace and prosperity.  Both regions have key sea transportation lanes.

Japan and Israel, which are both strong US allies, are marking the 70th anniversary of their diplomatic ties this year.

Visiting Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz told a joint news conference after meeting with Hamada, that strengthened defense cooperation “will elevate the 70 years of excellent ties between our countries to the strategic level.”

“Israel and Japan’s cooperation in broader areas from defense technology to information sharing and military-to-military activities will strengthen the defense capability of each country as well as our joint contribution to peace and stability in our regions and all over the world,” he added.

Japan, which faces security challenges from China and North Korea and from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, has been expanding its military cooperation beyond its traditional ally, the United States, to other friendly nations in the Asia-Pacific region and Europe.

Japan is particularly concerned about Beijing’s assertive military actions in the East and South China Seas and growing tensions around Taiwan, a self-ruled island that China claims as its own territory.



Russia Ships Battery From Syria To Bolster Air Defense In Ukraine War

As Russia’s invasion of Ukraine continues into its sixth month, Moscow has redeployed an S-300 anti-aircraft missile battery from Syria to a Russian port in Crimea.

The shipping of the battery, which has been in Syria since 2018, was identified by Israeli satellite-imaging company ImageSat International.

In July 2019. ISI released imagery that showed the complete deployment of four Russian-made S-300 missile defense systems in Masyaf, Syria.

According to images released by the firm, battery components were seen on a naval dock at Tartus port between August 12-17, 2022 and they were gone by August 20.

The “S-300 battery was shipped back to Russia, on board the SPARTA II ship, most likely to support Russian air defense as part of the Russia-Ukraine conflict,” ISI said.

Russia had delivered the launcher, radar and command-and-control vehicle of the advanced air-to-surface system to the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad in October 2018 in response to the downing of a Russian reconnaissance plane by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli air strike on Iranian targets the previous month.

The advanced S-300 was thought to be a major upgrade to the Syrian air defenses that would pose a threat to Israeli jets on missions.  But the system was used only once against Israeli planes that had conducted operations near Masyaf.

It was a “one-time incident,” said Defense Minister Benny Gantz during a Channel 13 conference, adding that the IAF planes were no longer in the area when the missiles were fired.

There have been numerous airstrikes in the Masyaf area, which is used by Iran as a base for its militia forces. 

Israeli officials have repeatedly voiced concerns over Iran’s entrenchment in Syria and the smuggling of sophisticated weapons to Hezbollah from Tehran to Lebanon via Syria, stressing that both are redlines.  

Israel has increased airstrikes in Syria despite aggravating tension with Russia, which has had enormous influence in Syria since intervening in its civil war in 2015 to bolster Assad.



Israeli Research: Lung Fluid May Provide Basis For Cancer-Treating Vaccines

Fluid from the lungs could be used to develop new methods for diagnosing and possibly treating cancer, according to a new Israeli study.

The research found that specific peptides found in fluid from the lungs can “serve as a rich source of biomarkers for tumor diagnosis.”

HLA peptides are proteins involved in the immune response to infections.  Scientists from the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology and Sheba Medical Center discovered that they are present in lung fluid, and found a methodology for purifying and analyzing  the fluid in order to detect them.

They studied many liters of lung fluid and found that the HLA peptides it contains actually “store” enough information to detect some types of cancer.  They published their peer-reviewed findings in the Journal for Immunotherapy in Cancer (JITC).

“We can detect the peptides, and theoretically they could be used as a new way to detect cancer, and also to create a cancer-fighting vaccine for specific patients,” Dr. Michael Peled of Sheba Medical Center, one of the researchers, told Israeli news.  

“It’s important to emphasize this is still at a research level and there is no clinical trial at the moment.”

The study he conducted with Prof. Arie Admon from the Technion and his PhD student Sofia Khazan-Kost concluded that lung fluid could prove a rich source of antigens for fighting cancer, as well as information for diagnosing.



Jewish Bodies Found In UK Well, Found To Be Medieval Pogrom Victims

The remains of Jewish adults and children dating back to the medieval era found in a well in Norwich, England have been identified as the victims of a pogrom, a study found.

The investigation not only looked at medieval history in Great Britain but at the history of when genetic disorders first appeared in Ashkenazi Jewish populations.

“I’m really excited that 12 years on from our first investigations, we’ve finally been able to use historical records, archeology, and ancient DNA analysis to shed new light on a historical crime, and in doing so sequenced the oldest genomes from a Jewish population,” lead author Dr. Selina Brace, of London’s Natural History Museum, told The Guardian.

The remains of 17 Jews from medieval times were found in 2004 when construction for a shopping center began at a site in Norwich.

Due to not finding any trauma on the bones, the individuals were initially thought to have died of malnutrition or disease.  But later analysis of the bones and of nearby pottery found that they were likely dumped in the well in the 12th or 13th century, likely the victims of violence.

“We don’t know actually how they were murdered, but it seems most likely that they were,” said Brace.

The team found that the bodies appeared to have been dumped headfirst into the well at the same time.

In an article they published in the journal Current Biology, they explained that their findings using radiocarbon-dating have uncovered that the bodies were dropped in the well between 1161 and 1216.

A major pogrom took place in Norwich in 1190, which could explain why the individuals were murdered.

“Many of those who were hastening to Jerusalem determined first to rise against the Jews before they invaded the Saracens.  Accordingly on 6 February [in AD1190] all the Jews who were found in their own houses at Norwich were butchered; some had taken refuge in the castle,” medieval historian Ralph de Diceto wrote in “Imagines Historiarum II.”

However, the team hasn’t ruled out other violent incidents during the era, including the 1174 capture of Norwich by Hugh Bigod.

Further DNA work by the team found it likely that the remains belonged to Jewish residents of Norwich who were likely murdered in the pogrom.  They used new DNA analysis techniques to recreate genomes for six of the bodies.

“When we look at the DNA from the remains, they’re actually more closely associated to modern day Ashkenazi Jews than to any other modern population,” Brace said.

The team found genetic evidence of diseases common in modern Ashkenazi Jewish populations.

Brace added that the bodies had all been buried in a Jewish cemetery in a religious ceremony.