News Digest — 9/24/20

Israel’s Chief Rabbi Signals He May Support Synagogue Closures For Yom Kippur

Israel’s Chief Rabbi David Lau hinted on Wednesday (23rd) that he would support closing synagogues on Yom Kippur if health officials decide “it’s the right thing to do.”

Despite a general lockdown in place for nearly a week, the country’s religious community has so far protested against the possibility of closing places of worship or banning public prayers, and vowed to disobey health restrictions if the government closes synagogues during the high holiday period.

The development comes as the country broke a record of daily infections with nearly 7,000 new cases being identified on Tuesday (22nd) alone, according to the latest data released by the Health Ministry.

The religious leader thus indicated that he would support the closing of synagogues “if the medical authorities decide that it would considerably “reduce risk and save lives.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushed for a tightening of containment at a coronavirus cabinet meeting Wednesday, (23rd) and even considered declaring a state of emergency in the country.  At the meeting, lasting through the night Wednesday (23rd), ministers determined the next steps required to stop the spread of coronavirus infection, approving a total lockdown beginning at 2 pm Friday (25th), and lasting two weeks.  



Jews Invited To Send Notes To Be Placed In Western Wall For Yom Kipper

The Jewish Agency has launched a unique global project that will allow Jews from across the world to send notes that will be inserted in the Western Wall’s ancient stones ahead of Yom Kippur.

The “Ten Days of Repentance,” the days that come between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, are considered a time of reflection in Jewish tradition.  They provide an opportunity for examining one’s decisions and mistakes, and are generally meant to encourage people to improve their ways.

A popular tradition among Jews from Israel and abroad during this time of year is to visit the Western Wall (Kotel) in Jerusalem’s Old City and insert notes with personal prayers directed to God between the cracks of the wall’s large ancient stones.

This year, however, with flights still unavailable to and from many countries, and a current nationwide lockdown in Israel that has restricted the entrance into Jerusalem, Jews are facing a challenging situation that may prevent them from properly performing their religious traditions.

However, The Jewish Agency identified the problem and came up with a solution. 

Chairman of the Jewish Agency Isaac Herzog, along with emissaries stationed in communities around the globe, are inviting Jews to send their notes to The Jewish Agency, who will then take them to be inserted in the Western Wall.

“Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, the Western Wall and its plaza are normally packed with visitors.  This year, due to restrictions, it’s not possible to come to Jerusalem and place notes with our prayers between the stones of the Western Wall, the holiest place for the Jewish people,” said Herzog.  “As an organization whose mission is to strengthen global Jewry and its relationship with Israel, we thought it would be fitting to facilitate this important act for so many this high holiday season.”

The project was officially announced in a Facebook post published by the Jewish Agency.  The post included a video depicting several people who had already sent their notes to the organization.



Pentagon Vows To Keep Israel’s Military Edge Amid UAE Jet Sale

US Defense Secretary Mark Esper pledged Tuesday (22nd) to help maintain Israel’s military superiority in the Middle East, amid its concerns over a possible US sale of advanced F-35 jets to the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

“The United States is committed to that, and the Department of Defense is committed to that imperative.  We will continue to support the longstanding US policy to maintain Israel’s security,” said Esper.

The question of whether the US will sell the advanced fighters to the UAE cast a cloud over the White House signing ceremony last week of the diplomatic normalization agreements between Israel, the UAE and Bahrain.

President Donald Trump said at the time that he would have “no problem” selling F-35 warplanes to the Gulf state.

Israel has long opposed the sale of F-35 jets to any US allies in the region including Jordan and Egypt, both of whom already recognize Israel.

Such a sale would erode Israel’s military advantage over its neighbors.

Since the 1960s the US has approached the issue on the principle that Israel should maintain a “qualitative military edge” (QME), and the concept has been formalized in legislation from Congress.

But the UAE, which sits astride the strategic Strait of Hormuz across from Iran and is seen by Israel and the United States as a major target of the Islamic Republic, has sought for several years the advanced fighters.

At the Pentagon, Israel’s Minister of Defense Benny Gantz stressed the importance of the US-Israel partnership in the “unstable” Middle East region, and said the relationship goes beyond the “QME.”

“As I always said, we have no other United States, nor do you have any other Israel,” Gantz said.



European States Funding Palestinian Legal Battles Against Israel At The Hague

European government money is being used to fund Palestinian legal battles against the State of Israel in the International Criminal Court (ICC), Israel Hayom reported Wednesday (23rd).

According to watchdog group NGO Monitor, the Swiss government donated $700,000 to the Palestinian Center For Human Rights from 2018 to 2020.

In an agreement between the Swiss government and the PCHR, the organization promised to use the funds for “communicating with the General Prosecutor’s Office of the tribunal…send documents and communicate with the tribunal… and submit lawsuits in international forums.”

The PCHR’s website states that their work “is conducted through documentation and investigation of human rights violations… and preparation of research articles relevant to such issues as the human rights situation and the rule of law.” 

However, the PCHR has filed numerous lawsuits in the International Criminal Court, repeatedly calling on Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to personally respond to their motions, as far back as 2013.

PCHR and similar organizations receive funds from the governments of Denmark, Ireland, and Sweden.  Israel Hayom reports that these organizations’ mission is to “flood the ‘occupation’ with hundreds and thousands of lawsuits that will incriminate and convict it.”

The al-Mizan, another NGO, filed human rights violation lawsuits against Israel in The Hague, paid for by the Dutch government.

The NGO Monitor report says that these funds are often classed as “legal aid,” without explicitly stating that the goal is to launch International Criminal Court lawsuits against Israel.

Ann Herzberg, Legal Adviser to NGO Monitor, told Israel Hayom that, “Contributing states should take responsibility for obstacles that prevent Israel from protecting its citizens from Palestinian terrorism.”

In May, a report by Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs warned that funds donated to Palestinian aid organizations, from both European states and private donors, are being used to sponsor terrorism.

The report came on the heels of an announcement by the European Union that it will continue funding Palestinian nonprofits, even if they have links to terrorist organizations.

An August report by NGO Monitor found that the European Union donated 5.5 million euros in 2019 to various groups dedicated to promoting “Palestinian identity in Jerusalem.”



Jews Attacked In 3 Incidents In Ontario Over Rosh Hashanah

Three incidents described by a Jewish defense agency as anti-Semitic took place in the Canadian province of Ontario over Rosh Hashanah.

On Friday evening (18th), a man verbally attacked a Jewish father and his son outside a synagogue in Thornhill, a community north of Toronto with Canada’s largest concentration of Jewish residents.  The man yelled unprintable anti-Semitic verbiage at him, including “you’re Jewish – you run the world,” before approaching the victim’s car and attempting to stick his hand inside,” B’nai Brith Canada reported.

On Sunday (20th), two garage doors on private homes in Thornhill were spray-painted with graffiti reading “Jews run the world” and “Jews hate Blacks.”  A nearby vehicle was also vandalized.

In Ottawa, a man spat at worshipers at an outdoor service and called them “dirty Jews” as he drove slowly by on Saturday (19th).

“These appalling incidents have struck a chord with the Jewish community at what is already a challenging time for many,” Michael Mostyn, chief executive officer of B’nai Brith Canada, said in a statement.

“There is no question that along with the anxieties, fears, frustration and anger driven by the COVID crisis, we’ve seen a resurgence of anti-Semitism and hate in Thornhill and around the world,” Peter Kent, a Conservative Member of Parliament, told World Israel News.

“Some of it is overt, as the case of the ravings of the individual in Thornhill, captured on video.  There is also hateful vandalism, swastikas and such, and social media spewings.  And, as we’ve seen, along with the old libels there are accusations again that Jews are spreading the pandemic and profiting from it,” Kent added.

Gila Martow, a prominent member of the Jewish community in Thornhill said, “Hate and racism have no place in our community, and we must all be vigilant in preventing its spread.  I encourage everyone to document and report discrimination when they see it.”

B’nai Brith has noted a rise in anti-Semitism associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.  Its 2019 Annual Audit of Anti-Semitic Incidents had already recorded 2,207 incidents last year, which the organization said was a “grim new record.”

The most reflective holiday of the year for Jews, begins Sunday evening (27th) when Yom Kippur begins.