Saturday, April 18, 2020

04/18 Links: Israel’s death toll rises to 164; PM declares eased lockdown: ‘We’re starting to release personal, economic space’; Biden welcomes J Street endorsement

From Ian:

Israel’s death toll rises to 164 with 13 new fatalities Saturday
Israel’s coronavirus death toll climbed to 164, with 13 confirmed fatalities by Saturday evening.

There were 149 new virus cases, bringing the country’s infection figures to 13,256, with 164 in serious condition and 113 of those on ventilators. The number of people in moderate condition was at 145, while 3,456 Israelis have recovered.

Saturday’s fatalities included two residents of nursing homes, bringing the total number of COVID-19 deaths at elderly living centers to 61, Hebrew media reported, nearly 40 percent of all deaths in the country.

The Health Ministry said Saturday it had tested 9,950 people for the virus on Friday. On Thursday a record 11,908 coronavirus tests were carried out. Test numbers have been hovering at around 7,000-10,000 a day over the past week. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said he hopes to get to 30,000 tests a day, though that goal seems far off.

Increased testing is seen as vital to being able to slowly reopen the economy and ease social distancing restrictions on the population.

Officials have blamed shortages in test components on their difficulty in raising test numbers.

Efforts to hit the target received a boost with the Foreign Ministry saying it had signed a deal with Chinese company BGI that will see the firm send lab equipment to Israel by the end of next week, allowing a significant increase to the number of daily tests.

In addition, a ministerial committee on Friday decided to declare the Arab Israeli communities of Deir al-Asad and Bi’ina as “restricted areas” amid fears of a coronavirus outbreak there.

The two adjacent towns in northern Israel, which are a single municipality, were locked down Saturday morning for seven days.
Tel Aviv hospital spares rare protective gear to allow visits to dying relatives
Elisheva Stern wasn’t ready to say goodbye to her ailing father, who was succumbing to the coronavirus in an Israeli hospital.

But knowing countless others around the world are not given the chance to say their last farewells to sick relatives, she decided to enter the virus ward and be by her father’s bedside, even if only for a brief moment, before he died.

Stern’s father, Simha Benshai, 75, died at Tel Aviv’s Sourasky Medical Center, which offers the next of kin of dying coronavirus patients the rare opportunity to say goodbye in person.

“None of us want to say bye to the people who we love. But I’m actually happy that they gave me the opportunity to say bye to my father,” said Stern. “I was able to see him and to tell him I’m sorry and I love him.”

The practice is in contrast to many hospitals around the world that don’t allow final family visits as a precaution against spreading the highly contagious virus. That leaves patients to die alone and forces families to grieve from afar.

Recognizing this peculiar tragedy wrought by the virus, Sourasky Medical Center officials opted to spare much-needed protective gear, take careful measures to ward off infection and offer grieving families a chance to say goodbye.

“The stories of patients dying alone are horrifying,” said Ronni Gamzu, the hospital’s chief executive. “This is our moral duty as medical staff and as human beings. No one shall be allowed to die alone.”

The hospital provides immediate next of kin who want to visit a patient with head-to-toe protective wear — gear in demand around the world and often reserved for health care workers — and allows them about 15 minutes to say goodbye. It then assists them in removing the mask, cap, robe, gloves and boots with the utmost caution needed to prevent infection.
PM declares eased lockdown: ‘We’re starting to release personal, economic space’
In a press conference with leaders of the health and economic sectors, Netanyahu said Israel’s mortality rates were among the lowest in OECD countries, while its testing numbers were among the highest.

“Until today we took measures to restrict movement… to reduce the number of people at work… to track confirmed cases,” he said. “These measures have proven themselves… these positive results enable us to ease the restrictions gradually.”

However, he and other officials warned that the success of the new phase of managing the crisis was wholly dependent on the public continuing to behave responsibly and to take all precautions to avoid spreading the virus.

Netanyahu said the situation would be reassessed in two weeks’ time and if the situation continued to improve there would be a further easing of restrictions, but if there is another outbreak they would be reimposed.

Netanyahu set out the general steps now to be introduced:
1. Raising the proportion of workers allowed at their workplaces from 15% to 30%;
2. Allowing high-tech and certain other workplaces to return more of their workforce;
3. Introducing a new “Purple Seal” certification which workplaces will have to adhere to in order to operate — certification will not require outside approval by any state body but will be mandatory. It will include demands for face masks, daily temperature checks for all employees and regular sterilization of surfaces;
4. Reopening some stores — including those selling electrical goods, household goods, opticians, and others — limited to two clients at any one time, and stipulating that a physical buffer must be installed at registers. Malls and markets will remain closed;
5. Prioritizing staffing of government offices that assist the private sector;
6. Restarting special education programs for groups of up to three children, and allowing kids from three families to be looked after by a single day-carer;
7. Adjusting and increasing public transportation as appropriate;
8. Allowing sports in fixed pairs, up to 500 meters from home;
9. Allowing outdoor prayers of up to 10 — “a minyan” — with two meters between worshipers, wearing masks;
10. Introducing a plan to deal strategically with elderly care homes and facilities, which have been particularly hard hit by the virus.

IDF: Security fence with Lebanon was damaged in three locations
The Israeli army repaired two of three separate locations where damage was done to the border fence between Israel and Lebanon on Friday night.
A number of suspicious objects were found in the area of the third spot, leading the military to close the area.

According to a report from the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar, there were at least three plastic bags found in the third location and troops had fired 15 shots towards one bag that had been found next to the hole in the fence.

Video uploaded on pro-Hezbollah Twitter accounts showed several videos from the scene, including troops operating a drone and a bomb disposal robot carrying a blue plastic bag. A photo of Qassem Soleimani, Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis and Imad Mughniyeh with the word "Revenge" in Arabic and Persian was also found placed on the fence where the hole was cut.

Troops from The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) were present at the scene.

On Friday, the military fired flares after receiving indications of a possible breach in the border fence between northern Israel from southern Lebanon.

Israel has complained to the United Nations Security Council about the damage to the barrier. The Foreign Ministry called it a “provocative attempt” by Hezbollah to “undermine Israeli sovereignty" along that border.

MEMRI: On China's Official Arabic-Language TV: COVID-19 Does Not Appear To Have Originated In China; Evidence Suggests It Came From The United States
Chinese vlogger "Ms. V" said in an episode of "China View" that was published by CGTN Arabic TV (China) on March 17, 2020 that the presence of multiple coronavirus strains in the United States, the coincidence between the initial coronavirus outbreak and the 2019 Military World Games in Wuhan in which the U.S. participated, the possibility that the U.S. may have had many coronavirus deaths that have been documented as influenza deaths, and the CDC's shut down of former U.S. biological weapons research lab Fort Detrick all suggest that COVID-19 originated in the United States, and not in China.

"The Research... Reported That The Virus Had Started Spreading After The Wuhan International Military Games Ended In October 2019"

Ms. V: "Since the outbreak of the new coronavirus in China some followers have asked me, do you believe a story that the new coronavirus is made by the USA? And every time my answer was: No. I can't believe it unless there is evidence to prove that.

"Now there may be some new facts indicating a new interpretation of the source of the new coronavirus. This is Ms. V, welcome to China View.

"Initially, many thought that the beginning of the virus' emergence was from one of the seafood markets in Wuhan, but Chinese researchers reported in a new research that the transmission of the new coronavirus had started since last December outside this market, and the virus may have transmitted from a source or other sources to the seafood market, where the rapid spread of transmission began due to the presence of a large number of close contacts within this place, and the research also reported that the virus had started spreading after the Wuhan International Military Games ended in October 2019. So, it is expected that the 'patient zero' in China has come from outside China."
Anti-Israel party complaint Merkel aided in Soleimani killing dismissed
The office of Germany’s federal prosecutor dismissed a criminal complaint filed by the Left party against Chancellor Angela Merkel for allegedly aiding the US government in its targeting killing of the Iranian general Qasem Soleimani.

The German paper Die Welt reported on Saturday about the dismissal, noting that eight Left party members of parliament claimed the German government “aided in the murder” of Soleimani by failing to take action to stop the US drone attack that eliminated Soleimani in January.

The US and the EU both designated Soleimani a foreign terrorist, who, according to the US government, played a key role in the murders of over 600 American service personnel in the Middle East. Soleimani has also played a role in terrorism operations that let to the murder of Israelis and planned attacks against European Jews, pro-Israel advocates and Israelis.

The Left Party MPs filed their criminal complaint against Merkel in late February. The prosecutor’s office said there were no indication points to start an investigation against the Merkel administration.

According to Die Welt, the Left party claimed that the US used its air force base in Ramstein, Germany as a point for data streams to coordinate its drone attacks.

The Left party opposes a ban of the entire Lebanese organization Hezbollah in Germany. The US, the United Kingdom, Canada, Israel, the Netherlands, the Arab League and a number of Latin American countries have classified Hezbollah’s movement a foreign terrorist entity.
Last year, the Left party rejected a resolution deeming the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign targeting Israel as antisemitism. The mainstream Bundestag parties supported the anti-BDS resolution.

The Left party has issued many statements and resolutions against the Jewish state over the years.It recently condemned Israel in a resolution for the “violent approach of the Israeli government and the Israeli military against the majority of peaceful mass protests of the Palestinians in Gaza in the course of the Great March of Return, which started on March 30.”

The Left party MP Christina Buchholz reportedly supports Palestinian terrorism against Israel as a legitimate form of “resistance.” She is a zealous campaigner for the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah and Hamas.

Biden welcomes J Street endorsement, showing liberal pro-Israel lobby’s sway
Joe Biden welcomed the endorsement of J Street, the liberal pro-Israel lobby, on Friday. While it might seem like a small news item today, the moment represents something much larger: a consolidation of the group’s influence among mainstream Democrats.

“I’m honored to have earned J Street’s first-ever presidential endorsement,” the former vice president said Friday. “J Street has been a powerful voice to advance social justice here at home, and to advocate for a two-state solution that advances Middle East Peace.

“I share with J Street’s membership an unyielding dedication to the survival and security of Israel, and an equal commitment to creating a future of peace and opportunity for Israeli and Palestinian children alike,” he added. “That’s what we have to keep working toward — and what I’ll do as President with J Street’s support.”

J Street committed earlier this year to endorsing the Democratic nominee, whoever she or he was, and for the first time its political action committee launched a fund to elect a Democratic president.

Biden’s enthusiastic welcome, however, is significant because he has been a standard-bearer for the Democratic party’s pro-Israel mainstream — a wing that has not always seen eye to eye with J Street. At its outset in 2008, J Street scrambled to get Democrats to agree to accept its endorsement, and some rejected it outright, saying the group was too far to the left.

Biden himself has differed with the group at times, including last year, when addressing J Street’s conference. He said he would not consider leveraging aid to Israel as a means of influencing policy, and he has touted his friendship with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a figure reviled by J Street.

Biden also has been a mainstay of the annual conferences of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the main centrist pro-Israel group seen as a J Street rival.

More than half of the Democratic caucus in both chambers of Congress now accept J Street’s endorsement, making it a key determinant in Democrats’ Middle East policies.

Soros-Funded Muslim Group Associated With Homophobia, Terrorist Defenders Endorses Biden
A George Soros-backed Muslim group, which cohosts a conference that in recent years drew speakers who called homosexuality a "disease" and defended terrorist groups, announced its endorsement of Joe Biden for president.

Emgage, which bills itself as the largest Muslim PAC in the country, on Thursday announced it would switch its endorsement from Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) to Biden. The group cited Biden's promises to end President Donald Trump's travel bans, increase the refugee admissions cap, and overhaul the immigration system. Biden said he was "honored" to receive the endorsement.

Emgage has collaborated with a Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated group on events that in recent years attracted speakers who openly opposed LGBT rights and supported terror groups. Last year, Emgage became an official cohost of Islamic Society of North America (ISNA) conferences. ISNA was previously revealed to be part of the Muslim Brotherhood network—though it claims it is no longer associated with the group.

The 2018 ISNA conference featured an array of homophobic speakers. One was Omar Suleiman, an imam who has called homosexuality a "disease" that will "destroy your children." Another, former ISNA president Muzammil Siddiqi, said he "supported laws in countries where homosexuality is punishable by death." Imam Shamsi Ali, an attendee who was described as a "moderate" on ISNA's website, has stated that homosexuality is an "unbearable plague."

Meanwhile, ISNA has disinvited pro-LGBT groups Muslims for Progressive Values and the Human Rights Campaign, because they "don’t fit in."

The 2018 conference also featured individuals who have come to the defense of terrorist organizations. One speaker, Council on American-Islamic Relations executive Zahra Billoo, has regularly defended Hamas and refers to Israel as an "apartheid state."

Khalid Griggs, who spoke on a panel with Billoo, has referred to al Qaeda as the "presumed perpetrators" of the 9/11 terrorist attacks and said the U.S. government used the tragedy to wage war on "legitimate resistance fighters" in the Middle East. Griggs previously launched a petition calling on the Obama administration to pardon former Black Panther Jamil Abdullah Al-Amin, better known as H. Rap Brown. Brown is serving a life sentence as a convicted cop killer.

California newspaper apologizes for running Easter ad it says was anti-Semitic
The Sacramento Bee apologized for running a two-page ad that the Californian daily said contained anti-Semitic language.

The ad appeared on April 10 and 12, Good Friday and Easter Sunday, and featured a poem signed by a person named Robert Forest, the Jewish News of Northern California reported.

“The ‘religious’ folks who ran the show, didn’t like him [Jesus] stealing their thunder (and putting the ‘sheep’ in the know), so they watched and waited hatching evil schemes unabated, looking to kill the man who brought God’s love, planning to slaughter the holy man they hated,” the poem read. It prompted many complaints from Jews and others, the Jewish paper reported.

On April 14, the Bee’s editor and president, Lauren Gustus, wrote “An apology: Ad with anti-Semitic language is unacceptable.”

In her 10-paragraph item, Gustus wrote that the ad “celebrating Easter included anti-Semitic language. We deeply regret publishing it.”

She said the language was “offensive and unacceptable, a violation of our principles as a news organization and did not meet our standards as a member of your community.”

Gustus said the Bee will make a contribution to Sacramento’s Unity Center, a pro-diversity institution that is housed inside the California Museum, that matches the cost of Frost’s ad. The paper will not accept further ads from Frost, she said, and will be improving its review process for ads to prevent a recurrence.
Nazi swastika flag is seen flying in the background of a suburban home just 350m from a synagogue - as police investigate the offensive banner
A Nazi swastika flag seen flying in the backyard of a home just 350m from a synagogue is being investigated by police.

Shocked residents spotted the offensive flag at the Watkins Street home in Newtown in Sydney's Inner West on Sunday.

Inner West mayor Darcy Byrne was alerted of the flag and contacted police to ensure they take it down.

'There's no place for racist extremism at any time but we must especially guard against xenophobia during the crisis - we will beat COVID-19 through solidarity, not division,' he said.

'For someone to have put this up in the middle of this crisis is insulting and deliberately trying to sew division.'

Police conducted an investigation and the flag was taken down on Friday afternoon, Daily Telegraph reported.

A council spokesman from the City of Sydney condemned the flying of the flag and said they had not received any complaints.

'The City of Sydney condemns any form of discrimination or vilification on the grounds of religion, gender or sexual orientation,' she said.

'We would urge anyone who sees any material they find offensive to contact NSW Police.'

In February, Jewish Community Council of Victoria called on the state's Racial and Religious Tolerance Act to completely ban the public display of the Nazi symbol.
Tesla Moves Forward With Commercial Launch in Israel After Initial Delay
The electric and autonomous-car company Tesla Inc. is going ahead with its plans to launch commercially in Israel, reported Calcalist on Tuesday.

Elon Musk’s company recently appointed Ilan Benano—a former executive at Israeli Mercedes importer Colmobil Ltd. and Audi importer Champion Motors—as its technical service manager in Israel, a person familiar with the matter told Calcalist.

Benano will be in charge of training the technical teams servicing Tesla’s cars in Israel and setting up specialized auto-repair shops in the country, the insider said.

Having repair service available in Israel is vital if the company wants regulatory approval from Israel’s Ministry of Transport and Road Safety to import and sell more than 20 cars a year in the country, explained Calcalist.

Tesla’s Israel team is also using 20 vehicles already imported by the company for potential clients to conduct test drives ahead of a formal launch expected in the upcoming months, the source added.

The company was initially expected to begin operations in Israel in January, but its plans were postponed due to regulatory problems. The company leased a showroom in Tel Aviv in January, and later that month, Israel’s transport ministry reversed its ban and allowed Tesla’s semi-autonomous driving system, Autopilot, to be used.
Easter’s Holy Fire ceremony held in empty Jerusalem church
A small group of Christian clerics celebrated the Holy Fire ceremony at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem on Saturday as the coronavirus pandemic prevented worshipers from taking part in the ancient ritual.

They entered the Edicule, a chamber built on the site where Christians believe Jesus was buried and rose from the dead after being crucified. They emerged with candles lit by a fire that the faithful view as a divine message. The source of the flame is a closely-guarded secret.

The clergymen, from different Orthodox denominations, then circled around inside the empty church, chanting prayers that echoed off the walls.

In previous years, the church would be packed with pilgrims, each holding candles and passing the light around until it illuminated the centuries-old walls. The ceremony, along with other events in the Holy Week leading up to Easter, was scaled back in line with a ban on public gatherings.

Israel has reported more than 13,000 coronavirus infections and 159 deaths.

Israel says it made special arrangements with church leaders to allow the holy flame to be carried abroad to other Orthodox communities. Because anyone entering Israel must go into quarantine, foreign dignitaries coming to pick up the flame will receive it in special containers on their planes and immediately return home.

Akiva Tor, who heads the Foreign Ministry’s department for world religions, said earlier this month that the arrangement had been discussed with local church leaders and coordinated with several foreign countries with large Orthodox populations, including Greece, Russia, Georgia and Ukraine.

The Jewish woman who entered a Nazi camp to marry the French PM
In an improbable wartime wedding at the infamous concentration camp of Buchenwald, two Jewish captives were united in matrimony: a Frenchwoman named Jeanne “Janot” Reichenbach and her longtime lover, Léon Blum, a former socialist prime minister of France. The ceremony was made possible because Reichenbach had voluntarily sought to join Blum at the camp after he was imprisoned there in 1943.

Reichenbach’s courage is reflected in a new French feature film, “Je ne rêve que de vous,” with the English title “An Irrepressible Woman.” Directed by acclaimed French Jewish filmmaker Laurent Heynemann, it was recently screened at its Midwest premiere at the Chicago JCC Jewish Film Festival on March 1.

A veteran director and a member of the Legion of Honor, Heynemann described himself as “passionate about history” in an email interview with The Times of Israel. In addition to World War II, his previous work includes films about other significant periods in French history, such as the reign of Louis XIV and the Algerian War. For his latest WWII project, he wanted to tell the story of the war through a female perspective.

Heynemann learned about Reichenbach — who later took Blum’s surname — from a novel by French historian Dominique Missika. “When you have such a strong character, you’re pretty sure there’s a movie behind it,” Heynemann said.

As the film reflects, Reichenbach had to make difficult choices during the war, including forgoing escape from Europe to stay with Blum — the first Jewish prime minister of France, who served as premier three times over the course of his life, both before and after the war.

Reichenbach did not leave Blum even as his situation worsened after the Fall of France. Vichy placed him and other former leaders on trial for alleged responsibility for France’s 1940 defeat by Germany, then suspended the trial and sent him to Buchenwald.

“This is a film about two amazing people, both of whom made a profound impact on the world in which they lived,” Ilene Uhlmann, director of the JCC Chicago Jewish Film Festival, said in a statement. “Léon Blum was a respected politician in France until becoming vilified by the Vichy regime. Jeanne Reichenbach was a woman born before her time. Her ambitions, strength and perseverance were remarkable for this time.”
Israeli NBA Prospect Starts IDF Service Amid Coronavirus Pandemic
Maccabi Tel Aviv forward and potential NBA draft pick Deni Avdija began his obligatory service in the IDF on April 1 as the Israel Basketball Premiere League season remained indefinitely suspended due to the coronavirus pandemic, the New York Post reported.

The 19-year-old, who is the son of former Serbian-Israeli basketball player and coach Zufer Avdija, arrived with his parents and agent at the Tel HaShomer army base to enlist, and will likely ultimately complete his service in North America as an “Exceptional Athlete.”

“I am happy and proud to join the IDF just like every other citizen of my age,” said Avdija. “I will do whatever is asked of me just like I do on the basketball court.”

Avdija, the No. 5 prospect in the ESPN Top 100, was named MVP of the FIBA U20 European Championship after leading Israel to a gold medal over the summer. He was also named MVP of the NBA’s Basketball Without Borders events in Tel Aviv and Charlotte, North Carolina, last year.

The 6-foot-9 hoopster announced on Thursday that he had officially submitted paperwork to make himself eligible for the 2020 NBA Draft. He is the sixth Israeli to ever enter the draft.

The New York Post reported, “It’s almost certain the sharpshooter will become Israel’s first NBA lottery pick. Most insiders have him being selected somewhere between the fourth and eighth picks.”

At the moment, the NBA draft is still scheduled for June 25, but teams have asked the league to push it back until at least August, according to NBC Sports. With the NBA season currently suspended, sources around the league said they expected the draft to take place in the fall.

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