Sunday, January 10, 2021

From Ian:

What Amnesty International gets wrong about Israel’s vaccine programme
Meanwhile, the Ramallah administration was lagging behind. Having squandered sackfuls of public money over the years on everything from mansions for its leaders to payments for terrorists, while propped up by billions of aid dollars, its finances were not in good shape. And it suffered from a fundamental lack of coordination between different arms of the government.

Corruption, factionalism, a lack of proper elections – Mahmoud Abbas is currently 16 years into a four-year term – and incompetence had resulted in a government that often struggled to meet the basic needs of its citizens.

Speaking off-the-record as Israel moved towards vaccinating a million-and-a-half people, a senior PA official said earlier this week that given the sluggish progress, he would not rule out asking the Jewish state for help. When asked whether he had done so already, he paused before muttering: ‘yes and no’.

In truth, Palestinian liaison officials had already quietly contacted Israel’s Coordination of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) department to request the vaccine. The Israelis had agreed to help. Assisting the Palestinians made sense, since it was vital to maintain a degree of goodwill in coordination between the two sides on the West Bank.

According to Israel’s state broadcaster, ‘dozens’ of doses were then secretly delivered into Palestinian hands, enough for the most prominent members of the leadership – though exactly who received the jabs remains unknown. The operation was shrouded in secrecy. Partly, this was due to Palestinian shame at going cap-in-hand to Israel. Partly, it was to avoid appearing nepotistic and incompetent to ordinary Palestinians who were waiting with mounting frustration for news about the vaccine.

The Palestinian Ministry of Health had no idea about the secret delivery. In a statement, it denied that the episode had taken place. Then, in a sign of the confusion at the heart of government in Ramallah, it conceded that Israel had made an ‘informal’ offer of 20 doses on a trial basis – though it claimed that the Palestinians had turned the proposal down.

Seen in this light, the picture bears little resemblance to the narrative pushed by the likes of Amnesty International. The Palestinians neither expected nor requested help from Israel. They held no sense of grievance, even as hand-wringing commentators from overseas sought to stir up resentment by reporting that a great injustice had been done.

Palestinians appear to be seen by some as an infantilised people in need of Western intervention. But this is certainly not how they see themselves.
The Media’s New Anti-Israel Slander — Vaccines
Israel’s extraordinary success in speedily vaccinating its population has been lauded globally. As of this writing, almost 13% of Israelis have already received the first COVID-19 vaccine — well over a million people in just a couple of weeks.

However, while many in the media are looking at Israel’s vaccination drive as an example to be followed, others are using it as one more excuse to bash the Jewish state.

Media outlets including the Washington Post, NPR, and the notoriously anti-Israel British paper The Guardian have run spurious and arguably libelous headlines asserting that Israel is preventing Palestinians from being vaccinated. “Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers” read one Guardian headline.

Unfortunately, due to the media’s obsession with proving Israel’s bad faith and the Palestinians’ victimhood, they cannot praise Israel without a backhanded snipe at the Jewish state.

However, the truth of the matter is that this story about Israel supposedly withholding coronavirus vaccines is simply another malicious media attack.

First, regardless of all the good that Israel does in the world, inevitably the haters step forward to paint Israel as evil. They cannot afford for Israel to receive credit, because it will demolish the fallacious anti-Israel foundations they have built.

Former Knesset member Einat Wilf put it best on Twitter when she wrote: “Israel advances status of GBTQ? ‘Pinkwashing.’ Israelis lead world as vegans? ‘Veganwashing.’ Israel sets up first mobile hospital in devastated Haiti? ‘Harvesting organs.’ Israel is global vaccination leader? ‘What about Palestinians?’”
Amb. Alan Baker: Is J Street Misrepresenting Its Real Mission?
According to its website, the Congressional lobbying organization calling itself “J Street” was established “to serve as the political home and voice for pro-Israel, pro-peace Americans” through “organizing pro-Israel and pro-peace Americans to promote U.S. policies that embody our deeply held Jewish and democratic values and that help secure the State of Israel as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people.”

In its founding aims and principles, J Street declares its overriding aim as “reshaping political perceptions of what it means to be pro-Israel.”

The first and evidently central provision of J Street’s basic principles acknowledges that Israel faces enemies, and J Street expresses support for Israel to defend itself and live in security and peace within internationally recognized boundaries.

However, J Street’s political manifesto detailed on its website would appear to run counter – and even to undermine – any such sentiments.

On the one hand, J Street presents itself and is perceived by many naïve elements within the Jewish and non-Jewish communities as a genuine lobbying organization with the veneer of supporting Israel and expressing concern for its welfare. But, on the other hand, one can nevertheless see, behind the misleading platitudes and sweeping statements in its manifesto, that J Street’s substantive political viewpoint is openly radical and partisan, identifying itself clearly with the Palestinian narrative, and aligning itself with other openly critical-of-Israel organizations such as the Israel Policy Forum, Brookings, and the International Crisis Group. J Street has failed to welcome and promote the normalization agreements between Israel and Arab states, apparently because they downgrade the urgency J Street feels for a Palestinian state. The organization has actively lobbied against military aid to those Arab states that normalized relations.


How is technology and data helping Israel become the first country to vanquish Covid-19?
Israel is rapidly on its way to vaccinating its entire population for Covid-19 having already vaccinated two million people, more than 20% of its residents, in under three weeks. How was Israel able to establish such an efficient vaccination mechanism and receive such a large amount of doses from producers Pfizer and Moderna while other countries like the U.S., Germany, the U.K. or France, not only didn’t get millions of doses, but seemingly can’t even take advantage of the quotas they did receive and efficiently vaccinate their people?

Over the weekend it was revealed that as part of the agreement between Pfizer and Israel, it was agreed that in exchange for the millions of vaccine doses, the state will provide the drugmakers with access to vast medical databases with digital information about the people who have been vaccinated. Israel, in effect, agreed to function as a global experimentation laboratory, with the findings about its public to be used to determine vaccination strategies in other countries and aid the drug manufacturers in advancing research of coronavirus vaccines and other drugs and treatments.

What computerized medical data does Israel possess about its citizens?
The answer to this question rests in the history of the Israeli health system and the fact that it has been storing its citizens medical records — from cradle to grave— on computerized databases. Israeli citizens are required by law to purchase health insurance from one of the public healthcare providers so that every baby born in the country and every immigrant that arrives has a medical record that includes every vaccine they were ever administered, every disease they suffered from, every procedure they underwent, every drug they were prescribed, a detailed list of allergies and sensitivities — all concentrated on vast databases controlled by the healthcare providers and hospitals. When it comes to medical data, Israel possesses millions of digital files on patients, drugs, medical images, blood tests, doctor visits and much more.

What is the value of the data on the vaccine recipients?
Amid the data processing revolution, reliable and high quality data is a valuable raw material and in the modern healthcare era, those who own the data are key to the process, since the data provides the foundation for the development of new drugs and treatments. The leaps that have been made in the fields of artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) over the past decade are some of the most important in the digital healthcare revolution. The developments came about on two fronts: the ability to analyze images and to reach conclusions about the patient’s status. This means that the more quality and detailed data drugmakers possess, the better and faster they can conduct their medical research.

What is so special about the Israeli healthcare system?
The foundation of Israel’s advantage rests in the fact that the local healthcare system is managed and controlled by a collection of many synchronized bodies. Unlike other healthcare systems around the world, that feature a large multitude of insurers, healthcare providers and private physicians and a decentralized array of hospitals, clinics, pharmacies , Israel boasts a centralized and functioning health system.
Netanyahu to share COVID vaccine rollout secrets with leaders' forum
A forum of seven national leaders invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to share his advice on successfully administering COVID-19 vaccines to their countries’ populations, in a video conference expected to take place next week.

The forum, which previously convened in April and November via video, was founded by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz to share best practices in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The other leaders in the forum are Netanyahu, Denmark's Prime Minister Mette Fredriksen, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis.

Israel is the world leader in administering vaccines, with 1.8 million people, nearly 21% of the population, vaccinated as of Sunday afternoon. The forum’s planned meeting comes after Kurz, Fredriksen and Cyprus President Nicos Anastasiades already consulted with Netanyahu on Israel’s successful vaccine rollout and other possibilities for cooperation in combatting the pandemic. Netanyahu and Fredriksen agreed to deepen professional cooperation between Denmark and Israel.

Fredriksen later posted on Facebook that she spoke with Netanyahu because Israel’s “currently [has] the world’s most effective mass vaccination program. That’s why we’re talking. Getting wiser and exchanging experiences. It’s so incredibly important that we get all the knowledge we can.”
European Leaders Praise Israel’s Vaccine Rollout
The Chancellor of Austria, the Prime Minister of Denmark, the President of Cyprus and other European leaders have in the past few days called Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to congratulate him on the success of the vaccination drive in the Jewish state, Netanyahu’s office said in a press release on Friday.

Netanyahu spoke this week with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who praised Israel’s rollout of the coronavirus vaccine; the two leaders also discussed cooperation between Israel and Austria in the fight against the virus.

Netanyahu also spoke with Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen about ways to combat the pandemic, especially after the appearance of the various mutations of the virus.

Frederiksen showed great interest Israel’s much praised vaccination push, saying she sought “to draw lessons” from it.


Coronavirus: Pfizer vaccines land, Israel to inoculate 170,000 people a day
Starting Sunday, Israel will aim to "increase to a rate of 170,000 vaccinated a day," Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday just as a plane of 700,000 Pfizer coronavirus vaccines landed in the country.

The announcement came only hours after Health Minister Yuli Edelstein said that he had instructed his staff to evaluate the possibility of offering vaccinations throughout the night in order to speed up the country’s inoculation.

At the airport, Edelstein committed that by mid-March Israeli will reach five million citizens who will be vaccinated.

"Tonight we will sit down with the health funds and prepare for the next stage of the vaccination campaign," he said, to which Netanyahu added that "we will have a really happy Passover."

Sunday marked the first shipment of what are expected to be millions of Pfizer vaccines arriving in Israel by the end of March.

“We will be the first country to emerge from the coronavirus,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said. “We will vaccinate all relevant populations and anyone who wants to can be vaccinated.”
Serious COVID-19 cases pass 1,000 for 1st time since start of pandemic
The number of coronavirus patients in serious condition topped 1,000 on Sunday, the first time hospitals in Israel held that many since the start of the pandemic.

As the third wave of the pandemic continues to take a heavy toll on the country, the Health Ministry reported a record 1,029 serious cases, an increase of 36 in the previous 24 hours and nearly 300 in a week.

According to figures released by the ministry, 5,047 new coronavirus cases were recorded over Saturday, bringing the total number of infections confirmed in Israel since the pandemic began to 487,680.

The relatively low number of new cases compared to figures from late last week — on Friday 7,080 were recorded — is due to a significantly reduced number of tests carried out on Saturday, with just over 80,000 conducted compared to nearly 120,000 on Friday. A total of 6.3 percent of tests came back positive, the ministry said.

There were 68,933 active cases. Of the 1,029 serious cases, 240 people were on ventilators. Another 308 were in moderate condition and the rest had mild or no symptoms.
End in Sight? Israel Rolls Out COVID Booster Shots
Israel’s coronavirus vaccination campaign, the world’s fastest per capita, shifted to booster shots on Sunday in a bid to protect the most vulnerable citizens by next month and ease curbs on the economy.

Israelis over the age of 60, those with health problems, and medical personnel have been receiving first injections of Pfizer vaccines since Dec 19. As three weeks have passed, they are beginning to be due for follow-up, final doses.

“It changes everything,” said Guy Choshen, a director of the COVID-19 ward at Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, who got his second injection. “I’m really happy that I’m over that (and) looking forward for all this epidemic to be finished.”

The Health Ministry said 19.5% of the population have been vaccinated, including more than 72% of the over-60s. Latecomer elderly will be admitted for first shots, officials say, but otherwise vaccines will be reserved for boosters.

Israel’s vaccination rate is by far the fastest compared to the rest of the world, according to the Our World in Data website, which is run by research organization Oxford Martin School.

In second place is the United Arab Emirates, which as of Sunday had inoculated 10% of its population, followed by Bahrain and the United States at 5% and 2%, respectively.


Jonathan Tobin: The Arab Spring Created a Consensus Against Middle East Interventions
The tenth anniversary of the beginning of the Arab Spring uprisings has given rise to a deluge of commentary noting the contrast between the high hopes the demonstrations inspired about change in the Middle East and the dismal reality of what actually followed. A decade later, democratic governments in the Arab and Muslim world are nearly as scarce as they were at the start of 2011.

With the exception of Tunisia — the country where the movement began and which made real progress towards a more democratic system, even though there have been setbacks since then — the hopes for a transition from autocracies and dictatorships to a more liberal system have flopped everywhere.

Egypt seemed for a time to be the best example of how a mass movement could overthrow a long-entrenched dictatorial regime with a little help from the United States. Former President Barack Obama helped nudge Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak out of power in 2011 and wound up facilitating the installation of a Muslim Brotherhood Islamist tyranny that was soon overthrown by a military coup backed by most Egyptians. As a result, there is less freedom now than there was 10 years ago. The regime of President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is far more brutal and repressive than Mubarak’s ever was.

As for Syria, where a revolt seemed to promise an end to the barbaric dictatorship of the Assad clan, the Arab Spring led to a civil war that not only failed to dislodge Bashar Assad but killed hundreds of thousands of citizens, made millions homeless and left what remained of the country under the thumb of foreign powers like Russia, Iran, and Turkey.

Elsewhere, the story is the same. Repressive Arab dictators, oligarchies, and monarchies are still in power, and the idea of a push towards democracy or anything like it is regarded as a fantasy.

This defeat exploded the neoconservative vision of the use of American power and influence to promote and expand democracy throughout the world. Despite the polarized nature of American politics with Democrats and Republicans disagreeing on virtually everything, and with each side seeing each other as essentially illegitimate — something that is likely to grow even worse in the wake of the US Capitol riot President Donald Trump incited this week — there is one foreign-policy issue on which there is a bipartisan consensus. Both parties are equally convinced that further military adventures in the Middle East remain out of the question.
Can the Abraham Accords withstand Democrat's left-wing wave?
We will definitely see more of these double standards and hypocrisy with the radical left increasingly dominating the political and media arena in the United States, so can the Abraham Accords weather the Democratic Party's left-wing wave?

On September 15, 2020, the Abraham Accords – named after the common patriarch of the three monotheistic Abrahamic religions –were announced, to establish peace, diplomatic and trade relations, and a normalization of bilateral ties between the State of Israel, the UAE and the Kingdom of Bahrain. Even though these agreements were politically and economically strategic, it was notable that they were branded in religious-cultural terms as the "Abraham Accords". So, can there be an Evangelical Christian, Orthodox Jewish and moderate Muslim alliance to counter this left-wing-Islamist alliance?

The UAE initiated this idea with an announcement in 2019 that it intended to build an interfaith Abrahamic Family House including a monumental church, a mosque and a synagogue. The UAE has chosen to focus on the cultural commonality between Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, symbolized by Abraham who is revered by all three faiths. This move can be built on to counter the Islamist idea that other religions are toxic to Islam. Framing Orthodox Jews, Evangelical Christians, and moderate Muslims as part of an Abrahamic family can form a political alliance that is a more robust alternative to the long-standing narrative of Judeo-Christian and Islamic civilizations being in conflict.

The attempt to build an Abrahamic narrative may challenge not only Islamist extremists, but also the radical left who want to undermine the legitimacy of countries not aligned with their left-leaning political and intellectual visions.
Israel-Arab normalization to have impact on Yemen war - opinion
In this new era of Israeli-Arab normalization, Israel has an even more direct interest than it always had in the outcome of the decades-long civil conflict in Yemen. Two of the main players on the ground are Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. The UAE is an original signatory of the Abraham Accords and, if the grapevine is to be believed, Saudi Arabia is an imminent prospect.

At the start of 2020, the unhappy war-torn state of Yemen was split four ways. Not only were rival governments – one backed by the Saudi-UAE coalition, the other by the Iranian-supported Houthis – fighting for control of the country as a whole, but South Yemen had seceded from the North and declared self-rule. To further complicate the situation, the South Yemen separatists were supported by the UAE, which was odd because the UAE was also battling the Houthis on behalf of Yemen’s government led by President Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi, which condemned the separatist move as “catastrophic and dangerous.”

Israel has never involved itself directly in the conflict, however, those elements of the media that are none-too-friendly toward Israel maintain that the Jewish state has been providing logistical support for the coalition established by Saudi Arabia in 2015 to counter the Houthis’ effort to take over the country.

The Middle East Monitor also maintains that when Houthi forces seized the Saudi Arabian Embassy in the capital Sana’a, documents were discovered revealing US intentions to establish a military base on Yemen’s Perim Island near the Bab el-Mandab Strait, “to protect [America’s] interests and ensure the security of Israel.”
Jpost Editorial: Twitter banned Trump, now it needs to ban Khamenei
When confronted in July during a Knesset hearing on allowing Khamenei’s account to remain active, a Twitter executive said that his comments do not violate hate-speech rules, since they are considered “foreign policy saber-rattling.”

Twitter’s Vice President of Public Policy Sinéad McSweeney went further, writing to Israel’s Strategic Affairs Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen that Khamenei’s hateful tweets did not violate their policies.

“World leaders use Twitter to engage in discourse with each other, as well as their constituents,” McSweeney wrote in a June 15 letter.

While the comments were ridiculous, they exposed a bias that has to be dealt with. If Trump’s account is suspended because of concern that he will encourage violence, then the same needs to happen to Khamenei’s account, especially considering that he is the leader of a country that is the greatest sponsor of terrorism in the world, and continues to pursue a nuclear capability at a time that he openly threatens genocide of another country – Israel.

Where do they draw the line, and at what point will someone’s account now be suspended? All that remains unclear. The fact that Trump is suspended but Khamenei can still tweet genocide says much about the need for clarity.

Trump’s account might have needed to be suspended, especially in light of how he encouraged the violent mob last week in Washington. But Twitter and Facebook need to keep going and take immediate action against Khamenei’s account. Allowing it to remain active is a stain on the social media companies and their so-called rules and policies.

Delete Khamenei’s account now.
Seth Frantzman: Why will the big tech giants never censor foreign authoritarian regimes?
In the past year, Twitter has begun to label state-controlled media. But it also indicated it would keep up the accounts of foreign leaders because they relate to the “public interest.” However, information judged “misleading” – sometimes by “fact-checkers” – has been flagged.

Critics note that all of these complex decisions on who to ban and label don’t seem to apply to foreign governments. Twitter did censor a tweet by Iran’s leader that spread misinformation about COVID vaccines. At the end of November, it refused to remove a tweet by a Chinese official that was misleading, despite Australia’s complaints.

At the time, the company said the tweet was marked “sensitive” but that foreign-policy “sabre-rattling” is acceptable. The tweet in question was staged and showed a fake image of an Australian soldier with a knife to a child’s neck. Misleading comments about the US election were tagged as such, but not this image. Critics wonder why.

The reason social-media giants will not ban content by foreign totalitarian governments that is misleading or incendiary is mostly because Western governments have not put the kind of public pressure on them to do so. Internal domestic politics, often written in English, are on the radar of social-media giants and are hot-button issues. At the end of the day, these are corporations that grew out of the US, so their knowledge of American politics is greater.

This is part of a general Orientalist worldview that doesn’t see foreign countries or foreign politics the same as internal Western democratic politics. This kind of paternalism tends to treat hateful rhetoric by those like Iran’s supreme leader as less “dangerous” than extremists inside the borders of the US. Foreign extremists are seen as more comical, even if for their own citizens their words are deadly serious.

Democracies have become less robust at challenging foreign dictatorship media, which has often enabled the well-endowed foreign media that are run by authoritarian regimes such as Qatar, Russia, Turkey or other countries to operate freely in the West, even as Western media and social media are sometimes restricted abroad.
President Trump: Gratitude & Disappointment
While each criminal that violated the Capitol’s sacred grounds is ultimately responsible for their own actions, I maintain that President Trump is responsible for Wednesday’s actions. Our Rabbis have instructed leaders, “Be careful with your words.” I’ve read many people’s comments excusing President Trump for Wednesday’s riot claiming that his speech called for peaceful protest. While it is true that he repeatedly said the protest should be peaceful, it was his responsibility to ensure every one of his words reflected the call for peace. Tweeting “fight,” calling on people to march to the Capitol and his dastardly video praising the protestors as “special people” and expressing his love instead of condemnation of them, allowed a small minority of his loyal admirers to understand his words as a call to riot. Not only do I maintain that he’s responsible, but I think criminally so, and I think he should be impeached. His words cause me to fear what he’s capable of over the next week and a half.

I try not to paint Presidents, Prime Ministers and elected official with broad strokes such as “good” or “bad,” “Pro-Israel” or “Anti-Israel.” I prefer to focus on specific actions, issues and policies and judge based on those limited areas. Over the years I have written essays praising President Trump and criticizing him. It is easy for me to end this essay by characterizing President Trump as “Good for Israel, bad in every other way,” but I think that’s a superficial take.

My gratitude to President Trump for his unprecedented support of Israel is tainted by my disappointment over his behavior on Wednesday. As an advocate for a strong US-Israel relationship and Presidents supporting Israel, I put President Trump above all other Presidents. As an American who values the Presidency and the sanctity of American Democracy, I put President Trump below all other Presidents, including President Nixon. I don’t think it sufficient to conclude the good outweighs the bad or the bad outweighs the good. I don’t know how we make those calculations. As a teacher, I’m supposed to know all the answers and explain to my students the proper outlook. In this situation, I don’t have an answer, I am perplexed.
The Left set the tone, so why the shock and outrage about the US chaos?
You can’t be upset when the Right indulge in conspiracy theories about election theft over Trump’s defeat, when Left became obsessed with conspiracy theories over Trump’s election victory. You can’t complain when the Republicans complained about alleged voter fraud when Democrats have spent the Trump years and the Bush years before that alleging voter fraud and other election rigging. Of course, former President Bush is absolutely correct to say of the ongoing pro-Trump protests: “This is how election results are disputed in a Banana Republic”.

But now everyone is upset about violent protest and rioting. Pundits are asking: “How could this be allowed to happen? How did we get here?” The answer is obvious. The Left, with Liberals nodding and signalling their virtue, has been legitimising violent street protest for years, and now suddenly they’re surprised when it becomes the default mode of political expression.

The behaviour by whoever is behind they pro-Trump chaos in Washington is disgraceful, anti-democratic, thuggish and inexcusable. But it is a continuation of a mode of political engagement that the Left has almost exclusively drafted into use this millennium, as politics became increasingly polarised, opposing points of view demonised, opponents dehumanised, and street politics hailed as the way to tackle “The Establishment”.

“Not My Prime Minister” was a left-wing chant in Britain following the Left’s election defeat in 2019. “Not My President” was the left-wing’s defiant cry in America in 2016. But here we are today, in 2021, and we are being lectured by the very people who brought us here to “Respect Democracy“.

I hope this is a wake-up call to sensible people Left, Right, and Centre, to change tack with some urgency. To start with, we can all stop treating politics like some sort of contact sport – particularly on “social media” which is toxic, socially fracturing, and actually anti-social – and seeking out areas where we can find consensus or indeed “agree to disagree”.

If it doesn’t change, everything is lost.


Site of Jesus' baptism cleared of mines after 50 years
A shrine near the traditional site of Jesus' baptism on the River Jordan hosted an Epiphany procession for the first time in more than 50 years on Sunday after it was declared free of landmines.

Father Francesco Patton, the custodian of the Holy Land for the Roman Catholic church, led Franciscan friars towards a shrine in what was once a war zone between Israel and Jordan.

Although the two countries have been at peace since 1994, seven churches laid abandoned for more than 50 years in the area of de-mining operations. The area lies about a kilometer from the Qasr al-Yahud ("The Tower of the Jews") baptism site near Jericho, which is a major draw for Christian pilgrims.

"Today, we are back to pray," Father Ibrahim Faltas, one of the clergymen at the ceremony, said. Attendance at the procession, which commemorates the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist, was capped at 50 due to COVID-19 restrictions.

Israeli de-mining efforts began in 2018 and included support from the Halo Trust, a Scottish-based mine clearance group, an Israeli official said.
Source: Biden’s Administration Demands Elections in PA Before Resumption of Ties
President-elect Joe Biden’s team has conveyed a message to the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) leadership through unofficial channels that it will not be able to work with the PA and resume ties before legislative and presidential elections in the PA, a source has told TPS.

The last presidential election was won by PA head Mahmoud Abbas of Fatah in January 2005, while the January 2006 legislative election was won by Hamas.

There have been no elections in the PA since.

The PA is preparing for the elections after Hamas has agreed to the terms and conditions.

Abbas met on Saturday with the head of the Central Election Commission (CEC) Hanna Nasser during which they discussed dates for holding the legislative, presidential and National Council elections.

Nasser proposed specific dates for the elections and it was decided that another meeting with the CEC will be held in a week and Abbas is now expected to issue the elections decrees by January 20, to be followed by a dialogue between the factions on the electoral process.
17th year of a four-year term; Will Abbas hold Palestinian elections?
Palestinians on Saturday marked the 16th anniversary of the second presidential election, which saw Mahmoud Abbas win 62.52% of the vote and become the second Palestinian Authority president after Yasser Arafat.

Abbas, now 85, was elected for a four-year term, which expired in 2009. Since then, the Palestinians have not been able to hold another presidential election, mainly due to the split between the West Bank and the Gaza Strip resulting from the dispute between Abbas’s Fatah faction and Hamas.

Abbas has recently faced increased pressure, mostly from the international community, to allow Palestinians to cast their ballots in new elections.

According to the Palestinian Basic Law, a president shall not be elected for more than two consecutive terms.

The first Palestinian presidential election was held on January 20, 1996, when Arafat defeated his sole rival, Samiha Khalil, a prominent charity worker and politician from the village of Anabta in the northern West Bank.

Arafat gained 87.1% of the votes, while Khalil, who ran as an independent candidate, got only 12.9%.
PMW: PA incitement led to recent murder of Israeli woman
The Palestinian terrorist who brutally murdered an Israeli mother of six, Esther Horgan, last month, told Israeli interrogators that he “decided to carry out a terrorist attack after he was influenced – inter alia – by the death of a security prisoner he knew, Kamal Abu Wa’er,” who died in prison from cancer. [Israel Security Services, Israeli Government Press Office, Jan. 4, 2021].

Israeli murder victim Esther Horgan, who was killed while out jogging.

Terrorist Kamal Abu Wa’er who was serving 6 life sentences for involvement in the murder of at least 4 Israelis, recently died of cancer in prison. Already during his illness, the PA and Fatah launched an incitement campaign citing top officials who falsely claimed Israel was denying him proper treatment and once Abu Wa’er had died, they intensified the libel that his death was caused by “deliberate medical neglect.” Apparently believing this to be true, terrorist Muhammad Kabha decided to kill an Israeli in revenge and when he “identified a Jewish woman walking alone,” he took a rock and bludgeoned her to death.

The Palestinian Authority does everything it can to demonize Israel and create hate among Palestinians. One means is the spreading of libels, and one of those libels is that Israel treats imprisoned Palestinian terrorists inhumanely. For years, the PA has purported that Israel “tortures” terrorist prisoners, gives them experimental drugs rather than try to cure their illnesses, does Nazi-like experiments on them, intentionally infects them with diseases, deliberately neglects them medically, and refrains from treating severe diseases like cancer to cause their “slow death.”

It must be stressed that the International Red Cross regularly visits the Palestinian terrorist prisoners and has never accused Israel of treating sick terrorist prisoners improperly. In June 2020 a Red Cross official told PA TV “we visited more than 90% of those who are in these [20 different] prisons.”

The following are examples of the PA’s recent lethal incitement following the death of terrorist Abu Wa’er, and additional examples of the ongoing PA medical libel that Israel neglects all Palestinian prisoners.


Hezbollah denies links to tons of amphetamines seized in Italy
Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah denied on Friday that the terrorist organization was involved in the drug trade from Syria including a shipment of amphetamines that was seized by Italian authorities in the summer, according to the BBC.

Italian authorities said they had seized about 14 tonnes (15.4 US tons) of the amphetamine Captagon arriving from Syria – about 84 million pills, worth around $1 billion – $12 per pill – in what they described as the world’s single largest operation of its kind.

The Italian police initially thought that Islamic State (ISIS) was behind the transaction. But after digging further, they pointed the finger at the regime of Syrian President Bashar Assad and his close Lebanese ally Hezbollah.

"The issue of drugs in Hezbollah is a legal issue, and it is categorically forbidden to use, trade in, manufacture or help with this," said Nasrallah during a speech on Friday.

Nasrallah stressed that Hezbollah would "fire any young man in the party if it becomes evident that he is using drugs in any way."


Secretary of State: Iran Threatening to Expel UN Investigators
In December Iran’s parliament passed a law requiring expulsion of International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) nuclear inspectors unless all sanctions are lifted. Today a member of the parliamentary leadership repeated that threat: all IAEA watchdog inspectors will be ejected unless sanctions are lifted. Once again the Iranian regime is using its nuclear program to extort the international community and threaten regional security.

Iran’s threat goes much further than violating the JCPOA. Iran has a legal treaty obligation to allow IAEA inspector access pursuant to Iran’s NPT-required safeguards agreement. Violating those obligations would thus go beyond Iran’s past actions inconsistent with its JCPOA nuclear commitments.

Every nation, not only the United States, will attach great importance to Iran’s compliance with these obligations. Nuclear brinksmanship will not strengthen Iran’s position, but instead lead to further isolation and pressure.

This threat follows on the heels of the Iranian regime announcing it has resumed 20% uranium enrichment at Fordow, the fortified, underground facility Iran originally constructed in secret, further breaching its nuclear pact. The world’s top sponsor of terrorism should not be allowed to enrich uranium at any level.
Iran's regime to execute another champion wrestler
The Iranian state’s opaque judiciary is slated to execute a second champion wrestler after it engaged in the widely criticized wrongful hanging of Greco-Roman wrestler Navid Afkari in September for his role in protesting regime corruption.

Mehdi Ali Hosseini, 29, from the city of Andimeshk in the province of Khuzestan, was arrested in 2015 and charged with murder during a group brawl.

His execution is imminent, according to family members cited on the Persian-language website of Deutsche Welle, a German state-owned international broadcaster.

The victim’s family has not agreed to pardon the athlete for alleged murder, the DW website reported.

Hamid Sourian, the Iranian gold medalist Greco-Roman wrestler at the 2012 London Olympics and vice president of the Iranian Wrestling Federation, has called for the execution to be prevented.

“I beg Dr. Gholami Gheibi, who is one of the prominent doctors in Dezful, as the father of the victim, to please God” rescind the death penalty, he reportedly said.
Wax statue of former IRGC commander Qasem Soleimani unveiled in Tehran
A wax sculpture of former Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander Qasem Soleimani was unveiled at the Milad Tower in Tehran on Saturday, according to Iranian media.

Soleimani's family, a number of government ministers and artists participated in the unveiling event.

A music video displaying Soleimani's history started off the event followed by speeches and a music video by singer Amiril Arjmand.

Fatemeh Soleimani, the Quds Force commander's daughter, read a letter written by Soleimani at the event as well. The statue will remain on display at the Milad Tower.
Johns Hopkins teaching assistant who mooted flunking ‘Zionists’ defends record
A teaching assistant at Johns Hopkins University defended what she called her fair treatment of students after she debated online the merits of giving Zionists “all their points” in exams.

Rasha Anayah, a graduate student in the chemistry department at the Baltimore school, launched into the debate on Twitter on Nov. 15, the Forward reported Thursday.

“Ethical dilemma: if you have to grade a zionist students exam, do you still give them all their points even though they support your ethnic cleansing?” she wrote. “Like idk [I don’t know]”

Anayah put the question up to a survey, in which 77% of the respondents replied, “Free Palestine! Fail them.” Commenting on the result, she wrote, “like I agree but also too many of you want me to get fired.”

Contacted by the Forward, Anayah told the paper, “I have always acted with the utmost integrity and fairness. I am a dedicated teacher and scholar with a commitment to social justice and to my role. My record as a teaching assistant is a testament to these facts.”

On Wednesday, the campus chapter of the Hillel Jewish group called on students to step forward if they believe that Anayah had lowered their grades unjustly. Faculty at Johns Hopkins are looking into the case, the Forward reported.


Kenneth L. Marcus: Biden has new tools to fight anti-Semitism
President-elect Joe Biden has two new tools that can help him in his professed priority to strengthen international ties, support human rights and combat anti-Semitism. The new tools play well to Biden’s foreign-relations experience and enduring belief in internationalism, which favors intergovernmental alliances, democratic cooperation and a liberal rule-based order.

First, in late December, Congress passed legislation elevating the State Department’s special envoy on anti-Semitism to ambassadorial status. This should enable the Biden administration to fight anti-Semitism more effectively on a global scale.

The outgoing special envoy, Elan Carr, did a remarkable job raising public awareness about the world’s oldest hatred. His predecessors in prior administrations—Ira Forman, Hannah Rosenthal and Greg Rickman—were also strong.

The enhanced position should enable Biden to succeed Carr with a high-profile successor who can work even more effectively with foreign peers. The candidates reportedly under consideration are highly qualified, including the Anti-Defamation League’s Abe Foxman and Sharon Nazarian.

Second, just today, the European Commission and the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) released an excellent new handbook on fighting anti-Semitism. It presents the IHRA Working Definition of Antisemitism, along with its guiding examples and relates those to the contexts of 22 real-world anti-Semitic incidents and crimes. The European Union had already called on its member states, as recently as December 2020, to use this definition to identify anti-Semitic incidents.
Scottish minister condemns antisemitic abuse directed at Celtic's Bitton
Following the collection of abuse hurled at Scotland's Celtic Israeli midfielder Nir Bitton during his tenure with the soccer club, Scottish Justice Minister Humza Yousaf issued a statement condemning the racism.

According to the Jewish Chronicle, this was in response to the outcry regarding Bitton from the Jewish Leadership Council’s Scottish region manager Danielle Bett, who used a recent example of the Israeli midfielder being called a "dirty Jew" after Sunday's match against the Rangers. “Would love to see more condemnations of this from those who would usually condemn racism in football anywhere," Bett tweeted, according to the report. "I’m not interested in the teams, allegiances or football. This is disgusting racism which ought to be called out and shut down.” Yousaf said that “antisemitism deserves the same contempt as Islamophobia and any other prejudice.”

“Passion about your club (or even against a rival) is all part of the game – racism, prejudice and hatred are not," he added.

Originally from Ashdod, Bitton has spoken out previously regarding the abuse he receives from Scottish fans for being an Israeli, according to the report. Celtic FC notified police of antisemitic tweets the midfielder has been receiving as of late, who are currently investigating a few including one that referred to him as a "Jew bast**d" with another calling him a "Zionist rat."


Israeli MMA fighter defies odds and prejudice at Ultimate Fighting Championship
Natan Levy is no stranger to fighting. After moving to Israel from his native Paris as a boy, Levy would often tangle with kids picking on him because of his accent.

But this aggressive prowess has helped some of his wildest dreams come true, silencing plenty of doubters along the way.

Levy, 29, and now living in Las Vegas, became only the third Israeli to sign on with the Ultimate Fighting Championship, the world’s premier mixed martial arts organization, with an impressive victory last month in a series promoted for up-and-comers in the sport.

After subbing for a fighter who tested positive for COVID-19 on just five days notice, Levy upset undefeated Shaheen Santana in a 160-pound (73kg) catchweight bout in Dana White’s Contender Series, earning a UFC contract.

At 6’1″ (185 cm.), Santana had a sizable height advantage over the 5’6″ (168 cm.) Levy. Plus Levy typically fights at 145 pounds (66kg) — he moved up to tangle with Santana, a Brazilian jiu jitsu specialist who had won by submission in five of his six bouts.
Settlers begin exporting 'made in Israel' products to Dubai
The Samaria Regional Council began exporting settler products to the United Arab Emirates on Sunday with labels stating that Israel is the country of origin.

A shipment of olive oil and honey from the Trura Winery in the Rehelim settlement and Paradise Honey in the Hermesh settlement will be exported.

“This is a historic day for Samaria and the entire State of Israel,” said Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan, who was photographed holding a box that said “Trura Winery, Rehelim, Israel.”

The ability of the settlers to export products to the UAE, which are treated as "Made in Israel" items, is seen as a small step forward toward de facto sovereignty and recognition that the settlements are part of Israel.

Most of the international community refuses to recognize the settlements, maintaining that areas outside of the pre-1967 lines, such as the settlements, cannot be considered part of Israel.

This is expressed in the treatment of Israeli products produced over the pre-1967 lines, particularly by Europe, one of Israel’s largest trading partners.





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