Photo Credit: Jewish Press

No surprises this week, at least until the end, and really even that surprise wasn’t so surprising. Let’s get started!

Diplomatic Extravaganza


As predicted, the recent major diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has led to other diplomatic breakthroughs. Here’s what we’ve got so far:

* The signing of the formal agreement between Israel and the UAE will be held next week at the White House. There has already been a tremendous amount of business and other activity conducted between the entities since the announcement that formal relations were being established. This also includes a significant amount of communication between ordinary citizens through social media and zoom – something virtually unprecedented in past agreements with Arab/Muslim countries.

* It appears that Bahrain that will be the next Arab country to formally establish relations with Israel. This is expected to happen in the next few weeks.

* Sudan announced that its need to have elections and establish a more stable government is virtually all that’s keeping it from establishing diplomatic relations with Israel.

* Serbia and Kosovo, two small European countries, announced at the White House that they plan to open embassies in Jerusalem. They would be the first European countries to do so. The European Union has already threatened both countries not to go ahead with the embassy move. No surprise there!

* Malawi announced plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem. It would be the first African country to do so.

* Government officials from Chad visited Israel this week and reportedly promised to open a diplomatic mission in Jerusalem within the year.

* Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries are still refusing to establish official ties with Israel until a “Palestinian state” is established. We’ll see how long they can hold out. If Iran gets more aggressive, it will be no surprise if that policy changes quickly.

* Even Israel and Lebanon are making progress in negotiations to determine the official borders between the two countries. Hezbollah is probably none too pleased about this turn of events. It shouldn’t be too surprised, though, that its feelings aren’t being taken into consideration after it accidentally blew up half of Beirut!


Coronavirus in Israel

Coronavirus infection numbers continue to rise. While most people easily recover, there have been more deaths, including most recently one of the sons (R’ Benaya, ob”m) of the Rabbi of the Old City of Jerusalem, Rav Avigdor Nebenzhal, shlit”a.

Every death from the disease is tragic, so the question continues to be what to do or not to do to reduce the spread. Not surprisingly, the Israeli secular authorities have decided to use this as an opportunity to punish the charedi community. The main decree now being imposed is a weeklong nightly curfew from 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. in certain areas of high amount of infection.

Except a few things. First, many of the charedim infected are yeshiva students who live in their yeshivahs and not in the neighborhoods they are officially registered to. Second, in communities that are all charedi, like in Beitar and Emmanuel, curfews have been imposed on the entire locale, regardless of where the infections are, whereas in mixed communities, like Ashdod and Beit Shemesh, only the neighborhoods where the charedim live have been placed under curfew while other neighborhoods have been spared.

Many Arab communities are also under total curfew, but that doesn’t make this dramatic discrimination against one community any better. Many Arab leaders have welcomed the more stringent regulations as they believe they will help them get their communities to adhere to Health Ministry guidelines.

Prosecutorial and Police Misconduct

Amit Segal is a young religious Israeli reporter, and he’s caused quite a stir this week. Often the lone representative for the right/religious community in various venues, Segal daily battles the rest of the media that overwhelmingly tilts left/secular. This week he exposed a number of scandals within the Israeli police/prosecution that directly affect cases involving both Prime Minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara.

Conflicts of interest, lies, cover-ups, illicit affairs – a real movie. Really, it’s not surprising at all. Everyone knows these things go on. It’s remarkably similar to individuals in the FBI and federal bureaucrats hunting President Trump and his staff after his election in an attempt to remove him from power.

Just another in the many parallels between America and Israel, Trump and Netanyahu. They may not be squeaky clean, but there are definitely folks out to get them. This week, some of that was on full display in Israel.


Benny Gantz, the Settler

Benny Gantz, of the center-left Blue and White Party, revealed this week that it was actually Prime Minister Netanyahu who was preventing the authorization of the construction of approximately 5,000 housing units for Jewish communities in Judea and Samaria – not to mention the freeze on Jewish building in certain sections of Jerusalem, like the planned strategic neighborhoods of Givat  HaMatos (south Jerusalem) and Atarot (north Jerusalem).

The committee that meets to approve housing hasn’t met in over six months, even though it is supposed to meet every three months. The currently scheduled meeting has been pushed off several times.

What’s the deal? It’s actually not very surprising. Prime Minister Netanyahu is trying to find a way to secure American recognition of Israeli sovereignty somewhere or everywhere in Judea and Samaria. He has promised repeatedly to make this happen, only to be delayed again and again. He doesn’t want to risk losing the big prize (sovereignty) over a few thousand housing approvals.

Prime Minister Netanyahu would say he’s being prudently cautious and that Benny Gantz doesn’t have to worry about potential fallout from making the wrong move and potentially angering President Trump.

Unlike many of Netanyahu’s right-wing critics, I wouldn’t be surprised if Netanyahu gets both the new housing units and some form of sovereignty. Will you be surprised if I’m right?


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Rabbi Ben Packer is the director of the Jerusalem Heritage House.