Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Chanukah is coming up, but Quebec is refusing to engage in the holiday spirit. It has decided to allow family gatherings for the upcoming Christian holiday but not the Jewish one a few days earlier.

More about this worthless, has-been of a place at the end of the update. Quebec’s attempt to use historical anti-Semitism to regain its former historical importance is similar in certain ways to the majority of the population of Quebec: ugly and stupid.

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Jonathan Pollard is Free!

The big news in Israel this week is the freedom of convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard. Of course, I’m not going to write all the details of the case here. You can find those online. Just keep in mind that, unlike in this news update, there is a lot of fake news out there, so be careful what you read and believe.

After serving 30 years in prison and enduring another five years of severe parole restrictions, the U.S. government decided not to further extend Pollard’s parole, making him a free man and allowing him to leave New York City and even to make aliyah to Israel, which he is expected to do.

Pollard’s wife, Esther, is currently receiving medical treatment in the U.S. for cancer and the couple has indicated that once she is well enough to travel, they will be coming to Israel. Prime Minister Netanyahu recently spoke to the Pollards by phone and encouraged them to come to Israel as soon as possible.

Here’s how support for Pollard breaks down demographically:

* American religious Jews consistently supported Pollard’s appeals for clemency and fairness. There was a broad consensus within the community that his sentence and overall treatment by the U.S. justice system was radically disproportionate and likely motivated at least in part by anti-Semitism.

* American secular/reform/conservative Jews hate Pollard and did nothing for him. One relative of mine said he should get the death penalty even though he is personally against the death penalty. He also doesn’t seem to think any other spies should get the death penalty – just the Jewish one who spied for Israel.

This is not an uncommon sentiment in the American Jewish community. No wonder all the psychologists always have tons of work.

* Right-wing/religious/traditional Israeli Jews regard Pollard as a hero and will celebrate his arrival in Israel.

* Left-wing Israelis hate everything that right-wing Israeli Jews love – the Land of Israel, Judaism, and Pollard.

 

Secret Saudi Trip

News leaked out this week that Prime Minister Netanyahu discreetly joined U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for talks with government officials in Saudi Arabia. Another significant diplomatic breakthrough for sure; however, they were unable to convince the Saudis to officially establish relations with Israel now.

Despite this, many believe that it’s only a matter of time. The clearly evident warming of unofficial relations between the two countries seems unstoppable.

Meanwhile, Bahrain announced it plans to open an embassy in Jerusalem and invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to visit Bahrain in the near future. Even the most optimistic folks would have to be pleasantly surprised about how quickly Israel, the UAE, and Bahrain have bonded – politically, economically, and socially. It’s truly wild.

 

Elections? Looks Like It

Were you not told ahead of time about Netanyahu’s secret trip to Saudi Arabia? Neither was Benny Gantz nor was Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi. That’s right, the prime minister of Israel visited a country technically at war with Israel and didn’t inform the defense minister beforehand. That is quite a high level of dysfunctional.

All indications are now pointing toward elections in the near future. Some are suggesting that this could become official as soon as next week.

Benny Gantz launched an investigation into possible corruption by Prime Minister Netanyahu concerning the purchase of submarines by Israel. The Israeli police already investigated this situation and decided not to indict Netanyahu, but Gantz thinks there should be some more investigating – strictly for the good of the country, obviously.

Polls continue to indicate a neck-and-neck race between Netanyahu’s Likud Party and Naftali Bennett’s “Yameena/Righward” Party for the largest party in the Knesset if elections were held today. As mentioned in previous updates, Bennett routinely polls well and then his support plummets on Election Day. Maybe this time will be different. We might find out in the next few months.

 

Covid in Israel

With the number of new Covid/Corona infections relatively under control in most of Israel, the decision has been made to try to return all students to school in the next two weeks. Some students (5th and 6th grade) returned this week and 11th and 12th grades will return on Sunday. Seventh through 10th grade should return shortly after that.

However, this only applies in “green” and “yellow” areas of the country. The exception to this is primarily in the Arab community where numbers remain high.

Additionally, the number of infections is reportedly skyrocketing in Gaza as well as throughout the Palestinian-controlled areas of Judea and Samaria. It’s somewhat unclear what can be done to lower the numbers. Maybe they are waiting for Russia’s vaccine to save them. If Putin isn’t promising 100 percent effectiveness, you kind of got to wonder how effective it is.

The update isn’t so funny this week, so I’ll end with a joke: Quebec.

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