News from May 18-May 25

President Trump praised Henry Ford, Netanyahu takes the stand, and summer camps close

Hey everyone! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com. If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter. I also want to shout out any subscribers who may have served in the military: Thank you for your service.

President Trump criticized for praising Henry Ford’s “Bloodline:”

What happened? On May 21, President Trump spoke to an audience at a Ford factory in Michigan, where he praised the “good bloodline” of Henry Ford. While Ford was indisputably an intelligent and successful entrepreneur, he was also a virulent antisemite and supporter of eugenics (he specifically believed in the superiority of the white race). By praising Ford’s bloodlines, the Michigan Jewish Democratic Party said, President Trump showed a “breathtaking indifference to the history and welfare of Michigan’s Jews.”

Why were his comments really bad? A couple of reasons.

For one, Henry Ford was a raging antisemite. He was known for believing Jewish people were involved in an international conspiracy to rule the world through financial markets. Accordingly, Ford was a notable proponent of the fake Protocols of the Elders of Zion (virtually the textbook on antisemitism) and his publishing company created a four-part publication called The International Jew: The World’s Foremost Problem. He also ordered Swastika pins to his office and was once quoted as saying, “When we get through with the Jews, there won't be one of them who would dare raise his head in public.” Critics felt that President Trump should not have praised his bloodlines because it was the very idea that some bloodlines could be better than others that fueled Ford’s antisemitism. 

Secondly, antisemitism is increasing, and some see the President’s often-questionable language as contributing to the rise. Recent data from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) showed that there were more antisemitic incidents in 2019 than any year in the past 40 years. Moreover, an Oxford study recently found that one in five people in England believe that the Coronavirus pandemic is a Jewish conspiracy. While many can write his comments off as innocuous, some groups, like the Jewish Democratic Council of America, feel that “President Trump echoed a concept used by Hitler to target and massacre Jews during the Holocaust,” and that “Neo-Nazis and white supremacists hear the President’s message of solidarity loud and clear.” In an era of swelling antisemitism, President Trump’s critics believe that he should be more careful with his word choice. 

Further reading (about Ford’s antisemitism):https://history.hanover.edu/hhr/99/hhr99_2.html

Netanyahu takes the stand:

What happened? Yesterday, the trial of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu began, making him the first sitting leader of Israel to stand trial while in office. As you may recall, Netanyahu was indicted on charges of fraud, bribery, and breach of trust related to three cases.

What is he accused of? Here’s a reminder of the details of his trial from a previous News of the Jews:

“Case 1000: Netanyahu is accused of accepting gifts from Hollywood tycoon Arnon Milchan and billionaire James Packer. Members of Netanyahu’s family are also said to have demanded and received gifts (cigars and champagne) from Milchan and Packer. In exchange, Netanyahu is said to have taken actions to benefit Milchan, including helping Milchan obtain a visa and tax exemptions. Israeli Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit said that these actions warranted charges of fraud and breach of trust because Netanyahu used his role as the Prime Minister to get the gifts. Netanyahu’s legal defense is that he is friends with Milchan and Packer and that the gifts were given from one friend to another, not from a businessman to a government official. Netanyahu also claims that he did not know of his family members’ requests for the gifts. 

Case 2000: Netanyahu is accused of giving the impression that he would take a bribe, which, in Mandelblit’s opinion, constitutes charges of bribery and fraud. Netanyahu allegedly had a meeting with the publisher of Yediot Ahronot, one of the most prominent newspapers in Israel, where he suggested he could get a large rival newspaper, Israel Hayom, to reduce its free circulation. In exchange, Yediot Ahronot would give Netanyahu more favorable coverage. Although the deal never ended up happening, Mandelblit charged Netanyahu with bribery on the grounds that he made it known that bribing public officials was acceptable. Netanyahu’s legal team is countering by saying that Netanyahu never intended to follow through on the deal.

Case 4000: This is considered the most serious of the cases. Mandelblit accused Netanyahu of asking Shaul Elovitch, a businessman who owns Bezeq (a telecommunications company) and a news site called Walla News, for better coverage. In exchange, Netanyahu, who was the Communications Minister at the time, allegedly changed regulations that netted Elovitch around $500,000,000. Although there is no evidence of explicit coordination, Mandelblit said the quid-pro-quo scheme was severe enough to warrant charges of bribery, fraud, and breach of trust. Netanyahu’s legal defense is that good coverage doesn’t constitute a bribe and that Netanyahu wasn’t aware of the quid-pro-quo.”

Netanyahu at his arraignment hearing. Photo via Reuters.

Did anything notable happen during his arraignment hearing? Whether or not Netanyahu would have to show up to the hearing was contentious. Ahead of the preliminary hearing, Netanyahu requested not to attend the arraignment. The judges ultimately ruled against him, saying that, like everyone else, he would have to be present for his trial. However, the judges asked the prosecution to allow Netanyahu to skip the next phase of hearings because they are mostly procedural. Netanyahu is not expected back in court this year. 

Further reading: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/24/world/middleeast/israel-benjamin-netanyahu-corruption-trial.html (NYT)

Summer camps close all over the United States:

What happened? Summer camps all over the country have announced they will be closed this summer due to the Coronavirus pandemic. Significantly, the Union of Reform Judaism (URJ) closed all of its summer camps for the first time since 1947. Although some Jewish camps have not closed, the nearly 180,000 youth and college-aged adults who attend Jewish summer camps will likely have their summers affected by the pandemic. 

Many camps only recently announced their policies because the American Camp Association released their Coronavirus guidance, which was prepared in collaboration with the CDC and a private consulting firm, last week. The guidelines specifically suggest breaking campers down into “households” and limiting interactions between households, wearing facemasks, and restricting days off for staff. As of last Tuesday, the American Camp Association of New York and New Jersey said that at least 45 of its 300 member camps had canceled, but more were canceling daily. 

It’s not all bad news, though: A Jewish summer camp in Sweden is partially re-opening after initially closing!

Further reading: https://www.jta.org/2020/04/30/united-states/its-official-jewish-camps-will-cancel-this-summer-due-to-covid-affecting-at-least-10000-kids (JTA)

News from May 10-May 17

Pompeo visits Israel, Israel's new government, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com. If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visits Israel:

What happened? This week, American Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to Israel for a quick, one-day visit with senior Israeli leaders. It may seem like strange timing–Israel had to delay the swearing-in of its new government to accommodate Pompeo’s visit–but many lingering issues needed to be resolved between the United States and Israel, some of which related to Israel’s new governing coalition. Notably, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister Benny Gantz’s coalition deal allows the former to annex parts of the West Bank starting on July 1st. While the United States does see that land becoming part of Israel in its peace plan, it has encouraged Israel only to proceed with annexation as part of “direct talks between Israel and the Palestinians on the Trump peace plan.”

Secretary Pompeo Arrives in Israel | U.S. Secretary of State… | Flickr

Secretary Pompeo arriving in Israel. United States State Department.

I thought annexation was a done deal? What happened? As David Halbfinger and Lara Jakes wrote in the New York Times piece, the Trump Administration’s green light has turned yellow. There are a lot of reasons that could explain the “change of heart.” Significantly, the King of Jordan has come out aggressively against any potential unilateral annexation in the West Bank. Given the importance of Israeli-Jordanian and (Israeli-Egyptian) peace, any disruptions in Israeli-Arab relations could cause a significant incident in the region. In his election year, President Trump likely does not want to be seen as responsible for Middle Eastern turmoil. Still, some argue, supporting annexation could bolster President Trump’s support among his evangelical Christian Zionist base. In the New York Times article linked above, former diplomat Dennis Ross explained that coaxing Israel into talks with the Palestinians–rather than annexing unilaterally–could give President Trump a good talking point during his re-election campaign. By restarting Israeli-Palestinian negotiations, he would have succeeded where others have failed.

What else did they talk about? Two other items on Pompeo’s agenda were the malicious threat of Iran and Israel’s business dealings with China. Regarding the former, Israel claims that Iran recently launched a cyberattack on its water infrastructure. As for the latter, the United States and Israel have been at odds recently over Israel’s embrace of Chinese business dealings. Specifically, Israel has allowed Chinese investments in its ports (which often have American military vessels docked) and near sites of strategic significance for the United States. Accordingly, the United States is not thrilled about sharing intelligence over networks it believes could be compromised by the Chinese presence. Somewhat relatedly, the Chinese ambassador to Israel was found dead in his residence on Sunday, leading some to speculate that question the circumstances surrounding the ambassador’s death, but authorities said he died of natural causes.

Further reading: https://thehill.com/policy/international/497904-china-emerges-as-potential-strain-on-us-israel-relationship (The Hill)

Israel swears in its new government:

What happened? After three elections, Israel finally has a government! The new government, led by Prime Minister Netanyahu and Alternate Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Gantz, was sworn in yesterday. You may find yourself wondering what an Alternative Prime Minister does; it’s a new position that will enable Gantz to have veto power over many significant policy decisions. It’s also one of many new positions in the Israeli government. With 34 ministers, the new government will be the largest in Israeli history. New portfolios include “settlements” and “community strengthening and advancement,” among others.

Why are there so many ministers? To convince Gantz to join his coalition, Netanyahu had to cede portfolios that had been Likud’s in the previous government to Blue and White. Notably, Blue and White received the foreign affairs and defense ministries which had previously been Likud portfolios. To make up for the lost portfolios, Netanyahu’s government includes new ministries that he distributed for political purposes. Gantz’s Blue and White also received new ministerial positions. Why does it seem like nobody is content with just being a member of the Knesset? Read this article

Here’s a breakdown of the major portfolios:

Prime Minister: Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud)

Alternate Prime Minister: Benny Gantz (BW)

Defense Minister: Benny Gantz (BW)

Foreign Minister: Gabi Ashkenazi (BW)

Finance Minister: Yisrael Katz (Likud)

Justice Minister: Avi Nissenkorn (BW)

Economy Minister: Amir Peretz (Labor, now BW)

Health Minister: Yuli Edelstein (Likud)

Further reading: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/17/israel-netanyahu-gantz-elections-262858 (Politico)

Honorable mentions:

Orthodox Rabbis are “increasingly split” about whether their congregants can form minyans and pray collectively.

Portugal’s Socialist party proposes revoking a 2013 law that established a pathway to citizenship for Sephardic Jews who can prove they are the descendants of Jews expelled in the 15th century.

“In Boston, a Jewish agency tackles ‘shocking’ poverty and homelessness.”

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News from May 3 to May 9

Israel re-opens, Israeli political update, and honorable mentions

Hey everyone! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com. If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter.

Israel begins to re-open after COVID-19 closures:

What happened? After recording its first day with zero deaths since March, Israel has begun easing Coronavirus-related restrictions. Notably, Israeli pre-schools and kindergartens opened yesterday. Though only 60% of eligible students showed up, the fact that students are leaving their homes means that their parents may be able to return to work. Older students are expected to return to school on a rolling basis soon. Israel also began preparing for a resumption of tourism and international travel by easing isolation requirements. Previously, all visitors to Israel had to quarantine for 14 days in state-run Coronavirus “isolation hotels.” Now, though, visitors will be allowed to self-quarantine at their destination. Meanwhile, Israel, Austria, Australia, Denmark, Greece, and the Czech Republic are discussing adopting joint Coronavirus protocols that will allow them to resume trade and tourism. Israel has also re-opened public parks.

How did Israel get COVID-19 under control? Experts have cited Israel’s small size and quick reaction time as some of the main reasons Israel was able to manage the Coronavirus pandemic. It was one of the first countries to close its borders, preventing the spread of the virus. Another reason is that Israel is a young country (its median age is 30!), so it was impacted less since the virus tends to affect older people more. They also mention that Israel is “used to war,” so citizens understand the need to be disciplined during crises. 

Israel’s success in combating Coronavirus has not gone unnoticed. At least three Gulf States–Bahrain, the UAE, and Kuwait (reportedly)–have reached out to Israeli medical professionals, seeking to collaborate on telemedicine technology. Evidently, the pandemic has opened new doors for cooperation in the Middle East. 

Further reading: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-chaos-taints-plans-to-reopen-preschools-as-israel-eases-coronavirus-lockdown-1.8833870 (Haaretz)

Israeli political update:

What happened? The Israeli High Court ruled that Netanyahu could form a government, despite being indicted on three counts. As you may recall, Israel’s version of the Constitution has clear restrictions on serving as a minister while indicted, but it is less clear about serving as Prime Minister while indicted. Ultimately, the judges ruled that they had to defer to the Knesset to choose the Prime Minister. Since ruling otherwise would have effectively overturned the results of the election, the court decided to affirm Netanyahu’s ability to form a government. Now that the Netanyahu-Gantz coalition deal has been green-lighted by the court, the government will be sworn in this week. 

Anything else? Interestingly, Netanyahu’s coalition will not include Yamina, a right-wing nationalist party that had previously been part of his right-religious bloc. The leader of Yamina, Naftali Bennett, is the current defense minister, but he will be replaced by Gantz in the new government. It’s believed that Yamina was offered the education and Jerusalem portfolios, but Bennett declined. Yamina also said that Netanyahu’s new government will be a left-wing government and that they “will prepare for the day after Netanyahu.”

Yamina’s leadership. TOI via Flash90

Further reading: https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/middle_east/israel-high-court-allows-netanyahu-to-form-a-government-despite-indictment/2020/05/07/82dd0dde-901e-11ea-9322-a29e75effc93_story.html (WaPo)

Honorable mentions:

The NYT sparked a debate over some of its wording in an article (“The Israeli Defense Ministry’s research-and-development arm is best known for pioneering cutting-edge ways to kill people and blow things up. Now it is turning to saving lives.”). Some have criticized it for suggesting Israel kills civilians and for obscuring the true intent of the article. Others have defended it by pointing out that a critical function of any military is to kill people. 

You might want to check out Tablet’s article on plant-based Jewish eating in light of the national meat shortage.

Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said that synagogues might be able to hold High Holiday services in the fall.

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News from April 26-May 2

Mayor de Blasio, a German ban on Hezbollah, and Israeli supreme court drama

Hey everyone! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com. If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio criticized for targeting Jews in a tweet:

What happened? On Tuesday, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio specifically called out the “Jewish Community” in a tweet urging the public to adhere to social distancing guidelines. 

Mayor de Blasio’s tweet comes after the NYPD broke up a funeral for a Hasidic Rabbi in Brooklyn earlier in the day. Ironically, the Hasidic community has clarified that it coordinated the funeral procession with the NYPD. When the scene became “chaotic,” the NYPD dispersed the crowd (under De Blasio’s direct supervision). 

How have people reacted? More than 100 elected representatives and Jewish leaders signed a letter to Mayor de Blasio condemning his tweet, describing it as an attempt to “scapegoat” the Jewish community for the NYPD’s actions. They claim that the real issue was not that Hasidic Jews gathered for the funeral, but that Mayor de Blasio’s NYPD granted the Hasidic community a street permit to hold the event. Congressman Jerry Nadler was among the elected representatives that signed the letter. 

Interestingly, the Hasidic community was not nearly as critical of Mayor de Blasio, even going so far as to defend him from much of the criticism he has faced from Jewish leaders. In their letters, the two Satmar synagogues emphasized the importance of social distancing and called the Mayor “a dear friend.” He has historically had deep ties to the Hasidic community in Brooklyn.

Mayor de Blasio responded by saying, “I spoke last night out of passion. I could not believe my eyes...It was deeply, deeply distressing. If you saw anger and frustration, you’re right. I spoke out of real distress that people’s lives were in danger before my eyes and I was not going to tolerate it. So I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way. That was not my intention. It was said with love, but it was tough love.”

Further reading (Read this!): https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/01/opinion/bill-de-blasio-jewish-funeral.html (NYT)

Germany bans Hezbollah:

What happened? After having previously only banned Hezbollah’s military component, Germany announced that it would be banning the activities of Hezbollah’s political wing. The move, welcomed by the United States and Israel, was reportedly preceded by the Mossad providing intelligence on Hezbollah’s operations in Europe. Israel is said to have supplied information on explosives warehouses and money laundering networks. When Germany announced the ban, it also raided facilities all over the country to prevent Hezbollah from destroying evidence. 

Why is this important? Hezbollah presents a critical threat to Israel and American armed forces in the Middle East. Armed with thousands of missiles and a dangerous precision-guided munitions program, Hezbollah could cause catastrophic damage to Israel in a military confrontation. A critical step in countering Hezbollah is cutting off any avenues for external support. Since Europe has long been an important source of financial support for the Hezbollah, Israel and the United States have pushed for European countries to ban both Hezbollah’s military and political wings. Germany has now joined Israel, the United States, Saudi Arabia, and the Netherlands in designating the entirety of Hezbollah as a terrorist group.

Further reading: https://www.cnn.com/2020/04/30/europe/germany-bans-hezbollah-grm-intl/index.html (CNN)

Israeli political update: 

What happened? Israel’s current political situation–an indicted MK trying to form a government–is unprecedented. Accordingly, there are a few legal questions that need to be addressed before Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz can formally create Israel’s new government. Notably, the Israeli High Court has to rule on whether an indicted MK can even form a government. Israel’s basic law (similar to its constitutional law) explicitly states that while indicted MKs must resign, Prime Ministers do not have to step down if indicted. However, the law does not address whether or not they can form a government.

The petitioners in the case argue that since Israeli law requires indicted MKs to resign, Netanyahu should not be able to form a government while indicted. Netanyahu and Gantz’s lawyers argued that preventing Netanyahu from forming a government would be overriding the voters’ will and would be fundamentally undemocratic. 

Israel’s High Court heard arguments yesterday on whether Netanyahu can form a government, and they appeared to favor Netanyahu’s side. Addressing the lawyers for the petitioners, Chief Justice Esther Hayut said, “Show us something! A law! A verdict! From this country’s [history]! From [somewhere else] in the world! Something! After all, [you’re asking us to set] a global precedent! You want us to rule without a basis simply according to your personal opinion?”

What should I look out for? The Israeli High Court is set to announce its decision on the question of an indicted MK forming a government and the legality of Netanyahu and Gantz’s coalition deal this week. If the court rules against Netanyahu, the Israeli political saga will continue, and Israel will head to a fourth election. I wouldn’t hold my breath on the Israeli High Court ruling against Netanyahu, though.

Further reading: https://www.jpost.com/israel-news/politics-and-diplomacy/a-ruling-not-just-on-netanyahu-but-on-the-courts-role-in-democracy-626752 (JPost)

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News from April 19th to April 25th

Israel's new government and Orthodox Jewish blood plasma drives

Hey everyone! As always, feel free to reach out to me with questions, comments, or concerns at newsofthejews@gmail.com. If you need good Jewish/Israeli shows or movies, make sure to check out this newsletter.

Israeli election update: 

Does Israel have a government yet? Yes!!!

Gantz and Netanyahu signing their coalition agreement. Haaretz.

What does the government look like? Here’s an overview of how the coalition deal addresses some of the most critical issues between Prime Minister Netanyahu and Blue and White leader  Benny Gantz:

Prime Minister: Netanyahu will remain the Prime Minister for the next 18 months, at which point he will step down, and Benny Gantz will become the Prime Minister for the remaining 18 months. The deal stipulates that if Netanyahu is removed from power by a court decision, there will be automatic elections. As you may recall from a previous week’s newsletter, the Israeli High Court has avoided ruling on whether or not an indicted MK can form a government since it was still hypothetical. Now, of the court rules against Netanyahu on that question, Israel will head to another election. Also, as part of the deal, the Deputy Prime Minister will live in an official, state-funded residence.

Political Positions: Gantz will begin as the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister of Defense. Blue and White MKs Gabi Ashkenazi and Avi Nissenkorn will head the Foreign Ministry and the Justice Ministry, respectively. Likud’s Yisrael Katz, the current Foreign Minister, will become the head of the Finance Ministry. Labor’s Amir Peretz will become the Economy Minister (more on this later). There are lots of other appointments, but these are the major ones. 

Judicial Appointments: In Israel, one of the most sensitive political issues is the composition of the judicial system. Usually, the committee that appoints judges to the Israeli High Court is composed of members from the cabinet, coalition, and the opposition. In Netanyahu and Gantz’s government, the representative from the opposition will be Zvi Hauser, a right-wing MK from the Derech Eretz faction that broke off of Telem a few weeks ago. You may remember him as one of the MKs that prevented Gantz from forming a minority government with the Joint List’s backing. The implication of the arrangement is that Likud will have its way on judicial appointments because there will effectively be no opposition in the committee.

Legal Positions: One of the most controversial parts of the coalition deal is that Netanyahu, though indicted on three charges, will have a veto over any new Attorney General (the current Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, indicted Netanyahu), State’s Attorney, and Police Inspector-General. 

Norweigan Law: Gil Hoffman of The Jerusalem Post explains it the best: “Besides the 52 ministers and deputies as well as the Knesset speaker, there would only be 25 functioning Knesset members out of the 78 in the coalition (assuming two MKs from Labor join). Those 25 MKs would constantly have to run between different Knesset committees to do the grunt work of the parliament against the 42 MKs in the opposition. So the coalition agreement allows cabinet ministers to quit the Knesset and the next candidate on the party list to enter. The law would be changed so that in Blue and White, there would only be allies of Gantz that enter the Knesset, bypassing candidates from the Yesh Atid and Telem parties that are in the opposition.”

Remember, the Blue and White party that got elected was really a combined list of three parties. If you were to add members to the Knesset from that list (to replace MKs becoming ministers), there would be representatives from all of the parties. The new law allows the new Blue and White to disregard the members on the list from the other parties. 

Annexation of the West Bank: The coalition deal will allow Netanyahu to begin annexing the parts of the West Bank set out in the Trump Administration’s peace plan starting on July 1st. 

What else? One interesting storyline is the proverbial “death” of the Labor party. The leader of Labor, Amir Peretz, decided to split his party from Meretz (a liberal party) and join Netanyahu and Gantz’s coalition. A primary within Labor confirmed that the party desired to join the government. While the party is not functionally “dead,” it only won three seats in the recent elections and would not have passed the threshold to join the Knesset if not for its electoral alliance with Meretz and Gesher. Now, the liberal party whose predecessors ushered Israel into existence is joining Netanyahu, its longtime enemy, in forming a government.

Also, thousands of demonstrators in Tel Aviv protested the coalition deal because they oppose having an indicted Prime Minister. The protesters gathered in public but maintained social distancing. 

Did Gantz or Netanyahu come out on top? (my opinion) I believe that the coalition deal is clearly a win for Netanyahu. You can certainly make the case that Gantz extracted some critical concessions from Netanyahu; Gantz will become Prime Minister and his party will have as many ministerial positions as the entire right-wing bloc. Ultimately, though, Netanyahu secured favorable arrangements on the issues most important to Israel’s future. Netanyahu has veto power over the appointment of future attorneys who may prosecute his legal cases, a green light on annexing the West Bank, and the ability to control Supreme Court appointments. He has also positioned himself to maintain power regardless of Supreme Court rulings. When Gantz broke his core promise to his voters not to join a Netanyahu government, he said he did it to preserve Israeli democracy. It’s hard to see how this deal accomplishes that mission. 

Further reading: https://jewishjournal.com/israel/314668/israels-unity-government-is-a-big-win-for-netanyahu-and-questionable-for-gantz/

Orthodox Jews flock to donate blood plasma:

What happened? After a doctor at Johns Hopkins University reached out to his Orthodox Jewish friend Chaim Lebovits in Monsey, Lebovits began urging fellow Orthodox Jewish COVID-19 survivors to donate their blood plasma. Since Coronavirus survivors have antibodies in their blood that can be used to potentially treat COVID-19, hospitals are desperately looking for blood plasma donors. As of April 22nd, 3,000 Orthodox Jews have donated their plasma, and more than half of Mt. Sinai hospital’s donors are Orthodox Jews. 6,000 more Orthodox Jews are being tested to see if they have the proper antibodies, and Lebovits said that he ultimately hopes to organize 45,000 people to donate their plasma. Lebovits’ efforts are part of a larger campaign to mobilize the Orthodox Jewish community to donate their blood. I encourage you to read about it using the link above.

Why is this important? The Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City and Israel have been hit particularly hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. According to a Wall Street Journal analysis from earlier this month, two of the zip codes in New York City with the highest rates of Coronavirus were Borough Park and Midwood, two heavily Orthodox areas. The reasons why Orthodox Jews are suffering more are complicated, but it is generally accepted that dense housing arrangements where the elderly live with their children’s families (which are often large) have played a role in the intensity of the outbreak in Orthodox communities. Moreover, since little outside information enters the communities via popular media, some Orthodox Jews have been skeptical of the measures taken by their governments. I encourage you to read this op-ed to get a better sense of why the Orthodox Jewish community has struggled. As a result of the skepticism in the community, there have been severe and public breaches of social distancing guidelines in the Orthodox community that were heavily criticized. However, some have argued that the news coverage is unfair and singles Orthodox Jews out as a “problematic” group. Accordingly, Lebovits’ efforts have been successful both in getting Orthodox survivors to donate plasma and showing a side of the Orthodox Jewish community that has not been widely covered by the media. 

Further reading: https://nypost.com/2020/04/23/thousands-of-new-york-orthodox-jews-donate-plasma-to-fight-coronavirus/

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