News from September 7 to September 13

Peace with Bahrain, Israel shuts down, 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 and Bahrain agree to normalize relations:

What happened? On Friday, President Trump announced that Israel and Bahrain had agreed to normalize relations. After Israel and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) agreed to normalization in exchange for a four-year suspension (at minimum) of Israel’s annexation plans, Bahraini leaders indicated to American officials that they too wished to normalize relations with Israel. Following President Trump’s announcement, Israel and Bahrain will exchange ambassadors and begin working on various diplomatic and economic agreements. Bahraini officials will also join Israeli, American, and Emirati leaders in Washington this week to sign the Abraham Accord. As the Trump administration and Netanyahu have pointed out, it was 26 years between Israel’s second (Jordan) and third (UAE) peace deals with Arab states but it took just 29 days to make a peace deal with a fourth (Bahrain). 

Bahraini King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa, US President Donald Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Source: JPost via Reuters

Why is Bahrain important for Israel? For one, the more friends, the better. But Bahrain’s geography and close relationship with Saudi Arabia make it a strategically important partner. It is a wealthy island nation in the Persian Gulf with Sunni Muslim leadership that, like Israel, is wary of Iran. By normalizing relations and strengthening ties, both Bahrain and Israel stand to benefit from diplomatic, technological, and economic engagement. Perhaps more importantly, Bahrain is sufficiently dependent on Saudi Arabia that experts believe it would not normalize relations with Israel without Saudi permission. While Saudi Arabia is not expected to recognize Israel soon, the fact that it is permitting (and maybe even tacitly encouraging) closer ties between Gulf states and Israel suggests that broader Arab attitudes towards Israel are changing. 

Is this good or bad for the Palestinians? It depends on how you look at it. On the one hand, one could make the case that it will be good for the Palestinians because it will provide new avenues for diplomacy. Moreover, recognition and normalization can be easily reversed if Israel takes actions that the Gulf states deem unacceptable. Thus, Israel may moderate its behavior towards the Palestinians to maintain its new, lucrative relationships with the Gulf states. 

On the other hand, if the Gulf states are no longer sticking up for the Palestinians, who is? The Gulf states seem to be willing to look the other way on Israel’s occupation of the West Bank as long as they have a powerful ally against Iran. Additionally, the Palestinians are more diplomatically isolated than ever and are all but assured that if a long-term deal is ever reached, it will not be on their terms. Every time another Arab country strikes an agreement with Israel, they lose more and more leverage and may eventually be forced to accept the status quo as a long-term arrangement. 

Who is next? All eyes are on Oman. After Israel, Bahrain, and the United States announced the new peace deal, Oman’s government released a statement saying, “The Sultanate welcomes the initiative taken by the Kingdom of Bahrain within the framework of its sovereign rights and the Tripartite Joint Declaration on Relations with Israel.” Their embrace of the Bahrain deal has left many speculating whether they could be next. Oman’s late ruler, Sultan Qaboos bin Said, met with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2018 and was seen as open-minded toward Israel. It’s unclear how Oman’s new leadership feels about Israel, but their statement suggests Oman supports Israel’s Gulf state diplomacy. 

What else? I highly encourage you to read this Axios piece about how the Bahrain deal came to fruition. According to reporter Barak Ravid, President Trump’s senior advisor Jared Kushner purchased a Torah with his own money and had White House envoy Avi Berkowitz personally present it to the king of Bahrain, Hamad Bin Isa Al-Khalida, on a recent trip. 

Further reading: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/09/12/world/middleeast/bahrain-israel.html (NYT)

Israel enters three-week lockdown:

What happened? Israel’s cabinet approved a three-week lockdown that will span from the eve of Rosh Hashanah on Friday to Simchat Torah on October 9 in response to soaring COVID-19 cases. As of Sunday, Israel has had 153,759 cases, 38,008 of which are active, and 1,108 deaths. Prime Minister Netanyahu decided to enter the lockdown in accordance with COVID-19 czar Ronni Gamzu’s recommendations. This will be Israel’s second lockdown since the emergence of COVID-19. 

Has there been any political fallout over the closures? Of course! Health Minister and leader of the United Torah Judaism party (ultra-orthodox) Ya’akov Litzman resigned, accusing Netanyahu of delaying the shutdown and purposefully scheduling it over the high holy days. A rift between Netanyahu and Litzman is potentially important because if Israel goes to another election in the spring, Netanyahu will likely need Litzman’s support to form a right-wing government. Keep an eye on that. 

Meanwhile, Netanyahu announced the shutdown just before he boarded a plane to fly to the United States to sign the Abraham Accord. Although he was initially supposed to fly to the United States on a private jet, he backtracked after he was criticized in Israeli media for indifference to the pandemic and economic crisis in Israel.

Further reading:https://apnews.com/af7e03891cdebdc9eb507094401b5146 (AP)

Honorable Mentions:

The Layered Deceptions of Jessica Krug, the Black-Studies Professor Who Hid That She Is White” by Lauren Michele Jackson (New Yorker) (For context, Jessica Krug is actually a white, Jewish woman from Kansas City who claimed she was black throughout her career)

This map shows the 20 congressional districts with the most Jews” by Ben Sales (JTA) (This isn’t news, but it’s a neat resource)

In a South Florida congressional race, Jewish culture wars erupt” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)

An insider’s look at ‘corona hotels’ operated by IDF Home Front Command” by Yaakov Lappin (JNS)

Turkey’s bid to return to Ottoman-era glory endangers Israel and the region” by Israel Kasnett (JNS)

Profiting from genocide, Disney’s ‘Mulan’ ignores lessons from the Holocaust” by Talya Zax (Forward)

Would Tevye vote for Trump or Biden? 25 fictional Jews weigh in” by PJ Grisar (Forward)

Iranian champion wrestler Navid Afkari executed despite international campaign” by Artemis Moshtaghian, Ramin Mostaghim, and Ivana Kottasová (CNN)

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