News from June 14 to June 20

Prime Minister Bennett's first week, Israeli-Palestinian vaccine deal falls apart, and honorable mentions

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Prime Minister Bennett’s busy first week: 

What happened? As you may recall, one of the potential roadblocks to forming a government was the rescheduled Jerusalem Day flag parade, a provocative, predominantly far-right march through Jerusalem’s Old City. Due to security concerns, Defense Minister Benny Gantz and then-Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu agreed to postpone the march until last Tuesday. Though Hamas threatened to resume violence if Israel permitted the march and clashes with protestors appeared likely, Israel’s new Public Security Minister, Omer Bar-Lev (Yesh Atid), permitted the Flag March to continue. While many had feared the march would set off a new regional conflict, the parade was relatively uneventful (However, some of the marchers sadly chanted “Death to Arabs”). In response to the parade, militants in Gaza released incendiary balloons which set acres of Israeli land ablaze. Unlike his predecessor, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett responded to the incendiary balloons with airstrikes on Hamas targets. So far, however, the tit-for-tat exchange has not sparked a wider conflict.

Prime Minister Bennett speaking last week. Source: Israeli PM

What about domestic politics? Last week was a very busy week for politicians inside Israel. For one, the new government announced it would form a commission to investigate the Mount Meron tragedy. As you may recall, a stampede at a religious event killed dozens of people earlier this year. The new commission will be tasked with identifying changes to prevent a similar disaster in the future. The investigation is touchy politically because it may blame high-profile political leaders and religious figures like former Minister of Public Security Amir Ohana (Likud), United Torah Judaism MK Yaakov Litzman, and Shas MK Aryeh Deri for their roles in the tragedy. Any political moves with the potential to disrupt the relationship between the state and religious authorities are likely to invite significant opposition from religious political parties and their allies (Likud).

In other news, the opposition has already filed a motion for a no-confidence vote that could jeopardize the fragile governing coalition. However, the government appears stable for now.

What about Netanyahu? Was there any news about him? Of course there was! First and foremost, Israeli media reports suggested that former Prime Minister Netanyahu’s staff shredded important documents instead of storing them in archives as stipulated by Israeli law before Bennett replaced him. When asked about the report, a spokesperson for Netanyahu called it “a total lie.” The new Prime Minister’s Office will investigate the claims. 

Additionally, although he is no longer prime minister, Netanyahu has yet to vacate the prime minister’s residence in Jerusalem. There is no law in Israel that dictates when a prime minister is supposed to leave the residence, but prime ministers often use the facility for formal events. This week, Bennett reportedly reached an agreement with Netanyahu for him to vacate the facility by July 10, which will be nearly a month since Bennett took office. Bennett is said to have agreed not to hold formal events at the residence until then. The agreement comes after Netanyahu hosted former United States Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley in the residence, despite not being the prime minister anymore (though Haley referred to Netanyahu as prime minister). 

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The Palestinian Authority nixes newly formed vaccine agreement with Israel:

What happened? Last week, Israel and the Palestinian Authority (PA) reached an agreement that would have provided over a million vaccines to Palestinians. According to the deal, Israel would deliver Pfizer vaccines to the PA now in exchange for an equal number of doses later in the year when Pfizer sends millions of vaccines to the PA. However, shortly after news about the agreement broke, the PA reversed course and canceled the deal, suggesting that the Israeli vaccines were too close to their expiration date. Israeli leaders disputed the claim, saying that the vaccines were the same as those Israel is administering to its citizens. 

Had the vaccines expired? No, but they were close to their expiration date. Israel reportedly sent the vaccines with the closest expiration date–the end of June–as part of the first batch. The remaining vaccines were not set to expire until the end of July. Explaining their rationale, the PA Health Ministry said that the deal was originally negotiated in early May, but Israeli leaders delayed its implementation until June, reducing the effectiveness of the agreement. The PA also said that the vaccines did not meet the agreed-upon “technical specifications.” Regardless, the PA Health Ministry claims it can vaccinate 60,000 people per day, leading some to question why the PA would not use the vaccines it would have had before they expired. 

Has the PA vaccinated much of its population? As of Saturday, 446,564 Palestinians in the West Bank had been vaccinated (11% of the population), and the PA will receive almost two million more vaccines from Pfizer later this year. While some believe that Israel should be responsible for vaccinating Palestinians due to its occupation of the West Bank, Israeli leaders have stated that they believe the PA is responsible under the terms of the Oslo Accords.

Anything else? Haaretz reported that three countries have inquired about the doses that were set to be transferred to the PA. However, Israel and the PA are still in negotiations about possibly reviving the deal. 

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Honorable mentions:

US Defense Department approves replenishment of Israel's Iron Dome system” by Zachary Keyser (JPost)

“Andrew Yang, Eric Adams and the battle for Orthodox Jewish support” by Matthew Kassel (Jewish Insider)

“Shirley Pinto, the first-ever deaf MK, is sworn into Knesset using sign language” by Amy Spiro (Times of Israel)

‘The Shrink Next Door,’ a dark Jewish-themed podcast, is becoming a TV show with Will Ferrell and Paul Rudd” by Ben Sales (JTA) (You can watch the trailer here)

How a Negev police operation nearly foiled establishment of the new government” by Tani Goldstein (Times of Israel)

A Supreme Court decision allowing a Catholic foster agency to discriminate splits Jewish groups” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)

Japan, home to the Summer Olympics, has a rich Jewish history” by Stewart Ain (Forward)

Donald Trump says American Jews ‘don’t love Israel enough’ and more should have voted for him” by Ron Kampeas (JTA)

A Jewish man, Levi Marhabi, is being held hostage by Yemen’s Houthi rebels” by Gabby Deutch (Jewish Insider)

Iran elects Khamenei protege Ebrahim Raisi to the presidency” (JNS)

How Naftali Bennett’s kippah stays on his bald head and why it matters” by Ben Sales (JTA)

Meet the Orthodox Mom Competing on ‘American Ninja Warrior’” by Jacqueline Roderick (Kveller)

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