Coronavirus reaches Israel; upcoming election unprecedented: Israel Update

February 28, 2020

Israel’s Health Ministry urged all Israelis to refrain from traveling abroad as the coronavirus continues to spread across the globe. In so doing, Israel became the first country to ask its citizens to refrain from international travel strictly because of the outbreak. On Thursday, an Israeli man who had just returned from Italy tested positive for the virus, marking the first time the infection has been diagnosed outside of a hospital quarantine. The government further announced that they will be barring entry into Israel from Italy for all non-Israelis, including foreign nationals. The spread of the coronavirus has had a negative effect on the economies of the entire world, not the least Israel, where the airline industry lost millions in recent weeks. In hopeful news, Israeli scientists are urgently working to develop a coronavirus vaccine


With polls predicting a tight race that could result in yet another round of elections, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz escalated their verbal attacks on one another. Two final surveys ahead of Monday’s Israeli elections predicted ongoing deadlock, with neither Netanyahu nor Gantz able to muster a Knesset majority. One survey showed the Netanyahu-led right-Orthodox bloc winning 58 seats, just three short of a Knesset majority, to 56 for Gantz’s center-left-Arab bloc. The second survey, by contrast, put the Netanyahu-led bloc on 56, with the Gantz-led bloc on 57. For more in-depth coverage of the Israeli elections, the Jewish Federations of North America (JFNA) and the Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) will each be hosting a webinar this upcoming Tuesday, March 3. Click the links to register. 


Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett swore he would “not give one inch of land” to the Palestinians, when he announced the furthering of plans for 1,800 new homes in West Bank settlements. “We authorized many [housing] units in the settlements and we will continue to do so in the future,” Bennett said. He took the opportunity to question the will of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, against whom Bennett is vying for right-wing votes in the March 2 election. On the list of projects Bennett has advanced is a master plan for 620 homes in the Eli settlement—a move that retroactively legalizes many existing homes in the community. The plan makes no claims on private Palestinian property that is being adjudicated by Israel's High Court of Justice.


Over the course of Sunday and Monday, some 90 rockets were fired at Sderot and other southern Israel cities from the Gaza Strip by the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group. Approximately 90 percent of the rockets heading toward populated areas were intercepted by the Iron Dome system. The attack came just before a ceasefire was meant to begin with the Israeli military launching multiple rounds of retaliatory air raids against Islamic Jihad bases. After two days of almost constant rocket fire, life in southern Israel began to return to normal Tuesday morning after a ceasefire with Islamic Jihad in Gaza secured with Egyptian mediation appeared to hold. 


The 2020 US Democratic Presidential race briefly turned its attention toward Israel this week during the South Carolina debate, when Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders was asked what he would say to American Jews who think he is not supportive enough of Israel. The question came in the wake of Sanders’ announcement that he would not be attending this year’s AIPAC conference and his criticism the Israel lobby. In his answer, Sanders labeled Benjamin Netanyahu a “reactionary racist” and argued for a more even-handed US approach to the Middle East. When asked if he would consider moving the US embassy back to Tel-Aviv, Sanders replied he would not rule out such a move. The question then turned to Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren, who argued that moving the embassy was not a decision for the US to make. Warren and Sanders have both announced that they will not attend AIPAC’s annual policy conference, and have since been joined by candidates Pete Buttigieg and Senator Amy Klobuchar, who have likewise declared they would skip what was once a routine campaign stop for both parties because it overlaps with Super Tuesday. Former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg is now the only Democratic candidate in the race who has committed to attending the AIPAC conference.



Shabbat Shalom,



Jackie Congedo, Director, JCRC


P.S. If you or a friend would like to get our own, up-to-the-minute Israel Update, you can sign up here; when asked for "interests" click "weekly Israel Update."

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Join the community on Tuesday, March 24, at 7:00 PM, at the Mayerson JCC to hear from two diverse voices on the difficult topic of Arab-Jewish relations in Israel: an Israeli-Arab thought leader on this issue, and a Jewish government official from Israel’s conservative Likud party. For more information and to register, click here.
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