Elections on horizon; coronavirus foments fear: Israel Update


February 21, 2020


Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White leader Benny Gantz exchanged barbs this week after Gantz refused Netanyahu’s request to debate. Gantz suggested that Netanyahu's offer was intended to divert attention from Netanyahu’s criminal trial. “I don’t work for his political spin, and I don’t work for him,” Gantz said. Netanyahu responded Wednesday night at a rally, saying, “He cannot handle the pressure of a televised debate, so how can he handle the greater pressure that there is in being prime minister of Israel?” Israel’s third round of elections are less than two weeks away and early polling indicates that neither major party will have the seats needed to form a coalition. If the polls are correct, Israel would likely then head into another national election.


Prime Minister Netanyahu's criminal trial is set to begin March 17, just two weeks after the Israeli elections, the Justice Ministry announced on Tuesday. The trial will begin one day after the country's newly elected parliament is sworn in, as Israel tries to break a year-long political deadlock. Netanyahu faces one charge of bribery, three charges of fraud, and breach of trust charges—in separate corruption investigations. The Israeli leader has denied wrongdoing, calling the cases a media-fueled witch hunt and an "attempted coup." Under Israeli law, Netanyahu is not required to step down unless he is convicted and that conviction withstands the appeals process. Meanwhile, Benny Gantz is facing legal problems of his own regarding a failed artificial intelligence company and allegations that the company fraudulently received funds from the police.


Global panic continues to rise over the coronavirus epidemic and Israel has taken aggressive efforts to prevent the virus from entering the country, despite some controversial pushback from China. On Monday, Israel announced it was refusing entry to all foreign nationals who traveled to Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau during the preceding 14 days. Israeli citizens and residents returning from at risk areas will be quarantined at home for 14 days and face severe prison sentences for quarantine violations. Eleven of the fifteen Israelis aboard the Diamond Princess cruise ship in Japan have returned home to Israel after testing negative for the virus. However, upon arriving at Sheba Medical Center, one of these passengers tested positive. Additionally, four Israeli passengers remain in treatment at Japanese hospitals, after testing positive for the virus. The deepening concern over this virus was also evident in the West Bank city of Jericho, where rumors of an outbreak sparked panic and prompted Palestinians to stage a protest outside a hospital there. The Palestinian Authority has emphatically refuted the rumors, but have announced a new quarantine area as a precaution. 


A sniper team from the Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group opened fire on a group of Israeli soldiers and police officers along the southern Gaza border, Wednesday, though no injuries resulted. The attack came hours after Israel announced it planned to end a series of “sanctions” on the Gaza Strip, following a period of relative calm. Later that day, the IDF announced that they had carried out an operation on an “Islamic Jihad sniper unit” in retaliation for the earlier attack. Palestinian media reported one person was critically wounded. 



Shabbat Shalom,



Jackie Congedo, Director, JCRC


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