A suspected oil tanker leak off the coast of Israel last week has led to Israel's biggest maritime ecological disaster in many years, and perhaps ever. Authorities have begun closing the country's beaches while a massive cleanup effort gets underway. As a precaution, the Health Ministry has indefinitely banned the sale of fish and seafood caught in the Mediterranean. Israeli and European authorities are investigating what happened, as it is currently unclear which ship or ships are responsible. Israeli officials believe a ship that was beyond the country's territorial waters spilled tens or hundreds of tons of oil in the Mediterranean. The spill likely happened a week ago, when stormy weather affected the region. Israel's Environmental Protection Ministry estimates that as much as 1,100 tons of tar have already washed ashore.
A nationwide nightly curfew for the Purim holiday went into effect Thursday evening and will continue until Sunday morning in an attempt to discourage large gatherings that could fuel a resurgence in the number of coronavirus cases. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warned of possible restrictions over Passover if large groups gathered to celebrate during Purim. “If we aren’t careful on Purim, we’ll sit at home on Passover,” Edelstein said. Following last year's Purim celebrations—which came at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic—there was a significant spike in coronavirus cases throughout the country.
Amid legal scrutiny and criticism, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suspended a plan to supply vaccine doses to other countries in exchange for past diplomatic support. The decision comes after Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit sent a letter to National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat asking for clarification on the program, and Defense Minister Benny Gantz demanded the initiative be halted so the security cabinet could hold talks on the matter. Speaking to reporters earlier this week, Netanyahu acknowledged that Israel would be sharing vaccine doses with a handful of countries, and with the Palestinian territories, where thousands would benefit. To date, Israel’s vaccination campaign has been the best in the world. More than four and a half million Israelis have received the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine, and over three million citizens have received both doses.
A major construction project appears to be underway at Israel’s central nuclear facility: the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center, which is located in the central city of Dimona. Evidence of the project was captured via satellite images and shows a dig about the size of a soccer field—likely several stories deep—in a location adjacent to the site’s aging reactor. What the construction is for, however, remains unclear. Under a policy of nuclear opacity, Israel neither confirms nor denies having atomic weapons and, as expected, the government did not respond to questions about this project. This week, Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif sited the work at Dimona and one of the reasons Iran will restrict access to its nuclear program, currently overseen by the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency.
The safety, health, and well-being of all community members is a priority for the Jewish Federation. Like many of you, we are closely monitoring the evolution of the COVID-19 pandemic. This page is consistently updated to help our community stay informed about efforts to support the community during this time. For detailed information about the COVID-19 vaccination, please see this page.
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."