March 20, 2020

In-Depth Issues:

Israel's Teva Donates Potential Coronavirus Treatment to U.S. Hospitals (Jerusalem Post)
    Israeli pharmaceutical company Teva has announced it will donate more than 6 million doses of hydroxychloroquine sulfate tablets to hospitals across the U.S. from March 31. Over 10 million tablets are expected to be shipped within a month.
    The tablets are approved by the U.S. FDA for the treatment of malaria, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis. They are currently under investigation to determine their efficacy against the coronavirus and U.S. officials have asked for their immediate availability and use.
    See also Coronavirus Treatment Touted by Trump in Short Supply - Michael Erman (Reuters)
    Hydroxychloroquine, an old malaria treatment that has been tried with some success against the coronavirus and was touted by President Trump on Thursday, is in short supply as demand surges.

Medical and Student Volunteers Training to Assist with Coronavirus Testing - Zachary Keyser (Jerusalem Post)
    Israeli universities, hospitals and HMOs have begun training student and medical volunteers to assist in administering coronavirus diagnostic tests to the public to help combat the spread of the virus.
    These volunteers will also be able to assist laboratories in reading the test samples, expediting the results to hospitals for suspected patients.
    The initiative has pooled together over 1,000 medical students and 600 PhD graduate students, among others.
    "It is inspiring to see the students, from all the higher education institutions in the country, who enlisted bravely and resolutely to establish new laboratories and to assist existing laboratories in their efforts against the coronavirus," said Prof. Carmit Levy of the Tel Aviv University Faculty of Medicine.

Israel, PA Deny Rumors about Coronavirus Cases among Palestinian Prisoners - Khaled Abu Toameh (Jerusalem Post)
    Israeli authorities, the Palestinian Authority, and the Palestinian Prisoners' Commission on Thursday all denied rumors that Palestinian prisoners in Israeli prisons have been diagnosed with coronavirus.

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AP Headline on Settlement "Surge" Misleads - Tamar Sternthal (CAMERA)
    An Associated Press headline on March 18 proclaims: "Watchdog says Israel's West Bank settlements surged in 2019."
    In fact, as the article itself indicates, construction starts in the West Bank in 2019 decreased in comparison to 2018.
    The writer is director of CAMERA's Israel office.

Israel's Biggest Seaport Operating Fully, No Shortages Expected (Reuters)
    Israel's largest seaport in Ashdod is fully operational, with containers being unloaded at a similar pace to a year ago despite the global outbreak of coronavirus, the port's chairwoman, Orna Hozman Bechor, said.
    97% of cargo to Israel, by weight, arrives by ship. There are currently 25 ships at the port and since the start of 2020 some 200,000 containers have been unloaded.

Israeli Startups Join the Fight Against Coronavirus - Gil Press (Forbes)
    As the coronavirus came suddenly out of stealth mode, many of the startups that can help defeat it are based in Israel.
    They are working on diagnosis, mitigation, patient tracking, contamination prevention, protecting medical staff, education, and exercise for the homebound.
    This article includes a list of these startups.

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News Resources - North America, Europe, and Asia:
  • Iran Using Coronavirus as an Excuse to Demand Sanctions Relief - Adam Kredo
    The Iranian government is claiming that U.S. sanctions are to blame for the aggressive spread of the coronavirus across the Islamic Republic. The U.S. administration is aggressively pushing back against these claims, citing current sanctions exceptions for critical medication and humanitarian supplies.
        "The United States has and continues to offer humanitarian assistance to the Iranian people for their response to the coronavirus outbreak," a State Department official said. "It is unfortunate for the Iranian people that their government has rejected this offer to date. The media should know better than to believe...propaganda that misleads the public into believing U.S. sanctions are to blame."
        "The Iranian regime has prioritized its proxies over the Iranian people and stolen the money the Iranian people expected would go for their health care," the official said. "In July 2019," for instance, "1 billion euros intended for medical supplies 'disappeared' and another $170 million allocated for medical goods were instead spent on tobacco....Since 2012, the regime has spent over $16 billion on terror abroad. The Iranian people know that any sanctions relief would go to sponsor terrorist, not humanitarian, activities."  (Washington Free Beacon)
  • Iran Asks IMF for $5 Billion to Fight Coronavirus
    A spokesperson at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) said on Tuesday that talks are underway on giving Iran a requested $5 billion to fight the coronavirus outbreak from the fund's $50-billion Rapid Financing Instrument (RFI). (Mehr News-Iran)
        See also IMF Loan Request Exposes Severity of Iran's Financial Crisis - Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
    Since the 1979 revolution, Iran has never asked the IMF for help and has criticized it for ideological reasons. Now the coronavirus outbreak has aggravated Iran's existing economic woes. It has led to a collapse in Iran's hard currency income, with the country's tourism sector coming to a halt and cross-border trade between Iran and neighboring nations, including Iraq, being suspended.
        Iran has changed its policy of not seeking help from the IMF because the country is unable to withdraw the $5 billion it needs from its National Development Fund (NDF).
        Perhaps it would be more useful if the IMF supplied medicine and medical equipment instead of agreeing to a $5 billion loan. This would ensure that no money is diverted to financing Iran's regional projects or its ballistic missile/nuclear program. The writer heads Rasanah: The International Institute for Iranian Studies in Saudi Arabia. (Arab News-Saudi Arabia)
  • Israeli Reconnaissance Satellite: Pro-Iranian Militia Based Destroyed in Eastern Syria - Boyko Nikolov
    Israel's ImageSat International, operator of the Eros-B surveillance satellite, tweeted images showing the effects of attacks last week on a military base of the Shiite pro-Iranian group Kataib Imam Ali in the Al-Bukamal region in eastern Syria. Satellite images taken on March 18 show that 13 of the 15 objects at this base were completely destroyed. (BulgarianMilitary.com)
        See also Four Compounds Targeted at "Imam Ali" Iranian Military Base in Syria (ImageSat International-Twitter)
News Resources - Israel and the Mideast:
  • 705 Coronavirus Cases in Israel
    The number of Israelis diagnosed with coronavirus jumped to 705 on Friday morning, the Health Ministry said. The sharp rise was at least partially attributable to increased testing. Ten patients are in serious condition and 18 are in moderate condition. A new drive-through facility opened in Tel Aviv Friday for Israelis to receive testing while they wait in their cars. (Times of Israel)
  • IDF Home Front Command Shifts Focus to Anti-Epidemic Measures - Ariel Kahana
    IDF Spokesperson Brig.-Gen. Hidai Zilberman on Thursday outlined what Israel's military would be doing to help battle the coronavirus outbreak. "We opened a Magen David Adom hotline in the Home Front Command to help the MDA serve the public. The Home Front Command is also in charge of a national emergency hotline that will provide all the latest instructions. The number is 104."
        The military has launched a blood drive with a daily target of 7,000 donations. In addition, two Home Front Command battalions are currently being outfitted to help civilian authorities sanitize and disinfect public areas. The Defense Ministry's Procurement Administration has been ordered to purchase all necessary protective gear for the medical teams caring for patients, as well as 2,500 respirators for hospitals nationwide. (Israel Hayom)
  • Elite IDF Tech Unit Working to Develop Medical Equipment, Protective Gear - Judah Ari Gross
    The IDF Military Intelligence Technological Unit has been working to develop protective gear and improvised medical equipment to assist health care workers to combat the coronavirus outbreak, the army said Thursday. The unit has been working to find a way to easily convert simple breath regulating devices known as CPAP machines into ventilators which could be in short supply. The soldiers are also developing new protective masks and other equipment for military and civilian medical teams.
        They have created a screen to seal off the front seat of an ambulance or van to transport carriers of the disease without infecting the driver, and 50 such screens have been manufactured. They are also working to better manage the data from the thousands of checks being performed each day on suspected coronavirus carriers.
        "As commanders in a leading and advanced technological unit, the responsibility is on us to reach out and help authorities find an answer to the present challenges," said the unit commander, Col. "L."  (Times of Israel)
Global Commentary and Think-Tank Analysis:
  • U.S. Amb. Friedman: "All the Dislocation Is the Cost of Saving Lives" - Lahav Harkov
    U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman discussed the COVID-19 pandemic in an interview: "The visibility is unprecedented. The infectious disease experts now understand how to stem the advancement of the disease, and the global quarantine certainly is new. The entire world is watching the spread in real time, and the numbers come out daily with 24/7 commentary. We are not used to this type of isolation and, with the bombardment of information, our reactions may have become obsessive."
        "And, of course, the curtailment on mobility is destroying parts of the world economy. But in an important sense, all the dislocation we are seeing is the cost of saving lives that generations ago probably would have been lost."  (Jerusalem Post)
  • How the ICC Is Encouraging Greater Civilian Casualties - Evelyn Gordon
    The International Criminal Court prosecutor's decision to open a criminal investigation against Israel may well result in even higher casualties and more extensive property damage.
        Like all Western countries, Israel makes great efforts to uphold customary laws of war, including by trying to minimize civilian casualties. In fact, Israel has historically caused fewer civilian casualties and less property damage than other Western armies. Many Israelis argue that the restrictions imposed on the army's use of force put Israel's own soldiers and civilians at greater risk.
        Now, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has declared that all the IDF's efforts were worthless: that meeting or even exceeding the West's highest standards is no longer enough to keep you out of legal trouble. Thus, the ICC has essentially said there's no point in even trying to uphold the laws of war. This could lead other Western militaries to conclude that efforts to abide by the laws of war have become pointless. (JNS)
  • Why the U.S. Peace Plan Still Matters - Dalia Ziada
    The U.S. peace plan contains viable components that, with a few additions, could get both Israelis and Palestinians back to the negotiating table. The plan has adopted a nuanced and interesting approach to the conflict. It is one of the few plans that recognizes a separate Palestinian state with open channels for direct economic and security cooperation between Israelis and Palestinians. What makes this plan different from past iterations is that it was spearheaded by a younger generation, willing to diverge from the previous formulas.
        Palestinian leaders blindly rejected the peace plan, ignoring the opportunity for the Palestinian people to reap the territorial and economic benefits. They rejected the plan because it did not serve the immediate interests of the political elite in Fatah and Hamas. Neither Fatah nor Hamas leaders are willing to coexist with Israel because this contradicts their ideologies. The writer is director of the American Islamic Conference's North Africa bureau. (Washington Institute for Near East Policy)
  • Saudi Deradicalization Faces the Future - Ilan Berman
    Saudi Arabia is in the throes of a monumental transition, set in motion by de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. It is visible at the societal level, with extensive reforms enabling greater economic opportunities for women, a loosening of restrictions on social interactions between the sexes, and a more relaxed attitude toward popular culture. Moreover, by addressing religious extremism, this shift has become important to Saudi counterterrorism measures.
        Western observers have long worried over the profoundly negative effects of the Kingdom's decades-long efforts to promote the austere Wahhabi creed beyond its borders. Between 1975 and 1987, the Saudis spent $4 billion annually on "overseas development aid," contributing greatly to the rise of conservative, exclusionary, and extreme interpretations of the Islamic faith among Sunni Muslims worldwide.
        Today, by contrast, the Saudi government is making a major effort to strike a more moderate religious tone globally, with Saudi religious officials taking pains to engage other Muslim governments and movements that they had previously ignored or denigrated. The writer is Senior Vice President of the American Foreign Policy Council. (Center for Global Policy)

  • Anti-Semitism

  • Is It Still Safe to Be a Jew in America? - Gary Rosenblatt
    How do we explain Jews being shot to death at Shabbat prayer in their synagogue by hate-filled white nationalists in Pittsburgh and Poway, California; and visibly Orthodox men and women violently attacked in Brooklyn and Monsey, New York, and shot down next door to a synagogue in Jersey City, New Jersey? In a new study by the American Jewish Committee, 35% of American Jews said they had experienced anti-Semitism in the past five years, and 1/3 reported concealing outward indications of their being Jewish.
        In nearly 50 years of reporting on the American Jewish community, I never encountered such a level of palpable fear, anger, and vulnerability among American Jews as I do today. Are Jews to accept that the new normal in the land of the free is that they must hide signs of their identity, avoid synagogues, and downplay support for Israel, as in much of today's Europe? The writer is editor-at-large of the New York Jewish Week. (Atlantic)

  • Dr. Elli Rosenberg runs the coronavirus unit at the Soroka Medical Center in Beersheba. He told JTA: "What we're trying to do is maximize patient care with minimal staff exposure."
  • "Technology helps. A coin-sized monitor taped to their chest - developed by an Israeli startup company - continuously transmits vital signs by Bluetooth to our control center."
  • "We also have tablets for the patients that measure their temperature and can serve as a stethoscope. Students and faculty from the engineering department at Ben-Gurion University are building a telemedicine robot to our specifications."
  • Q: What's your take on Israel's handling of the pandemic?
    Rosenberg: "In the beginning, I thought this was handled way too aggressively and that the measures the government decided on were extreme."
  • "As time progressed, especially with examples coming in from different countries around the world of how governments responded and what the consequences were - for better and for worse - I slowly shifted to the point right now where I hope we're not too late with the actions we're taking."
  • "If we want to beat this, social distancing and personal hygiene and increased testing have to be implemented and enforced at the highest level."
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