Vaccines For Data: Israel’s Pfizer Deal Drives Quick Rollout — And Privacy Worries

A key factor behind Israel’s success in vaccination:

How has tiny Israel beat out bigger countries on COVID-19 vaccinations, securing a steady stream of vials and inoculating a larger share of its citizenry than any other nation?

Israel paid a premium, locked in an early supply of Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines and struck a unique deal: vaccines for data.

The nation of some 9 million promised Pfizer a swift vaccine rollout, along with data from Israel’s centralized trove of medical statistics to study “whether herd immunity is achieved after reaching a certain percentage of vaccination coverage in Israel,” according to their agreement.

“We said to Pfizer … that the moment they give us the vaccine, we’ll be able to vaccinate at the speed they’ve never heard of,” Israel’s health minister Yuli Edelstein tells NPR.

Israel’s small size and technologically advanced public health system offer an attractive model for Pfizer to demonstrate the impact of the vaccine on an entire population. Pfizer has not signed a similar agreement with any other country, company spokesperson Jerica Pitts says.

The vaccines-for-data trade-off has sparked impassioned debate in Israel among data privacy experts, biotech researchers and the country’s own medical ethics board, weighing the potential benefits of mining the population for vaccine insights against the potential abuse of millions of personal medical records.

“We need to understand that [Israel’s agreement with Pfizer] is going to be one of the, I would say, widest medical experiments on humans at the 21st century,” says the Israel Democracy Institute’s Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a data privacy advocate and a leading voice questioning the Pfizer data deal.

Some Israeli commentators have accused Shwartz Altshuler of seeking to spoil a successful national campaign that the government has branded with the hashtag “VacciNation.” She and many other Israeli experts tend to concur that quick access to the vaccine is Israel’s most important priority.

Israel is already reporting promising initial results of the vaccination campaign. The Health Ministry said Thursday that out of a group of 715,425 Israelis fully vaccinated, only 317 — 0.04% — got infected with the virus at least one week after their second shot, and 16 were hospitalized with serious symptoms.

Israeli HMOs have reported a decrease in infection rates among those vaccinated with one shot of the Pfizer vaccine, and a drop in the country’s serious COVID-19 infections for older age categories a couple of weeks after Israel started its national vaccination drive.

“I think that it’s really very special that Israel’s been recognized by Pfizer as a country that the whole world can learn from,” says Diane Levin-Zamir, director of health education at Israel’s largest HMO, Clalit Health Services. “There’s good research coming out and we’re being very transparent about the data.”

Vaccines and politics

Most Israelis are celebrating their record-setting vaccination drive. “To be the first place in the world, it’s a good feeling,” says Yoni Boigenman, an Israeli getting a first shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine at Jerusalem’s main sports stadium, which has been converted into a hive of needles and nurses 14 hours every day.

Close to a third of the population has received at least one shot of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine and about 17% received both shots, far beyond any other country. Israel aims to be the first to vaccinate most of its citizenry against COVID-19 before elections are held March 23.

The vaccine drive is central to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reelection campaign. The first Israeli to receive a shot, Netanyahu mounted his syringe in a glass box, the needle angled upward like a rocket ship, with a plaque riffing off the words of U.S. astronaut Neil Armstrong: “One small shot for a man, a giant step for everyone’s health.”

Israel has waved away human rights groups’ assertions that the country is obliged to provide vaccines to Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip; Israel says the Palestinian Authority holds that responsibility.

Still, Israel has decided to send 5,000 COVID-19 vaccines to Palestinian medical workers in the West Bank, with an initial shipment this week, Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s office tells NPR. Palestinian officials signed late deals with vaccine manufacturers and still await shipments to begin vaccinating the public.

Some Israeli medical experts warn that widespread immunity cannot be achieved so long as millions of Palestinians are not vaccinated. Palestinian officials say they do not expect to vaccinate the majority of their population until at least the end of the year.

“It’s a gold mine”

Nearly every Israeli citizen and resident belongs to one of four public HMOs, a health care system rooted in the national trade union of Israel’s early years. Every Israeli’s full medical history – from physician visits to hospitalizations – is accessible to any health provider at the click of a mouse, a repository of digital records going back 30 years.

“It’s a gold mine,” says Ziv Ofek, who helped launch Israel’s public health database, which he asserts is unparalleled by any other country.

Unrelated to the Pfizer study in Israel, Ofek’s medical data company, MDClone, is helping assemble a separate Israeli coronavirus patient database, with privacy protections. Israeli researchers are already tapping it for insights, such as findings that suggest a higher likelihood of dying from COVID-19 among those with fatty liver disease.

The data offers potential for vaccine research, too.

“Is there any progression of other diseases? … Does it impact your hypertension?” Ofek says. “All you need to do is just to be able to load the fact that you’ve been vaccinated, and then you can run new studies.”

Privacy concerns

The Israeli Health Ministry initially kept the terms of the Pfizer agreement confidential, but on Jan. 17 published part of the English-language contract, dated Jan. 6, to reassure the public about data use. Instead, the fine print has raised further questions.

Israel’s medical data experts want to know exactly what Israel is giving Pfizer, and whether the data being studied amounts to a clinical trial without the express consent of the millions of Israelis rushing to get vaccinated.

In interviews, Israeli officials insist they are only giving Pfizer anonymous statistics already provided to the public, such as the number of weekly cases and hospitalizations.

Pfizer said in a statement that it “will not receive any identifiable individual health information. The [Israeli Ministry of Health] will only share aggregated epidemiological data.”

But the contract says Israel will give Pfizer unspecified “subgroup analyses and vaccine effectiveness analyses, as agreed by the Parties,” leaving open the possibility that more personalized categories of data could be delivered.

“Can you have a real research based on … statistical numbers? This is not research,” Ofek says. Israeli health officials “claim they don’t give patient-level data, only statistics. There’s a big question whether it’s the whole truth, part of the truth or no truth at all.”

Privacy and medical data experts say buckets of data scrubbed of patients’ personal details can still be traced back to identify people if the sample is small enough, revealing sensitive medical details such as who is HIV-positive. If Israel transfers such private data to Pfizer, there are concerns it could get hacked and disseminated by third parties.

“Your insurance company will know all your medical history. Your employer will know it. The political campaigner who would like to convince you to vote for someone would know everything about your medical history, not to say about people who would like to marry your children,” warns Shwartz Altshuler, describing what she calls a small concern.

The contract also allows Pfizer or Israel to “provide input, make factual corrections” and delay publication of their studies of the vaccine’s effectiveness, which some Israeli medical data and privacy experts say could allow either party – each with vested commercial and political interests in the vaccine’s success – to hide or delay publication of failures. A Pfizer spokesperson did not respond to NPR’s query on this matter.

The head of Israel’s medical ethics review board, Dr. Eitan Friedman, says the review board has requested further clarification on the agreement. The government has not officially responded to the board’s request to review the agreement, he says.

If Pfizer and Israel are studying response to the vaccine by subgroups of Israelis’ demographic profiles and medical conditions, it should qualify as a clinical study requiring his board’s approval, says Friedman.

“There needs to be total transparency. No one party can override the real data. We need to know the truth,” he says.

The data study and fast vaccine rollout have fed some suspicions. Skepticism among the vaccine is prevalent among Palestinian citizens and residents of Israel.

“I heard so many rumors about this. Some say … they want to see the experience on the people here, if it’s a good vaccine or not. That’s why I’m a little confused about it,” says Nuha Sharif, a Palestinian resident of Jerusalem who nevertheless came to the Jerusalem sports arena to get her shot.

She has Israeli health insurance and received the vaccination for free, unlike Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza who are still waiting for vaccine manufacturers to deliver vials to the Palestinian territories.

Some Israelis getting shots at the arena say they are not worried about their data.

“If it can help the world to get out of it, I don’t care,” Noam Ben Dror says. “I don’t think it’s a big secret, my personal data.”

Source: Vaccines For Data: Israel’s Pfizer Deal Drives Quick Rollout — And Privacy Worries

Palestinians excluded from Israeli Covid vaccine rollout as jabs go to settlers

Of note and undermines claims not to be an apartheid-type state:

Israel is celebrating an impressive, record-setting vaccination drive, having given initial jabs of coronavirus shots to more than a 10th of the population. But Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza can only watch and wait.

As the world ramps up what is already on track to become a highly unequal vaccination push – with people in richer nations first to be inoculated – the situation in Israel and the Palestinian territories provides a stark example of the divide.

Israel transports batches of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine deep inside the West Bank. But they are only distributed to Jewish settlers, and not the roughly 2.7 million Palestinians living around them who may have to wait for weeks or months.

“I don’t know how, but there must be a way to make us a priority, too?” said Mahmoud Kilani, a 31-year-old sports coach from the Palestinian city of Nablus. “Who cares about us? I don’t think anybody is stuck on that question.”

Two weeks into its vaccination campaign, Israel is administering more than 150,000 doses a day, amounting to initial jabs for more than 1 million of its 9 million citizens – a higher proportion of the population than anywhere else.

Vaccine centres have been set up in sports stadiums and central squares. People over 60, healthcare workers, carers and high-risk populations have priority, while young, healthier people who walk into clinics are sometimes rewarded with surplus stock to avoid the waste of unused vials.

The prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, has told Israelis that the country could be the first to emerge from the pandemic. As well as a highly advanced healthcare system, part of the reason for the speed could be economics. A health ministry official said the country had paid $62 a dose, compared with the $19.50 the US is paying.

Meanwhile, the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority, which maintains limited self-rule in the territories, is rushing to get vaccines. One official suggested, perhaps optimistically, that shots could arrive within the next two weeks.

However, when asked for a timeframe, Ali Abed Rabbo, director-general of the Palestinian health ministry, estimated the first vaccines would probably arrive in February.

Those would be through a World Health Organization-led partnership called Covax, aimed at helping poorer countries, which has pledged to vaccinate 20% of Palestinians. Yet vaccines intended for Covax have not yet gained “emergency use” approval by the WHO, a precondition for distribution to begin.

Gerald Rockenschaub, the head of office at WHO Jerusalem, said it could be “early to mid-2021” before vaccines on the Covax scheme were available for distribution in the Palestinian territories.

The rest of the doses are expected to come through deals with pharmaceutical companies, but none have apparently been signed so far.

Despite the delay, the authority has not officially asked for help from Israel. Coordination between the two sides halted last year after the Palestinian president cut off security ties for several months.

But Rabbo said “sessions” with Israel had been held. “Until this moment, there is no agreement, and we cannot say there is anything practical on the ground in this regard,” he said.

Israeli officials have suggested they might provide surplus vaccines to Palestinians and claim they are not responsible for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, pointing to 1990s-era interim agreements that required the authority to observe international vaccination standards.

Those deals envisioned a fuller peace agreement within five years, an event that never occurred. Almost three decades later, Israeli, Palestinian and international rights groups have accused Israel of dodging moral, humanitarian and legal obligations as an occupying power during the pandemic.

Gisha, an Israeli rights group, said Palestinian efforts so far to look elsewhere for vaccines “does not absolve Israel from its ultimate responsibility toward Palestinians under occupation”.

The disparities could potentially see Israelis return to some form of normality within the first three months of this year, while Palestinians remain trapped by the virus. That may have a negative impact on Israel’s goal of herd immunity, as thousands of West Bank Palestinians work in Israel and the settlements, which could keep infection rates up.

In Gaza, an impoverished enclave under an Israeli-Egyptian blockade, the timeframe could be even longer than in the West Bank. The strip’s Islamist rulers, Hamas, have been unable to contain the virus and are enemies with Israel and political rivals with the Palestinian Authority.

Salama Ma’rouf, head of the Hamas-run Gaza press office, estimated vaccines would arrive “within two months”, adding that there was coordination with the WHO and the Palestinian Authority.

Heba Abu Asr, 35, a resident of Gaza, jolted when asked how she felt about others getting the vaccine first. “Are you seriously trying to compare us with Israel or any other country?” she asked. “We can’t find work, food, or drink. We are under threat all the time. We do not even have any necessities for life.”

Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2021/jan/03/palestinians-excluded-from-israeli-covid-vaccine-rollout-as-jabs-go-to-settlers

Knesset demands answers after some Negev Bedouin have citizenship revoked

Of note:

Salim al-Dantiri, a Bedouin man from Israel’s southern Negev desert, used to regularly vote in elections. As a young man, he served in the Israel Defense Forces, as did his father, his brothers and his sons.

Then, around 20 years ago, he visited an Interior Ministry office for a routine matter, only to be told by a clerk that he was in fact merely a permanent resident, that the citizenship he had enjoyed to date had been given “by mistake” and that he would have to reapply for citizenship status. He did that, so far to no avail.

“My entire family has citizenship except for me,” Salim, from the the village of Bir Hadaj, told a Knesset committee last week.

The main difference between being a citizen and a permanent resident in Israel is that the latter is not eligible to vote or obtain a passport.

Around 370,000 Bedouin live in Israel, some 250,000 of them in the Negev. Unlike most Israeli Arabs, some Bedouin, like the Druze, serve in the IDF.

Salim is an example of what the Interior Ministry confirmed in 2016 is a policy to correct “ministry mistakes” in registration. The ministry insists that it is not removing citizenship — that would evidently be illegal.

Clause 11 of the 1952 Citizenship Law states that the Interior Minister may annul a person’s citizenship only if it was obtained on the basis of false information, and was given within the previous three years. If three years have passed, an annulment can only be decided by a court.

Nobody actually knows what “mistakes” specifically were made, because the Interior Ministry has not published the information. But they apparently relate to the way in which the Population Authority initially registered the Bedouin in the chaotic, early years of the state, compounded by typing errors when clerks later computerized hand-written personal files in the 1980s.

Military rule imposed on all Israeli Arabs between 1951 and 1967 meant that movement was subject to permits and that not everyone could get to the Interior Ministry to register, if they even understood that they needed to do so.

The registration “mistakes” seem mainly to apply to groups within the al-Azazme tribe, who live in the Negev Highlands, from south of Beersheba down to Mitzpe Ramon.

Last week, MK Said al-Harumi of the predominantly-Arab Joint List party, a member of the al-Azazme himself, told the Knesset Interior Affairs and Environmental Protection Committee that beginning around 2002, efforts to review the rights to citizenship of Negev Bedouin were stepped up. That year also marked the point when the government decided to freeze providing citizenship to Palestinians on family reunification grounds.

 

From that point on, some Bedouin visiting Interior Ministry offices for any number of services, from passport renewal to replacement of lost documents, began to experience such purported “corrections”: Walking in as citizens and leaving as permanent residents. Ministry clerks simply changed their status on the computer, with no explanations given and no opportunity to explain or appeal.

“When they take a person’s citizenship away, a long journey begins without answers,” al-Harumi said. “It causes terrible suffering.”

People who lost their citizenship were unable to move beyond Israel’s borders, for example to visit Mecca for the Hajj pilgrimage, he said. Nor could they exercise their right to vote.

“If their fathers or grandfathers registered in this year or that, why should they have to pay the price 70 years later?” he said.

Fellow Joint List MK Sondos Saleh added that the policy was only deepening community distrust toward authorities.

The issue first came to prominence in 2015, when Joint List MK Aida Touma-Sliman visited Bedouin villages in the Negev as chairwoman of the Committee on the Status of Women and Gender Equality. Many there told her that they had had their citizenship taken away. In some families, one child was a citizen and another only a permanent resident.

At a Knesset Internal Affairs discussion in December of that year, the Interior Ministry confirmed the policy, while the committee’s legal adviser, Gilad Keren, challenged its legality in reference to the 1952 Citizenship Law.

Last week, at a second Knesset committee meeting held to examine whether such “corrections” were still being made, Keren said that his position had not changed.

To committee members’ bewilderment, a legal adviser to the Interior Ministry’s Population and Immigration Authority maintained that “This is not about cancelling citizenship, because these people did not acquire citizenship. [For example,] a person’s file will say that he is a permanent citizen born to permanent citizens, but on the computer, he’s been mistakenly registered as a citizen.”

Senior officials from the authority admitted that Bedouin with Israeli identity cards who were found to have been descended from permanent residents would not be able to apply for a passport.

Committee chairwoman Miki Haimovitch retorted: “If you don’t issue a passport, that means you’re canceling their citizenship… There’s something twisted about people who have been citizens for years having to prove that they’re citizens. These people have not broken the law.”

Ronen Yerushalmi, Head of Citizenship at the Population and Immigration Authority, said research into the status of Negev Bedouin with citizenship had turned up 2,626 cases of questionable status. Of these, 2,124 had been confirmed as citizens, while the remaining 500 had “failed to meet the conditions” for citizenship because when they were born, neither of their parents had been citizens.

Yerushalmi said that the interior and justice ministers had agreed to deal with the issue by speeding up the citizenship application process for those who would need to apply. Out of the 500 summoned to ministry offices for the purpose, 362 had received citizenship “very quickly.” Of the remaining 140, 134 failed to respond, while six have not yet been given citizenship “for other reasons.” A Justice Ministry official insisted that “there have been no refusals so far.”

Oded Feller, director of the legal department at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, proposed that the Interior Ministry should use its authority under Clause 9 of the Citizenship Law to fix the situation. The clause enables the minister of the interior to grant citizenship for special reasons to people such as Righteous Gentiles or outstanding athletes, and to do so retroactively.

 

MK Ram Ben Barak (Yesh Atid-Telem), a former deputy director of the Mossad and former director-general of the Intelligence Ministry and the Strategic Affairs Ministry, said: “Without doubt, there is a sense of discrimination on racist grounds… In the case of the Negev Bedouin [in general], the state should first of all feel shame.

“They should be dealt with like all citizens, by whichever ministry is relevant. We’re in 2020. There are nine million citizens here. All are equal and need to be related to in an equal way,” he said.

The committee instructed the Interior Ministry to provide it with the relevant written regulations or guidelines, while Touma-Sliman vowed to build up an alternative database of cases to check whether the Population Authority figures were correct.

Source: Knesset demands answers after some Negev Bedouin have citizenship revoked

‘GOD TV’ spat exposes tensions between Israel, evangelicals

Not surprising. Always was an uncomfortable alliance:

An evangelical broadcaster who boasted of miraculously securing a TV license in Israel now risks being taken off the air over suspicions of trying to convert Jews to Christianity.

The controversy over “GOD TV” has put both Israel and its evangelical Christian supporters in an awkward position, exposing tensions the two sides have long papered over.

Evangelical Christians, particularly in the United States, are among the strongest supporters of Israel, viewing it as the fulfillment of biblical prophecy, with some seeing it as the harbinger of a second coming of Jesus Christ and the end of days.

Israel has long welcomed evangelicals’ political and financial support, especially as their influence over the White House has risen during the Trump era, and it has largely shrugged off concerns about any hidden religious agenda.

But most Jews view any effort to convert them to Christianity as deeply offensive, a legacy of centuries of persecution and forced conversion at the hands of Christian rulers. In part because of those sensitivities, evangelical Christians, who generally believe salvation can only come through Jesus and preach the Gospel worldwide, rarely target Jews.

When “GOD TV,” an international Christian broadcaster, reached a seven-year contract earlier this year with HOT, Israel’s main cable provider, it presented itself as producing content for Christians.

But in a video message that has since been taken down, GOD TV CEO Ward Simpson suggested its real aim was to convince Jews to accept Jesus as their messiah. The channel, known as “Shelanu,” broadcast in Hebrew even though most Christians in the Holy Land speak Arabic.

“God has supernaturally opened the door for us to take the Gospel of Jesus into the homes and lives and hearts of his Jewish people,” Simpson said in the video.

“They’ll watch secretly, they’ll watch quietly,” he added. “God is restoring his people, God is removing the blindness from their eyes.”

In a subsequent video, Simpson acknowledged that the channel was under investigation by Israeli authorities, saying that preaching about Jesus in Israel is a “very touchy subject.” He apologized for any offensive remarks and said GOD TV would comply with all regulations.

Freedom of religion is enshrined in Israeli law, and proselytizing is allowed as long as missionary activities are not directed at minors and do not involve economic coercion.

The Communications Ministry said it was investigating a “discrepancy” between the application for the license that was granted in March, which said the channel was focused on the Christian community, and its actual content, which appears to “target Jews and convince them that Jesus is the messiah.”

HOT said in a statement that it was not responsible for the channel’s content and has been “fully transparent” with authorities.

GOD TV was founded in the U.K. in 1995 and eventually grew into a 24-hour network with offices in several countries. Its international broadcasting licenses are held by a Florida-based non-profit. It claims to reach 300 million households worldwide, and Simpson was among the participants at a high-level Christian media summit hosted by Israel last year.

Simpson denied trying to convert Jews to Christianity. He said Jews who accept Jesus as the messiah can continue to practice their faith, a reference to Messianic Jews, popularly known as Jews for Jesus.

The Messianic movement, which emerged in its modern form in the 1970s, incorporates Jewish symbols and practices — including referring to Jesus by his Hebrew name, Yeshua — but is widely seen as a form of Christianity. All major Jewish denominations reject it, and Israel considers Messianic Jews to be converts to another faith.

“There’s no such thing really as the Messianic movement,” said Rabbi Tovia Singer, who leads an organization devoted to countering missionary activity aimed at Jews. “It’s a dog whistle, it’s a name that’s used by evangelical Christian Protestants.”

He said Simpson’s willingness to speak openly about conversion reflects the growing influence of evangelical Christians in both Israel and the United States.

“They feel bulletproof to say these kinds of things and what their real agenda is,” he said.

Rev. Malcolm Hedding, the former executive director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem, an umbrella group for Christian Zionists, said Christians only share their faith when asked, and denied they have any secret agenda.

“Evangelical support for Israel is not based on prophecies but on promises that God gave to Abraham 4,000 years ago,” he said. “We cannot, and should not, let the arrival of a TV channel in Israel impact negatively on the well-being of a movement that for decades now has brought about a new day in Jewish Christian relationships.”

At least one prominent evangelical supporter of Israel has criticized GOD TV for airing missionary content aimed at Jews, saying it encourages anti-Semitism.

“In recent decades, millions of Christians have felt the call to stand with the State of Israel and the Jewish people with no hidden agenda,” said Laurie Cardoza-Moore, a Tennessee-based evangelical who hosts a program called “Focus on Israel” that previously aired on GOD TV.

“Any attempts to convert Jews or downgrade their religion will only sow undue hatred at a time when we should unite in the face of darkness,” Cardoza-Moore said.

Daniel Hummel, the author of a book on evangelicals and Israel, says Christian Zionists have “more or less learned” that Messianic Judaism’s presence in the movement is “politically unwise.”

“The issue always continues to simmer, but the precedent was set (in the 1970s) and grew stronger that any Christian organization wishing to work in Israel or be at all close to the center of political action in the (Christian Zionist movement) would need to publicly disavow at minimum coercive evangelization.”

Simpson says GOD TV has hired lawyers to resolve the issue and is determined to stay on the air.

“The last thing we want to do is to cause division over there,” he said. “We love Israel.”

Source: ‘GOD TV’ spat exposes tensions between Israel, evangelicals

In Israel, Modern Medicine Grapples With Ghosts of the Third Reich

Interesting account of the ethnical and personal issues involved and their sensible resolution:

The explosion flung him skyward, legs first, before he crashed to the ground.

It was June 2002, at the height of the second Palestinian intifada. Dvir Musai, then a 13-year-old Israeli schoolboy from a religious Jewish settlement, was on a class cherry-picking trip in the southern West Bank. On his way back to the bus, he stepped on a mine laid by Palestinian militants and was gravely wounded, along with two other boys.

“There was a lot of smoke, clumps of earth falling, a smell of burning and gunpowder,” Mr. Musai, now 31, recalled.

Decades of agony followed. Mr. Musai’s right foot felt as if it were permanently afire. And then last year, a surgeon offered him hope — and a disquieting disclosure.

In pre-op at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem, Dr. Madi el-Haj told his patient that the anatomical atlas he would use to guide him through the intricate nerve pathways had been produced by Nazis. Its illustrations are believed to be based on the dissected victims of the Nazi court system under Hitler’s Third Reich.

If there were objections, Dr. el-Haj told the Musai family, he could operate without it — but it would be harder. He noted that there was rabbinical approval for the book’s use.

Mr. Musai’s mother, Chana, had lost relatives in the Holocaust.

“She said, ‘If it can help now, we’ll use it,’” Mr. Musai recalled.

That gut-wrenching decision went to the heart of a longstanding debate about the ethics of drawing on knowledge derived from the Nazis’ expansive medical and scientific experimentation — and in this case, the ethics of using the textbook, “Atlas of Topographical and Applied Human Anatomy.”

The book, by Eduard Pernkopf, stands out for its accuracy and detail, and even in an age of state-of-the-art imaging, some surgeons, among them those who perform peripheral nerve procedures, still find its drawings invaluable.

In a perverse twist, the more advanced the relatively new field of peripheral nerve surgery becomes, the more reliant on the atlas some of its practitioners say they find themselves. That is because even high-tech imaging is of limited use to the complex discipline, in which doctors treat problems like chronic pain caused by nerves that are damaged or trapped.

Pernkopf began work on the atlas at the University of Vienna, where he became chairman of anatomy in 1933, the year he joined the Nazi party. With Hitler’s 1938 annexation of Austria, he became dean of the medical faculty, then president of the university.

The illustrators to whom Pernkopf turned to produce the atlas were also Nazi enthusiasts. Three of the four illustrators incorporated swastikas, SS lightning bolts and other Nazi insignia into their signatures — hallmarks of evil airbrushed out of later editions.

Less is clear about the people whose bodies were dissected so that the illustrators could produce their work. Over the years, there have been questions about whether some had been killed in Hitler’s death camps. Those questions remain unresolved, but many experts believe that most of the prisoners were Austrians condemned in the courts.

After the war, Pernkopf spent three years in an Allied prison camp but was not charged with war crimes. He continued work on the atlas until his death in 1955.

A two-volume edition was published in five languages, with the first American edition coming out in 1963. Elsevier, a European scientific publisher that currently holds the copyright, stopped printing it on ethical grounds, but the volumes can be found in private collections and purchased on eBay and Amazon.

Scholars first raised questions about the origins of the atlas in the 1980s as the Cold War’s “Great Silence” about the Nazis’ medical legacy began to crack.

By the 1990s, the controversy was drawing wider public attention.

Dr. Howard Israel, an oral surgeon at Columbia University who had routinely used the atlas, exposed the Nazi symbols in the artists’ signatures included in early editions of the book.

Then Dr. Israel and Dr. William Seidelman, a Toronto physician, turned for help to Israel’s official Holocaust memorial, Yad Vashem, asking it to press the University of Vienna to investigate the background of the atlas — and of the dissected cadavers its authors used. After some initial reluctance, the university agreed.

“Things started to unravel,” recounted Dr. Seidelman, who now lives in Jerusalem.

From 1938 to 1945, the university’s anatomical institute received more than 1,370 bodies of prisoners executed by the Vienna court system, according to the findings of an investigative committee. More than half had been political prisoners — people targeted by the Nazi regime. At that time in Austria, joking about Hitler was enough to warrant execution, often by decapitation.

Dr. el-Haj, the Hadassah surgeon, said he was first introduced to the atlas while studying under Dr. Susan Mackinnon, a pioneer in peripheral nerve surgery, at Washington University in St. Louis.

“She knew I came from Israel — she thought I was a Jewish guy,” he recalled.

That he was, in fact, an Arab Muslim from the Galilee changed nothing.

“I was shocked,” he said. “It’s a matter of humanity.”

Dr. Mackinnon bought her first copy in the early 1980s as a young plastic surgeon in Baltimore, and used it to guide many of her surgical procedures.

But troubled by the provenance of the illustrations, Dr. Mackinnon photocopied the first scholarly articles about Pernkopf’s past a few years later and tucked them into the book as a constant reminder.

In 2015, Dr. Mackinnon and her longtime associate Andrew Yee wanted to share drawings from the atlas on an online teaching platform, and sought an opinion from Dr. Sabine Hildebrandt, a Boston physician who has studied the Third Reich.

An international effort was already underway to determine how to handle unearthed human remains and medical specimens from the Holocaust era.

Dr. Hildebrandt took on Dr. Mackinnon’s query and consulted with other experts, giving rise to a special set of recommendations regarding the Pernkopf atlas in a document known as the “Vienna Protocol.” It was written by a prominent American rabbi and ethicist, Joseph A. Polak, and formally adopted by a 2017 symposium of experts at Yad Vashem. Under the protocol, the atlas can be used if there is full disclosure about its origins.

In a recent survey of an international group of nerve surgeons, Dr. Mackinnon and Mr. Yee found that 59 percent of the 182 respondents were aware of the Pernkopf atlas, 41 percent had used it at some point and 13 percent were currently using it.

But the debate is hardly settled.

Dr. Justin M. Sacks, chief of the division of plastic and reconstructive surgery at Washington University, said he had never come across the atlas until he arrived at the department this year. He argued that it was morally and ethically wrong to use it and that there were perfectly adequate substitutes available in print or online.

“I’m not looking to stir a controversy,” he said in an interview, “but I’m looking to put it where it belongs: in a museum.”

Dr. el-Haj said that while the alternatives might be good enough in other medical fields, when it came to peripheral nerve surgery, they were no match for Pernkopf.

One of eight siblings, Dr. el-Haj grew up in a farming village and aspired to become a nerve surgeon, he said, in the hope of helping his father, who as a young man was left with a paralyzed arm and leg by a work accident. After studying in the United States, Dr. el-Haj returned to Jerusalem with his own Pernkopf volumes in August 2018.

Around the same time, Mr. Musai, who had undergone dozens of operations since his injury, returned to his doctors. Now a married father of two, he could barely walk. His foot could not bear the weight of a sheet at night.

He was referred to Dr. el-Haj.

From his days as a medical student at Hadassah, Dr. el-Haj, 40, remembered Mr. Musai as an angry teenager in terrible pain who harbored a hatred of Arabs.

Mr. Musai acknowledges that was the case.

Israel Faces Challenges In Fighting Coronavirus In Ultra-Orthodox Communities

Like fundamentalists and equivalents of other religions:

Some devout Orthodox Jewish communities have been slow to follow lockdown orders in Israel, helping drive a surge in coronavirus cases that officials are struggling to contain.

Known in Israel as Haredim, or those who tremble in awe before God, ultra-Orthodox Jews make up about 12% of Israel’s population — but they account for as much as 60% of Israel’s COVID-19 cases in major hospitals, according to estimates. More than 6,000 Israelis have been infected and at least 31 have died.

This week marked a turning point for the community’s leadership, after a senior rabbi finally urged his followers to obey government stay-at-home orders. Many in the ultra-Orthodox community only follow the orders of rabbis, not health officials, and for weeks, many ignored government bans against large weddings and prayer services. Many do not own smartphones or TVs, leading authorities and volunteers to employ alternate methods to get the word out about infection prevention.

“Do not hold a prayer gathering! Do not gather for study in synagogues and seminaries! Anyone who defies doctors’ and health officials’ orders to protect against coronavirus is considered as if plotting murder and you must turn him in to authorities!” was the recorded announcement by the ZAKA emergency response organization, whose volunteers drove through ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods this week, broadcasting the warning from loudspeakers.

“Now I see a mother and a child crossing the street going into a shop,” ZAKA’s David Rose, himself ultra-Orthodox, told NPR by telephone from the car. “Some people are not aware of how severe this plague is going around.”

“Murderers,” screams a poster plastered in ultra-Orthodox neighborhoods, addressed to those who defy government orders to close synagogues and schools.

Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, a deputy mayor of Jerusalem, helped organize the posters in a private capacity.

At a recent meeting at City Hall, she says, “One of the elderly ultra-Orthodox members of the city council said, ‘You’re asking us to do everything against what our sages tell us to do.’ It’s been very, very difficult with the ultra-Orthodox community because it’s just asking them to go against everything they know and everything they are.”

The community turns to rabbinic texts on Jewish law for guidance on life’s challenges — but the plagues and calamities of the past were never tackled through isolation. And social distancing is anathema to the Orthodox Jewish communal way of life.

Many in the community are impoverished and families can include as many as seven or eight children, all living in two- or three-bedroom apartments. To prevent the virus from spreading easily at home, authorities are preparing hotels to quarantine healthy relatives of those infected with COVID-19 in the community.

The virus is also hitting ultra-Orthodox communities in the U.S., but in Israel, the crisis highlights a long-running friction between the government and the community’s leaders, some of whom initially dismissed the government’s coronavirus lockdown orders.

“Israel is a Jewish state on the one hand, but it doesn’t espouse the version of Judaism that Haredi society would like to see going on,” said ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Yehoshua Pfeffer of the Tikvah Fund, an educational foundation. “Some of the Israeli regulations and laws are seen to be inhibited or restrictive of the Haredi way of life.”

As the virus hit the country last month, Israeli Health Minister Yaakov Litzman — raised in Brooklyn, New York, and himself ultra-Orthodox — tried to convince rabbis not to allow Jews in quarantine to attend public synagogue gatherings for the Purim holiday. But up until this week, he also permitted prayer gatherings to continue — even though about a quarter of Israeli cases of infection were contracted in synagogues, according to his own health ministry. Now he himself has contracted the virus.

With virus cases rising, Haredi newspapers in Israel ran photos of community members who died in New York, London, Paris and Israel, and the community’s attitude shifted.

This week, a leading Haredi rabbi, Chaim Kanievsky, changed his mind and said his followers should self-isolate and those who ignore the government lockdown should be considered as plotting murder. The mayor of the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, near Tel Aviv, begged residents last weekend to stop prayer gatherings. His wife got the virus.

Some ultra-Orthodox Israelis are still skeptical. Yoel Krois, who lives in Jerusalem’s Mea Shearim neighborhood, an ultra-Orthodox enclave, said he is keeping his family inside more but doesn’t trust the government’s infection statistics.

“Whoever is a bit sick or elderly must be careful and should not leave the home, and no one should visit them,” Krois said, “but forbidding young people from buying something on the street or praying, that’s already going too far.”

Some ultra-Orthodox Jews shouted “Nazis!” as police marched through a Jerusalem neighborhood this week, handing out large fines — some over $1,000 — to those ignoring the stay-at-home orders. To impose the restrictions, police set up checkpoints at entrances to some ultra-Orthodox areas and used drones to enforce the rules, even deploying stun grenades to disperse a crowd.

“If they would have been closed three weeks ago, the way that we asked them to, we would be seeing much, much fewer numbers today,” Hassan-Nahoum, Jerusalem’s deputy mayor, told NPR. “They came too late into this.”

Source: Israel Faces Challenges In Fighting Coronavirus In Ultra-Orthodox Communities

A Bittersweet Homecoming for Egypt’s Jews

Interesting both with respect to the personal histories and connections, as well as the politics:

Clutching a decades-old black-and-white photo, Doris Wolanski directed a vehicle through Cairo’s chaotic traffic, her gaze trained on the street corners, in search of rue du Metro.

The photo showed an 8-year-old girl and her mother on a balcony overlooking a wide, deserted boulevard. The girl was Mrs. Wolanski, now 71; the apartment was her Jewish family’s home until they were expelled from Egypt in 1956, during the Suez crisis. Now she was trying to find it again.

The address wasn’t much help — rue du Metro had been renamed — but she hoped that details on the photo might lead her home. Spotting a familiar landmark, she filled with anxious anticipation.

“My stomach is churning, it really is,” she said. “I’m back to that little girl of 8 with my uniform, two pom-poms and a hat. It’s a very strange feeling.”

Mrs. Wolanski’s mission was part of a much larger homecoming for Egypt’s Jewish community, which at its peak numbered 80,000 and is now racing toward extinction.

Last weekend, 180 Jews from Europe, Israel and the United States traveled to the city of Alexandria on Egypt’s Mediterranean coast to attend religious ceremonies at a historic synagogue that was rescued from ruin. It was the largest such gathering of Jews in Egypt since they were pressured to leave during the Arab-Israeli wars of the 1950s and 1960s.

Egypt’s government paid for the $4 million synagogue renovation — part of a longstanding drive to rescue the country’s crumbling Jewish heritage which President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has stepped up.

Last year, Mr. el-Sisi ordered the renovation of a badly dilapidated Jewish cemetery which is one of the oldest in the world.

And he supported a scholarship project, run with the help of an Israeli scholar, that uncovered a rare, 1,000-year-old Hebrew Bible.

But Mr. el-Sisi’s embrace of Egyptian Jews is also awkward and laced with contradictions. The visit of 180 Jews took place under a news media blackout, with no coverage in Egyptian outlets, and amid iron-tight security by Egyptian officials who at times outnumbered their visitors.

Although Mr. el-Sisi paints himself as a moderate, he has done little to counteract anti-Semitism in Egyptian society, where Jews are often conflated with Israel, and where many young Egyptians know little of their country’s Jewish past — and how it ended.

“I’m full of questions,” said Philippe Ismalun, who fled Egypt after his father was arrested during the 1967 Middle East war. “After so many years of Jews being told that Egypt is not their country, not their home, it was puzzling to see the government spend so much money and effort on renovating the synagogue.”

In part, the answer is politics.

Perhaps 16 Egyptian Jews remain in Egypt — six in Cairo and another 10 in Alexandria, mostly in their 70s and 80s, according to community leaders in both cities. The government says it is rescuing their synagogues and cemeteries so Jewish heritage can take its rightful place alongside Egypt’s Pharaonic, Coptic and Islamic civilizations.

“It’s a message for Egyptians that we lived in a unique diversity — Jews, Christians, everyone — for millenniums,” Khaled El-Anany, Egypt’s minister for antiquities and tourism, said in an interview.

For Mr. el-Sisi, though, the good works also cement his foreign alliances. In recent years, Egypt has quietly allied with Israel to carry out secret airstrikes against the Islamic State in Sinai. Mr. el-Sisi’s officials were muted in their criticism of President Trump’s contentious plan to resolve the Israeli- Palestinian conflict.

Since Mr. Trump came to power in 2016, Mr. el-Sisi has hosted at least 10 delegations of American Jewish leaders at his presidential palace, apparently viewing them as a vehicle to leverage influence in Washington.

Last February, one of those delegations appealed for his help in saving Cairo’s Jewish cemetery, which had fallen into a woeful state.

Squatters had encroached on the ninth-century cemetery, building houses and stealing its marble tombstones. Sewage pooled in corners, goats roamed between graves and garbage was piled high in places.

Local criminals used the cemetery as a place to deal drugs or burn the rubber coating from stolen electrical cables, said Magda Haroun, the head of Cairo’s half-dozen strong Jewish community.

“It was in a terrible shape,” said Ms. Haroun, 67, whose sister’s grave lies beneath a squatter’s house.

A cleanup started within hours of Mr. el-Sisi’s meeting with the American group, she said. It has been continued by A Drop of Milk — an old Jewish welfare organization now dedicated to rescuing Jewish heritage, and composed mostly of Christian and Muslim volunteers.

“We’ve removed tons and tons of rubbish,” she said. “But there’s much more to be done.”

For many of the Jews who returned to Alexandria last weekend, the Shabbat service at the renovated Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue, an imposing neo-Classical structure that officially reopened in January, was an emotional moment.

A cavernous ark holds dozens of Torah scrolls collected from Alexandria’s other synagogues that have been sold to developers. Heavy wooden pews gleam with brass plaques bearing the names of Jewish families since scattered across the world.

Mr. Ismalun, who lives in Switzerland, brought along the kipa he wore as a child for his bar mitzvah in the same synagogue.

“It was very moving,” he said.

Yet many could not fail to notice that the news media had been barred from the event, and that not a single Egyptian government official had come along. Many said they felt isolated, and it raised a broader question about whether Mr. el-Sisi will allow ordinary Egyptians access to the synagogue that his government has so lavishly restored.

“The Egyptian attitude is between ambivalent and schizophrenic,” said Rabbi Andrew Baker of the American Jewish Committee, who noted that he also attended the reopening of a Cairo synagogue 10 years ago, under President Hosni Mubarak, which took place in similarly veiled conditions.

“The Egyptians appreciate that people have a positive view of this from abroad,” Rabbi Baker added. “But now that you have this beautiful synagogue, it’s fair to ask what purpose it will serve in the future.”

Egypt’s unresolved relationship with Israel is undoubtedly a factor. Despite a 1979 peace treaty, the two countries have not normalized relations, and public debate about the subject remains taboo in Cairo. In 2016, an Egyptian lawmaker was expelled from Parliament for inviting the Israeli ambassador to his home for dinner.

Copies of “The Protocols of the Elders of Zion,” an anti-Semitic tract, are sold openly by street vendors in Cairo. After a spate of anti-Sisi protests in September, documents circulated on social media that purported to prove an old conspiracy theory that Mr. el-Sisi’s mother is secretly Jewish.

At the same time, there are signs of changing attitudes.

Documentaries about the last Egyptian Jews have received a warm reception from young Egyptians eager to know more. And the government authorized an Israeli scholar, Prof. Yoram Meital of Ben Gurion University, to help A Drop of Milk catalog thousands of Jewish scrolls and other relics in Cairo’s shuttered synagogues.

Two years ago, that led them to a goatskin parchment in the back of a closet — a handwritten document, dating from 1028, that covers the third part of the Hebrew Bible and is among the oldest copies of the Bible ever found.

“Many people think the final chapter on the Jewish community of Egypt has been written,” Mr. Meital said in an interview. “I believe the opposite is true — that its heritage has a future that is beginning now.”

Mr. el-Sisi’s outreach has its limits. Jewish leaders want access to a vast register of community records, dating back to 1830 and counting tens of thousands of pages, that catalog births, marriages, deaths and bar mitzvahs.

But Egyptian officials have sequestered the register inside the national archives and, despite a promise from Mr. el-Sisi, refused to provide any access, ostensibly for national security reasons.

“Those records are our heritage. They’re everything about us,” said Reginette Schafer, who left Egypt in 1954 and lives in Washington. “And we can’t get them out.”

For many, the test of Egypt’s commitment to celebrating its Jewish heritage may lie in how the renovated synagogues are used: whether they remain huddled behind armed policemen, as is currently the case, or can be opened to ordinary Egyptians as a monument to a part of their culture that is as old as the pyramids.

“That’s the real challenge,” said Rabbi Baker. “It’s the story you’re telling about this community, and whether you have faith that Egyptians will see it as something positive. That’s my hope.”

Mrs. Wolanski, driving around the Cairo district of Heliopolis with her husband and two sons, beamed with delight when she found her old school, St. Clare’s, where she had once been taught by Catholic nuns.

Later she posed for a photo outside a nearby synagogue where her father prayed, as armed policemen looked on.

But she couldn’t find rue du Metro, or her old apartment. She would save it for next time, she said, “when I come back with my grandchildren.”

Source: A Bittersweet Homecoming for Egypt’s JewsA rare ceremony at an ancient synagogue brought 180 Jews back to Egypt, decades after they were pressured to leave.

Israel Trump’s plan revokes Israeli Arabs’ citizenship

Of note:

Just two years ago, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu declared, “I don’t intend to bring a diplomatic plan on the eve of the elections.” He was responding to a reporter who challenged him on saying in 2008 that then-Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, “neck-deep in investigations, has no moral or public mandate to make fateful decisions for Israel” in a quest for political survival. A few days ago, on Jan. 28, Netanyahu did exactly what he said he would not do.

Several hours after “making history” by becoming the first sitting Israeli prime minister to be officially charged with bribery, fraud and breach of trust, Netanyahu took part in the unveiling ceremony of President Donald Trump’s “deal of the century” for Israeli-Palestinian peace, declaring it a “historic day like May 1948,” when Israel declared independence.

Peace is unlikely to emerge from Trump’s plan, but Netanyahu proved once again that all means justify his end of winning the March 2 elections and remaining in the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street in Jerusalem. To that end, he mobilized Trump’s help in presenting an alleged peace plan that consists of everything except peace and a Palestinian partner. The East Room ceremony resembled a wedding without the bride, celebrating a deal between Israel and the United States, rather than Israel and the Palestinians.

As expected, the Palestinian leadership rejected the plan. Channel 12 reported that on Jan. 29, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas sent Netanyahu a handwritten note informing him, “The Palestinian Authority now sees itself as free to disregard the agreements with Israel, including security cooperation.”

Anyone delving further into the details of the 80-plus-page proposal could not have missed the surprising clause allowing Israel to transfer to a future Palestinian state the populated Arab communities in the so-called Triangle of central Israel: Kufr Qara, Arara, Baka al-Garbiyeh, Umm al-Fahm, Kalansua, Taybeh, Kafr Qasem, Tira, Kafr Bara and Jaljulya.

This is not the first time an Israeli government during the Netanyahu era has tried to trade away its Arab citizens in the Triangle, which borders the West Bank, by moving the border and thereby turning them into nationals of a future Palestinian state. The idea previously arose in 2013 when US Secretary of State John Kerry mediated peace talks between the two sides, with the clear goal of finding a solution to the land swap issue. There also appears to have been a hidden agenda — reducing the number of Israel’s Arab citizens — an estimated 300,000 of who live in the Triangle communities.

“Just as with many earlier initiatives, this one too does not have any hold or acceptance among the Arab Israeli or Palestinian public,” Jamal Mjadlah, a social activist from Baka al-Garbiyeh, told Al-Monitor. “This is an initiative devoid of justice and logic, which will not be accepted and will not be adopted.”

Salah Smara, a high-tech engineer from Tira, asserted to Al-Monitor, “This is an attempt to enhance ideologies espousing population transfer using political tools to get rid of the Arab citizens rather than physically removing people from their homes. The motivations are racial — to preserve demographic superiority.”

The initiative could also have the absurd and tragic impact on many families by tearing them, as in the case of Firas Azam, an attorney born in Taybeh but now living in the coastal Mediterranean city of Haifa. If the land swap goes through, he would remain an Israeli citizen, but his mother and brother’s Israeli citizenship would be revoked.

“‘And we were like strangers in our land.’ This is my headline for this absurd move,” Azam told Al-Monitor. “Our state, where we grew up, went to school, worked, respected its laws and principles, does not want us anymore and is willing to give us up just like that. I would have expected the Jews to understand this better than any other people in the world, but I guess I was wrong.”

Trump and Netanyahu present the idea of exchanging populated lands as targeting communities that “largely self-identify as Palestinians,” according to the plan. A 2019 study by the Israel Democracy Institute found, however, that only 13% of Arab Israeli citizens define themselves as “Palestinians” in terms of their main identity, whereas 65% are “proud to be Israelis.” The study further indicates that 83% of Israeli Arab citizens want to integrate into Israeli society and become full members of it.

The above results do not conform to the premise of the Trump plan, proving yet again that it is nothing more than an attempt by Netanyahu and Israel’s political right to shrink the number of Israel’s Arab citizens, who constitute 21% of the state’s population. That, in turn, would reduce the number of Arab voters, who obviously do not tend to vote for right-wing parties, helping the right perpetuate its rule and prevent the formation of a center-left government.

Shimon Sheves, who served as director general of the Prime Minister’s Office under the late Yitzhak Rabin, shared his thoughts on Facebook about the actual difference between the so-called deal of the century and Rabin’s peace plan. Indeed, there are many similarities between the American blueprint and the one charted by Rabin, who was, as we know, assassinated because of the peace he sought to advance. At the time, it was Netanyahu who led numerous protests against Rabin and addressed rallies at which Rabin was dubbed a traitor and the crowd chanted, “With blood and fire, we will expel Rabin.” The difference is that Rabin did not agree to land swaps, as Ben Caspit explained in a Jan. 29 Al-Monitor article. Perhaps that is what the Netanyahu-led right really wants: to revoke the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of the state’s Arab citizens.

With an effective and well-targeted campaign by the Arab Joint List, currently the third largest Knesset faction, the initiative could backfire against Netanyahu. Such was the case with the so-called Camera Law, a Likud-led initiative to install cameras at Arab polling stations. The alleged idea was to guard against voter fraud, but in reality was devised to intimidate Arab voters. The move ultimately prompted a significantly high Arab turnout in protest in the September 2019 elections. If the current initiative gains ground, Netanyahu will once again be crowned the main campaigner of the Joint List.

Source: Israel Trump’s plan revokes Israeli Arabs’ citizenship

Equally revealing:

President Donald Trump’s national security adviser warned Palestinians on Wednesday that Israeli settlements will continue to expand because rising anti-Semitism around the world means more Jews will immigrate to Israel.

Addressing many hot-button global issues in a speech and discussion with foreign diplomats to the United States, Robert O’Brien also said the president hoped to go to Beijing to talk to the Chinese about a three-way nuclear arms control pact with the U.S. and Russia. He said the president still hopes that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un will resume nuclear talks with the U.S.

O’Brien defended Trump’s Mideast peace plan, which was embraced by Israel but rejected by the Palestinians. O’Brien said the plan is not “perfect,” but urged the Palestinians to negotiate terms of the proposed deal. The deal offers economic benefits that would allow Palestine to become the “Singapore of the Middle East,” he said.

The Palestinians have roundly denounced the proposal, which offers them limited self-rule in scattered chunks of territory with a capital on the outskirts of Jerusalem while allowing Israel to annex large parts of the West Bank. Protesters have burned U.S. and Israeli flags as well as posters of Trump and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who stood with Trump at the White House when he rolled out the plan last week.

“This could be the last opportunity for a two-state solution,” O’Brien said at the Meridian International Center. “The Israeli birth rate is strong and is growing because sadly anti-Semitism in Europe and other places around the world is encouraging more Jews to return to Israel. The settlements are going to continue to expand. If this freeze on settlements doesn’t hold. If this peace process doesn’t work, it may be physically impossible to have a two-state solution.”

It was unusual for a high-level administration official to tie anti-Semitism to the settlements. The Palestinians, as well as much of the international community, view the settlements in the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem — territories seized by Israel in the 1967 war — as illegal and a major obstacle to peace. But O’Brien’s comments are in line with the Trump administration strongly favoring Israel in the longtime conflict.

O’Brien didn’t note that the Palestinian population is growing too in both the Palestinian territories and Israel, according to U.N. statistics. The Palestinian population is growing at roughly 2.4% a year, 33% higher than Israel’s.

Those demographic shifts have led previous peacemakers to warn that Israel risks losing its ability to remain both a Jewish state and a democracy without a two-state solution that gives the Palestinians enough inhabitable and arable land to accommodate their growing numbers.

Trump’s plan would foresee the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, but would allow Israel to annex all Jewish settlements in the West Bank, as well as the strategic Jordan Valley.

U.S. officials had discouraged Netanyahu from proceeding with plans to immediately annex any new territory and had played down the possibility that the release of the plan would make any such move imminent. But after the rollout, Netanyahu vowed to bring his West Bank annexation plans to a vote at his next Cabinet meeting just days away.

That surprised and frustrated the Americans. In a series of interviews, Trump’s point people on Israel jammed the brakes on annexation, putting greater emphasis on the prospects of Palestinian statehood that Netanyahu was trying to sidestep.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman said a U.S.-Israeli committee would need to be formed to ensure that any move matches up with the Trump administration’s “conceptual map.” Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law and a chief architect of the plan, said Israel should wait until after the March 2 Israeli elections before annexing territory.

Any quick move to annex land would galvanize Netanyahu’s hard-line base and shift the focus of his reelection campaign away from his legal woes. But annexation also would likely spark an international backlash, and neighboring Jordan, a key player in Middle East peace efforts, has warned against it. It could also foreclose the possibility of a negotiated two-state solution.

Up to a quarter of Russian immigrants to Israel may have left after receiving passports

“Citizens of convenience:”

Thousands of immigrants to Israel from the former Soviet Union may have come only to receive an Israeli passport before moving back abroad.

The Hebrew weekly Makor Rishon reported that a cottage industry of companies promising expedited Israeli citizenship, and the passport that comes with it, have sprung up in Russia since the passage of a law allowing new immigrants to receive the travel document within the first three months of their aliyah.

For many in the post-Soviet world, an Israeli passport is considered as desirable as a European Union passport is to Israelis. Russian fixers have started advertising that they can help prospective “olim” obtain “Israeli citizenship within two days” for a cost of thousands of euros.

Under certain circumstances, the paper reported, the three-month period can be shortened to as little as a day, and some immigrants have even been able to receive their passports without having to leave Ben Gurion International Airport.

Based on data from Israel’s Ministry of Immigrant Absorption, Makor Rishon estimated that approximately 8,500 emigres from the former FSU have come just for the passport before immediately leaving the country. One Jewish Agency official estimated that about 25 percent of the immigrants came for a passport and “left the country immediately after receiving it.”

Approximately 10,500 Russians and 6,400 Ukrainians made aliyah in 2018, which was the first year that the majority of new immigrants were not considered Jewish under halacha, or Jewish religious law.

Source: Up to a quarter of Russian immigrants to Israel may have left after receiving passports

What constitutes fair and unfair criticism of Israel?

An article that tries to articulate, in concrete terms, what is legitimate and what is not legitimate criticism of Israel.

When I was involved in negations over the IHRA working definition of antisemitism, there was a preference for more general wording (“criticism of Israel similar to that levelled against any other country cannot be regarded as antisemitic”) with some examples, rather than a more comprehensive illustrative list.

Using international human rights as a basis, as Rhoda E. Howard-Hassmann argues, is the most sound approach although there will likely be differences of interpretation:

Canada recently voted at the United Nations for the establishment of a Palestinian state. At the same time, Canada reiterated its position that there were too many UN resolutions about Israel. Canada argued that these resolutions unfairly singled out Israel for criticism.

Nevertheless, Israel’s ambassador to the UN claimed that Canada’s vote delegitimized Israel.

This event raises questions of what are legitimate or illegitimate criticisms of the state of Israel. It also raises questions about when or whether such criticism is anti-Semitic.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance defines anti-Semitism as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” It states that evidence of anti-Semitism “might include the targeting of the state of Israel, conceived as a Jewish collectivity.”

However, it also states that “criticism of Israel similar to that leveled against any other country cannot be regarded as anti-Semitic.”

Using this definition, Canada’s vote for creation of a Palestinian state does not delegitimize Israel, any more than Canadian criticism of any other state delegitimizes it.

Illegitimate criticism

On the other hand, activists for Palestinian rights who call for the state of Israel to be destroyed, for example, by referring to a free Palestine “from the river to the sea,” engage in illegitimate criticism.

Regardless of the circumstances of its creation, Israel is a sovereign state that enjoys the right to exist. All sovereign states enjoy this right. Like any other state, Israel also has the right to defend itself against attack.

To suggest that Jews have no right to live in Israel is also to engage in illegitimate criticism. All states are permitted to determine who will live within their borders. And suggesting that Jews should not live in Israel means advocating the creation of a huge refugee population based on religio-ethnic criteria.

Some critics call Israel a colonial power. They assume that it is illegitimate for any Jewish “settler” to live in Israel proper. This assumption is based in part on the belief that Jews are not indigenous to the Middle East. But Jews have lived in the Middle East for thousands of years.

Israel was created in 1948. An estimated 600,000 to 760,000 Palestinians fled or were expelled in the subsequent Arab-Israeli war.

In later years, about 800,000 Jews left Arab countries. About two-thirds of them settled in Israel, and the other third elsewhere. Many of these Jews had been forcibly expelled.

Many Jews settled in Israel from Europe. It is important to remember the context of European pogroms and Nazi genocide that obliged many of them to flee.

This does not justify Israeli violations of the human rights of either Israeli Arabs or of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. It merely provides some context as to why so many Jews have settled in Israel.

Sanctions against Israel are legitimate

Having said this, I agree with the opinion of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance that it’s legitimate to criticize Israel as one might criticize any other state. Thus the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement against Israel is legitimate, as long as it does not simultaneously question the right of Israel to exist as a state. Many Jewish people both within and outside Israel who are concerned about Palestinian rights support this movement.

Similarly, although it is not strictly accurate to call Israel an apartheid state, it is within the realm of acceptable political rhetoric. Legally speaking, apartheid can only occur within a state. So calling Israel an apartheid state suggests that it has legal sovereignty over the West Bank and Gaza.

A better way to judge Israel’s actions in Gaza and the West Bank is through universal standards. One such standard is international humanitarian law, especially the fourth Geneva Convention of 1949. This convention prohibits transfers of population, either from or into conquered territories. That means Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal.

The International Court of Justice also adheres to universal standards. It ruled in 2004 that the wall separating Israel from the West Bank is illegal, because part of it is built outside Israel’s territory. This wall frequently separates Palestinians from their land, work opportunities and family members.

International human rights law is another universal standard that protects Palestinians. Israel definitely denies some human rights to people in the West Bank and Gaza. But so do Palestinians’ own political leaders, Hamas in Gaza and Fatah in the West Bank. Both these political groups deny their subjects civil liberties. They also use torture and arbitrary arrest, prohibited by international human rights law.

Other states punish Palestinians

Other states also undermine Palestinians’ human rights. Like Israel, Egypt periodically blockades Gaza . These blockades deny Palestinians freedom of movement across national boundaries. Both these states have the legal right to control their own borders. But these controls frequently mean that Palestinians cannot buy food, go to hospitals or work in Israel or Egypt.

Arab states also undermine Palestinians’ human rights. Some have given shelter to Palestinian refugees and their descendants for decades, but refuse to grant them citizenship.

These states are not legally obliged to grant citizenship to refugees and their descendants. But the reason that Jewish emigrants and refugees from Arab states do not constitute a political bloc, which Palestinians emigrants and refugees do, lies partly in citizenship laws.

Jewish emigrants and refugees obtained citizenship in Israel and other countries like the United States and Canada. Palestinians emigrants and refugees from Israel, and many of their descendants, remain stateless.

Universal rules and responsibilities

Serious concern for the human rights of Palestinians requires consideration of all the states that violate their rights under international human rights and humanitarian law.

These legal standards are universal. As long as they do not advocate eradication of the state of Israel and/or expulsion of Israeli Jews, states and activists that adhere to these standards are engaged in legitimate criticism.

Activists should respect Israel’s rights as a sovereign state. But Israel should respect Palestinians’ rights under universal human rights and humanitarian law. Israel is the most important of all the states in the Palestinian crisis.

Unfortunately, the government of Israel in 2019 was nationalist and expansionist. There’s little hope as we head into 2020 that Israel will negotiate in good faith with Palestinian leaders. Yet Israel will never be safe from attack until it negotiates a peaceful settlement that gives Palestinians their own state.

Source: What constitutes fair and unfair criticism of Israel?