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Weekly roundup of world briefs


Oklahoma’s governor signs anti-Israel boycott legislation

By Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Oklahoma can no longer contract with companies that boycott Israel.

On Tuesday, Gov. Kevin Stitt, a Republican, signed a bill that would apply to state contracts over $100,000, unless the company is officially exempted by the Oklahoma secretary of state. The measure says that Oklahoma may not enter into contracts with companies that advocate boycotts, divestment or sanctions against Israel, a reference to the BDS movement against Israel.

In March, attorneys with the Oklahoma chapters of the American Civil Liberties Union and Council on American-Islamic Relations told the legislature that the measure is unconstitutional, KFOR reported.

At least 28 states have passed legislation against attempts to boycott Israel. Federal judges in Arizona, Kansas and Texas have blocked such anti-boycott laws from taking effect.

Rabbis can be military chaplains in Germany for the first time since the 1930s

By Joe Baur

BERLIN (JTA) — Rabbis can be military chaplains again in the German military for the first time since they were kicked out by the Nazis in the 1930s, nearly a century ago.

The German Bundestag, or parliament, unanimously approved the move in a vote on Thursday.

“The first clergymen are expected to begin their ministry this autumn,” a statement by the Department of Defense. “Later, up to 10 pastoral workers of the Jewish faith are to serve in the German armed forces.”

The decision completes a promise made at the end of 2019 by Defense Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. A state contract was signed in December with the Central Council of Jews in Germany, modeled after similar state contracts with the evangelical and Catholic churches.

“Today at the Cabinet meeting, we sent an important signal to our Jewish soldiers,” Kramp-Karrenbauer said on Twitter. “After about 100 years, we will install a Jewish military rabbi in the #Bundeswehr again. A clear commitment: Jewish life is self-evident in our country.”

About 300 Jewish soldiers serve in the German army abroad, according to The New York Times.

“The military rabbis will play an important support role for Jewish soldiers,” said Central Council President Josef Schuster. “Particularly in times of growing anti-Semitism and the spread of conspiracy myths in society, this is an important step in supporting democratic attitudes among the soldiers.”

As many as 12,000 Jewish soldiers died fighting for Germany in World War I, before the Nazis came to power.

‘Bibi’ TV series about Benjamin Netanyahu in the works

By Marcy Oster

(JTA) — Benjamin Netanyahu, the TV series, is coming to HBO.

“Bibi,” the longtime Israeli prime minister’s ubiquitous nickname, will be based on the bestselling biography “The Netanyahu Years” written by veteran Israeli journalist Ben Caspit, Variety reported Thursday.

The series is set to be produced by Tel Aviv-based production company Abot Hameiri, which is best known for producing Israeli versions of “X-Factor,” “America’s Got Talent,” “The Bachelor” and “Survivor” and is now behind the Israeli television show “Shtisel.”

Award-winning screenwriter Kirk Ellis has been hired to write the screenplay.

“Ben Caspit’s insightful reporting demonstrates how private life always shapes public affairs, and there’s no shortage of conflict – or opinions – when it comes to Benjamin Netanyahu,” Ellis said in a statement, according to Variety.

Ellis won two Emmys as writer and co-executive producer on David McCullough’s “John Adams” biography for HBO.

“Bibi” will be the first television series about Netanyahu, who has been Israel’s prime minister since 2009. He previously served in the post from 1996 to 1999.

Ancient Israelites burned cannabis, researchers find

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — The ancient Israelites burned cannabis on their altars during religious rituals, researchers have found.

Israeli archaeologists found a mixture of cannabis and animal dung in the residue found on a 2,700-year-old altar discovered in a temple at Tel Arad in the Negev.

It is the first evidence of the use of a mind-altering substance to bring worshippers to a state of ecstasy in Judaism, according to a study published Thursday in Tel Aviv, the academic journal of Tel Aviv University’s Institute of Archaeology.

The Arad shrine was first unearthed some 50 years ago, and the material found on the altar, one of two discovered at the site, was submitted for analysis at the time, with inconclusive results. New analysis in recent years led to the determination that the material on the smaller altar contained cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol.

The study was conducted by Eran Arie of The Israel Museum in Jerusalem, independent researcher Baruch Rosen and Dvory Namdar of the Volcani Institute. They note in their conclusions that the discovery of cannabis on the altar, which is housed at The Israel Museum, was a “surprise.”

The researchers do not believe the cannabis was used because of its fragrance, according to their study.

“It seems feasible to suggest that the use of cannabis on the Arad altar had a deliberate psychoactive role. Cannabis odors are not appealing, and do not justify bringing the inflorescences from afar,” they wrote.

The researchers also imply that such mind-altering drugs could have been used in the Temple in Jerusalem.

“The presence of cannabis at Arad testifies to the use of mind-altering substances as part of cultic rituals in Judah,” they wrote. “The plants detected in this study can serve as an extra-biblical source in identifying the incense used in cultic practices not only at Arad but also those elsewhere in Judah, including Jerusalem.”

Thousands of students in dozens of Israeli schools sent home to isolation over COVID-19 outbreaks

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Thousands of students in Jerusalem and other cities across the country were sent home Monday to isolation after staff and students were found to have COVID-19.

Schools in Israel began opening more than two weeks ago after isolating for nearly two months due to the coronavirus.

Students from some 35 schools and kindergartens in Jerusalem, Hadera, Ashdod and Beersheba were officially diagnosed with the coronavirus. Some schools completely shut down, others announced that they will reopen in several days.

As of Monday morning, more than 4,500 students and 734 staff members across the country were sent to quarantine, according to the Education Ministry.

One school in the northern Israeli city of Hadera, for example, sent 2,180 students and teachers into isolation after one student was diagnosed with the virus. The school was temporarily shut down. The Gymnasia Rehavia high school in Jerusalem has had over 130 students and staff members diagnosed with the coronavirus.

Israel in recent days has seen a steep increase in the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus. The increases come as Israel continues to relax restrictions that were put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including opening up workplaces, schools and malls.

On Sunday, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told the Cabinet at its weekly meeting that there was a fivefold increase of Israelis who tested positive for COVID-19 the previous day alone.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday night that the coming days would be “a test to see if there is a change in trend that would require a change of policy,” such as closing education institutions.

Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich buys estate in Israel for record $64.5 million

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Russian-Israeli billionaire Roman Abramovich has bought an estate in central Israel for a record $64.5 million, an Israeli business daily reported.

The deal on the property in Herzliya Pituah, which includes a mansion and a guesthouse, as well as a tennis court and a swimming pool on a 2.35-acre property, was closed in late January right before the start in Israel of the coronavirus crisis, Globes reported Monday. The report cites a “source close to the deal.”

Abramovich rented the property last year with an option to buy, according to the report.

Abramovich, 54, made aliyah in May 2018 during a three-hour trip to Israel from Moscow after his British visa expired amid tightened regulations in the United Kingdom scrutinizing Russian businesspeople and diplomats more carefully. Israeli citizenship allowed Abramovich, who owns the British Chelsea soccer team, to enter the United Kingdom without a visa.

Upon gaining citizenship, Abramovich became the wealthiest person in Israel. He also owns a five-floor office building in Tel Aviv on the seafront and a boutique hotel in Tel Aviv.

His net worth on Monday stood at $12.2 billion, according to Forbes.

Prime Minister’s Office employee who has the coronavirus may have had contact with Netanyahu

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — An employee in the Prime Minister’s Office has tested positive for COVID-19, which could send Benjamin Netanyahu into self-quarantine for the third time since the start of the global pandemic.

The employee on the prime minister’s technical staff was in the same room as Netanyahu on Saturday, Israel’s Channel 13 reported Monday. He also may have come into contact with Finance Minister Israel Katz and Education Minister Yoav Gallant. All three men participated in a nationally televised address and news conference Saturday evening on dealing with the coronavirus crisis that the employee helped set up.

Quarantine orders could be recommended following an epidemiological investigation now underway, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday announced that there had been more than 100 newly diagnosed cases of the coronavirus in the past 24 hours, and that some additional 3,723 students and teachers were sent into self-quarantine on Tuesday, bringing the total of students and teachers currently in quarantine to 9,935.

Galant announced Monday that he would call on any school with a staff member or student with a confirmed case of COVID-19 to immediately close and send all staff and students to self-quarantine.

Schools in Israel began opening more than two weeks ago after isolating for nearly two months due to the coronavirus.

Israel in recent days has seen a steep increase in the number of confirmed cases of the coronavirus, most related to schools. The increases come as Israel continues to relax restrictions that were put in place to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, including opening up workplaces, schools and malls.

The Health Ministry on Tuesday also reported two new coronavirus deaths, bringing the total dead in Israel to 287.

‘Looting loss loans available immediately,’ Jewish Free Loan Association tells Los Angeles residents

By Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — Until last week, Los Angeles’ Jewish Free Loan Association was busy doling out financial support to locals who were struggling because of the coronavirus crisis.

Now, the group is making loans available to people hit hard by another crisis: the aftermath of protests responding to the police killing of George Floyd.

The city’s Jewish community has been hit particularly hard by the protests. The Jewish Journal and Haaretz reported that several Jewish-owned businesses, restaurants and synagogues were damaged, looted and vandalized with hateful spray paint.

Much of that happened in L.A.’s Fairfax district, historically home to a large Jewish community and many Jewish businesses — including the famed Canter’s deli. But demonstrations have taken place elsewhere in the city and county as well.

The Jewish Free Loan Association, an L.A.-based organization founded in 1904, announced Monday that it is offering interest-free loans of up to $18,000 to all residents of Los Angeles and Ventura Counties. “Looting loss loans available immediately,” read the subject line of an email sent to subscribers, which explained that the funds could pay for “debris cleanup, graffiti removal, construction needs, inventory replacement and more.”

Slow down annexation process, Jared Kushner and other US officials tell Netanyahu

By Marcy Oster

JERUSALEM (JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a conference call with Jared Kushner and other top White House officials to discuss slowing down West Bank annexation plans, an Israeli TV station reported.

Channel 13 in its report Monday cited an unnamed senior Israeli source that the Trump administration wants to “downplay the enthusiasm” for immediate annexation and to “greatly slow the process” since the attention of the White House is taken up by the current national protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis while in policy custody and the coronavirus crisis.

Netanyahu was on the call with White House adviser Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law; Avi Berkowitz, White House Middle East peace negotiator; David Friedman, the U.S. ambassador to Israel; and Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the U.S. Unnamed U.S. sources told Channel 13 that the officials asked Netanyahu if and how Israel would move forward with unilateral annexation, but did not receive an answer.

The call followed a meeting between Friedman and Israel’s defense minister, Benny Gantz, who also holds the title of alternate prime minister, Channel 13 reported.

Gantz on Monday ordered the Israel Defense Forces’ chief of staff, Aviv Kohavi, to “step up preparations for the IDF ahead of diplomatic efforts on the agenda in the Palestinian arena,” The Times of Israel reported, citing Gantz’s office. The statement did not specifically refer to annexation.

Netanyahu said last week in a meeting with government ministers that he has a target date in July to extend Israeli sovereignty over about 30% of the West Bank, which is provided for in the Trump Israeli-Palestinian peace plan.

The coalition deal between Netanyahu and Gantz permits annexation from July 1.

Some Israeli settler leaders don’t support West Bank annexation plans

By Gabe Friedman

(JTA) — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged settler leaders to get behind his push to annex parts of the West Bank on Tuesday in the wake of their public arguments that the plan would effectively halt settlement expansion.

Netanyahu is trying to take advantage of the time he has before a possible change in the U.S. administration to follow through on a pledge he promised for over a year of political campaigning: applying Israeli sovereignty over large swaths of West Bank that most of the international community sees as illegally occupied. Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic candidate for president who supports a two-state solution, would likely not support any annexation.

But even President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace team has seemed divided over the possibility of imminent annexation. U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman enthusiastically endorsed the idea in January, but Jared Kushner, a key architect of the administration’s recently released peace plan, soon after said that an exact map of territories has yet to be agreed upon.

Now some Israeli settler leaders, whom Netanyahu has courted and counted on for support for years, have joined in the argument against immediate annexation, as detailed in reports in The New York Times and The Times of Israel. They claim that annexing the territory now would turn the settlements into “disconnected enclaves that would be barred from expanding” and further isolate them from the rest of the Israeli state.

“Either the settlements have a future or the Palestinian state does — but not both,” right-wing lawmaker Bezalel Smotrich told The New York Times.

Netanyahu told settler leaders in a meeting on Tuesday that they have a “historic opportunity” when it comes to annexation.


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