Actions Speak LOUDER Than Words.

Politics, personalities, perspectives and policies. The first is reflected by the second. The second is shaped by the third and the fourth is the outworking of the third. 

With the inauguration of Joe Biden as President of the United States, internal issues, including the health and economic crises and illegal immigrants were, understandably, high on the agenda. International concerns, including Iran, the Middle East conflicts and trade wars with China needed to be addressed, but, apparently, are not considered priority items. From an Israeli perspective, the issues are more specific and more critical: Will the Biden administration try to renegotiate the disastrous nuclear deal with Iran that endangered Israel and the entire Middle East? What will be the new administration’s position regarding the move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem? Will the Biden administration attempt to resurrect the dead-and-buried, two-state solution to the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict? How will the administration relate to the anti-Israel bias of the United Nations and to its organizations, such as UNRWA and UNESCO? Will the new President continue the warm relations with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin (“Bibi”) Netanyahu that existed under the Trump administration?

The answers were not long in coming, as a cold shoulder stretched across 9,490 kilometers (5,897 miles), causing Israel to start to look for a diplomatic winter coat. Biden spent 8 years as Vice-President in the Obama administration learning, among other things, how to treat enemies like friends and friends like enemies. 

A well-known singer once sang, in part: “Call me irresponsible, call me unreliable…call me unpredictable”. Netanyahu can add to that, “Call me whatever you want, but  call me!” In another 6 days, it will be a month since the inauguration of Joe Biden as President of the United States. And, unlike Donald Trump whose third phone call after taking office was to the Prime Minister of Israel, Biden still hasn’t picked up the phone to call Netanyahu. Granted, it took Netanyahu a bit of time after the U.S. elections to call Biden and to refer to him as “President-Elect”. But, he didn’t wait long to congratulate him after he was sworn in as President. Is not calling Netanyahu a form of “payback”. Is it an attempt to politicize Irving Berlin’s “Anything You Can Do (I Can Do Better)” from the Broadway musical Annie Get Your Gun? Is it a case of “monkey see, monkey do”? 

Back on 10th February, Danny Danon, Chairman of the World Likud, the global arm of Netanyahu’s party, expressed what many wanted to say, but who didn’t have the platform from which to say it. He tweeted a message to Biden, listing ten countries to whose leaders he placed long-distance phone calls (without reversing the charges). Then he added: “Might it now be time to call the leader of #Israel, the closest ally of the #US? The PM’s number is: 972-2-6705555”. That number, by the way, will get to the Prime Minister’s office, but not to the him personally. Netanyahu, being ever the astute politician, tried to downplay Biden’s failure to call him, saying that he expected a call from him “soon”, adding: “He is making calls to world leaders according to the order he sees fit. He has not reached the Middle East yet. The Israel-US alliance is strong and so is our friendship of almost 40 years, though we may not agree on everything.” Unfortunately, there are a few concerns with Netanyahu’s statement. First, Biden has by-passed the Middle East, by calling India (much further East than Israel), South Korea (much further East than India) and Russia (due north of Israel), not to mention Australia, which is way down under on the other side of the world. Second, the Israel-US alliance “was strong” and its strength is now being tested. Third, the strong “friendship (between Biden and Bibi) of almost 40 years” has little to show for it, when viewed from a legislative perspective and when the question is asked: “What have you done for me lately?” As one former statement Middle East analyst stated, in reply to the tweet of Danny Danon: “A call will come. But a clear message is being sent…To quote Dorothy, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”

The close relationship that Netanyahu built with Trump and his administration over four years, resulted in moving the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem, recognizing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Golan Heights and removing U.S. opposition to Israeli settlement activity in Judea and Samaria, among other things. Add to them the major role that Nikki Haley played in presenting a very pro-Israeli position in the U.N. as the representative of the U.S., who knew how to silence countries which were/are blatantly anti-Israel. In short, in one-tenth of the time of the alleged friendship between Biden and Netanyahu, there was a favorable reversal of U.S. policy vis-a-vis Israeli interests. Now, we are being thrown back to the politics, personalities, perspectives and policies of the Obama era. Some of the political appointments that Biden has already made prompted the Zionist Organization of America to set up a special “Joe Biden’s Hostile-to-Israel Appointments” section on its web page. If Biden is going to trust them for advice and guidance, should we be foolish enough to trust him? 

All this in less than a month of the new U.S. administration’s taking office. Undoubtedly, many are thrilled that Trump is no longer in office. But, looking at the situation from this side of the Pond and from a distance of a 12-hour plane trip, we could rightfully ask whether this is really a “new” administration, or simply a cleverly-disguised third term of Biden’s former boss. Time will tell.

In the meantime, Israel should finally understand that the players in the international political arena change with seasons and elections. We should never build our hopes on the frailties of political power that can be gone with the wind. Our reliance should be on One Who changes not, Who never disappoints, Who wants us to call upon Him because He longs to be gracious to us.

“Listen to me, O Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, put your trust in the LORD your God and you will be established. Put your trust in His prophets and succeed.” (2 Chronicles 20:20)

O Israel, trust in the LORD; He is their help and their shield. (Psalm 115:9)

God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should repent; Has He said, and will He not do it? Or has He spoken and will He not make it good? (Number 23:19)

May the Lord protect you from all evil and guard your going out and your coming in.

Have a God-honoring week.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

The Holocaust and Anti-Semitism – Neither of them are truly behind us!

Can we take a break from the political changes occurring in the United States? What about a break from the pandemic, from being vaccinated and from issuance of “green passports”? Unfortunately, opting not to talk about them doesn’t negate their existence or the consequences of the decisions that are made and the effects they will have on us. They’ll all still be there to talk about again after considering other matters. 

Three days ago, January 27, 2021, was International Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is one day during the year when the world is not asked, but urged, to remember the Holocaust – a special event in world history. While 16 European countries, as well as Israel, have laws against Holocaust denial, some countries that are considered bastions of democracy allow it as protected speech, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. Dr. Robert Rozett, Senior Historian in the International Institute for Holocaust Research at Yad Vashem, in an article entitled: When Denying History is Incitement to Violence, wrote in 2006:  “In a perfect world, one who denies a clearly proven historical fact, like the perpetration of the Holocaust, should be considered a laughing stock. He should be no less an object of scorn than one who insists that the earth is flat or the sun revolves around the moon. The denier need not be fined or jailed for being ridiculous. Rather people should make him feel so mortified that he should want to hide in a deep, dark cave, and for a very long time be too ashamed to show his face in the light of day. But we don’t live in a perfect world, or anywhere near one….Holocaust denial is a form of antisemitism, and antisemitism in our time still frequently incites to violence against individual Jews and against Jews in general.” 

One would be hard pressed to disagree with the clear consensus in most locations around the world that anti-Semitism is on the rise everywhere. There was a time in not-too-distant memory, when expressions of anti-Semitism were widely condemned, when the world as a whole understood the horrors of the Holocaust, when photos of concentration camp ovens, corpses of those hung on make-shift gallows and emaciated survivors spoke a thousand words. It was a brief time when the expression “Never Again” was understood almost in its fullest sense. However, with the passage of time and the passing away of survivors whose final days were in different countries around the world, the task to never forget commands that we should always remember.

We must all accept the past, as we are all affected by it. This does not mean that we have to agree with what happened. Nor can we come to terms with it, as we cannot change it or undue it. All we can do is remember it, and in remembering, make efforts to resist repeating it. The slaughter of six million Jews in the Holocaust is etched in our memories.

A dear friend wrote to me earlier this week, saying that Holocaust Remembrance Day reminded him of my post a few years back when my wife and I were in Poland. We were hosted by a couple who love and pray for Israel and the Jewish people, whose tears joined with ours as we saw historical evidence of some of the atrocities perpetrated against the Jewish people of Europe, which accomplished the murder of one third of the Jewish population that existed at the outset of WWII. During that visit, the first from any member of my family in 80 years, we also experienced different forms of anti-Semitism, through both verbal and non-verbal communications of others.

We cannot legislate against anti-Semitism. There will always be a “legal loophole” that will make one’s statements and behavior subject to interpretation of third parties, whose unspoken prejudices will determine whether expressed hatred and violence against Jews and Israel falls into the category of anti-Semitism.

Can people be taught the necessary lessons of the Holocaust? I’m not simply talking about academic instruction that treats the Holocaust as a universal model of the consequences of dealing with the evils of prejudice and blind hatred. It is not simply a visceral response that evokes sympathy for the victims, while at the same time ignores the attacks and threats against Jews today and the struggle of the nation of Israel to defend herself against a host of enemies, national, organizational and individual. It is not glossing over the events that led up the Holocaust and relating only to the civic and moral implications of man’s evil inclinations against his fellow man. Historical knowledge is essential to generating a proper understanding and relation to the Holocaust. If the world doesn’t learn from the often-ignored facts of history, because those facts are not understood, it is bound to repeat it. This is particularly true regarding the second and third generations born after the shock and disillusionment of WWII and the revelations of the horrors of the purposed, planned, concerted and focused devil-inspired efforts to eliminate a particular people, the Jewish people, from the earth. 

The Holocaust is not just an historical event that happened “then” to “them”. Each generation, irrespective of ethnic background, needs to confront it, to try to get a handle on how it happened and who the actors were, in order to act to prevent it from re-occurring. Remembering and understanding the darkest hour of recent human history are essentials for the times in which we live. It is not unreasonable to conclude, as did one comprehensive article dealing with the subject, at pages 39-40, that most of the post-WWII generations are “profoundly unaware of the geographical scope and scale of the Holocaust and typically [do] not appreciate that its execution required the complicity and collaboration of tens of thousands of individuals and localities, regions and nations all across Europe.”

After the passage of 80 years and widespread teaching about the Holocaust, on the whole such teaching has failed to curb the expressions of anti-Semitism that is experiencing worldwide revival and increased adherence today. We should not be surprised. Although the term “anti-Semitism” is relatively modern, in practice, its roots are in antiquity and it has developed and expanded during the last two millenia.

As noted by Raul Hillberg, in The Destruction of the European Jews, Volume 2, at page 7, appearing in The Holocaust, Origins, Implementation, Aftermath (Edited by Omer Bartov), at p. 25: “Since the fourth century after Christ there have been three anti-Jewish policies: conversion, expulsion, and annihilation….The missionaries of Christianity had said in effect; You have no right to live among us as Jews. The secular rulers who followed had proclaimed: You have no right to live among us. The Nazis at last decreed: You have no right to live.”

This Blog is not the place for a lengthy discussion of historical anti-Semitism. But, it is the place to call out the need to understand that the Holocaust didn’t simply jump up out of the pages of history. Seeds were planted in ancient times for the destruction of the Jewish people. It developed over time, over millenia, through reigns of kings and rulers, religious and secular. The singular event of the Holocaust has roots going back to the time of the Book of Genesis and its tentacles continue to reach out today, to poison the hearts and minds of today’s generation across mountains, valleys and oceans, from the high-ranking politician to the common person on the street. Some outwardly accuse the Jews for every evil under the sun, while others shift their emphasis to the nation of Israel. Anti-Semitism has learned how to use and manipulate the mainstream media as its adherents attempt to exonerate the perpetrators and to accuse the victims of causing their own demise.

Proper education about historical anti-Semitism will help to provide a greater, but not complete, understanding of the Holocaust. Having a proper understanding of the events leading up to the Holocaust will help us to identify anti-Semitism when we experience it in our own lives. It doesn’t matter if one lives in a community where there are only a few Jews, or even no Jews. Anti-Semitism is taught … and learned and is the result of blind hatred and an ignorance that seeks to exalt itself above the knowledge of God. We can all play a part to negate anti-Semitism. Lies are negated by truth. Darkness is eliminated by light. 

Indeed, we are all affected by the past and its consequences. How we relate to them will determine the course of our lives and our future.

“How odd of God to choose the Jews. But not so odd as those who choose a Jewish God yet spurn the Jews.” (William Norman Ewer and Leo Rosten) For a clear and simple, but straightforward explanation regarding God’s eternal covenant with the descendants of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and the nation of Israel, see here.

Thus says the LORD, Who gives the sun for light by day and the fixed order of the moon and the starts for light by night, Who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar; The LORD of hosts is His name: “If this fixed order departs from before Me”, declares the LORD, “Then the offspring of Israel also will cease from being a nation before Me forever.” Thus says the LORD, “If the heavens above can be measured and the foundations of the earth searched out below, then I will also cast off all the offspring of Israel for all that they have done,” declares the LORD. (Jeremiah 31: 35-37)

Have a God-glorifying week.

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

It’s a New Day Dawning. Is it really?

What’s more important: Who is leaving the Office of the President of the United States, or who is entering it? The answer really depends on who is being asked the question – Americans, Israelis, “Palestinians”, Iran, China, the European Union and a host of other nations, individuals and entities that were and/or will be affected by the turnover.

America voted for Joseph R. Biden to replace Donald J. Trump as President of the United States. At least that’s the way things turned out when all of the controversy was over or is believed to be over. A majority of Israelis were appreciative of Trump, favoring him to win over Biden. “Palestinians” (so-called) were/are hoping that the Biden administration will reassess and reverse the policies of the Trump administration vis-a-vis relations between them and the U.S. government. Iran was/is looking forward to dealing with the new king of the Hill . . . and so on. Some danced in the streets. Others felt that the inauguration ceremony signaled an American retreat to the Obama era, phase II.

Much could be said for each location and an extensive discussion could be undertaken with reasons for and against the outgoing and the incoming. But, the focus of this post is not to delve into multifaceted discussions on a multinational level, but to consider, even if briefly, potential ramifications and ripples of the changeover, as they affect or may affect Israel. 

Trump was popular in Israel. The simple reason is that he acted to strengthen the recognition of Israel as a sovereign, active player on the world’s stage and because of the decisions made affecting Israel’s security. He promised to move the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and did it, with other nations following suit. Almost two years ago, he proclaimed U.S. recognition of the Golan Heights as belonging to the State of Israel. In the closing months of his presidency, Trump’s administration was instrumental in moving forward at least four agreements between Israel and some of the Arab countries in the region, with other, potential agreements that did not reach completion prior to his leaving office. Perhaps the most significant act was to withdraw the U.S. from the “Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action”, commonly referred to as the “Iran nuclear deal”. Of course, there were other things, such as putting economic pressure on Iran and continuing to supply Israel with state-of-the-art weaponry. From the point of view of support, the relationship between Israel and the United States can only be seen as having been positive and encouraging. Even the “Deal of the Century”, which failed in principle, ended up achieving no small degree of success, indirectly, resulting in the signing of the Abraham Accords. As stated in an Op-ed in Arutz Sheva earlier this week: “For most of the Israeli right, U.S. President Donald Trump’s pro-Israel legacy will outlive other elements of his controversial presidency, particularly his last days in office….” The writer, who presented differing views concerning the outgoing President, also quoted Yishai Fleisher, an American-born international spokesperson for the Jewish community of Hebron: “It took a man who was not the norm, not a career politician, not a regular ‘dude’—a dude that came from being a mogul, media guy and just a character—to break a lot of the calcified lies that we’ve lived with.” Whether one appreciates Trump or despises him, his Middle-East record speaks for itself.

While  the Trump administration benefitted Israel, Iran, its proxies in the Middle East, and especially the “Palestinians” were experiencing an ongoing nightmare.  After Trump recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel less than a year after he took office, the “PA” cut off all contact with his administration. But, its action brought re-action by the U.S. Among other things, the Washington office of the PLO was closed. Financial assistance to the “PA” was halted. Two years ago, the American Consulate in East Jerusalem was closed. They looked forward to the hope-for changes that would be brought about by the Biden administration. It would be reasonable to believe that the “PA” is not expecting changes to take place overnight and that it recognizes that the priority for the Biden administration will be to deal with the national health crisis and other international concerns. Still, “PA” activists nevertheless are hoping that the Biden administration will bring about a renewed relationship with the “Palestinians” and reverse the above-mentioned setbacks that they suffered under Trump. 

Biden backs the two-state solution resolve the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict. The “PA” is banking on that and will undoubtedly make every effort to raise itself from the ash heap and re-involve the U.S., Russia, the European Union and the United Nations – the organization that is anything other than united, except when it comes to condemning Israel for continuing to exist. As stated by the “PA” Foreign Minister only one month ago: “We are ready for cooperation and dealing with the new US administration, and we are expecting that it would re-draw its ties with the state of Palestine.” That, in a nutshell, says it all, at least for the “Palestinians”.

According to published reports, Biden has a long-standing, positive relationship with the Jewish community, although there have been severe policy differences going back almost 40 years over the settlements in Judea and Samaria and continuing with P.M. Benjamin Netanyahu. 

Biden is expected to act quickly to deal with the various crises presently afflicting the U.S. But, once he settles into his new role as leader of the free world, it will, indeed, be a new day dawning. If Biden’s administration pushes for restoration of the Iran nuclear deal, it could cause a rift in the relationship that the U.S. has with Israel and reestablish the political cloud that existed between the two countries during the Obama days, during which Biden served as Vice-President. The most outstanding critic of the Iran deal was Israeli P.M. Netanyahu, who called it an “historic mistake”. The priority of his administration was to impress upon the world the urgency to stop Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons. Any action that gives Iran the impression that the U.S. is trying to restore friendly relations with it, for whatever reason, will be an encouragement to Iran that it can pursue its goal against Israel under the guise or “disguise” of a revised nuclear agreement. In this regard, Biden nominated as Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, lead negotiator of the Iran deal under the Obama era. Jonathan S. Tobin, JNS Editor-in-Chief, stated this week: “By any objective standard, Sherman’s handiwork [referring to her 2015 negotiating efforts] was a disaster. A government that was a merciless tyranny at home, a threat to the stability of neighboring Arab states and pledged to Israel’s destruction had been enriched and empowered.” Any attempt to reengage with Tehran will require walking a political tightrope between wooing Iran back to the negotiating table without damaging U.S. relations with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states, or exacerbating the political rift at home that Biden desires to heal. He has his work cut out for him.

Adding the possibility of a renewed political relationship between the U.S. and the “Palestinians” to the already existing concerns of the U.S. renegotiating the Iran nuclear deal, will restore the cloud of uncertainty to Israel’s efforts to create a new, peaceful Middle East with countries opposed to Iran’s efforts at hegemony. The Biden administration will try to make its own, new friends, possibly at the expense of some of the old friends of the Trump administration. Problematic in this regard is the designation of the U.S. Ambassador to Israel appeared on Twitter as the “U.S. Ambassador to Israel, the West Bank and Gaza”. The reason for the concern is that at the present time, diplomatic relations with the “PA” dwindled to almost non-existent and need to be renewed. In addition, for the U.S. to appoint an Ambassador to Gaza, diplomatic relations need to be established with Gaza, which is controlled by the terrorist organization, Hamas. Apparently, after considerable outrage to the new designation was expressed over social media, “the West Bank and Gaza” were removed from the title, without explanation, leaving only “U.S. Ambassador to Israel.” Is this an early indication of what is on the horizon? May it never be! But, time will tell whether the decisions of the Biden administration will be beneficial for Israel or not. 

What kind of leader will Joe Biden be? Will he laud it over the people, or will he say, “Follow me?”

The mind of man plans his way, But the LORD directs his steps. (Proverbs 16:9) 

For the eyes of the LORD move to and fro throughout the earth that He may strongly support those whose heart is completely His. (2 Chronicles 16:9)

If a ruler pays attention to falsehood, All his ministers become wicked. (Proverbs 29:12)

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Operation “National Guinea Pig”? (You Should Excuse the Expression!)

“To be, or not to be? That is the question—Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and, by opposing, end them?” (Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 1, lines 57-61)

We deal with a multitude of choices every day. For drivers: Can I make the light before it turns red? For shoppers: Should I buy this, because it’s on sale, even though I don’t need it right now? For the fashion minded: Will this match with that? For computer users: Should I open this attachment or not? For present life in Israel: To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is The Question! 

It started with a virus and rapidly spread to become a pandemic. People were getting sick. Some were dying. The race was on. The world needed to find a solution, a vaccine to protect against becoming infected with the virus. Pharmaceutical companies were challenged. Time was of the essence. Who would be the first to develop and to market a vaccine.

In November, 2020, Israel signed a deal with Pfizer, Inc., for 8 million doses of that company’s potential Covid-19 vaccine. According to Pfizer’s C.E.O., the same would be supplied after it was approved by the Food and Drug Administration (“the FDA”). The dose supply was supposed to be enough to inoculate almost half of the population of Israel with a two-dose application. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu touted the agreement as “a great day for Israel”, adding that the goal was to receive the vaccine within two months (January, 2021). Israel already had a deal with Moderna, Inc., to receive a future supply of its potential vaccine. 

Things moved swiftly from that point on. Pfizer received an Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) from the FDA and the promised doses of vaccine began to arrive in December, 2020, a month earlier than planned. The media took over and pushed the need for the country to be vaccinated and the process began. Then the Prime Minister announced on Thursday of last week that as a result of its deal with Pfizer, all Israelis over the age of 16 would be able to be inoculated by the end of March and that “We are going to be the first country to beat the coronavirus.” He added that “Israel will be a model for the world for the vaccination of an entire country in a campaign called “Back to Life” and that the authorities here would share our “data” with Pfizer in an effort to help develop strategies to defeat the coronavirus.

It is important to understand what P.M. Netanyahu declared to the public, as it was the basis for Israel being able to get millions of doses of the Covid-19 vaccine, that will exceed 10 million by mid-March, in addition to the half million doses of the vaccine produced by Moderna. As reported by Globes news service on 8 January, Israel would serve “as a giant testing trial lab for Covid-19 vaccinations” and that Israel would supply Pfizer with “data and details especially gathered for them, including the consequences of the inoculations, side effects, efficacy, amount of time it takes to develop antibodies. according to different types of population, age, gender, preexisting conditions etc.”. Put into colloquial language, “giant testing trial lab” is “guinea pig” (please excuse the expression!).

Obviously, not everyone was happy with the “deal” made with Pfizer, or the push to inoculate the entire country. Opposition began to develop in different circles, medical, immunological, epidemiological and legal. In order to quell the concerns, the Ministry of Health issued a statement, declaring that “The data is shared with the public on a daily basis and this is the same data to be conveyed to Pfizer” and that there was no concern of violating rights to privacy. One would have to be truly gullible to accept the claim that Israel committed itself to share data with Pfizer that was made public. If it was already in the public domain, why would it be necessary for Israel to make a deal concerning it? Pfizer could readily obtain whatever information it wanted by via the internet.

From a pharmaceutical-industry perspective, Israel plays a relatively minor role. Nevertheless, it is a preferred location for clinical trials of treatments and drugs for various reasons. Israel has digitized medical documentation on all of its citizens, which represent a very diverse population of some 9 million people. Its health system is small, but quite efficient, together with a strong research and development infrastructure. The data that has been accumulated, along with all of the statistical data that will become available following the inoculation of the masses, can be of major benefit for pharmaceutical companies. 

The big issue now is transparency and making available to the public the contents of the agreement with Pfizer. One such concern was expressed by Tehilla Shwartz Altshuler, a senior fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute, who expressed concern that Pfizer was promised “personal data rendered anonymized – that is citizens’ medical files from which names, addresses and ID numbers are removed.” In short, it is a person’s entire medical history. However, according to Shwartz Altshuler, the state of technology is such that “even data that has been rendered anonymous can be ‘de-anonymized’ [making it a] huge risk. But, the issues are more involved than simply being concerned about a violation of privacy.

Making Israel a “giant testing trial lab for Covid-19 vaccinations” is problematic also from a legal point of view. Without getting into the fine points of the law, medical experimentation in Israel on individuals is against the Public Health Regulations, unless there is compliance with very strict guidelines. Injection of an experimental drug into the body falls into the above category and is mentioned in the Regulations. A specific objection is that the experimental drug is still being tested in the U.S., and the testing period is supposed to end on 29 January, 2023. In other words, there is no final certification from the FDA, only an “Emergency Use Authorization (EUA)” of the Covid-19 vaccines for both Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. The reports relating to the “Emergency Use Authorization” of the vaccines from both of those two companies contain similar language, which includes, among other things: “The (name of the company) COVID-19 Vaccine is an unapproved vaccine that may prevent COVID-19. There is no FDA-approved vaccine to prevent COVID-19.” Other objections, among many, relate to the unknown effects of the vaccination on women who are pregnant or breastfeeding, or how it affects reproductive capability of both men and women. For a copy of the study performed by Pfizer “To Evaluate the Safety, Tolerability, immunogenicity, and Efficacy of SARS-COV-2 RNA Vaccine Candidates Against Covid-19 in Healthy Individuals”, see here, particularly pages 40-44, dealing with the Study Population. With all that being said, why did the FDA grant “Emergency Use Authorization” to both companies? The FDA can issue an EUA when, in its opinion, in the case of a vaccine, “the known and potential benefits outweigh the known and potential risks.” That, apparently, was the determination of the FDA with regard to both of the vaccines presently being marketed during the present pandemic.

As of this writing, over 1.9 million people here have been vaccinated with the first dose, with many thousands having already received the second. It is almost a given: people are expected to be injected. The “Start-Up Nation”, “Innovation Nation” is on its way to quickly becoming the “Inoculation Nation”. 

At the present time, the decision of whether or not to be inoculated is a matter of one’s personal opinion. But, with the numbers of those testing positive to the coronavirus spiking to over 9,500 yesterday alone, it would not be beyond the realm of reasonable thought to conclude that not only will the present lockdown be extended, but the pressure on the population to be vaccinated will increase. Eventually, the government may attempt to compel vaccination, indirectly, as a means of making it possible for people to be allowed to travel or to enter into certain facilities. Enter the “green passport”. When one’s livelihood is on the line, there is a tendency to yield to the pressure, even if the person is originally against doing so. Most of Israel, however, will agree to be inoculated and will volunteer to be part of Operation “National Guinea Pig” (my designation). The data regarding how the population will be effected by the drug will be accumulated and passed on. How it will be used and what benefit it will bring to pass remain open questions.

This is voluntary medical experimentation on a national level of an entire population. And the country agreed to pay an exorbitant cash price for the privilege of having an experimental drug injected into our bodies. Of all places, here, in Israel! 

First a crisis. Then the media steps in creating no small degree of panic. Then the government steps in and tells everyone that they need to be inoculated for the public good and their own benefit. What is next?

To vaccinate or not to vaccinate? That is The Question! A remedy that is good for one is not necessarily good for all. This post is not intended to persuade you to not to take the vaccine. Rather, it is to inform, so that you can make an intelligent and informed decision should you choose to be vaccinated, as many have already done and many more will do, trusting that the benefit of being inoculated outweighs the potential harm. God grants wisdom to know how we are to live and what we are to do. Each of us should pray and be assured in our own minds and hearts whether to agree to be inoculated or not.

Whatever decision you make, may you be healthy and may the virus, in any of its forms, be kept far from your doorstep.

Then the word of the LORD came to Jeremiah … saying, “Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it, the LORD is His name, ‘Call to Me and I will answer you, and I will tell you great and mighty things, which you do not know.’ “For thus says the LORD God of Israel … ‘Behold, I will bring to it health and healing, and I will heal them; and I will reveal to them an abundance of peace and truth. I will restore the fortunes of Judah and the fortunes of Israel …’ “Thus says the LORD, ‘Yet again there will be heard in this place … in the cities of Judah and in the streets of Jerusalem … the voice of joy and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the voice of those who say, “Give thanks to the LORD of hosts, for the LORD is good, for His lovingkindness is everlasting”. (Jeremiah 33:1-4, 6-7, 10-11)

I pray that in all respects you may prosper and be in good health, just as your soul prospers. (3 John 1:2).

And remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

Out with the Old, in with the … uh, Old

Shalom all,

There is an expression: “The more things change, the more they remain the same.” How true of so many things that were carried over from 2020 to 2021. The readers of this Blog in each nation can verify that little has changed over the past week and a half. Each country deals with its own challenges and some issues spill over and affect other countries as well. 

Israel began the new civil year in a lockdown situation, its third, which went into effect on the 27th of December. It was in an alleged response to the number of new infections that steadily climbed to over 8,000 a day, the highest figure in months. The lockdown was supposed to remain in effect for at least two weeks. But, after only a week into it, the government approved an even stricter lockdown that went into effect a few days later, at midnight this past Thursday, the 7th of January. It is expected to cost the economy as much as 4.0 billion shekels ($1.3 billion) a week. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Israel led the world in dealing with it and then eased off, resulting in a second wave and a second lockdown. Schools and certain businesses were allowed to reopen, even as a significant number of Israelis ignored or willfully violated rules and restrictions regarding travel and social distancing. The second wave grew stronger, resulting in a third lockdown and a reinforced third lockdown, which is the situation today. But, Israel has regained the status of world leader, this time in administering the number of vaccinations against Covid-19 per capita. 

In a speech this past Thursday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said that Israel’s agreement with Pfizer, Inc., which supplied the first doses of vaccine, would allow for all Israelis over the age of 16 to be inoculated by the end of March, if not sooner, adding: “As part of the agreement, we agreed that Israel would serve as a model nation, a model for the world in the swift vaccination of an entire country.” Indeed, about 17.5% of Israel’s population of approximately 9 million, including 70% of citizens aged 60 or older, received the first of two shots of the Pfizer vaccine. Arab citizens and others living in East Jerusalem, have been offered the vaccine, but, according to one major news outlet, many refused to take it. The second round of inoculations is said to begin tomorrow, Sunday.

Still, there is a growing concern over the effectiveness of the vaccine, as well as increased opposition from medical experts as to the need for a third national lockdown and a tightened lockdown. There is no doubt that vaccinating the entire population by the end of March would be a feather in the cap for the Prime Minister, particularly as the country will face another national election on the 23rd of March, its fourth in two years.

The whole business of the vaccinations was not dealt with properly. The government didn’t have clear guidelines regarding it. For a long time, the media said that everyone needs two shots, 2-3 weeks apart. Then, when the doses were dwindling, the health officials were considering giving only one injection, instead of two. This sparked immediate opposition from some medical professionals, who claimed that giving a single dose was like giving nothing. Even worse, giving a single dose would be like experimenting on people. The media did a great job in creating a mini-panic and on the whole, the population responded as expected. The shipment from Moderna, which was supposed to supplement the vaccine received from Pfizer, was reported to be late in arriving. But, lo and behold, the first shipment from Maderna (100,000 doses) arrived also on Thursday. There are clear differences between the Pfizer and Maderna vaccines, particularly with regarding to storage. So, again, a lack of clarity. There are also legal objections to the effort to vaccinate the entire country with what has been defined as an experimental drug, untested in the normal course of granting approval for dissemination, making the population “human guinea pigs” (you should excuse the expression)!

In the midst of all of this, Israel is considering issuance of a “green passport” for those who have been vaccinated and recovered. According to a report in The Times of Israel earlier this week: The Health Ministry on Monday unveiled details of its proposed “green passport” for Israelis who have been inoculated against the coronavirus or recovered from COVID-19, which would grant holders of the document access to large gatherings and cultural venues. Those who test negative for the virus could receive a temporary green passport for 72 hours, while a 6-month green passport would be issued to those who were vaccinated, starting a week after receiving the second dose of the vaccine, or who recovered from COVID-19. Its use is intended to encourage vaccination in an effort to achieve “herd immunity”, which requires the vaccination of 70 percent of the population. The Health Ministry is also planning to issue an additional document for those who were vaccinated, which would exempt them from having to be quarantined. Restrictions relating to occupancy and gatherings would continue. Other countries are considering the Israeli proposal and Israel will decide how to proceed after getting feedback from those countries. 

Notwithstanding all of Israel’s efforts to deal with the challenge of Covid-19, Itamar Grotto, the deputy director-general of the Health Ministry, said: “We are winning the vaccine race while losing the battle against the mutation.” He was apparently referring to concerns whether the vaccine would be effective against the South African (501.V2)  variant of the virus, which is more infectious than the original Covid-19, following at least Israelis who tested positive to it, bringing the total of those who tested positive to the variants to 151.

So, the new civil year is very much a continuation of the year that just passed. The health crisis continues, as does the economic crisis and the seemingly never-ending socio-political crisis. To that is added the developing crisis of lack of rainfall. God grants rain in due season as a blessing for obedience, but withholds it when the nation turns its back on Him. (see Deut. 11:10-11)

This Blog usually deals with events as they relate to Israel, both at home as well as abroad. Sometimes, however, events in other countries have an impact on Israel, for good or for bad. Such is the situation regarding this week’s occurrences in the United States. 

The storming of the U.S. Capitol building impacted not only the U.S., but the world as a whole. The bastion of democracy was assaulted. The result was to leave a serious wound on the hide of American society that will take a long time to heal. And, even when it does heal, an ugly scar will remain. I don’t want to get into a political discussion of who was right and who was wrong. When all of the evidence is in, no one will walk away without blame – not rightist, not leftist, not centrist. President-elect, Joe Biden, responded to the situation with clear disgust, saying: “This is not who we are.” 

But, what if it really IS who we are? America has been divided for a long time. It is not alone in that regard. Other countries, including Israel, are in the same category. The divisions and specific interest groups, the hatred, discrimination and bigotries that have festered within America’s borders from east to west and from north to south brought it to a boiling point and then exploded. Yet, the U.S. is strong and has the ability to overcome this latest challenge to its socio-political infrastructure. 

As in most instances where a nation suffers a setback, local or national, it looks for a scapegoat. For countless generations, that scapegoat has been the Jew. Anti-semitism has increased worldwide over the past decade by leaps and bounds and it found almost unfettered expression in the United States. We should all remember that those who touch the Jew touch the “apple of His eye” (Zechariah 2:8). This should not be misunderstood. God’s singling out the nation of Israel has to do with His honor and glory, as well as His faithfulness, and not because of anything that Israel has done or deserves (Deut. 7:7-8). Still, a promise was made to Abraham, a promise that emanates from the God of creation Himself and one that has been played out time and again during the last 4,000 years: “And I will make you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; And so you shall be a blessing; And I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse. And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.” (Gen. 12:2-3) It’s not too late for America to get its act together. It needs to get back to Biblical basics.

Archie Bunker was a fictional character from the popular television sitcom of the 1970s, All in the Family. He was a veteran of WWII, a family man and a blue-collar worker. He was also highly opinionated, to put it mildly, putting down everyone and everything with which he didn’t agree. A poster of him sums up the perspective of his character: “There’s a little me in all o’ youse…”. Maybe that really IS who we are. 

Democracy is a relatively fragile thing. It is not etched in stone, but built layer upon layer of struggle, in an effort to form “a perfect union” – a goal envisioned in the Constitution of the United States. Unlike the U.S., the State of Israel is much younger, although as a people we have existed for millenia. Our democratic ideals are also being severely challenged and our legal system is being tested in a way that no one thought would be possible only a few years ago. Could what happened in the U.S. happen here? May it never be! But, we are a divided nation, facing challenges from within as well as from without. We could also reach an internal boiling point.

The U.S. once referred to itself as “one nation under God”. Israel was called to be a nation “under God” in the truest sense, serving under the theocracy of the Almighty. But, despite being warned against it, Israel wanted and was granted a king, so that it could be like the other nations. The result: A kingdom was established. It became a divided kingdom, suffered captivity, was allowed to return to the Land and was punished with a long-term diaspora following unjustified hatred. Only God’s faithfulness restored us to the land and established us as a people. But, we are once again at each other’s throats, with unity being a distant hope. 

It is a new civil year. There is much good that can be done and accomplished if we learn how to work together, keeping our eyes on Him Who is invisible. Man will always disappoint, but God never will. He is able to do exceeding abundantly beyond anything we can ask or think. He can restore, heal and unify a divided nation.

Do not trust in princes, in mortal man, in whom there is no salvation. His spirit departs, he returns to the earth; on that very day his plans perish.Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord his God. (Psalm 146:3-5).

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Have a great week.

Marvin

2021 – How Will We Fill It?

The hands of the clock both stood on 12. It was midnight. One more second and it was a new year. January – a month named after the Roman god, Janus, who had two faces, one to look behind and one to look forward, or one to look to the past and one to look towards the future. 

For a few in the remote regions of “down under”, the turn of the clock and the entry of 2021  was a time of joyful celebration – gathering together, no social distancing, no masks, no restrictions inside the country. For most of the rest of the world, it was just another day passing, perhaps a little longer than the other days earlier in the week. But, with the morning light it was just another day, like the previous 300 days when our normal existence and routines ceased, as a result of events and decisions that were beyond our control. The skies were closed to incoming and outgoing travelers. Internal restrictions were imposed on travel, on entry to locations away from home, on businesses, on numbers who could gather together for different reasons, on tourism and on what many considered simply as leisure activities and more. Facial masks covered both smiles and frowns, fogged up glasses and made it more difficult to understand someone speaking. Compulsive hand-washing and panic over a possible lack of toilet paper took over most of what we consider the be the civilized world. 

The restrictions, of course, were imposed because a health issue that quickly deteriorated into a national, health crisis, which, in turn generated a national, economic crisis. Our vocabulary adapted to the words “lockdown”, “isolation” and “restriction” almost overnight. Schools were closed, businesses were either closed or were allowed to function on a limited basis. Only those places that were considered as “essential” were allowed to remain open. Entire families were required to stay home. Some were allowed to go to work, while multitudes were either placed on a status of “vacation without pay” or worse, had their employment terminated as a direct consequence of the economic crisis. Unemployment soared to approximately a quarter of the work force. Spouses needed to spend more time with each other, parents needed to spend more time with their children. An increase in family violence was reported “from Dan to Beersheva”. Time on the computer increased accordingly, along with uncontrolled viewing of pornography, increased reports of pedophilia, shaming and bullying. 

The government couldn’t make up its mind how to deal with the domestic issues and, instead, focused on international matters. Some countries in the Arab-speaking world entered into open arrangements with Israel, wrongfully designated as “peace agreements”. 

At the beginning of the pandemic, Israel enacted stern measures and treated the virus as an enemy that needed to be quickly defeated. When it looked like victory was around the corner, it eased the restrictions and the situation quickly worsened, resulting in a second national lockdown, somewhat more modified and less restrictive than the first. The skies were opened, some businesses were allowed to re-open, children returned to classes “in” school, rather than “through” Zoom. But, many rebelled at the continuing restrictions and failed to abide by the instructions of the Department of Health. The numbers who tested positive to Covid-19 again began to rise and we are now already one week in our third national lockdown. 

“Big Pharma” competed with one another to produce a vaccine against Covid-19. Along the way, the safeguards of “testing, time and verifiable risks and consequences” that usually accompany the release of a new drug were, on the whole, ignored. The world needed a vaccine and it became available from different companies. Obviously, the end result differs from company to company and from vaccine to vaccine. If one is more effective, then the others are less effective. And if the vaccines were produced to deal with the known strain of Covid-19, the question arises whether they will deal with the mutations (plural) that have already affected some countries. That is a discussion for another time. During the past 10 months, extended family and friends had tested positive to Covid-19. Some became sick, some were hospitalized and died, some from the virus, others from different causes. 

And, in the midst of it all, the government coalition collapsed and, once again, we are facing national elections that will take place at the end of March. 

Israel has inoculated over 1 million people, just over 10% of the population. The “start-up nation” has become the “inoculation nation”. Yesterday, I was notified by the Health Department to make an appointment – on line, of course, to receive the injection. Today, I received a notice not to bother – the Health Department ran out of the vaccine. As soon as the vaccine arrived here, there was a rush to be inoculated. The question of the day quickly became: “Did you get the vaccination?” And, if not, “What are you waiting for?” People were reacting with herd mentality, hoping to develop an aspect of herd immunity. Commercial areas, once bustling with crowds, in recent days again had almost no foot traffic. Normally busy locations had only handfulls of people. There was a sense of concern and fear that we are experiencing the “new normal”. 

If we look back on 2020 and see only the things mentioned above, we are looking at the glass as being “half empty”. Of course, there were other things that occurred during the year that were more encouraging. It was a time of learning to do with less, to appreciate what we have and not to take things for granted. It was a time to be thankful to people whom we usually don’t think of in the course of our lives: health-care professionals; those who wear the uniform and who stand as the guardians of our safety, locally and nationally; teachers, who, despite the difficulties, learned how to instruct from a distance; parents who learned not only how to communicate with their children on an understandable level, but who also learned to listen to them; the postal workers, who kept the mail coming; the people who delivered the groceries that were ordered online, so that we didn’t have to stand in line with someone who didn’t keep his distance; to all those unknown people who reminded us to wear our masks, keep our hands clean and keep our distance; to our families, who continued to encourage us during difficult periods; for the new births, there were 176,000 births and, despite all of the difficulties of the times, approximately 11,000 Israelis living abroad returned home and another 20,000 brave souls made Aliyah (immigrated to Israel). If we stop for a moment and reflect upon the past year, there is much, much more for which we can be thankful. I’m thankful for a healthy and loving family, and for being able to write this, as well as for those who will read it.

The pandemic was and remains a time of testing for all of us. We all respond differently to the tests in life. Some fail, some are challenged and some succeed. The Biblical character, Job said (23:10-12): “When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold. My foot has held fast to His path; I have kept His way and not turned aside. I have not departed from the command of His lips; I have treasured the words of His mouth more than my necessary food.” Despite his sufferings and losses, far beyond what most of us will experience on this side of eternity, his reliance remained upon the God of creation to bring him through. He had a perspective that God would not test him beyond what he was able to endure. 

Circumstances can be beyond our control, but not our attitudes. Each new day allows us to act with compassion, kindness, humility and patience, bearing with others who are different, or difficult, and to be forgiving. A right attitude can remove fear, doubt and anxiety and help us to have a proper focus on the essentials. However we might choose to designate the time in which we live, each day is a new opportunity to be thankful – for good health, for a roof over our heads, for clothes on our backs and for food in our stomachs. When we think about it realistically and practically, what more do we need? 

“Let your eyes look straight ahead; fix your gaze directly before you.” (Proverbs 4:25) Time to leave what is behind and press on to what is ahead. “Since no one knows the future, who can tell someone else what is to come?” (Ecclesiastes 8:7). May yours be blessed.

May 2021 bring with it abundant good health for each of you, for your families and loved ones. Treat it like an empty vessel and allow God to fill it with His love, joy and peace that passes all understanding.

Please also remember Israel in your prayers. “[The] eyes of the Lord your God are always on it, from the beginning even to the end of the year.” (Deut. 11:12)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

A Joe Biden Presidency – What Can Israel Expect?

As of this writing, despite the ongoing/unresolved challenges in a handful of States, certain media outlets have declared Joe Biden the winner of the presidential election. The way things look right now, the declarations are expressions of a very likely reality soon to be confirmed, subject to legal challenges from President Donald Trump. If the nation is not divided enough now, it will become even more divided if the courts overturn Biden victories in different States and Trump manages to remain in office.

What is behind us and what may be in front of us? The answers to the questions place the years of the Trump presidency against the potential years of the Biden presidency – vis-a-vis Israel. This cannot be a prognosis, because a diagnosis of the “new reality” still needs to be made. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile to consider some facts:

The Trump administration promised to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem (2017) and followed through six months later (May, 2018). The following year, during a visit to Washington of Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, President Trump recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. During the four years of the Trump administration, there was an intention to accomplish the ultimate business deal, a resolution of the Arab-Israeli conflict, via a peace agreement between Israel and the “Palestinians”, which did not come to pass. The proposed Deal of the Century was offered this year (2020), but not accepted by the  “Palestinians”, who viewed the U.S. as a dishonest broker. The U.S. cut off aid to the “Palestinians” and ties between the Trump administration and the leadership of the “Palestinian” Authority came to an end. This year, the Trump administration was also instrumental in brokering the Abraham Accords, that resulted in three Arab countries signing normalization agreements with Israel. Unfortunately, the signing of those agreement came in exchange for Israel not following through with its plans to annex about a third of the area of Judea and Samaria, as well as the sale of stealth fighter planes to the United Arab Emirates (that still voted against Israel in the U.N.), which could compromise Israeli air supremacy in the Middle East and, as a consequence, create a security risk to the country. We need to see whether Trump’s “lame duck” presidency will generate other pro-Israel measures, or whether plans that were on the drawing board will be put on hold. An attempt to continue trying to convince Arab countries to normalize relations with Israel would be in everyone’s interest, but much will depend on how much time and effort the Biden administration wants to put into the Middle East arena and whether the continuation of such efforts will require Israel to make “concessions” to the “Palestinians”, which was required by most American administrations prior to Trump.

What can we expect from an American administration under the presidency of Joe Biden? We cannot ignore the fact that he was the Vice-President under the Obama administration, which was one of the most, if not the most, anti-Israel administration in U.S. history. That’s eight years of influence that he would bring with him to the White House.

In all likelihood, an attempt will be made to resurrect the so-called “two-state solution” to the Israeli-“Palestinian” conflict, which many political pundits considered to be a dead policy. Of necessity, that would mean that the U.S. would oppose any increased settlement activity in Judea and Samaria. Without question, unilateral annexation of territory in those areas is no longer viable – an opportunity missed by the Netanyahu government in favor of normalization agreements with certain Arab countries. Notwithstanding that Biden and Netanyahu have known each other for over 30 years, it is doubtful that such acquaintance would develop into such a friendship that the Biden administration would continue relations with Israel where the Trump administration leaves off. In all likelihood, it would revert to the perspective of the Obama administration and try to dictate to Israel how things should be worked out, namely, through a “two-state” resolution. This would also entail re-establishing diplomatic ties with the “Palestinians” that seriously deteriorated under the Trump administration. This would also fulfil a Biden campaign promise to renew relationships with the “Palestinians”, which could well mean that Biden would direct the reopening of the “Palestinian” mission in Washington that was closed by Trump. Things could be somewhat different, as Biden is not Obama. This remains to be seen. Much will depend upon the politicos in the Senate and House of Representatives. 

A potentially serious area of conflict is the Iran nuclear deal, which Netanyahu fought against, diplomatically, at every opportunity. That deal, of course, was brokered by the Obama administration and eventually cancelled by the Trump administration – a move strongly criticized by Biden. Will Biden, as President, seek to reinstate that deal? It won’t take long before this question is answered.

There are, of course, other issues that a Biden administration would need to deal with, such as financial and military aid to Israel, the sale of highly sophisticated military equipment to enemies of Israel, as well as growing anti-Semitism in the U.S. All this while trying to deal with a nationwide health crisis, as well as the rifts that have occurred in American society during the last few years and, particularly, during the most recent campaign for the presidency.

It doesn’t really matter which side of the political divide we are on right now, whether we voted for this one or that one. We should be in prayer for all of our governments and leaders, local, state and national. Their welfare is our welfare. (Jeremiah 29:7; 1 Timothy 2:1-2).

We should always remember that God is still sovereign and in charge. His ways are perfect and often beyond our understanding. He is also able to change the hearts of our leaders and turn them in whatever direction He chooses. (Proverbs 21:1)

Leaders come and go and nations rise and fall. The eyes of the world may be on the United States right now. But, God’s eyes are on the nations of the world to see how they will relate to Israel – the apple of His eye. No nation is exempt. (Gen. 12:3)

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Have a great week.

Marvin

Yom HaKippurim (The Day of Atonements) 2020 – A Double Lockdown

Three years ago, I published a post about Yom HaKipurrim, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. It was a sort of primer regarding this holiday, which is also the sixth of the prophetic holidays mentioned in the 23rd chapter of the Book of Leviticus.

As is the case every year, the country comes to a standstill. With the exception of exclusively Arab areas, all traffic stops, businesses are closed, synagogues are filled with the observant, who attend religious services regularly and consistently, and with the less observant, who attend services sporadically and sometimes, only on this day. There is a sense of reverence, of awe, congregations lifting up genuine and heartfelt prayers before the Throne of God, the King of the Universe, prayers of thanksgiving, of apology, of repentance. Ancient melodies are sung in unison, some with tears of sorrow, others with joy. The congregation rises when the closet containing the Holy Scriptures (Aron HaKodesh) is opened and they sit when it is closed. Particularly portions of the Bible are read that are significant to the them of the day: judgment. Multitudes try to fast for 25 hours, in an effort to atone for the sins of the past year. The long blast of the Shofar, the ram’s horn, signifying the end of this special day and the breaking of the fast with family members and often, with guests. The following day, the country returns to its normal pace,

This year was different. The country came to a standstill again, but it was at a 90% standstill for a week preceding Yom HaKippurim. Synagogues were not full, but practically empty. People were allowed to attend services, but only outside and in small groups (capsules). Even the Prime Minister suggested that people pray outside of the synagogue or at home. Those who chose to participate in the special services held on this day had to maintain a distance of two meters (just over 6 feet) from each other. It was a hot day and the worshippers needed to be outside for hours on end, rather than inside an air-conditioned facility. Not everyone heeded those instructions. Still, the special atmosphere that usually attends this solemn day was missing. 

Israel has been in a modified, national lockdown since just before Rosh Hashana, the beginning of the Jewish New Year, which began on Friday, September 18th. We are the first country to have a second, national lockdown because of the coronavirus pandemic. After successfully tackling the first wave of the virus from February through mid-May, the rapid relaxation of the restrictions resulted in a rapid re-emergence of the virus. This small country has been experiencing between between 7,000-8,400 new cases per day for the past week. Hospitals are over-loaded and understaffed. Over 1,500 deaths have occurred since the beginning of the pandemic. I personally know people who have tested positive and others, including myself, who have had to be in isolation for up to two weeks because of exposure to someone who tested positive. Lockdown appeared to be the only reasonable measure to take in an effort to curtail the growing numbers of those infected. But, should it have been?

Throughout the past week, the out-of-control coronavirus shared the headlines with the Yom Kippur War of 1973. Some tried to compare the failures that led up to that war with the failures that led to the present health crisis, a crisis which gained Israel the reputation of having the highest infection rate per capita than any other country in the world. And, as of today, we even surpassed the United States in having the most coronavirus deaths per capita

Can we really compare the failures that brought about the military crisis in the Yom Kippur War and the health crisis of Yom Kippur 2020? I don’t think so. From a practical point of view, the present crisis is far worse. During and after the was of 1973, that took place on the most sacred day of the year, there were individuals who were held accountable for the intelligence and tactical failures. It took a little while, but the country assessed the tactical issues and dealt with them as they needed to do and the tide of the war turned. Despite the heavy loss of life, the nation recognized that the war needed to be fought effectively in order to win. There was no other option. It pulled together, worked together, fought together, mourned together and overcame together. Everyone recognized that they needed to cooperate and do their part in order to be victorious.

Not so with the war against the coronavirus of 2020. Leadership is lacking, responsibility is being blamed on “the other guy”. The numbers of dead and wounded are continually on the rise. But, the population is not behind the effort to win the war against the virus. From the leaders in the government to the people on the street, there is a lack of unity and a lack of clear direction how to fight. As a result, they end up fighting each other, rather than their common enemy. We see divisions and old polarizations, particularly between the religious and the secular segments of society, between those who blindly support the government and those who blindly oppose it, between those on the “right” and those on the “left”. Each faction claims to know best. But, no single segment of our society has exclusive rights to define how democracy should function or how one can exercise his faith. There are demonstrations that regularly take place against Prime Minister Netanyahu and the government’s handing of the health crisis. But, in doing do, they congregate together, most often without facial masks as a form of protest against the government, adding to the likelihood of widespread infection. Then, there are the religious factions, who largely ignore the rules of wearing a mask and social distancing. Not all, but enough.

So, it was almost inevitable that a nation-wide lockdown would be re-imposed, except for what is deemed to be an essential service. In the process, everyone is affected, men and women, young and old, school children (who may not be able to return to school until the end of the year), small businesses and many others. Unemployment remains extremely high. The economy is faltering and it may not be able to regain its strength for at least two years. Somebody needs to yell out “Stop. You’re fighting the wrong enemy. We can’t continue to fight against ourselves.” The divisions are being fuelled by the media, as usual, each with its own political perspective and agenda. Some want to bring down the government. Others want the protests and demonstrations to stop and give the government an opportunity to act like a government should. After all, they have their partisan interests at stake in causing the government to remain in power.

Yom HaKippurim is a day of introspection and soul-searching. It is a time to reflect on our sins, individual and national. It is a time to repent and to try to make things right. As long as we continue to fight against each other, the microscopic, silent killer that has invaded our land will continue to claim victims. The first lockdown was successful because the population saw that the danger was real and everyone was afraid of contracting the disease. Now, with theories debunking the seriousness of the coronavirus and the perspective that there are other, political issues that are more important than our health, people are doing what each considers to be right in his own sight.

We can make “peace agreements” with other countries in the Middle East. But, what good is it, if we can’t visit each other for fear of getting sick? Flights out of the country have been cancelled. The tourism industry here is at a standstill. Many businesses that rely on tourism during the holiday season (Passover through the Feast of Tabernacles – April to October) to make it through the year, are on the verge of collapse.

Less than a week ago, the Prime Minister stated: “We are at war – the Corona War . . . Only if we work together can we deal the virus – and we will defeat it.”

Those are not empty words. Israel knows how to fight a war. It requires, among other things, cooperation and determination on a national scale. We are a small family and cannot afford internal disunity. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1)

Yom Kippur is a time of that is particularly appropriate to forgiveness, seeking it from God and from one another and granting it to others. Asking for forgiveness is a humbling experience. But, a little humility, when genuine, can go a long way. 

“[If] My people, who are called by My name, humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Knowing who we are; humbling ourselves; praying; seeking God; turning away from evil. Sounds like it fits perfectly with Yom HaKippurim. That shouldn’t be too hard. Or, maybe we don’t believe it because it sounds too easy. 

Why is it that the lessons we learn the best in life are the ones that hurt us the most or cost us the most. 

Bless, be blessed and be a blessing.

Marvin

The Israel-United Arab Emirates and Bahrain Deals

Shalom all,

It’s been quite a week. What began with an announcement on 13th August, 2020, came to realization last Tuesday (15th September) with the signing of what has been designated as the “Abraham Accords” on the lawn of the White House. Israel signed two agreements – one with the United Arab Emirates (“UAE”) and another with Bahrain. All three countries signed The Abraham Accords Declaration. Israel and the UAE also signed “Abraham Accords Peace Agreement: Treaty of Peace, Diplomatic Relations and Full Normalization Between The United Arab Emirates and The State of Israel”. Israel and Bahrain signed the Abraham Accords: “Declaration of Peace, Cooperation, and Constructive Diplomatic and Friendly Relations”. The full text of all three documents can be seen here.  While the document signed with the UAE is designated as a Treaty of Peace, the one signed with Bahrain is designated as a Declaration of Peace. As a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, this is probably the first international agreement negotiated and concluded, prior to signing, via Zoom.

A peace agreement was signed with Egypt in 1979 and another was signed with Jordan in 1994. Since then and until a week ago, no other “peace agreement” was signed with any Arab country in the region. There is no question that after a lapse of 27 years, the signing of two “peace agreements” on the same day, between Israel and two Arab Moslem countries, is certainly an historic event. There is no doubt that all three countries will benefit from the agreements that were signed. Even my daughter, who makes natural soaps and candles, received an online order from someone in the UAE only a few days following the signing of the Abraham Accords.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praised the agreements, stating that they “[bring] hope to all of the children of Abraham” and usher in a “new era of peace.” He added that the deal with the UAE was for “full, formal peace” [with] one of the strongest countries in the world.” The interesting thing to note is that “peace agreements” were signed with two countries who were never at war with Israel, at least not in the conventional sense of the word. In a practical sense, the agreements that were signed were normalization agreements that allow for the signatory countries to estabish diplomatic relations with one another and all that flows from well-intentioned, good faith agreements signed between sovereign nations.

For Israel, it is a major accomplishment. It crushed the long-standing, Arab Peace Initiative that was adopted by the Arab League in 2002. That “initiative” calls for full diplomatic ties to be established between Israel and the entire Arab and Muslim world, conditioned on: the “full Israeli withdrawal from all the Arab territories occupied since June 1967,” the establishment of a “Palestinian” state with East Jerusalem as its capital, and a “just” and “agreed upon” solution to the “Palestinian” refugee question. That initiative, which never had a realistic possibility of being implemented, at least not under Netanyahu’s watch, is a cloud without water and will, hopefully, die a rapid death, as other countries in the region line up to follow the lead set by the UAE and Bahrain and as other countries decide to move their embassies in Israel to Jerusalem. But, the Middle East being the Middle East, it is also possible that those Arab and Muslim countries who are, or will be, in the process of normalizing relations with Israel could form a coalition of “friendly countries” and make a coordinated effort to pressure Israel to make peace with the “Palestinians” along the lines of the Arab Peace Initiative, although it would be a somewhat modified initiative. When that peace doesn’t happen, the “normalization of relations” will be tested to the limit.

Still, normalization with the UAE and Bahrain is also a wake-up call to the “Palestinians”, in that they can no longer control the establishment of “peaceful relations” between Israel and sovereign Arab states that share security and other interests. It should also send a message to the entire Arab bloc that the cause of the “Palestinians” is of less importance to some Arab countries than the issue of containing the threat posed by Iran. Another factor to take into account is that the longer the “Palestinians” remain adamant in refusing to recognize Israel as an independent, sovereign country, the more it will become isolated from the more moderate-thinking Arab countries, who recognize that peace canbe made with a right-wing, Israeli government.

The agreement with UAE and Bahrain was made without Israel having to actively give away any territory, which had always been a pre-requisite for entering into any agreement with the “Palestinians”. Netanyahu was convinced that “this peace will eventually expand to include other Arab states, and ultimately it can end the Arab-Israeli conflict once and for all.”

As an optimist, I would want to agree with Netanyahu’s statement. But, I am not a politician, so I don’t have to make broad, sweeping statements that are unrealistic. It is encouraging that there are countries in this region whose leadership have enough common sense to realize that Israel is here to stay, that Israel is not a threat to them, that establishing normalization with Israel will have practical, and even spiritual, benefits that flow from the outworking of the Abrahamic Covenant: “I will bless those who bless you” (Gen. 12:3).

Almost immediately after the announcement was made in August that the UAE and Israel were going to establish normalization, or call it whatever you want, the major question that arose was “What is this going to cost Israel?” It didn’t take long for the question to be answered. 

First:it generated a freeze to the plans of annexation. Netanyahu claimed that U.S. President Donald Trump asked him to put a “temporary halt” to annexation of portions of Judea and Samaria, as part of the deal to be concluded with the UAE and potentially with other Arab countries. Nevertheless, Netanyahu claims to remain committed to applying sovereignty in Judea and Samara, which will be coordinated with the U.S. President Trump, who on the other hand, emphatically stated that annexation was no longer a matter for discussion. “Israel has agreed not to do it. More than off the table, they have agreed not to do it…I think that very important. I think it was a great concession by Israel, I think it was a smart concession.” Trump’s Ambassador to Israel then stepped in and said that annexation was off the table now, but it’s not off the table permanently. Add to that the statement of Senior White House official, Jared Kushner, that President Trump would not allow Israel to go back on its pledge to defer  plans for establishing sovereignty over parts of Judea and Samaria in exchange for normalizing ties with the United Arab Emirates: “President Trump is committed to holding them accountable to it, and Israel has agreed with us that they will not move forward without our consent…[and] we do not plan to give our consent for some time, as right now the focus has to be on getting this new peace agreement implemented.” 

From the UAE side, there is the statement by Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the de facto ruler of the UAE, made on the same day of the announcement of the upcoming process of normalization, that an agreement was reached “to stop further Israeli annexation of Palestinian territories,” adding afterwards, that the two sides “also  agreed to cooperation and setting a roadmap towards establishing a bilateral relationship.” The order of his comments is important: stopping the planned annexation and then establishing a bilateral relationship. To this, we need to add and reflect on the statement of the Director of Strategic Communications at the Foreign Ministry of the UAE, Hend al-Otaiba, that Abu Dhabi remains committed to the establishment of a Palestinian state and to the terms of the Arab Peace Initiative. Or, as stated by another UAE spokesperson: “A two-state solution is at the heart of the Arab Peace Initiative. In the absence of a freeze on annexation, a two-state solution will quickly cease to be a possibility.” So, who are we going to believe? There are probably pieces of truth from all of them. The question is: What pieces?

Second:Behind the scenes and the rhetoric of the politicians was the “business deal” whereby the U.S. would sell F-35 fighters to the UAE. It is to be understood that Israel and the UAE have been in a normalization mode for years, the formalization of which was enabled through the intermediary of the U.S. The UAE is a very close neighbor of Iran, physically, a fact that undoubtedly weighed heavily in Abu Dhabi’s thinking of the risk involved in normalization with Israel versus the benefits, including the security benefit, to be derived by it, the most immediate of which is the sale of F-35 advanced, stealth-fighter planes to the Emirates. Warming up to Jerusalem was a warming up also to Washington.

The sale of F-35s to the UAE has prompted inquiry and concern in Israel. The primary concern is the potential loss of Israel’s qualitative military edge (QME) in the Middle East, a qualitative edge to which the U.S. was legally committed. Those who oppose the sale point to the instability of the region and that if the U.S. sells the F-35s stealth fighters, the U.S. would be hard-pressed to sell them to other countries in the Middle East with whom the U.S. maintains strong ties, such as Saudi Arabia, which is strongly committed to the Arab Initiative. Those who don’t object to the sale see it as a trust-building measure with Israel’s “new partner” that could strengthen the normalization process with the UAE. With this reasoning, those who are supportive of the sale believe that the fledgling normalization agreement would run into difficulties at the outset, endangering the newly-established relationship. 

Prime Minister Netanyahu denied that he consented to the sale of F-35s to the UAE. But, the failure to actively consent does not eliminate the strong possibility, or even probability, that there was passive acceptance of the sale, in order to conclude the formalization of normalization between Israel and the UAE. It should be clear that the QME that Israel has is not dependent solely upon its supremacy in the air, but on its overall tactical, military edge over its neighbors. Still, from a strictly human perspective, air superiority has always been a prominent factor in Israel’s military achievements.

President Trump is still a businessman and he sees almost all things from a business perspective. So, only a week after the announcement of the “peace/normalization” agreements, he expressed a willingness to move forward with the sale to the UAE. After all, it’s all about money: “They’d like to buy the F-35, it’s under review, we’ll see what happens. They have the money to pay.”According to reports in the U.S. media, Jared Kushnir, Trump’s son-in-law, brokered the deal for the UAE to buy F-35s, inasmuch as his father-in-law has no problem with it and even sees it as an asset, not as a liability. So, despite objections from Israel, the deal for selling F-35s to the UAE is moving forward and may be concluded before the end of this year.  

Would the formalization of normalization between Israel and the UAE have taken place without Israel’s agreement not to move forward with annexation of parts of Judea and Samaria? Would last week’s event have taken place without the understanding that the U.S. would sell advanced, stealth fighters to the UAE, without the tacit consent of Israel’s Prime Minister? I strongly doubt it. Both Trump and Netanyahu needed a public-relations shot in the arm for different reasons. In politics, the timing of events is often a key factor in swaying voter opinion. It is the rare politician whose “yes” means “yes” and whose “no” means “no”. Foreign policy success can never be an adequate substitute for domestic failure. A good, international business deal should never be the basis for compromising on Israel’s security. 

Lockdown on Rosh Hashana. One more thing. A partial lockdown was imposed immediately before the start of Rosh Hashana (the Jewish New Year). It will last for 3 weeks and then a decision will be made whether it should be continued or not, and if so, how. In the meantime, there is considerable opposition to the lockdown. Numbers of those who tested positive for Covid-19 continue to climb, while large segments of the population continue to ignore the guidelines of the Health Department. The politics of the pandemic!

Yes, it’s been quite a week. 

I will lift up my eyes to the mountains; From where shall my help come? My help comes from the Lord, Who made heaven and earth…Behold, He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. (Psalm 121: 1-2 4)

May the Lord bless you from Zion (Psalm 128:5; 134:3)

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin

The Terror Of “The Bug”!

It’s the 11th of September, a date colloquially referred to as 9/11. The United States remembers! Israel remembers! The world remembers! The families of the victims of the terrorist destruction of New York’s World Trade Center, of the attack on the Pentagon and of the hijacked planes, will never forget! The events of that day, 19 years ago, changed the world. The photos of the planes crashing into the Twin Towers are etched in our collective sub-conscience. Thousands died because of the acts of those whose hatred had gone amuck and exceeded all bounds of reason, who held to a warped ideology and a supremacist worldview. Every airline passenger became an object of suspicion, particularly if one came from a certain region. Metal detectors and body scanners sprung up seemingly overnight. Personal searches were said to be justified because of national security. We began to live with a “new normal”, as uncomfortable as that may have been.

All of that, and more, are the out-workings of human, terrorist activity. They are people, visible, who can communicate – intelligently or not – who use weapons large and small, who can be fought … and beaten and eliminated. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic made its presence known in Israel, the government related to it like an invading enemy. It took appropriate measures, sought expert advice from various fields and went to war against a “bug”, a “microbe” that attacks silently, but whose presence is expressed publicly, wreaking health havoc in its wake. Many refused to accept that Covid-19 was a matter to be taken seriously and they laughed at the government’s concerns, claiming that it was part of one conspiracy or another. But, this virus crossed national borders with ease and without a passport, making a laughing stock out of the entire world. So, when Israel was under attack by the “bug”, we initiated stern measures, including extended lockdown, with severe restrictions on movement and assembly. 

People complained of the discomfort, of the harm being done to families (who needed to learn how to live together throughout the day), to the school system, to the religious communities, to the business sector, including every aspect of the tourism industry. And then, after push came to shove, the curve began to flatten, there were more who were healed of the virus than those who were sick and anticipation of a return to a degree of normalcy spread rapidly throughout the country. People wanted to go back to work, they wanted to be able to earn a living and provide for their families. They wanted to open the doors to their businesses and to travel more than 500 meters (1,640 feet = 546 yards) from their homes. They wanted to return to their religious assemblies and to gather freely, without wearing masks or social distancing. And the government cow-towed to the wishes of the people. Restrictions were eased, children went back to school, limited indoor and outdoor gatherings were allowed. And the people thought the health war was behind them and they could now deal with the consequences of the fallout that devastated the economy. If there was ever a miscalculation on the part of government, this nation has experienced, and is still experiencing, it.

The lockdown, complained about by so many across the board, accomplished its purpose. When Israelis emerged from the lockdown, the national attitude became lackadaisical. Instructions of the health ministry were largely ignored. Gatherings took place without social distancing. People wore masks, but more as a decoration, keeping them below their chins, exposing nose and mouth that were to be protected by the masks. They, like the rest of the world, waited for the development of a vaccine, many of whom expected that it would come from Israel. After all, we are the “start-up nation”. 

Then, reality set it. The unemployment rate soared, going from around 4% of the workforce, before the pandemic, to over 20% and it remains at 21% to this date. People took to the streets in demonstrations that started small and ended up with multitudes, some of which became violent. They blamed it all on the government and, particularly, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. They called and continue to call for his resignation, not just because of the way that the protesters say he mishandled the health crisis, but because he is under indictment on separate charges of corruption. The truth or falsity of the indictments against him will be decided by the court, not in this blog post. 

The protesters gathered in multitudes, in close proximity to one another, many without masks. Within a short period of time, the “bug”, whose deadly impact was denied by so many, made a comeback with a passion. The renewed attack on our national health was experienced by schools, many of which closed down shortly after reopening, sending thousands into a two-week period of isolation. Employees of a multitude of businesses were sent into isolation because of exposure to one person, who tested positive to Covid-19. Thousands of businesses were again affected with many releasing their employees on “vacation without pay”. The numbers began to soar, the lowered curve began to rise again. 

This tiny stretch of desert sand, developed as it may be technologically, continued to ignore the warnings of failure to abide by the guidelines of the health department. Double-digit infections climbed to over a hundred, then two hundred, then a thousand and, as of yesterday, over 4,000 new cases a day. Almost 1,100 people have died so far from the virus. Those who laughed before are not laughing now. Some continue to deny the reality of a national health crisis. Hospitals are bursting at the seams with patients and may soon reach the point of super-saturation, where they can’t handle any more patients, whether coronavirus or otherwise. Health professionals are over-burdened and exhausted and there is concern that the senior population will again become the primary victims of the second wave, as they were during the first wave. Almost no concern is being expressed over a possible third wave that could come in during the approaching Fall and Winter seasons, with the tens of thousands who are affected annually by the flu.

Those who pooh-poohed the government’s efforts to contain and defeat Covid-19 during the first wave are now the most vocal in condemning the government for listening to the voice of the people and easing the restrictions that kept the virus under control. And now, instead of being at the head of the list of countries dealing with the pandemic, we are at the tail. Israel has garnered accolades for its innovations in medicine, science, industry and agriculture, among many other areas. It has gained the reputation of being the “start-up nation”, because of the initiatives and inventiveness of a small percentage of the population. But now, because of lack of initiative, inventiveness and decisiveness, the present government went from hero to zero in its failing to effectively deal with the health crisis and the resulting economic crisis. Israel has recently gained the dubious distinction of having the world’s highest coronavirus infection rate, per capita. This small country is facing the inevitable – a total shut-down for at least two weeks, beginning next Friday, before the start of the High Holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. The ultra-orthodox have vowed to disobey lockdown rules during those holidays. Another lockdown could result in an economic collapse from which it will not quickly recover.

The country is now divided into zones of red (worst), orange (second worst, which includes Haifa), yellow (not severe) and green (best). Restrictions will be determined according to zone color. But, the nationwide lockdown will affect everyone. And, political consequences will certainly follow. If another election were to take place today, it is highly doubtful that P.M. Netanyahu will be able to pull another rabbit out his non-existing hat.

We are not a high-tech nation. We are a mixed population from a wide variety of different backgrounds and ideologies, goals and world views. A solid ninety percent of the population works hard to earn their daily bread and to live honorably and with respect. Many are the victims of the economic crisis engendered by the inconsistent handling of the health crisis. What will happen as a result of another nationwide lockdown? I don’t want to think the worst, even though we could end up with full-scale, violent riots and even uprisings along the religious and secular divide.

But, with all that said, I would be remiss if I failed to remember and remind that this is Israel, a nation called by God, established by His promise and not forgotten by Him. He remains faithful, even when those whom He has called have turned their hearts to the things of this world. We have endured much, in afflictions, hardships, distresses and deprivations, pogroms and genocidal attempts to destroy us as a people. Yet, God has kept His remnant and allowed us to be restored to the land of our fathers. When we will be tested in the furnace of affliction, we will be refined and come forth like silver and gold. Despite the unceasing efforts by many throughout the millenia to kill us, yet we live. We experience sorrow, yet we rejoice. We have little, but possess all things.

This is a tough time for Israel. Despite recent political achievements with some of our neighbors, some as recent as today, still, we are going through a national, socio-political time of crisis. For those of you who read this and believe in prayer, I would appeal to you to pray for wisdom for the national leadership. It is time to take serious care of things at home. Also please pray for those who are afflicted with Covid-19 and their families, as well as for those who lost their livelihoods because of the economic fallout of the pandemic. “The value of consistent prayer is not that God will hear us but that we will hear him.” (William J. McGill). Knowing God’s will enable our prayers to become more effective and that, in turn, will help to give permanence to the work of our hands. It’s a win-win situation. Prayer doesn’t change things, it changes us.

Shabbat Shalom.

Remember: Bless, be blessed and be a blessing!

Marvin