Newsletter : 20fx0527.txt
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Amid Pressure from the U.S., Israel Rejects Chinese Bid to Build Massive Sorek 2
By the Jerusalem Post
Israel has selected local company IDE Technologies, rather than a Chinese firm, to
construct the world's largest desalination plant, the government announced Tuesday. The
decision avoids another undesirable showdown with the Trump administration over Chinese
participation in major infrastructure projects.
Three groups bid to build Sorek 2, a private-public partnership that will be the world's
largest reverse-osmosis seawater desalination plant when completed in 2023. Among them was
Israeli Hutchison Company, an affiliate of Hong Kong-based Hutchison Company.
The US has asked its allies, including Israel, in recent weeks to sever ties with China
Israel's third-largest trading partner in areas with security risks, a US
official with knowledge of talks on the matter said last week.
Regarding Sorek 2, the Trump administration specifically flagged Hutchison's possible
involvement in the construction of the desalination plant, which will be in Kibbutz
Palmahim and cost more than NIS 5 billion. In addition to being an important
infrastructure project for Israel, the plant is near the Sorek Nuclear Center and the
US concern about Chinese companies' involvement in major infrastructure projects in Israel
in recent years is partly due to the ability of Chinese operatives to gather intelligence
while working on them, as well as the massive economic, social and environmental losses,
and even casualties, which could be inflicted if that infrastructure is damaged.
The official statement from the Finance, Energy and Water Resources ministries does not
mention Hutchison or China. It simply states that Kadima-headquartered IDE Technologies,
which partnered with Bank Leumi, submitted the winning PPP bid, promising desalinated
water at the cost of approximately NIS 1.45 (41 cents) per cubic meter, about 65 agorot
(19 cents) cheaper than existing desalination solutions in Israel today.
The reduced cost is expected to save households a total of NIS 3.3b. ($940m.) during the
lifetime of the plant, which is expected to produce 200 million cubic meters of potable
water per year, increasing the country's annual desalinated-water production by 35% to 785
million cubic meters, approximately 85% of Israel's household and municipal water needs.
The project will be financed by an international consortium, including Bank Leumi, German
state-owned KfW and a 150m. ($165m.) loan from the European Investment Bank.
"About two years ago, I passed a revolutionary government program to deal with future
periods of drought, during which I decided to double desalination targets by 2030," Energy
Minister Yuval Steinitz said. "The desalination plant being initiated today, which will be
the largest of its kind worldwide, is the result of the implementation of this program,
and together with the desalination facility in the Western Galilee... the state of the
Israeli water market and its readiness for the future are excellent."
Spy Agency's Phone Surveillance Detected a Third of Israel's Covid-19 Cases
Spying by Israel's Security Agency, better known as the Shin Bet, was responsible for the
early discovery of around a third of all the verified coronavirus (Covid-19) cases in the
country, according to a report by the Ministry of Health to be submitted to the
Parliament's Subcommittee of Secret Services seen exclusively by Calcalist.
As of May 10, some 4,089 cases were identified with the help of the Shin Bet. The
subcommittee convened on Tuesday to discuss an extension of the emergency regulations
under which the ISA's technological surveillance program was originally activated. The
emergency regulations were originally authorized in a rush by the government while
bypassing the authority of the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.
Last week, the Prime Minister's Office, which oversees the ISA, issued a draft bill that
permits the ISA to make use of its technological capabilities to combat the spread of
Covid-19. "In light of the ongoing state of emergency in Israel and in light of the need
to continue to cope with the circumstances brought about by the new virus, the option of
extending the use of the service is being examined," read the explanatory notes of the
In the meantime, the government decided to curtail the ISA's authority and allow it to
track the location of phone devices only in exceptional cases in which an epidemiological
study isn't sufficient.
The new report revealed by Calcalist provides a peek into the ISA's capabilities and the
number of Israelis that were exposed to tracking by the secretive agency. Up until now,
the only number that had been published was revealed two months ago, two weeks after the
start of the program, with the ISA saying at the time that it identified around 500
According to the report, since the start of the ISA's involvement, the health ministry
asked it for information on 16,587 Israelis who tested positive for Covid-19, 322 of them
in the week that ended on May 10. In all, the ISA provided information on 11,889 cases,
156 in the week that ended on May 10.bSome 80,072 text messages informing people that they
had been in contact with a carrier were sent out, including 1,217 in the week between May
"The process of sending out text messages and making calls to people who may have been
exposed to coronavirus and didn't report that they had gone into quarantine on the health
ministry's website was fully operational from May 3. So far (as of May 10), 5,592 texts
were sent out, with calls by a human operator being made from May 7 to those who still
hadn't responded after two text reminders. On May 7 there were 93 calls made in all and as
a result 34%, or 32 people, filled out a quarantine form as required," the report says.
Another section of the report attempts to analyze the effectiveness of the ISA's spying
tools. "The ISA's system has justified itself with the early detection of a third of all
the ISA has the capability to reach many more people who may have been
in contact with a verified case (at least twice as many as human investigations), and
therefore has significantly better capabilities to stop the infection rate. Of all
verified cases, at least 4,089 were identified exclusively by the ISA. A similar number
(4,688) was identified through human investigations, but most of those were cases of close
family members. We are continuing to track the advantages of this system in light of the
gradual opening of the economy and the easing of restrictions on most of the population,
which is expected to result in a rising number of people who were in contact with any new
The report also included several problems and malfunctions that occurred during the use of
the ISA's spying tools. In a small number of cases, and as a result of lab errors, the ISA
was sent the details of citizens who were not carriers. There were also several cases in
which some verified carriers were tracked twice as a result of an error made while
inputting ID numbers.
Operation Moked: How Israel Surprised the World By Destroying Egypt's Air Force
By Michael Peck, The National Interest
Here's What You Need To Remember: Operation Moked stands out for its meticulous
preparation and split-second timing. It is a mark of respect that Israel's air offensive
has become the gold standard for preemptive air strikes to destroy an enemy air force.
At 7:10 a.m. Israeli time, 16 Israeli Air Force Fouga Magister training jets took off and
pretended to be what they were not. Flying routine flight paths and using routine radio
frequencies, they looked to Arab radar operators like the normal morning Israeli combat
At 7:15 a.m., another 183 aircraftalmost the entire Israeli combat fleetroared
into the air. They headed west over the Mediterranean before diving low, which dropped
them from Arab radar screens. This was also nothing new: for two years, Egyptian, Syrian
and Jordanian radar had tracked Israeli aircraftthough never this many Israeli
aircrafttaking off every morning on this same flight path, and then disappearing
from their scopes before they returned to base. But that morning, instead of going home,
the Israeli armada of French-made Mirage and Super Mystere jets turned south toward Egypt,
flying under strict radio silence and just 60 feet above the waves.
It was June 5, 1967, and the Six-Day War was about to begin. The conflict, which would
shape the Middle East as we know it today, had been simmering for months between Israel
and its neighbors. Outnumbered by the combined Arab armies, and surrounded by enemies on
three sides and the deep blue Mediterranean on the fourth, Israel had resolved to strike
first and win quickly.
That meant controlling the skies. But the Israeli Air Force could pit only 200 aircraft,
almost all French models (the United States wouldn't sell aircraft to the IAF until 1968),
against 600 Arab planes, including many Soviet-supplied MiG fighters. Israeli leaders also
worried over Egypt's 30 Soviet-made Tu-16 Badger bombers, each of which could drop 10 tons
of bombs on Israeli cities.
Thus was born Operation Moked ("Focus"), a preemptive strike aimed at destroying the Arab
air forces on the groundand one of the most brilliant aerial operations in history.
The plan had been worked out and practiced for several years. IAF pilots flew repeated
practice missions against mock Egyptian airfields in the Negev Desert, while Israeli
intelligence collected information on Egyptian dispositions and defenses.
Would all the effort pay off? The answer would become clear minutes after the Israeli
aerial armada banked over the Mediterranean and arrived over Egypt. Jordanian radar
operators, troubled by the unusual number of Israeli aircraft in the air that day, sent a
coded warning to the Egyptians. But the Egyptians had changed their codes the day before
without bothering to inform the Jordanians.
Not that the warning would have made a huge difference. "Rather than attacking at dawn,
the IAF decided to wait for a couple of hours until 0745hrs, 0845hrs Egyptian time,"
writes author Simon Dunstan. "By this time, the morning mists over the Nile Delta had
dispersed and the Egyptian dawn patrols had returned to base where the pilots were now
having their breakfast, while many pilots and ground crew were still making their way to
Meanwhile, the commanders of the Egyptian armed forces and air force were away from their
posts on an inspection tour, flying aboard a transport as the Israeli aircraft came in
(scared that their own antiaircraft gunners would mistake them for Israelis and blast them
out of the skies, the commanders had ordered that Egyptian air defenses not fire on any
aircraft while the transport plane was in the air).
The Israeli aircraft climbed to 9000 feet as they approached their targets: 10 Egyptian
fields where the aircraft were neatly parked in rows, wingtip to wingtip. Almost totally
unhindered by Egyptian interceptors and flak, the Israeli aircraft, in flights of four,
made three to four passes each with bombs and cannon. First hit were the runways so planes
couldn't take off, followed by Egyptian bombers, and then other aircraft.
It was here that the Israelis deployed a secret weapon: the "concrete dibber" bombs, the
first specialized anti-runway weapons. Based on a French design, the bombs were braked by
parachute, and then a rocket motor slammed them into the runway, creating a crater that
made it impossible for Egyptian aircraft to take off.
The first wave lasted just 80 minutes. Then there was a respite, but only for 10 minutes.
Then second wave came in to strike an additional 14 airfields. The Egyptians could have
been forgiven for thinking Israel had secretly managed to amass a huge air force.
The truth was that Israeli ground crews had practiced the rearming and refueling of
returning aircraft in less than eight minutes, which allowed the strike aircraft of the
first wave to fly in the second. After 170 minutesjust under three hoursEgypt
had lost 293 of its nearly 500 aircraft, including all of its Soviet-made Tu-16 and Il-28
bombers that had threatened Israeli cities, as well as 185 MiG fighters. The Israelis lost
19 aircraft, mostly to ground fire.
The day still wasn't over for the Israeli Air Force. At 12:45 p.m. on June 5, the IAF
turned its attention to the other Arab air forces. Syrian and Jordanian airfields were
hit, as was the Iraqi H3 airbase. The Syrian lost two-thirds of their air force, with 57
planes destroyed on the ground, while Jordan lost all of its 28 aircraft. By the end of
the 1967 war, the Arabs had lost 450 aircraft, compared to 46 of Israel's.
Six hours or so after the first IAF aircraft had soared into the morning sky, Israel had
won the Six-Day War. Not that the tank crews and paratroopers on the ground wouldn't face
some hard fighting in the Sinai, the Golan and Jerusalem. But destroying the Arab air
forces didn't just mean that Israeli troops could operate without air attack; it also
meant that Israeli aircraft could relentlessly bomb and strafe Arab ground troops, which
turned the Egyptian retreat from Sinai into a rout.
To say that Operation Moked is unique is incorrect. On June 22, 1941, the Luftwaffe
pounded Soviet airfields during Operation Barbarossa, Hitler's surprise invasion of the
Soviet Union. The Soviets may have lost almost 4000 aircraft in the first three days of
the offensivemany destroyed on the groundat a cost of less than 80 German
But Operation Moked stands out for its meticulous preparation and split-second timing. It
is a mark of respect that Israel's air offensive has become the gold standard for
preemptive air strikes to destroy an enemy air force. Saddam Hussein began Iraq's 1980
invasion of Iran with an Israeli-style strike on Iranian airfields. It failed miserably.
Had Israel attempted this against North Vietnam in 1967, the outcome would also have been
very different. For that matter, had Operation Moked failed to achieve surprise, or if the
Israeli pilots had missed their targets, Israel would have gone down in history as
reckless and foolish. That's exactly what happened to the IAF six years later, in the 1973
October War. But the gamble paid off. Yet there was nothing magical about the Israeli
triumph. Careful preparation, abetted by Arab carelessness and a bit of good luck, had
been rewarded. Operation Moked changed the course of the 1967 warand of history.
(Michael Peck is a contributing writer for the National Interest. He can be found on
Twitter and Facebook.)
Government Decides on Guidelines for Ethiopian Aliyah
By Israel Hayom
Over the past few months, political and educational leaders have been working with rabbis
and Ethiopian religious leaders to put together the nation's first set of guidelines to
solve the painful question of bringing the families of Ethiopian immigrants to Israel.
While many Ethiopian Jews have made aliyah, the Falash Mura Ethiopian and Eritrean
Jews who converted to Christianity remained behind, and are not permitted to make
aliyah under the Law of Return. Many live in dire poverty, according to a document
outlining the framework plan obtained by Israel Hayom.
"The steps the Israeli government has taken over the years were a response to political
pressures, and it has difficulty making decisions about the people waiting in Ethiopia.
The government has no clear policy," the document states. "Thus far, there is no one
entity that knows exactly how many people are waiting in Ethiopia [to come to Israel].
They number between 7,000 and 14,000. In light of this, the state institutions prefer to
avoid dealing with the matter."
The authors of the guidelines are slated to present it to Immigrant Absorption Minister
Penina Tamanu-Shata next week. Right now, final adjustments are being made that have to do
with the Falash Mura, a complex issue within the Ethiopian Israeli community itself. The
plan calls on the government to set up a public council that will decide on policy for the
Ethiopians waiting to come to Israel, collect their personal details, and list the
criteria for them to make aliyah.
The plan will provide an official answer for Ethiopians who are denied aliyah status,
which will clear up any uncertainty. In addition, the authors of the plan want the aliyah
process for approved Ethiopian olim to begin from Ethiopia, where they will receive Hebrew
language instruction and professional training, as well as preparation for conversion.
The impetus for the plan was last year's violent wave of protests by Ethiopian Israelis.
"People waiting there are being hugely wronged, and the issue isn't being handled properly
because of [their] skin color, in addition to questions about [their] Judaism," says one
Matchmaking in a Time of Corona
By Israel Hayom
If there's any good news that the coronavirus pandemic has brought with it for the
ultra-Orthodox sector, it's in the world of matchmaking. The virus, and the economic
crisis that came with it, has lowered the "prices" of eligible Orthodox bachelors by
hundreds of thousands of shekels, and according to experts - that drop in prices is here
"In the Orthodox matchmaking world it is widely accepted to 'pay' well for an eligible
groom," says Chaim, 22, a student at the Mir Yeshiva in Jerusalem, himself of matchmaking
age. "The thing most of the serious prodigies ['iluim'] in the yeshivas want is a 'full
deal', an all-encompassing arrangement. Meaning, a new apartment in a good location -
Jerusalem or Bnei Brak - furniture and everything, without the groom needing to worry
about all the economic stuff, so he can just study Torah quietly. The numbers skyrocketed,
and of course only the wealthy could afford such a prodigy at those numbers."
Those days ended when the pandemic started. Nowadays even the wealthy Orthodox are finding
it difficult to spend more than a million shekels for a prodigy groom. "The grooms' market
has witnessed a sharp economic downturn of hundreds of thousands of shekels a groom," says
Eli Tsoran, 37, a veteran Orthodox matchmaker. "I believe this downturn won't be reversed
any time soon. Once the prices went down, I'm not sure they'll go back to what they were."
According to Tsoran, many in the Orthodox community are happy with this apparent trend
brought on by the virus. "The demand for huge amounts between the sides has become more
balanced. Many families that asked for NIS 800,000 for an eligible groom are now talking
about NIS 500,000. People understood that the sector needs to be more logical if they want
to marry their kids.
"The virus has given hope to many families of lesser means to get a good match. The public
understood that the world is fighting a pandemic that is hurting families and taking
people to another world, so all the financial management and demands have changed. And
once the demands were lowered - they won't go back to what they were before the virus so
fast. Many matches that are beginning now have started with more reasonable prices than
Just like in the secular dating world, the Orthodox matchmaking world has seen many
changes during the pandemic. But in the case of this conservative sector, these are
extreme changes that no one saw coming. "The matchmaking market has changed in so many
ways," says Sarah Pachter, who owns an ad agency in the Orthodox sector and is a mother of
11 children. "I'm not a professional matchmaker, but I meet with people in the sector and
occasionally do some matchmaking. I've made 18 matches so far, including my son," she
Q: So what has changed since the pandemic began? "The Orthodox matchmaking world was very
rigid," says Pachter, "there was a certain way how each match advanced, how it progressed,
where they met, etc. The virus shook that up, changed things, changes that, I hope, will
remain for a long time. For example, the first meeting between young Orthodox people
usually took place in the girl's home. During the pandemic no one wanted to enter a
stranger's house, so the youngsters went alone to a park for the first date, and only
after they were matched - their parents met on Zoom or talked on the phone.
"If not at a home, matchmaking meetings occurred before the pandemic in hotel lobbies, in
Jerusalem or Tel Aviv. Now, without any other option, they meet in nature, open parks.
There are many boys and girls who met this way in the past few months, and it only did
them good. Even now, as restrictions are eased, this has remained. The market isn't as
rigid as before."
According to Pachter, the most significant change recently has to do with what happens
after the match is sealed, when the couple agree to marry. "Up until the pandemic, usually
a race began that would last for three to four months to secure a large hall with at least
400-500 guests, and usually much more, a big band, a camera crew, decorations and
"Suddenly now people have learned you can have small modest weddings in the yard of a
home, or somewhere green, and it's just as pretty as a huge and crowded wedding - and also
saves thousands of shekels if not more. Today I see people getting their children engaged,
when there are already fewer restrictions, and they still aren't planning on huge weddings
like before the pandemic. I hope it stays that way. It's a significant financial relief
for many families with a lot of children."
Reuven Paul, 50, a well-known figure in the Orthodox sector and a veteran volunteer in the
Hatzalah organization, get his son engaged three weeks ago during the peak of the virus.
The whole matchmaking process took place during the pandemic. "The custom is to have the
first date in a hotel lobby, but since the hotels are closed, the dates were held in the
home of an American family in Jerusalem, with a large garden, and there the couple felt
free and relaxed. It was a good solution for all, they felt at ease in the garden," says
Paul says he's been speaking over the past few days with Orthodox friends, who like him
are about to marry their children. "I have quite a few friends who got their kids engaged
in recent weeks. I see some of them have internalized the virus and some haven't. Some
still live in a bubble and think that the bigger the event they have - the more they will
be 'worth.' Those kinds of people haven't changed, but I think most of my friends have.
They're happy the Orthodox have realized that you can have different weddings, much more
According to Paul, there's a sharp drop in wedding budgets, a result of the financial
crisis the pandemic has caused. "The million-dollar question is will it stay like this
next year and beyond. Personally, I think the economic shift in how events are held will
remain. Even if the virus will disappear completely, people will continue to look, like
me, for smaller and more familial places, to hold beautiful events in.
"Usually, when you have a huge wedding and forget to invite someone - he's insulted.
You're always under pressure, who did I forget to invite? But when you have a 'corona
wedding', it's not relevant anymore. Everyone knows why you didn't invite them, because
you're having a small wedding with less family, and that's it. I think these weddings will
catch on. There's something nice about a small wedding in a more relaxed setting.
"The virus simply opened up new channels in the brain. Up until the pandemic, even people
who didn't have money would say 'I need to have a big wedding.' Today, even wealthy
Orthodox say 'What do we need all of this for?'"
Tsoran the matchmaker agrees: "The financial crisis, in the current reality, has left many
families with no income. Suddenly I'm hearing families tell me 'Let's do modest weddings
with 50 people, what's wrong with that?' A wedding with a singer and keyboard instead of a
band with seven horns, and in a marque or on a roof instead of a ritzy hall. "What did one
mother say to me? 'The young couple only need themselves at the wedding. The guests and
all the hubbub around don't add a thing, it's just so the parents feel good. So it's
better to have a small and modest event.'"
Dalia Kurtzweil, 43, is a Chabad emissary together with her husband in Dnipro, Ukraine.
From there she works in matchmaking, mostly inside the Chabad community, with a resume
chock full of matches. Now she believes the changes in the Orthodox matchmaking market
during the pandemic will be the new norm.
Kurtzweil's job, especially these days, is more difficult than the usual Orthodox
matchmaker, since a large part of matchmaking in the Chabad community is between Chabadnik
families in various countries, when at times the young couple will be sent as emissaries
to a third country. In the past few months, with international flight halted, the mission
became even more challenging.
"And despite everything, it happens. There are match offers, and there are meetings
between young Orthodox people from different countries - by Zoom or WhatsApp videos. True,
it's not easy, and many would prefer a real meeting, but that's what we have right now,
and many are doing it. Others ask to wait until this period is over. In Israel it's
easier, because there were solutions for a real meeting during lockdown, as well. If one
of the couple was, for example, an essential worker he could go to another city to meet,
in the permitted fashion, of course."
Kurtzweil mentions another surprising advantage that appeared during the pandemic: "When
everyone was locked up in the house and many didn't work, the young ones had more time to
choose and check the match offers they got. It's a change that permeated because of the
situation, and I hope it stays."
Q: Did families seal matches only through Zoom meetings? "No. I don't know any couple who
sealed a match only through Zoom. No one is expected to make a life-changing decision on a
Q: Did you manage to "seal a match" during the pandemic? "I got a few couples connected
over the past few weeks, also from different countries, and they are in a process. But
there are a lot of calls, certainly. People have changed their lives because of the
coronavirus, they're less in the rat race, and they're more available to hear about match
offers. That was a big problem in the past, that people were so busy with work and career,
they couldn't hear. Now, after sitting at home for so long, alone, they understand it
might be time to hear some offers, to see what's out there.
"These times changed a lot for me. Until today I couldn't really meet the people I try to
match, because of my living abroad, and it was all done by phone. Think about it: I barely
knew who was on the other end of the line, and I was already offering matches. Since the
pandemic, the Zoom calls for matchmaking became something reasonable, and now I meet every
evening on video people who talk to me, tell me about themselves, their dreams and wishes
of who to marry, and I feel them up close.
"I definitely feel the pandemic brought a lot of change to matchmaking: less technical
name-sharing between possible candidates, and more emotional bonding between the
matchmaker and the candidates, in a way that makes it easier for them to find a match.
Even the candidates have more time to think about who they want to meet. They had a lot of
time to feel lonely and in need, and I believe this will bring many of them to think
differently, to agree to things they probably wouldn't have agreed to compromise on before
when it comes to a partner. Now they look at things differently, they understand they're
being offered lovely people, and it's a pity to be stubborn."
Chaim Scheller, a known matchmaking consultant in the modern Orthodox sector, which
includes the national Orthodox and national religious, says the virus actually stopped the
matchmaking in the public he works with. "This group is basically more open and relaxed,
and the virus blocked them. You tell a yeshiva boy to meet by telephone or on an app, and
for him it doesn't really work.
"So I waited for things to return to normal, so I could organize face-to-face meetings. I
believe in real, in-person courting, and less so in phone calls or Zoom, which I believe
lead to nothing. The possibility for a first meeting between humans doesn't happen in
Zoom, just like learning through Zoom is nothing like it is in normal life. In matches
like that the sides are just 'floating', they don't feel like it's a real meeting.
"But I did make a match during the pandemic, it started before, and was on solid footing.
There was also another match I offered, who wanted to meet, but couldn't find where. So I
organized especially for him a certain ice cream parlor to open up in Tel Aviv, so he
Q: If I understand correctly, there is a huge bottleneck of candidates in the modern
Orthodox community that will open immediately when everyone gets on the market after the
virus. "That's an issue that bothers me, but don't forget that people are looking for the
best, and it's a process that takes time, so there might not be a gridlock of Orthodox
people waiting to get married. And I won't start to suddenly organize meetings now, after
the virus, 900 couples at once. For me the pandemic was a time that let me get to know my
clients better, to try and make matches and organize meetings that will take place now -
with the return to normal."
Another innovation that came with the pandemic: "balcony matchmaking." During the lockdown
when meetings were forbidden, the Orthodox mind came up with creative solutions such as
matches between neighbors in the same building. According to the Orthodox matchmakers,
it's a trend that might continue after the pandemic. "People understand they don't always
have to look far," says Pachter, "sometimes a match is on the other side of the door."
Pachter thinks the sector will see many more similar matches, even when things go back to
normal. "Matches between neighbors were once less acceptable amongst the Orthodox, but the
pandemic made us get used to quite a few new things."
Kurtzweil: "I also know a couple who live close by in Kfar Chabad and met in one of the
grandparents' homes, in a quiet room. It was lovely. And there was another time two young
neighbors, also from Kfar Chabad, that for some reason no one thought to match them, but
now, after the pandemic opened people's minds, their acquaintances said: 'Why are we
looking far?' - and they offered each other. And they sealed the match.
"The pandemic created a situation where people are willing to hear offers they may not
have heard before. The young want to marry, and they have learned now to look for the more
positive things in each other, and not the drawbacks. The fact that people are there and
aren't being told whether they can or can't make aliyah is a disgrace. This insanity has
to stop," the activist said.
The criteria for aliyah include the applicants being descendants of Jews, confirmation
from community elders or religious leaders, membership in a recognized community made up
of people who were forced to convert to other religions or who suffer from anti-Semitic
persecution, and a desire to return to Judaism and undergo conversion.
Anti-Semitism examined as a social virus in new PBS documentary
By Laura Paull May 26, 2020 2:46 pm
Valerie Braham, widow of one of the victims of the Hyper Cacher grocery store shooting in
Paris, appears in "Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations." (PBS)
(J. The Jewish News of Northern California) Any person who follows the news
knows that anti-Semitism is on the rise around the world. As it has spread, so has our
insight that this is a hatred with many faces, a many-headed monster fed by myths about
Jews that will not die.
Its more violent manifestations defacements of Jewish cemeteries, street
attacks, armed assaults on Jewish institutions are often referred to as
"outbreaks," as if anti-Semitism were a disease. Indeed, the phrase "virulent
anti-Semitism" is often used to describe the manifold expressions of that ideology. And as
with a contagious disease, humanity must marshal all its informational resources to have
any hope of defeating it.
That is the concept of "Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations," a probing new
documentary making its television premiere May 26 on PBS.
"Our thought was that much of anti-Semitism spreads on the internet it goes
viral, in that sense," director-producer Andrew Goldberg told J. recently. "But illness as
a metaphor for anti-Semitism has been used for a long time."
The film, which was in theaters briefly in February, opens with a black-and-white
animation of what looks to be virus cell activity under a microscope.
"It started long ago
with a lie about the Jew," the voiceover by actress
Julianna Margulies explains. "The lie said the Jew was evil
enemy of God. The lie evolved and spread like a virus
and still does. Many don't
know they're infected. Others don't care. Some define themselves by it. The virus has
endured for so long and spread so far because of its power to adapt and deceive. Of its
thousands of mutations, this is the story of four."
The film then launches into the first of four segments, looking at the American strain.
In Pittsburgh, Goldberg examines the significance of the assault on the Tree of Life
synagogue, then heads to North Carolina, where he engages with Russell Walker, an open
racist and anti-Semite who got 37% of his district's vote when he ran for the state House
of Representatives in 2018.
Other segments examine state-sponsored anti-Semitism in Hungary under the government of
Prime Minister Viktor Orban; the rise of anti-Semitism in England within the leftist
Labour Party under past leader Jeremy Corbyn; and beliefs about Jews among some North
African immigrants in France. In the latter case, those beliefs have conjoined with
growing disaffection with global capitalism among the French Left, resulting in an
atmosphere harshly inhospitable to French Jews.
Goldberg travels to each of these locales to interview victims, witnesses, anti-Semites
and experts with his low-key, seemingly neutral style eliciting inside knowledge,
alarm and, sometimes, acute pain.
A number of commentators are called upon to add information and perspective. This list
includes former President Bill Clinton, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair,
Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt, and journalists Fareed Zakaria, George Will and Yair
Rosenberg of Tablet.
"Anti-Semitism is a conspiracy theory," Lipstadt says of the penchant for anti-Semites
to blame Jews for just about everything based on "the notion that there are forces more
powerful than you."
Based on his own experiences as a former white supremacist, Arno Michael agrees.
"If I'm looking to recruit, I'm going to look for white kids who have something going
wrong in their life
and find a way to blame that on the Jews," he says in the
But after 90 minutes of examination, one is left with the sense that the film has but
skimmed the surface of a bottomless black hole.
In "Viral: Antisemitism in Four Mutations," Rabbi Elisar Admon shows the hole where a
bullet pierced his prayer book during the Tree of Life synagogue shooting in Pittsburgh.
"It went right through the word for God," he said. (PBS)
Goldberg, 52, has pursued the subject of prejudice throughout his career, from his
Emmy-winning "A Yiddish World Remembered" in 2002 (a look at the world of Eastern European
Jews before the Holocaust) to a well-received documentary about the Armenian genocide. He
also wrote, produced and directed "Anti-Semitism in the 21st Century: The Resurgence,"
which covered the history of anti-Semitism in Europe. It aired on PBS in 2017.
In the British segment of "Viral," Goldberg visits Paul Marmot, an English cousin whom
he had never met. Marnot recounts how, after a lifetime as a leftist British Jew, he tore
up his Labour Party membership card when Corbyn was chosen as its leader in 2015.
Critiques of Israeli policy are acceptable to most British Jews, he says, but Corbyn
enabled criticism that crossed over into anti-Jewish sentiment.
Meanwhile, on our shores, Goldberg, who lost extended family members in the Holocaust,
takes note of how anti-Semitism in the U.S. has been getting worse over the past dozen
years. By the time 11 Jews were gunned down in October 2018 in a synagogue in Pittsburgh
"the most anti-Semitic act I'd seen in this country in my two decades as a
journalist," he said this film project was already underway. In his view,
anti-Jewish sentiment in the non-Jewish world is always "only a couple of centimeters
below the surface" at any given time, though social forces may push it down.
"The biggest mute button on anti-Semitism was the Holocaust itself," he said, adding
that it led to "better behavior" toward Jews in most of the Western world for more than 50
years. "And the precursor [to those prejudices surfacing] is societies becoming more
polarized." Another factor, he said, is that fewer Holocaust survivors are around to give
firsthand testimony about how unchecked anti-Semitism branches off into utter horror.
In the France portion of "Viral," Goldberg interviews a brother of the shooter in the
2015 assault on the Hyper Cacher kosher grocery in Paris. Asked to describe the
motivations of his jihadist brother, Abdel Ghani Merah describes the North African
immigrant milieu of their parents, who brought to France a post-colonial belief that
Western nations, Israel and global Jewry were allied against the Arab world.
"Hatred of Jews was legitimate in my parents' eyes," he says, while distancing himself
from that view (in fact, he has committed his life to countering anti-Semitism). "If they
failed at something or were rejected, right away it was somehow a Jew's fault. They owned
A final word is given to the widow of Philippe Braham, one of four French Jews killed
in the attack on Hyper Cacher, a kosher supermarket in Paris.
"We don't walk in the streets easily like we used to," she says. "I won't let my sons
wear the kippah. I won't say their names out loud."
Valerie Braham then adds: "For me it's just pointless hatred of the Jews. There are no
For those who see it, will this film provide some kind of vaccine, so to speak, against
That is the perennial hope the panacea we are all waiting for.
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