Netanyahu Cleared to Lead Government, Israel Reopens Cautiously

Israel News Recap (Without the Rhetoric)


Israel NewsMay 14, 2020

Israel NewsMay 14, 2020


Haifa, Israel - March 24, 2020: People follow the social distancing rules while waiting outside a supermarket. (Image: © Bigstock)

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Israel’s Supreme Court is allowing Netanyahu to continue with Gantz in assembling a joint emergency government despite the prime minister’s corruption indictment.

A stable government could help Israel progress even further in its fight against COVID-19 as new cases drop, and a cautious reopening continues. Aside from the virus, a reminder of Israel’s constant security concern came as a cyber-attack targeted civilian water and sewage infrastructure.

Supreme Court Steps Aside, Allows Netanyahu Government

Israel’s Supreme Court ruled that it would not intervene in Israeli Prime Minister’s formation of a government despite the pending felony corruption charges he is facing.

The clearance by the court gave Israeli legislators the go-ahead to finally approve the deal struck by Netanyahu and rival Benny Gantz of the Blue and White Party to share power in an emergency government. The deal received support in the Knesset on May 7 with a solid 72-36 majority vote, according to the Associated Press. Despite three consecutively inconclusive elections in the last year, Gantz and Netanyahu agreed to the controversial deal that allows Netanyahu to hold onto power for another term to face the widespread economic and health fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Despite the urgent intentions of the deal, critics said it was illegal to have the sitting prime minister also be on trial for such serious crimes. Netanyahu has been indicted on charges of fraud, breach of trust, and accepting bribes, all allegations that he has hotly denied. However, after two days of deliberations, the Israel Supreme Court cleared the way for the deal to move forward. Both parties made concessions. After Netanyahu, the longest-serving Israeli prime minister, serves one term in office, Gantz will take over the position. In the meantime, he will be serving as defense minister.

The continuation of Netanyahu’s rule not only allows him to continue leading the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic but also gives him more time to follow through on his right-wing political agenda. Last month, Netanyahu said he was confident that he would be able to annex the contested West Bank territory this summer, with support from the White House. Israel says the plan could help increase security in the region.

The Palestinian-controlled West Bank is a hotbed of terrorist activity. But a total annexation could also severely damage existing cooperation between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. The Associated Press reports that PA President Mahmoud Abbas has warned that if such a move happens, he will annul agreements that could include the joint security cooperation with Israel. A visit from U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo this week led to more updates on the proposal.

The more immediate problem, of course, is the continued management of the coronavirus pandemic in Israel.

Israel Steps Outside, Begins Cautious Reopening

Parks are the latest public space to be opened in the slow but steady path toward ending the extreme quarantine measures put in place to prevent the out-of-control spread of COVID-19 within Israel.

Last week, some students went back to school in person, and promises to reopen malls were made. Reopening the country, however, doesn’t mean the government has become lax in its approach. Israel was one of the earliest adopters of the strictest quarantine measures, and as the country begins to ease some restrictions, new rules are emerging. For example, shopping malls and markets that reopen will have to monitor customer traffic, possibly through an app, after the supreme court ruled that the Shin Bet security service’s widespread cell phone tracking of Israelis was unconstitutional.

Social distancing rules and mask-wearing in public are still in place as well. But the lifting of some restrictions is a good sign.

The Times of Israel reports that on Friday evening the Health Ministry said there were fewer than 5,000 people in Israel currently infected with the virus. As of Sunday, May 10, Israel had reported 16,458 total cases, 11,384 recoveries, and 248 deaths. Globally, there are 4.1 million reported cases, 1.4 million recoveries, and 282 thousand deaths.

Behind the scenes of Israel’s public shutdown is an army of scientists and researchers racing to develop a vaccine or treatment for the novel coronavirus, and last week, they had a breakthrough. The Jerusalem Post reported that on May 5, Israel’s Biological Research Institute confirmed that it had isolated an antibody that it says could be used to develop treatments for people who have already contracted the disease.

“Jewish creativity and ingenuity brought about this amazing achievement,” said Defense Minister Naftali Bennett.

They said they were far ahead the rest of the world in developing a treatment, though it could still be months away. Other researchers around the world have found antibodies that attack the virus, but this breakthrough is unique in that it meets three important criteria. It’s an antibody that destroys the virus; it targets the COVID-19 virus specifically; and it is monoclonal, which means it lacks additional proteins that could result in complications for patients.

Israel’s leadership in medical technology might not only help the world overcome the pandemic but is also helping create bridges with historic antagonists of the Jewish state. Three Arab Gulf states are in active coordination with Israel’s health system to get help installing Israel’s state-of-the-art telemedicine systems, according to the Times of Israel. Telemedicine technology helps doctors treat patients from afar—a valuable tactic in fighting contagious viruses.

Yoel Hareven, who heads an Israeli hospital’s international division, said that medical cooperation might be the start of deeper relationships.

“You open a small crack, and the foot enters the door, and later the whole body and then the head comes in,” he said. “It’s indeed the beginning of a very fascinating journey—for the entire Israeli public, not only for the medical field.”

Iran Cyber Attack Targets Civilian Water Systems

In an outrageous attack, an unprecedented cyber-attack allegedly from Iran, targeted Israeli civilian water infrastructure last week.

The Jerusalem Post reports that the attack, though it didn’t cause significant damage to the water and sewage systems, was unexpected. The hack took place at the end of April after several weeks of sporadic Israeli airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria. Attacking essential civilian systems during a global pandemic seemed as if it would be going too far, but Israeli officials blame Iran and say it’s a clear escalation.

“This was an attack that goes against all codes, even in war,” Israeli official said to Channel 13. “Even from the Iranians, we didn’t expect something like this. This is an attack that cannot be done.”

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