Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: “Coronavirus will change everyone”
Rabbi Sacks’ extended BBC Newsnight interview on the Coronavirus situation
On Tuesday 17th March, Rabbi Sacks was interviewed by Emily Maitlis on BBC Newsnight about how the themes of his new book Morality: Restoring the Common Good in Divided Times* relate to the current Coronavirus situation. Please find the full interview below.
“As this challenging situation continues, please follow the various guidelines being put in place by your individual Governments. Please remember that pikuach nefesh, the sanctity of human life, is Judaism’s highest ideal and sits above all other commandments.” (h/t Yerushalimey)
The Israeli Ministry of Strategic Affairs and Public Diplomacy published a new report this week detailing how anti-Israel and anti-Semitic outlets and activists are taking advantage of the global coronavirus pandemic in order to pin blame on Israel.
In Turkey, a senior official who is close to the president said that the virus “serves Zionist interests” and Turkish bloggers said that the Jews created the virus in order to take over the world.
Iran’s PressTV ran a piece clearly insinuating that Israel and the US deliberately “engineered” the novel coronavirus as a form of biological warfare against the Iranian and Chinese regimes.
In France, a local politician shared an anti-Semitic video on social media that promotes the conspiracy theory that the virus was an invention that was designed to “cement Jewish supremacy.”
In the US, a torrent of anti-Semitic content flooded twitter after it transpired that about 30 students who had attended The American Israel Public Affairs Committee’s annual conference were forced into quarantine over potential exposure to a carrier.
“You created the virus, you started this,” one user said with glee. “So you are telling me that I am going to be infected because a Zionist mother tried to talk with the pandemic manager?”
Jewish educational organizations are making their content available online, helping people to learn about Judaism and support Israel during the coronavirus epidemic from the confines of their own home.
Pro-Israel organization StandWithUs has launched StandWithUsConnect, a new web portal offering seminars and high quality interactive content designed to educate people about Israel and fight antisemitism.
Live webinars will cover a range of topics from Israeli archaeology and Israel advocacy, to online yoga classes with an Israeli flavor. The program launches on Wednesday, March 18 with a seminar titled “Misconceptions about Israel, Zionism, and Jews,” presented by StandWithUs’s director of international student programs Charlotte Korchak.
The organization is also taking its in-person program online. Normally delivered live on school campuses and at community events by StandWithUs educators, people will instead be able to tap in to, or book interactive live sessions tailor made for local groups and audiences.
And for those who want to get out and about virtually while confined to their home, StandWithUs’s director of tourism, Yoni Zierler, will be presenting live tours of prominent Israeli sites of interest.
Michael Dickson, StandWithUs Israel Executive Director said: “At StandWithUs, we were early adopters of social media and have always prided ourselves on creativity. Now circumstances demand us to be even more imaginative in the way we engage people with Israel. Our live briefings, panels, and Q & A’s with StandWithUs educators and prominent experts on Israel and fighting antisemitism, as well as our fun, interactive sessions are designed for youth, students and adults looking to learn more and participate in something meaningful from home.”
New York City health officials are alarmed at the fast pace of the spread of the coronavirus in the close-knit Hasidic communities of Brooklyn, as more than 240 Hasidic Jews have tested positive this week in Borough Park and Williamsburg.
According to Asisa Urgent Care, which serves the Hasidic communities of both neighborhoods, these positive results came from a total of 481 tests, with as many as 99% of them from the Orthodox Jewish community. A spokesperson for the agency said “the numbers are only getting higher.”
On Wednesday, Haredi reporter Jacob Kornbluh tweeted the video of an outdoor Orthodox wedding with “many participants in a cramped backyard.”
But Mayor Bill de Blasio and the health department officially denied on Wednesday the existence of a “Hasidic cluster” of coronavirus patients, insisting the number of cases has been growing across the city, and not just in Borough Park and Williamsburg.
Did you hear the shocking news? Sixty Congress members just signed a letter demanding that the Federal government stop the dismantling of any illegally built homes that have been built by Arabs. But they did not object to Israel’s continuing policy of dismantling illegally built Jewish homes.
Who would have thought that in this day and age, members of Congress would stoop so low as to make policy recommendations based on the idea that one specific ethnic group should be targeted?
We were supposed to have given up the old practice of making policies based on the color of people’s skin, rather than the content of their character. Images of George Wallace standing in that schoolhouse door were supposed to be just a bad memory. Yet here we are, in 2020, with 60 Democrats signing a letter that echoes the attitudes of those dark times.
J Street played a major role in organizing the Congressional letter. In a December 10 press release, the group announced that “J Street supporters across the country are contacting the offices of their members of Congress and urging them to sign on to this important and timely letter.”
The letter was sent to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on March 16, bearing the signatures of 60 members of Congress, all Democrats. They urged the US government to prevent Israel from using American-made equipment in “the ongoing home demolitions and forcible transfer of Palestinian civilians in the West Bank.”
The letter’s reference to “Palestinian civilians” indicates that J Street misled the members of Congress. Evidently, the J Streeters did not explain to potential signatories that house demolitions in Israel are not based on the race, religion, or ethnicity of the homeowners.
Israeli courts authorize dismantling illegally built homes on the basis of whether the homes were built illegally. The Israeli government does not have a policy of demolishing Palestinian homes. If it did, it would be doing quite a poor job of it, since 99.9% of Palestinian homes are still standing!
A progressive congressional candidate endorsed by the liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street beat a Democratic incumbent on Tuesday who has long been close to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) and was backed by much of the pro-Israel establishment.
Marie Newman, a liberal insurgent, edged out a hard-fought victory against Dan Lipinski for an Illinois House seat that encompasses Chicago’s northern suburbs. Newman, who was also backed by progressive superstars Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren and New York Representative Alexandria Ocasi-Cortez, won by two percentage points.
Lipinski, who has held that seat since 2005, has been at odds with mainstream Democrats on some key domestic issues. His opposition to abortion rights and the Affordable Care Act, former US president Barack Obama’s signature legislative accomplishment, made him a pariah in his own party.
But the candidates also diverged on US policy toward Israel.
Newman, whose husband is Jewish, used to back the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) campaign, but then she reversed that position, saying she “supports the aspirations of both the Israeli and Palestinian people” and a two-state solution.
“I believe the United States should play an even-handed and unbiased role in the resolution of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict,” she said in a campaign memo.
Here’s the 2019 position paper for Marie Newman in #IL03: Israel only has a right to ‘67 borders. Divided Jerusalem ala ‘67. Total Palestinian “right of return” to inside Israel. Support for McCollum bill to hold up aid to Israel. Support for BDS. https://t.co/DgkiyAMimS
— Richard Goldberg (@rich_goldberg) March 18, 2020
Michael Gove, the Conservative frontbencher, has accused the leader of the Labour Party of trying to “smuggle into our political conversation antisemitic expressions and antisemitic tropes.”
Mr Gove made the remark at a reception in Westminster for the Mainstream UK group co-founded by the former Labour MP and honorary patron of Campaign Against Antisemitism, Ian Austin, who quit the Labour Party in disgust at its institutional antisemitism.
Mr Gove, who serves as the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, observed, however, that the British people rejected Mr Corbyn’s views and what those “acting in his name had argued for.” Mr Gove praised Mr Austin’s “bravery” and lamented that the term ‘Zionist’ “has come to be used as a term of abuse. We can see the way in which anti-Zionism has mutated, so anti-Zionism has become the new antisemitism.” He noted that “in the past you could be Jewish in the ghetto, or you could be Jewish but had to suffer disability under the law,” and that “more recently, antisemitism has taken a new form. That new form is to say that that expression of Jewish identity…either has to be removed or Israel has to survive on terms set by others.”
He also warned the audience, which included the BBC presenter Andrew Marr, that Mr Corbyn’s retirement as Labour leader did not mean that “toxicity” would not persist in the Party, and also that “in the same way as some choose to stigmatise and vilify the Jewish community, there are others who are equally willing to use stereotypes to vilify other people who are British, who are our friends and neighbours.”
The brother of the bomber who blew himself up at the end of an Ariana Grande concert in the English city of Manchester three years ago has been found guilty of murdering the 22 victims, the BBC reported on Tuesday.
Salman Abedi, a 22-year-old Briton born to Libyan parents, detonated his bomb at Manchester Arena at the close of a show by the US pop singer in May 2017. Among the dead were seven children, the youngest aged just eight.
Prosecutors had said his younger brother Hashem Abedi, was just as guilty of the murders by helping his sibling to carry out the attack.
As a student at the University of Maryland (UMD), I didn’t get the chance to do everything that I had hoped to do before graduating. Attending a Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) meeting was never on my list, but on Tuesday, March 10, I decided to go as an alumna.
The college’s SJP chapter hosted an event that evening called “Corona and Countering the Occupation” — yet another blatant “intersectional” effort to connect Israel’s policies toward the Palestinians to unrelated issues. This event was open to the public, and SJP had made an open Facebook event to promote it.
During the event, a PowerPoint presentation provided basic information about the coronavirus and how Palestinians are coping with the outbreak.
The SJP presenter mentioned “the occupation” a few times, and said that Israel’s government wasn’t a “real government.” But, to her credit, there was no mention of the perverted claim that Israel is trying to hurt Palestinians with COVID-19, an antisemitic calumny that’s been frequently offered up in recent days.
Indeed, I was pleasantly surprised to even hear an admission of the truth: that Israel is collaborating with the Palestinian Authority (PA) to address the pandemic in the West Bank and Israel’s Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) has provided medical aid and supplies.
After the presenter finished, she opened the floor for questions.
The first student to raise his hand asked the obvious question: “What can we do to help?”
She struggled to answer, then finally suggested, “I don’t know, maybe donate medical supplies?”
— Eye On Antisemitism (@AntisemitismEye) March 18, 2020
— (((David Lange))) (@Israellycool) March 19, 2020
There wasn’t one critical word about Tibi, or any other Joint List MK, in the article.
Let’s be clear: Though the prime minister has at times engaged in race baiting in reference to Arabs, it is also undeniably true that, as we’ve posted about previously, many Joint List MPs, such as Ahmed Tibi, are extremists who have explicitly supported terrorism.
Tibi, previously an adviser to Yassar Arafat, has claimed that there were never two Jewish Temples in Jerusalem, and has praised terror attacks on Israelis. The best example is in 2011, when he gave a speech in Ramallah to celebrate International Day of Martyrs praising Palestinian ‘martyrs’ who commit deadly acts of terror – even inside the green line (Israel’s pre-67 boundaries).
The reasons why even centrist Israeli parties are hesitant to sit in a government with Tibi’s Joint List isn’t because they’re hostile to Arabs. It’s because they’re naturally hostile to any politician who supports attacks against their own citizens – parliamentarians who, while being sworn in as MKs, pledged that they would be “faithful to the State of Israel”.
Haaretz columnist Odeh Bisharat this week flagrantly fabricated that Israel’s Arabs – a minority that makes up 20 percent of the Jewish state – is under surveillance. In his March 16 Op-Ed (“Hate in the Time of Coronavirus“) he invents:
Now [Prime Minister Netanyahu] has decided to put people infected with coronavirus under digital surveillance. If the experts’ estimates of the infection rate prove correct, more than 20 percent of Israelis will be under surveillance. That, of course, is on top of the other 20 percent – the Arabs – who are under surveillance in any case. Thus in total, it will be at least 40 percent, whether they are supporters of terror (that is, people who vote for the Arab parties’ Joint List) or coronavirus terrorists.
The Op-Ed writer certainly is entitled to accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, to allege that he is exploiting the Coronavirus crisis, to accuse him of fanning flames of hatred, and to slam the controversial decision to permit the cyber surveillance of Israeli citizens in order to locate all those who have come into contact with those infected by the disease, a measure to curb the stem of the virus and save lives.
But Op-Ed writers do not have the right to fabricate facts. The absurd claim that Israel’s Arabs – as an entire group – are under surveillance is completely unfounded and ought to be immediately corrected by the paper which prides itself of being “Israel’s leading daily newspaper.”
In a stunning display of misleading journalism and demonstrating its anti-Israel agenda, Reuters promotes the myth that restrictions on Gaza are somehow comparable to global quarantines defending against the COVID-19 coronavirus.
In the article, Reuters shares a number of tweets from Gaza residents such as this one:
We in Gaza have been living this for 14 years.
Reuters did not commit an ethical breach by sharing tweets from Gaza residents: Gaza is a part of our world and is deemed newsworthy. However, as a body of professional journalists, Reuters has a duty to also share context and balance. For example, Reuters:
– Makes no mention of the 11,560 rockets fired from Gaza into Israel that necessitated a blockade in the first place.
– Shares no balancing tweets from the Israelis who have lived (and died) under that rocket fire.
– Makes no mention of the massive arms shipments from Iran that the Gaza blockade has prevented, nor how many innocent Israeli lives were saved as a result.
– Fails to mention that Hamas (the group that rules Gaza) is officially designated as a terror organization by Australia, Canada, Egypt, the EU, Israel, the UK, and the United States.
– Fails to mention that the Hamas founding charter commits the terror group to the total destruction of all of Israel.
– Does not even mention the significant cooperation between Israeli and Palestinian health officials.
With so many of us cooped up at home or in a coronavirus quarantine, a lot of us are spending more time scrolling through headlines on our social media feeds. It’s well-known that people click on few if any articles that come up in Facebook or Twitter feeds.
That’s why headlines matter.
So it’s very important that news services, especially widely-published wire services like Agence France-Press, get their headlines right. Unfortunately, one AFP headline skewed the situation.
If all you knew about the Mideast battle against the pandemic came from this headline, you’d think that Israel unilaterally shut down the West Bank. You might even imagine that the Palestinians are cut off from outside help and forced to go-it alone against the pandemic.
You have to read the article to find out that:
– The closure was taken in conjunction with the Palestinian Authority.
– Israel and the PA set up a committee to cooperate on battling COVID-19.
– Goods are still allowed to pass back and forth.
– PA police are setting up their own checkpoints outside Palestinian cities.
– Israel will continue to allow Palestinians to enter for medical treatment.
– Palestinians working in West Bank settlements may continue working.
All these measures are being taken jointly to fight a common biological threat. Yet AFP’s language of “slap” suggests something that isn’t born out by its own dispatch.
CAMERA’s Israel office yesterday prompted correction of an Associated Press article about the Coronavirus crisis across the Middle East which had falsely charged that Israel prevents surgical supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip. The March 18 article, “Ravaged by war, Middle Eastern countries face a new scourge,” had erroneously reported:
In the Gaza Strip, medical infrastructure has been strangled by a 13-year blockade imposed by Israel with Egypt’s help, preventing the passage of even critical goods like surgical supplies.
X-ray machines, defined as a dual use item and therefore heavily restricted by Israel, appear to be the exception in a policy which otherwise permits the entrance of surgical supplies. Lists of goods considered dual use, meaning which serve both a civilian as well as military purpose, are available at Israel’s Foreign Ministry, as well as the NGO Gisha, which is highly critical of Israel’s policies with respect to the Gaza Strip.
As the United Nations wrote in its 2007 report (“Gaza Ten Years Later“), from the period of 2007 to 2010, the first stage of Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip: “In terms of imports, only ‘basic humanitarian products’ (primarily food, fodder, medical supplies and hygiene items) were allowed in.” The report notes that in Phase II of the blockade, from 2010 to 2014, restrictions were eased compared to the proceeding periods. The report adds:
Israel considers many materials needed for these projects to be ‘dual-use’ and posing security concerns, thus subjecting them to severe import restrictions. These include construction materials, raw material for the productive sectors, including wood and pesticides, medical equipment and water pumps necessary to deal with seasonal flooding. Despite improvements, particularly for construction materials, the import of other ‘dual-use’ items faces significant delays in approval for importation.
Regarding “dual-use” items, the report notes: “Such items were only allowed in for projects funded by international organizations through a multi-layered system of approvals regulating the entry of each individual consignment of materials.” Thus, entry of dual-use items, including some medical equipment, face delays but are permitted within certain restrictions.
As the global fight against the coronavirus intensifies, conspiracy theories continue to appear in the Arab media to explain the source of the virus and its spread. Many of the articles and social media posts allege that the coronavirus was created by the U.S. with the goal of toppling the economy of China, a country which, the writers claim, threatens America’s economic and political hegemony.
The following are excerpts from these articles.
Iraqi Leader Muqtada Sadr: Trump Behind Coronavirus; We Will Reject Any American Treatment Against The Disease
In a March 11, 2020 tweet, the leader of the Shi’ite Sadrist Movement in Iraq, Muqtada Al-Sadr, attacked U.S. President Donald Trump, accusing him of being responsible for the spread of the coronavirus, particularly in the countries that are hostile to the U.S.: “I was taken aback when Trump said: ‘We are doing a great job against the coronavirus, and the situation would have been worse had it not been for our intervention.’ Oh, Trump, you and others like you are suspected of being behind the spread of this disease, especially since most of those suffering from it are opponents of America.” He went on to ridicule President Trump, writing: “Yesterday you claimed that America has brought down great empires and suppressed terrorism, and today you are fighting a virus that is invisible to the naked eye. Are you not ashamed of yourself[?]!” He concluded by saying: “Any treatment dispensed by you and from your infected companies will not be approved by us and we do not want it. You are not only the enemy of Allah but the enemy of the people. You are a virus [that kills] peace that spreads wars and illnesses.”
On March 4, 2020, Al-Sadr posted a video on Facebook depicting his visit to the shrine of Imam ‘Ali in the Iraqi city of Najaf, after it was closed briefly for sterilization against the coronavirus. During the visit, he instructed the custodians of the shrine not to close it for any reason, saying that he would be visiting it on a daily basis to ensure that it remains open to the public.
Shi’ite cleric Assad Al-Naseri, a supporter of the protests against the Iraqi government who split off from the Sadrist Movement, criticized advice of this sort, warning people not to believe the “myths” spread by “ignorant clerics.” In a March 9 tweet, he wrote that “many clerics are ignorant when it comes to their own field of knowledge [religion] as well other fields that are not related to them, so do not believe their superstitions and scams, because their main concern is to preserve their assets, delusions and misleading of minds.” He added: “The coronavirus is a pandemic that posed and poses a great danger to people’s lives. The solution is to adhere to what science says and medicine decides, and ignorant [clerics] should remain silent.”
An Associated Press headline today proclaims “Watchdog says Israel’s West Bank settlements surged in 2019,” when, in fact, construction was started on fewer Israeli housing units in the West Bank last year compared to 2018. As the article itself indicates several paragraphs into the story, 2019 construction starts decreased in comparison to 2018:
According to Peace Now figures, Israel began construction on 1,917 new homes in the West Bank last year. That marked a slight dip from 2,100 construction starts in 2018.
In addition, according to Peace Now, the figure in 2017 was 2783 construction starts, so 2019 represents a significant dip in construction over the last two years – hardly a “surge.”
It’s true that the number of advanced plans did increase (8,547 units in 2019 compared to 5,618 in 2018), but, as noted above, actual construction was down in 2019. Advanced plans relate to future – not current – construction, which, especially in today’s uncertain world, may or may not come to fruition.
CAMERA has contacted AP to request that the misleadingly reports “Watchdog says Israel’s West Bank settlements surged in 2019.” More accurate language would be “Watchdog says Israel’s West Bank settlement planning surged in 2019.”
Incredibly disappointing that one of the first pieces @Telegraph‘s new Mideast correspondent writes upon arriving in Israel is a tired old settlement story. @JamesERothwell are you going to follow the herd or will you take some journalistic initiative like your predecessor? https://t.co/KQVXy6W3kO
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) March 19, 2020
Hey @ajplus, we know balance isn’t exactly your thing, so we’ll do your job for you:
Gaza is run by Hamas, a genocidal group dedicated to murdering Jews. It has perpetrated countless suicide bomb attacks and fired thousands of rockets at Israeli citizens. pic.twitter.com/JZbDJT0dzy
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) March 19, 2020
— (((David Lange))) (@Israellycool) March 18, 2020
German police on Thursday raided sites across the country linked to a far-right group banned by the interior ministry, weeks after a suspected extremist gunman shot dead nine people of migrant backgrounds.
Germany’s top security official, Horst Seehofer, issued a ban on the United German Peoples and Tribes, the first time a group associated with the so-called Reichsbuerger movement has been proscribed.
“We are dealing with a group that distributes racist and anti-Semitic writings and in doing so systematically poisons our free society,” Seehofer said in a statement.
The Interior Ministry said around 400 police officers had seized firearms, propaganda material and small amounts of drugs during the raids on the homes of 21 leading members of the group.
“Since the early hours, police measures are going on in ten states” out of Germany’s 16, interior ministry spokesman Steve Alter wrote on Twitter.
Authorities say members of the newly banned group, whose activities were focused in Berlin, had issued threats against German officials.
The “United German Peoples and Tribes” organization banned Thursday belongs to a wider “Citizens of the Reich” movement fed by conspiracy theories.
School’s out – but not for summer. It’s coronavirus season and kids are holed up at home with their newly telecommuting parents.
According to estimates from news agency Agence France-Presse today, some 500 million people around the world are now subject to lock down measures.
Is there any way you can use this unexpected family time to pack in a little extra learning?
Fortunately, Israel has no shortage of technologies to help with that. So, before you and your young’uns come to blows, here are eight great made-in-Israel approaches to make the most of the new normal.
Learning to play the piano was never so easy – or high-tech. JoyTunes turns your mobile device into a virtual piano tutor, combining tried-and-true music methodologies with the latest in gaming (try “Piano Dust Buster” to compete with other gaming piano “players”).
JoyTunes’ iPhone and Android app listens to what you play to give you real-time feedback, reducing the amount of time it takes to get started. Maybe that’s why the company has a million people learning to play the piano a week, is used by 10% of U.S. music teachers and has been downloaded more than 10 million times.
Oh, did we mention that JoyTunes is the No. 1 education app on the app stores? There are three options for varying levels of learning, available in 11 languages, with 2,500 songs online from Beethoven to Adele.
JoyTunes is working on other instruments, too – look for guitar and saxophone to come to an app near you.
Fabulous rant from an Israeli mother about kids, “distance learning,” and home quarantine https://t.co/nAkMpXVFKI
— Noah Pollak (@NoahPollak) March 19, 2020
People should leave their phones on during Shabbat, Chief Sephardic Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef said in a halachic ruling he sent to Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman on Wednesday.
“There is no doubt that all those tested for coronavirus have to have a phone on during Shabbat so [the Health Ministry] will be able to update him on his results and tell him where to evacuate,” he said.
“Even one who did not get tested should leave his phone on so he will be able to be briefed in case it is discovered that he is near a confirmed carrier,” he added.
Yosef ruled that all hospital synagogues should be closed because it is difficult for people to stay two meters apart while in them.
On Thursday, Blue and White MK Omer Yankelevich said she had been told that haredi (ultra-Orthodox) Israelis with “kosher phones,” which do not have Internet access, were not receiving messages from the Health Ministry. As a result, she contacted the ministry and was told that people with kosher phones will receive calls rather than texts.
The Health Ministry recently updated its recommendations for the public, calling on people to avoid person-to-person contact and keep a two-meter distance from each another.
— Shoshanna Keats Jaskoll (@skjask) March 19, 2020
— Embassy of Israel (@IsraelinUSA) March 18, 2020
Israelis went out on their balconies Thursday evening to salute the medical teams on the frontlines of the battle against the coronavirus.
President Reuven Rivlin and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu both joined in the event, inspired by similar salutes in Italy, which took place after a call to do so on social media.
“I would like to thank all the medical teams who have been working night and day to provide a medical response to Israel’s citizens during these difficult times,” said Rivlin.
Standing together with his wife Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister said: “We too join in the applause for the heroic medical staff who are defending us all.”
Ok this was sweet – Israelis on their balconies clapping and cheering for the doctors and nurses fighting the Corona pandemic pic.twitter.com/mDn6Gfiapm
— Ben Hartman (@Benhartman) March 19, 2020
We have lots of ideas, but we need more resources to be even more effective. Please donate today to help get the message out and to help defend Israel.