US ambassador laments ‘Jewish illiteracy’ in the Diaspora
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High Court justice: Government run by a criminal suspect is a ‘moral failure’

Top court releases its full rulings on petitions that sought to prevent Netanyahu from forming government, which they unanimously rejected earlier this month

Eleven justices of the High Court of Justice attend a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on May 3, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Pool)
Eleven justices of the High Court of Justice attend a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on May 3, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Pool)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.

Gantz says he’ll ‘act responsibly’ on West Bank annexation

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, addressing the government’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank in July, says: “We will examine how to proceed and we will act responsibly.”

He makes the comments in the Knesset.

Gantz also criticizes Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech against law enforcement, made as the premier’s trial opened earlier this week.

“I repeat, clearly and sharply: Just as the State of Israel needs a functioning government, it needs a strong and independent judiciary,” he says. “Protecting the rule of law is not a personal matter but a matter of national interests.”

Israel’s president speaks to Australian PM on Malka Leifer case

President Reuven Rivlin calls Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison to update him on developments in the case of alleged serial pedophile Malka Leifer, the day after a Jerusalem court ruled she was mentally fit for extradition trial to Australia where she would stand trial on charges of 74 counts of child sex abuse.

“The State of Israel will not allow anyone to use its institutions to evade justice,” Rivlin tells Morrison, reiterating remarks he made in person when he visited Australia in February.

Rivlin notes that Israel’s courts had proved that was the case with the Tuesday decision by the Jerusalem District Court, his office says in a statement about the phone call.

South Korea may reintroduce restrictions as virus rates climb

South Korea’s top infectious disease expert says the country may need to reimpose social distancing restrictions it eased in April, with coronavirus transmissions creeping up in the populated Seoul metropolitan area and elsewhere in recent weeks.

Jeong Eun-kyeong, director of South Korea’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, says during a virus briefing it’s becoming increasingly difficult for health workers to track the spread of COVID-19, which has coincided with increased public activity amid warmer weather and eased attitudes on social distancing.

South Korea reports 40 new cases on Wednesday, its biggest daily jump in nearly 50 days, as officials scrambled to trace hundreds of infections linked to nightspots, restaurants and a massive e-commerce warehouse near Seoul.

“We will do our best to trace contacts and implement preventive measures, but there’s a limit to such efforts,” Jeong says. “There’s a need to maximize social distancing in areas where the virus is circulating, to force people to avoid public facilities and other crowded spaces.”

South Korea was reporting around 500 new cases per day in early March before managing to stabilize its outbreak with aggressive tracking and testing, which allowed officials to relax social distancing guidelines and proceed with a phased reopening of schools.

But Seoul and nearby cities restored some controls in recent weeks by shutting thousands of bars, karaoke rooms and other entertainment venues to slow the spread of the virus. Education authorities in Seoul say they delayed class openings in 111 schools due to virus concerns, but they couldn’t immediately confirm how many students were affected.

AP

Cyprus will cover medical costs for visitors who contract virus

Cyprus is pledging to cover costs for anyone testing positive for the coronavirus while vacationing in the east Mediterranean island nation.

The Cypriot government says it will cover lodging, food, drink and medication for COVID-19 patients and their families. Patients will only have to pay for the taxi ride to the airport and the flight back home.

A 100-bed hospital will cater exclusively to foreign travelers who test positive. Some 112 intensive care units equipped with 200 respirators will be reserved for critically ill patients.

A 500-room “quarantine-hotel” will host exclusively patients’ family members and other close contacts.

The pledge comes in a five-page letter sent to governments, airlines and tour operators outlining strict health and hygiene protocols that Cyprus is enacting to woo visitors to the tourism-reliant country.

Tourism directly accounts for 13% of Cyprus’ economy. The country expects to lose as much as 70% of 2.6 billion euros in tourism-generated revenue this year.

The letter, signed by Cyprus’ foreign affairs, transport and tourism ministers, boasts that the country has one of the lowest coronavirus ratios per capita in Europe after having tested more than 10% of its population.

International air travel to Cyprus begins June 9 initially from 19 countries, with passengers required to undergo a COVID-19 test three days prior to departure. That measure will be lifted June 20 for 13 countries, including Germany, Finland, Israel, Greece and Norway

AP

EU unveils unprecedented 750 billion euro recovery plan

European Union chief Ursula von der Leyen proposes a 750 billion euro post-virus recovery fund for Europe, but will have to win over skeptical member states to push it through.

The global coronavirus outbreak has already thrust the EU into its deepest ever recession, and Von der Leyen’s proposal will set out to help the worst affected countries.

If passed, the proposal would be the biggest EU stimulus package in history and could see Europe-wide taxes on plastics, carbon emissions and big tech — a major power boost for Brussels.

Paolo Gentiloni, the EU economic affairs commissioner, hails the proposal as a “European breakthrough” that would “tackle an unprecedented crisis.”

The virus has killed more than 173,000 people in Europe and put its economy in a deep freeze, with businesses only slowly reopening and tight controls on borders still stifling travel and trade.

The plan comes following big pressure from Italy and Spain, Europe’s first victims of the outbreak and too burdened with heavy debts to alone rebuild their economies.

AFP

Man pulled from car, in serious condition, from apparent heatstroke

A Yokne’am Illit resident is pulled from his car and hospitalized in serious condition after apparently suffering heatstroke.

The man, said to be in his 40s, was found unconscious in his vehicle.

France stops treating COVID-19 patients with hydroxychloroquine

The French government stops the use of malaria drug hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 patients after a new study suggested it doesn’t work and poses health risks.

A decree ending its use for the coronavirus in France is published Wednesday.

The World Health Organization did the same after a study of 100,000 patients worldwide published last week found that the drug was ineffective against the virus and tied to a greater risk of death and heart rhythm problems.

The drug has been popular and politically sensitive in France, where it was included in a trial of multiple treatments and used on hospitalized patients.

US President Donald Trump started pushing hydroxychloroquine based on early research by prominent French virologist Dr. Didier Raoult suggesting it reduced virus symptoms.

Raoult shrugged off guidance from France’s High Council for Public Health to stop use of the drug, suggesting it’s not important now that the number of infected people is no longer at crisis levels. The council’s recommendation is “one opinion like any other, I don’t care much,” he told France’s LCI television Tuesday night.

AP

Trump threatens to ‘strongly regulate, or close down’ social media

US President Donald Trump, on Twitter, appears to threaten to shut down social media sites for allegedly silencing Republican voices.

Rouhani pushes for harsher laws on so-called honor killings after shocking case

Iran’s president urges his Cabinet to speed up harsher laws in so-called honor killings, after a particularly disturbing slaying of a 14-year-old girl by her father shocked the nation.

President Hassan Rouhani pushes for speedy adoption of relevant bills, some which have apparently shuttled for years among various decision-making bodies in Iran.

The killing of teen Romina Ashrafi in the Iranian town of Talesh, some 320 kilometers (198 miles) northwest of the capital, Tehran, prompted a nationwide outcry. She was reportedly beheaded while sleeping by her father, Reza Ashrafi, who used a farming sickle to kill his daughter.

The father, who is now in custody, was apparently enraged after she ran away with her 34-year-old boyfriend Bahamn Khavari in Talesh. In rural areas of Iran, it’s unheard of for teenage girls to run away from home to be with their boyfriends.

After five days, Romina was found and taken to a police station, from where her father brought her back home. The girl reportedly told the police she feared a violent reaction from her father.

Rouhani expressed regret over the tragic case.

There is little data on honor killings in Iran, where local media occasionally report on such cases. Under the law, girls can marry after the age of 13, though the average age of marriage for Iranian women is 23. It is not known how many women and young girls are killed by family members or close relatives because of their actions, perceived as violating conservative Islamic norms on love and marriage.

Iran’s judiciary said Romina’s case will be tried in a special court. Under the current law, her father faces a prison sentence of up to 10 years.

Iran’s vice-president in charge of family affairs, Masoumeh Ebtekar, expresses hope that a bill with harsher punishments will soon be in the final stages of approval.

AP

‘Lockdown generation’: UN says 1 in 6 young workers unemployed due to pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused surging unemployment worldwide, but has hit young workers especially hard, forcing more than one in six people aged under 29 to stop working, the UN said Wednesday.

In a fresh study, the International Labour Organization warns that the novel coronavirus crisis has disproportionately affected young people, and could impact upon their work opportunities and career options for decades to come.

“I don’t think it is giving way to hyperbole to talk about the danger of a lockdown generation,” ILO chief Guy Ryder tells a virtual press conference.

“As we recover from the pandemic, a lot of young people are simply going to be left behind. Big numbers,” he says, warning that “the danger is… that this initial shock to young people will last a decade or longer.

“People will be permanently scarred by the immediate effects of the pandemic.”

Even before the crisis, the global youth unemployment rate stood at 13.6 percent in 2019 — far higher than for any other group — while some 267 million young people were neither employed nor in education or training (NEET).

AFP

Boris Johnson’s public support plummets over Cummings scandal

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson sees his public support suffer the sharpest fall for a Conservative leader in a decade as he prepared to be grilled by lawmakers over his handling of the Dominic Cummings scandal.

Johnson has stuck by Cummings despite a public and political backlash over his top aide’s travels to visit family despite the government’s strict rules to curb the coronavirus pandemic.

“The Cummings affair seems to have really cut through to the public and is taking a rapid toll on support for the government in general and the prime minister in particular,” Tim Bale, professor of Politics at Queen Mary University of London, tells AFP.

“The danger is that it triggers and reinforces a long-held concern among British voters that the Conservative Party cares more about its rich friends than about ordinary folk.”

A YouGov poll for The Times newspaper shows the Conservative lead over the main opposition Labour party shrink by nine points in a week.

The survey puts the Tories at 44 percent — down four points — and Labour at 38 percent, up five points over the past seven days.

The last Tory leader to see his lead fall by the same amount was David Cameron during the 2010 general election campaign.

AFP

Jordan: World cannot remain silent in face of planned Israeli annexation

Jordanian Foreign Minister Ayman al-Safadi denounces the planned Israeli annexation of the West Bank in remarks delivered during a meeting with UN special Mideast envoy Nickolay Mladenov, according to the Jordanian newspaper al-Ghad.

“This decision will kill the two-state solution, making a one-state solution inevitable,” al-Safadi says. “The world cannot remain silent in the face of what this represents in terms of apartheid and racial discrimination.”

Al-Safadi says that annexation would destroy the foundations upon which the “nonviolent process” rests.

Aaron Boxerman

15 Syrian refugees in Lebanon test positive for COVID-19

At least 15 Syrian refugees living in the same building in east Lebanon have tested positive for COVID-19, the United Nations says, ahead of plans to screen thousands of refugees.

“There are 15 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among Syrian refugees in Majdal Anjar,” a town in the Bekaa Valley, says Lisa Abou Khaled of UNHCR, the UN’s refugee agency.

Lebanon has officially recorded 1,140 novel coronavirus cases, including 26 deaths.

Before the outbreak in Majdal Anjar, only one other Syrian refugee in Lebanon had tested positive for Covid-19, UNHCR says.

Among Lebanon’s Palestinian refugee population, at least six cases have been detected in a camp in the Bekaa Valley.

Although the coronavirus outbreak among Lebanon’s refugee population remains limited, aid groups are concerned that overcrowded settlements could make refugees especially vulnerable to the virus.

The new COVID-19 cases in Majdal Anjar are now in self-isolation, receiving food and disinfection kits from UNHCR, Abou Khaled says.

AFP

Long Island starts reopening, leaving NYC as only area in state still closed

Long Island becomes the latest region of New York to begin easing restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus as it enters the first phase of the state’s four-step reopening process.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Tuesday that Nassau and Suffolk counties could begin reopening parts of their economy after nonessential businesses were shuttered for two months.

Construction, manufacturing, agriculture and retail with curbside pickup will be permitted in the first phase of reopening. Several popular beaches on Long Island opened last weekend with new rules for reduced capacity and social distancing.

The easing of some restrictions on Long Island, just east of New York City, leaves the city as the only part of the state that has yet to begin the reopening process. Under guidelines set by Cuomo, reopening is tied to metrics including hospital capacity and COVID-19 death rates.

Cuomo plans to meet with US President Donald Trump in Washington, DC, on Wednesday to discuss coronavirus response efforts and to push for infrastructure investments.

AP

IDF soldier moderately hurt by falling rock during training

An IDF soldier is moderately injured during a training exercise in central Israel after a rock falls on his arm and leg.

The soldier is hospitalized.

Body of missing dancer found, 4 days after washing out to sea

The body of missing dancer Ayman Safiah is found, four days after he washed out to sea.

Safia, 29, is considered one the most talented Arab Israeli dancers the country has ever produced and has performed internationally.

He entered the Mediterranean off the coast of Neve Yam in northern Israel on Sunday and has not been seen since.

His remains are discovered at the Atlit beach.

Ayman Safiah (Courtesy)

Al-Aqsa Mosque to reopen on Sunday

Sheikh Omar al-Kiswani, the director of Al-Aqsa, announced that the mosque would reopen to worshipers beginning on Sunday morning, according to reports in Palestinian media.

The Islamic Waqf, which administers the Al-Aqsa compound, closed the mosque and the Dome of the Rock on March 15 in order to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. One week later, it banned gatherings on the compound.

Some Palestinian activists on social media are circulating calls for the mosque to open in time for the Friday prayer using the hashtag “Friday We Open al-Aqsa.” They note that other religious sites — the Church of the Holy Sepulchre and the Western Wall — have already reopened for worship.

Aaron Boxerman

Mysterious private flight from Luxor heading to Tel Aviv

An unusual flight from Luxor, Egypt, is set to land in Tel Aviv this evening, Channel 12 reports.

The network says the private jet is chartered by the Laufer luxury carrier, which does not usually fly to Israel.

The report says dozens of Israelis who were stranded in Africa and came to Luxor from a third, unnamed country are on board.

Airport authorities say the flight was coordinated with the Home Front Command all on board will be sent to quarantine.

Netanyahu to Justice Ministry: Probe cop who ‘threatened’ me in media report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu asks the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department to probe a senior police official who spoke to Channel 12 on Tuesday.

Netanyahu claimed the officer’s comments were tantamount to threats.

“This is an explicit threat that is designed to deter criticism,” Netanyahu says.

Speaking to Channel 12, the unnamed officer said: “There has never been a prime minister who tried so much to goad and to so blatantly harm the law enforcement system.” Police investigators ignored all attempts to pressure them in the prime minister’s cases and “that is how they will act as well if the attorney general decides on an additional investigation against Netanyahu in his shares case,” the officer said, referring to business dealings by Netanyahu that the State Prosecutor’s Office last year was reportedly considering probing.

“We will receive him respectfully, but just as in his previous investigations, the prime minister will not be cut any slack,” the officer said.

Australian group sending 20 ventilators to Palestinians

Twenty ventilators and other emergency medical supplies will be delivered to the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah at noon on Thursday, announces Australian organization Project Rozana.

Project Rozana is a nonprofit that focuses on building coexistence between Israelis and Palestinians through medical initiatives.

The equipment arrives in the wake of a massive shortage of critical medical supplies in the Palestinian territories. While the PA’s emergency coronavirus response plan requires 1,200 ventilators, only 343 are available — 256 in the West Bank and 87 in Gaza. In an official letter to Rozana, Foreign Minister Riad al-Malki predicted the shortage could lead to “a humanitarian disaster.”

“Israel fully supports efforts to supply vitally needed Covid-19 related medical equipment to the Palestinian Authority,” Israeli ambassador to Australia Mark Sofer says in a statement.

Aaron Boxerman

WATCH: Experts discuss ‘COVID-19 and the Post-Truth Era’

The INSS think tank hosts an online conference on “COVID-19 and the Post-Truth Era – The Role of Facts in Public Policy.”

Regev: Gantz not ready to be prime minister

Likud’s Miri Regev, who is transportation minister, lashes out at Defense Minister Benny Gantz in a Yedioth Ahronoth interview that is set to be published tomorrow.

According to an excerpt, Regev says of Likud’s new coalition partner, who is alternate prime minister: “Gantz is not ready yet to be prime minister, he requires more time in the oven and to reveal to us whether he can be extorted by the Iranians.”

That’s a reference to Gantz’s cellphone, which was reportedly hacked last year by Iran.

Gantz is set to take over as prime minister from Netanyahu in 18 months under the coalition deal.

Likud official: Elections are over, personal attacks won’t fly

In response to Miri Regev’s criticism of Benny Gantz, a Likud official says the time for personal attacks is over now that a unity government of Likud and Blue and White has been formed.

“The campaign is over and now’s the time for unity. It’s time to stop the personal attacks from all sides. The elections are behind us and the shared goals are ahead of us and we must join hands for the sake of Israel,” the official says.

US ambassador laments ‘Jewish illiteracy’ in the Diaspora

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman says Jews in the Diaspora must increase their “fluency” in Judaism, describing the lack of knowledge as “the greatest threat of all” to the future of Jewish life abroad.

“The Jewish state, while not without issues, is growing: both religious and secular institutions are thriving, basic Jewish education is available to all and there is little risk of assimilation,” he says at a virtual Haaretz conference, according to the daily. “The same cannot be said for the Diaspora.”

Lamenting “Jewish illiteracy,” which he describes as a dearth of knowledge of “our past, our heritage and our legacy,” Friedman asks: “How many of us are fluent in Judaism?”

“How many Jews especially in the Diaspora are studying these fascinating and critical issues? Clearly not enough,” Friedman says. “It is an imperative for the future of the Jewish people, especially outside the state of Israel.”

“Regardless of how we believe or worship or observe our Judaism, what makes that practice uniquely Jewish and likely to continue and grow is our ability to place ourselves on an unbroken chain beginning in ancient times, that remains not just relevant – but even more critical today than ever before, as we struggle to find meaning in a complicated world,” he says.

TV: Gantz storms out of meeting with Netanyahu over Regev’s interview

Channel 12 reports that Gantz cut short a meeting with Netanyahu after learning of Likud minister Miri Regev’s interview.

Regev, in the interview, had opined that Gantz is not ready to be prime minister, prompting a rebuke from an unnamed Likud official.

Moscow to ease lockdown restrictions on June 1

Moscow’s mayor says lockdown restrictions in the city will be eased on June 1, сiting the slowing of the coronavirus outbreak in Russia’s capital.

Speaking at a teleconference with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Mayor Sergei Sobyanin says people can take walks at designated times after remaining under a stay-at-home order since March 31. He also announces plans to reopen non-food stores and services such as laundries, dry cleaners, and repair shops.

Moscow, with a total of 171,443 confirmed coronavirus cases, accounts for a little less than half of Russia’s caseload of 370,000. It’s about 55% of the country’s virus death toll.

Sobyanin says the number of new infections in the city and hospitalizations, has been going down in the past two weeks. On Wednesday, Moscow health officials announced 2,140 new cases, which is more than two times lower than two weeks ago.

Russia’s coronavirus statistics have raised multiple questions among experts, who suggest the numbers may be higher.

Russian authorities dispute that, hailing the effectiveness of the country’s lockdown measures.

AP

High Court justice: Government run by PM on trial is a ‘moral failure’

The High Court of Justice publicizes the justices’ full decisions on the petitions that sought to prevent Netanyahu from forming a government due to the criminal charges against him.

The court voted unanimously earlier this month to reject the petitions, saying there was no legal impediment preventing Netanyahu from running the country.

But Justice Menachem Mazuz, in the full decision, writes: “The reality in which a criminal suspect forms a government and leads it reflects a social crisis and moral failure of the society and of Israel’s political system.”

Netanyahu’s trial began on Sunday. He faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.

Responding to High Court, Likud says the people chose Netanyahu

Netanyahu’s Likud party, in response to the High Court statements, says the prime minister was elected fair and square.

“The citizens of Israel elected Prime Minister Netanyahu by a huge margin, which saw Likud receive the largest number of votes that a single party has received in the history of the state. It was a huge victory for the right-wing leader and an unequivocal declaration of confidence in him. In democracies, the citizens vote at the ballot station and choose the prime minister. Whoever wants to replace the prime minister can certainly run in the next election and let the citizens decide for themselves.”

Likud won 36 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in March, compared to 33 for Benny Gantz. Other parties in Israel’s history have won more seats, but due to population growth, Netanyahu’s party picked up more individual votes.

US death toll passes 100,000 mark — Worldometer

According to Worldometer, the number of coronavirus deaths in the US has climbed to 100,825.

There have been over 1.7 million infections in the US.

Lapid: Gantz leaves room over an insult, but not over attacks on law enforcement?

Speaking to Channel 12, opposition leader Yair Lapid criticizes his former partner Benny Gantz for busting up a meeting with Netanyahu over personal insults by Likud’s Miri Regev, rather than over the premier’s attack on law enforcement.

“[His priorities] are hugely confused,” he says.

 

Lebanese PM visits UN peacekeepers at Israel border amid dispute over mandate

Lebanon’s prime minister visits United Nations peacekeepers in the country’s south near the border with Israel, describing the presence of the force in the volatile area as a necessity.

The visit by Prime Minister Hassan Diab comes amid the backdrop of a war of words between Israeli and Lebanese officials, including the powerful Hezbollah terrorist group, over the mandate of the UN force, known as UNIFIL. The force has been deployed in southern Lebanon since an Israeli invasion in 1978.

Israel is calling for major changes in the way the mission in southern Lebanon operates on the ground, demanding that it has access to all sites and freedom of movement and that it report back to the United Nations Security Council if it is being blocked.

The head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah group, Hassan Nasrallah, said late Tuesday that Lebanon will not accept a change of mandate for UNIFIL to allow it to raid and search areas, calling it a violation of the country’s sovereignty. Nasrallah said the US is pressuring Lebanon to accept such a change.

“They want to reduce UNIFIL numbers? Go ahead. Increase them? Go ahead,” Nasrallah said, adding if they also want to leave it will be no problem. “But we consider expanding its mandate an infringement on Lebanese sovereignty.”

Diab says the presence of the troops is “necessary and urgent” in light of the ongoing “violations by Israel of Lebanon’s sovereignty by land, sea and air.”

The quibble over the UNIFIL mandate comes up every year before the mandate is renewed in the summer.

agencies

US declares Hong Kong no longer enjoying autonomy

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tells Congress that Hong Kong no longer enjoys the autonomy promised by Beijing, stripping the financial hub of special trading rights.

“No reasonable person can assert today that Hong Kong maintains a high degree of autonomy from China, given facts on the ground,” Pompeo says in a statement, hours before Beijing is expected to impose a controversial new security law.

AFP

Bad weather threatens SpaceX’s first crewed mission

Inclement weather threatens to postpone SpaceX’s launch into orbit of two NASA astronauts, a historic first for a privately owned company and the first crewed mission to blast off from US soil in almost a decade.

A thunderstorm lashes the Kennedy Space Center in the morning, and the National Hurricane Center announces a tropical storm is forming off South Carolina, presenting a possible risk if astronauts are forced to carry out an emergency landing in the Atlantic shortly after takeoff.

NASA and SpaceX officials will meet in the morning to determine whether or not to postpone to Saturday, the next possible launch window.

“Yeah, Atlantic weather review tomorrow morning will determine if we can launch,” tweets Elon Musk, the head of SpaceX, who has been waiting for this moment ever since founding his company in 2002.

For the moment, takeoff remains scheduled for 4:33 pm (20:33 GMT) from the Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Pad 39A, the same from which Neil Armstrong and his Apollo 11 crewmates lifted off on their historic journey to the Moon.

Piloted by NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley, the SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule will head for the International Space Station.

The mission has proceeded despite shutdowns caused by the coronavirus pandemic, with the crew in quarantine for the past two weeks.

Space Exploration Technologies Corp. was founded in 2002, tearing up the rules to produce a lower-cost alternative to human spaceflight that has gradually won over skeptics.

AP

New Health Ministry director-general appointed

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has chosen Prof. Chezy Levy, the head of Ashkelon’s Barzilai Medical Center, as director-general of the ministry.

Levy, 64, is a surgeon who spent years in the IDF’s medical corps and built the fortified emergency room and protected surgery wards in the Ashkelon hospital amid rocket attacks from Gaza, a statement says.

He is replacing Moshe Bar Siman-Tov.

Virus cases drop below 2,000, with 36 new infections in past 24 hours

The Health Ministry says there have been 36 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, as the number of active infections drops below 2,000.

Some 1,942 are currently sick with the virus. Forty-one of them are in serious condition, including 38 on ventilators. Another 34 are in moderate condition and the rest are displaying mild symptoms.

No additional deaths are reported.

The ministry says 6,606 tests were conducted on Tuesday.

Sea World, Walt Disney World to reopen

SeaWorld and Walt Disney World will reopen in Orlando, Florida, in June and July after months of being closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, according to plans a city task force approved Wednesday.

The proposals will now be sent to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for final approval.

The plan calls for SeaWorld to open to the public on June 11. Disney plans a tiered reopening, with Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom opening on July 11, followed by Epcot and Hollywood Studios on July 15.

Last week, Universal Orlando presented its plan to reopen on June 5. That plan also has been approved by the Orlando task force, which sent its recommendation to the governor.

Disney’s senior vice president of operations, Jim McPhee told the task force the parks would open with limited capacity, but he didn’t specify the number of guests who would be allowed in initially.

Disney World also plans smaller, soft openings prior to July 11, but no specifics were provided.

SeaWorld is planning an employee appreciation event on June 10 before opening to the public the next day, said Interim CEO Marc Swanson.

AP

Italy’s virus death toll tops 33,000

Italy’s known death toll in the COVID-19 pandemic tops 33,000, with 117 more deaths registered nationwide since the previous day.

But authorities acknowledge that the real number of deaths will probably never be known since many with coronavirus symptoms in care residences or in their own homes died without being tested in the past few months.

Lombardy, the northern region, which has registered more than a third of the entire nation’s known cases, confirms 384 new coronavirus infections on Wednesday, considerably more than the 73 registered in the next heaviest-hit region, Piedmont, also in the north.

Health Ministry and other government officials are closely monitoring regions for any jump in new cases following the May 18 easing of many lockdown restrictions, including allowing all retail stores to re-open and cafes and restaurants to resume in-house service.

Italians are waiting to learn if they will be able to freely travel among all regions starting on June 3, or only among some of them, in view of contagion rates.

Currently travel between regions is limited to strict necessity.

AP

SpaceX crewed flight is ‘go for launch,’ says NASA chief

SpaceX’s historic first crewed launch was set to proceed on schedule Wednesday, NASA announces at midday, but uncertainty remained over weather conditions just over four hours before takeoff.

“We are go for launch!” tweets NASA chief Jim Bridenstine. “@SpaceX and @NASA will continue monitoring liftoff and downrange weather as we step into the countdown. We are proceeding toward a 4:33 launch.”

Astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley will soon reach the launch pad, and the capsule hatch will close approximately two hours before the scheduled takeoff.

The mission could still be postponed, with the next launch window on Saturday.

AFP

TV: Netanyahu reprimands Regev, accuses her of damaging government unity

According to Channel 12, Netanyahu has phoned Likud’s Miri Regev to reprimand her for saying Gantz is not ready to be prime minister.

“Your comments are harming the unity of the government,” Netanyahu is quoted as telling Regev, hours after Gantz walked out of a meeting with the prime minister in protest of the remarks.

Washington, DC eases coronavirus restrictions

The US capital is relaxing lockdown restrictions following a sustained period of decreased coronavirus infections, Washington’s mayor says, announcing that restaurants and other businesses can reopen under social distancing guidelines.

All US states have taken some steps to ease the lockdowns aimed at slowing the spread of the coronavirus, and the capital is joining them this week.

“Today I will be signing a mayor’s order that will lift the stay-at-home order” and move the city into a “Phase 1” reopening beginning Friday, Mayor Muriel Bowser tells a press conference.

“As we begin reopening … it’s critical that people wear masks, social distance, and continue to practice good hygiene,” she adds.

The United States has been more severely impacted by the pandemic than any country in the world, with more than 1.6 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and at least 99,000 deaths.

Washington, a city of 700,000, is the seat of US government and a major tourist destination.

AFP

3 Jerusalem high school students said to contract COVID-19

Three students at the Gymnasia high school in Jerusalem’s Rechavia neighborhood are diagnosed with COVID-19, Channel 13 reports.

The school is expected to shut down.

Non-Israelis with Masa Israel visa can now enter country

Non-Israelis who hold a Masa Israel Journey visa can now enter the country, the organization says.

It says the Interior Ministry has approved the exception for those attending Masa programs in Israel, which include dozens of post-high school yeshivas and seminaries.

“This authorization follows a dramatic increase in demand for Masa’s programs with close to 7,000 pre-registrations so far — a 120% increase year over year,” says Ofer Gutman, Masa Israel Journey’s Acting CEO, in a statement. “As we look forward to welcoming participants to Israel, we will continue working closely with Israel’s government, our program providers, and communities abroad to ensure the safety of participants.”

All those arriving must still undergo a 14-day quarantine.

Israel has banned non-citizens or permanent residents from the country to stem the coronavirus outbreak.

After dust-up, Netanyahu and Gantz to resume talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz will resume their meeting tonight, hours after the Blue and White leader walked out in protest of comments by Likud minister Regev, reports Channel 12.

Kellyanne Conway unleashes Trump followers on Twitter integrity czar

On Tuesday, Twitter instituted a practice of offering fact checks of tweets that include misleading information. Two of President Trump’s tweets yesterday were labeled with the new fact check button, which links to news stories about the topics.

Twitter’s integrity chief, Yoel Roth, wrote a post that explains the policy will be applied mostly to tweets involving false information about COVID-19.

But Kellyanne Conway, a top adviser to the president, wasn’t happy with the move. On Wednesday she warns Roth in an appearance on Fox News that he was about to get plenty of new followers.

“He’s the head of integrity and his name is Yoel Roth, he’s @yoyoel,” Conway says on the morning show “Fox and Friends,” which Trump monitors closely and has promoted to his followers. “Somebody in San Francisco, go wake him up and tell him he’s about to get a lot more followers.”

She notes tweets in Roth’s feed from several years ago that attack Trump, Republicans and Trump voters.

JTA

TV: Israel sent medical team to Sudan in failed attempt to save diplomat

Israel sent a plane with medical staff and equipment to Sudan in an attempt to save the life of a diplomat sick with COVID-19, who managed the clandestine ties between Jerusalem and Khartoum, Channel 13 reports.

But a day after their arrival, Najwa Gadaheldam had died.

According to the television report, the plane landed in Khartoum carrying a senior official involved in ties with Sudan, medical staff and equipment, after hearing of her illness. They planned to transport Gadaheldam to Israel for treatment, but arrived too late, when she was already in critical condition.

The report says Gadaheldam was the key figure in arranging the February meeting between Sudan’s leader Abdel Fattah al-Burhan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Uganda.

US outlook highly uncertain, businesses ‘pessimistic’ — Federal Reserve

After weeks of economic shutdowns, the outlook for a rebound remains “highly uncertain” and businesses nationwide are gloomy about how quickly things can return to normal, the Federal Reserve says.

The Fed’s beige book survey of economic conditions shows US economic activity continued to fall sharply in recent weeks in all regions, with auto sales falling sharply and tenants unable to pay rent.

“Although many contacts expressed hope that overall activity would pick-up as businesses reopened, the outlook remained highly uncertain and most contacts were pessimistic about the potential pace of recovery,” the Fed says.

AFP

IDF chief gives seriously wounded soldier and award of excellence

IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi has given a soldier who was seriously wounded in a car-ramming attack earlier this month an award of excellence, the military says.

Staff Sgt. Shadi Ibrahim, from the Druze town of Sajur in northern Israel, sustained serious injuries when a Palestinian man rammed his car into him in the southern West Bank’s Hebron Hills.

Doctors at Beersheba’s Soroka Medical Center were eventually forced to amputate his leg.

Ibrahim, 20, a combat soldier in the 9th Battalion of the 401st Armored Brigade, was chosen as the recipient of the brigade’s award of excellence prior to the attack.

“Because of his injuries and surgeries, he could not come to the brigade’s award ceremony last week,” the army says.

As a result, Kohavi and the brigade’s commander, Col. David Songo, present the award to Ibrahim in the hospital.

— Judah Ari Gross

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US ambassador laments ‘Jewish illiteracy’ in the Diaspora

US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman says Jews in the Diaspora must increase their “fluency” in Judaism, describing the lack of knowledge as “the greatest threat of all” to the future of Jewish life abroad.

“The Jewish state, while not without issues, is growing: both religious and secular institutions are thriving, basic Jewish education is available to all and there is little risk of assimilation,” he says at a virtual Haaretz conference, according to the daily. “The same cannot be said for the Diaspora.”

Lamenting “Jewish illiteracy,” which he describes as a dearth of knowledge of “our past, our heritage and our legacy,” Friedman asks: “How many of us are fluent in Judaism?”

“How many Jews especially in the Diaspora are studying these fascinating and critical issues? Clearly not enough,” Friedman says. “It is an imperative for the future of the Jewish people, especially outside the state of Israel.”

“Regardless of how we believe or worship or observe our Judaism, what makes that practice uniquely Jewish and likely to continue and grow is our ability to place ourselves on an unbroken chain beginning in ancient times, that remains not just relevant – but even more critical today than ever before, as we struggle to find meaning in a complicated world,” he says.