14 day news roundup: Airport closure

Israeli news highlights from the past two weeks.

A face mask is seen on the bust of David Ben-Gurion at Ben-Gurion Airport. (photo credit: ANTON DELIN)
A face mask is seen on the bust of David Ben-Gurion at Ben-Gurion Airport.
(photo credit: ANTON DELIN)
 

AIRPORT CLOSURE

Israel shut down Ben-Gurion Airport to all commercial flights from January 25 until February 21 to halt the entry of COVID-19 and its variants. The move marked the first time that Israel stopped its own citizens from flying in, as the daily caseload remained high and the death toll topped 5,000. Amid a successful vaccination drive in which some 3.5 million Israelis received the first shot and 2 million the second, the cabinet on February 7 lifted several restrictions imposed during the country’s third lockdown that began on January 10. Health Minister Yuli Edelstein warned, however: “Anyone who wants to celebrate Passover with their family should stay home at Purim.”
KOSOVO TIES

Israel and Kosovo established diplomatic ties on February 1 in a Zoom ceremony in which the US-brokered agreement was signed by Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi in Jerusalem and his Kosovar counterpart, Meliza Haradinaj-Stublla, in Pristina. Haradinaj-Stublla, who submitted a formal request to open Kosovo’s embassy in Jerusalem, was joined by representatives of the small Kosovar Jewish community, and lauded the “historic achievement that brings joy to the people of Kosovo and the Jewish people.” Ashkenazi said the new ties “reflect a change in the region and in the Arab and Muslim world’s relationship with Israel.”
ICC RULING

The International Criminal Court in The Hague ruled on February 5 that it has jurisdiction over the territories occupied by Israel in 1967, opening the way for war crimes suits against Israeli officials and IDF officers. The ruling came six years after the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, launched an investigation of Israeli actions in the territories, especially during the 2014 Gaza war. Israel slammed the move. “The court ignores real war crimes and instead persecutes the State of Israel, a state with a firm democratic regime, which sanctifies the rule of law, and is not a member of the court.” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.
ELECTION POLL

Ahead of the February 4 deadline for party lists to be submitted to Israel’s Central Elections Committee, the far-right Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit parties merged, Ron Huldai’s party, The Israelis, dropped out of the race, and  Ra’am led by Mansour Abbas bolted the Arab parties’ Joint List. A survey by Ma’ariv released a day later gave the Likud 29 seats, Yesh Atid and New Hope 16 each, Yamina 11, the Joint List 10, Israel Beiteinu and Shas 8 each, United Torah Judaism 7, Labor 6, Meretz 5 and Religious Zionism 4. Asked who they would vote for in a head-to-head race for prime minister, 46% of the respondents said Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) while 42% preferred Gideon Sa’ar (New Hope). Israel is set to hold its fourth election in two years on March 23, 2021.
POPULAR SCHOLAR

Rabbi Dr. Abraham J. Twerski, a respected Jewish scholar, writer and psychiatrist who was a leading authority on treating substance abuse and addiction, died at 90 in Jerusalem on January 31, a week after being hospitalized with COVID-19. Born in Milwaukee, Twerski moved with his second wife, Gail, to Israel, where he founded the Shaar Hatikvah rehabilitation center for prisoners. He wrote more than 60 books on Judaism and self-help topics and was a regular contributor to The Jerusalem Report. He was laid to rest at Eretz Hachaim Cemetery near Beit Shemesh, where at his request mourners sang “Hosea Es Amecha” (Save Your People), a melody he composed more than 60 years ago for the words of Psalms 28:9.
EUROVISION ENTRY

Eden Alene will represent Israel with the soulful song, “Set Me Free,” in the 2021 Eurovision Song Contest to be held in Rotterdam on May 22. Alene, who is 20 and was born in Jerusalem to parents who made aliyah from Ethiopia, performed three songs broadcast on the Kan 11 show, “The Next Star for Eurovision,” on January 25, after which viewers voted online for the song penned by Noam Zaltin, Ido Netzer, Amit Mordechai and Ron Carmi. Israel is a four-time winner of the contest, which was cancelled in 2020 for the first time due to COVID-19 .