14-day news roundup: Czech mate

Israeli news highlights from the past two weeks.

The unveiling of the new Czech embassy office in Jerusalem (photo credit: SEBASTIAN SCHEINER/POOL VIA REUTERS)
The unveiling of the new Czech embassy office in Jerusalem


The Czech Republic opened what it termed “a full-fledged diplomatic mission” in Jerusalem on March 11, indicating that it recognizes the city as Israel’s capital. Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babiš, who inaugurated the mission with Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi, said his country’s embassy is still located in Tel Aviv, but the new office will be a key branch. On March 14, Kosovo opened an embassy in Jerusalem following the establishment of bilateral relations on September 4, 2020, becoming the third country to do so after the United States and Guatemala in May, 2020.


Israel was due to hold its fourth election in two years on March 23. Some 39 parties registered to contest the 120 seats in the 24th Knesset, but only about 13 will make the election threshold of 3.25%, according to most polls. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu voiced the hope that his government’s successful COVID-19 vaccination program would produce a conclusive result, but opinion polls forecast a tight race between the two political blocs for and against Netanyahu. 


Israel’s government allowed flights from all destinations to resume and abolished an entry quota of 3,000 per day on March 21, after the High Court of Justice ruled that its cap on passengers entering the country was unconstitutional. Although the death toll from COVID-19 passed 6,000, Health Ministry data showed “encouraging signs” that Israel was emerging well from the pandemic after more than half of its 9 million citizens were vaccinated.


US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan and his Israeli counterpart, Meir Ben-Shabbat, held talks by video conference on March 11 to discuss the two countries’ security challenges in the Middle East,, especially from Iran. White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said it was vital that Israel be briefed on US plans “moving toward a diplomatic track to preventing Iran from acquiring a nuclear weapon.”


The Israel Antiquities Authority on March 16 unveiled dozens of Dead Sea Scroll fragments containing biblical texts written in Greek dating back almost 1,900 years, the first such discovery in six decades. Among the “thrilling finds,” unearthed in archeological excavations in the Judean Desert is a text from Zechariah that begins, “Speak the truth to one another!”  The IAA team also uncovered a 6,000-year-old partially mummified skeleton of a child wrapped in cloth and a large woven basket dated to more than 10,000 years ago, believed to be the oldest in the world. 


Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, 61, resigned from his position as head of the ZAKA rescue organization and forfeited the Israel Prize he was due to receive, following the launch of an official police investigation into accusations that he had sexually assaulted women and children for decades. Meshi-Zahav insisted he was innocent, saying the publication of the allegations against him had been an attempt by his enemies to “settle a score.” 


American billionaire Kenny Rozenberg, the founder, owner and CEO of Centers Health Care, which operates a chain of nursing homes and care facilities in North America, immigrated to Israel on March 8. In 2020, the Monsey-based Rozenberg financed a deal in which his son, Eli Rozenberg, became the controlling shareholder in El Al. The Transportation Ministry welcomed Rozenberg, to Israel saying his aliyah “in these uncertain times is a testament to the strength of Israel’s society and economy.”


Tel Aviv’s ANU-Museum of the Jewish People – formerly known as Beit Hatfutsot and the Nahum Goldmann Museum of the Jewish Diaspora – was opened in March after renovations costing $100 million. ANU (Hebrew for “we”) was funded by the Nadav Foundation, US-based philanthropists and the Israeli government. Irina Nevzlin, chair of board of directors, said the museum, whose old exhibits have been upgraded with cutting-edge ones, “tells the story of the Jewish people for everyone.” The exhibition space has tripled to 76,690 square meters (72,000 square feet), making it the largest Jewish museum in the world.