14 day news roundup: Swearing in

Israeli news highlights from the past two weeks.

Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Khaja sworn as UAE's first ambassador to Israel by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid (photo credit: DUBAI GOVERNMENT MEDIA OFFICE)
Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Khaja sworn as UAE's first ambassador to Israel by Dubai ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid
(photo credit: DUBAI GOVERNMENT MEDIA OFFICE)
UAE ENVOY

Mohammed Mahmoud Al-Khaja was sworn as the United Arab Emirates’ first ambassador to Israel by Dubai’s ruler, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, the Dubai Media Office announced on February 14. Rashid urged Khaja to consolidate bilateral ties in a way that promotes a culture of “peace, coexistence and tolerance.” It was not clear when the new envoy would take up his post. The move came after the UAE’s cabinet approved the establishment of an embassy in Tel Aviv and Israel opened an embassy in Abu Dhabi. The UAE and Israel normalized relations in a US-broked deal on September 15, with the signing of the Abraham Accords, which Bahrain also joined.
GREEN PASS 

After a third of its population of nine million had been vaccinated twice against COVID-19, Israel emerged from its third lockdown and began operating a Green Pass system on February 21 to allow those who had been inoculated or had recovered from the virus to participate in business and leisure activities. Shops, malls, markets, museums and libraries were reopened, but only those who have been vaccinated or have recovered from COVID-19 are able to exercise at gyms and pools, attend sporting and cultural events, or stay at hotels. The Health Ministry said the two Pfizer doses had proven to be almost 99% effective in preventing serious disease and death. 
BIDEN CALL

US President Joe Biden called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on February 17 after a much-publicized wait since  taking office. “It was a good conversation,” Biden told reporters in the Oval Office. Netanyahu said the conversation was “very warm and friendly” and they had spoken for about an hour, affirming the steadfast alliance between Israel and the US, and discussing issues related to Iran, regional diplomacy and the fight against the coronavirus pandemic.
OIL SPILL

The Israel Nature and Parks Authority called an oil spill caused by a ship in early February off the Mediterranean coast one of the “greatest ecological disasters to afflict Israel since the founding of the state.” It said that 170 out of 190 kilometers of Israel’s coastline (105 out of 118 miles) had been harmed by the tons of tar dumped by the spill, forcing the closure of beaches from Rosh Hanikra to Ashkelon. Thousands of volunteers began cleaning tar off the beaches and off birds and turtles. “We are making every effort to find those responsible for the disaster,” said Environment Minister Gila Gamliel.
PRIZE LAUREATES

American filmmaker Steven Spielberg will be awarded the million-dollar 2021 Genesis Prize “in recognition of his extraordinary work to preserve the memory of the Holocaust and prevent future genocides and all forms of intolerance through film, public advocacy and philanthropy,” the Genesis Prize Foundation announced on February 10. For the first time, it said, some 200,000 Jews on six continents cast their votes for the laureate. Meanwhile, the Dan David Prize committee announced that the director of the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, Dr. Anthony Fauci, would be honored with its million-dollar award for 2021 along with several other distinguished medical scholars and researchers, for “courageously defending science in the face of uninformed opposition during the challenging COVID crisis.”

Former Knesset Speaker Shlomo Hillel in his office in Jerusalem in an undated photo from the mid-1980s.
IRAQI HERO

Shlomo Hillel, who played a major role in orchestrating the immigration of Jews from Iraq to Israel, died on February 8 at the age of 97. In 1946-1951, the Iraqi-born Hillel worked as a Mossad attache for Aliyah Bet, in which 120,000 Iraqi Jews were airlifted to Israel. A former ambassador to several African states who became a lawmaker, cabinet minister and finally world chairman of Keren Yayesod, Hillel held several portfolios, including internal affairs and police, and served as speaker of the Knesset from 1984 until 1988. Hillel was the subject of two profiles in The Jerusalem Report, by Patricia Golan (2016) and Ruth Corman (2017).