14 day news roundup: Tighter lockdown

Israeli news highlights from the past two weeks.

A cat is seen walking across the Jaffa Street light rail tracks in Jerusalem amid the tightened coronavirus lockdown. (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
A cat is seen walking across the Jaffa Street light rail tracks in Jerusalem amid the tightened coronavirus lockdown.
While leading the world in COVID-19 immunizations per capita, vaccinating some 20 percent of its citizens, Israel began a tightened lockdown on January 8 following an alarming spike in the spread of the disease. The cabinet approved the move after the number of daily cases surpassed 8,000, with more than 800 people in serious condition and 3,500 deaths.  All schools were shut, businesses were closed except for those providing essential services, and gatherings were restricted to five people inside and 10 outside. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledged, however, that there would be sufficient vaccines to inoculate all Israelis over the age of 16 by the end of March.  “We will be the first country to emerge from the coronavirus,” Netanyahu said.
Ahuvia Sandak, 16, from Bat Ayin was killed when the car in which he was riding with four others overturned during a police chase after Israeli youths who allegedly threw rocks at Palestinian vehicles on December 21. In protests across Israel following the incident, dozens of  demonstrators and security forces were injured. Some 3,000 people demonstrated outside the Police Investigations Department in Jerusalem, demanding an independent investigation into Sandak’s death. In a separate incident on January 3, Rivka Tytell, 40, from Shvut Rachel was seriously injured when Palestinians threw rocks at her car a while she was driving with her two children in the Binyamin area
Israel’s population numbers 9.21 million, the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) announced at the end of 2020, an increase of some 150,000 people (1.7 percent) since the previous year. For the first time since the establishment of Israel in 1948, the country’s Jewish population dropped to below 74%, according to the Israeli Immigration Policy Center. IPC Director Yonatan Jakubowicz urged the government to adopt a strategic immigration policy to “protect Israel’s interests as a Jewish and democratic state.”
The Jewish Agency announced on December 31 that more than 20,000 new immigrants from some 70 different countries made aliyah in 2020, despite the COVID-19 pandemic. Some 3,168 Americans and Canadians immigrated to Israel (48 on the last Nefesh B’Nefesh flight that landed on December 30) – only a 10% drop from the 2019 figure. Meanwhile, a flight of 300 immigrants from Ethiopia arrived on January 1, as part of what has been dubbed Operation Rock of Israel. The Jewish Agency believes that Israel can expect an influx of 250,000 immigrants over the next three to five years.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center unveiled its list of 2020’s top 10 worst antisemitic incidents, saying the “weaponization” of the COVID-19 pandemic against minority groups, and particularly Jews, ultimately took the top spot. The Center’s Associate Dean Rabbi Abraham Cooper said antisemitism was evident in the “pernicious nature of individuals and groups who want to take advantage of the virus,”  noting that as early as February 2020, “far-right extremists across social media platforms blamed Jews and Asian Americans for the virus.”
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai launched a center-left political party named The Israelis on December 29 to run in the March 23 election, with former justice minister Avi Nissenkorn – formerly of Blue and White – as his deputy. “We have grown accustomed to a crazy government. I will no longer stand idly by,” he said, recalling his experience as an IDF fighter pilot, educator and mayor of Tel Aviv for the last 22 years. “Israel can and must be run differently.” Other new parties announced ahead of the election included one founded by economist Yaron Zelekha, another by former Mossad chief Danny Yatom and an additional one by former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah.