Israel Turns to Its Spy Agencies to Combat Coronavirus

Effort includes undercover purchase of testing kits from abroad and phone-tracking to map infections

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has mobilized Israel’s intelligence agencies to help contain the new coronavirus, an effort that has involved an undercover purchase of testing kits from abroad and the use of antiterrorism phone-tracking technology to map infections.

An undisclosed number of testing kits acquired Thursday by the foreign spy agency Mossad will be deployed to nationwide drive-in testing locations as Israel seeks to carry out thousands of tests a day, the prime minister said in a broadcast late Thursday.

Mr. Netanyahu’s office called the equipment “required and vital” but declined to say how many kits had been ordered and from which countries. “We are fully utilizing all the state’s capabilities to assist in dealing with the coronavirus, including the Mossad and other bodies,” his office said.

A man wearing a face mask walking in front of the Dome of the Rock mosque inside the almost deserted Al-Aqsa mosque compound in the Old City of Jerusalem on Friday.

PHOTO: AHMAD GHARABLI/AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE/GETTY IMAGES

Israel’s Channel 13 and the Jerusalem Post reported that the agency had arranged for 100,000 kits from countries that lack diplomatic relations with Israel and expected to bring millions more.

Those reports couldn’t be confirmed independently. Mossad often handles secret diplomacy with countries such as the Gulf Arab states that don’t formally recognize Israel but work with it on regional security challenges.

Itamar Grotto, the deputy health minister, said the imported kits lack a swab component but indicated the problem could be overcome. Mr. Netanyahu said Israel’s testing capacity would grow from several hundred a day to several thousand by next week.

Warning of an outbreak on a par with Italy’s, Mr. Netanyahu ordered Israel into lockdown late Thursday. The country’s nine million people are allowed to leave their homes only for vital missions such as buying food or getting medical treatment. The number of Israelis known to have contracted the virus rose to 705 on Friday morning, up from 427 on Wednesday morning.

Along with testing kits, health officials say Israel will need more ventilators as the number of patients sickened by Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, grows. The Defense Ministry said it has purchased 2,500 ventilators but delivery will take months.

To help meet demand, a team in Israel’s military intelligence branch known as the Technological Unit, or Unit 81, is working with medical professionals to upgrade household BiPap ventilators, which help patients with sleep apnea and other breathing difficulties, into hospital-quality ventilators.

“A prototype is being manufactured in the unit at this moment in order to study it and bring it to wide use,” the Israeli military said in a statement.

Israel’s domestic intelligence agency, the Shin Bet, is retooling its spyware to meet the medical emergency. In recent days it has deployed a nationwide digital-surveillance program, using technology designed for counterterrorism, to locate people at risk of infection. The program uses cellphone data of people known to be infected to identify who else was close enough to catch the virus.

As a result of the surveillance, the health ministry said 400 Israelis received a text message Wednesday asking them to enter quarantine.

“According to an epidemiological survey, you were near someone sick from coronavirus. You must immediately enter Quarantine for 14 days to protect your relatives and the public,” the text message said.

Shin Bet’s program, authorized by the attorney general and supported by health ministry officials, was criticized by privacy advocates and some lawmakers. The supreme court, acting on a petition by two civil-rights groups, issued an injunction ordering a halt to the program by next Tuesday unless parliament establishes the relevant oversight committees. The parliament was shut Wednesday by its speaker, an ally of Mr. Netanyahu, in a dispute with opposition parties over control of its committees.

Authorities in some Asian countries have deployed similar surveillance methods and said they contributed to containing the virus. South Korean health authorities can sift through credit-card records, CCTV footage, mobile-phone location services, public-transport cards and immigration records to pin down the travel histories of those infected or at risk. China monitors individuals with data provided by telecom firms, the railway bureau and airlines. Hong Kong monitors families quarantined at home with electronic wristbands. Taiwan tracks people who are under home quarantine using their mobile-phone signals.

What is a Post-Jesus Christian?

 

Post-Jesus Christians are “Christians” who have decided to postpone following Jesus’s teaching until Jesus returns and ushers in 1000 years of peace.

Post-Jesus Christians hold that Jesus’s teachings do not need to be followed in our present era if they are a hindrance to obtaining the power they fear they need to help usher in the Kingdom of God.

Post-Jesus Christians (privately) hold that Jesus’s teachings are a nice thing to follow when dealing with the in-group of their fellow PJCs but may be disregarded when dealing with non-PJC neighbors.

Prophecy: What God Can Do For You

Post-Jesus Christians talk a lot about about prophecy, and unlike the Biblical Prophets, when they do, they punch down, rather than up:

You will know them by their fruit, because they only have one key message – God is going to “enlarge your tent” and “expand your influence“, he’s going to “give you great favor” and “bless you mightily”.

Later Craig Greenfield writes:

In Biblical times, there were two types of prophets.

  1. Firstly, there were those who feasted at the King’s table because they had been co-opted to speak well of evil leaders (1 Kings 18:19). They were always bringing these smarmy words of favor and influence and prosperity to the king. And the king lapped it up. Like a sucka.
  2. Secondly, there were those who were exiled to the caves, or beheaded (like John the Baptist) because they spoke out about the injustice or immorality of their leaders (1 Kings 18:4). The king didn’t like them very much. He tried to have them knee-capped.

An Inversion of Ben Franklin’s Morality

While many Post-Jesus Christians appeal to a historical “Christian Nation” , Post-Jesus Christians appear to be an inversion of founding father Ben Franklin, who in historian John Fea’s description, wanted to discard Jesus’s Divinity but retain and celebrate his ethical teachings.

Examples:

So what does this look like in practice?

Below are public quotations from prominent Court Evangelicals.  These quotations are less extreme that I would expect to hear in private.  A friend of mine speaks to supporters in private.  He reports that they would (privately) celebrate the stuffing of election ballots in favor of their preferred candidate as a righteous act.

1) Court Evangelical: Anti-Sermon on the Mount


John Fea wrote about a conversation he had with Rob Schenck  for the “Schenck Talks Bonhoeffer” podcast @ 19:27.  Here’s a quote from Schenck talking about a conversation he had with a prominent evangelical at the Trump Inaugural Prayer Service:

I must tell you something of a confession here. I was present at the Trump Inaugural Prayer Service held at the National Cathedral — not the smaller one held  at  Saint John’s Episcopal church across from the white house, but the one following the inauguration at the National Cathedral and I saw one of the notable Evangelicals that you’ve named in in our conversation. One of them, I won’t say which and we had it short exchange and I, I suggested to him that we needed to recalibrate our moral compass and that one way to do that might be to return to The Sermon on the Mount as a reference point. And he very quickly barked back at me. “We don’t have time for that. We have serious work to do.”

2) Jerry Falwell Jr:  Anti-Turn the other cheek

John Fea writes:

We have blogged about Liberty University’s Falkirk Center before.  The more I learn about this center the more I am convinced that it does not represent the teachings of Christianity.   Recently someone on Twitter pointed out this paragraph in the Falkirk Center mission statement:

Bemoaning the rise of leftism is no longer enough, and turning the other cheek in our personal relationships with our neighbors as Jesus taught while abdicating our responsibilities on the cultural battlefield is no longer sufficient. There is too much at stake in the battle for the soul of our nation. Bold, unapologetic action and initiative is needed, which is why we just launched the Falkirk Center, a think tank dedicated to restoring and defending American ideals and Judeo-Christian values in all aspects of life.

John Fea’s Update:

Several smart people have suggested that I may have misread Liberty University’s statement.  They have said that the Falkirk Center was not denying that Jesus’s call to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for individuals.  Instead, the Falkirk Center is saying that we should not “abdicate” (the key word here) our responsibilities to engage on the “culture battlefield.”

I think this is a fair criticism, and I indeed may have misread the statement.  For that I am sorry.  But I don’t think I want to back away too strongly from what I wrote above.  While several have correctly pointed out that Liberty University is not saying Jesus’s command to “turn the other cheek” is “insufficient” for individual Christians, the Falkirk Center does seem to be suggesting that it is “insufficient” for culture engagement.

Trump’s Middle East Peace Plan Exposes the Ugly Truth

This isn’t a break with the status quo. It’s the natural culmination of decades of American policy.

On Tuesday, President Trump released his long-gestating plan for Middle East peace, the so-called “deal of the century.” It calls for a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza; for Jerusalem, including its Old City, to be the undivided capital of Israel; and for Israel to annex all settlements, as well as the Jordan Valley — which makes up nearly a fourth of the West Bank, including its eastern border with Jordan — creating a discontiguous Palestinian archipelago state, surrounded by a sea of Israeli territory. Mr. Trump announced that the United States will recognize Israeli sovereignty over all the territory the plan assigns to Israel, and shortly after, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel pledged to annex all settlements and the Jordan Valley beginning on Sunday.

Members of the Israeli right and other opponents of a two-state solution celebrated the deal as the definitive end of the possibility of an independent Palestinian state. The Israeli left, the Palestine Liberation Organization, and other supporters of a two-state solution condemned the plan for the very same reasons, calling it the final nail in the coffin of the two-state solution.

So there was agreement among both supporters and detractors that the proposal marked a momentous break from decades of American and international policy. But is the plan truly the antithesis of the international community’s longstanding approach to the conflict? Or is it in fact that approach’s logical fulfillment?

For over a century, the West has supported Zionist aims in Palestine at the expense of the indigenous Palestinian population. In 1917, the British government promised to establish a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine, where Jews made up less than 8 percent of the population. Thirty years later, the United Nations proposed a plan to partition Palestine: The Jews, who made up less than a third of the population and owned less than 7 percent of the land, were given the majority of the territory. During the ensuing war, Israel conquered more than half the territory allotted to the Arab state; four-fifths of the Palestinians who had lived in what became the new boundaries of Israel were prevented from returning to their homes. The international community did not force Israel to return the territory that it had seized, or to permit the return of refugees.

After the 1967 War, when Israel conquered the remaining 22 percent of Palestine, as well as the Sinai Peninsula from Egypt and the Golan Heights from Syria, Israel illegally established settlements in the territories it occupied and created a regime with separate laws for different groups — Israelis and Palestinians — living in the same territory. In 1980, Israel formally annexed East Jerusalem. As with Israel’s settlement activity, there was some international finger wagging and condemnation, but American financial and military backing for Israel only strengthened.

In 1993, the Oslo Accords granted limited autonomy to Palestinians in a scattering of disconnected islets. The accords did not demand the dismantling of Israeli settlements or even a halt to settlement growth. The first American plan for Palestinian statehood was presented by President Bill Clinton in 2000. It stated that large Israeli settlements would be annexed to Israel and that all Jewish settlements in occupied East Jerusalem would also be annexed. The Palestinian state would be demilitarized and contain Israeli military installations as well as international forces in the Jordan Valley that could be withdrawn only with Israel’s consent. As with the “deal of the century,” this plan, which formed the basis of all subsequent ones, gave the Palestinians increased autonomy and called it a state.

There are now more Palestinians than Jews living in the territory under Israel’s controlaccording to the Israeli military. Whether in Mr. Trump’s vision or Mr. Clinton’s, American plans have confined most of the majority ethnic group into less than a quarter of the territory, with restrictions on Palestinian sovereignty so far-reaching that the outcome should more appropriately be called a one-and-a-half-state solution.

Mr. Trump’s plan has many severe faults: It prioritizes Jewish interests over Palestinian ones. It rewards and even incentivizes settlements and further dispossession of the Palestinians. But none of these qualities represent a fundamental break from the past. The Trump plan merely puts the finishing touches on a house that American lawmakers, Republican and Democrat alike, spent dozens of years helping to build. During the last several decades, as Israel slowly took over the West Bank, putting more than 600,000 settlers in occupied territory, the United States provided Israel with diplomatic backing, vetoes in the United Nations Security Council, pressure on international courts and investigative bodies not to pursue Israel, and billions of dollars in annual aid.

Some of the Democrats now running for president have spoken of their disapproval of Israeli annexation, even as they propose nothing to stop it. Thus a mainstream Democrat like Senator Amy Klobuchar could declare her opposition to annexation and sign a letter criticizing the Trump plan for its “disregard [of] international law,” when she had also co-sponsored a Senate resolution “expressing grave objection” to a 2016 United Nations Security Council resolution that demanded Israel halt illegal settlement activity. Other Democrats, such as Senator Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, say they would be unwilling to provide American financial support for Israeli annexation. But that is little more than a slick formulation that allows them to sound tough while threatening nothing, since American assistance to Israel would not, in any event, go directly toward the bureaucratic tasks involved, such as transferring the West Bank land registry from the military to the Israeli government.

Aside from vague references to using aid as a lever, no presidential candidate except Senator Bernie Sanders has put forth proposals that would begin to reduce American complicity in Israel’s violation of Palestinian rights. Declarations of opposition to annexation ring hollow when they are not accompanied by plans to prevent or reverse it: banning settlement products; reducing financial assistance to Israel by the amount it spends in the occupied territories; divesting federal and state pension funds from companies operating in illegal settlements; and suspending military aid until Israel ends the collective punishment of two million people confined in Gaza and provides Palestinians in the West Bank the same civil rights given to Jews living beside them.

The Trump plan, much like the decades-long peace process that it crowns, gives Israel cover to perpetuate what is known as the status quo: Israel as the sole sovereign controlling the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea,

  • depriving millions of stateless people of basic civil rights,
  • restricting their movement, criminalizing speech that may harm “public order,”
  • jailing them in indefinite “administrative detention” without trial or charge, and
  • dispossessing them of their land —

all while congressional leaders, the European Union and much of the rest of the world applaud and encourage this charade, solemnly expressing their commitment to the resumption of “meaningful negotiations.”

Israel’s defenders like to say that Israel is being singled out, and they are right. Israel is the only state perpetuating a permanent military occupation, with discriminatory laws for separate groups living in the same territory, that self-identified liberals around the world go out of their way to justify, defend and even fund. In the absence of advocating policies with actual teeth, the Democratic critics of the Trump plan are not much better than the president. They are, not in words but in deeds, supporters of annexation and subjugation, too.

Benjamin Netanyahu Is Indicted on Criminal Charges, and His Defiance Puts Israel’s Democracy at Risk

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defiant response to the three indictments finally brought against him, on Thursday, would, under any circumstances, constitute a crisis for the rule of law in Israel. But Netanyahu’s defiance comes as the climax of a larger crisis for Israel’s democracy, which has been building at least since Netanyahu’s reëlection, in 2015. It places the country’s divided people on unknown and dangerous terrain. The indictments—for bribery, fraud, and breach of trust—are, Netanyahu insists, an attempted “coup” against him, conducted by the police, the state prosecutor’s office, and other judicial authorities—his version of the Trumpian claim that a “deep state” is attempting to overturn the will of the electorate. He seems intent on conducting a preëmptive countercoup using the office of Prime Minister, which he currently occupies only as the head of a transitional government, to appoint potential allies to key government positions, conduct escalatory military operations, collude with an increasingly desperate Donald Trump, and rally his followers against Israeli Arabs, whose parties he tars with the vague charge of “supporting terrorism.” Two close elections this year have not returned Netanyahu to the office, but they have not dislodged him either.

By law, an Israeli minister indicted for a criminal offense is required to resign. By precedent, a Prime Minister must: two already have, and not for crimes committed while in office. Yet Netanyahu seems determined not to relinquish power. “My sense of justice burns within me,” he said on Thursday evening, in a speech that was unprecedented in its pathos and its attacks on state prosecutors, including the Attorney General, Avichai Mandelblit, who had announced the indictments. “I cannot believe that the country I fought for and was wounded for, that I’ve brought to such achievements,” he said, will allow “this kind of tainted justice.” For the rule of law to prevail, he added, “we have to do one thing: to finally investigate the investigators,” which would entail the appointment of an “outside” commission of inquiry into the prosecution’s methods, as if the Attorney General, whom Netanyahu himself appointed, were somehow part of a secret conspiracy against him.

Yohanan Plesner, the director of the Israel Democracy Institute, has called for Netanyahu to resign, saying, “The head of government serving in office under the shadow of indictment harms the public’s trust in the country’s institutions and Israel’s character as a Jewish and democratic state.” The danger, though, is that the defenses of a “Jewish” state, for which Netanyahu claims to be indispensable, and those of a “democratic” state, which presume laws promoting individual sovereignty and equality, are not comfortably conjoined in a country where theocratic power and occupation have been increasingly normalized, at least since 1967. And it is especially difficult to see how surviving leaders of Netanyahu’s Likud Party will see democratic norms as paramount when their political positions depend on not seeing them. Netanyahu’s Justice Minister, Amir Ohana, said that he is “completely confident that the test of history” will vindicate Netanyahu’s remaining in office. The Tourism Minister, Yariv Levin—an attorney and a former deputy head of the Israel Bar Association—defended Netanyahu’s claim that the investigations were “tainted.”

Just twenty-four hours before Mandelblit announced the indictments, Benny Gantz, whose Blue and White Party won a plurality in Israel’s September election, informed President Reuven Rivlin that he had failed to form a governing coalition, which would have made him the next Prime Minister. Gantz blamed his failure primarily on Netanyahu’s determination to escape prosecution. Urged on by Avigdor Lieberman—the leader of the secular, right-wing Yisrael Beiteinu (“Israel, Our Home”) party, who holds the balance of power in the Knesset—Gantz had tried to form a “liberal, national-unity coalition” with Likud. This, Lieberman said, would be a center-right government without either religious “messianic” parties or Arab ones (a slight to Arab leaders, who mainly argue for democratic norms, not Arab-nationalist excesses). Gantz seemed ready to accede to Rivlin’s formula that Netanyahu should be Prime Minister first in such a unity government—with the proviso, to be legally guaranteed, that Gantz would become the acting Prime Minister should Netanyahu be indicted and forced to take a “leave of absence” to defend himself in court.

Netanyahu rejected even this formula, insisting that the Haredi and national-Orthodox parties should join him in a coalition—presumably in exchange for securing Netanyahu’s immunity from prosecution—and that Netanyahu should go first as Prime Minister. Neither condition was acceptable to Blue and White. Frustrated, Gantz quietly floated the idea of founding a minority government resting on the support—actually, the agreed parliamentary abstentions—of the Joint List, composed of parties representing Israel’s Arab citizens. Netanyahu declared, “If a minority government like this is formed, they will celebrate in Tehran, Ramallah, and Gaza the way they celebrate after every terror attack. This would be a historic national terror attack on the State of Israel.”

Lieberman, a nationalist bigot, didn’t need Netanyahu’s demagogy to scotch any such government; key members of Gantz’s own party who were once associated with Netanyahu threatened to sink the idea of a government requiring Arab support. These are not simply tactical moves by sly politicians; they testify to an atmosphere in which an embattled Netanyahu seems certain that he would have the backing of the majority to subordinate liberal democratic institutions. He thus seems, in his own way, to join the ranks of Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, in Turkey, and Viktor Orbán, in Hungary. The attacks on Israeli Arabs are telltale.

Gantz’s response to Netanyahu’s “investigate the investigators” speech was immediate. The country is not “undergoing a government coup,” he said, but rather “an entrenchment.” Yet, as a former Army chief of staff who conducted the 2014 war in Gaza under Netanyahu, Gantz could not fully lay out how brazen Netanyahu’s acts of entrenchment have been. On November 8th, while Gantz was trying to reach a political agreement with the Joint List, Netanyahu appointed the ultra-rightist Naftali Bennett as Defense Ministerreportedly admitting to Likud ministers that inviting his younger rival into the transitional cabinet was a political maneuver, meant to keep his bloc of rightist and Orthodox allies from bolting. Then, on November 12th, Israeli air strikes in Gaza killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a commander of Islamic Jihad, which is backed by Iran.

The Ata assassination was predictably followed by escalating exchanges of fire between Islamic Jihad and Israeli forces, along with new exchanges between Israel and Iranian-backed Syrian forces, culminating in Israeli air strikes on dozens of Iranian and Syrian military targets in Syria, which killed as many as twenty Iranians. Michael Oren, the former Israeli Ambassador to Washington, wrote in The Atlantic that, should war break out in Israel’s north, the country could be hit by as many as four thousand missiles a day. No one should doubt the mounting Iranian threat in Syria. But no one should doubt, either, how convenient the timing of the assassination was for Netanyahu. His and Bennett’s decision to kill Ata came just as Gantz was trying to form a government, arguably, a coincidence: Ata was, Netanyahu said, “a ticking bomb.” Inarguably, however, the ticking must have seemed louder to Netanyahu just as Gantz entertained the idea of coöperating with Israeli-Arab political leaders, many of whom have routinely condemned Israeli military actions in Gaza.

Netanyahu’s remaining in office would mean continued concessions from the Trump Administration, which is apparently eager to show itself a faithful ally to pro-Israel forces in America, and is willing to accommodate Netanyahu with escalating shows of devotion to his rightist base. On November 18th, before Gantz gave up trying to form a government, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the State Department will no longer abide by its 1978 legal opinion that Jewish settlements in the West Bank are illegal. “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not, per se, inconsistent with international law,” he said. The United States has always accepted the argument that the settlements violate the Geneva Conventions and are, in any case, an obstacle to peace. Pompeo, increasingly embroiled in Trump’s impeachment hearings, seemed more concerned with handing Netanyahu a vote of confidence, in spite of the Prime Minister’s own legal woes.

There are ways out of this crisis, though it’s hard to see how any of them will be taken unless Israeli democrats can mobilize public opinion, which remains sharply divided. A recent poll revealed that slightly fewer than half of respondents think Netanyahu should resign because of the charges pending against him. That’s more than the proportion opposed to or ambivalent about a resignation. The country’s political divide is, in part, geographic. Anti-Netanyahu forces are concentrated in affluent Tel Aviv and along the Mediterranean coast, and pro-Netanyahu forces are focussed in poorer areas—Jerusalem, the settlements, and peripheral towns—and resent the coastal élites about as much as they revere Netanyahu.

The immediate question is how senior Likud leaders will respond. The former Education Minister Gideon Sa’ar has called for a leadership primary and announced that he would run. But others, still cowed by Netanyahu, or just afraid of alienating the increasingly populist rank and file when a primary eventually does come, have argued against any leadership contest now. There seems little doubt that Netanyahu could win a preëmption of a primary from the party’s thirty-seven-hundred-person Central Committee. Earlier this week, he and Haim Katz, the Central Committee’s chair, said that they will advance a joint proposal to cancel a primary in the event of a third general election.

Reports have circulated that Netanyahu would resign in exchange for a Presidential pardon. But this seems an underestimation of the crisis he has precipitated. No one knows what might happen if Netanyahu remains the head of Likud and wins a new election, and the President, reinforced by the courts, refuses to grant an indicted member of Knesset the mandate to form a government. Nor is it known what might happen if another election produces a deadlock or a Blue and White coalition with the Joint List, and Netanyahu supporters take to the streets. The good news, perhaps, is that Tel Aviv’s business leaders and Israel’s police and security establishment—now identified with Blue and White—will also have their say.

Given the superficial similarities—the nationalist demagogy, the legal investigations, the defiance, the incumbent party’s flocking behavior—the temptation to draw parallels between the democratic tests in Netanyahu’s Israel and Trump’s America may prove irresistible. But America’s democratic institutions are far more numerous, established, and dispersed than Israel’s; America’s constitution is more comprehensive than Israel’s Basic Laws, its secular standards more stipulated, its media more independent, and its enemies much farther away. What can’t happen here, as Sinclair Lewis ironically put it, can, of course, happen anywhere, but it’s more likely to happen where institutional resistance is demonstrably more fragile. As ideals, “Jewish” and “democratic” were always vaguely in tension. Netanyahu’s gambit to stay out of court risks turning these into rallying points for confrontation.