Media Summary

France condemns Israeli settlement construction plans

BBC News, The Guardian, The Times and The Financial Times report on US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s claim that Iran has allowed al-Qaeda to establish a base in the country. Pompeo told reporters yesterday: “Unlike in Afghanistan, when al-Qaeda was hiding in the mountains, al-Qaeda today is operating under the hard shell of the Iranian regime’s protection.” Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif rebuffed the claims, writing on twitter: “From designating Cuba to fictitious Iran ‘declassifications’ and AQ claims, Mr. ‘we lie, cheat, steal’ is pathetically ending his disastrous career with more warmongering lies. No one is fooled. All 9/11 terrorists came from @SecPompeo’s favourite ME destinations; NONE from Iran.” Pompeo also confirmed long standing reports that senior al-Qaeda member Abu Mohammed al-Mari was assassinated in Tehran last summer.

BBC News and The Guardian report that an Egyptian court has overturned the prison sentences of two women convicted of posting videos that “breached public morals” on the popular social media platform TikTok. While the women were acquitted of charges, they are still required to pay fines nearing £15,300.

Sumaya Bakhsh writes for BBC News about the 27-year-old man name Hamad who set himself on fire in Kuwait last December. The act sent shockwaves across the country because Kuwait “seems an unlikely setting for the kind of desperate circumstances that would push someone to carry out such an extreme act. But Hamad is a member of Kuwait’s stateless Bidun. Bidun is Arabic for ‘without’ – without nationality, which for members of the community means facing restricted access to wider society; without status, meaning tougher paths to education, medical care and employment. And – tragically for Hamad and his family – without hope.”

BBC News reports that Tunisia has ordered a four-day nationwide lockdown to stem the growing spread of COVID-19 across the country. The government has avoided imposing a national lockdown up to now, but the country is facing an increasing infection rate with 300 confirmed daily cases. Since the start of the pandemic the country has seen 160,000 confirmed cases and more than 5,000 deaths.

The Telegraph reports that Oman has appointed its first crown prince as part of the country’s new reforms of its succession laws. Thirty-year-old Dhi Yazan will succeed Sultan Haitham bin Tariq al-Said. Yazan is a graduate of Oxford University and previously served as minister for sport, culture, and youth, and held a positing at the country’s embassy in London. The reforms were announced this week, a year after the death of Sultan Qaboos, who fathered no children and designated no successor.

The Telegraph reports on the different approaches the UK and Israel have taken in their vaccination programmes. The paper notes that in the UK “thousands of pensioners have received bewildering letters from the NHS, asking them to drive for up to 45 minutes to receive a coronavirus vaccine. The letters are often delayed, do not arrive at all, or may even land on the doorstep of someone who has passed away. But 3,000 miles away in Israel, a radically different approach has led to 20 per cent of the population receiving the jab – and without healthcare workers needing to lick a single envelope. The paperless system uses a text messaging service, mobile phone app and a cohort of multilingual health workers to badger patients into booking a vaccine appointment as soon as possible.”

Reuters reports that France has condemned Israel’s plans to advance the construction of 800 homes in the West Bank. In a statement, the French Foreign Ministry called “on the parties to avoid any unilateral measures that could jeopardise the two-state solution founded on international law and agreed parameters.”

The Telegraph reports on the sentencing of a Turkish evangelical sex cult leader. Adnan Oktar was handed a one thousand year prison term by a Turkish court for crimes including sexual assault, sexual abuse of children, fraud and espionage. Oktar promoted creationism and was known for “surrounding himself with scantily dressed women whom he called his ‘kittens’.”

The Independent reports that despite a UN embargo, the UN World Food Programme (WFP) delivered aid to Benghazi on a US-sanctioned Syrian airline. Experts claim that the same plane was used to transport fighters and weapons into Libya. The WFP delivered 16 tonnes of emergency medicine and medical supply from the UAE to Benghazi as part of the UN’s emergency response initiative.

The Guardian reports that the UK spent “£2.4m over the last four years to help Saudi Arabia’s military comply with international humanitarian law – during which time the Gulf state has been accused of indiscriminately bombing and killing Yemeni civilians… the campaign group which helped uncover the figures said the revelation embroiled the UK in ‘the world’s worst humanitarian crisis’ where thousands of civilians have been killed since the civil war in Yemen began in March 2015, largely from indiscriminate bombing by a Saudi-led coalition, supplied by western arms makers.”

The Times reports on Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan’s efforts to improve relations with the European Union in light of the country’s economic struggles. Erdogan has reportedly offered to commence talks with Greece over tensions in the Mediterranean Sea. The paper notes: “The sharp shift in Mr Erdogan’s normally acerbic strongman’s rhetoric came after the EU threatened to impose sanctions over Ankara’s Mediterranean expeditions, which have dragged in various states including France, which sent warships to the sea for military exercises with the Greek navy, and led to an accidental collision between Greek and Turkish frigates in August.”

Reuters reports that Egypt is the latest country to open its airspace to Qatar. This comes after Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt ended their boycott of Qatar. Egypt’s national carrier is due to resume flights to Qatar beginning on 18 January while Qatar Airways plans to restart flights to Cairo on Friday.

All the Israeli media cover the death of Sheldon Adelson. Yediot Ahronot quotes US President Donald Trump, “Sheldon lived the true American dream. His ingenuity, genius, and creativity earned him immense wealth, but his character and philanthropic generosity his great name. Sheldon was true to his family, his country, and all those that knew him. The world has lost a great man. He will be missed.” Israel Hayom, the paper owned by Adelson, includes a range of high-profile obituaries, including from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who wrote, “It is difficult to describe what Sheldon did for the Jewish people and for Israel. Sheldon was one of the biggest donors in the history of the Jewish people. He gave to Zionism, to the settlements, and to the state of Israel. He made enormous financial contributions to many institutions – to medical and scientific research, to higher education.” Haaretz questions whether “the passing of the casino mogul, political megadonor and major force in the world of Jewish philanthropy marks the end of the Adelson era altogether or merely signals the beginning of a new chapter.” The paper notes the role of his widow, Dr. Miriam Adelson, “when it came to giving away their fortune to political and philanthropic causes, the Adelsons absolutely worked as a team, with Miriam actively involved – and, in some cases, the person driving their decisions.” Adelson would have been called as a witness in Netanyahu’s trial, connected to allegations of media manipulation in Case 2000. Kan Radio News notes legal experts said the decision not to take pre-trial testimony from Sheldon Adelson despite his failing health, which the State Attorney’s Office knew about, was a mistake. The State Attorney’s Office said they paid ongoing attention to the matter and that they knew about Adelson’s failing health, but they decided not to summon him to give pre-trial testimony.

Yediot Ahronot reveals a new study that was conducted by one if Israel’s heath care providers, Clalit, to gauge the efficacy of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine. Thanks to the large number of people it has vaccinated, they were able to compare two groups of 200,000 people to evaluate the vaccine’s efficacy in lowering the infection rate. According to the report, the study found that the initial dose produces a clear drop in the infection rate as of the 13th day after it has been administered. Moving forward, Clalit intends to be able to share data about the vaccine’s efficacy after the second dose has been administered. “These are only initial results, but they are very encouraging,” said Prof. Ran Balicer, but cautioned “it is important also to remember that these results do not point to full protection against becoming infected, not even 17 days after receiving the vaccine.” This morning the Health Ministry said that 9,025 new coronavirus cases were confirmed yesterday. This is the second straight day that daily cases surpassed 9,000, after 127,768 tests were conducted – the positivity rate stood on 7.2 per cent. There are currently 1,042 people in serious condition being treated in hospitals with 262 of them on ventilators. Kan News reports that the Health Ministry is expected to demand that the lockdown be extended by at least a week because of the high infection rate. Ministry officials are particularly worried about the spike in infection rates amongst preadolescent children and teenagers. Over the past two weeks the rate of children who tested positive for the virus rose by 30 per cent.

Kan Radio News reports on an attempted stabbing attack that was foiled at the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron. A 22-year-old Palestinian resident of the city tried to stab soldiers at a checkpoint on the site. No injuries were reported. Soldiers fired at the man’s torso, causing moderate injuries. He was brought to hospital for treatment.

This morning Channel 12 News reported that several dozen demonstrators are protesting outside the Prime Minister’s Residence in Jerusalem against the delay in the Netanyahu trial on account of the lockdown. Netanyahu was originally scheduled to appear in court today. Holding up burning torches, the demonstrators arrived on the scene at 5:45 this morning and began to shout: “Coward, go to your trial!” Seven demonstrators were arrested during clashes with the police on the scene. The demonstrators came with burning torches and lit a bonfire outside the Prime Minister’s Residence. They held up placards that read: “The defendant shall rise,” and “Coward, Stand Trial!” The demonstrator also recited sections from the indictment.

In the latest poll, Channel 12 News projected the Likud would retain its lead with 29 Knesset seats, followed by New Hope 16, Yamina 13, Yesh Atid 13, Joint List 10, Shas 8, United Torah Judaism 8, Israel Beiteinu 7, the Israelis 6, Meretz 5, and Blue and White 5. The report notes that several of the smaller parties fail to cross the electoral threshold: Labour, Gesher, Jewish Home, Jewish Power, Moshe Yaalon’s Telem Party, National Union led by Bezalel Smotrich, Momentum led by Ofer Shelach, and the new Economic party led by Yaron Zelekha. This highlights the need for mergers ahead of the February 4 deadline by which all slates must register with the Central Election Committee. Commenting on the poll Israel Hayom notes, “the Likud-led right and centre-Left blocs could again have equal chances of forming a coalition, thus increasing the risk yet another election would have to be called.” Maariv reports that none of the leaders of the parties in the centre-left bloc who were invited to meet last night with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to discuss possible mergers accepted the invitation. However, the paper suggests mergers were nevertheless likely to be arranged shortly before the deadline. Channel 13 News reports that Labour Party leader Amir Peretz announced this morning he will retire from politics and will not run for Knesset in the upcoming elections. Peretz, a former defence minister, has served continuously in the Knesset since 1999, after having served as an MK in 1988 as well.

Haaretz covers a dispute between the Jewish Agency and the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs. It follows a ministry initiative to explore the possibility of using Jewish Agency volunteers to distribute COVID-19 vaccines to Holocaust survivors around the world. The idea was the initiative of Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevich who discussed it yesterday in an interview in Israel Hayom. The move caught the Jewish Agency by surprise and it responded with a source telling the newspaper that “interfering with equitable vaccine distribution in other countries by funnelling them only to Jewish Holocaust survivors would be unfeasible, illegal, immoral, diplomatically disastrous and an absolute impossibility.”