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Media Summary

Tainted homemade alcohol hospitalises 51 and kills 8 people in Iran

BBC News reports that eight people have died and another 51 people were hospitalised after drinking homemade alcohol in Iran. According to a local health official in Bandar Abbas, 17 people were in critical condition with another 30 undergoing dialysis. The police have arrested eight people on charges of producing and distributing the alcohol. The production, sale and consumption of alcohol is forbidden in Iran.

BBC News reports that Egyptian-based The Mersal Foundation, which assists Egyptians who are unable to pay for medical expenses, has raised £800,000 in one day. The charity’s fundraising campaign went viral after a woman anonymously donated her Vodafone credit worth 10 Egyptian pounds (£0.43) and Vodaphone subsequently promised to match donations.

The Independent reports that a British-Egyptian citizen who has been jailed in Egypt for more than three years has entered the second month of his hunger strike. He began his hunger strike after his demands for a consular visit were refused. As his health has deteriorated, Alaa Abdel Fattah said goodbye to his family during a recent prison visit as he was banned from sending letters. He was convicted of spreading false news after he shared social media posts critical of prison conditions in the country.

The Guardian and The Times report on the growing diplomatic row between Israel and Russia. Russia has accused Israel of supporting the ‘neo-Nazi regime’ in Ukraine. This comes after Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Adolf Hitler “had Jewish blood … most rabid antisemites tend to be Jews”. Israeli Foreign Minister Yair Lapid responded by summoning the Russian Ambassador to Israel and called Lavrov’s comments “unforgivable and outrageous … as well as a terrible historical error”.

In the Israeli media, Israel Hayom reports that the government has decided not to react to the statement that was posted online by the Russian Foreign Ministry, which accused Israel of supporting “the neo-Nazi regime in Kyiv”. Israel hopes that by not reacting it will be able to bring to a close the current sparring with Moscow. However, Israel is not convinced that the online Russian statement is the end of the current round. The Israeli ambassador may still be summoned to be reprimanded and the Russians may also choose to take further diplomatic action. Most importantly, Israel does not want to reach a situation in which Russia takes action that is palpably damaging to Israeli interests in Syria. Haaretz runs an interview with President Isaac Herzog, who criticised Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov for claiming that some of the greatest antisemites in history were Jewish, including Hitler. Herzog said: “At first, I couldn’t believe that they had been uttered by a Russian foreign minister. They made me angry and disgusted. During a week when we are remembering the Holocaust, of all weeks, the Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov chooses to spread lies, terrible lies, which smell of antisemitism. I expect him to retract his words and apologise.”

Writing in Ynet, Nadav Eyal tries to explain the rationale for Russia’s statements. “Branding Ukrainian as Nazis is Moscow’s attempt to bend reality to its needs. In the Russian universe, there is no such thing as a Ukrainian nation and its current manifestation is nothing but an affront against Russia. By enlisting the Russian obsession with the Nazis to the war effort in Ukraine, the seeds of the Russian-Israeli rift were sown. Israel’s efforts to stay somewhat neutral since the Russian invasion of Ukraine because of concerns for the Jewish community in Russia, and of course because of the need to continue to attack Iranian targets in Syria, have failed.” Eyal concludes that we must see whether the rift will remain in the diplomatic realm or extend to international relations arena, impacting Israel’s freedom to act in Syria.

The Jerusalem Post writes this morning that Israel is leaning toward expanding its aid to Ukraine, including sending military assistance to the embattled country. Israeli officials have said Jerusalem can send “plenty of items” to Kyiv that are more defensive, but air-defence systems, advanced weaponry and attack systems would not be sent. The increase in aid would be a “substantial step” compared with what Israel has already provided and would be more symbolic and “not include substantial quantities of supplies” because of the aid already provided by the US and European countries, the report said. A meeting by defence officials is planned for the coming days to discuss what platforms or supplies can be provided to Ukraine.

Yediot Ahronot reports that US officials have arrived in Israel to plan President Joe Biden’s expected visit to the region in the coming months. The president’s visit will probably be merged with his trip to Europe for the G7 summit in Germany, set to take place on June 26 to 28. The president’s stay in Israel will likely last between a day and a half to two days. Biden is expected to attend an official dinner in the President’s Residence and meet with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett. He is also likely to pay a visit to Yad Vashem and the Western Wall. An additional American team is set to arrive in Israel within the coming days, in order to finalise details ahead of the visit. The Americans are also examining options of coordinating a regional meeting to be attended by Bennett and other Middle Eastern leaders, but that is still undecided.

Maariv reports that ministers will attend Memorial Day ceremonies today despite coming under pressure from bereaved families to not attend. Earlier this week, several bereaved families published a paid advertisement expressing fury at the current government and calling on cabinet ministers not to attend the ceremonies. One signatory, Boaz Kukia, father of Ron Kukia who fell in 2017, spoke about their activity in an interview on 103FM. “We are continuing the fight; we absolutely do not want an embrace from this government, whose members support terrorism. We don’t want their embrace and don’t want them to come to our events.” Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked responded to the criticism, saying: “Bereaved families are first and foremost holy. Their criticisms must be heard and received with love. There are many bereaved families; I am in touch with families that I know personally and ones I have met through work, through my military service and via my husband. On the evening of Memorial Day I will be with the Etkes family, which lost two sons. I will be with them and I will embrace them. Bereaved families have the right to express their feelings and whatever they want.”

Haaretz notes that a new study by the Institute for Jewish Policy Research shows that one out of every seven Jews in the world today is ultra-Orthodox and that if demographic trends continue, one out of every four Jews in the world will be ultra-Orthodox by 2040. The study estimated the number of ultra-Orthodox Jews in the world today at 2.1 million – 14 per cent of the total world Jewish population. This represents the first ever attempt to calculate the global size of this specific community. The survey found that more than 90 per cent of ultra-Orthodox Jews live in either Israel or the US and that as much as 80 per cent of the growth in the world Jewish population in recent years can be attributed to this community.