Bibi in court; & Iran cleric: People who are get covid vaccine “become gay”

February 08, 2021

Above: Children in Chicago engaging in remote learning during a polio outbreak in 1937. Teachers read lessons out over the radio. By 1937, over 80 percent of American households owned at least one radio. A recent UNICEF survey found that 94% of countries have implemented some form of remote learning since COVID-19 closed schools last spring.

 

BIBI PLEADS NOT GUILTY

[Note by Tom Gross]

I attach three articles from today – from the New York Times, Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post.

The first is a news report on how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke in court today for the first time since his corruption trial began last May. (It is only the second time that he has attended in person.) This is a long awaited moment for those Israelis who dislike Netanyahu. However, many regard the trial as essentially a show trial, where allegations have been concocted or greatly exaggerated against Netanyahu by his political and societal opponents because they have repeatedly failed to oust him at the ballot box so they are trying to find other methods to drive him from office. Netanyahu pleaded not guilty.

(Netanyahu has been busy today: among other things, he met Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Jerusalem today -- Israel and Greece signed various important agreements; and Netanyahu also held talks by phone with Russian President Putin about the increasing Iranian threat in Syria.)

The second article is long, but I think it is worth reading. Although it is about Israel, presumably these dire warnings about Covid and Covid-related problems continuing even after societies have been largely vaccinated, apply to many countries

In the third article, an Iranian regime cleric in the holy city of Qom who has hundreds of thousands of followers on social media, has told people that if they get vaccinated against Covid they will “become homosexuals”. Iran’s Islamic regime has executed thousands of gays and lesbians since it seized power in 1979.

 

ARTICLES

NETANYAHU ENTERS PLEA OF NOT GUILTY IN CORRUPTION TRIAL

Netanyahu Enters Plea of Not Guilty in Corruption Trial
By Patrick Kingsley
The New York Times
Monday Feb. 8, 2021

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/08/world/middleeast/netanyahu-trial-plea.html

JERUSALEM — Few world leaders have ever stood trial while in office, let alone while running for re-election in the middle of a pandemic.

Yet on Monday morning — with a general election just weeks away, and a fraught decision about reopening the education system due soon — Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel was forced to shift his attention away from matters of state and attend instead the resumption of his trial on corruption charges.

The hearing was largely administrative and Mr. Netanyahu spoke only briefly to plead his innocence.

“I confirm the response that was filed in my name,” the prime minister said, referring to a written plea that his lawyers entered several weeks ago.

Mr. Netanyahu spent less than half an hour inside the courtroom before leaving his lawyers to argue with the three judges about procedural matters. But that was the first time that Mr. Netanyahu has spoken in the court itself since the trial started last May, and only the second time that he has attended in person.

And the simple spectacle of a sitting prime minister in the dock has sparked a debate about the health of Israel’s democracy and judicial system.

For some, the fact that an Israeli prime minister can be brought to trial in an Israeli court is strong evidence of judicial independence and equality before the law. But others fear that the discourse that has surrounded the trial — which Mr. Netanyahu has himself portrayed as a plot by unelected bureaucrats to undermine the will of the people — has undermined public trust in the judicial system.

On Monday, the chief prosecutor in the case, Liat Ben-Ari, arrived in court accompanied by a security detail, following threats to her safety.

Mr. Netanyahu faces multiple charges. In one case, he is accused of granting political favors to two businessmen, in exchange for gifts worth roughly $200,000, including cigars and Champagne. In other cases, he is alleged to have sought favorable media coverage from major news outlets, in exchange for regulatory changes that benefited their owners.

If convicted, Mr. Netanyahu could face several years in prison, but a verdict is not expected for several months, if not years. The trial has already been delayed several times by coronavirus restrictions, though the process may accelerate in the coming weeks as the court begins to hear from prosecution witnesses.

In the short term, many analysts believe the trial may not have a large impact on the outcome of the election on March 23. Most voters formed their opinions long ago, since the trial and the investigation that led to it have dragged on for years, said Dahlia Scheindlin, an Israeli political analyst and pollster.

“Could the opening of the trial really change anybody’s mind?” Ms. Scheindlin said. “So far I don’t really see it.”

“None of this is new — people have had years to factor this in,” she added.

To his critics, the simple fact that Mr. Netanyahu opted against resigning from office, despite being distracted by complicated criminal proceedings, was already evidence of a dangerous selfishness.

Many government failings throughout the pandemic were “all because of the trial,” the Black Flags, an opposition movement that has led protests against Mr. Netanyahu, tweeted on Monday morning. “His personal survival is more important to him than the survival of the state.”

But to Mr. Netanyahu’s supporters, the trial is in itself proof of a deep conspiracy against him, and little that occurs during the hearings will change their mind.

“Today marks another stage in the attempted political assassination known as the Netanyahu cases,” wrote Osnat Mark, a lawmaker from Mr. Netanyahu’s party. “With incredible timing, the prosecution seeks to expedite the hearing of prosecution witnesses near the election as a political battering tool. The public did not buy it at the hearing nor at the filing of the indictments near the election and will not buy it now either.”

 

EXPERTS SAY COVID VACCINE WILL NOT BRING ISRAEL BACK TO NORMAL ANYTIME SOON. SO, WHAT’S NEXT?

Experts Say COVID Vaccine Will Not Bring Israel Back to Normal Anytime Soon. So, What’s Next?

Vaccines can achieve herd immunity and a gradual waning of the disease, but in the case of the coronavirus, vaccination won’t be able to immediately stop the virus

By Ronny Linder
Haaretz
Monday Feb 8, 2021

https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium.MAGAZINE-living-with-a-lingering-coronavirus-what-s-the-outlook-for-israel-s-economy-1.9519900

A man plays cello in front of a shuttered store in Jerusalem, in December 2020.
More than a year into the global coronavirus crisis, people are wondering just what it will take to bring back the life we once knew. The usual answer is a vaccine. Scientists did, in fact, develop them in the space of a few months, and Israel has the highest rate of inoculation in the world. But we now know that vaccination alone won’t end the pandemic anytime soon.

Vaccines can achieve herd immunity and a gradual waning of the disease, but in the case of the coronavirus, vaccination won’t be able to immediately stop the virus. The main reason is that children under age 16, who account for 30 percent of Israel’s population, cannot be vaccinated. There are also quite a few people that refuse the shot and even those who do may still contract COVID (since the vaccine does not provide 100% protection). In addition, evidence shows that people who have had COVID-19 can get it again. In Israel, 637 people have been infected twice after three months or more, the Health Ministry says.

All these, together with the British and other variants of coronavirus that are more contagious and perhaps more deadly, tell us that the coronavirus isn’t going away in the near future. The rate of contagion, the number of cases and the number of patients hospitalized, will continue to depend on measures, like social distancing, to contain it.

The scenarios seeing a complete lifting of restrictions on the economy look impossible in Israel so long as there are millions of people not inoculated. To do that would spell mass death and overloaded hospitals. It’s hard to imagine a government in Israel making a decision like that – and, well, it shouldn’t.

Over the next several months and even beyond, Israel will have to adapt to life with COVID and the limitations it puts on economic and social activity. That doesn’t mean that the virus will continue to win.

“The pandemics of the past haven’t gone on for years at high levels of mortality and contagion,” said Prof. Doron Gazit of the Hebrew University. “The Spanish flu, for example, was the worst pandemic and killed tens of millions of people, but it disappeared completely after two years. The same is true of the bubonic plague that broke out several times over 25 years until it disappeared.

“We may need to be vaccinated every year, but that doesn’t mean that we won’t be able to resume normal life. We may be able to target the vaccine for the right groups after we learn more about the disease.”

After a year in which Israel made nearly all the policy mistakes possible (as well as a few good decisions), we can at least hope that the lessons for the future have been learned. “After the SARS epidemic in the Far East, they were much better prepared there for the next pandemic, and we saw this in practice with the coronavirus,” said Gazit. “We should assume that after COVID, Israel and the world have a better understanding and will be a lot better prepared to deal with pandemics, too.”

How will the Israeli economy cope with a lingering coronavirus? Here is the outlook for the next few months and beyond.

SHOPS AND RESTAURANTS

Once every few days the Israel Commerce Forum, which was formed in 2020 to represent retail chains and shopping malls, announces what collective measures its members plan to take next. Usually it is a threat to reopen in violation of the rules or a plea for a return to normalcy, amid dire warnings over the impact of continued closure.

According to an executive at one of the big apparel chains, none of the retailers have any actual medium- or long-term plans for coping with the pandemic. “No one has time to think about what will happen next. There’s a lot of uncertainty, so it’s hard to make decisions,” said the manager, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “Only in the last few days have we begun to internalize the fact that the coronavirus isn’t going anywhere.”

Under the circumstances, it’s hard to blame them. But the fact is that, even before the pandemic, they were failing to respond to sweeping changes taking place in the retail sector. With a few exceptions, such as Fox Group, Azrieli Group, Golf’s Adika arm and Shufersal, Israeli retailers have failed to recognize and react to the move to online shopping and were losing out to overseas rivals. Now, they are refusing to recognize that after COVID, they will face a different Israeli consumer, one that is more discerning, who expects better prices, products and service.

The big chains will have to seriously weigh reducing the number of stores they have and how much floorspace each occupies. They will have to invest most of their resources into improving online service and “click and collect” operations. They will have to upgrade their brand images and the shipping experience.

In the case of supermarkets and pharmacies, the challenge is simpler because demand for their products is relatively inelastic (although it won’t be at the same levels we saw in 2020). Nevertheless, they will have to improve their online offerings and the placement of brick-and-mortar stores.

Restaurants at least are preparing for an extended period of coronavirus restrictions. They are adjusting menus to make them more takeout-friendly (for instance, more Asian food, hamburger and pizza) and reconfiguring their sites to be based on takeout counters in place of seating. In many, waiters are being replaced by a smaller number of delivery people.

THE LABOR MARKET

Acting on the instructions of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, the treasury had adopted the so-called “accordion strategy” of opening and closing the economy in response to rises and falls in contagion rates and other parameters. This assumed that the jobless rate would rise when the accordion was compressed but fall again when it expands, leading to a drop in the jobless rate.

That hasn’t quite worked. For example, exiting from the second lockdown at the start of December, when economic activity was almost back to normal, the broad unemployment rate remained a high 12.7%. Even if it was less than it had been at the height of the previous two lockdowns, the third lockdown at the start of January caused joblessness to soar to 16.7%.

To bring the rate back down to what it was prior to the pandemic, about 3.5% to 4%, the government will have to sponsor massive retraining that includes paying trainees unemployment benefits. The state will cover the cost and most of the programs will be conducted in-house by employers, with courses tied to the needs of the economy. In addition, the government will have to encourage academic and short-term professional study that is geared toward the future needs of the economy, including robotics, cybersecurity and data mining.

Even though the coronavirus broke out nearly a year ago and extended jobless benefits run out in June, the treasury’s budget division is still grappling with a great deal of uncertainty over what the post-pandemic labor market will look like. The full employment that Israel enjoyed before COVID won’t be coming back very soon.

Many workers, especially those in low-paying service and sales jobs, will struggle to find work because of changing work patterns. Much work will move online and will require fewer staff. For that reason, the treasury is dedicating 13 billion shekels ($400 million) to enable workers like these to move into higher-productivity, technology-oriented jobs. For others, the state is offering grants of thousands of shekels each for employers to take back low-wage employees.

Beyond professional retraining and targeted incentives, however, the Finance Ministry refuses to talk about a wider-ranging job-market program. As officials see it, the level of uncertainty makes more ambitious planning impossible; that will have to wait till the accordion opens in June.

Labor market experts believe that remote work will remain widespread for the foreseeable future. Assuming that we have to continue living with COVID, or perhaps other pandemics, the labor market will become more flexible. Employers and employees will follow a hybrid model of working part-time in the office that will enable all workers to work at home when the need arises. Employers will have to invest in technology and equipment to make that happen efficiently and securely.

Social distancing and work-at-home has made the office market one of the main casualties of the coronavirus pandemic. The property companies that own and operate office space saw their share prices collapse amid predictions that the office was going the way of the dinosaur.

But as it turned out, work patterns are evolving to a flexible model of home and office work. Companies are now talking about reducing the amount of floorspace they rent, but not abandoning their offices altogether, In response, shares of property companies have been climbing and in many cases are trading at their pre-COVID levels. The most dire predictions aren’t likely to play out.

Still, demand for office space is expected to decline and planners are thinking about how to adapt.

In the Budget Arrangements Law that never passed the Knesset, the Finance Ministry had sought to give local authorities permission to convert up to half of all office buildings in their jurisdictions to apartments or public uses. But the law may never be approved, or at least be implemented, because local authorities are loathe to give up on the municipal taxes that offices pay, which is a much higher rate than residential buildings.

AIR TRAVEL

The number of people flying globally dropped by two thirds last year, according to the International Air Transport Association. That is actually better than expected because passenger flights came to an almost complete halt. But the fact is that in many places they continued and the summer months even saw a small revival.

That doesn’t mean that the global aviation industry has suffered anything less than a disaster. Close to 45 airlines have gone under during the coronavirus (and the number would have been higher, if governments hadn’t bailed out so many of them). Then, in December, air travel suffered another blow with the onset of the more contagious British strain. The IATA says this year will be no less challenging for the industry.

Last Wednesday, American Airlines said it was putting 13,000 employees on furlough because the aid program the airlines had gotten from the U.S. government will end in March. On Friday, its rival, United, sent furlough letters to 14,000 staff. U.S. airlines have received $15 billion in aid on condition they would bring employees back from unpaid leave by next month. Unions are now asking for another $15 billion in aid to last the aviation industry until September.

Many airlines are telling travellers that they expect to return to something like a full schedule this spring or summer; others, such as Lufthansa, are aiming for October. Others are planning on a gradual return to a full schedule of international flights.

But all these plans assume that the pandemic will have faded and that the airlines can survive until then. If 2021 sees a repeat of what happened in 2020, and COVID revives, the airlines have no Plan B. In any case, long-haul flights are unlikely to resume ordinary service until 2023 or 2024, according to Singapore’s Alton Aviation Consultancy. The IATA now says that in the worst case scenario growth in passenger loads will be just 13% a year, down from 50% it predicted in December.

GOVERNMENT AID

The expansionary fiscal policies of the Israeli government have so far been characterized by massive infusions of cash going to the public. The coronavirus budgets for 2020 and 2021 will reach 137.1 billion shekels, an amount never spent by any government in Israel’s history and has left the government with an unprecedented budget deficit of 160 billion just for 2020.

However, a small item hidden inside the Law for Expanding Grants to Business, which was approved at the end of December, reveals that the government still understands the concept of fiscal restraint: Unlike previous aid programs, this one cuts by half the money to be allocated to businesses in May and June in order to cover the costs of a grant paid at the end of 2020.

The decision was made before the government fell.

Since then Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yisrael Katz have changed course and have been engaged in election economics. At a cost of 15 billion shekels, they want to give grants to all Israelis in the seventh income decile and below.

The fiscal warning lights are starting to flash. Today, government aid programs are due to expire in June, but it’s clear to everyone that the Israeli economy won’t have recovered by then from the coronavirus crisis.

The Bank of Israel and the International Monetary Fund, among others, have warned that without government support, many businesses that have been kept on life support until now will go bankrupt and leave behind mountains of debt. Any of those that survive will adopt new business models that require fewer workers. The result is likely to be an unemployment rate far higher than before COVID. Many employers and former employees will need government assistance.

This scenario, which assumes continued high rates of contagion and restrictions on economic activity, is contained in the Bank of Israel’s latest Financial Stability report issued last week. The bank warned that in its most catastrophic scenario public debt could climb to 90% of gross domestic product, a level that would lead financial markets to have doubts about Israel’s ability to repay debt. If so, the fiscal ventilator the economy has relied on to keep it alive may not be able to operate much longer.

 

IN A CHANGE TO THE USUAL CHANT OF “DEATH TO ISRAEL”…

Iran cleric: People who are vaccinated for COVID have ‘become homosexuals
By Benjamin Weinthal
Jerusalem Post
Monday, Feb 8, 2021

https://jpost.com/middle-east/iran-news/iran-cleric-people-who-are-vaccinated-for-covid-have-become-homosexuals-658173

An Iranian regime cleric in the holy city of Qom has issued a homophobic rant against people vaccinated for COVID-19, claiming that they become gay after receiving the vaccine.

Ayatollah Abbas Tabrizian wrote on his Telegram social media platform: “Don’t go near those who have had the COVID vaccine. They have become homosexuals.”

The radical Islamist has nearly 210,000 followers on his Telegram account.

Tabrizian has a history of anti-Western medicine views. Last year, a video showed him burning Harrison’s Manual of Medicine, in which he argued that “Islamic medicine” has made such books “irrelevant,” according to an article on the US government Radio Farda website.

Sheina Vojoudi, an Iranian dissident who fled the Islamic Republic of Iran due to repression, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday that “Like other clerics in the regime, also

Tabrizian relates all the shortages to sexuality. The clerics in Iran are suffering from lack of knowledge and humanity. Actually, his goal of spreading nonsense is to try to scare people [out] of getting vaccinated while the leader of the regime and other officials got Pfizer and they don’t provide it for the people with the excuse that they don’t trust the West.”

Peter Tatchell, the LGBTQ+ and human rights campaigner, told the Post that “Ayatollah Tabrizian combines scientific ignorance with a crude appeal to homophobia. He’s demonising both the vaccination programme and LGBT+ people, without a shred of evidence. By seeking to scare the public into not getting vaccinated against Covid-19 he is fueling the pandemic and putting lives at risk. Typical of many Iranian religious and political leaders, his bizarre, irrational claims scapegoat LGBTs and put theological prejudice before scientific knowledge.”

Iran’s regime has executed 4,000-6,000 gays and lesbians since its 1979 Islamic revolution, according to a 2008 British WikiLeaks cable.

The foreign minister of the Islamic Republic, Mohammed Javid Zarif, justified his regime’s executions of gays in 2019. When questioned why Iran’s regime executes homosexuals, Zarif said, “Our society has moral principles, and according to these principles we live,” adding, “These are moral principles regarding the behavior of people in general. And that’s because the law is upheld and you abide by laws.”

In 2019, the Post reported that Iran’s rulers publicly hanged a 31-year-old after being found guilty of violating the country’s anti-gay laws.

 

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