Israel goes to extreme measures to prevent the entry of coronavirus:
On Saturday, members of a group of South Koreans who had visited Israel tested positive for the virus after returning from their trip. In response, the Health Ministry in Israel released a list of places the group had visited and said that anyone who was in close contact should report it and self-quarantine for 14 days. Then, they ordered into quarantine 90 students and teachers who had been next to the group at various tour sites around the country into quarantine.
After the incident, Israel began ordering South Koreans arriving at Ben Gurion Airport to return to South Korea. On Sunday, the Health Ministry warned that Israel could close its borders completely, although they deleted the warning shortly after posting it. On Wednesday, Israelis were advised by the Health Ministry to avoid travel entirely if they didn’t “genuinely have to fly”.
Meanwhile, the virus found another route into the country. On Monday, after outbreaks in Italy, Israel issued a warning against traveling there. On Thursday, the Health Ministry determined that all non-Israeli travelers from Italy would be barred from entry. However, two Israelis traveling home from Israel were found to have the virus, and on Friday, the wife of one of them also tested positive, marking the first time an Israeli caught the virus from inside Israel.
Israel’s biggest problems with the virus may prove to be economic. The Ministry of Finance estimates that the virus could result in a cut of 1% off the anticipated GDP growth for 2020. On Thursday, El Al Airlines announced that they were preparing a plan to fire 1,000 workers, nearly 1/6th of their workforce, due to the coronavirus. The firings are not definite yet but are indicative of the trouble the country’s only large international airline is facing.
Right-wing bloc gaining momentum:
Momentum appears to be favoring the ring-wing and current Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. A series of polls released during the week showed the right-wing bloc pulling ahead, with the right-wing bloc predicted to win around 57 or 58 seats. They would still far short of the 61 seats needed to form a majority if the results hold, but if the trend continues in their direction leading up to Monday’s vote, they may have a chance.
Settlements, Borders, and Peace deals:
The week saw a few developments with settlements in Israel. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu authorized 3,500 homes in the West Bank on Tuesday, and on Thursday Defense Minister Naftali Bennet announced 1,800 new homes. Meanwhile, the European Union called Netanyahu’s plans for construction in East Jerusalem “deeply detrimental”, and the UN Security Council unanimously decided to re-affirm their commitment to a two-state solution.
Conflict with Gaza and with Syria:
On Shabbat, the Feb. 22, an attempted terror attack was thwarted in Jerusalem. A male resident of East Jerusalem tried to stab a police offer and was shot and killed. Then, on Sunday, the IDF shot and killed two Gazans that were planting a bomb along the Gaza-Israel border. On Monday, the IDF struck targets in Gaza, and many roads near Gaza were closed due to the tensions. On Thursday, Defense Minister Naftali Bennet signed an order to seize $4 million of funds that were transferred from Iran to Hamas.
Late Thursday, three Syrian army posts near the border with Israel in the Golan heights were struck, presumably by the Israeli Air Force (Israel’s policy is to never confirm operational details).
Many Israelis rejoiced on Wednesday when the government announced it was lifting a tariff on imported butter, which had been partially blamed for a months-long shortage of butter on grocery store shelves throughout the county. In many cases, families had been unable to find butter for weeks or even months.
Justice Minister Amir Ohana announced on Wednesday that he would endorse all requests from citizens who wished to expunge their criminal records related to cannabis use.
On Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that the Knesset would have one year to pass a law giving same-sex couples access to surrogacy rights.