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Israeli government on the brink • Biden wants back into Iran deal • Queens synagogue is for sale
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Israeli government on the brink • Biden wants back into Iran deal • Queens synagogue is for sale

ELBOW CONNECTION: Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi greets Bahraini Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed R. Alzayani in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020. Bahrain wants to open a direct airlink to Israel soon, said Alzayani.(Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)
ELBOW CONNECTION: Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi greets Bahraini Industry, Commerce and Tourism Minister Zayed R. Alzayani in Jerusalem on December 2, 2020. Bahrain wants to open a direct airlink to Israel soon, said Alzayani.(Shlomi Amsalem/GPO)

Israel may be headed back to its fourth election in two years.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said Tuesday that his Blue and White party will back a bill crafted by the opposition in parliament to dissolve the government, ending an agreement to rotate the premiership with Benjamin Netanyahu.

Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud have been at loggerheads almost since the inception of their power-sharing coalition in May, but ties between the two have hit a nadir in recent weeks as a budget deadline nears, the Times of Israel explains.

Timing: The opposition and Gantz want an election as soon as possible, while Netanyahu is struggling in the polls from widespread dissatisfaction with his government’s handling of the pandemic. Netanyahu wants to delay elections at least until the summer, by which time vaccines should become available to Israelis.

Joe Biden said that the U.S. would rejoin the nuclear deal with Iran if Tehran went back to strict compliance with the agreement, and promised to take steps to curb the influence of the Islamic Republic’s regional proxies.

Biden told Thomas Friedman of The New York Times in an interview published overnight Tuesday that “the best way to achieve getting some stability in the region” is within a nuclear agreement.

“In consultation with our allies and partners, we’re going to engage in negotiations and follow-on agreements to tighten and lengthen Iran’s nuclear constraints, as well as address the missile program,” Biden said, noting that the U.S. always has the option to return to sanctions if necessary.

Related: President Trump has given some of his most hawkish administration officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, “carte blanche to squeeze and punish the Islamic Republic as aggressively as they wish in the coming weeks,” reports The Daily Beast, citing multiple U.S. officials familiar with the matter. “All Trump asks is that they don’t risk ‘start[ing] World War III.'”

U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks, the Democrat from Queens, got a key boost in his bid to succeed outgoing Rep. Eliot Engel (D-Westchester) as chair of the powerful House Foreign Affairs Committee.

Meeks topped Reps. Joaquín Castro (D-Tex.) and Brad Sherman (D-Cal.) in Tuesday evening’s vote by the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, Jewish Insider reports. The full caucus votes on Thursday.

Context: “Meeks and Sherman, who both entered Congress in the late ‘90s, represent the House’s Democratic establishment and have similar voting records on Middle East issues, while Castro, who chairs the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, has the support of the progressive wing of the party,” says Jewish Insider.

Background: Meet the three aspirants here.

Related: The House Democratic committee favored Connecticut’s Rep. Rosa DeLauro to succeed retiring chairwoman Nita M. Lowey of Rockland/Westchester as chair of the the Appropriations Committee.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) scrubbed a retweet containing the phrase “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” after a backlash.

The slogan, adopted by Hamas and others, is widely interpreted as calling for the end of Jewish sovereignty in all of what is now Israel.

Conservatives are hailing recent victories in the fight for “religious liberty,” but liberals say the term is abused to defend decisions that harm the public good.

Andrew Silow-Carroll, the Jewish Week’s editor in chief, writes how the right and left have two very different versions of “religious liberty,” and that journalists should avoid using the term without providing the ideological context.

Related: Two law professors, writing in The New York Times, argue that the Supreme Court was right to block New York’s Covid restrictions on synagogues and churches, saying the restrictions are “both extraordinarily tight and essentially unexplained.”

The Forest Hills Jewish Center, a Conservative synagogue on Queens Blvd., is on the market for $50 million.

The four-story synagogue sits on a 36,000-square-foot lot, zoned for mixed-use development, QNS.com reports. The synagogue did not comment.

In 2018, the synagogue hoped to redevelop the site with a mixed-used building that would include a smaller synagogue better suited to a congregation that has far fewer members than at its peak.

In a recent newsletter, synagogue leaders said they were facing “immense challenges,” including loss of income due to the pandemic.

Beat the pandemic blues by making saj, the crisp, spiced Middle Eastern flatbread that tastes just as good indoors as it does next to an open fire.

Ilena Moses, a teen correspondent for The Jewish Week, learned to enjoy saj on a trip to Israel. She shares her recipe here.

Around the Agencies

The Jewish Funders Network has created the first Israeli donor-advised fund, allowing Israeli philanthropists and overseas funders operating in Israel to set aside money for future charitable giving without having to establish a private foundation.

Called Keshet, the nonprofit was established earlier this year by Jewish Funders Network-Israel, the Institute for Law and Philanthropy at Tel Aviv University, and Committed to Give. The vehicle gives Israelis access to tax benefits and saves overseas funders the expense and “hassle” of operating an office in Israel, JFN explains. Founders hope to boost charitable giving among Israelis, especially entrepreneurs whose startups are going public or are being sold.

The 2021 YIVO-Bard Winter Program on Ashkenazi Civilization, “At the Turning Point,” will be held online this winter, from Jan. 5-22, 2021. The program provides a wide range of courses not typically found outside of the university setting, focusing on Ashkenazi Jewish life and culture throughout its thousand-year history in Eastern Europe and in the diaspora. Registration is open now and ends on Dec. 28.

The Marlene Meyerson JCC Manhattan’s 14th Annual Other Israel Film Festival begins Thursday, with more than 24 feature length and short films available for streaming, followed by live Q&As. The films focus on the region’s underrepresented populations. First up: “One Hundred Percent,” a documentary about the Druze village of Beit Jann trying to find its way in a changing reality.

The Orthodox Union has created a centralized online hub for Chanukah, which begins Dec. 10. The hub will include instructional and family videos, Jewish studies classes, articles and essays.

Streaming Today

Zionist Organization of America presents a Zoom event on Israel’s rights to Judea/Samaria and the dangers of a Palestinian state, featuring Naftali Bennett, Knesset member, chairman of Habayit Hayehudi and Israel’s minister of economy. Moderated by Mark Levenson, ZOA national chairman. Register here. 12:00 pm.

Fentster Gallery presents a group of Canadian and U.S. artists who identify as Black and Jewish in a conversation on art and identity hosted by theatre artist and Rabbi-to-be, Kendell Pinkney (New York). See and hear about the artistic work of Ella Cooper (Toronto), Rebecca S’manga Frank (New York), Sara Yacobi-Harris (Toronto) and Anthony Russell (Massachusetts). Watch the livestream on Facebook or on Fentster’s website. 7:00 pm.

Prizmah presents Lisa Miller, professor of Psychology and Education at Columbia University, Teachers College, on the science of spirituality and spiritual support for youth in times of trauma. Miller is the author of “The Spiritual Child.” The session will feature 45 minutes of learning followed by a facilitated breakout session to think through practical implications for professional and lay leaders from Jewish day schools and yeshivas across North America. Register here. 7:00 pm.

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