COVID-19 test machines bought from Chinese firm don’t work in Israel – report

Coronavirus testing machines acquired by Israel in a NIS 90 million ($25 million) deal with a Chinese firm are unusable in the country for technical reasons and will be returned to China, a report said Saturday evening.

The development means Israel won’t be able to significantly ramp up testing immediately to prevent a new large-scale outbreak.

The Foreign Ministry said in April that it had signed a deal with Chinese company BGI that would see the firm send lab equipment to Israel that would allow for conducting some 12,000 tests per day.

Eventually, the BGI equipment was expected to expand the scope to perform as many as 20,000 tests per day, the ministry said at the time.

However, the Kan public broadcaster cited officials in all of the country’s health maintenance organizations (HMOs) as saying the machines were not being used since they are technically ill-adapted for use in Israel.

“The machine’s technology is more manual, it is more suited for use in China, not for Israel,” the report said, without elaborating.

The immediate effect is that as infections see a renewed spike in Israel, the country will likely not be able to significantly increase testing rates to 20,000-30,000, as it had promised.

At the peak of the infection, Israel tested some 13,000-14,000 people per day for the coronavirus, although that number has lately dropped to around 5,000 per day as fewer people have experienced symptoms.

However, with hundreds of new cases have been discovered in the last few days in schools, Israel’s effort to prevent an fresh outbreak via massive testing is likely to be hindered by the news about the Chinese machines.

The tests originally purchased were PCR tests — polymerase chain reaction tests — which directly detect viral nucleic acids. Some tests detect the body’s antibodies to the virus.

BGI’s tests have been used widely in China, and are being distributed to over 50 other countries and regions, the firm said. Results from the tests are available three hours after they are administered.

According to a Channel 12 report in April, Israel’s largest health maintenance organization, Clalit, had refused to work with the firm over concerns BGI and the Chinese government could gain access to sensitive information on its 4.9 million customers, including on their DNA.

Kan said that negotiations were underway for BGI to send different machines, adding that some of them had already arrived in Israel and were being tested.

Despite a sharp increase in recent days in coronavirus infection rates focused on education institutions, ministers decided against a sweeping closure of schools during a Saturday night meeting.

Israel had 1,917 active cases as of Saturday night, with a majority under medical care at home and just 116 in hospitals. Of those cases, 36 were in serious condition with 34 requiring mechanical ventilation. In Israel, 284 people have died of the virus since the outbreak reached the country earlier this year.

The surge in new coronavirus cases was largely centered on a Jerusalem school, the Gymnasia Rehavia, where a “super-spreader” student infected some 80 people. All the students and staff are in the process of being tested.

The school and at least 16 others were expected to be shut temporarily as ministers convened on Saturday to discuss potential closures to stem the spread. The ministers decided against a suspension of the education system as a whole, opting to close schools only where infections have been recorded.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Saturday that it was too early to tell whether the upward trend in infections would warrant the reimposition of lockdowns.

Header: A worker performs test on mask samples at the Wuhan Zonsen Medical Products Co. Ltd in Wuhan in central China’s Hubei province, April 12, 2020. (AP Photo/Ng Han Guan)

Original: TOI Staff

A death in Herzliya

On Sunday morning May 17th, China’s Ambassador to Israel, Du Wei, was found dead in bed inside his official residence in the Tel Aviv upscale suburb of Herzliya. He was 57 years old, married and the father of a son, and had been appointed to his position in February. He was reported to be in good health. His wife and son were not yet in Israel when he died.

Israel’s Foreign Ministry quickly released a report stating that he had died of natural causes, later described by the Chinese Foreign Ministry as “unspecified health problems,” which has been interpreted to probably mean a heart attack or stroke. He had been quarantined for 15 days upon arrival in Israel and his death has not in any way been attributed to the coronavirus.

Israeli police moved quickly to close access to the residence, reported to be standard procedure, and the government in Beijing indicated that it would be sending an investigative team to Tel Aviv to determine what had happened and also to return the body to China. Israel at the time required all travelers entering the country to comply with a mandatory 15 day quarantine, but the Foreign Ministry waived the requirement for the incoming Chinese officials. Du Wei was thereupon removed and returned to China. The Beijing government has not as of this date issued a report indicating its own findings regarding the untimely death.

It is to be presumed that Du in his residence had security. Overseas Embassies differ in their levels of security depending on the threat level in the country where they are located. U.S. Embassies and Consulates overseas have Marine guards in the buildings themselves, supervised by Department of State Security (DS), but an outer perimeter of security outside the building and grounds providing access to the diplomatic protected site is frequently contracted to guards that are hired locally or even by host country police. Du, as a Chinese diplomat in Israel, would not have been particularly threatened but one might reasonably assume that he had Chinese bodyguards as well as local security. So, in theory, no one should have been able to get in to injure or kill him.

Du would have likely been secure in his own residence, but there are a couple of interesting back stories that might suggest otherwise. The ambassador’s death occurred less than a week after a surprise visit to Jerusalem by U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. As one might have expected, most of the visit took place to discuss Israel’s planned annexation of much of the Palestinian West Bank, but Pompeo also took Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to task for Israel’s willingness to enter into commercial agreements with China that involve major infrastructure developments as well as telecommunications. Pompeo also reiterated the increasingly shrill Trump Administration claims that Beijing must somehow be held accountable for “the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people worldwide” from the coronavirus because it had not reported the disease when it first surfaced, a contention that the Chinese dispute.

Du was no ordinary diplomat. He was very experienced, having served for thirty years in the Foreign Ministry. He had been posted to Ukraine prior to Israel and he was noted for his aggressiveness in advancing Chinese interests through investments in infrastructure and in co-production projects, seeking to undercut U.S. influence in both countries. China is currently the largest investor in Israeli infrastructure and the activity of Du and his predecessors in Israel has, to say the least, irked the Trump White House.

The New York Times describes the tension between the two nominal allies as follows: “China has been investing heavily in Israel in recent years, taking stakes in hundreds of technological start-ups and acquiring a controlling interest in the dairy food-processing company Tnuva. But Israel has antagonized Washington by allowing Chinese companies to make major infrastructure investments in recent years, including in sensitive locations. A company majority-owned by the Chinese government has signed a 25-year lease to run Israel’s commercial seaport in Haifa, a frequent port of call for the United States Navy, beginning in 2021. And near Israel’s Palmachim air force base, a Hong Kong-based company, Hutchison Water International, is a finalist to build a desalination plant that Israel says will be the largest in the world. Trump administration officials have repeatedly warned Israeli officials that intelligence sharing between the two close allies could be impaired or compromised over such investments by China.”

And Pompeo as well as other Trump administration officials also have had a stronger message that they have been delivering to all of Washington’s presumed allies. Pompeo again made clear the warning to Israel: do not install equipment from Huawei – a Chinese telecom conglomerate that operates globally – in developing a new, next-generation 5G telecommunications network. Washington believes that Huawei equipment is used by Chinese intelligence to covertly access mobile phone networks through “backdoors.” Several nations, including Israel, have been warned that if they go ahead with Huawei, the U.S. might not continue sharing sensitive intelligence information.

The White House concern is in part commercial as the U.S. would like to become the lead provider of the new technology. It derives from the belief that 5G will soon serve as the backbone for all critical telecommunications and its faster download speeds mean that it will be the foundation of many new technologies, leaving the U.S. far behind in the race to develop new consumer products while also giving China the ability to both spy and interfere with America’s infrastructure.

In the event, it has been suggested that Netanyahu was polite about the China problem but did not agree to any of the limitations being imposed by Pompeo, which leads directly to the suspicion that the U.S. government, possibly working through a friendly Mossad, sought to send a message to Bibi by killing an ambassador in such a fashion as to suggest a “heart attack.” It might seem extremely unlikely that even the Trump Administration would behave so recklessly, but one might recall the assassination of Iranian Major General Qassim Soleimani in January, carried out by a feckless U.S. national security team heedless of consequences.

And there is yet another tale circulating privately among former intelligence officers, suggesting something quite different. Some believe that Du was preparing to defect to the United States, possibly because he was somehow presented with financial and other inducements that made up an offer too good to refuse. Inducing foreign diplomats to defect was a feature of the Cold War and has also taken place less frequently since that time, though it has always been unusual to involve an ambassador. The defection story, and, one might add that there is no way to confirm it, would mean that Du might have been ordered killed by his own government. Or Israel if it had made the decision to continue to seek Chinese investment and was concerned that Du would spill the beans to Washington on even more sensitive co-productions or projects.

So, the death of Du Wei remains something of a mystery. Beijing is not saying anything, Israel has done what it could to make the story go away and the United States has not bothered to comment at all. The relative silence about the dead ambassador, one might observe, is itself suspicious.

Original: AMERICAN HERALD TRIBUNE – Philip Giraldi

Israel’s airports chief said pushing Health Ministry to reopen skies immediately

The head of the Israel Airports Authority has reportedly asked the Health Ministry to allow the immediate resumption of flights to prevent “potentially irreversible damage” to the tourism industry.

Israel’s skies have been largely shut since mid March after the country banned foreigners from entering and imposed a two-week quarantine on Israelis who had been abroad, essentially shuttering the tourism industry.

According to a report by Channel 12 news, Yaakov Ganot told outgoing Health Ministry head Moshe Bar Siman-Tov that a framework should be drawn up to allow travel between Israel and countries designated as “green countries,” i.e., with a low rate of coronavirus infection.

The letter stated that work has been carried out at the airports to allow travel while “reducing the risk of migrating the disease and a new outbreak of the virus.”

In addition to the labeling of some countries as acceptable for flights, in accordance with Health Ministry parameters, the letter also stated that a “blue standard” was developed to categorize the safety of airlines and foreign airports.

The letter noted that Israel’s geographical location, with few land links to neighbors, means that air travel was of the utmost importance for the tourism industry.

“Failure to make a decision makes it clear — the elimination of the airline and tourism industry for the summer season, and potentially irreversible damage,” Ganot said.

Israeli officials have debated in recent weeks allowing in travelers from five countries — Greece, Cyprus, the Seychelles, Georgia and Montenegro. Talks are also underway with Austria about adding it to the list.

The plan, which has not yet received final approval, would have a pilot stage over the summer during which officials would carefully track the effects of an open-border policy from the five nations, all of which have a very low rate of infection for the virus causing the COVID-19 pandemic.

Israel’s tourism industry, which employs some 80,000 people and contributes some 3 percent to the gross national product, has been gutted by the virus, with hotels and tourist sites shut until last week and global air travel down by more than half.

Despite new virus cases mostly dwindling, the airport remains on emergency footing, with only a few flights in and out of the country daily.

Israel has largely brought the virus under control in the country and lifted most lockdown restrictions. However, most foreigners are still barred from coming in and Israelis, or permanent residents, must quarantine for 14 days after returning.

Epidemiological research conducted in Israel has shown that a majority of cases in the country resulted from incoming travel from the United States.

A top official at Ben-Gurion International Airport said earlier this month that he believed Israel’s main gateway would likely only begin to ease back into normal operations in July.

“Nobody wants infections to break out here again and we all know that the virus came to Israel by air,” Ben-Gurion CEO Shaul Zakai told Channel 12 news after a tour by Health Ministry officials to test the airport’s readiness.

New procedures at the airport mean passengers now must present their passports and flight tickets and have their temperatures taken before they are allowed inside the departure hall at Ben Gurion Airport.

Once inside the airport, passengers must wear a band that identifies them as having been allowed in, and a protective mask. In addition, security and check-in counters now separate staff from passengers with a plexiglass barrier as required by coronavirus regulations.

Earlier this month, National Security Council chief Meir Ben-Shabbat cautioned the government against relaxing Israel’s strict border controls, saying that high rates of coronavirus infection overseas posed a renewed threat to Israel. Ben-Shabbat sent a letter to senior government officials noting that enforcement of existing regulations was of extreme importance if Israel wanted to hold on to its achievement in suppressing the virus, Channel 12 reported.

Original: TOI – Staff

Trump designates Antifa “A Terrorist Organization”

This decision comes almost a year after he first tweeted that he was considering labeling the militant, black-clad, mask-wearing ‘anti-fascist’ group as a terrorist organization.

“Consideration is being given to declaring ANTIFA, the gutless Radical Left Wack Jobs who go around hitting (only non-fighters) people over the heads with baseball bats, a major Organization of Terror (along with MS-13 & others),” tweeted Trump, adding “Would make it easier for police to do their job!”

And As Politico pointed out in September 2017, previously unreported FBI and Department of Homeland Security studies found that “anarchist extremist” group like Antifa have been the “primary instigators of violence at public rallies” going back to at least April 2016 when the reports were first published.

The question is what does this mean in terms of response. Deadly force allowed?

Somehow, we suspect this will not ease the tensions.

By way of background, we remind readers that Antifa has gained notoriety since the 2016 election for instigating violent confrontations with conservatives – most recently journalist Andy Ngo, who was beaten and robbed by members of Portland’s Antifa cell, sending him to the hospital.

In July, 2018, the same Portland groupl, Rose City Antifa, planned a “direct confontation” with participants at a pro-Trump rally – “calling for militant antifascist resistance against Patriot Prayer,” according to a call to action on the leftist website, “It’s Going Down.”

The previous month, a clash between the groups ended up in a viral video of an Antifa member using an object to assault conservative Ethan Michael Nordean, also known as Rufio – who subsequently knocked out the ‘terrorist’ (or so he would be classified under the new declaration).

Last week, GOP Sens. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Bill Cassidy (R-LA) introduced a bill to classify Antifa as domestic terrorists – defining it as “a movement that intentionally combines violence with the group’s alt-left positions,” and “represents opposition to the democratic ideals of peaceful assembly and free speech for all.”

As noted by The Blaze, however, labeling Antifa as “Domestic Terrorists” may also require an entirely new law.

federal law does not have the same clear-cut designation for domestic terrorism organizations that it does for foreign terror organizations (FTOs), explained Andy McCarthy in a 2017 column at National Review.

“There are federal-law processes for designating foreign and international terrorism because defending against foreign threats to national security is primarily a federal responsibility,” McCarthy explained, because foreign operatives have fewer civil rights protections than American citizens and that the best weapon against domestic terror is local law enforcement, not federal. -The Blaze

Why is the left so violent?


How globalism went from Right to Left

Will coronavirus lead to increased globalization, or empower nation-states and the solidarity that only they can foster? This is another question being debated in the tug-of-war between “right” and “left.” Theoretically, the Left is supposed to adhere to the idea of national solidarity, that is the tradition in Israel, and not only here. But the “progressive Left” has recently come to be identified with globalization. It supports increased free trade, the movement of assets, and an international supply and manufacturing chain. It is in favor of free immigration and the creation of a global employment market. It also prefers moves toward global control at the expense of democratic-national sovereignty.

Globalization comes on the back of increasingly internationalized manufacturing, employment, and trade until the 2008 financial crisis and the coronavirus crisis. But all these points have traditionally been espoused by the Right and consistently opposed by the Left. Why has the Right traditionally opposed the core of what is known as “globalization”?

First of all, because manufacturing spread throughout the world and unlimited immigration allow the exploitation of a cheap workforce. Secondly, because international trade and empowered international institutions make it possible to reduce the ability of formerly sovereign states to shape their economies and societies according to the interests of the voters, most of whom work in the private and public sectors. So weakening democratic nation-states restricts the ability of significant sectors to oppose right-wing ideology, which collects wealth in the hands of a few. Their main source of power, their existence as citizens in a democratic sovereign state, is being taken from them under the new world order.

This system of interests and values has been blurred by the project of privatization and wealth building. In the past, the same explanations that caused the Right to promote globalization, starting at the end of the 1960s, caused the Left to oppose it. But the opposition let up as the traditional Right started to win the battle. Large parts of the “Left,” rather than opposing the trends of privatization and globalization, took them so far that they approached post-nationalist tendencies, tendencies the Right was immune to because of its conservatism.

The result was the “progressive Left,” which adopted its rival’s values of individualism and even started to approach post-nationalism, and the new “populist Right,” which pushed the traditional Right aside and filled the social and national vacuum left by the Left. So the Right’s ideological victory is causing the “progressive Left,” which adopted an extreme version of right-wing values, to rise; as well as the new “populist Right,” which took a stance against both the traditional Right and the “progressive Left.”

On the Left, this process was represented by two radical leaders of our time – the American Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn in Britain. At the start of his time in the US Senate, Sanders took staunch anti-globalist stances: he rejected President Clinton’s free trade agreements, he opposed unlimited immigration and even supported volunteer action to stop border-jumpers. But in the 2016 election, he veered sharply toward globalism and has done so even more in his campaign this year. He adapted himself to the “progressive Left” template, and would have been justifiably defeated by Trump had he won the Democratic nomination. Trump is leading a national-populist revolution in the Republican party, and taking it out of the hands of the traditional, globalist Right, and by doing so posing a challenge to the Democratic party.

In England, Corbyn saw an unprecedented defeat in working class districts in northern England. He also opposed globalism in the past, meaning he had reservations about the European bureaucracy that was forcing extreme neo-liberal policies under the non-democratic structure of the European Union. But like Sanders, Corbyn gradually adopted the path of the progressive Left and took an unclear line on the question of Britain leaving the EU, which led to his defeat. His opponent, Boris Johnson, took down the traditional Right in the Conservative party and established a clear line of standing up for a national democracy and leaving the EU. That is what gave him votes from the working class.

Trump and Johnson hemmed in the Left from the populist direction and stuck to democratic nationalism, whereas the Left embraced the traditional Right’s globalism and non-democracy, but took it too far, to an alienating policy of post-nationalism. That scared off left-wing voters, and this explains why the Left has been defeated. In England, in the US, and in Israel, the new populist Right is espousing national democratic values and rejecting globalism, and thereby winning the votes of poor workers. This trend won’t change because of coronavirus and the economic crisis that followed. The opposite – it will grow stronger.

Original: ISRAEL HAYOM – Prof. Avi Bareli

Crew Dragon with two NASA astronauts docks to ISS

The Crew Dragon spacecraft with Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken on board has successfully docked to the International Space Station (ISS), as follows from a NASA broadcast on Sunday.

The spacecraft began approaching the ISS about two hours before docking than was carried out 10:16 ahead of the schedule. The Crew Dragon spacecraft was launched using the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket at 22.22 pm Moscow time on May 30 from the Cape Canaveral, Florida.

Crew Dragon is a configuration of the cargo spacecraft Dragon, which had already delivered cargoes to the ISS. A Falcon-9 rocket put the cargo vehicle in space on March 2. Its docking with the ISS was carried out automatically the next day.

NASA stopped crewed flights in 2011 after the Space Shuttle program came to an end. From that moment on all astronauts were delivered to the ISS and back by Russia’s Soyuz spacecraft. Originally the Untied States was to start using commercial spacecraft for crewed missions in 2017.

The only minus for Russia in connection with the launch of the Crew Dragon spacecraft is that the country will not receive money from NASA for delivery of US astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station (ISS), Academician of the Russian Academy of Cosmonautics named after Tsiolkovsky Igor Marinin told TASS.

“A small downside is that we will use certain money paid by us to the US for the delivery of their astronauts to ICC using Soyuz-MC spacecraft and cargo on Progress spacecraft. However, these amounts of money are fundamentally not planned because the US was to start flying to ISS on their spacecraft and abandon Soyuz spacecraft as early as four years ago. That is why the whole our space program is funded by the government, with taking these extra money into consideration,” the expert said.

Availability of the manned spacecraft with the US has certain upsides for Russia, Marinin said. “We can now increase our crew at ICS. The launch of the multifunctional laboratory module Nauka [Science – TASS] to ISS is planned in 2021 and we will able to increase our crew in the station to three individuals,” the expert said. Russia will be also able to hold talks with our countries on flights of tourists and professional astronauts to ICS, he added.

Source: TASS

PM Modi Hopes to brave SECOND PLAGUE as India launches midnight drone operation to kill locusts

While addressing the nation on Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi promised all possible support to those farmers affected by the worst invasion of migratory pests in three decades.

The desert locust, a voracious grasshopper, travelled all the way from Iran to India via Pakistan and created havoc in states like Maharashtra, Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh, and Haryana – in the last two weeks.

“Whether it’s the central government or states or agricultural department, the administration is using modern technology to fight these pests. We are taking note of innovative measures. I am confident that all of us together can brave this situation”, Narendra Modi asserted during his monthly radio programme “Man ki Baat” on Sunday while adding that the attacks remind us of the damage that a small creature can do.

The worst ever attack of desert locusts has already destroyed over 600,000 hectares of crops in India over the past four weeks and as per UN Food & Agriculture Organisation (FAO) estimates, the locusts will keep swarming India in phases until July of this year.

The government has been making some serious efforts to eliminate the locusts to protect the upcoming batch of crops. On Saturday, the state of Rajasthan successfully destroyed a huge number of locusts in Jaipur in midnight drone operations. The chemical sprayed by drones saved around 400 hectares of crops in the hilly areas of Jaipur.

Earlier this month, videos emerged on social media showing people using traditional means to keep the hoppers away from fields. A kid in India’s Madhya Pradesh was seen flaunting his drumming skills in a field to scare away locusts.

In other parts of the country, police have been using sirens to scare off the short-horned insects which multiply quickly and are capable of feasting on crops.

An average swarm of 40 million can consume food for around 35,000 people in one day.


Jews and Arabs share genetic link to ancient Canaanites – Study finds

Most of today’s Jewish and Arabic-speaking populations share a strong genetic link to the ancient Canaanites, a study by an international team of archaeologists and geneticists has found. These modern-day groups in Israel, Jordan, Lebanon, and parts of Syria share a large part of their ancestry, in most cases more than half, with the people who lived in the Levant during the Bronze Age more than 3,000 years ago, the study concludes.

The researchers also determined that the Canaanites – who frequently appear in ancient sources, including the Bible – descended from a mixture of an earlier Levantine population and migrants coming from the Caucasus region or northwestern Iran.

In the wide-ranging study published Thursday in the journal Cell, experts analyzed genetic material from dozens of skeletons found at Canaanite sites across Israel and neighboring countries, and compared it to the genomes of other ancient populations as well as to modern-day groups.

“This study suggests there is a deep genetic connection of many Jewish groups today across the Diaspora and many Arab groups to this part of the world thousands of years ago,” says David Reich, a Harvard University geneticist and one of the world’s top experts in the study of ancient DNA.

Biblical hyperbole

The land of Canaan and its inhabitants are mentioned in documents from the 2nd millennium B.C.E., such as the Amarna letters, an archive of ancient Egyptian correspondence between the pharaohs and their colonial empire in the Levant. The Bible describes the Canaanites as the inhabitants of the Holy Land before the Israelites conquered it following their exodus from Egypt.

The holy text also claims that the arriving Israelites “destroyed all that breathed” (Joshua 10:40) and exterminated the Canaanites during the conquest of land.

This is not borne out by most archaeological and biblical scholarship over the last decades, which suggests that the story of the conquest, like most of the Bible, was written much later than the events it purports to relate.

As archaeologist Ann Killebrew wrote in her 2005 book, Biblical Peoples and Ethnicity: “Almost without exception, scholars agree that the account in Joshua holds little historical value vis-à-vis early Israel.”

Instead, it now seems more likely that between the end of the Bronze Age and the early Iron Age (that is, just over 3000 years ago), Canaanite culture slowly evolved and morphed into that of the various peoples that are familiar to any reader of the Bible: the Israelites, the Moabites, the Ammonites and so on. (One partial exception to this model would be the Philistines, who appear to have had at least some southern European ancestry.)

The new genetic study provides powerful backing to this idea of continuity, though the researchers caution that we don’t yet have enough ancient DNA samples from later eras, especially the Iron Age, to trace a direct line between the Canaanites and today’s Middle Eastern populations. There may yet be another, unsampled population from the Levant that has a more direct link to Jews and Arabs today, qualifies Liran Carmel, a computational biologist from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and one of the lead authors of the study.

Canaanite descendants in Saudi Arabia and Iran

Still, the genetic commonalities between modern Levantine groups and their Canaanite predecessors are strong. During the course of the four-year-long study, the researchers analyzed the genome of 93 people who lived roughly between 2500 B.C.E. and 1000 B.C.E. and whose remains were uncovered in Israel, Lebanon and Jordan.

They then compared the genetic material to samples from 17 modern populations, including European – or Ashkenazi – Jews, Palestinians and other Middle Eastern groups.

In most of these, the percentage of ancestry matching that of the Bronze Age samples was above 50 percent.

Saudi Arabians, Bedouins and Iranian Jews had the highest ratio, hovering around 90 percent. These were followed by Palestinians, Jordanians and Syrians, with an 80 percent of ancestry shared with the ancient Levantines. Moroccan and Ashkenazi Jews had a roughly 70 and 60 percent contribution.

Somewhat unsurprisingly, most of the rest of the ancestry of Ashkenazi Jews comes from Europe. The lowest percentages of Middle Eastern ancestry were found in modern-day Moroccans (40 percent), and 20 percent for Ethiopian Jews, who have a strong contribution from Eastern African ancestry.

To varying degrees, all the groups displayed a strong connection to a common ancestor population in the Near East, while also showing that since the Bronze Age they have had contact with many other groups from different parts of the world, Carmel explains.

“Most studies using ancient DNA to analyze demographic processes in this and other regions show the same thing everywhere, that the structure of human populations is very dynamic and populations mix with each other constantly,” the researcher tells Haaretz.

The overarching goal of ancient DNA research is to trace the story of human dispersal, migration and admixture rather than highlight major genetic differences between human populations.

Most humans today share about 99.9 percent of their DNA with each other, but with 3.2 billion base pairs in the human genome there are still plenty of genetic sequences that can display variability, Carmel explains. Some of these sequences, often non-functional sections of our DNA, can be identified as typical of a certain area or group, particularly if the local population has been relatively isolated for a long time. Researchers can then use these telltale markers of origin to build statistical models that show how much of our ancestry comes from one comparison group or another.

This is what was done twofold in the case of the research published in Cell, not only by comparing the Canaanite DNA to that of modern Jews and Arabs, but also by trying to model the relationship between the Bronze Age inhabitants of the Holy Land and even older populations.

Whence the Canaanites?

Actually the main goal of this study, titled “The Genomic History of the Bronze Age Southern Levant,” was to determine the origins of the Canaanites and whether they could be described as a genetically coherent group, distinct from their neighbors, says Reich, the Harvard geneticist.

We know that the Canaanites were divided into various independent city states, many of them powerful in their own right, such as Megiddo, Hazor, Acre and so on. Plus, most of the texts about them come from outside or later sources. So there has been some question among researchers as to whether we should even be speaking about a “Canaanite people” and whether this nomenclature is not a later, artificial construct, Reich says.

The new study shows that genetically at least, the Canaanites did have a lot in common with each other. Most of the recovered genomes, from Sidon in Lebanon through Megiddo in the Jezreel Valley and down to Ashkelon in southern Israel, could be modeled as having a roughly 50/50 contribution of ancestry from local Neolithic inhabitants and from a group that hailed from the Caucasus or the Northwestern Zagros mountains, in today’s Iran.

Researchers have known for a while that there were large influxes of people into the southern Levant over the last millennia of prehistory. For example, a previous ancient DNA study found that a Copper Age culture centered near the modern-day Galilean village of Peki’in emerged from the admixture of a local population with Anatolian and Iranian newcomers.

In the case of the Canaanites, it is more likely that the population influx came from the Caucasus, rather than Iran, because we do have evidence of a cultural link between the Caucasus and the southern Levant in the Bronze Age, says Israel Finkelstein, a Tel Aviv University archaeologist who took part in the study.

This connection is particularly clear at Khirbeth Kerak (Beit Yerah), a site on the southern shore of the Sea of Galilee dated to the first half of the 3rd millenium B.C.E. There, archaeologists found pottery vessels – typified with the name Khirbeth Kerak Ware – which bear strong similarities to the ceramics produced by the Kura-Araxes culture, a civilization that spanned the Caucasus region in the Early Bronze Age.

“This type of pottery is very clearly influenced by this northern culture, and the question is whether the influence was by contact, such as trade or exchange of knowledge, or people moving,” Finkelstein says. “Now we have evidence that it was people moving.”

Further bolstering the theory of Caucasian admixture, Finkelstein notes, is the fact that the names of some Canaanite rulers mentioned in the 14th century-B.C.E. Amarna documents from Egypt are not Semitic in origin but Hurrian, a language then spoken in northern Syria and eastern Anatolia.

Waves of migration

For the ancestry of the Canaanites to be split halfway between locals and newcomers there would have had to be an influx of a significant number of people; and a question that begs to be asked is whether this inflow was an invasion or a peaceful migration.

While we cannot be sure of its nature, it is likely that this phenomenon occurred over a long period of time, perhaps centuries, says Carmel, the bioinformatics expert. This is based on the fact that the percentage of Caucasian/Iranian descent tends to be lower in the older samples in the dataset and increases with time, he says.

“I don’t think we are dealing with an invasion,” Finkelstein adds. “We have no archaeological evidence of destruction or a major disruption in the Early Bronze Age.”

There is evidence that the waves of migration continued for centuries, at least until the beginning of the Late Bronze Age. Three individuals unearthed at Megiddo and dated to the 16th-15th centuries B.C.E. were found to have a much larger percentage of Caucasian ancestry, with only around 20 percent of their genome deriving from the local Neolithic population. This means that these three were likely descendants of people who had arrived from the Caucasus relatively recently, just a few generations earlier.

The next step for researchers will be to continue modeling the ancient populations of the Levant, especially after the time of the Canaanites, Finkelstein says; “It will be interesting to see what happened afterward, what was the genetic profile of the people of biblical Israel and Judah, how do they connect to us and to their predecessors, and what were the other contributions to the genetic pool along the way.”

Header: Details of the conflict between the Hebrews and the Canaanites are sketchy. Gamma-Keystone/Getty Images

Source: HAARETZ – Ariel David


Comparison of the ancient DNA with other ancient genetic sequences suggests that the Canaanites originated some 4000 to 6000 years ago, before the Bronze Age. At that time, early farm settlers in the Levant and immigrants from further east in the Mesopotamian region came together. This suggests the appearance of the Canaanites might be linked with the collapse of the Akkadian Empire in Mesopotamia, 4200 years ago.

The Canaanites then forged their own empire. They built the temple at Palmyra in Syria, recently damaged by Islamic State. It also seems likely that the Canaanites became known to the Greeks as the Phoenicians later in the Bronze Age. Under that guise, they developed a formidable maritime presence across the Mediterranean.

CNN blames ‘RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA’ for George Floyd riots because they ‘Can’t blame China’ – Trump

Here we go again,” Trump tweeted on Saturday. “Fake News @CNN is blaming RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA. They are sick losers with VERY bad ratings! P.S. Can’t blame China because they need the cash?”

Earlier, National Urban League president and former New Orleans Mayor Marc Morial appeared on CNN, where he suggested that the riots in Minneapolis – now in their fourth day – were provoked by Russian agents and “white supremacists.”

Morial wasn’t the first liberal pundit to suggest Moscow’s meddling, and not the actions of police officer and suspected murderer Derek Chauvin, may have triggered the riots. A host of ‘Russiagate truthers’ flooded social media with Kremlin conspiracies on Friday, as protesters in the Minnesota city looted stores and torched police stations.

However, accusations of outside meddling have also come from top officials in Minnesota. Governor Tim Walz has accused white supremacists and drug cartels of inflaming the violence, while Minneapolis Mayor Jacob Frey, St. Paul Mayor Melvin Carter and Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison have all suggested the involvement of outside forces in the riots.

Notably, every one of these officials has been criticized for allowing the violence to flourish in recent days. Mayor Jacob Frey in particular has been targeted by President Trump for his apparent failure to “get tough and fight,” after his police force abandoned two stations in as many days to arsonists.

Trump too has accused infiltrators of directing the violence. Rather than blaming the Kremlin, however, Trump has pointed the finger at “ANTIFA and the Radical Left.” His Attorney General William Barr appears to agree. At a press conference on Saturday, he accused “outside radicals and agitators” of “exploiting the situation to pursue their own separate and violent agenda.”

“The violence is planned, organized, and driven by anarchic and left extremist groups,” Barr claimed.

Header: Protesters stand in front of a vandalized CNN logo in front of the CNN Center in Atlanta, Georgia, May 29, 2020 © Reuters / Dustin Chambers

Source: RT

The politics of COVID-19

As the 2020 election gets underway, Joe Biden could have simply attempted to convince the public that the damage from the coronavirus pandemic demands a change in leadership. Instead, the Democratic Party has recently proven that its sole interest lies in harming President Trump, even when it means inflicting even greater harm on the American people.

For the past three years the Democratic Party has claimed that President Trump is a dictator who cannot be trusted with the power of the Presidency. Ironically, President Trump is now attacked by Democrats for not taking greater control of the country in response to the coronavirus outbreak.

According to the leaders of the Democratic Party, businesses cannot reopen, our freedoms must be limited, and, ultimately, lockdown orders must be mandated to prevent the spread of the virus.

The essential argument is that the American people are not responsible enough to protect their own health, so the federal government must intervene to do so.

This is demanded even after the American public obeyed lockdown orders for the past two months, and unemployment claims have ballooned to almost forty million people.

Statistically speaking, there is conflicting evidence whether the lockdown orders have been effective. While the American public sheltered in place, the virus continued to spread.

Governor Andrew Cuomo of New York, a staunch proponent of the lockdown, even stated, and was shocked, how at one point 66% of new coronavirus cases resulted from those who were staying at home.

They may have been silent carriers of the virus. On the other hand, the State of Florida reopened most of their economy faster than almost any other state, and now has one of the lowest death rates in the country.

As Republicans largely support reopening the economy while taking the precautions doctors recommend (handwashing, social distancing, not touching one’s face, masks in public places and extra precautions for the elderly) and Democratic leaders adamantly refuse to do so, the unique break along party lines implies that there is an ulterior motive behind the decisions being made.

What began as a way to “flatten the curve,” in an attempt to prevent the breakdown of our hospital system, has been transformed into a desire by the Democratic Party to extend the lockdown until a vaccine is found.

While there is no proof that a lockdown will prevent the spread of the virus, in reality, there is only one guaranteed result: the destruction of what was believed to be President Trump’s greatest political asset, a strong economy.

While the health of the general public should never be politicized, the coronavirus pandemic is undoubtedly being used by the Democrats to achieve party goals.

We must never forget that the founders of this country risked their lives so that we can live freely in a free country, and we must defend these rights today. If draconian lockdown orders persist, it will only continue to prove that the Democratic Party is willing to lead the entire American economy to the slaughterhouse, for the sake of harming one person: President Trump.

Original: Arutz Sheva – David Billet

PM Netanyahu: Reopening after coronavirus lockdown was ‘experimental’

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu spoke live Saturday night about the dramatic and rapid increase in the number of coronavirus cases in Israel.

Netanyahu said that Israel did not reach the number of deaths seen in other countries, thanks to the timely and precautionary measures instituted by the government.

He also emphasized that climate is “not a factor” where coronavirus is concerned, noting that in a number of countries with climates similar to Israel, such as Iran, Turkey, and Egypt, the death toll from coronavirus has been exceptionally high, as was the number of deaths in chilly Belgium.

Netanyahu also said that the government had reopened the economy and educational system “on an experimental basis.” If Israel saw another wave of coronavirus cases, he said, the protective measures would be reinstated.

In the meantime, Netanyahu said he has asked the Public Security Minister and Justice Minister to allow for increased police inspections and the administration of coronavirus safety measures. Until now, he said, inspections have been carried out on a very low scale, but this will change in the near future.

The virus is not “skipping over” Israel, he emphasized. “Everyone is responsible for one another, and must take care that they do not get infected, and do not infect others.”

“If people keep the rules, G-d willing, they will keep us safe,” he added, noting that the decision whether or not Israel will need another lockdown rests with each and every Israeli.

Source: Arutz Sheva

SpaceX blasts off on historic crewed launch, opening commercial space travel era

A rocket ship built by Elon Musk’s SpaceX company thundered away from Earth with two Americans on Saturday, ushering in a new era in commercial space travel and putting the United States back in the business of launching astronauts into orbit from US soil for the first time in nearly a decade.

NASA’s Doug Hurley and Bob Behnken rode skyward aboard a white-and-black, bullet-shaped Dragon capsule on top of a Falcon 9 rocket, lifting off at 3:22 p.m. from the same launch pad used to send Apollo crews to the moon a half-century ago. Minutes later, they slipped safely into orbit.

“Let’s light this candle,” Hurley said just before ignition, borrowing the words used by Alan Shepard on America’s first human spaceflight, in 1961.

The two men are scheduled to arrive at the International Space Station, 250 miles above Earth, on Sunday to join the three crew members already there. After a stay of up to four months, they will come home with a Right Stuff-style splashdown at sea, something the world hasn’t witnessed since the 1970s.

The mission unfolded amid the gloom of the coronavirus outbreak, which has killed over 100,000 Americans, and racial unrest across the US over the death of George Floyd, a handcuffed black man, at the hands of Minneapolis police. NASA officials and others held out hope the flight would lift American spirits.

“Maybe there’s an opportunity here for America to maybe pause and look up and see a bright, shining moment of hope at what the future looks like, that the United States of America can do extraordinary things even in difficult times,” NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said before launch.

Doug Marshburn of Deltona, Florida, shouted: “USA! USA!” as the 260-foot rocket climbed skyward.

“I’m very proud of the United States. We are back in the game. It’s very satisfying,” he said.

With the on-time liftoff, SpaceX became the first private company to launch people into orbit, a feat achieved previously by only three governments: the US, Russia and China.

The flight also ended a nine-year launch drought for NASA. Ever since it retired the space shuttle in 2011, NASA has relied on Russian spaceships launched from Kazakhstan to take US astronauts to and from the space station.

In the intervening years, NASA outsourced the job of designing and building its next generation of spaceships to SpaceX and Boeing, awarding them $7 billion in contracts in a public-private partnership aimed at driving down costs and spurring innovation. Boeing’s spaceship, the Starliner capsule, is not expected to fly astronauts until early 2021.

NASA hopes to rely in part on commercial partners as it pursues it next goals: sending astronauts back to the moon in the next few years, and on to Mars in the 2030s.

Musk, the visionary also behind the Tesla electric car company, had no immediate comment on the successful liftoff.

A launch attempt on Wednesday was called off with less than 17 minutes to go in the countdown because of lightning. On Saturday, stormy weather threatened another postponement for most of the day, but then the skies began to clear just in the time.

The astronauts set out for the launch pad in a gull-wing Tesla SUV after Behnken pantomimed a hug of his 6-year-old son, Theo, and said: “Are you going to listen to Mommy and make her life easy?” Hurley blew kisses to his 10-year-old son and wife.

Nine minutes after liftoff, the rocket’s first-stage booster landed, as designed, on a barge a few hundred miles off the Florida coast, to be reused on another flight.

“Thanks for the great ride to space,” Hurley told SpaceX ground control. His crewmate batted around a sparkly purplish toy, demonstrating that they had reached zero gravity.

SpaceX controllers at Hawthorne, California, cheered and applauded wildly. Bridenstine declared: “This is everything that America has to offer in its purest form.”

“It’s been nine years since we’ve launched American astronauts on American rockets from American soil — and now it’s done. We have done it. It’s been way too long,” he said.

President Donald Trump, who came to Florida to watch along with Vice President Mike Pence, said: “I’m so proud of the people at NASA, all the people that worked together, public and private. When you see a sight like that it’s incredible.”

Attendance inside Kennedy Space Center was strictly limited because of the coronavirus, and the crowd amounted to only a few thousand.

By NASA’s count, over 3 million viewers tuned in online.

Despite NASA’s insistence that the public stay safe by staying home, spectators gathered along beaches and roads hours in advance.

Among them was Neil Wight, a machinist from Buffalo, New York, who staked out a view of the launch pad from a park in Titusville.

“It’s pretty historically significant in my book, and a lot of other people’s books. With everything that’s going on in this country right now, it’s important that we do things extraordinary in life,” Wight said. “We’ve been bombarded with doom and gloom for the last six, eight weeks, whatever it is, and this is awesome. It brings a lot of people together.”

Because of the coronavirus, the astronauts were kept in quasi-quarantine for more than two months. The SpaceX technicians who helped them get into their spacesuits wore masks and gloves that made them look like black-clad ninjas. And at the launch center, the SpaceX controllers wore masks and were seated far apart.

Hurley, a 53-year-old retired Marine, and Behnken, 49, an Air Force colonel, are veterans of two space shuttle flights each. Hurley piloted the shuttle on the last launch of astronauts from Kennedy, on July 8, 2011.

In keeping with Musk’s penchant for futuristic flash, the astronauts wore angular white uniforms with black trim. Instead of the usual multitude of dials, knobs and switches, the Dragon capsule has three large touchscreens.

SpaceX has been launching cargo capsules to the space station since 2012. In preparation for Saturday’s flight, SpaceX sent up a Dragon capsule with only a test dummy aboard last year, and it docked smoothly at the orbiting outpost on autopilot, then returned to Earth in a splashdown.

During the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo and shuttle programs, NASA relied on aerospace contractors to build spacecraft according to the agency’s designs. NASA owned and operated the ships.

Under the new, 21st-century partnership, aerospace companies design, build, own and operate the spaceships, and NASA is essentially a paying customer on a list that could eventually include non-government researchers, artists and tourists. (Tom Cruise has already expressed interest.)

“What Elon Musk has done for the American space program is he has brought vision and inspiration that we hadn’t had” since the shuttle’s retirement, Bridenstine said.

The mission is technically considered by SpaceX and NASA to be a test flight.

The next SpaceX voyage to the space station, set for the end of August, will have a full, four-person crew: three Americans and one Japanese.

Saturday’s first human flight was originally targeted for around 2015. But the project encountered bureaucratic delays and technical setbacks. A SpaceX capsule exploded on the test stand last year. Boeing’s first Starliner capsule ended up in the wrong orbit during an crew-less test flight in December and was nearly destroyed at the mission’s end.

For SpaceX — and the future of public-corporate space exploration — the stakes were extraordinarily high, and Musk said he would take responsibility if anything went wrong.

Just before liftoff, SpaceX President Gwynne Shotwell said she was “super nervous — stomach in throat.”

Original: TOI – Marcia Dunn

Temple Mount reopens amid fears of unrest after autistic man shot dead by police

Police were bracing for potential unrest Sunday in Jerusalem as the Temple Mount reopened for worshipers for the first time in two months, a day after an autistic East Jerusalem man was shot dead by officers who mistakenly believed him to be armed.

The Temple Mount compound had been closed since late March to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. The holy site opened in the predawn hours of Sunday morning under limitations.

Singing “God is greatest, we will protect Al-Aqsa with our soul and blood, the group was welcomed by the mosque’s director Omar al-Kiswani, who thanked them for their patience.

The mosques at the compound, Al-Aqsa and the Dome of the Rock, will remain closed for visitors for now, but prayers will be held in the open in marked sections, each holding up to 50 people.

But the opening of the compound, which has been the scene of many clashes and violent outbursts during times of tension, comes at a particularly fraught moment, with Border Police’s killing of 32-year-old Iyad Halak on Saturday morning sparking outrage among Palestinians.

Halak was shot dead in Jerusalem’s Old City, with police saying he had appeared to be holding a gun.

Halak was unarmed and had apparently not understood officers’ orders to halt as he passed near the Lion’s Gate. He reportedly fled on foot and hid in a garbage room.

The policemen gave conflicting accounts of the events with a commander telling investigators he had urged his subordinate to cease fire, an order that was not followed, he said, according to reports in the Hebrew media. The officer denied the commander’s account.

The two were questioned under caution on Saturday. The officer was placed under house arrest and his commander was released from custody under restrictive conditions.

Investigators were looking into whether Halak was shot only after taking refuge in the garbage room, and not during the foot chase. Hebrew media reported there were at least seven shots fired toward Halak.

Halak had been on his way to a special needs educational institute in the Old City where he studied. His father told the Kan public broadcaster he believed his son was holding his cellphone when he was first spotted by the police.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’s Fatah party denounced the shooting as a “war crime.” It said it holds Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fully responsible for the “execution of a young disabled man.”

Activists protests over the killing in Jerusalem and in Tel Aviv Saturday night. In Jerusalem some 300 rallied in the city center, calling out against Israeli occupation and police violence. Several dozen people demonstrated outside a police station in Jaffa, calling for “justice for Iyad.”

Amir Ohana, the new public security minister who oversees police, expressed sorrow for Halak’s death and vowed to investigate. But he said it was early to “pass sentence” on the police officers involved, noting that they “are required to make fateful decisions in seconds in an area that has been inundated with terror attacks, and in which there is a constant danger to their lives.”

Hala’s father, Kheiri Hayak, told Channel 13 news that police searched the family home after the shooting, despite there being no evidence Halak was armed. “They found nothing,” he said.

Hayak said his son walked to the educational institute on the same route every morning and that police forces had likely seen him before. He told Channel 13 the incident occurred close to the entrance to the institute, about 100 meters away.

His mother told Hebrew media that he was “killed in cold blood.”

“What did he do that they murdered him?” Rena Halak told the Ynet news site. “I lost an angel. They said he had a weapon. Why would someone with special needs need a weapon?”

MK Ofer Cassif of the predominantly-Arab Joint List party said Halak’s death was “murder by police” as a result of government incitement.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid, whose daughter is autistic, said Halak’s death was “heartbreaking.”

In a statement on Saturday afternoon, police rebuffed the criticism by politicians, calling them “vitriolic and irresponsible.”

“The roles and missions of the police forces in Jerusalem, and especially in the Old City, are particularly complex and often involve [making] complex decisions, sacrifices and life endangerment,” police said.

Police said the area has seen multiple attacks in recent years, including against officers and Border Patrol forces.

Calling the death a “rare incident,” the police said the case was immediately referred for an internal affairs investigation. “It is appropriate to wait for the results of the investigation before reaching any definitive conclusions, and to avoid the ugly slander… of those who, on a daily basis, protect the security of Israeli citizens,” the statement read.

Source: TOI Staff