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Knesset Blues, No Rain, Cure for Cancer

Knesset Reconvenes With an Ambitious and Controversial Agenda

Marissa Newman, Times of Israel, October 23rd 2017


The Knesset kicked off its winter session with a docket full of contentious issues. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opened the assembly criticizing his opponents for refusing to acknowledge “the ministers and MKs [that] are all doing a great job together [1].”

The Context:

  • The Jewish State bill, introduced during the last Knesset session, would for the first time enshrine Israel’s Jewish character in its constitutional Basic Laws. The 11 existing Basic Laws deal mostly with state institutions and the state’s democratic nature.

  • A bill calling for the absorption of settlements around Jerusalem into the capital’s municipality would allow 130,000 Israelis currently living in West Bank settlements, including the Etzion Bloc, to vote in Jerusalem municipal elections. It would, however, create a separate municipality for 100,000 Palestinians also affected by the bill.

  • Further discussions will also ensue about NGOs (non-government organizations) critical of Israel. The law could require NGOs to report funding from foreign governments to the Israeli authorities [2].

  • Intentions to limit the power of Israel’s Supreme Court will also come to a head this winter. Last year, the Supreme Court shot down numerous bills put forth by the ruling coalition including delayed conscription of ultra-Orthodox men into the IDF and a law that authorizes illegal building on private Palestinian land. Education Minister Naftali Bennett vowed to combat the court's ability to intervene in Knesset affairs [3]. President Reuven Rivlin warned of danger if opponents of the High Court “weaken the gatekeepers of Israeli democracy [4].”

Conversation Points:

  • What explains the Knesset’s deep polarization?

  • Does the Jewish State bill discriminate against Israel’s Arab and other minorities?

  • Should Israel include Palestinians in settlement absorption and, consequently, allow them to vote in Jerusalem elections?

  • Will limiting the Supreme Court’s reach stymie judicial oversight?

Israel's Water Worries Return After Four Years of Drought

Ari Rabinovitch, Reuters, October 23rd 2017


Four years of drought has strained Israel’s desalination and wastewater treatment plants. “No one imagined we would face a sequence of arid years like this, because it never happened before,” said Uri Schor, spokesman for Israel’s Water Authority.

The Context:

  • A year that has rainfall of less than 80% of a cross-year average is considered a drought year [5].

  • Israel’s massive investment in its national water grid, sewage treatment centers, and desalination plants resolved the incessant water shortages that plagued the count

  • ry since inception. Today, more than half of the water consumed in Israel is self-generated [6].

  • 2017 is the fourth consecutive year in which northern Israel has experienced drought conditions. Israel’s Water Authority previously put forth plans for a new desalinization facility in the north but was met with local opposition. The forecast for the next several years predicts a steady decline in rainfall [7].

  • The Sea of Galilee – one of Israel’s primary water sources – has seen only 70% of its average annual rainfall, causing a rise in salt levels and rendering the supply unsuitable for consumption and irrigation [8].

  • Possible long-term solutions include additional desalination plants (each costing $400 million) and several new reservoirs to catch rain and flood waters (each costing $60 million).

Conversation Points:

  • Could the scarcity of shared water resources lead to conflict between Israel and its neighbors?

  • How are other Middle Eastern countries, whose water technology is far more limited, coping with the drought?

  • Will residents of Northern Israel now allow the construction of a desalination plant?

US Approves Cancer Gene Therapy From Israeli-Founded Company

Max Schindler, Jerusalem Post, October 19th 2017


The new treatment method harnesses the body’s immune system to recognize and attack cancer cells. “In just several decades, gene therapy has gone from being a promising concept to a practical solution to deadly and largely untreatable forms of cancer,” said FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb.

The Context:

  • The drug, Yescarta, was developed by Israeli founded company Kite Pharma and is expected to cost $373,000 per patient, likely generating $150-$250 million in sales next year. Yescarta's price is lower than comparable treatments by 22%.

  • The complete remission rate after being treated with Yescarta is 51%, much higher than comparable clinical trials. Yescarta is the second gene-altering treatment approved by the FDA and the first for treating non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

  • Yescarta offers a personalized treatment made directly from the patient’s immune system to fight white blood cell cancer. After the cells are modified, they are infused back into the patient, where they patrol for irregularities.

  • Kite Pharma was founded in 2009 by Israeli-American oncologist Arie Belldegrun, who studied at Hebrew University and the Weizmann Institute of Science [9]. Kite was purchased by Gilead Sciences in August for $11.9 billion.

  • Diffuse large B-cell lymphoma is the most common type of the disease in adults, with some 72,000 patients diagnosed annually in the US according to the American Cancer Society. 20,000 will die from it this year.

Conversation Points:

  • What are the bioethical implications of pricing life-saving pharmaceuticals out of reach of most patients?


  1. Netanyahu Scolds ‘Sourpusses’ in Knesset Opening, Yisrael Price, Hamodia, October 23rd 2017

  2. Knesset’s winter session to focus on nationalism, Mazal Mualem, AI Monitor, October 19th 2017

  3. NETANYAHU OPENS KNESSET SESSION MOCKING 'BITTER' OPPOSITION, Lahav Harkov, Jerusalem Post, October 23rd 2017

  4. Netanyahu Scolds ‘Sourpusses’ in Knesset Opening, Yisrael Price, Hamodia, October 23rd 2017

  5. Israel officially in drought year, Amir Ben-David, Ynetnews, May 4th 2017

  6. How Israel survived the Mediterranean’s worst drought in 900 years, Alina D. Sharon, JNS.org, March 18th 2016

  7. Israel Enters Fourth Consecutive Drought Year, Algemeiner, May 4th 2017

  8. Ibid.

  9. Israeli-founded Kite Pharma gets FDA nod for cancer therapy, Shoshanna Solomon, October 19th 2017


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