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In plea bargain, MK to serve 2 years in prison for smuggling inmates phones

Bassel Ghattas will resign from Knesset immediately, admit to charges including aiding terror activities; Abbas says Liberman destroying Oslo accords

Raoul Wootliff covers politics, corruption and crime for The Times of Israel.

  • Arab MK Basel Ghattas attends a remand hearing at Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on December 23, 2016, a day after he was arrested for allegedly passing cell phones to convicted terrorists jailed in Israel. (AFP/Jack Guez)
    Arab MK Basel Ghattas attends a remand hearing at Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on December 23, 2016, a day after he was arrested for allegedly passing cell phones to convicted terrorists jailed in Israel. (AFP/Jack Guez)
  • Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt (l) meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)
    Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt (l) meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)
  • Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on February 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on February 27, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • A newly purchased Jewish home in Silwan, October 2, 2014. (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
    A newly purchased Jewish home in Silwan, October 2, 2014. (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)
  • Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog (R) meets with US special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt on March 16, 2017. (Rafi Ben Hinon)
    Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog (R) meets with US special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt on March 16, 2017. (Rafi Ben Hinon)
  • Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog (R) shakes hands with US special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt following their meeting on March 16, 2017. (Rafi Ben Hinon)
    Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog (R) shakes hands with US special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt following their meeting on March 16, 2017. (Rafi Ben Hinon)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.

Herzog presents Trump envoy with ‘bold regional process’ plans

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog says he has presented US special envoy Jason Greenblatt with plans for a “bold regional process” and, following a meeting with Greenblatt in Jerusalem, is “impressed by the deep commitment” of President Donald Trump to peace efforts.

Writing on Facebook after the meeting, Herzog say he commended Greenblatt on his “endeavors to promote peace.”

Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog (R) meets with US special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt on March 16, 2017. (Rafi Ben Hinon)

Opposition chairman Isaac Herzog (R) meets with US special envoy for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt on March 16, 2017. (Rafi Ben Hinon)

“I am impressed by the deep commitment of the President, as expressed by his envoy in our meeting, towards reaching peace between Israel and the Palestinians, and the extent of Mr Greenblatt’s contacts with all parties, including his direct interaction with citizens on both sides,” Herzog writes.

“I described to Mr. Greenblatt my efforts in the last 12 months to initiate a bold regional process, and outlined to him my amended plan on how to move forward,” he adds.

Letter bomb explodes at France office of IMF, injuring 1

A letter bomb explodes at the French office of the International Monetary Fund, lightly injuring one person, according to Paris police.

Staff from the IMF office are being evacuated and armed military officers and police are guarding the area, in a chic district of western Paris. The World Bank office in France is in the same compound.

No other damage is reported in the explosion, according to a police official who was not authorized to be publicly named. It is unclear who sent the explosive.

The incident comes a day after a package arrived at the German Finance Ministry containing low-grade explosives, like those used in firecrackers. Mailroom employees at the ministry quickly identified the package as suspicious and called in explosives experts, who destroyed it with a controlled explosion.

Britain’s Brexit bill receives royal assent, becomes law

A bill authorizing Britain to start its exit from the European Union receives royal assent and became law, empowering Prime Minister Theresa May to begin divorce proceedings from the bloc.

British Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street in central London, February 17, 2017. (AFP/Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)

British Prime Minister Theresa May at 10 Downing Street in central London, February 17, 2017. (AFP/Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS)

House of Commons Speaker John Bercow announces that the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act has received the assent of Queen Elizabeth II. The bill was passed by Parliament on Monday but needed royal assent to become a law. Such assent is a formality — no monarch has refused to sign a bill for more than 300 years.

May is now free to invoke Article 50 of the EU’s key treaty, triggering two years of exit negotiations.

She says she will do that by March 31, calling it a “decisive moment” for Britain. The prime minister’s office has indicated notification will come in the last week of the month.

— AP

Guatemala government joins with Jewish community to teach the Holocaust

The Guatemalan government partners with the local Jewish community to launch an educational project to study the Holocaust.

The initiative led by Ministry of Education and the local Jewish community intends to promote the values ​​of tolerance and respect and to provide teachers with both content and tools for their didactic practices, reports the La Hora newspaper.

“Studying the Holocaust allows young people to see the tragic consequences of currents and movements. It also allows strengthening the values ​​of tolerance and respect,” says Yehudi Sabbagh, president of the Comunidad Judia de Guatemala, the country’s umbrella Jewish organization.

 

Netanyahu said to drop state-broadcaster delay in exchange for more government oversight

The latest political tussle over the future of Israel’s new public broadcasting company appears to be over with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon reaching a deal to prevent a coalition fallout.

Netanyahu has reportedly dropped demands to further postpone the institution’s already long-delayed launch — but only in return for coalition backing for a bill that would increase government control over the country’s media landscape.

On Wednesday evening, at an event that was designed to strengthen coalition camaraderie amid recent tensions, Netanyahu called for a six-month delay in opening the public broadcaster, which is set to go live in April. By Thursday morning, speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv, Kahlon revealed that his relationship with the prime minister had deteriorated amid clashes over the new broadcaster.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon during the weekly cabinet meeting at his office in Jerusalem, on February 19, 2017. (Olivier Fitoussi/POOL)

“Kahlon and Netanyahu are no longer an item,” he said.

Now, the two are said to have come to an agreement for transmission to begin in April if Kahlon backs the repealing of key reforms aimed at ensuring editorial independence for the new corporation and uniting Israel’s three separate broadcasting authorities under a politically appointed oversight body.

Bennett slams Netanyahu’s silence over calls to fire prominent rabbi

Education Minister Naftali Bennett (Jewish Home) slams Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for not defending a controversial rabbi against calls for his resignation after he said female soldiers were not Jews and military service had driven them “crazy.”

During the weekly cabinet meeting, Bennett reportedly told Netanyahu that “at the moment of truth you abandoned religious Zionism and forgot to care for one of its most glorious institutions whose contribution is a contribution to all of the State of Israel,” according to Hebrew-media reports.

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein teaching a lesson in 2013. (Screen capture: YouTube)

Rabbi Yigal Levinstein teaching a lesson in 2013. (Screen capture: YouTube)

The comments come after Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman on Wednesday threatened to sever the official recognition of the religious pre-army academy and hesder yeshiva in the West Bank settlement of Eli if its head Rabbi Yigal Levinstein did not resign.

Levinstein was condemned by politicians across the political spectrum last week after Channel 2 aired footage of a speech in which he made disparaging remarks about female soldiers.

Following the broadcast of Levinstein’s comments, Netanyahu issued a rebuke in which he said “we are proud of [female IDF service], and we will further it,” although he did not mention the rabbi by name in his remarks.

— Alexander Fulbright

Trump envoy meets with settler leaders

Jason Greenblatt, the US administration’s chief representative for international negotiations, meets with senior settler leaders as part of a visit this week to Israel and the West Bank.

The meeting, led by Oded Revivi, chief foreign envoy of the Yesha Council and mayor of the West Bank town of Efrat, was “fruitful and positive,” according to a statement put out by the regional body.

“The Yesha Council looks forward to continuing this important dialogue,” the statement says.

Greenblatt has met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders during the trip, which included a visit to the Jalazoun refugee camp in the West Bank.

Hollande, Merkel condemn Erdogan’s ‘unacceptable’ Nazi remarks

The French and German leaders condemn Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s “unacceptable” remarks accusing Germany and the Netherlands of acting like “Nazis.”

Francois Hollande and Angela Merkel “consider comparisons with Nazism and aggressive statements against Germany and other member states unacceptable,” they say in a joint statement after speaking by telephone, the French president’s office said.

Turkey and Europe have been locked in a diplomatic spat after The Netherlands and Germany blocked Turkish ministers from holding campaign rallies to secure a “yes” vote in next month’s referendum on expanding Erdogan’s powers.

While Erdogan has repeatedly accused the countries of acting like “Nazis,” the European Union has warned Ankara to show moderation in its language.

— AFP

‘You have lost Turkey as a friend,’ Erdogan tells Dutch PM

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan tells Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte he has lost Turkey as a friend, despite beating the far-right in parliamentary elections.

“Hey Rutte! You may have emerged as the number one party in the election but you must know that you have lost Turkey as your friend,” Erdogan says in a televised speech, amid a diplomatic crisis with The Hague due to the blocking of rallies by Turkish ministers.

— AFP

French govt sends warning after shots fired at high school

The French government sends out an alert warning of an attack at the Alexis de Tocqueville high school in the southern French town of Grasse after local police reported that shots have been fired.

Police say they are still trying to confirm if there are any casualties in the shooting in the town, 40 kilometers (25 miles) from the southern city of Nice.

The shooting at the high school comes as France remains in a state of emergency following deadly attacks in Paris in 2015 and an attack last year in Nice.

— AFP

Former US envoy to Israel Dan Shapiro to join hedge fund

Former United States Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro is joining ION Asset Management, a hedge fund that focuses on Israeli and Israel-related securities, as a senior adviser.

Shapiro will “advise ION about key issues relating to its funds and portfolio companies, particularly regarding relevant geopolitical and commercial matters,” according to a statement.

Shapiro, who was appointed ambassador by former president Barack Obama in 2011, resigned on January 20 to make room for President Donald Trump’s appointee. He has chosen to remain in Israel for “a number of months” while his children attend school in Israel.

Then US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro seen at a fare-well session in the Knesset, on January 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Then US ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro seen at a farewell session in the Knesset, on January 17, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Earlier this month, he joined the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, where he will participate in research programs on Israel-US relations, Israeli-Palestinian relations, the Arab world, and Israeli society and public opinion.

ION was founded in 2006 by Jonathan Half and Stephen Levey.

— JTA

Liberman doubles down on threat to shutter religious pre-army academy

Defense Minsiter Avigdor Liberman doubles down on his call for Rabbi Yigal Levinstein to step down from his position as head of a in light of his stance against female soldiers.

Writing on Facebook, Liberman accuses Education Minister Naftali Bennett of opposing the demand for Levinstein’s resignation for purely political reasons.

“I was saddened to see that instead of joining the call, Nafatali Bennett stood by the side of Rabbi Levinstein for narrow political considerations,” Liberman says. “They are sacrificing the yeshiva and pre-army academy in Eli on the altar of the Jewish Home primaries,” he says.

Liberman says he knows the importance of these “proper” religious institutions and that the “last thing [he] wants to do is harm” them, but he can no longer tolerate Levinstein leading them.

“This is all for a man who has twice apologized after insulting entire populations and has now again hurt — flagrantly and contemptuously — female soldiers of the IDF and women of Israel,” he says.

“Now is the time to come together and protect the united nation of Israel,” Liberman says.

— Judah Ari Gross

East Jerusalem ‘modern builder’ awarded Israel Prize

Education Minsiter Naftali Bennett announces David Be’eri, the founder and chairman of the City of David Foundation, as one of the winners of the 2017 Israel Prize, considered the country’s highest accolade.

Also known as Elad, the City of David Foundation is an Israeli NGO that oversees the Ir David archaeological park in Silwan and is dedicated to facilitating Jewish settlement in Arab East Jerusalem. In recent years it has helped several new Jewish neighborhoods or complexes which have sprung up in heavily populated areas of East Jerusalem, often accompanied by protests or legal challenges. Ir David itself houses about 50 families in a small community.

A newly purchased Jewish home in Silwan, October 2, 2014. (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

A newly purchased Jewish home in Silwan, October 2, 2014. (Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

“The 50th year since the renewed unification of Jerusalem is an excellent opportunity to recognize the good work of David Be’eri, a modern rebuilder of Jerusalem,” Bennett says in a statement.

“For many years we dreamed, prayed and yearned to return to the city in which David dwelt and to rebuild it. David makes that dream a reality,” he adds.

British PM May rejects call for Scottish independence vote

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday rejects a call from Scotland’s leader for a referendum on Scottish independence before Britain leaves the European Union.

May says “now is not the time” to reopen Scotland’s independence debate, though she does not rule out a referendum in the future. Britain is due to begin the two-year exit process from the 28-nation bloc by the end of this month.

The United Kingdom is made up of England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. The country as a whole decided in a June 23 referendum to leave the EU, but in that ballot Scots voted 62 to 38 percent to remain.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced earlier this week that she will seek a referendum on Scottish independence between the fall of 2018 and spring 2019, so voters can decide whether to leave the EU with the rest of the United Kingdom or to go it alone.

The British government must agree to a legally binding referendum and May says “now is not the time.”

“All our energies should be focused on our negotiations with the European Union,” May says, adding that holding a referendum while EU exit talks are still underway would “make it more difficult for us to get the right deal for Scotland and the right deal for the UK.”

— AP

French school shooting not terror — officials

A French police official says a high school principal and two others have been shot by a 17-year-old student, and authorities believe there is no reason to suspect the attack is related to terror.

Police surrounded the area around the Alexis de Tocqueville school in the southern French town of Grasse. The official says in addition to the three wounded in Thursday’s shooting, five other people are being treated for shock. None of the injuries is life-threatening.

The student has been arrested for possessing weapons.

The official said there did not appear to be any other suspects, although police are working to “remove all doubt.” The official, from the national police, was not authorized to be publicly named.

— AFP

Judges chosen to hear Azaria appeal

Judges are chosen to hear the appeal of an 18-month sentence handed down last month to Elor Azaria, convicted of killing a wounded Palestinian stabber.

Justice Doron Fleiss will head the court and be joined on the bench by justices Tigal Flitman and Tzvi Sefal.

Azaria, 21, was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 18 months for shooting dead Abed al-Fattah al-Sharif on March 24, 2016, minutes after Sharif and another man had carried out a stabbing attack against troops in Hebron, and as Sharif lay on the ground disarmed and wounded having been shot during the attack.

Both the prosecution and defense have appealed the sentence.

Liberman declares Palestinian National Fund a terrorist organization

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman declares the “Palestinian National Fund” to be a terrorist organization, accusing it of providing “massive support” to terrorists and funneling “tens of millions of shekels” to Palestinian security prisoners and their families each month.

“The fund has a crucial role in the financial support for Palestinian terrorist operatives imprisoned in Israel, and it is used as the most significant route for transferring money,” Liberman says in a statement.

The defense minister says that Israel will take steps to seize the fund’s “money and property” in order to prevent the support of terror.

In order to declare the fund a terrorist organization, Liberman invoked Israel’s 2016 “Fight Against Terror” law.

— Judah Ari Gross

Conference of Presidents Condemns UN report ‘demonizing Israel’

Leaders of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations are calling on United Nations Secretary General António Guterres to publicly reject a UN report that accused Israel of committing apartheid against the Palestinians.

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia — an agency based in Beirut, Lebanon, and composed of 18 Arab member states, including what is identified as the State of Palestine — released the report Wednesday. In its conclusion, the report says it “establishes, on the basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid.”

“This latest outrage perpetrated against Israel by a UN body must not be allowed to stand,” say Stephen M. Greenberg, chairman, and Malcolm Hoenlein, executive vice chairman/CEO of the Conference of Presidents in a statement.

Hollande: State of emergency should remain

French President Francois Hollande says a school shooting in southern France has no direct links to terrorism but insists that France should remain “vigilant” and stay under a state of emergency.

Hollande says a school principal and two others were shot in Thursday’s attack in the town of Grasse, and investigators are trying to determine how the shooter entered the premises with weapons. A 17-year-old student has been arrested.

Police officers take position after an attack in a high school student in Grasse, southern France, March 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Philippe Farjon)

Police officers take position after an attack in a high school student in Grasse, southern France, March 16, 2017. (AP Photo/Philippe Farjon)

Christian Estrosi, president of the region that includes Grasse, says the school principal tried to intervene when the student was making threats “but unfortunately he didn’t succeed.”

After the school attack and a letter bomb explosion in Paris on Thursday, Hollande said the country’s state of emergency is “justified.” It was imposed after deadly Islamic extremist attacks in 2015 and has been extended through July.

— AP

Abbas says ‘all’ worldwide terror stems from Israel-Palestinian conflict

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says that a failure to reach a peace deal between Israel and the Palestinians is the impetus for “all” global terrorism.

“Violence and terror worldwide all stem from the fact that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict hasn’t been solved,” he tells journalists at a press conference with Bosnian President Mladen Ivanic in Ramallah.

Ivanic, on a trip this week to Israel and the West Bank, met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu yesterday where the two discussed “enhancing bilateral economic, academic and scientific ties,” according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.

Abbas says Trump brings hope for ‘peace’

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says he hopes recent meetings with US President Donald Trump’s team lead to “peace” between Israelis and Palestinians.

Trump called the Palestinian president on March 10 for the first time since his inauguration, inviting him to the White House.

“We’ll decide on [the date of] this meeting as quickly as possible,” Abbas tells a press conference at his presidential complex in Ramallah.

Abbas says he welcomes the visits of several US officials, including CIA chief Mike Pompeo in mid-February and Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, whom he met on Tuesday.

“We have exchanged many ideas,” Abbas says. “Our hope is that those contacts result in the end in a peace that is led by the United States and the international community.”

— AFP

Turkish cargo ship sinks off Libya, seven missing

A Turkish cargo vessel sinks off the coast of Libya, leaving seven crew members missing, as high winds and waves battered the region, the Libyan navy said on Thursday.

Six other members of the Turkish crew were rescued after the ship requested assistance several kilometres from the port of Misrata, navy spokesman General Ayoub Qassem says.

He says the Turkish-flagged ship was carrying marble dust and was about 2-2.5 nautical miles from shore when it radioed a call seeking help.

“The search is underway for the seven missing… but the sea is very rough and the waves are high,” says Qassem.

He adds that the ship sunk because of the “bad weather and because the ship is old.”

— AFP

Netanyahu ends 3-hour meeting with Trump envoy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu finishes his second meeting with US President Donald Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations after three hours of talks.

The meeting was the second during Greenblatt’s trip this week to Israel and the West Bank. He has met with Netanyahu for a total of eight hours.

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Assistant to the President and Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, March 13, 2017. (Matty Stern/US Embassy Tel Aviv)

Greenblatt has met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders during the trip, which included a visit to the Jalazoun refugee camp in the West Bank.

UK Board of Deputies slams UN report on Israel

The UK Jewish community umbrella organisation slams a UN report that accused Israel of committing apartheid against the Palestinians, calling it a “shameful exercise in distortion, delegitimization and propaganda.”

The UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia — an agency based in Beirut, Lebanon, and composed of 18 Arab member states, including what is identified as the State of Palestine — released the report Wednesday. In its conclusion, the report says it “establishes, on the basis of scholarly inquiry and overwhelming evidence, that Israel is guilty of the crime of apartheid.”

Board of Deputies Senior Vice President Richard Verber said: “This latest report on Israel from an obscure UN agency is a shameful exercise in distortion, delegitimization and propaganda. It is wholly unacceptable to singularly deny the Jewish people the right to self-determination, let alone spread barefaced lies about the situation faced by Israel’s citizens today. We call on the governments of UN Member States to condemn publicly this outrageous ‘report.'”

Over 2 years after mikvah-peeping rabbi’s arrest, DC synagogue hires successor

Kesher Israel hires a successor to Rabbi Barry Freundel, who was arrested two and a half years ago for secretly videotaping women in the mikvah ritual bath of the Washington, DC, synagogue, and is now in prison.

Rabbi Hyim Shafner, a congregational rabbi in St. Louis since 2004, will serve as the senior rabbi of the modern Orthodox congregation in the Georgetown section of the nation’s capital. Rabbi Avidan Milevsky has been serving on an interim basis since July 2015.

In a letter to the congregation, Kesher Israel President Elanit Jakabovics describes Shafner as “humble, genuine, spiritual, and healing,” as well as “sensitive to the needs of his community and thoughtful in his approach.”

Freundel, 64, was arrested in October 2014, and began serving a 6 1/2-year sentence in May 2015 after pleading guilty to 52 counts of voyeurism.

— JTA

PM and Trump envoy make ‘progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US US President Donald Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, “made progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction,” in their second meeting this week, the two say in a joint statement.

“The Prime Minister and Mr. Greenblatt met today for another positive discussion regarding the shared interest of the United States and Israel in advancing a genuine and lasting peace between Israel and the Palestinians that strengthens the security of Israel. Toward that end, in addition to discussing how to achieve progress in the coming months, they discussed concrete measures that could help support and advance Palestinian economic development,” the statement reads.

“They also made progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction, following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders’ views. Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office,” it adds.

French shooting is ‘insane act’ — Education Minister

French Education Minister Najat Vallaud-Belkacem says the shooting in a high school in southern France appears to be the “insane act of a fragile young man fascinated by weapons.”

Vallaud-Belkacem has visited the high school in the town of Grasse to meet with the staff, after a 16-year-old student opened fire, wounding two other students and the principle trying to intervene.

She said psychological assistance is being proposed to help students who would need it.

“Ongoing investigations are going to establish whether the assailant was helped by an accomplice”, she added.

— AP

Sparking Jewish fears, Chris Christie cuts security budget for nonpublic schools

New Jersey Governor Chris Christie eliminates security funding for nonpublic schools in his proposed state budget, sparking charges from a Jewish group that he is endangering Jewish day school students.

The proposed spending plan released Wednesday does not include the $11.2 million allowance to protect private schools that Christie signed into law six months ago. The Secure Schools for All Children Act, which was passed unanimously by the legislature, would have raised the per-child allocation for security from $50 to $75.

Illustrative: The Albany JCC closed briefly due to a bomb scare, January 18, 2017. (Screenshot from Twitter via JTA)

Illustrative: The Albany JCC closed briefly due to a bomb scare, January 18, 2017. (Screenshot from Twitter via JTA)

“With bomb threats pouring in at JCCs all over the country, acts of anti-Semitism taking place nationwide and Jewish cemeteries being vandalized, there could not be a worse time to cut security funding for schoolchildren,” Rabbi Avi Schnall, director of the haredi Orthodox Agudath Israel of New Jersey, says in a statement.

Schnall said that by approving the $11.2 million allowance, the governor had sent a clear message to New Jersey residents that the safety of private school children was no less important than that of their public school counterparts. “What message is the governor now delivering by eliminating the entire nonpublic school security program?” Schnall asks.

— JTA

Trump envoy thanks Netanyahu, Abbas for meetings

US President Donald Trump’s Special Representative for International Negotiations Jason Greenblatt thanks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas after meetings with both of them during his visit to Israel and the West Bank this week.

He says they discussed “our commitment to a lasting peace.”

Top senators: No evidence Trump Tower bugged by Obama

Two senior US senators say they have seen no evidence to back the claim made by President Donald Trump that the Obama administration wiretapped his Trump Tower in New York.

Republican Richard Burr, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and the committee’s Democratic vice chair Mark Warner, say in a statement that they had received no information to support Trump’s claim, made in a tweet on March 4.

“Based on the information available to us, we see no indications that Trump Tower was the subject of surveillance by any element of the United States government either before or after Election Day 2016,” they say.

On March 4, Trump sparked a furor with tweets that accused former president Barack Obama of ordering a wiretap on the New York skyscraper, where Trump and his family live and run his real estate empire. “Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” Trump wrote on Twitter.

— AFP

Police preparing for ultra-Orthodox disruptions at Jerusalem marathon

Police are gearing up to meet threats from a militant group within Jerusalem’s ultra-Orthodox community that it will send hundreds of religious students to disrupt Friday’s annual marathon in the capital, Channel 2 News reports.

The group’s members are protesting the arrest last month of a student from a yeshiva religious seminary — Yisrael Meir Toledano — who, like hundreds of others, obeyed the order of prominent Rabbi Shmuel Auerbach to avoid compulsory conscription to the army.

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest against the jailing of a Jewish seminary student who failed to comply with an army recruitment order, Jerusalem, March 15, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox Jews protest against the jailing of a Jewish seminary student who failed to comply with an army recruitment order, Jerusalem, March 15, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

On Wednesday, nine people were detained in Jerusalem as hundreds of ultra-Orthodox Jews blocked traffic in Jerusalem and at exchanges elsewhere in the country.

Toledano, a student at the Meirat Shemua Yeshiva, was arrested on Sunday night at his home in Ofakim. On Tuesday a military court extended his remand until Thursday.

Conjoined twin sisters born in West Bank share one heart

A Palestinian woman has given birth to conjoined twin sisters who share a heart, her husband says, as he launched an urgent search for funds to pay for their surgical separation abroad.

“My wife and my two daughters are in hospital and doctors say they are all in good health,” Anwar Zyadat says, from the West Bank city of Hebron. “The operation that will allow them to be separated is impossible in Palestine, but doctors tell us that it might be doable in Saudi Arabia.”

The two sisters, Acil and Hadil, who are joined at the waist, share a single heart and circulatory system, according to medics.

The operation, which would require the girls to reach Saudi Arabia through Jordan, is “very expensive,” according to Zyadat.

“We don’t know who can help, perhaps private donors, though no one has approached us so far,” says the father of 10.

Many Palestinians receive medical treatment abroad, most often in Israel. Much of the costs are passed on to the Palestinian Authority that runs the occupied West Bank. Last year two conjoined twins were born in the Gaza Strip but the sisters did not survive.

— AFP

Abbas says Liberman destroying Oslo accords

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas slams the Israeli decision to designate the Palestinian National Fund a terror organization as an attempt to derail American attempts to renew the peace process and a “fundamental” violation of the Oslo Accords.

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman declared the PNF to be a terrorist organization on Thursday, accusing the Palestinian Authority-linked organization of providing “massive support” to terrorists and funneling “tens of millions of shekels” each month to Palestinian security prisoners and their families.

The Palestinian National Fund is said to contain billions of dollars from wealthy Arab donors and profits from various investments. It is run by Ramzi Elias Yousef Khoury, a high-ranking member of the Palestinian Authority.

Abbas, in a statement posted to the PA official news outlet Wafa, says the move “is a fundamental violation of the Oslo Accords,” an agreement signed in 1993 that set the terms of the relationship between Israel and the PA.

The PA leader adds: “At a time when US President Donald Trump’s envoy is in the region and the US administration is trying to create an atmosphere for peace-making through talks, this announcement is an Israeli attempt to obstruct and sabotage the US efforts and to belittle them.”

Abbas says the PA “totally rejects” Liberman’s decision and calls on the Israeli government to reverse it immediately, because it “would blow up the legal agreement [that underpins] the relationship with Israel.”

— Dov Lieber

MK Ghattas reaches plea bargain, will resign from Knesset, serve 2 years in prison

Knesset member Bassel Ghattas has reached a pleas bargain whereby he will admit to smuggling phones to security prisoners in Israeli jails, resign immediately from the Knesset, and serve a prison sentence.

A full indictment for smuggling phones into prison, giving tools to be used for terrorism, smuggling documents and breach of trust will be served next week, the Attorney General’s office says in a statement.

Under the agreement, Ghattas will agree to a two year prison sentence and a fine a determined by the court.

Footage appearing to show MK Basel Ghattas handing over a package to Palestinian prisoner Walid Daka (Screen capture: Channel 2)

Footage appearing to show MK Basel Ghattas handing over a package to Palestinian prisoner Walid Daka (Screen capture: Channel 2)

Ghattas, of the Joint (Arab) List’s Balad party, is under a criminal investigation after he was caught on prison surveillance video passing envelopes to Palestinian security prisoners in January.

Police say that Ghattas exploited his position as a member of Knesset, who cannot be subjected to a body search, during a visit to Ketziot Prison last year where he met with Walid Daka, a Palestinian prisoner serving a 37-year sentence for the 1984 abduction and murder of 19-year-old IDF soldier Moshe Tamam. The MK also met with Basel Ben Sulieman Bezre, who is serving a 15-year sentence on a terror conviction.

Ghattas has consistently denied the allegations against him, but has had to contend with video footage that appears to show him smuggling the cellphones into the prison.

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