The Times of Israel blogged Sunday’s news as it unfolded.
Netanyahu hails ‘new day’ after ‘historic’ talks with Trump
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vaunts the success of his talks last week with President Donald Trump, saying his trip to Washington augured “a new day” in Israel’s relations with the US.
“The alliance between Israel and the US has always been steadfast but, I told them there and also here in Jerusalem: This alliance has become even stronger,” he says at his first cabinet meeting since returning to Israel on Friday.
Citing his personal connection with Trump as well as “the common view about the dangers and opportunities in the Middle East,” Netanyahu says that on his “historic visit” he and the president saw “eye to eye” on a range of issues facing the region, specifically noting the threat posed by Iranian aggression.
“I must point out that at the end of the meeting with the president, he shook my hand and defined relations between Israel and the US as ‘a new day.’ I must tell you that there is a new day here and it is a good day,” he says.
— Raoul Wootliff
Netanyahu takes off for Singapore and Australia
Netanyahu is set to take off this afternoon for a week-long trip to Singapore and Australia, becoming the first-ever sitting Israeli prime minister to visit those countries.
“We will strengthen security, economic and other ties with these countries,” he says at the cabinet meeting. “In Australia I will, together with Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, hold a meeting with businesspeople from both countries in order to increase trade between Israel and Australia. What we are doing to strengthen Israel’s standing in the world is to open new markets.”
Upon landing in Singapore Monday morning, Netanyahu will make his way to Istana, the small city-state’s presidential residence, for meetings with Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and President Tony Tan Keng Yam.
Last year, Lee became the first Singaporean prime minister to visit Israel.
— Times of Israel staff
Breaking: 14 killed in Mogadishu car bomb
At least 14 killed in Mogadishu car blast, officials say.
Netanyahu says he hopes his trip Down Under will fuel growth
On the plane, before taking off for Singapore and Australia, Netanyahu delivers a brief video statement.
He says Singapore and Australia are “important friends of ours.”
“We’re expanding our ties, our commercial ties. It helps our economy grow, and, thank God, it’s growing,” he says.
“And it’s important that the fruit of that growth trickle down to each and every citizen – to young couples, the elderly, everyone. We’re working on it.”
Trump invents Sweden terror incident
US President Donald Trump, speaking to supporters on Saturday, apparently refers to Sweden as the site of a terror incident — the latest example of his administration naming a nonexistent attack.
The Republican was addressing a campaign-style rally in Florida when he launched into a list of places that have been targeted by terrorists.
“You look at what’s happening in Germany, you look at what’s happening last night in Sweden. Sweden, who would believe this? Sweden. They took in large numbers. They’re having problems like they never thought possible,” he said in an energetic stream-of-consciousness speech.
Users on Twitter, Trump’s favorite communication platform, cracked jokes about the apparent miscue using the hashtags #lastnightinSweden and #SwedenIncident.
Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt asked: “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound.”
Gunnar Hokmark, a Swedish member of the European Parliament, retweeted a post that said “#lastnightinSweden my son dropped his hotdog in the campfire. So sad!”
Hokmark added his own comment: “How could he know?”
Numerous internet wags responded with Ikea-themed tweets. Some posted photos of the impossible-to-understand instructions for assembling Ikea furniture, calling it “Secret Plans for the #SwedenIncident.”
Posts flooded into @sweden, the country’s official Twitter account which is run by a different Swede each week.
This week’s curator, Emma, who describes herself as a school librarian and mother, said the account had received 800 mentions in four hours.
“No. Nothing has happened here in Sweden. There has not (been) any terrorist attacks here. At all,” she said.
Trump should help kick ‘Russia’s ass,’ senator says
US President Donald Trump should come clean and back moves to “kick Russia’s ass” for its alleged meddling in last year’s US election, senior Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says.
Trump has been embroiled in questions over his ties with Russia and last week his national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign over contacts with Moscow’s ambassador in Washington.
The president has repeatedly said he wants to improve relations with Russia, but Graham says Trump should be much more focused on hitting back at Russia over its alleged hacking of the Democratic Party’s network to discredit candidate Hillary Clinton in his favor.
“My goal is to put it on Trump’s desk and I hope he’ll embrace the idea that as the leader of the free world he should be working with us to punish Russia,” Graham tells a Munich Security Conference panel.
“2017 is going to be a year of kicking Russia in the ass in Congress,” he says.
Graham says the president needed to be completely open. “My biggest concern with President Trump … is that he’s never really looked the camera in the eye.”
The president should do that and say, “‘Even though it was the Democratic Party that suffered from Russian interference, I am now the leader of the free world and I can assure you they’re going to pay a price on my watch for trying to interfere in our election,'” Graham says.
Settlers reject Netanyahu-Trump settlement ‘team’
The Yesha Council umbrella organization of Jewish settlements rejects Netanyahu’s announcement that he and US President Trump will establish a joint team to discuss the settlements.
In a statement, the settlers say the establishment of such a team was “unacceptable.”
“After an eight-year freeze on planning and construction in Judea, Samaria and the Jordan Valley, we must resume expedited, ongoing construction in the settlements without the intervention of any outside elements.”
The statement came after Netanyahu discussed his meeting last week with Trump at the weekly cabinet meeting.
“We also agreed to create a team in an area that we have not previously agreed on: I mean, of course, on settlement in Judea and Samaria,” he said.
— AFP contributed
Palestinian filmmaker wins Berlinale festival award
Palestinian filmmaker Raed Andoni wins the Berlinale Film Festival’s Silver Bear for best documentary for his film “Istiyad Ashbah” (“Ghost Hunting”), a reenactment by former inmates of what takes place at Israel’s main interrogation center.
Andoni, 49, recreated the interrogation room in a Ramallah basement, with former inmates discussing prison life and the humiliations they endured during detention.
According to a review in Variety, which called it an “ethically problematic documentary,” the film uses the outdated notion of acting out one’s trauma as a means of catharsis, as Andoni watched his actors verbally and physically abuse one another.
Andoni, who was himself detained at age 18, placed a newspaper ad looking for former prisoners for his film.
The film mixes graphics with live action.
Andoni’s previous film was “Fix Me.”
— Jessica Steinberg
London mayor: ‘Cruel’ Trump should be denied state visit
LONDON — London’s mayor says that President Trump shouldn’t receive a state visit in Britain because of his “cruel” policies on immigration.
Sadiq Khan says the US president should not get VIP treatment when he comes to Britain later this year because of his “ban on people from seven Muslim-majorities countries” and his decision to block refugees from entering the United States.
Khan says that “in those circumstances we shouldn’t be rolling out the red carpet.”
He speaks one day before British legislators are expected to debate a proposal to downgrade the planned state visit. The debate is scheduled in response to an online petition calling for the honor to be rescinded.
A state visit usually includes extensive pomp and a stay at Buckingham Palace.
Israeli hospital helps deaf Palestinian children hear
Sixteen deaf Palestinian children were able to hear for the first time after undergoing a procedure at an Israeli hospital to repair their hearing, the Ynet news site reports.
The operations, known as cochlear implant surgery, were performed by doctors at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem over the course of the past year, with the most recent surgeries taking place last month.
A cochlear implant is a small electronic implant that stimulates the auditory senses, with an external microphone then transferring the sounds to the internal part of the device and allowing the patient to hear, according to John Hopkins Hospital.
Although the device itself does not completely restore hearing, patients who undergo the operation are eventually able to recover their ability to discern sounds with the help of continued therapy.
The surgeries were carried out as part of a program by the Peres Peace Center, founded by the late president Shimon Peres, for Palestinian children from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
— Times of Israel staff
Hamas sentences 6 to death for ‘spying for Israel’
A Hamas military court condemns six Gazan men to death by hanging for allegedly spying for Israel, according to the Palestinian news site Safa.
Three of the men are newly sentenced and three others have their prior sentences upheld by the court.
The report says seven other men also charged with spying for Israel receive prison sentences ranging from 12 to 17 years.
The verdicts raise the number of people on death row to 10, a number likely to increase since others are still appealing their death sentences. The courts have sentenced Gaza residents to death by hanging or shooting for convictions of murder or collaborating with Israel.
Human rights groups are concerned about the provision of fair trial standards under Hamas, an Islamic terror group that seized power in Gaza in 2007.
The Western-backed Palestinian Authority in the West Bank has issued a small number of death sentences over the years, but none have been approved by President Mahmoud Abbas or carried out.
— Dov Lieber and AP
Woman drowns in the Dead Sea
A woman drowns in the Dead Sea and is declared dead after resuscitation efforts fail.
Reports say she is about 60 years old.
Shin Bet arrests Palestinian teens for shooting attacks
The Shin Bet security service announces that during January it, along with the IDF and Israel Police, arrested two Palestinian minors suspected of carrying out shooting attacks in the Binyamin region, north of Jerusalem in the West Bank.
In a press release, the Shin Bet says the two suspects, both 17 and from the Palestinian village of Deir Abu Mash’al west of Ramallah, were arrested hours after shooting at Israeli cars on January 27.
The investigation also found that the two had carried out an earlier roadside shooting, on December 14, 2016, near the Halamish settlement, the Shin Bet says, as well as unspecified “additional attacks.”
There were no injuries in any of those attacks.
The Shin Bet says that during the investigation, security forces uncovered two makeshift Carlo rifles that agents then matched to casings taken from the scenes of the shooting.
“This investigation reveals, once again, the involvement of minors in severe terror activity, as well as the tangible security threat posed by terrorists’ access to makeshift weapons that can cause massive damage,” the statement says.
Netanyahu confirms he attended regional peace summit
Prime Minister Netanyahu confirms that he attended a secret summit last year meant to kickstart a regional peace plan toward a two-state solution and recognition of Israel as a Jewish state.
During a meeting with Likud ministers, Netanyahu says he was the one to initiate the meeting that culminated in the summit, attended by himself, US Secretary of State John Kerry, Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi and Jordan’s King Abdullah, on February 21, 2016.
Netanyahu ultimately rejected the peace plan.
The revelations come days after Netanyahu called for such an initiative at his first meeting with US President Donald Trump.
— Raoul Wootliff and Stuart Winer
Saudi FM: Iran the main sponsor of terror
Saudi Arabia’s foreign minister says Iran is the prime sponsor of international terror and the biggest threat to stability in the Middle East.
“Iran remains the single main sponsor of terrorism in the world,” Adel al-Jubeir tells delegates at the Munich Security Conference. “It’s determined to upend the order in Middle East… [and] until and unless Iran changes its behavior it would be very difficult to deal with a country like this.”
Jubeir says “Iran is the only one in the Middle East that hasn’t been targeted by Islamic State and al-Qaeda,” implying there was a relationship between the regime and terror groups.
He also claims the Iranians took advantage of the goodwill of the nations that negotiated a nuclear deal with them in 2015. They “stepped up the tempo of their mischief” while the negotiations were taking place, he says, and continue to do so today.
“I believe that Iran knows where the red lines are if the red lines are drawn clearly, and I believe that the world has to make it clear to the Iranians that there is certain behavior that will not be tolerated, and that there will be consequences,” Jubeir tells the conference. “And those consequences have to be in tune with the financial side.”
He says that extending a hand to Iran won’t work. “For 35 years, we have offered Iran our friendship and support, and got nothing but death and destruction.”
Jubeir adds that he is “very optimistic about the Trump administration.”
— AP and Times of Israel staff
Trump’s defense secretary: Media isn’t the enemy
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis refuses to fall into line behind President Donald Trump’s characterization of the press as “the enemy of the American people.”
“I’ve had some rather contentious times with the press. But no, the press, as far as I’m concerned, are a constituency that we deal with. And I don’t have any issues with the press, myself,” he says, according to Reuters.
Trump had tweeted Saturday that “The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) February 17, 2017
Crane collapses in Ashdod port; no injuries
A crane collapses on a ship at the Ashdod port.
There are no injuries.
The incident comes less than a week after a crane collapsed in Bat Yam, injuring several people.
Jordanian detained trying to smuggle ancient coins into Israel
The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which monitors Israel’s crossings with the West Bank, says it confiscated 53 ancient coins that a Jordanian traveler was attempting to smuggle into Israel.
A traveler from Jordan was stopped trying to smuggle 53 ancient coins into Israel. COGAT assisted in stopping this theft of regional history pic.twitter.com/iLBrFWmv90
— COGAT (@cogat_israel) February 19, 2017
White House denies seeking to control national security advisor
A top aide denies that US President Donald Trump is having difficulty filling the key post of national security adviser because of White House moves to politicize the office.
Trump, at his Mar-a-Lago getaway in Florida, is set to interview four candidates to replace Mike Flynn, the retired general who was ousted as national security adviser for deceiving Vice President Mike Pence about his contacts with Russia’s ambassador to Washington.
Meanwhile, White House chief of staff Reince Preibus hits the Sunday television talk shows to push back at reports of disarray at the National Security Council, the president’s main forum for decision-making about issues of national security and foreign affairs.
On Fox News Sunday, Priebus is asked whether Trump is insisting that his controversial chief strategist Steve Bannon play a major role in the NSC, reportedly a source of concern to candidates for the national security adviser position.
“The answer to that is no,” Priebus says.
IKEA apologizes for woman-free, Haredi-friendly catalogue
Swedish furniture giant IKEA apologizes for publishing a catalogue for Israel’s Haredi Orthodox community that does not include any photos of women.
A spokeswoman in IKEA’s headquarters in Sweden tells Israeli and international media outlets that the catalogue was produced by its Israel branch, which has three stores, and that it is “not something that has gone through us.” The spokeswoman also says that “we have been very clear that this is not what the IKEA brand stands for.”
The catalogue features furniture that would be in demand by large-sized ultra-Orthodox families. There also are no photographs of women, in keeping with the community’s strict tradition of modesty.
“Due to requests we received, we decided to launch an alternative and special catalogue, which allows the religious and Haredi communities to enjoy thumbing through our products and the solutions that IKEA offers in accordance with their lifestyle,” IKEA’s Israel headquarters said in a statement when it released the catalogue earlier this month.
Over the weekend, Shuky Koblenz, chief executive of IKEA in Israel, said in a statement: “We realize that people are upset about this and that the publication does not live up to what IKEA stands for and we apologize for this. We will make sure that future publications will reflect what IKEA stands for and at the same time show respect for the Haredi community.”
All IKEA outlets in Israel have kosher restaurants and are closed on the Jewish Sabbath and holidays.
Other Israeli companies and institutions have excluded women in advertisements geared toward the Haredi community, which makes up about 10 percent of Israel’s population.
Sweden seeks clarifications from Trump
Sweden’s embassy in Washington has asked for an explanation about a comment from President Donald Trump that appeared to refer to a non-existent terror attack, the foreign ministry in Stockholm says.
“We have now contacted the American (State Department) to understand and receive clarity,” ministry press officer Catarina Axelsson tells AFP.
AP source: Senators want materials saved for Russia probe
WASHINGTON — The Senate intelligence committee has sent formal requests to more than a dozen organizations, agencies and individuals, asking them to preserve all materials related to a probe the panel is conducting on Russian interference in the 2016 election and related issues, a congressional aide says.
The committee chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., and its vice chairman, Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., sent letters out on Friday — the same day committee members received a classified briefing from FBI Director James Comey. Committee members declined to comment on what was discussed after the more than hourlong briefing.
On Thursday, Senate Democrats wrote the White House and law enforcement agencies seeking assurances that they were preserving all materials related to contacts individuals associated with President Donald Trump had with Russians.
Those letters asked for confirmation that the White House, FBI and Justice Department had instructed their employees to preserve all materials related to any contacts Trump’s administration, campaign, transition team — or anyone acting on their behalf — have had with Russian government officials or its associates.
The letter to the White House counsel said the executive branch and Congress have been investigating Russia’s efforts to interfere with the 2016 election. As a part of these investigations, there have been ongoing inquiries into communications or contacts between the Trump campaign or Trump transition team and associates or officials of the Russian government, including communications involving ousted national security adviser Mike Flynn.
Congressional staffers have said that they are not aware of any evidence that materials are not being preserved, but Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer of New York said Thursday on the Senate floor: “There is real concern that some in the administration may try to cover up its ties to Russia by deleting emails, texts and other records that could shine a light on those connections. These records are likely to be the subject of executive branch as well as congressional investigations and must be preserved.”
Jordan’s Abdullah discusses peace process with US Congresspeople
Jordan’s King Abdullah II meets with a delegation of US members of Congress that deals, among other topics, with efforts to jumpstart the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace process, according to the official Jordanian Petra news agency.
The meeting comes among increasing efforts — endorsed by US President Donald Trump during his meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last week — to facilitate greater regional cooperation.
According to a report today, Netanyahu participated in a summit meeting last February that was attended, among others, by Abdullah, and which had dealt with a regional peace proposal.
Rivlin says ‘polarization’ in the US is concerning
Without mentioning his American counterpart by name, President Reuven Rivlin expresses “concern” over the situation in the United States.
“We are very concerned by polarization in society and politics, and we share your concerns for these trends that you have experienced in the US,” he says at en event of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Organizations in Jerusalem. “When a society is divided, it is not easy to find and maintain the shared vision, and the shared space.
“We respect all the Jews in North America, and we know that Israel is important to you. We appreciate your concern, and we have no doubt that whatever your politics, you care for the safety for the prosperity and for the well-being of the State of Israel.”
Dem Jewish House members urge Trump to observe religious freedom
More than 20 Democratic Jewish members of the House of Representatives call on US President Donald Trump to not sign an executive order that would exempt religious organizations from adhering to nondiscrimination protection.
The letter sent on Thursday was in reaction to news reports that Trump would sign the order allowing federally funded, faith-based organizations to discriminate against people they believe act in a manner inconsistent with their religious beliefs and values.
“The use of religious faith as a tool to discriminate contradicts a core American value, and the principles of social justice and equality so central to our Jewish faith,” says Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D.-Fla., a signer of the letter, in a statement issued from her office.
Among the lifestyles objected to by the faith-based organizations, which could include some Orthodox Jewish organizations, are same-sex marriage, premarital sex, abortion and transgender identity.
“Just as our nation’s foundational texts call on us to preserve and promote equal justice under the law, the ancient Jewish command of ‘tzedek, tzedek tirdof,’ or ‘justice, justice shall you seek!’ compels us to speak out against bigotry, discrimination, injustice. This guiding tenet informs our ardent opposition to any rules, orders, or policies that would allow discrimination against our constituents based on their identity or beliefs,” the letter says.
“Make no mistake — we celebrate the right of all people to worship and believe in accordance with their faith. However, this right does not override the rights of other Americans to live their truth, receive necessary health care services or seek employment,” the letter adds.