The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.
Plane makes emergency landing at Ovda airport
A state of emergency is declared at the Ovda airport, outside the southern resort city of Eilat, as a plane makes an emergency landing.
The Israir flight is carrying 76 passengers and crew.
Reports on Hebrew-language news sites say there is something wrong with the plane, without specifying.
Israel, the US have worst inequality in OECD
When it comes to inequality, Israel is second only to the United States among developed nations, an OECD report says.
In Israel, the richest 10 percent earn 15 times more than the poorest 10%, a lot more the average gap between haves and have-nots among OECD nations, which is 9.6 times.
The average income of the top 10 percent in the US was 19 times higher than the bottom 10 percent in 2013. The US figure rose from just 11 times higher 30 years ago, the OECD says.
The report also says Israel is failing to increase sufficiently the participation of women in the workforce, a key driver for reducing inequality.
“There’s a [long] way to go in Israel to get the female employment rates higher,” says Mark Pearson, the author of the report.
Policies to improve women’s treatment in the labor market and measures to reverse the growing share of low-quality, “dead-end” jobs are key to reducing income inequality and unlocking more economic growth, the OECD says.
“Put simply: rising inequality is bad for long-term growth,” the OECD concludes in the report, which is titled “In It Together, Why Less Inequality Benefits All.”
AP contributed to this post.
West Bank mayor a witness in Beytenu graft case
Gershon Mesika, head of the Shomron Regional Council, is named as a state’s witness in a massive, high-level corruption scandal that has so far implicated senior current and former politicians, as well as dozens of other public officials.
Mesika, who is expected to resign from his position later today, gave police information about moneys that were transferred to senior officials, among them Faina Kirshenbaum, who stepped down as deputy interior ministry in January, weeks after news of the investigation broke.
Police said at the time that a year-long covert investigation had revealed a large system by which politicians funneled cash and favors to local bodies and other groups, as well as their members, in exchange for kickbacks.
Suspects “conspired in a calculated manner to advance their personal and public interests and to receive money for personal use, while committing various crimes in a manner that significantly impeded the administration of their areas of governance,” police said in a statement at the time.
The investigation targeted a number of high-level officials in the Yisrael Beytenu party with only months to go before March’s Knesset election, and party leader Avigdor Liberman accused police of an ongoing witch hunt against him.
Mesika is not suspected of taking bribes for personal use but rather of using money garnered through the scheme to promote the interests and activities of the Shomron Regional Council, police say.
Jews added to German anti-Semitism panel
Germany’s Interior Ministry says it has appointed two Jews to a new commission on anti-Semitism in response to criticism that there was none among the original eight experts chosen.
The ministry says that Marina Chernivsky, of a Berlin-based organization that fights anti-Semitism and xenophobia, and Andreas Nachama, director of the Topography of Terror museum in the capital that documents Nazi-era crimes, will both join the commission.
When created earlier this year the commission drew widespread criticism for not including any Jews; the Interior Ministry responded that the religious affiliation of the experts hadn’t been a criterion in the selection process.
The commission will investigate anti-Semitism in Germany over the next two years and present its findings to Parliament as a basis for a discussion on how to tackle problems.
3 indicted in gang rape of female soldier
The military prosecution files indictments against three male corporals for the gang rape of a female soldier at the Hatzerim airbase in April, Ynet reports.
They stand accused of various offenses, including rape and sodomy.
A fourth soldier will be indicted in the coming days, the report says.
The four allegedly entered the woman’s room and took turns raping her.
The victim filed a complaint with the military police in late April at the urging of her commanding officers.
Shai Roda, a criminal attorney representing one of the four suspects, has claimed that the sexual relations between his client and the complainant were consensual.
The number of complaints in the army regarding sexual offenses has increased in recent years, with 777 complaints in 2012, 930 in 2013, and 1,073 in 2014, according to Haaretz.
IDF recaps Nepal aid mission
The IDF releases a video “recap” of its aid mission to Nepal in the wake of the massive earthquake there last month.
Netanyahu appoints new PMO director
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu names Eli Groner as the new director of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Groner is a former economic attache to Washington, as well as a onetime reporter for the Jerusalem Post.
Deputy FM asserts historical right to West Bank
Israel’s deputy defense minister, who in the absence of a minister is the country’s de facto top diplomat, says that Israeli officials shouldn’t mince words in stating to their foreign counterparts that the entire Land of Israel belongs to the Jewish people.
In an unapologetic incoming speech to Foreign Ministry employees, Tzipi Hotovely says that “the time has come to tell the world that we’re right – not only smart.”
“We must return to the basic truth about our right to the land,” says Hotovely, who favors the annexation of the West Bank over the establishment of a Palestinian state. “We didn’t come here to apologize for that.
“Of course the world understands Israel’s security needs, but arguments of ethics and justice will trump security arguments,” she says, urging Israeli diplomats throughout the world to reiterate the Jewish people’s right to the entire land.
During her speech, Hotovely cites the medieval biblical commentator Rashi, who wrote that the Bible related the story of the birth of the Jewish people in the Land of Israel, and its emergence from Egypt, in order to shore up its claim to the land.
According to Haaretz, diplomats are shocked at the speech, and many of them “raised an eyebrow” over the reference to a Jewish biblical right to the land.
“It’s the first time anyone has asked us to use verses from the Torah for hasbara abroad,” one diplomat is quoted as saying.
Palestinian boy wounded in clash with police
A 10-year-old Palestinian boy from the Shuafat refugee camp in East Jerusalem is moderately wounded after he is hit in the face by a foam pellet fired by a Border Police officer.
His injury comes as a group of Palestinian youths throw rocks at the Israeli law enforcement officers, who respond with crowd-control munitions, Ynet reports.
He is evacuated by ambulance to the Hadassah Hospital in the city’s Ein Kerem neighborhood.
The Border Police are securing infrastructure works in the area.
On Wednesday, a Palestinian man plowed a car into a group of police officers, injuring two in an alleged deliberate attack. He was shot dead by officers at the scene.
Rivlin: No need for Arabs to sing national anthem
President Reuven Rivlin says Israel’s Arab citizens need not sing the country’s national anthem, “Hatikvah,” which speaks of the “Jewish soul” and its yearning for the land, Ynet reports.
“Every time I sing ‘Hatikvah,’ I’m moved,” he tells high school students in Jerusalem, “but I know that my non-Jewish friends don’t have a ‘yearning Jewish soul.’
“I must insist on singing my anthem everywhere I go, but there is no need to force anyone else to sing these words,” continues Rivlin, in an apparent reference to Arab Knesset members’ conspicuous absence from the plenum during the singing of the anthem at a swearing-in ceremony for MKs.
“We live in a gallery of cultures, as citizens of the same state, which obliges all of us to listen to one another,” he says.
Islamic State in control of Palmyra ruins
Islamic State militants overran the famed archaeological site at Palmyra early on Thursday, just hours after seizing the central Syrian town, activists and officials say, raising concerns the extremists might destroy some of the priceless ruins as they have done in neighboring Iraq.
The Islamic State’s capture of the town of Palmyra late Wednesday was a stunning triumph for the militant group, only days after it captured the strategic city of Ramadi in Iraq’s largest Sunni province.
As IS took Palmyra, government forces collapsed in the face of the attacks and Syrian soldiers were seen fleeing the area, activists say. In Damascus, state TV acknowledges that pro-government forces have withdrawn from the town.
Another mob boss arrested in massive case
Police announce that another kingpin has been arrested in the massive, ongoing underworld bust that has been dominating headlines in Israel for the past week.
The man is among 15 new arrestees in the case, and joins such heavyweights as the fearsome boss Yitzhak Abergil, who is already in prison for drug offenses carried out in the US.
The newly arrested suspects, who aren’t immediately named, are allegedly behind the murder of a senior Israeli criminal in Germany and two other attempted murders, also abroad.
They are also suspected in a string of drug offenses and acts of violence.
The multi-year investigation, dubbed “Case 512” and described as one of the largest underworld busts in the history of the country, encompasses some 40 individual investigations into crimes committed over the past 12 years by some 50 suspects, police said earlier this week.
On Sunday, over 50 suspects across Israel were apprehended in their homes and brought in for interrogation, with officers seizing vehicles, properties and bank accounts.
Israeli officials have vowed over recent years to step up operations against organized crime, amid a string of car bombings linked to the syndicates which have rocked Israeli cities.
Liberman panned for calling Netanyahu ‘autistic’
The Ruderman Family Foundation, a nonprofit that often advocates for the disabled, is none too pleased with Avigdor Liberman, the erstwhile foreign minister, who earlier Thursday used the word “autistic” as a pejorative term to describe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ostensible support for a Palestinian state.
Liberman, who heads the opposition Yisrael Beytenu party, was berating Netanyahu for his intention to meet with the head of the United (Arab) List, Ayamn Odeh, whom he accused of granting legitimacy to “terror supporters.”
“I call on Member of Knesset Avigdor Lieberman to apologize for using the term ‘autistic’ as an insult directed at Prime Minister Netanyahu,” the Ruderman Family Foundation says in a statement. “Millions of people around the world and thousands of people in Israel are autistic.
“By using the word ‘autistic’ as an insult, MK Lieberman has deeply hurt the autism community,” the statement read. “The term for a disability should never be used in a crude and derogatory manner.
“If Mr. Lieberman had an autistic child, how would he like it if his child heard a highly visible public figure like himself use autism as cudgel against an adversary?”
‘Europe migrant terror threat overblown’
The arrest in Italy of a terror suspect posing as a boat migrant has fueled nightmare scenarios of jihadist infiltration of Europe, but experts say the threat is overblown and attacks by homegrown extremists are more likely.
Right-wing parties have seized on the incident as proof that groups like Islamic State (IS) are taking advantage of Europe’s migration crisis, in which thousands of refugees are making the risky Mediterranean crossing to flee war and poverty.
NATO’s chief Jens Stoltenberg also warned this week that battle-hardened “foreign fighters” who have joined jihadist outfits in Iraq and Syria could smuggle themselves into Europe by hiding on asylum-seeker vessels.
But analysts say extremist groups are more interested in holding territory in the Middle East than risking their men in flimsy dinghies, especially when they can rely on radicalized Europeans to do the work for them in their own countries, they say.
US presses Israel on Mideast nuclear-free zone
The United States has sent a top official to Israel in an effort to revive talks on a Middle East zone free of nuclear weapons, a central issue of a nuclear treaty review conference that some fear will end Friday without progress on global disarmament.
The State Department confirms that the assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation was in Israel to discuss the issue.
An Israeli Foreign Ministry spokesman declined comment on Thomas Countryman’s visit, saying it was a “very sensitive” matter.
Iran, a party to the treaty and engaged in talks with world powers on its own nuclear program, this month spoke on behalf of more than 100 mostly developing countries in calling for Israel to give up its nuclear weapons, calling them a regional threat.
Israel has never publicly declared what is widely considered to be an extensive nuclear weapons program.
Jerusalem at ‘extreme risk’ for terror attacks
Jerusalem is among the capital cities that are at an “extreme risk” of being hit by terror attacks, and is more dangerous than the capital cities of Pakistan, Egypt, Libya and Kenya, a security firm says.
The list, released by Verisk Maplecroft, names Iraq’s Baghdad as the capital city most prone to terror attacks.
The six other cities in the top seven most dangerous cities are also in Iraq.
The report lists 64 cities around the world as being at an “extreme risk” of attack, among them 27 in the Middle East and 19 in Asia.
The Israeli capital has recently seen a string of lone-wolf attacks by Palestinians using their cars to ram pedestrians or police.
On Wednesday, two Border Police officers were lightly injured in Jerusalem when a Palestinian man veered off the road and hit them with an SUV in what police said was a deliberate attack.
The driver was shot dead by police at the scene.
Court orders PA woman lawmaker freed
An Israeli military court rules that Palestinian legislator Khalida Jarrar be released on bail, but has ordered her held for at least three more days while the prosecutor decides whether to appeal.
Jarrar, 52, was seized from her West Bank home in predawn army raid on April 2. She has been charged with membership in a small leftist PLO faction banned by Israel and with inciting violence.
Jarrar tells reporters at the hearing that her detention was meant to silence her, but that “we will continue our struggle until we end this occupation.” Jarrar shuffled in leg shackles into the makeshift courtroom on an army base.
Her defense lawyer says the charges are politically motivated. Jarrar is the only woman among 16 Palestinian legislators currently held by Israel.
Rare photos of Palestinian farmers in the ’70s
The director of the field school in the settlement of Kfar Etzion, just south of Jerusalem, posts a series of rare photographs snapped by guides from the field school throughout the West Bank during the 1970s.
Evoking the Book of Ruth, which will be read in synagogues during the festival of Shavuot this weekend, Yaron Rosenthal writes in his Facebook post that “the return to the Land of Judea after the Six Day War opened up before the Israeli public… a window into an authentic farming culture that was preserved among the Arabs of the area.”
Click through for the full gallery.
Liberman apologizes for calling PM ‘autistic’
Avigdor Liberman issues an apology for using the word “autistic” as a pejorative term to describe Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
“Today I said on the radio that ‘anyone who thinks pulling back to the ’67 lines will resolve the conflict is autistic,'” Liberman, the former foreign minister, writes in a Facebook post.
“Of course I had no intention of insulting autistic people, but only of illustrating some peoples’ inability to accept a certain reality vis-a-vis the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” he adds. “And I apologize if anyone was offended by it.”
Liberman’s statement comes shortly after the Ruderman Family Foundation called on him to apologize.
“By using the word ‘autistic’ as an insult, MK Lieberman has deeply hurt the autism community,” the foundation, a frequent advocate for the disabled, had said in a statement. “The term for a disability should never be used in a crude and derogatory manner.”
Ruderman Foundation welcomes Liberman apology
The Ruderman Family Foundation welcomes Avigdor Liberman’s apology for using the word “autistic” as a pejorative.
“We hope this was a teaching moment for MK Lieberman that it is highly inappropriate to use a disability in a derogatory manner,” Jay Ruderman, president of the foundation, says in a statement.
“We are gratified that he has publicly apologized and distanced himself from the remark,” the statement says.
The Ruderman Family Foundation had called on Liberman to apologize after the former foreign minister called Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “autistic” over his stated support for Palestinian statehood.
Halakhic Dinner guests eat locusts, are plagued by food poisoning
New York City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene is investigating reports of food sickness following an event at a Manhattan synagogue dedicated to exotic kosher cuisine.
The May 5 dinner, held at Congregation Shearith Israel, known as the Spanish-Portuguese synagogue, was meant to highlight animals and other foods that are kosher but rarely consumed by observant Jews, such as oxtail, locusts, quail eggs and organ meat from calves, chickens, ducks and other animals.
The so-called Halakhic Dinner combined the exotic dishes with Jewish teachings about them and was led by the synagogue’s rabbi, Meir Soloveichik. Similar dinners have taken place in past years.
After the dinner, about 20 people reported gastrointestinal distress, according to Vos Is Neias, an Orthodox blog and news site. The blog cited Dani Klein, who runs the YeahThatsKosher blog and attended the dinner, as saying that his wife tested positive after the dinner for campylobacter, a bacteria associated with raw or uncooked poultry, unpasteurized dairy products or contaminated water, poultry or produce.
Obama says US must criticize Israel if it is to defend it
President Barack Obama says that his overt criticism of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the immediate wake of March’s elections in Israel lends him credibility when he defends the Jewish state in international forums.
Obama, in a wide-ranging interview with Jeffrey Goldberg in The Atlantic, says that his criticism of Netanyahu, who on election day had warned in a frantic video that Israel’s Arab citizens were streaming to the polls “in droves,” relates to the very “nature of the friendship between the United States and Israel.”
That criticism, which rattled the already fraught relationship between the two governments, was due to Netanyahu straying from “the very language of the Israeli Declaration of Independence, which explicitly states that all people regardless of race or religion are full participants in the democracy,” says Obama, who also took Netanyahu to task for asserting in the run-up to the election that there would be no Palestinian state on his watch.
Both statements by the prime minister appeared geared to rally right-wing voters, although the comment about Arab voters was also widely criticized as racist.
“When something like that happens, that has foreign-policy consequences, and precisely because we’re so close to Israel, for us to simply stand there and say nothing would have meant that this office, the Oval Office, lost credibility when it came to speaking out on these issues,” Obama continues.
“And when I am then required to come to Israel’s defense internationally, when there is anti-Semitism out there, when there is anti-Israeli policy that is based not on the particulars of the Palestinian cause but [is] based simply on hostility, I have to make sure that I am entirely credible in speaking out against those things, and that requires me then to also be honest with friends about how I view these issues.”
US not losing war with IS, Obama says
In his interview with The Atlantic, Obama also describes the loss of key Iraqi territory to the Islamic State group as a tactical setback, while insisting that the war against the jihadist group is not being lost.
“I don’t think we’re losing,” he says, days after the Iraqi city of Ramadi was overrun. “There’s no doubt there was a tactical setback, although Ramadi had been vulnerable for a very long time.”
Since August 2014, on Obama’s orders, a US-led coalition has hit more than 6,000 targets in Iraq and Syria with airstrikes, with the aim of degrading the Islamic State group.
Obama has refused to return US combat troops to Iraq, following a long brutal war after the overthrow of Saddam Hussein.
But the rout in Ramadi has called into question US strategy and the credibility of Iraq’s central government.
Obama blames it on a lack of training and reinforcement of Iraq’s own security forces.
“They have been there essentially for a year without sufficient reinforcements,” he says. “But it is indicative that the training of Iraqi security forces, the fortifications, the command-and-control systems are not happening fast enough in Anbar, in the Sunni parts of the country.”
Obama says Saudis won’t pursue atomic weapons
Obama downplays assessments and reports indicating that the nuclear deal shaping up between Iran and the six world powers will trigger a nuclear arms race in the region.
“There has been has been no indication from the Saudis or any other [Gulf Cooperation Council] countries that they have an intention to pursue their own nuclear program,” he says in his wide-ranging interview with The Atlantic.
“Part of the reason why they would not pursue their own nuclear program — assuming that we have been successful in preventing Iran from continuing down the path of obtaining a nuclear weapon — is that the protection that we provide as their partner is a far greater deterrent than they could ever hope to achieve by developing their own nuclear stockpile or trying to achieve breakout capacity when it comes to nuclear weapons.”
Obama says Iran ‘rational’ about survival
Jeffrey Goldberg asks Obama if the fact that the Iranian regime is anti-Semitic, and thus possessing of a warped view of the way the world works, shouldn’t preclude a negotiating strategy that treats Tehran as a rational player. But the president says that the regime’s survival instinct is more powerful than other calculi, including its hatred of Jews and imperialistic aspirations.
“Well, the fact that you are anti-Semitic, or racist, doesn’t preclude you from being interested in survival,” he says. “It doesn’t preclude you from being rational about the need to keep your economy afloat; it doesn’t preclude you from making strategic decisions about how you stay in power; and so the fact that the supreme leader is anti-Semitic doesn’t mean that this overrides all of his other considerations.”
Tehran, he continues, won’t make irrational decisions — an apparent reference to the regime breaking away to a nuclear weapon or attacking another country — that would threaten its very survival.
“What we’ve been very clear [about] to the Iranian regime over the past six years is that we will continue to ratchet up the costs, not simply for their anti-Semitism, but also for whatever expansionist ambitions they may have,” he says.
“That’s what the sanctions represent. That’s what the military option I’ve made clear I preserve represents. And so I think it is not at all contradictory to say that there are deep strains of anti-Semitism in the core regime, but that they also are interested in maintaining power, having some semblance of legitimacy inside their own country.”
Iran warns Israel of 80,000 Hezbollah rockets
A senior Iranian military official warns that any Israeli attack would unleash a firestorm of missiles on its cities fired by the Islamic republic’s Hezbollah allies in Lebanon.
The Shiite militia has more than 80,000 rockets ready to fire at Tel Aviv and Haifa, says General Yahya Rahim Safavi, military adviser to Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.
“Iran, with the help of Hezbollah and its friends, is capable of destroying Tel Aviv and Haifa in case of military aggression on the part of the Zionists,” he says, quoted on state television.
“I don’t think the Zionists would be so unintelligent as to create a military problem with Iran,” the general says. “They know the strength of Iran and Hezbollah.”
Obama implies anti-Zionism is anti-Semitism
In his interview with The Atlantic, Obama links between the Jewish national movement, and the existence of Israel as a Jewish state, and African Americans’ ongoing fight for equality in the US.
“There’s a direct line between supporting the right of the Jewish people to have a homeland and to feel safe and free of discrimination and persecution, and the right of African Americans to vote and have equal protection under the law,” he says. “These things are indivisible in my mind.”
He adds that failure on the part of Israel critics to acknowledge the Jewish right to a state is “a problem.”
Implicitly equating anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism, Obama says that if one acknowledges an anti-Semitism that isn’t “just something in the past, but it is current,” then one “should be able to align [oneself] with Israel where its security is at stake… when it comes to making sure that it is not held to a double standard in international fora… when it comes to making sure that it is not isolated.”
Obama: Iranian nuke would have my name on it
Obama says that if Iran acquires a nuclear weapon despite the emerging deal with the US and other world powers, it will have his “name” on it.
“Look, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be around, God willing. If Iran has a nuclear weapon, it’s my name on this,” he tells The Atlantic.
“I think it’s fair to say that in addition to our profound national security interests, I have a personal interest in locking this down,” he adds.