The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Justice Ministry okays ‘cultural loyalty’ bill
The Justice Ministry approves a “cultural loyalty” bill proposed by Culture Minister Miri Regev that would deny funding to bodies deemed disloyal to the state, Walla reports.
The legislation, an amendment to the Budget Law, allows the ministry to withhold funds to any cultural organization that rejects the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, advocates racism and violence, supports an armed struggle or acts of terrorism against the state, marks Independence Day as a day of mourning or destroys the symbols of the state.
French Jewish teacher arrested for lying over IS attack
A Jewish teacher in France who claimed he was attacked by Islamic State jihadists is taken into custody, accused of lying to police.
The man invited the press to his house in Marseille in southern France the day after the supposed attack in November, saying he had been beaten by three men claiming to represent the jihadist group.
But a police source confirms that the man is under arrest for allegedly fabricating the story. The 45-year-old man in Aubervilliers, northeast of Paris, initially said a man had burst into his classroom and cut him with a box cutter and scissors. But he later admitted inventing the story and cutting himself on the neck and side.
He is not the only French teacher to be accused of lying about an IS attack. In January, a nursery school teacher was sent for psychiatric tests after admitting he lied about an attack in his classroom.
Israel stops Kenyan president visiting West Bank
Israel is preventing the Kenyan president from visiting the Palestinian Authority, Army Radio says. Uhuru Kenyatta is currently visiting Israel, and met yesterday with Benjamin Netanyahu.
Kenyatta’s camp is furious at the nixing of his plan to visit Ramallah and meet with Mahmoud Abbas.
The Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem says in response: “This is an important foreign visit that was planned long ago. The request to visit Ramallah was filed at the last minute and unfortunately there is no way to approve it.”
Swedish teen rescued from IS: I had no idea what group was
A Swedish teenager who was rescued from Islamic State in Iraq says she had no idea that IS is a terrorist group.
Marilyn Nevalainen, 16, who went to the city of Mosul with her jihadist boyfriend, tells Kurdish TV that she was duped into going, British newspaper The Telegraph reports.
“First we were good together but then he started to look at the ISIS videos and started to speak about them,” she says, according to the Telegraph. “I don’t know anything about Islam or ISIL or some things and I do not know what he meant. And then he said he wanted to go to ISIS and I said to him, ‘OK, no problem,’ because I didn’t know what ISIL means, what Islam is.”
ISIS and ISIL are both acronyms for the Islamic State group.
Israeli dies of injuries from errant IDF gunfire in stabbing attack
An Israeli man wounded in a West Bank stabbing attack earlier today dies of his wounds in a Jerusalem hospital.
The 23-year-old was critically hurt by IDF fire as troops sought to bring down a Palestinian who tried to stab him.
Netanyahu and Putin talk by phone, discuss Mideast
Benjamin Netanyahu and Vladimir Putin today held a phone conversation, the Kremlin says in a statement.
The two discussed the Mideast, the Walla news website reports.
The conversation comes after Putin spoke to Saudi King Salman, Syrian President Bashar Assad and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.
Hungary to hold referendum on EU migrant quota
Hungary will hold a referendum on accepting mandatory EU quotas for migrants, Prime Minister Viktor Orban says.
“The government has decided to hold a referendum on the mandatory distribution quota issue,” Orban tells reporters, without disclosing a date.
Tractor driver injured when he drives over landmine
An Israeli tractor is seriously hurt when he drives over a landmine in the Jordan Valley. Rescue services are at the scene.
The incident occurs on Route 90, near the village of Al-Auja and north of the Dead Sea.
It appears that the mine became exposed during heavy rains, the police say.
— Judah Ari Gross
Iran pledges money for families of Palestinian terrorists
Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon, Mohammad Fateh Ali, says Tehran will give money to the families of Palestinian terrorists, the Walla news website reports.
Speaking at a conference in Beirut in support of the current wave of Palestinian terrorism, Ali says that Iran will award $7,000 to the family of every terrorist, and $30,000 to any family whose home is demolished by Israel.
Initial IDF probe: Israeli killed in attack shot by 2 soldiers
The Israeli who died after being hit by errant gunfire in the West Bank earlier today was shot by two soldiers, a preliminary army investigation finds.
The troops were trying to bring down a Palestinian terrorist who had attacked the 23-year-old with a knife at the Etzion Junction, Channel 10 says.
Brother of Etzion attack victim: He fell in battle
The brother of Eliav Gelman, killed by friendly fire during a West Bank stabbing, says that his sibling “fell in a battle that has been underway for a long time,” the NRG website says.
“The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away,” he says.
Khamenei: Iranians want MPs who won’t be intimidated by US
Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei says Iranians want lawmakers who won’t be intimidated by the United States, two days before a key parliamentary election.
Despite negotiations between Tehran and Washington that led to a nuclear deal and the lifting of sanctions, Khamenei says there will be no further direct talks and no wider rapprochement.
“The people want neither a pro-government nor an anti-government parliament,” he says in Tehran. “They want a courageous and devout parliament that knows its duties and is not intimidated by the United States.”
Israeli killed in West Bank named as reserve officer Eliav Gelman
The Israeli man killed by friendly fire during an attack in West Bank earlier today is Eliav Gelman, 30, an IDF reserve officer.
He died in hospital in Jerusalem shortly after he was shot by soldiers at the entrance to the Etzion Bloc as they tried to bring down the Palestinian who had stabbed him.
— Israel News Flash (@ILNewsFlash) February 24, 2016
Labour candidate for London mayor: I’m against Israel boycott
Sadiq Khan, the British Labour party’s candidate for mayor of London, says he is against a boycott of Israel.
Khan, who is leading in the polls against Conservative rival Zac Goldsmith, tells the Jewish News website: “I have consistently made absolutely clear that I do not support boycotts, sanctions or divestment of Israel. We won’t achieve peace by turning our faces against Israel.”
Egypt: ‘Personal reasons’ behind murder of Italian student
Egypt’s Interior Ministry says investigators believe that “personal reasons” were behind the torture and murder of the Italian student Giulio Regeni, whose body was found in Cairo this month, over a week after he went missing.
The ministry says in a statement that investigation have uncovered no clues to culprits, but adds that “the available information indicates a criminal motive and a desire of revenge for personal reasons.”
It warns against “spreading unfounded information” to “mislead public opinion,” a clear reference to earlier reports in the international media suggesting the Egyptian police were involved in Regeni’s killing.
Regeni disappeared in Cairo on the evening of January 25, when police were out in force to quash any sign of protest to mark the anniversary of the 2011 uprising.
IDF said to back Gaza seaport, while PM and Ya’alon oppose
The IDF brass is in favor of the construction of a seaport for the Gaza Strip, but Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon are opposed, according to Israeli daily Haaretz.
A discussion on the issue over the past few weeks has been sparked by “deteriorating economic conditions in the Gaza Strip [and] the desire to seek long-term solutions that would help improve the situation and reduce the danger of a new outbreak of conflict with Hamas,” Haaretz says.
The report list several proposals, among them placing the port in the Al-Arish area of Egypt’s Sinai, construction of an artificial port off the Gaza shoreline, building the port on the Gaza coast itself, and “earmarking quays in Cyprus or Ashdod for Gaza-bound shipments.”
TAU archaeologists find 3,000-year-old fabrics near Eilat
Archaeologists from Tel Aviv University find 3,000-year-old organic materials, including seeds, leather and fabric in ancient copper mines in Timna, near Eilat.
The university says the discovery of an “extensive fabric collection of diverse color, design and origin” is the first of textiles dating from the era of David and Solomon, and sheds new light on the historical fashions of the Holy Land.
According to TAU, the textiles also cast light on the “complex society” of the early Edomites, a semi-nomadic people who are believed to have operated the mines at Timna.
“No textiles have ever been found at excavation sites like Jerusalem, Megiddo and Hazor, so this provides a unique window into an entire aspect of life from which we’ve never had physical evidence before,” says team leader Dr. Erez Ben-Yosef.
For first time, Sissi says Russian plane downed by ‘terrorism’
Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi acknowledges for the first time that militants brought down a Russian passenger plane over the Sinai Peninsula on October 31, 2015.
“Has terrorism ended? No… Whoever downed that plane, what did he want? Just to hit tourism? No. To hit relations. To hit relations with Russia,” Sissi says in a speech.
Sissi had previously dismissed as “propaganda” a claim by the Islamic State jihadist group that it downed the plane, killing all 224 people on board.
Rivlin: Zero tolerance for terrorism
President Reuven Rivlin offers his condolences to the family of Captain Eliav Gelman, killed today in a West Bank attack, and says there can be no tolerance for terrorism.
“We have just now, in the past moments, received the terrible news of the death of Captain (Res.) Eliav Gelman, who was killed during efforts to subdue a terrorist who struck today, at the Gush Etzion junction,” the president says at the start of a meeting with Arab regional and local authorities leaders in Israel.
“There can be no forgiving terror, there can be no tolerating terror, and all those sitting here today must condemn terror outright. The fire of terrorism, which has taken from us so many victims, is the same fire which will burn the bridges that we are trying to build today. I send my deepest condolences to the bereaved family.”
IDF still probing alleged 2014 Gaza war violations
The IDF is still investigating eight allegations that Israeli soldiers violated the laws of war during Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014, the head of the military police says.
Of the eight, three investigations are based on evidence released by controversial NGO “Breaking the Silence,” according to data released today by the military police. The eight probes are said to be at varying stages of investigation.
— Judah Ari Gross
Man killed in West Bank attack to be buried tonight
Captain (res.) Eliav Gelman, killed today in a West Bank attack, will be laid to rest tonight at 9 p.m. in the Kfar Etzion settlement, Channel 2 reports.
Gelman, a 30-year-old father of two, died shortly after he was mistakenly hit by IDF fire as troops tried to bring down his Palestinian attacker.
Ultra-Orthodox man kills himself on Miami turnpike
A 26-year-old Orthodox Jewish man kills himself by driving the wrong way on the Florida Turnpike days after saying on Facebook that he had already tried to do so.
Tzvi Yeheskel Ference of Miami Beach was killed Sunday night when his car driving north collided head-on with a tractor trailer in the southbound lanes of the Florida Turnpike. He was not wearing a seatbelt and died at the scene, the Florida Sun-Sentinel reports, citing the state’s Highway Patrol. The other driver and his passenger were not injured.
In a February 19 post on his Facebook page, where he was very open about his battle with depression, Ference wrote that two days earlier he had headed to the turnpike in order to kill himself by driving in the wrong direction but aborted the plan after saying the prayer “Shema Yisrael.”
Ya’alon: Iran building terror network in Europe, US
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon is accusing Iran of building an international terror network that includes “sleeper cells” that are stockpiling arms, intelligence and operatives to be ready to strike on command in places including Europe and the US.
Speaking after talks with his Cypriot counterpart, Ya’alon says Iran aims to destabilize the Middle East and other parts of the world and is training, funding and arming “emissaries” to spread a revolution. He says Tehran is the anchor of a “dangerous axis” that includes Baghdad, Damascus, Beirut, Saana and other cities in the region.
The war in Syria has resulted in “widespread infiltration by murderous, merciless terror organizations,” the defense chief says.
PM names retired officer as new national security adviser
Netanyahu names Brigadier General (res.) Avriel Bar-Yosef as his new national security adviser and head of the National Security Council.
Bar-Yosef, 61, was until six months ago the longstanding deputy to the head of the National Security Council. He served in the IDF for 25 years, and has also held the post of director of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Netanyahu praises the nominee, saying Bar-Yosef has “long and rich security and political experience, both in the IDF and the NSC. Given the complex challenges we face, I am convinced that as head of the NSC he will be able to utilize his experience and skills to the benefit of Israel’s security.”
Bar-Yosef says of his appointment: “I thank the prime minister for his confidence in me. I am mindful of the responsibilities and challenges we face. I will do whatever is necessary to succeed in my post, for the sake of the State of Israel.”
Police find bodies of 2 men in Petah Tikva home
Police officers find the bodies of two men in an apartment in Petah Tikva.
Both men appear to have sustained gunshot wounds to the upper body, Ynet says.
Rivlin denies Arab MK entry to official event
President Reuven Rivlin refuses to allow Arab MK Jamal Zahalka entry to his official residence in Jerusalem, apparently due to the latter’s February 2 meeting with the families of Palestinian terrorists.
Zahalka, who leads the Balad party, one of the three that make up the Joint (Arab) List faction, had been invited along with other party leaders to the meeting today with the heads of Arab regional and local authorities in Israel. But the invitation was issued before Zahalka and fellow Balad lawmakers Hanin Zoabi and Basel Ghattas met with the relatives of Palestinians killed during attacks or attempted attacks on Israelis.
Channel 2 says that Zahalka never RSVPed to the invitation last month, and when he tried to do so two hours before today’s event, he was declined on the grounds that the president did not wish to offend Israeli citizens.
Knesset votes down civil marriage bill
The Knesset plenum rejects the first reading of a bill to legalize civil marriage in Israel.
The bill, presented by Zionist Union MK Tzipi Livni and others, proposes that couples who meet certain criteria are officially recognized as a legally married couple. The legislation also called for the appointment of a civil marriage registrar and registry, and the creation of procedures for managing their work.
Livni said the bill aims to help couples who are not considered halachically Jewish, for same-sex unions, and for Israeli couples who want a religious ceremony, but without the rabbinate overseeing their wedding.
Kerry: Settlement building does not help tensions
US Secretary of State John Kerry says increased settlement construction by Israel is not helping to calm tensions, almost five months into a wave of deadly violence by Palestinians, Reuters reports.
“I don’t think that the situation is helped by additional settlement construction and building,” Kerry tells a hearing on the State Department’s budget request.
He adds: “I think that I know we need to see measures taken on both sides to indicate a readiness and willingness to try to proceed forward and reduce the violence.”
IDF posthumously promotes officer killed in attack
The army posthumously promotes Captain Eliav Gelman to major, after he was killed in today’s attack at the entrance to the Etzion Bloc.
Gelman was hit by friendly fire as soldiers tried to bring down the Palestinian who attacked him with a knife.
Bennett praises Bar-Yosef appointment as national security chief
Education Minister Naftali Bennett welcomes the nomination of Avriel Bar-Yosef as Netanyahu’s new national security adviser.
“This period is fraught with challenges that require creativity and adaptability,” Bennett says, “and Bar-Yosef’s extensive experience will be an asset for the defense establishment at this time.”
— Raoul Wootliff
5 members of ancient Chinese Jewish community moving to Israel
Five women in their 20s from the ancient Chinese Jewish community of Kaifeng are moving to Israel at the end of the month.
The five — the first members of the community to make aliya in almost seven years — have spent the past few years studying Hebrew and Judaism in Kaifeng.
“Kaifeng’s Jewish descendants are a living link between China and the Jewish people,” says Michael Freund, the chairman of Jerusalem-based nonprofit Shavei Israel, which is helping the women with the immigration process.
Freund will greet the new immigrants at Ben Gurion Airport, and take them directly to the Western Wall in Jerusalem.
Member of security forces suspected in murder-suicide
A member of the security forces is suspected of carrying out a murder-suicide in Petah Tikva earlier today.
The 34-year-old suspect is believed to have shot and killed a 32-year-old man in an apartment in the central town before taking his own life.
The circumstances of the incident are still being investigated, Ynet says.
UN carries out first humanitarian airdrop in Syria
The United Nations carries out its first humanitarian airdrop in Syria to reach thousands of people facing severe food shortages in a city besieged by Islamic State jihadists.
“Earlier this morning, a WFP plane dropped the first cargo of 21 tonnes of items into Deir Ezzor,” in eastern Syria, says UN aid chief Stephen O’Brien.
Reports from aid teams on the ground confirm that “pallets have landed in the target area as planned,” he tells a UN Security Council called to discuss the humanitarian crisis.
UN agencies are working to scale up aid deliveries to Syria before a cessation of hostilities enters into force at midnight Friday to shore up peace efforts.
Israel slams Iran donations to Palestinian terrorists
Israel condemns an announcement by Iran’s ambassador to Lebanon that Tehran will award thousands of dollars to the families of Palestinian terrorists.
“This is further proof of Iran’s deep involvement in support for anti-Israeli terrorism,” says the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem. “After the [nuclear] agreement with world powers, Iran has allowed itself to continue as a major player in international terrorism.”
The envoy said earlier today in Beirut that Iran would give each family $7,000, and give families whose homes have been demolished by Israel $30,000.
Zahalka hits back at Rivlin for denying his entry to event
Arab MK Jamal Zahalka slams President Rivlin for denying him entry to today’s meeting with the heads of Arab local councils, saying the leaders of the other two Arab parties that make up the Joint List faction canceled in solidarity.
“I didn’t know the president’s residence was short of chairs,” Zahalka quips. “They should consider a bigger budget.”
Rivlin turned down Zahalka due to his participation in a meeting with the families of Palestinian terrorists earlier this month.
LA Times publishes ad accusing Israel of apartheid
The Los Angeles Times publishes a full-page ad that calls on Oscar nominees to refuse a free Israel trip worth $55,000 offered in Academy Award swag bags.
The ad, which says “Don’t endorse Israeli apartheid,” appears in the newspaper’s Calendars section today, days after the entertainment magazine Variety refused to publish the ad sponsored by Jewish Voice for Peace, or JVP, a group that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.
Co-sponsored by the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, the ad has a top line reading “Free Trip to Israel at the Expense of Palestinians.”
Ya’alon urges Gulf states to work with Israel
Moshe Ya’alon calls on the Arab states in the Persian Gulf to join forces with Israel in the war on global terrorism, Army Radio reports.
“Anyone who is ready to help stabilize the situation will find a partner in us, including countries with whom we do not have relations,” says the defense minister during his current visit to Cyprus.
Yemen: Hezbollah fighting with Iran-backed Huthi rebels
Yemen says Lebanon’s Shiite terror group Hezbollah is sending fighters to support Iran-backed Huthi rebels controlling parts of the war-ravaged country, including the capital.
The government has evidence of “Hezbollah’s involvement in the Huthi war against the Yemeni people,” spokesman Rajih Badi says in a statement.
Hezbollah is present in “the battlefields along the border with Saudi Arabia,” where attacks from Yemen have killed about 90 civilians and soldiers in the kingdom since March last year, he says.
The group is training the Shiite Huthis and orchestrating attacks against Saudi Arabia, Badi says, and calls for “international legal measures” against the movement.
“Hezbollah cannot deny its role in the destruction it is contributing to through the clear moral and logistic support” for the rebels, he says.
After protests, Hungary nixes unveiling for statue of WWII-era leader
Hungary cancels the unveiling of a statue of a World War II-era politician — seen as anti-Semitic by Hungary’s largest Jewish group — after a protest.
Several dozen protesters holding placards reading “Racism out” surround the covered statue of Gyorgy Donath, a member of Hungary’s wartime government, which was allied with Nazi Germany and brought in anti-Jewish laws.
“I don’t see why this person should ever have a statue in a public place in Hungary,” protestor Gabor Eross says, later climbing onto the statue with a placard.
Gergely Gulyas, a senior member of the ruling Fidesz party announces the cancellation of the ceremony. “The circumstances are not good,” he says before leaving.
As a government member between 1939 and 1944, Donath supported laws against Hungary’s Jewish and ethnic-German minorities, although he was not part of the Hungarian fascist regime installed by the Nazis in late-1944.
US rabbis slam ‘ignorant’ MK who compared Reform Jews to mentally ill
The rabbinic arm of the US Reform Movement condemns “disturbing and ignorant” comments by an ultra-Orthodox Knesset member who compared Reform Jews to the mentally ill.
Railing yesterday in the Knesset against a court ruling on allowing non-Orthodox converts access to public ritual baths, UTJ lawmaker Yisrael Eichler said: “Not every mentally ill person can come to the operating room and decide the rules of medicine and force the hospital to have an operation by whatever way works.”
The Central Conference of American Rabbis says in response that “MK Eichler’s disturbing and ignorant comments yesterday are both insensitive and backwards.”
The statement adds: “At the very moment that hundreds of Reform rabbis from North America are in Jerusalem celebrating the vibrancy of Reform Judaism in Israel and calling for tolerance, the MK’s comments are an unfortunate reminder of how far we still have to go to achieve equality for all Jews in Israel and around the world. We condemn these comments and the worldview they represent.”
Obama: Important to give Israelis, Palestinians hope
Meeting today with Jordan’s King Abdullah at the White House, President Barack Obama says it is vital that both Israelis and Palestinians are given a sense of optimism about the future.
“We continue to agree that it’s important for us to provide both sides a sense of possibility and hope, and not simply despair,” Obama says, after the two leaders discuss steps to reduce tensions between Israel and Palestinians.
Wife of jailed Fatah leader says he’ll run for PA presidency
The wife of jailed Palestinian terrorist Marwan Barghouti says he is going to go run for president of the Palestinian Authority, Israel Hayom reports.
Barghouti, who headed Fatah’s military wing Tanzim, is serving five life sentences in an Israeli prison for his involvement in Palestinian terrorism.
Sitting PA president Mahmoud Abbas is on his 11th year of a four-year term.
Hundreds mourn Eliav Gelman at late night funeral
Hundreds of people, thousands by some counts, are attending a funeral for Eliav Gelman’s at the Kfar Etzion cemetery, mourning the father of two whose wife is due to give birth in two months.
“Even as a military man the amount of time he would give his sons was extraordinary, and they were the envy of everyone around, Eliav and his boys,” neighbor Esti Uliel tells the Walla news site.