The Times of Israel live blogged events on Tuesday as they unfolded.
PM lays out conditions for Justice Ministry
According to the Ynet news website, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has agreed in principle to the Jewish Home’s demand that MK Ayelet Shaked be appointed justice minister, on condition that the Likud party remain responsible for appointing both rabbinical and civil court judges.
Since the justice minister receives a slot in the security cabinet, and since Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett is expected to be in the high-level cabinet as well, Netanyahu is seeking to expand the security cabinet, the report says.
The prime minister has until midnight to persuade the Jewish Home party to join the coalition, bringing its number of seats to a razor-thin 61. Shas, United Torah Judaism, and Kulanu have already signed coalition deals with the Likud party.
White House says ‘too early’ to link IS to Texas attack
The White House on Tuesday says it is too early to link the Islamic State group to an attack in Texas targeting an exhibit of caricatures of the Prophet Mohammad organized by an anti-Muslim, right-wing group.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest says the attack by two gunmen is “still under investigation,” adding that it’s “too early to say at this point” whether Islamic State fighters were responsible.
“This is still under investigation by the FBI and other members of the intelligence community to determine any ties or affiliations that these two individuals may have had with ISIL or other terrorist organizations around the world,” Earnest announces.
The Islamic State group, earlier in the day, claimed responsibility for the attack, saying that “two of the soldiers of the caliphate” carried it out.
Earnest cautions that extremists sometimes make claims of responsibility for propaganda purposes “to try to communicate with individuals around the world, including inside the United States.”
Looted Nazi painting being returned from Louvre to heirs
A 17th-century painting that was looted by the Nazis from a prominent Jewish art curator in Munich and ended up at the Louvre in Paris is being returned to the heirs of its rightful owner.
The painting, “Portrait of a Man,” was recovered by the French government and the US Department of Financial Services’ Holocaust Claims Processing Office, which has helped recover more than 100 Nazi-looted works of art and returned some $171 million in assets to victim’s families.
Before World War II, “Portrait of a Man” was owned by August Liebmann Mayer, a renowned art historian and curator, according to the Department of Financial Services. After the Nazis rose to power, Mayer was forced to resign his positions at the Bavarian State Paintings Collection and the University of Munich, and on March 24, 1933, he was arrested and the property in his Munich home was seized.
In 1935, Mayer was able to flee to Paris, but his home was again looted when the Nazis captured the city during the war. Mayer eventually was deported to Auschwitz, where he died on March 12, 1944.
After the war, pieces looted from Mayer’s home resurfaced in Germany, and some of the artworks were repatriated to France. “Portrait of a Man” became part of the National Museums Recovery collection.
Attorneys for Mayer’s heirs submitted a claim to recover the art in 2012. The announcement of the painting’s return took place in a ceremony on Tuesday at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in New York.
At the ceremony, the superintendent of Financial Services, Benjamin Lawsky, announced that the department’s Holocaust Claims Processing Office has launched a new virtual gallery and database of artwork reported as lost between 1933 and 1945 due to Nazi persecution.
Leaders of Gulf countries call to normalize ties with Iran
Leaders of Arab Gulf countries call to normalize relations with Iran, Israel Radio reports.
At the end of a summit in Saudi Arabia, leaders called for ties to be based on a principle of not interfering in the internal issues of both sides.
Additionally, it was declared that a summit with representatives of different Syrian opposition groups will convene in Saudi Arabia to plan the future of Syria after the fall of the Assad regime, Israel Radio reports. Any solution in Syrian must comply with the will of the Syrian people, the leaders agreed.
Obama chooses Navy general for top US military post
President Barack Obama nominates a respected, combat-hardened commander for the top US military job to lead the services during a key period of transition.
Obama chose Marine Gen. Joseph Dunford Jr. as chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff to succeed Army Gen. Martin Dempsey, who has served four years in the post.
“I know Joe, I trust him,” Obama says. “He has already proven his ability to give me his unvarnished military advice based on his experience on the ground.”
He is well connected internationally, often meeting with NATO and other coalition leaders, particularly during his Afghanistan command.
Obama made the announcement at the White House Tuesday. Dunford is expected to be easily confirmed by the US Senate.
Dunford’s selection signals that, even as the US puts more focus on Asia and looks ahead to high-tech cyber and space threats, the administration still believes a strong ground force commander is needed to work through the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria and across the Middle East and Africa.
Obama emphasizes Dunford’s role in moving the US to the end of combat operations in Afghanistan.
“Under his steady hand we’ve achieved key milestones, including the transition to Afghan responsibility for security, historic Afghan elections and the drawdown of US forces,” Obama says.
Obama praises Dunford as “one of our military’s most highly regarded strategic thinkers” and described his work ethic as tireless, noting that some aides have been known to carry a voice recorder to keep track of his commands and ideas.
PM meets delegation of Congressmen
In between emergency coalition discussions with his staff in Likud, Prime Minister Netanyahu found the time to meet with a delegation of lawmakers from the US.
Labor MK predicts PM will make great concession to Jewish Home
Labor MK Stav Shaffir, a harsh critic of Prime Minister Netanyahu, tweets: “If you thought until now that Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] sold our tax money for sectorial blackmail, wait until you see what the Bennett gang gets when he decides to leave the bunker.”
The phrase “sectorial blackmailing” refers to Shas’s achievements in coalition talks, disproportionate to the party’s strength of a mere seven Knesset seats.
Jewish Home MKs support Bennett in coalition talks
Talks between the Likud and the Jewish Home parties took place on Tuesday but no solution was found, Ynet reports. The bone of contention is Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s agreement to hand over the Religious Affairs Ministry to Shas.
On Tuesday night, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett convened his faction and asked members to back him in negotiations with Netanyahu, whatever outcome they may bring. The MKs published a statement expressing their full support of Bennett.
Netanyahu has until midnight tomorrow to send President Reuven Rivlin a message as to whether he has succeeded or failed in establishing a coalition. Tomorrow’s deadline is already the second one — after an extension of two weeks — and, according to Israeli law, even the president cannot legally extend the deadline further.
Since Netanyahu would have a slim 61-MK majority with Jewish Home, Bennett essentially holds the power to make or break a Netanyahu-led coalition. Another possibility would be to abandon Jewish Home and try to convince the Zionist Union to join a unity government. Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog, however, has consistently rejected such an option.
‘Jewish Home wants Ayelet Shaked as justice minister’
Jewish Home wants Ayelet Shaked to receive the justice portfolio, and also wants her to be sworn in as minister already next week, Channel 2 reports.
Associates of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu are quoted as saying they will “not forgive” Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett if he prevents the establishment of a right-wing government.
Sources in the Likud, according to Channel 2, also claim that Bennett seeks the defense portfolio, which Netanyahu wants to leave in the hands of residing Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud).
Bennett denies the claims.
Herzog again says Zionist Union will be in opposition
Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog speaks in the Knesset and tells the plenum that the Zionist Union will be a “fighting opposition, which will leave no stone unturned and fight in each and every aspect of life.”
The new government, he adds, will be a “national failure government, and we will all fight it together.”
Herzog also commends new Labor MK Zouheir Bahloul on his first speech at the plenum.
Huckabee launches second White House bid
HOPE, Arkansas (AP) — Former Arkansas gov. Mike Huckabee is preparing another bid for the Republican presidential nomination, eight years after his first efforts to expand on the support of evangelical Christians helped him win eight states in the 2008 primaries.
The ordained Baptist minister-turned-politician returns Tuesday to his hometown of Hope, Arkansas — the same small town where former president Bill Clinton was born — to make official what the local newspaper called “the worst kept secret” in the state.
In a strategy aimed at working-class cultural conservatives, Huckabee and his aides say his second run would pitch the candidate as an economic populist and foreign affairs hawk who holds deeply conservative views on social issues such as abortion and gay marriage.
Huckabee, 59, also plans to pitch that he is the best Republican to take on Hillary Rodham Clinton, the front-runner for the Democratic nomination who spent more than a decade as first lady of Arkansas. In a recent campaign video, Huckabee argued that in his more than 10 years as governor, he took on Democrats in “Bill Clinton’s Arkansas” after candidate Bill Clinton won election to the White House in 1992.
“Every day in my life in politics was a fight,” Huckabee says in the video, released as a preview of his Tuesday announcement. “But any drunken redneck can walk into a bar and start a fight. A leader only starts a fight he’s prepared to finish.”
Rivlin meets delegation of congressmen
President Reuven Rivlin met this morning with a bipartisan delegation of six members of the US Congress, who are visiting Israel with AIPAC.
“It is a great honor to meet with you all, and your support is greatly appreciated in Israel. The relationship between our peoples and our governments are of the highest priority, in each and every field — though first and foremost in the field of security,” said Rivlin.
The head of the delegation, US Rep. Alcee L. Hastings (D-FL) said “the good relations between our countries remains strong, and will continue to remain strong, despite differences of opinion on some political matters. Israel is a thriving democracy in the Middle East and we are delighted to be here.”
The delegation’s itinerary included a tour of the border with the Gaza Strip and a tour of the border with Lebanon, as well as a tour of an Iron Dome installation.
Residents told to stay home as asbestos-roofed warehouse catches fire
A fire breaks out at a warehouse with an asbestos roof in Rinatya, a moshav in central Israel. Fire Rescue Services are at the scene, trying to douse the flames.
Petah Tikva Police ask residents of the area to remain in their homes in order to avoid inhaling the toxic fumes of the burning asbestos, Ynet reports.
Senior Hezbollah commander reportedly killed
A senior Hezbollah commander was killed in battles against rebels along the Lebanese-Syrian border, Ynet reports, quoting Sky News in Arabic and Lebanese media not affiliated with Hezbollah.
It is not clear whether the commander, Ali Khalil Alian, was killed in battles today or yesterday.
Shapira attacks ‘institutionalized nepotism’
Among the issues tackled by the state comptroller in his report filed today are benefits tainted with nepotism for employees of crucial services – a longstanding tradition in Israeli culture.
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira says a quarter of public institutions in the country give their employees benefits for free or at reduced cost.
Among the institutions criticized is the Israel Electric Corporation, where employees and their families receive free electricity; Israel Railways, where the family members of company employees are exempt from paying for use of trains; and free academic studies for the offspring of tenured university lecturers.
Giving benefits against deductions from workers’ pay is legitimate, but Shapira says no such deductions were made in the cases mentioned above.
Among the institutions giving such benefits are hospitals and medical centers, and since the official employer of such institutions is the state, Shapira essentially accuses the state of dodging its own tax laws.
Coalition deal called catastrophic for ‘chained women’
Prime Minister Netanyahu’s concession to ultra-Orthodox parties in coalition agreements would spell disaster for agunot, chained women whose husbands refuse to grant them a divorce, according to Batya Cahana Dror, director of Mavoi Satum, an NGO helping chained women in the legal battle to receive a divorce.
According to the understandings reached in coalition negotiations, says Dror in a press statement, “the ultra-Orthodox rabbinical judges will have a clear majority in the Committee to Appoint Rabbinical Court Judges, and this will determine that the identity of many rabbinical courts will be Haredi and the future of hundreds of women will be one of continued suffering and abuse.”
“The dispute on control of the rabbinical courts exposes Israel’s political cynicism in its peak, where the greater good of the citizens of Israel, who need the rabbinical courts by law, is not at all considered by those who make up the coalition. Surrendering to the Shas demand to move rabbinical courts from the Justice Ministry to the Religious Affairs Ministry may be a last step toward losing control and monitoring the courts, where the situation is already bad as it is now,” writes Dror.
“Today the great appeals court in Jerusalem barely functions (there are no rabbinical judges). In regional courts, rabbinical judges do as they please, without any monitoring, no judicial norms and not due process. I am warning here against a loss of control and pending catastrophe in the rabbinical courts, at a time when the lives of so many Israelis depend on them,” Dror continues.
12 Islamists said killed in battles with Hezbollah
Twelve Islamist gunmen were killed in gunbattles with Hezbollah operatives in east Lebanon, on the border with Syria, according to a report by Al Manar, a Hezbollah-affiliated TV network.
Hezbollah has been preparing for a battle along the border to expel Sunni rebels who have made their base there. The leading groups are al-Nusra Front and Islamic State. According to Ynet, another group affiliated with al-Qaeda announced today the establishment of a Sunni coalition that will fight Hezbollah forces along the Syrian-Lebanese border.
GOP working to get Iran bill moving again
Senate Republicans labored Monday to salvage bipartisan legislation granting lawmakers the right to review or even reject any agreement the Obama administration makes to ease sanctions on Iran in exchange for concessions on nuclear research and development.
Officials said Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hoped to avoid staging a showdown vote to limit debate on the measure, a move that could split his own party’s rank and file.
Democrats urged him to go ahead anyway, as a way to avoid votes on proposed changes they opposed. “It’s the only path forward to pass this meritorious legislation,” said the party’s leader, Sen. Harry Reid of Nevada.
The legislation was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee on a unanimous vote last month, and supporters easily turned back a pair of proposed changes in early skirmishes on the Senate floor.
But the measure hit a snag last week after Republican Sens. Marco Rubio and Tom Cotton proposed additional changes that drew strong objections from Senate Democrats, as well as from Republicans who favor keeping the bill free of controversial provisions that could prompt the White House to withdraw its support.
Rubio, an announced presidential candidate, wants to require Iranian leaders to recognize the right of Israel to exist before an agreement can be put into effect.
Cotton’s amendment would require Obama to certify that Iran was not sponsoring acts of terror against America or its citizens before an agreement could take effect.
As drafted, the legislation would block Obama from waiving congressional sanctions for at least 30 days while lawmakers weigh in on any final deal the US and five other nations reach with Iran. The White House backs the measure.
It would take a separate piece of legislation for Congress to block implementation of any deal. Even if lawmakers were to approve a bill along those lines, the president could veto it.
Rights group urges Paraguay to permit girl to have abortion
Amnesty International is calling on Paraguay’s government to allow a 10-year-old girl to get an abortion for the sake of her health.
Rosalia Vega, director of the international rights group in Asuncion, told The Associated Press on Thursday that the request had been made to the Health Ministry and Justice Department.
Authorities allege the girl was raped by her stepfather, who has fled. She was taken to a public hospital April 21 complaining of abdominal pains and found to be 22 weeks into the pregnancy.
Her mother’s request to abort the child was not granted. Abortion in the poor South American country is illegal.
Domestic abuse makes young pregnancies a big problem. According to health statistics, 680 Paraguayan girls between 10 and 14 years old gave birth in 2014.
Yemen rebels attack Saudi town
Mortar shells and Katyusha rockets fired by Iran-backed rebels in Yemen strike the Saudi border town of Najran, Saudi state television and a Saudi-led military coalition says.
The Al-Ekhbariya network shows images of buildings and cars damaged in the attack, which was confirmed by the coalition that has been carrying out airstrikes against the Houthi Shiite rebels in Yemen since late March.
Comptroller again cites shortage in nurses, doctors, hospital beds
The comptroller’s report released today deals extensively with the lack in hospital beds and other medical equipment in hospitals, as well as a shortage of qualified nurses, saying that these faults in the health establishment pose a risk to the health of hospitalized patients.
“More than 500 patients are at a higher risk of dying due to a shortage in hospital beds,” the report charges.
Only 30% of positions for physicians specializing in urgent care were staffed, writes State Comptroller Yosef Shapira, and the lack is made up by specialist doctors filling in. The specialists, Shapira writes, “believe some patients die or become disabled due to misidentification of medical problems, due to a shortage of physicians specializing in urgent care.”
Subpar hospitalization conditions are also one of the main problems of the system, the comptroller writes, and these not only hurt patients’ privacy but can lead to infections. Shapira also mentions a shortage of patient clothes and hospital meals served cold.
His reports follows on the heels of numerous TV reports over the past years which showed elderly patients lying on hospital beds in corridors for lack of room inside departments, or departments filled with patients way beyond their stated capacity.
The report cites the deplorable state of internal medicine. Apart from doctors frequently treating 135-140% the number of patients they are expected to treat, there are three MRI machines for every million patients in Israel, whereas the OECD average is 14 machines per million patients.
The high quality of medical education in the country brings a significant amount of “medical tourism” – people coming from abroad to receive complex procedures at the hand of highly specialized Israeli surgeons. Somewhat ironically perhaps, “the service given to citizens of the state is hurt by giving medical tourism services in general hospitals. Medical tourism uses resources and infrastructure in hospitals which are under-equipped and intended, first and foremost, to serve the general population of Israel,” the report states.
Ministry accused of not enforcing pollution law
The State Comptroller’s report published today reinforces claims by environmental groups that the Environment Protection Ministry was not effectively enforcing legislation on the amount of pollution factories are allowed to emit.
The report says the ministry failed to monitor the emissions from chimneys and eschewed using the punitive measures within its purview against offenders. These include financial penalties as well as legal measures.
The report’s conclusions include the factories in the Haifa Bay area, which were at the focus of demonstrations by residents of the area during the past month.
The Environment Protection Ministry can sanction factories by the power of the Clean Air Law, which was enacted four years ago. It monitors the amount of pollution by testing samples which are supposed to be given by factories or by collecting samples during surprise visits by ministry inspectors.
According to Shapira’s report, neither type of sample was taken in sufficient amounts. In 2013, for examples, no surprise visits were made by inspectors to factories in Haifa, while in the two preceding years, the number of surprise visits was half the number projected by the ministry in its work plan.
In addition, Shapira writes that the ministry did not use its powers in penalizing offenders, especially the legal measures, which are considered a stronger deterrent since they would make factory managers personally responsible. In this aspect, however, the Haifa district excelled. Nearly half the inspections which developed into lawsuits on allegations of illegal pollution were filed against factories in the Haifa district.
Founder Le Pen doesn’t want daughter to win election
After being blackballed by France’s far-right National Front, party founder Jean-Marie Le Pen on Tuesday hit back at its current leader, his daughter, saying it would be “scandalous” if she were to be elected president of France.
The 86-year-old, who led the party for four decades, was suspended Monday over comments in which he dismissed Nazi gas chambers as a triviality, leading to a bitter feud with his daughter Marine.
The younger Le Pen has been actively trying to distance the party from its racist and anti-Semitic image as she plans her bid for the next French presidential election in 2017.
But her firebrand father’s refusal to tone back controversial remarks, such as the need to defend the “white world,” has led to a public dispute between the two. Furious at his suspension, and the threat of losing his title of honorary party president, the octogenarian turned harshly on his daughter, accusing her of “betrayal” and saying he no longer wanted to see her win 2017 elections.
He said his suspension was a “criminal act,” vowed to “disown” his daughter and ordered her to “give up her name.”
“If such moral principles should govern the French state, that would be scandalous,” he said in a radio interview. Asked if he wanted his daughter to win the 2017 election, Le Pen said: “For the moment, no.”
He said his daughter was “a bit worse” than the mainstream parties in parliament “because an adversary fights you head on, here he is stabbing you in the back.”
State comptroller says he foretold Ethiopian ‘breaking point’
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira tells Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein that he anticipated the “issue of the difficulties of integrating descendants of the Ethiopian community as a breaking point.”
In a statement upon filing his Annual Report, Shapira says the report “includes a biting critique on the issue of ‘aspects in advancing the integration of Ethiopian descendants – significant faults in managing the national program,’ where I remarked that there was social and public importance of the first degree to prioritize dealing with this issue.”
Shapira says he worked “in an effort to realize the state’s obligation, made already several years ago, to hold a ceremony where diplomas of appreciation would be given to activists from the Ethiopian community, but sadly, a date for this ceremony has not been set.”
“I call on the prime minister to urgently hold the ceremony where diplomas of appreciation, as well as to implement the conclusions of the report, while creating an atmosphere of dialogue between representatives of the community and relevant government authorities. Only dialogue will help restore order and protect the dignity of descendants of the community,” Shapira continues.
Soldier hurt in vehicle accident wakes up
The IDF reserve soldier who was seriously injured when an armored personnel carrier overturned in the Golan Heights yesterday has regained consciousness, Ynet reports.
The Rambam Hospital where the soldier is hospitalized said he was speaking to his family and his condition improved.
The soldier will remain hospitalized for several more days.
Palestinian arrested for sexual assault in Haredi community
Police in Elad detains a Palestinian resident of Ramallah on suspicion that he sexually assaulted a kindergarten assistant in Elad, an ultra-Orthodox city in the center of the country.
The assistant says she agreed to the man’s request to use the kindergarten’s bathroom, and he then grabbed her forcefully and assaulted her. She called for help after the man escaped and he was captured a short while afterwards, Israel Radio reports.
The man confessed to the assault during his interrogation, where it was also discovered that he had no permit to enter Israel from the West Bank.
Bennett holds aces as coalition deadline looms
With just over 24 hours to the deadline of coalition talks, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett has yet to meet the prime minister.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has until Wednesday at midnight to establish his coalition. This puts Bennett in a position of power, being the last head of a party necessary to complete a right-wing coalition, albeit with a slim majority of 61 MKs.
The other option for Netanyahu would be to turn to Zionist Union with a unity deal, and both Netanyahu and Zionist Union have rejected that possibility more than once.
Jewish Home was furious last week upon learning that Shas would receive the Religious Affairs Ministry. On Twitter, Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett wrote that handing Shas the ministry would signal an end to coalition negotiations with his own party.
On Tuesday night a coalition agreement was signed between Likud and Shas, and Jewish Home now needs to decide whether to make good on its threat.
Likud MK Miri Regev says today that “it’s inconceivable that Bennett would be the one to topple a national right wing government.” According to Ynet, she calls on Jewish Home to “immediately join the government. The time has come to start working and not to play ‘all you can eat’ games. Jewish Home is a natural partner for Likud, and despite the size of the party, the prime minister was very generous and offered significant portfolios, with executive abilities and influence over Israeli society and the settlement of the land.”
According to a statement from Netanyahu’s office from Tuesday, Jewish Home, which won eight seats, would receive the Education Ministry, the Diaspora Ministry and security cabinet membership for Bennet, the Agriculture Ministry and the Settlement Division (currently under the Prime Minister’s Office) for Uri Ariel, and the Culture and Sports Ministry for Ayelet Shaked. The party was also offered a deputy defense minister and chairmanship of the Knesset’s Law Committee.
Some 40 migrants die as boat sinks off Italy
Around 40 migrants died when an inflatable boat carrying more than 100 people sank off the coast of Italy, Save the Children quoted survivors as saying.
“They said there were 137 people aboard an inflatable boat that deflated or exploded — it wasn’t clear — and that some of them fell overboard. Some said ‘very many’ died, others said ‘around 40,'” Giovanna di Benedetto of Save the Children says.
Olmert feels last 7 years were ‘heaviest punishment’
Former prime minister Ehud Olmert says he has become a “punching bag” for the duration of the past several years.
Speaking at the Jerusalem District Court during sentencing arguments for his conviction on corruption charges, the former prime minister says, “The verdict tarnishes some decisions and actions for which I’m responsible. I do not take this conviction lightly. I do believe, however, that the court acknowledges my contribution to the State of Israel and the security of its existence.”
“I feel there is no heavier punishment than what I have been living with for seven long years. For almost a tenth of my life I have become a punching bag that whoever beats it harder earns more prestige in certain circles. Any punishment you decide to give me will be added to the moments I’ve been coping with over the past few years,” Olmert says.
He also notes that all actions attributed to him were taken before the “years where the responsibility for running the country and maintaining the security of its residents was on my shoulders.”