Ya’alon criticizes Im Tirzu campaign
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Netanyahu, Bennett, Regev criticize Im Tirzu campaign to ‘out’ left-wing artists; Palestinian with knife arrested near Hebron; residents near Gaza border report hearing digging noises

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

  • The campaign launched by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu on January 27, 2016, singling out Israeli artists associated with the left-wing. (Screen capture: Im Tirtzu)
    The campaign launched by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu on January 27, 2016, singling out Israeli artists associated with the left-wing. (Screen capture: Im Tirtzu)
  • File: Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks with reporters during a press conference in the northern Israeli city of Carmiel on January 5, 2016. (Screen capture: Israel Police)
    File: Israel Police Commissioner Roni Alsheich speaks with reporters during a press conference in the northern Israeli city of Carmiel on January 5, 2016. (Screen capture: Israel Police)
  • Illustrative: Israeli forces next to the security fence on the border between Israel and southern Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
    Illustrative: Israeli forces next to the security fence on the border between Israel and southern Gaza Strip. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
  • Illustrative: Israeli soldiers check the ID of a Palestinian woman near a Jewish enclave in Hebron on October 29, 2015. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
    Illustrative: Israeli soldiers check the ID of a Palestinian woman near a Jewish enclave in Hebron on October 29, 2015. (AFP/Menahem Kahana)
  • French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (L) shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on January 28, 2016 during a meeting at the  French employers association MEDEF headquarters in Paris. (AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)
    French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (L) shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on January 28, 2016 during a meeting at the French employers association MEDEF headquarters in Paris. (AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)

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

Israelis near Gaza border report hearing digging noises

At least four families from the village of Pri Gan, located about 4.5 kilometers from the southern Gaza Strip, say they heard sounds of digging near their homes, adding that the floors in their apartments have shaken.

Israel Radio reports that Eshkol Regional Council head Gadi Yarkoni, a resident of Kibbutz Nirim about two kilometers from the Gaza border, has a recording of the sounds of the excavation.

On Tuesday evening, at least six Palestinians were reported killed in a collapse of a tunnel dug under the Hamas-run Strip. According to Israel’s Channel 10 television, the six fatalities were all members of the Hamas terror group, as were the five others injured in the incident.

The nature of the tunnel in question was not immediately clear. Hamas has in the past dug cross-border tunnels into Israel in order to stage attacks on civilians and soldiers. Other tunnels are used by the terror group as part of its defensive infrastructure.

Still from an August 2015 Hamas video purporting to show a tunnel dug under the Israel border (Ynet screenshot)

Still from an August 2015 Hamas video purporting to show a tunnel dug under the Israel border (Ynet screenshot)

Hamas has built dozens of tunnels into Israel, many of which were used to carry out attacks during its conflict with Israel in summer 2014. The IDF said it destroyed over 30 tunnels at the time, but officials have expressed concerns that the terror group is seeking to rebuild the infrastructure.

Top cop denies hiding info on sighting of terrorist

Police Commissioner Ronnie Alsheich says police are investigating claims of a failed follow-up on a reported sighting of the terrorist Nashat Milhem in the aftermath of his New Year’s Day deadly shooting spree Tel Aviv.

“The main thing that we have to consider is whether what has been done disrupted or did not disrupt operational activities,” he says.

“There is hardly an event that has no lessons. For those who ask why we hid the claims until now, [I answer that] we did not hide them. We are in the middle of the investigation and are not publishing information at this time.”

During the afternoon of Friday, January 1, Milhem opened fire at the Simta bar in central Tel Aviv, killing Alon Bakal and Shimon Ruimi. He then commandeered a taxi and killed driver Amin Shaaban, who he feared would turn him in, before abandoning the vehicle apparently because he couldn’t operate it.

Shortly after that, two young women — sisters Noa, 20, and Ofir, 25 – saw Milhem in a bloodstained sweatshirt board a bus in northern Tel Aviv. They attempted to alert police but were ignored despite the massive manhunt launched by security forces after the attack, Israel Radio reported Wednesday.

Nashat Milhem is seen competing in a street quiz during Ramadan in footage that emerged of the Tel Aviv gunman, January 2016. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

Nashat Milhem is seen competing in a street quiz during Ramadan in footage that emerged of the Tel Aviv gunman, January 2016. (Screen capture: Channel 2)

The two notified their boss, who called the police hotline repeatedly, but said that law enforcement officials never followed up on the calls. They made several calls on Friday, Sunday and Monday.

Alsheich has ordered an internal investigation of police’s handling of attack and the ensuing nationwide manhunt for Milhem, who was finally tracked down a full week after the killings, on January 8, and was shot dead when he fired on security forces who had come to arrest him.

Bennett calls new Im Tirtzu campaign ’embarrassing’

“Embarrassing, unnecessary, and degrading” is how Jewish Home part leader Naftali Bennett describes controversy-courting right-wing group Im Tirtzu’s new campaign, which singles out Israeli artists and performers associated with left-wing organizations.

The campaign, launched on Wednesday and titled “Moles in Culture,” features a list of artists that includes a number of well-known Israeli authors, actors and musicians — writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, actress Gila Almagor, and singers Rona Keinan and Chava Alberstein are featured — accusing them of being “moles” who support left-wing groups that receive some of their funding from foreign governments.

The campaign launched by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu on January 27, 2016, singling out Israeli artists associated with the left-wing. (Screen capture: Im Tirtzu)

The campaign launched by the right-wing organization Im Tirtzu on January 27, 2016, singling out Israeli artists associated with the left-wing. (Screen capture: Im Tirtzu)

The Im Tirtzu campaign extends a drive by the group in late 2015 to accuse leading figures in Israel’s human rights organizations of being “moles” operated by foreign countries.

While Im Tirtzu’s director, Matan Peleg, maintained in interviews Thursday that the campaign was a merely a consciousness-raising effort, artists and lawmakers hit back at the group, calling it “fascist” and its campaign inciting and slanderous.

Palestinian with knife arrested near Hebron

A Palestinian is arrested by security forces at a checkpoint in the Hebron area after a knife is found in his belongings.

The Palestinian is taken to a nearby security facility for questioning.

Rouhani says nuke deal could be pattern for peace

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says successful negotiations over his country’s nuclear conflict with the West could serve as an example for solving multiple regional crises in the Middle East.

Rouhani, in a speech to French think tank IFRI, says that for such diplomacy to work, both sides must “lower our pretensions.”

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (L) shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on January 28, 2016 during a meeting at the French employers association MEDEF headquarters in Paris. (AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)

French Prime Minister Manuel Valls (L) shakes hands with Iranian President Hassan Rouhani on January 28, 2016 during a meeting at the French employers association MEDEF headquarters in Paris. (AFP/ERIC FEFERBERG)

Speaking through a translator, he says “that allowed us to reach accords” on curbing Iran’s nuclear program and lifting sanctions. “Each side must feel it is a win-win agreement.”

He was responding to a question about how Iran can contribute to restoring order in Middle East.

Rouhani’s visit to Paris is focused on renewing trade ties, but France also wants to draw in Iran’s help in peacemaking in the region, notably in Syria and Yemen, and easing tensions with regional rival Saudi Arabia.

— AP

Homeless man dies of hypothermia

A homeless man who was found unconscious and suffering from hypothermia this morning in Bat Yam is pronounced dead at the Wolfson Medical Center in Holon.

IS group claims responsibility for ambush on Egypt army

The Islamic State group claims responsibility for a roadside bombing of an army convoy in the turbulent northern part of the Sinai Peninsula a day earlier that killed at least four.

In a statement distributed by IS sympathizers on social media, the group says that it had killed and wounded more than 20 soldiers including senior officers.

Egyptian security and health officials had said the attack, just south of the coastal city of el-Arish, killed an army colonel and three soldiers and wounded another 12 soldiers, several of whom were in critical condition. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the media.

— AP

UN to decide if Zika virus is global health emergency

The World Health Organization says it is convening an emergency committee to decide if the Zika virus outbreak should be declared an international health emergency.

At a special meeting in Geneva, WHO Director-General Dr. Margaret Chan says the virus — which has been linked to birth defects and neurological problems — was “spreading explosively.”

Zika virus was first detected in 1947 and for decades, only caused mild disease. But Chan notes that “the situation today is dramatically different.”

(FILE) A researcher looks at Aedes aegypti mosquitoes kept in a container at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on January 8, 2016. Three cases of Zika virus were recorded in the US state of Florida on January 20, 2016 in people who had recently travelled in Latin America, health authorities said. Two cases were found in people who visited Colombia in December and a third involving a person who travelled to Venezuela last month, Florida Health Department spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said. The virus has quickly spread across South America and the Caribbean in recent weeks. The Zika virus, which is transmitted by the Aedes genus of mosquitoes, cannot spread between humans. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP / NELSON ALMEIDA

(FILE) A researcher looks at Aedes aegypti mosquitoes kept in a container at a lab of the Institute of Biomedical Sciences of the Sao Paulo University, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on January 8, 2016. Three cases of Zika virus were recorded in the US state of Florida on January 20, 2016 in people who had recently travelled in Latin America, health authorities said. Two cases were found in people who visited Colombia in December and a third involving a person who travelled to Venezuela last month, Florida Health Department spokeswoman Mara Gambineri said. The virus has quickly spread across South America and the Caribbean in recent weeks. The Zika virus, which is transmitted by the Aedes genus of mosquitoes, cannot spread between humans. AFP PHOTO / NELSON ALMEIDA / AFP / NELSON ALMEIDA

According to the US Centers for Disease Control, the Zika virus is now in more than 20 countries, mostly in Central and South America.

Chan says although there was no definitive proof that the Zika virus was responsible for a spike in the number of babies being born with abnormally small heads in Brazil, “the level of alarm is extremely high.” She also notes a possible relationship between Zika infection and Guillain-Barre syndrome, which can cause temporary paralysis.

“The possible links, only recently suspected, have rapidly changed the risk profile of Zika from a mild threat to one of alarming proportions,” Chan says.

There is no specific treatment or vaccine for Zika, which is related to dengue — scientists have struggled for years to develop a dengue vaccine but have failed to create a viable shot so far.

The UN health agency last declared an international emergency over the devastating 2014 Ebola outbreak in West Africa, which ended up killing more than 11,000 people.

— AP

Regev criticizes Im Tirtzu campaign

Culture Minister Miri Regev (Likud) criticizes Im Tirtzu’s new campaign, which singles out Israeli artists and performers associated with left-wing organizations.

“Alongside the public’s right to know, one should avoid statements that may lead to incitement and violence,” Regev says of the campaign, which features a list of artists and accuses them of being “moles” who support left-wing groups that receive some of their funding from foreign governments.

Culture Minister Miri Regev in Jerusalem on December 27, 2015.(Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

Culture Minister Miri Regev in Jerusalem on December 27, 2015.(Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

“Damage to any person in respect of his political views is wrong.”

It should be noted that Regev herself is currently pushing a proposal aimed at pulling state support from groups that degrade state symbols or the flag, mark Israel’s Independence Day as a day of mourning, deny Israel’s right to exist, reject Israel as a Jewish and democratic state, or incite to violence, terrorism, or racist hate crimes.

Leaders of Cyprus, Greece, Israel meet to boost cooperation

The leaders of Cyprus, Greece and Israel pledge to work together to seize opportunities emerging from newly found offshore gas reserves in order to bolster stability and security in a region wracked by conflict.

The talks in the Cypriot capital are the first tripartite summit between Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“Our states share the same values as well as the conviction that in order to effectively counter multiple challenges confronting us on a local, regional and international level, we must work collectively,” Anastasiades says at a news conference.

Discussions centered on energy cooperation regarding newly found offshore gas reserves as well as migration, countering terrorism and boosting tourism. The countries also sign a cooperation agreement on water resource management.

Netanyahu says the leaders agreed to set up a tripartite committee that would look into the possibility of building a pipeline to carry natural gas found in waters off Israel and Cyprus to Europe via Greece.

Netanyahu says the committee would also the possibility of an undersea cable to link the electricity grids of the three countries.

Tsipras says Greece can act as a bridge for the transfer of east Mediterranean gas to the EU.

Netanyahu says “an even wider circle of nations” in the region also “seeks stability, prosperity, security and peace.”

“These are momentous goals and by working together we can advance them more effectively than we can separately,” he says.

Tsipras says the leaders agreed that dealing with the largest migration of people since World War II means tackling the problem “at its root” — poverty and war. Anastasiades says that additional financial support and economic development in war-torn areas would help alleviate the migration crisis.

— AP

Check Point CEO says Iran hack targeted Israelis

Gil Shwed, the CEO of Israeli cyber-security giant Check Point, says that two months ago his company identified a computer hack that originated in Iran.

The attack targeted many public figures worldwide, including some in Israel, he adds, according to Israel Radio.

Shwed says 1,600 people received infected emails, and more than a quarter of them opened the messages, thus unintentionally downloading spyware to their personal computers.

MK’s car pelted with stones

Palestinians hurl stones at the vehicle of MK Haim Jelin as the Yesh Atid party member drives on Route 443, near the West Bank city of Beit Horon. No injuries are reported.

The incident takes place after the MK made a condolence visit to the home of the family of Shlomit Krigman, who was murdered by terrorists earlier this week.

Near-naked woman hangs from Paris bridge to protest Rouhani

A near-naked woman hanging from a noose-like rope from a Paris bridge has sent a message to visiting Iranian President Hassan Rouhani.

“Welcome Rouhani, Executioner of Freedom,” read a huge banner across the pedestrian bridge over the Seine River near the Eiffel Tower. The protest Thursday by feminist group Femen is calling attention to the large number of executions in Iran.

Iran is one of the world’s largest users of the death penalty, ranking second behind China in 2014, according to Amnesty International. Most Iranian executions are linked to drug smuggling.

Sarah Constantin, the activist who hung from the bridge, said they organized the “public hanging” to call attention to those executed for political reasons and put pressure on French President Francois Hollande to bring up human rights in his meeting with Rouhani.

— AP

Kulanu MK ceases cooperation with Im Tirtzu

Kulanu MK Meirav Ben-Ari announces that she will discontinue all cooperation with right-wing group Im Tirtzu, which launched a new campaign that singles out Israeli artists and performers associated with left-wing organizations.

“As a person who all devoted hher life to bridge the gaps in Israeli society, the [Im Tirtzu] campaign divides and destroys Israeli society, which is torn as is,” she says.

“This is not my way and never was.”

Netanyahu says he opposes use of term ‘traitor’ for political opponents

After a string of MKs, public figures, and celebrities heavily criticized right-wing group Im Tirtzu for a new campaign that singles out Israeli artists and performers associated with left-wing organizations, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns the controversy-courting organization, albeit in much less forceful terms than did even some of his own party members.

“[I] oppose the use of the word ‘traitor’ to describe those who disagree with me,” Netanyahu says. “We are a democracy and there is a multitude of opinions.”

The prime minister, however, uses the opportunity to condemn left-wing organization Breaking the Silence, who he claims, “slander Israel’s name in the world.”

The Im Tirzu campaign, launched on Wednesday and titled “Moles in Culture,” features a list of artists that includes a number of well-known Israeli authors, actors and musicians — writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, actress Gila Almagor, and singers Rona Keinan and Chava Alberstein are featured — accusing them of being “moles” who support left-wing groups that receive some of their funding from foreign governments.

The campaign extends a drive by the group in late 2015 to accuse leading figures in Israel’s human rights organizations of being “moles” operated by foreign countries.

25 dead as migrant boat sinks off Turkish coast

Greece’s coast guard raises the death toll from a migrant boat sinking to 25, after recovering seven more bodies from the sea off the northern coast of Samos, an island near the Turkish coast. Ten of the dead are children.

The coast guard says the bodies of five girls, five boys, 10 men and five women have been recovered, while 10 people had been rescued.

A search and rescue operation is continuing in the area, the coast guard says. Survivors’ accounts of how many people had been on board were unclear, and authorities are uncertain of how many more people might be missing.

The passengers had been traveling in a wooden boat that partially sank. The exact circumstances of the incident were unclear.

Haredi lawmaker to block funding for Western Wall expansion

The chair of the Knesset Finance Committee intends to block funding for a plan to expand the non-Orthodox prayer section of the Western Wall, a source familiar with the plan tells JTA.

Moshe Gafni of the haredi Orthodox United Torah Judaism party intends to use his committee post to deny the approximately $10 million needed to fund the expansion, says the source, who requested anonymity. In response, the Prime Minister’s Office is seeking other sources of funding, including from the Jerusalem municipality, the Reform and Conservative movements of Judaism, and the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Gafni’s spokesman does not respond to several calls for comment.

Members of the Women of the Wall organization wear prayer shawls as they pray at the Western Wall, Judaism's holiest site, in Jerusalem, January 02, 2014 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Members of the Women of the Wall organization wear prayer shawls as they pray at the Western Wall, Judaism’s holiest site, in Jerusalem, January 02, 2014 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The Cabinet is expected to vote Sunday on the expansion plan. Haredi government ministers had planned to be absent for the vote to avoid supporting or opposing it.

The plan has been negotiated since 2013 by the government, the Jewish Agency for Israel, the Reform and Conservative movements, the Western Wall’s haredi Orthodox management and Women of the Wall, a women’s prayer group that holds monthly services in the site’s women’s section.

— JTA

Man arrested with two handguns at Disneyland Paris hotel

Police say a man is arrested with two handguns and a copy of the Quran at a hotel in Disneyland Paris. No injuries are reported.

Ya’alon criticizes Im Tirzu campaign

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon criticizes a campaign by the rightist group Im Tirzu to label left-wing artists and other cultural figures as “foreign agent moles.”

“I will argue with anyone who has a deep political dispute with me, and try to convince them and explain to them why I believe they are wrong,” Ya’alon says.

“At the same time I would fight for their right to express their views freely, without any fear. The demonization of people who have different opinion as traitors is obnoxious and dangerous to me, and whoever published this instigating campaign does not represent the moderate right, and certainly not the Likud Party and its values.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks on Channel 2's 'Meet the Press' program, December 26, 2015 (screen capture)

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon speaks on Channel 2’s ‘Meet the Press’ program, December 26, 2015 (screen capture)

The campaign, launched on Wednesday and titled “Moles in Culture,” features a list of artists that includes a number of well-known Israeli authors, actors and musicians — writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, actress Gila Almagor, and singers Rona Keinan and Chava Alberstein are featured — accusing them of being “moles” who support left-wing groups that receive some of their funding from foreign governments.

“David Grossman, who lost his son in the war, is an Israeli patriot, and like Sami Michael, Gila Almagor and others – [are] Israeli patriots concerned about the fate of the state. It must not be that one political disagreement or another undermines this fact and leads to incitement against them.”

The Im Tirtzu campaign extends a drive by the group in late 2015 to accuse leading figures in Israel’s human rights organizations of being “moles” operated by foreign countries.

While Im Tirtzu’s director, Matan Peleg, maintained in interviews Thursday that the campaign was a merely a consciousness-raising effort, artists and lawmakers hit back at the group, calling it “fascist” and its campaign inciting and slanderous.

Yemen suicide bomber said to be Dutch IS fighter

The Islamic State affiliate in Yemen claims responsibility for a suicide bombing that killed seven people and targeted the presidential palace in Aden, where the internationally-recognized president and his cabinet are based.

In an online statement posted on Twitter by the group’s supporters, IS identifies the attacker as Abu Hanifa al-Hollandi, an Arabic nom de guerre suggesting he was Dutch.

It is not yet possible to verify the claim. The group posts pictures that appear to show the car bomb speeding toward cement barricades manned by presidential guards.

Earlier, three Al-Jazeera journalists who were kidnapped in the war-ravaged Yemeni city of Taiz were released, the news network said in a statement. Journalists have been frequently targeted during Yemen’s conflict, which pits southern Shiite rebels, known as Houthis, against government forces backed by a Saudi-led military campaign.

The Houthis seized control of the Yemeni capital, Sanaa, in September 2014 and in November that year the president fled to Aden

Molotov cocktails hurled at Israeli vehicle in Etzion Bloc

Several Molotov cocktails are hurled at Israeli vehicles driving on the road between the Etzion Bloc in the West Bank to Jerusalem.

No injuries or damage are reported.

U of South Florida student body president, VP veto divestment resolution

The student body president and vice president at the University of South Florida veto a resolution that calls for the divestment from companies complicit in human rights violations against the Palestinian people.

Andy Rodriguez and Michael Malanga, the president and vice president, respectively, of the Student Government Senate, reject the resolution at the body’s meeting. Last week, the student senate approved the resolution by a vote of 32-12, with four abstentions, the student newspaper The Oracle reported.

The measure asks the USF Foundation to stop investing in companies that support tobacco products, fossil fuel use and Israel in its conflict with the Palestinians. Its main focus, however, is on Israel.

“We believe that bringing a topic as polarized and politically driven as this into the realm of Student Government serves only to divide the Student Body and disparage students with opposing viewpoints, instead of uniting our students,” Rodriguez and Malanga say in a memo announcing the veto. “It is not the role of Student Government to interject into international politics nor investment policies.”

The veto can be overridden by a two-thirds vote of student senators in favor of the resolution.

The resolution would also have to pass votes by the Faculty Senate and the USF Staff Senate before being forwarded to the university’s board of trustees.

In a statement, the university says the USF Foundation board would not be considering the request again, The Oracle reported. A similar resolution presented by the university’s Students for Justice in Palestine to the foundation board as a petition with over 10,000 signatures was rejected two years ago.

The university has approximately 1,000 undergraduates in a student population of 31,000, according to the campus Jewish group Hillel.

— JTA

Syrian defense chief in Moscow for talks on military ties

Syria’s defense chief is visiting Moscow for talks on military cooperation with his nation’s key ally, Russia.

The Russian military says Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu and his Syrian counterpart, Gen. Fahd Jassem al-Freij, have underlined their “shared intention to further boost multi-faceted cooperation” between the two militaries.

They discuss the results of the Russian air campaign in Syria and talked about prospects for “military and military-technical cooperation.”

Russian warplanes have flown nearly 6,000 sorties since Moscow launched its air campaign in Syria on Sept. 30, helping the government troops to launch offensives and reclaim ground in several areas. Russia says it has targeted the Islamic State and other extremist groups, but the US and its allies have accused Moscow of also striking moderate rebel groups.

— AP

Freed reporter Rezaian feted by paper, top diplomat Kerry

Freed Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian has triumphantly returned to his company at a ceremony that included Secretary of State John Kerry.

Rezaian was released from a Tehran jail in a prisoner swap this month. He says his Iranian interrogators told him over 18 months that his newspaper didn’t know of his plight and the US government wouldn’t lift a finger for his release.

Choking up, Rezaian thanks those who helped secure his freedom.

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, center, appears with his wife Yeganeh Salehi and mother Mary Reazaian in Germany on January 20, 2016, following his release from Iranian custody (screen capture: YouTube)

Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, center, appears with his wife Yeganeh Salehi and mother Mary Reazaian in Germany on January 20, 2016, following his release from Iranian custody (screen capture: YouTube)

Four other Americans were allowed out of Iran as part of the deal that Kerry helped to finalize.

Kerry said he planned to attend Thursday’s inauguration of the Post’s new headquarters even before he knew Rezaian would be free.

After embracing Rezaian, Kerry cited the old military adage that you “never leave a buddy behind.”

— AP

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Live updates (clOSed) Latest: Freed reporter Rezaian feted by paper, top diplomat Kerry

Ya’alon criticizes Im Tirzu campaign

Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon criticizes a campaign by the rightist group Im Tirzu to label left-wing artists and other cultural figures as “foreign agent moles.”

“I will argue with anyone who has a deep political dispute with me, and try to convince them and explain to them why I believe they are wrong,” Ya’alon says.

“At the same time I would fight for their right to express their views freely, without any fear. The demonization of people who have different opinion as traitors is obnoxious and dangerous to me, and whoever published this instigating campaign does not represent the moderate right, and certainly not the Likud Party and its values.”

Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks on Channel 2's 'Meet the Press' program, December 26, 2015 (screen capture)
Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon speaks on Channel 2’s ‘Meet the Press’ program, December 26, 2015 (screen capture)

The campaign, launched on Wednesday and titled “Moles in Culture,” features a list of artists that includes a number of well-known Israeli authors, actors and musicians — writers Amos Oz, David Grossman and A.B. Yehoshua, actress Gila Almagor, and singers Rona Keinan and Chava Alberstein are featured — accusing them of being “moles” who support left-wing groups that receive some of their funding from foreign governments.

“David Grossman, who lost his son in the war, is an Israeli patriot, and like Sami Michael, Gila Almagor and others – [are] Israeli patriots concerned about the fate of the state. It must not be that one political disagreement or another undermines this fact and leads to incitement against them.”

The Im Tirtzu campaign extends a drive by the group in late 2015 to accuse leading figures in Israel’s human rights organizations of being “moles” operated by foreign countries.

While Im Tirtzu’s director, Matan Peleg, maintained in interviews Thursday that the campaign was a merely a consciousness-raising effort, artists and lawmakers hit back at the group, calling it “fascist” and its campaign inciting and slanderous.