Israel on Thursday observed Holocaust Remembrance Day. After a state ceremony on Wednesday evening, Thursday’s official events began with a two-minute siren that sounded at 10 a.m.

In Auschwitz, Israeli dignitaries participated in the annual March of the Living.

The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded.

Ties with US called crucial to tackle Hezbollah

The Foreign Ministry’s director-general Nissim Ben Shitrit sent a letter on Wednesday to his boss, minister Avigdor Liberman, where he wrote that Israel may “pay a heavy price” in a series of diplomatic and security issues due to the “severe, ongoing and public crisis” in relations with the US administration, Haaretz reports.

Ben Shitrit called on Liberman to initiate an Israeli move to quickly restore ties with the US.

According to Haaretz, which obtained a copy of the letter, titled “Diplomatic challenges and new arrangements by the Foreign Ministry,” Ben Shitrit details the diplomatic staff’s position on a series of issues Israel will need to tackle, according to Ben Shitrit, as soon as a new government is established.

According to the director general, tight coordination with the US is crucial for Israel’s capability to cope with the diplomatic and security challenges it faces.

A French proposal to upgrade the Palestinians from the status of observer state to full member is at the top of the list of diplomatic challenges, followed by Palestinian threats to act against Israel at the International Criminal Court at the Hague and pressure on Israel to reveal its nuclear capabilities from hostile states’ delegates at the IAEA.

In the security arena, Ben Shitrit wrote that the rearming of Hezbollah and military assessments that a new round of violence in the north is not far off require “critical and urgent care.”

“Coping properly with this issue, if not done in tight coordination with the US, is an almost impossible mission.”

The crisis between the countries centers on irreconcilable differences of opinion between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and US President Barack Obama, centering now on the nuclear talks with Iran.

Netanyahu has also disagreed with Obama on the ways to advance peace talks with the Palestinians, and Obama, unusually for a US president, made his first visit to Israel only during his second term.

Police strongly suspect J’lem crash was terror attack

Police suspicion is growing that a traffic collision in which one Israeli was killed and another young woman was badly injured was in fact a terror attack.

On Wednesday evening, Khaled Koutina, 37, from the village of Anata, rammed Shalom Sherki and another woman, both in their twenties, who were waiting at a bus stop in northern Jerusalem. Both were badly injured, and Sherki later succumbed to his wounds. He was the brother of Channel 2 political analyst Yair Sherki and the son of Rabbi Uri Sherki.

Police and the Shin Bet security service interrogated Koutina but were initially reluctant to say whether he lost control of his vehicle or ran over the two pedestrians deliberately.

This morning police brought Koutina to the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court with a request to extend his remand. Before the hearing police officials said they now had more reason to suspect Koutina ran over the two as a nationalistically based terror attack.

Sherki’s funeral will begin at 5 p.m. at the Sephardi funeral home in Givat Shaul, in Jerusalem.

EU foreign ministers want labeling on W. Bank products

The foreign ministers of 16 out of 28 member states of the EU send a letter to the union’s foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, asking her to promote the labeling of products made in the West Bank and sold in stores across the continent, Haaretz reports.

Signatures come from the foreign minister of the UK, Belgium and France, Italy, Spain, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Croatia, Portugal, Sweden, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Malta, as well as from Sebastian Kurz, Federal Minister for Europe, Integration and Foreign Affairs.

Significantly lacking from the document is the signature of German Foreign Minister Frank-Walther Steinmeier.

While the letter certainly has symbolic significance in bringing to the fore the displeasure of European countries with Israel’s settlement policies, its actual economic effect is yet to be seen.

Israeli vegetables are often prominently labeled as made in Israel and sell for higher prices in European markets because of their superior quality. Several years ago Chinese farmers forged Israeli labeling to boost their sales.

Putin defends S-300 sale: ‘Iran shows flexibility’

Russian President Vladimir Putin defends his move to approve the delivery of the long-range S-300 air defense missile system to Iran, saying the 2010 Russian ban was voluntary.

Speaking in a televised call-in show, he says his decision this week to lift the ban doesn’t contradict international sanctions against Iran, which are still in place despite a framework agreement reached earlier this month between Iran and six world powers over its nuclear program.

He said he made the move because Iran “has shown a great degree of flexibility and a desire to reach compromise.” He said the S-300 is a defensive weapon that shouldn’t pose any threat to Israel, and may in fact serve as “a deterrent factor in connection with the situation in Yemen.”

— AP

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) gestures as he speaks during his annual televised phone-in with the nation in central Moscow on April 16, 2015. (photo credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/RIA Novosti)

Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) gestures as he speaks during his annual televised phone-in with the nation in central Moscow on April 16, 2015. (photo credit: Mikhail Klimentyev/AFP/RIA Novosti)

Knesset okays NIS 477m for Israel Post recovery

The outgoing Knesset’s Finance Committee approved the investment of NIS 477 million (c. $120 million) in Israel Post stocks.

The funds will allow the company, which was deregulated in recent years and has since suffered badly, affecting all the country’s citizens’ mail and package services, to begin a recovery program.

The money will also be used to help 1,200 employees retire over a five-year phased process. Until now many employees were facing immediate termination after years of service or changes to their contracts which made it impossible for them to continue in their work, like relocation to branches in cities remote from their homes.

Illustrative photo: An ultra orthodox man checks his mail box, in Beitar Illit on March 17, 2015. (Photo credit: Nati shohat/Flash90)

Illustrative: A man checks his mailbox in Beitar Illit on March 17, 2015. (Photo credit: Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Ehud Barak pens bio of Netanyahu for Time

Ehud Barak pens a short bio of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for Time magazine’s list of 100 influential leaders.

Barak is not sparing with his criticism: “Over time, while thoughtful and an avid reader of history, he developed a mind-set at once pessimistic, passive and anxious. Benjamin Netanyahu seems to avoid any initiative,” Barak writes.

He concedes that “Netanyahu is basically right about Iran and our risky neighborhood. But he can fail to seize opportunities, and on the Palestinian question he grossly ignores the slippery slope awaiting Israel in the form of a one-state solution.”

Barak concludes that in order to “leave his mark,” Netanyahu must undertake “daring actions. Not just words.”

Read the entry here.

March of the Living begins at Auschwitz

The March of the Living begins at the site of the Auschwitz concentration camp.

Obama decries ‘far too common’ anti-Semitism

US President Barack Obama issues a statement to the media on Israel’s Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“It is incumbent upon us to make real those timeless words, ‘Never forget. Never again.’ Yet, even as we recognize that mankind is capable of unspeakable acts of evil, we also draw strength from the survivors, the liberators, and the righteous among nations who represented humanity at its best,” Obama says.

“With their example to guide us, together we must firmly and forcefully condemn the anti-Semitism that is still far too common today. Together we must stand against bigotry and hatred in all their forms. And together, we can leave our children a world that is more just, more free, and more secure for all humankind,” he says.

US President Barack Obama walks across the tarmac to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on April 15, 2015. (photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP)

US President Barack Obama walks across the tarmac to board Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland on April 15, 2015. (photo credit: Mandel Ngan/AFP)

41 missing in new Mediterranean boat tragedy

As many as 41 migrants have drowned after another boat carrying refugees sank in the Mediterranean, Italian media reports.

Four survivors tell Italian police and humanitarian organizations that their inflatable vessel carrying 45 people sank on the crossing from Libya.


Suspect in college shooting says he’s neo-Nazi

RALEIGH, North Carolina — A man charged with killing a worker at a North Carolina college says he’s neo-Nazi and hates gay people.

Kenneth Morgan Stancil III tells Raleigh station WRAL-TV he killed Ron Lane this week because he had made sexual advances to Stancil’s 16-year-old brother.

In a telephone interview from a Florida jail, Stancil says Lane found his brother on Facebook and made advances, although Stancil said Lane never touched the teen.

“I’d do anything necessary to take care of my family,” Stancil says.

He adds that he doesn’t regret what he did. He said he expects to go to prison for the rest of his life and isn’t bothered by that: “I’m a murderer, you know, what the hell do I got to care?”

Stancil says he is a neo-Nazi who is concerned about the future of white children. “I try to look out for my fellow white people,” he says. “I don’t believe in race mixing.”

— AP

‘We’ll never stand by while others suffer’

Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi publishes a statement on Holocaust Remembrance Day:

On Holocaust Remembrance Day, we honor the memories of millions of children, women, and men murdered for their identities and their faith. We remember them by rededicating ourselves to speaking out against injustice and inequality, bigotry and brutality. In their name, we vow to never forget and never to stand by while others suffer.

The late Congressman Tom Lantos, the first Holocaust survivor to serve in the US Congress, once said, ‘We must remember that the veneer of civilization is paper thin. We are its guardians, and we can never rest.’ As a nation founded on ideals of equality and freedom, we must never rest when extremism and prejudice threaten any group, anywhere in the world.

Holocaust Remembrance Day reminds us of the danger of remaining silent when we see acts of bigotry and discrimination that can metastasize into violence and genocide. Today, as we reflect on one of the most brutal chapters in human history, we draw fresh determination to fight the toxic anti-Semitism and hate that persists in our own day. Let us honor those who died, draw strength from the spirit of those who survived, and renew our vow to build a world of peace, justice and dignity for all.

Scathing WSJ op-ed says CIA ‘incapable’ of objectivity on Iran

The CIA under the leadership of John Brennan can no longer objectively evaluate Iranian nuclear intentions, Michael Mukasey and Kevin Carroll write in an opinion piece in The Wall Street Journal.

Mukasey and Carroll, the former an ex-attorney general of the US (under George W. Bush) and the latter an ex-CIA case officer in the Middle East, urge Congress to establish an alternate team of analysts that would provide an independent assessment of Iran’s capabilities and intentions.

Brennan said in early April that anyone who opposes the White House’s “framework” agreement with Iran reached in Lausanne was being “wholly disingenuous.”

This public position, according to Mukasey and Carroll, would inhibit in-house CIA analysts from contradicting their boss.

CIA Director John Brennan. (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

CIA Director John Brennan (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

They argued that “evidence of cheating by Iran necessarily would be fragmentary — dual-use technology paid for through opaque transactions; unexplained flight patterns and port calls by aircraft and vessels of dubious registration; intercepted conversations using possibly coded terms; a smattering of human intelligence from sources with questionable access and their own mixed motivations and vulnerabilities.”

Given that “the boss has already said that purported concerns about Iran obtaining a nuclear weapon are dishonest,” Mukasey and Carroll wrote, “how likely is it that an evaluation suggesting that Iran is up to something would make it beyond operational channels, through reports officers, analysts and CIA managers, up to policy makers?”

Mukasey and Carroll suggest that the Obama administration’s overall approach to intelligence is problematic. They mention the White House’s mischaracterization of the cause for the Sept. 11, 2012, attack on the US consulate in Benghazi, Libya and the hiding of information about Army Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl’s record.

The two high-profile writers suggest a “Team B” should be appointed by Congressional leaders from both parties and that the team should “direct the administration legislatively if necessary” to provide it with raw intelligence on Iran.

“This ‘Team B’ should then report its findings periodically not only to the administration, but also to congressional leaders and the presidential nominees of both parties once they are chosen,” Mukasey and Carroll wrote.

Yisrael Beytenu MK says PM wants ‘unity without Livni’

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman is slated to meet with Prime Minister Netanyahu on Friday to discuss the next coalition.

Yisrael Beytenu MK Robert Ilatov, meanwhile, said yesterday that if Netanyahu won’t back away from promises that he made to ultra-Orthodox parties, then Yisrael Beytenu will stay out of the government.

“Netanyahu prefers a unity government without us, without Jewish Home and without [Tzipi] Livni,” Ilatov was quoted by Ynet as saying. He was speaking at a meeting in Netanya with party activists and according to the news website, harshly criticized Netanyahu’s conduct in the negotiations.

Ilatov said, “The bad blood between [Netanyahu and Livni] leads to a situation where he would even be willing to rotate with [Zionist Union leader Isaac] Herzog in the premiership so long as Tzipi will not be part of that unity government.”

MK Robert Ilatov (left) speaks with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman during a party meeting at the Knesset (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

MK Robert Ilatov (left) speaks with Yisrael Beytenu head Avigdor Liberman during a party meeting at the Knesset (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“It is obvious that those pushing for a unity government are [Shas leader Aryeh] Deri, [and UTJ MKs Ya’acov] Liztman [and Moshe] Gafni,” Ilatov said, claiming that ultra-Orthodox parties were the main engines pushing for a unity coalition. “It was obvious to them that [under a unity government] it would be easier for the Haredim to receive millions of shekels from the treasury and cancel legislation on sharing the [military draft] burden, as well as government decisions on conversion to Judaism. They fear Yisrael Beytenu positions on every issue that relates to religion and state and that’s why Deri worked overtime to mediate between Bibi and Herzog,” charged Ilatov.

The MK, who is the party’s point man on coalition negotiations, said, “There is no problem between Yisrael Beytenu and Jewish Home and there is no argument on the foreign affairs portfolio. They should stop talking nonsense. The real problem with Jewish Home is the third portfolio [they demand] for Ayelet Shaked, everything else is spin.”

Ilatov said his party will not suffice with the foreign affairs portfolio (party leader Avigdor Liberman is currently serving as foreign minister). “Those who think they can buy us with foreign affairs are wrong. We will not start discussing ministries with Likud until we receive all the information on agreements [Netanyahu] made with Shas and United Torah Judaism. It cannot be possible that we will agree to cancel initiatives on conversion that were already confirmed, because of Netanyahu’s commitments to the Haredim.”

Yisrael Beytenu, traditionally relying heavily on the votes of immigrants from the former Soviet Union, many of whom have difficulties marrying because Israel’s chief rabbinate does not recognize them as Jewish, made significant efforts to modify conversion laws during the past government. “Our young folks are willing to die in the army, but they will not be considered Jewish? There’s no way we will agree to any change to the law of sharing the [military draft] burden or to the law of marriage registration that we passed in the previous Knesset and which the Haredim now want to cancel.”

Ilatov claimed Netanyahu’s agreements with ultra-Orthodox parties include “billions” in funding for Torah studies and the ultra-Orthodox separate education system.

Argentina’s Senate approves one-time payment to AMIA bombing victims

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Argentina’s Senate unanimously approves a bill that offers one-time compensation to the families of the 85 people killed in the 1994 bombing of the AMIA Jewish center.

Under the bill approved Wednesday without debate, the compensation will be about $170,000 for each fatality in the Buenos Aires attack.

Also, for those whose injuries were “extremely grievous,” the reparation comes to 70 percent of the amount, and those with “grievous” injuries will receive 60% of the amount.

The bill advances to the Parliament’s lower chamber. If it is approved there, it will become law.

In June 2011, the Argentina Parliament unanimously ruled that the relatives of victims of the 1992 attack on the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires would receive compensation from the state. Under that law, the families received $225,000 in the case of death, and $158,000 for dramatic and severe injuries, for a total of $40 million from the Argentine government.

The perpetrators of both crimes have never been caught.


Hamas urges kidnappings of Israelis

Hamas official Khalil al-Haya, speaking on the occasion of Palestinian Prisoner Day, says “We tell the Zionist enemy: You are all targets for us and for our resistance, we will fight you until we get rid of you for good and we will take as many prisoners as possible to liberate our heroes.”

“Our men, our women, our children always think of kidnapping your soldiers and settlers, wherever they may be,” Haya tells hundreds of Palestinian who gather for a ceremony in Gaza. “It is our right, since we have no other means of liberating our heroes and it is the Zionist enemy’s fault that this is the state of affairs.”

“We say to our prisoners, rest assured! For the Palestinian resistance, with the Izz ad-Din al Qassam Brigades at the front line, can liberate you like they liberated your brothers” in 2011, he adds, alluding to the prisoner exchange for the release of IDF soldier Gilad Shalit.

“The resistance will not rest until it has totally emptied Israeli prisons of all Palestinian prisoners,” says Ahmed al-Moudalal, from Islamic Jihad, standing alongside Haya.


Lapid: Settlement labeling bid ‘a stain on Europe’

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid says “the call from EU foreign ministers” to label products produced in the West Bank “is essentially a call to boycott Israel.”

Lapid refers to a letter — sent to EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and signed by 16 foreign ministers — calling for the labeling of products manufactured beyond the Green Line, as a means to pressure Israel to change its settlement policies.

In a statement, the Yesh Atid leader says, “There is no difference between products manufactured beyond the Green Line and products manufactured inside the Green Line. This initiative is irresponsible and can potentially spell calamity for the market in Israel. Such an initiative is a stain on the European Union and Israel should fight to prevent this dangerous process.”

Israeli MP and chairperson of the centrist Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid celebrates with supporters early on January 18, 2015 at his party headquarters in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: AFP / GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

Israeli MP and chairperson of the centrist Yesh Atid party, Yair Lapid celebrates with supporters early on January 18, 2015 at his party headquarters in Tel Aviv. (photo credit: AFP / GIL COHEN-MAGEN)

Clinton logo looks like Hadassah’s

Hilary Clinton’s campaign logo was criticized for many reasons: looking too “corporate,” or having an arrow pointing to the right; but out of leftfield comes an accusation that the logo looks like the logo of Hadassah.

Read about it here.

Health Ministry warns against 2 sketchy liqueurs sold in stores

The Health Ministry is warning consumers against buying Vodka Moldova or Josephine Bonaparte Brandy XO. Both liqueurs do not carry the name of a producer or importer on their labels, and a sample tested by the Israeli Standard Institute found both drinks to contain higher than allowed quantities of methanol.

Methanol poisoning can cause dizziness, confusion, headaches, vomiting stomach pains, and in severe cases can cause blindness or death.


Study – Iran poses growing cyber threat to US

Iran poses a growing threat to America’s computer networks and has launched increasingly sophisticated digital attacks and spying on US targets, according to a new report.

Iran’s far-reaching hacking efforts indicate the regime is searching for vulnerable infrastructure that could be hit in future cyber assaults, says the study by private cyber security company Norse and the American Enterprise Institute think tank.

“Iran is emerging as a significant cyber threat to the US and its allies,” the study says.

Iran’s skill in the cyber realm has markedly improved in recent years and “Iran has already penetrated well-defended networks in the US and Saudi Arabia and seized and destroyed sensitive data,” it says.

The hacking, including espionage and attacks, has expanded despite high-stakes negotiations between Iran and world powers on Tehran’s nuclear program, it says.


Rivlin speaks of Yarmouk, Boko Haram at ceremony

President Reuven Rivlin speaks at a ceremony closing Holocaust Remembrance Day events in Kibbutz Yad Mordechai.

The president says “We must come forth against those who shed their humanity and commit genocides, wherever they may be. The question which should torment us all today is whether we would act like the heroes, the righteous among the nations, or would we stand idly by? Would we be willing to save a single soul, or a whole family?”

“The State of Israel must stand at the forefront of humanity’s fight against itself. We will not turn a blind eye facing the slaughter in al Yarmouk or the actions of Boko Haram in Nigeria,” Rivlin says.

He refers to the atrocities being committed by Islamic State and the Assad regime in the Yarmouk Palestinian refugee camp in Syria and to the murder of dozens of innocents by Islamist group Boko Haram in Nigeria recently.

President Reuven Rivlin lays a wreath of flowers during a ceremony at the 'Hall of Remembrances' at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, as Israel opened Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, April 16, 2015. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

President Reuven Rivlin lays a wreath of flowers during a ceremony at the ‘Hall of Remembrances’ at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial museum in Jerusalem, as Israel opened Holocaust Remembrance Day on Wednesday, April 16, 2015. (Photo credit: Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Dieudonne show in Morocco canceled

A show by French anti-Semitic comic Dieudonne Mbala Mbala scheduled for April 29 in Casablanca, Morocco, is canceled for “lack of authorization,” according to local media, quoting the organizers.

Coming as part of Dieudonne’s “Filthy Beast” tour, the scheduling of the show caused “great enthusiasm,” according to local news website Media 24.

“We do not know if it is a hidden refusal… or if it’s really a simple delay in the submission of an application,” says a source quoted by Media 24.

French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala delivering a speech, January 15, 2012. January 15, 2012 shows AFP/PATRICK KOVARIK)

French comedian Dieudonne M’bala M’bala delivering a speech, January 15, 2012. January 15, 2012 shows AFP/PATRICK KOVARIK)

Netanyahu seeks extension of coalition talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with President Reuven Rivlin on Monday morning to request a two-week extension for coalition negotiations.

The president is expected to approve the request.

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