Live updates (closed)

Kulanu’s Oren announces support for same-sex marriage

Candidates go toe to toe on peace, foreign policy and Israel’s standing at TOI debate; state watchdog to publish report on PM’s spending; new poll gives Likud lead

At the Times of Israel first election debate, Kulanu’s Michael Oren said his party supports “equal rights… for same-sex marriage.” The subject was addressed at the end of the debate, which focused mostly on security issues.

Earlier on Monday, State Comptroller Yosef Shapira dropped a mini-bombshell when he announced he will publish a report on the spending at the Prime Minister’s Residence on February 17, one month before the election.

The Times of Israel followed events in real time.

New Israel Fund tells Likud to lay off

The New Israel Fund sends top Likud campaign officials a cease and desist letter after the Likud accuses the fund, a left-leaning NGO, of financing the V15 campaign.

Some of the funding was received directly, Likud officials allege, while other monies were funneled through an NGO called One Voice, which is working under the auspices of the NIF.

Likud MK Miri Regev (photo credit:  Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

Likud MK Miri Regev (photo credit: Kobi Gideon / Flash90)

The letter was sent to Avi Levi, Likud’s legal adviser, Nir Hefetz, head of the Likud information center, attorney David Shimron, the lawyer representing the Netanyahu family, and Likud MK Miri Regev.

Regev said on Israel Radio this morning that “there is a clear connection between the New Israel Fund, One Voice and V15.”

The NIF warns in the letter that “these accusations are seriously libelous against the New Israel Fund. The NIF was not and is not involved, directly or indirectly, in funding the campaign called V15.”

Bennett eschews Haaretz confab over NIF link

Naftali Bennett tweets: I was invited to attend a conference hosted by Haaretz. I found out it’s also a conference of the New Israel Fund. I will not go. If the involvement of the NIF is canceled, I will be happy to go.

Economy minister Naftali Bennett at the Jewish Agency Aliya Salon in Paris, January 11, 2015 (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

Economy Minister Naftali Bennett at the Jewish Agency Aliya Salon in Paris, January 11, 2015 (photo credit: Elhanan Miller/Times of Israel)

‘Alberto Nisman wanted pres, FM arrested’

The Argentinean paper Clarin reports that a draft statement found in the trash of investigator Alberto Nisman’s house – a statement that didn’t see the light of day since he was found dead in his house one day before he was intended to make it public – called for the arrest of Argentinean President Cristina Kirchner and Foreign Minister Hector Timerman, on allegations that they covered up Iran’s involvement in the AMIA bombing in 1994 to facilitate Iranian-Argentinean oil deals.

Syrian planes kill 12 in southern village

Syrian activists say government warplanes have carried out several air raids on a rebel-held village in the country’s south, killing at least 12 people and wounding dozens.

Monday’s airstrikes targeted the village of Jassem in Daraa province, which has been the scene of almost daily air raids and fighting between government forces and rebels. Rebels have been on the offensive in the area and late last month captured a major military base.

— AP

Jordanian envoy to return to Israel

Jordan announces that its ambassador to Israel will return to his post in Tel Aviv three months after he was recalled over “violations” at Jerusalem’s Al-Aqsa mosque.

“We have asked Ambassador Walid Obeidat to return to Tel Aviv,” government spokesman Mohammad al-Momani says.

Jordan recalled Obdeidat on November 5 after police clashed with stone-throwing Palestinians inside the flashpoint Al-Aqsa mosque compound, with Foreign Minister Nasser Judeh describing Israeli actions as “violations” and “way beyond the limits.”


Likud MKs also decide to shun Haaretz confab

Deputy ministers Tzachi Hanegbi and Tzipi Hotovely (Likud) and Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin also canceled their appearance at the February 17 Haaretz peace conference, the paper’s website reports.

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“Likud, as a national and ideological movement, cannot cooperate with bodies who strive to always tarnish Israel’s image. The New Israel Fund finances dozens of radical left organizations… and is one of the bodies responsible for the Goldstone Report,” officials at the Likud campaign headquarters say.

Iran launches satellite, its 4th since 2009

Iran launches an observation satellite — its first since 2012 — with President Hassan Rouhani declaring it safely entered orbit and that he had personally ordered the mission.

The Fajr (Dawn) satellite was successfully placed 450 kilometers above Earth, says Al-Alam television, an Arabic-language station owned by the Islamic republic.

It is the fourth such satellite launch by Iran, after three others between 2009 and 2012.


Yesh Atid clip on women irks female party MK

Yesh Atid’s new campaign highlighting the party’s achievements in promoting gender equality launched yesterday earns criticism – from Yesh Atid’s female MKs.

In the clip, semi-nude men are seen petting various animals and saying phrases like “you’re always busy huh? It’s not easy to grab your attention” or “you’re such a ball of energy, it’s obvious that once you start your engines you can get wherever you want.”

A still image from a new election clip by Yesh Atid highlighting the party's achievements in the field of gender equality. The clip went online on February 1, 2015. (photo credit: Screen capture)

A still image from a new election clip by Yesh Atid highlighting the party’s achievements in the field of gender equality. The clip went online on February 1, 2015. (Screen capture)

Aliza Lavie, who now serves as chairman of the Knesset Committee for the Equality of Women and is the party’s No. 10 candidate in the coming election, says, “I did not like this clip and I objected to it.”

Lavie tells NRG that the clip “is wrong and does not convey the message. It has no added value on all the achievements Yesh Atid has on advancing women. I myself passed eight bills and there are other members [of the party] that did much for [the advancement of] women, and this clip does not tell the story.”

Pan-Arab news off air hours after launch

Programming at a pan-Arab news channel owned by Saudi billionaire Prince Alwaleed bin Talal is unavailable, hours after its first transmission from Bahrain.

The satellite feed of Alarab News Channel shows only promotional material, and an Alarab executive declined to comment.

The channel says on its Twitter account that broadcasting has “stopped for technical and administrative reasons and that it will be back soon.”

The head of media at Bahrain’s information ministry, Yusuf Mohammed, says “cooperation with Alarab’s administration is ongoing, in order to resume its broadcasts and complete necessary measures as soon as possible.”


PM commends Jordan for returning envoy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu welcomes Jordan’s decision to return its envoy to Tel Aviv.

“This is an important step reflecting the interests shared by Israel and Jordan, chief among them stability, security and peace.”

— Raphael Ahren

Swastikas on Vienna mosque ahead of anti-Islam rally

Vandals sprayed several swastikas on a Vienna mosque, Austrian police say, ahead of the country’s first demonstration by the “anti-Islamization” movement PEGIDA.

A police spokeswoman says that the graffiti, found on Sunday morning, is being “investigated by the national security agency.”

It is the latest in a series of anti-Islamic — and anti-Semitic — acts of vandalism in EU member state Austria.


Meretz MK prays for ‘dear friend’ Uri Orbach

Meretz MK Ilan Gilon says he is worried about the medical condition of Senior Citizens Minister Uri Orbach (Jewish Home), who is hospitalized with a life-threatening disease in the Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem.

Knesset member Ilan Gilon from the Meretz party. (photo credit: Flash90)

Knesset member Ilan Gilon from the Meretz party. (photo credit: Flash90)

“We are very close friends and I am worried about his condition. I pray – the only way I know – by sending him positive energies, that he will be well,” Gilon tells the Kikar Hashabat website.

Gilon and Orbach have forged a close friendship despite being polar opposites in their politics. “Each of us says the other’s political views are screwed up. We always wish one another ‘great success in a small party’ and we are very close friends beyond our political beliefs. I think he is totally wrong and he thinks the same about me,” he says.

MK Uri Orbach of the Jewish Home party. (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

MK Uri Orbach of the Jewish Home party (photo credit: Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“He’s a real man, an amazing person with a sense of humor and the ability for self-criticism. He is brilliant and wise,” says Gilon. “I prefer people with opinions diametrically opposing my own than people with no opinions, and this is why we are such good friends. I hope one day he sobers up. But in the meantime it’s important he gets well. I am waiting for him.”

Netanyahu recently appointed Jewish Home chairman Naftali Bennett as Orbach’s replacement due to Orbach’s temporary inability to fulfill his ministerial role.

25 Yazidis’ bodies found in Iraq mass grave

Kurdish forces find the remains of about 25 members of the Yazidi minority killed by the Islamic State group in a mass grave in northwest Iraq, officials say.

“Peshmerga forces discovered a mass grave yesterday (Sunday) containing the remains of about 25 people — men, children and women — from the Yazidi (sect) who were killed by” IS, Myaser Haji Saleh, a local official responsible for the Sinjar area, says.


Blog opens Khamenei cartoon contest

Blogger Elder of Zion announces a competition of cartoons slamming Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, in response to Iran announcing another competition of Holocaust cartoons. The Iranian competition itself comes in response to the Charlie Hebdo comics.

The first few entries, presumably by the blogger himself, can be seen here.

Al-Jazeera man ‘reborn’ out of Egypt jail

Al-Jazeera’s Australian journalist Peter Greste, speaking a day after his release from prison in Egypt, says his freedom was something of a “rebirth” and that key to his well-being while incarcerated for more than a year was exercising, studying and meditating.

In his first public comments since his release, he tells Al-Jazeera English that he is looking forward to watching a “few sunsets” and the stars, as well as spending time with his family.

“It is those little beautiful moments of life that are really precious,” he says.

— AP

Shas campaign features slogan on… bread

A new Shas campaign features slogan charred (or photoshopped) on pita bread.

In a stab at Yesh Atid’s carrying the flag of the middle class, Shas, which runs a campaign based on caring for the lower classes, posts a photo of pita bread on which the text “Lapid worries about sushi, we worry about bread” seems to be burned.

German woman, 93, probed for role as SS guard

A 93-year-old woman in Hamburg is under investigation for her role as an SS guard during a Nazi death march.

The investigation of Hilde Michnia was announced today by the Hamburg prosecutors’ office.

Also today, prosecutors in the city of Luneburg say they will try former Waffen-SS member Oskar Groening, 93, in April for his role in the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

Groening, of Hannover, Germany, has acknowledged that he was a guard at Auschwitz but said he did not personally commit any of the atrocities. Some 20 Auschwitz victims and their families are co-plaintiffs in the case against him.


Police nab suspicious man near EU parliament

Belgian police detain a citizen of Slovakia who was wearing camouflage gear and seen near the European Parliament. A search of the man’s car, Reuters reports, reveals a gun and an electric chainsaw.

The man tells his interrogators he was planning to meet “the president of the [European] Union.”

Earlier today 500 people were evacuated from the European Compound premises due to a suspicious vehicle parked near the area.

Meretz hopeful urges withdrawal from Golan

Uri Zaki, a Meretz candidate, says Israeli should withdraw from the Golan Heights.

“Even though the conflict in the Golan Heights is not like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, I think that for peace with Syria once it becomes stable and sovereign – we will need to give back the Golan Heights.

“We are a foreign occupier in Judea and Samaria and will leave there only by the way of the gun,” the website News 1 quotes Zaki as saying on Sunday, during a conference in Ramat Gan.

Tunisia announces coalition with Islamists

Tunisia presents its new coalition government, dominated by the secular Nidaa Tounes party but also including its Islamist rivals, as it prepares to tackle security problems and a faltering economy.

Prime Minister Habib Essid announced the make-up of his cabinet, which had initially been abandoned after the moderate Islamist Ennahda party warned it would vote against a line-up that excluded its members.

“We have made changes… to widen the composition of the government with the participation of other political parties,” Essid said.


Jordan jails Syrians for plot to abduct US man

Jordan sentences two Syrians to three years in jail each after they were charged with plotting to kidnap a US aid worker for ransom last year.

The state security court, a military tribunal, accuses them of “terrorist activity” and sentences them to three years’ hard labor, says an AFP reporter in court.

At the start of the trial in December, one defendant, Ibrahim al-Bekai, admitted that he had plotted with his associate Tareq al-Omar to abduct the American who worked with Syrian refugees in Jordan.

The men were arrested in September before they were able to kidnap the aid worker, who was not identified in court.

Bekai had told a hearing in December that the plan was hatched in cooperation with a third man who lives in Syria and whom he described as a member of Al-Nusra Front, Al-Qaeda’s Syria affiliate.


At least 17 migrants drown off Yemen

Yemeni security officials say 17 African migrants drowned off Yemen’s shores when their boat carrying dozens capsized off the western coast.

Officials say that the incident took place near the Bab-el-Mandeb strait. A total of 49 migrants were aboard the boat, they said. Most of the migrants were Ethiopian and Somalian. Search and rescue operations are underway, looking for any survivors.

— AP

Are these bronze sculptures Michelangelo’s?

Scholars in Britain say new evidence has emerged that two nude male bronzes attributed to other sculptors may be the work of Michelangelo.

Experts from the Fitzwilliam Museum and the University of Cambridge say the evidence suggests the figures riding panthers were made after Michelangelo completed the marble David and as he was about to embark on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.

The museum says in a statement Monday that if the attribution is correct, the sculptures would be the only surviving Michelangelo bronzes in the world.

They certainly look Michelangelesque.

Poll gives Likud 2-seat edge over Zionist Camp

If elections were held today Likud would win 25 Knesset seats and the Zionist Camp, an amalgamation of Labor and Hatnua, would win 23.

The poll reverses a trend of Zionist Camp beating Likud which dominated most polls until now.

The Haaretz poll, with a margin of error of 4.2% and 514 respondents, also finds Jewish Home winning 14 seats, the united Arab list winning 12 seats and Yesh Atid plummeting to 9 seats (previous polls gave the party 12). Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu wins 8 seats, the same as United Torah Judaism, and Yisrael Beytenu wins 6, same as Shas.

Meretz in the Haaretz poll wins 5 seats and Yahad, Eli Yishai’s party, wins 4 – the first time it is polled as passing the electoral threshold.

Comptroller to put out PM report in 2 weeks

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira announces that he will publish his report on the management of the Prime Minister’s Residence on Tuesday, February 17.

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends a a State Control committee meeting at the Knesset on June 02, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

State Comptroller Yosef Shapira attends a a State Control committee meeting at the Knesset on June 2, 2014. (photo credit: Flash90)

Shapira notified State Attorney Yehuda Weinstein of his intention to publish the file upon giving Weinstein the collected data regarding the conduct and management of the Prime Minister’s Residence which, a statement from Shapira’s office reads, “raises suspicion of misconduct that may even reach criminal acts.”

The report will be published along with a report on the management of the Knesset and the management of the President’s Residence.

Herzog unimpressed with poll giving Likud lead

Labor leader Isaac Herzog says on Channel 2 that the new Haaretz poll shows his party remaining stable with 23 seats.

Seemingly taking a cue from comments made by political analyst Hagai Segal, who spoke just before him, Herzog says the two seats by which Likud now overtakes Labor were taken from Jewish Home voters “and nothing more.

“Tomorrow we will present an overarching economic plan and deal with the issues really meaningful to voters,” Herzog says, adding that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu needs “to stop fussing over Sara’s bottle deposits and to call an emergency meeting over the crowded conditions in ERs.”

President Rivlin visits Hebron

President Reuven Rivlin calls for dialogue between Israelis and Palestinians during a visit to the city of Hebron.

Several dozen people protest against his visit, and Palestinians say Israeli soldiers used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse demonstrators.

Rivlin is in Hebron to inaugurate the Hebron Heritage Museum at a Jewish settlement in the city commemorating dozens of Jews killed by Palestinian rioters there in 1929.

“It is difficult to imagine the possibility of dialogue in Hebron. The memory of slaughter and blood; screams of the wounded and orphans, are part of a constant reminder that arise in the collective memory of the city. However, we can and should try,” his office quoted him as saying.

President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to the West Bank town of Hebron where he inaugurated a new Hebron Heritage Museum, on February 02, 2015. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin during a visit to the West Bank city of Hebron, where he inaugurated the new Hebron Heritage Museum, on February 2, 2015. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/GPO)

Zandberg says next government should be ‘clearly left wing’

Speaking at The Times of Israel-sponsored debate, Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg responds to a question on ending the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, May 6, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Meretz MK Tamar Zandberg in the Knesset, May 6, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

“I’m not sure the most democratic, pragmatic… solution that we can and should pursue… was tried many times in the past.”

There is a plan, Zandberg says, which is “backed by the Americans, by the UN, by the Arab League and by most Israelis… but still this plan has not been tried by the public. The Israeli refusal to pursue true peace is the No. 1 failure and disappointment of the Israeli people from their leadership.

“Just changing the leadership is not enough,” continues Zandberg. The next government should be “very clear about its left-wing ideology” — just as this government “was clear about being right wing.”

Labor MK says ‘one-state solution is post-Zionist’

“The ‘one-staters’ are the real post-Zionists,” says Labor MK Hilik Bar.

If the Palestinians are given the right to vote, continues Bar, “I think Ahmad Tibi is a very nice guy, but I would not like him to be my prime minister.” But, if the Palestinians are not given the right to vote, he adds, Israel “will really become an apartheid state.

“Israel has issues but it’s far from being, at present, an apartheid state.”

The audience at the TLV Salon applauds.

Michael Oren says Israel needs ‘a reality check’ on foreign-policy issues

The international dimension is “a reality check,” says Michael Oren.

The left believes that “we have to try again what has failed for 20 years” with the Palestinians. “It hasn’t happened,” Oren adds, and Israel has suffered tremendously.

From left, Yaakov Peri, Haviv Rettig-Gur and Michael Oren at a political debate on February 2, 2015. (screen capture: Times of Israel)

Yaakov Peri of Yesh Atid (left), Haviv Rettig-Gur, moderator (center) and Michael Oren of Kulanu (right) at a political debate on February 2, 2015 (screen capture: Times of Israel)

According to Oren, no Arab country will make peace with Israel without preconditions for the outlines of a Palestinian state. ‘

“We have to take a sober look at our reality… and make our case to the world based on that reality.”

Oren explains:

1) “We have to be convincing when we say we have no desire to continue ruling over 2.5 million Palestinians. We have to make that case.

2) If we’re going to build in Jerusalem, it should only be in areas Israel intends to keep.

3) We will keep the door open to final-status negotiations. The world should know that we are serious about peace, even if it takes three whole generations for the Palestinian leader to emerge who will be able to make peace with Israel.”

Should Netanyahu speak before Congress?

15-second question: Should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu go through with his speech before Congress in March?

Ayelet Shaked: It’s a difficult situation because of the administration… Frankly, I don’t have the details and the scope of his trip. If he thinks it is crucial, he should do it. If it’s political — then of course not.

Michael Oren: When it comes to the Iranian nuclear problem, there’s no right and left. The same Israeli leader has no less substance of duty to preserve Israel’s ties with the US… So I humbly suggest, make the case, but not through that venue. You have the AIPAC conference….

Yaakov Peri: Benjamin Netanyahu shouldn’t interfere in the internal issues of the United States. Even if Obama is not our greatest friend (I am choosing my words carefully), the US is our greatest ally. It’s a political speech… every congressman and every congresswoman knows the views about Iran, which I share.

Hilik Bar: If Netanyahu’s speech damages or endangers the trust between us and the president of our greatest ally, it’s not worth it.

Tamar Zandberg: The Iranian threat is such a threat and Netanyahu’s plan is so successful that he managed to draw all the support even of the Democrat Congress members… I don’t see how this speech can help; even Fox News is skeptical about this political visit. It’s not an “if,” it’s a fact: This visit has become a strategic crisis. I don’t think the lack of trust can go any lower, but it’s not late to avoid this fiasco. I don’t know if it’s going to help Netanyahu’s elections, but it will damage relations between the two countries and this shouldn’t be done.

Israel far from apartheid, but ‘should be concerned’ about future as Jewish, democratic

“Israel is not an apartheid state. Those who claim this are only trying to delegitimize Israel,” says Ayelet Shaked.

Michael Oren adds: It is “deeply offensive” to the people who suffered apartheid when this comparison is made.

“But, having said that,” Israel should be “concerned about its future as a Jewish state and a democratic state.”


Labor’s Bar finds common ground with Shaked

Labor’s Hilik Bar says he was against the disengagement from Gaza because “I don’t want to give [the Palestinians] even one inch for free.”

Apparently quite the hawk in Labor, Bar tells Ayelet Shaked he agrees with her completely on “who this land belongs to,” but fears the reality of Israel ruling over the Palestinians.

Israel needs ‘diplomatic Iron Dome,’ says Oren

“Israel will need more than a military Iron Dome” in Israel’s next conflict. It will need a “diplomatic Iron Dome,” says Michael Oren.

Michael Oren says Kulanu supports same-sex marriage

The panelists take a last question: What are the non-security related priorities of your party? – also answering a question on support or lack thereof for same-sex marriage:

Ayelet Shaked – Battling the high cost of living in Israel. Regarding same-sex marriage: We support all rights, but we will not vote for actual, official, same-sex marriage.

Michael Oren – “I was proud to lead events on LGBT rights… Kulanu supports equal rights for same-sex marriage…
Kulanu is first and foremost a social affairs and economic party. Every poll shows that Israelis believe that the greatest threat is the future of our children and grandchildren. We have the second most expensive grocery basket in the world… We will break the monopolies on the import of food, we will break the monopolies on land, the banking system. This is what the party was created to do – our platform is up, you can read it.”

Yaacov Peri: “We are for same sex marriage…” [interrupted by Zandberg who says “only you voted against”].

He answers with “you voted against on other issues.”

Hilik Bar: “What I want to fight for is to create a country where every child born gets the same opening conditions for his life… this is Zionism for me.” Bar graciously skirts the same-sex issues; curiously (or maybe hoping to be his future coalition partner) Zandberg avoids confronting him on this point.)

Tamar Zandberg: “Meretz will vote every single time for our position – which is support of same-sex marriage. We also support civil marriage and separating state from religion. We ask why Israel, the only home of the Jews, is the one place where people cannot get married and divorced according to their own beliefs.”

read more:
Never miss breaking news on Israel
Get notifications to stay updated
You're subscribed