The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they happened.

Rivlin about to announce whom he’s tasking to try to form a government

President Reuven Rivlin is set to announce in the next few minutes whom he is tasking with trying to cobble together Israel’s next coalition government.

Rivlin held consultations through the day yesterday with representatives of all 13 parties that won seats in the Knesset in the March 23 elections, hearing their recommendations for whom he should task with forming a government.

Members of the Likud party meet with President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021, as Rivlin began consulting political leaders to decide who to task with trying to form a new government (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

At day’s end, Likud leader and incumbent Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had been endorsed by 52 MKs (Likud 30; Shas 9; United Torah Judaism 7; Religious Zionism 6).

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid was recommended as prime minister by 45 MKs (Yesh Atid 17, Blue and White 8, Yisrael Beytenu 7, Labor 7, Meretz 6), and Naftali Bennett by the seven members of his own Yamina party. Three parties made no recommendation (New Hope 6, Joint List 6 and Ra’am 4).

Smotrich goes on attack against idea of Bennett-led left-wing government, Ra’am

Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich is lashing out at fellow right-wing party leader Naftali Bennett, accusing him of undermining right-wing rule by planning on relying on left-wing and Arab-led parties to form a governing coalition.

A government led by Bennett would be great, Smotrich writes in a statement, but “it won’t actually preserve the right-wing agenda because the other side is not dumb and once they don’t need Bennett to get [Benjamin] Netanyahu out of the way, they will demand the leadership,” he claims, predicting “a disaster in the medium and long term.”

Smotrich also attacks the Islamist Ra’am party, seen as an essential piece to any coalition Netanyahu would seek to form, saying that it will lead to increased Arab political participation, which the far-right leader also terms problematic.

“Ra’am is the enemy and the enemy is not a legitimate political partner in any way,” he writes.




Yamina: Smotrich is a snake

Responding to an attack from Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich, Yamina says in a statement that “Smotrich is a snake dressed as a righteous individual,” Kan reports.

Rivlin set to announce PM pick

President Reuven Rivlin is set to announce whom he is tapping to form a government in the next few moments.

Most estimates predict that Rivlin will give Likud head Benjamin Netanyahu a fourth chance to form a government, but he may also encourage negotiations for other potential governing coalitions that may exclude the prime minister.

Rivlin begins to announce PM choice

Reuven Rivlin begins his remarks by speaking about former Supreme Court justice Aharon Barak, before transitioning to the meat of his remarks.

“Your votes, you determine how the nation looks,” he says, addressing the nation.

He says 120 Knesset members cannot change the character of the state in a Jewish state, nor its democratic foundations, promising that Israelis know how to get together in the end despite their many arguments.

“The law obliges me to task a Knesset member who agrees to it,” he says.

“Unfortunately, no candidate has a real chance of forming a government,” he says, adding that he would have preferred to give the Knesset the task of picking a prime ministerial candidate.



Rivlin tasks Netanyahu with forming government

President Reuven Rivlin announces Benjamin Netanyahu is his choice to take the first crack at forming a government.

He speaks of his trouble in choosing a candidate, and says the president can’t be a replacement for a court and make a decision a judge will not, referring to Netanyahu’s legal woes.

“According to the court and the law, a prime minister under indictment can continue to serve,” he notes.

“This was not an easy decision,” he says.

Netanyahu will now have 28 days to try to muster a coalition that can win majority support in the Knesset.

Rivlin: Tasking Netanyahu ‘not easy on a moral basis… I fear for my country’

Setting out his decision to task Netanyahu with forming a coalition, Rivlin makes plain that he is deeply concerned at the overall state of Israeli politics, and the specific choice he says he has been “obligated” to make.

He says he knows that much of the public believes “the president should not give the role to a candidate who is facing criminal charges,” but that the law does not state any such thing.

Still, “this is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis, in my mind.” He adds: “I fear for my country. But I am doing what is required of me as president of the State of Israel…”

Strikingly, Rivlin makes his announcement alone — without Netanyahu at his side, as would be the norm when the president tasks a candidate with forming a coalition — underlining his reservations about his decision.

President Reuven Rivlin (R) tasks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a new government, during a press conference at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

Here are Rivlin’s remarks, edited for space, courtesy of the President’s Residence:

I was elected President of the State of Israel by a majority of members of the 19th Knesset. Since then, over the period of seven years, there have been five further Knesset elections, four of them in less than two years. I did not imagine and I did not expect that, time after time, five times, I would be faced with the difficult task of deciding whom to entrust with forming a government. I would also like for the President’s Residence not to be so directly involved in the political system. But that is my role, and as part of that role I undertake this task. Basic Law: The Government obliges me as President of the State of Israel to entrust the role of forming a government to a Knesset member who agrees to do so.

Israel’s democracy is nourished entirely by the will of the voter. The role of the president in selecting a candidate to entrust with forming a government is primarily one of giving expression to the will of the voter. Therefore, as I have said repeatedly in previous election campaigns, and again in recent days, the principal consideration that Israeli presidents must bear in mind when deciding whom to entrust with the task of forming a government is which candidate has the best chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the new Knesset.

The results of the consultations, which were open to all, lead me to believe that no candidate has a realistic chance of forming a government that will have the confidence of the Knesset. In fact, if the law would allow me to do so, I would give the decision back to the representatives of the people, to the Knesset. But as I have said, I cannot do so according to law. In the position in which we find ourselves today, the law obliges me to entrust one of the candidates with forming a government.

After consulting with the representatives of all the factions in the Knesset, the following picture has emerged: 52 MKs requested that I entrust MK Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government. 45 MKs requested that I entrust MK Yair Lapid with forming a government. 7 MKs requested that I entrust MK Naftali Bennett with forming a government. 16 MKs did not make any recommendation to me.

I know the position held by many, that the president should not give the role to a candidate that is facing criminal charges, but according to the law and the decision of the courts, a prime minister can continue in his role even when he is facing charges. Moreover, the question of giving the role to a candidate facing criminal charges was one of intense political and public disagreement over the recent election campaigns. Because of that, I believed that the president should avoid deciding based on that consideration out of a sense of responsibility for the institution of the presidency and the trust in which it is held by all parts of the people. The President of the State of Israel is not a substitute for the legislature or for the judiciary. It is the role of the Knesset to decide on the substantive and ethical question of the fitness of a candidate facing criminal charges to serve as prime minister.

Given this state of affairs, when there is no majority of 61 Knesset members supporting a particular candidate, and without additional considerations indicating the chances of the candidates to form a government, I have come to a decision based on the numbers of recommendations, which indicates that MK Benjamin Netanyahu has a slightly higher chance of forming a government. Accordingly, I have decided to entrust him with the task of doing so.

This is not an easy decision on a moral and ethical basis, in my mind. As I said at the beginning of my remarks, the State of Israel is not to be taken for granted. And I fear for my country. But I am doing what is required of me as president of the State of Israel, according to the law and to the ruling of the court, and realizing the will of the sovereign – the Israeli people.

Recording casts doubts on Jordan coup tale

A new audio recording indicates that Jordanian authorities tried to silence a former crown prince for meeting with internal critics and casts doubt on their claim that he was involved in a foreign plot to destabilize the Western-allied monarchy.

It appears to capture the explosive meeting between Prince Hamzah and the army chief of staff that triggered a rare public rift in the highest echelons of the royal family. It also points to deep tensions between the prince and the security apparatus that could cause more headaches for King Abdullah II, his half-brother.

The recording, purportedly made Saturday, circulated shortly after the palace and a mediator close to Prince Hamzah said that the royal family was in the process of resolving the crisis. Hours after the recording surfaced, Jordan announced a ban on the publication of any details related to the incident.

Jordan’s King Abdullah II (left) laughs with his brother, then-crown prince Hamzah (right), on April 2, 2001, shortly before the Jordanian monarch embarked on a tour of the United States. (AP Photo/ Yousef Allan/File)

It appears to be a surreptitious recording of the meeting between Hamzah and Gen. Yousef Huneiti, the military chief of staff, who came to the prince’s palace Saturday to inform him that he was being placed under a form of house arrest. In the recording, the army chief says the prince is being punished because of meetings he had with individuals who “started talking more than they should.”

The prince raises his voice in anger, accusing the general of threatening him and saying he has no right to issue orders to a member of the royal family.

“You come to me and tell me in my house what to do and who to meet in my country and from my people? Are you threatening me?… You come to my house and tell me you and security leaders are threatening me? Not to leave your house, only go to your family and don’t tweet?”

Lapid: Tasking Netanyahu to lead government a ‘stain on Israel’

Reacting to the president’s decision to task Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a government, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid admits that Reuven Rivlin’s hands were essentially tied.

But at the same time, he adds on Twitter that “it is a shameful sign of disgrace that is a stain on Israel and casts an embarassing shadow on our status as a law-abiding state.”

In change, Netanyahu not invited to Rivlin PM-tapping announcement

In contrast to past ceremonies where the president announces his choice of candidate to form a government, this time the recipient of the mandate — one Benjamin Netanyahu — was not invited to the President’s Residence for the ceremony.

Harel Tubi, President Reuven Rivlin’s chief of staff, is now making his way the short distance to the Prime Minister’s Residence to deliver the official document tasking him with forming a governing coalition within 28 days.

Number of Holocaust survivors in Israel down to 180,000

Israel’s state statistics bureau says that there were 180,000 officially recognized Holocaust survivors living in Israel as of the end of 2020.

The number is 12,000 lower than the 192,000-survivor tally announced in January 2020, which included for the first time Jews from North Africa and the Middle East who also faced Nazi-linked persecution.

According to the bureau, as of 2019, there were 14.8 million Jews worldwide, some 1.8 million fewer than were alive in 1939, on the eve of the Holocaust.

The number is only 3.3 million more than the number of Jews tallied in 1948, the announcement says.

Illustrative: Joseph Kleinman, a 90-year-old Holocaust survivor who survived Auschwitz and Dachau Nazi death camp wearing a face mask and holding an Israeli flag at his porch in Jerusalem, during the Holocaust Remembrance Day, April 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Israel remains the country with the most Jews (6.8 million) followed by the US (5.7 million), France (448,000) and Canada (393,000).

Israel on Wednesday night marks the start of Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Israeli police break up Fatah event in East Jerusalem, detain 2

In a symbolic move, Israeli police break up a Fatah election event at East Jerusalem’s Ambassador hotel, detaining at least two Palestinians involved for interrogation.

Palestinians are set to head to national legislative elections in May, but officials in Ramallah have said the vote will not take place without the participation of East Jerusalem Palestinians. But Israel cracks down on Palestinian Authority activity inside Jerusalem, considering it a violation of Israeli sovereignty in its capital.

Palestinian media identify the detainees as Fatah’s Secretary-General in Jerusalem Adel Abu Zneid and Ambassador hotel manager Sami Abu Dayyeh.

“We neither confirm nor deny this identification,” a spokesperson for Jerusalem police says, declining to elaborate on why the two Palestinians had been detained.

Dead dolphin washes up on beach in Ashkelon

A dead dolphin washes up onto the Europe Asia Pipeline Company beach in the southern city of Ashkelon, after possibly having been drowned in a fishing net.

The body of the young male dolphin is taken to Haifa University’s Morris Kahn Center for Marine Research where an autopsy will be performed to determine the cause of death.

24th Knesset to be sworn in as threat of 5th elections looms

The 24th Knesset will be sworn in this afternoon, under the threat of a fifth round of elections in two years.

President Reuven Rivlin will open the ceremony at 4 p.m. at Israel’s parliament.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier today was given first shot at attempting to form a coalition, but has no clear path to a government.

(New faces in the 24th Knesset, from top left) Religious Zionism’s Itamar Ben Gvir, Avi Maoz, Simcha Rothman and Michal Waldiger; Yamina’s Amichai Chikli, Alon Davidi (who has resigned and won’t be entering Knesset), Nir Orbach and Abir Kara; Likud’s Galit Distal; Yesh Atid’s Ron Katz and Nira Shafek; Labor’s Efrat Raitman, Gilad Kariv, Emilie Moatti and Ibtisam Mara’ana; and Meretz’s Renawi Zoabi (Photo credits: Flash90 / Courtesy)


Jordan imposes media blackout on palace feud

Jordan seeks to throw a veil over its public palace feud by ordering its media to stop reporting on an alleged plot the government says involves the half-brother of King Abdullah II.

Prince Hamzah had on Saturday harshly criticized Jordan’s leaders from what he said was house arrest — but in a dramatic about-turn on Monday pledged his loyalty to the royal family.

The palace released a signed statement in which the 41-year-old prince had changed his tone and pledged to “always be ready to help and support His Majesty the King and his Crown Prince.”

The monarchy ruling Jordan — a country long regarded as a pro-Western anchor of stability in a turbulent region — declared it was settling the matter “within the framework of the Hashemite family.”

Amman’s prosecutor general bans the publication of any information about the investigation into what the government has called a “wicked” plot against Jordan involving unnamed foreign entities.

FILE – In this Nov. 28, 2006, file photo, Prince Hamzah Bin Al-Hussein, right, and Prince Hashem Bin Al-Hussein, left, half brothers of King Abdullah II of Jordan, attend the opening of the parliament in Amman, Jordan. (AP Photo/Mohammad abu Ghosh, File)

The government has accused Hamzah — a former crown prince who was sidelined as heir to the throne in 2004 — of involvement in a conspiracy to “destabilize the kingdom’s security” and also arrested at least 16 people.

“In order to keep the security services’ investigation into Prince Hamzah and the others secret, (it is decided) to ban the publication of anything related to this inquiry at this stage,” prosecutor Hassan al-Abdallat says in a statement.

“The ban on publication involves all audiovisual media and social networks, as well as the publication of all images or video clips relating to this subject on pain of legal action.”

Court rejects requests by Netanyahu’s lawyers to throw out evidence

The Jerusalem District rejects two requests from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers to disqualify evidence from the testimony of former Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua.

Netanyahu’s lawyers had sought to discredit claims from Yeshua’s pretrial testimony to prosecutors and recorded conversations extracted from his phone.

The judges, however, rule the evidence was legitimately obtained and reject their request.

Former Walla editor Ilan Yeshua enters a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial, April 5, 2021. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool)

Likud MK says he’ll be skipping Rivlin’s speech in protest

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi says he’ll be skipping President Reuven Rivlin’s opening speech at the Knesset swearing-in ceremony this afternoon.

Karhi, in a tweet, says: “Those who boycott the prime minister of Israel — who is the candidate who received the most recommendations [for the premiership] — belittle the ceremony of giving the mandate to form a government and trample on democracy and the votes of two million voters, are not worthy of being honored in Knesset.”

That appears to be a reference to Rivlin’s decision not to invite Netanyahu to the announcement earlier today, in which he gave the Likud leader first shot at trying to form a government. During the speech, the president noted that he was doing so reluctantly, both because no party leader appeared to have enough support to succeed at cobbling together a ruling coalition and because he had “moral and ethical” reservations given that Netanyahu is on trial for corruption.

Likud MK Shlomo Karhi at the Knesset on April 29, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Bennett: I won’t give up my right-wing ideals for ‘any job in the world’

At a press conference, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett says Israel needs a stable right-wing government and asserts that he won’t drop his nationalist views for the sake of becoming prime minister.

He calls for “the establishment of a stable government to save Israel from fifth elections and deterioration into an endless spiral of chaos and hatred.”

A “government that is formed must reflect, more or less, the array of opinions of the people, the national consensus,” he says, adding that this means a right-wing, nationalist, but not “extreme” government.

“This is the will of the people: The establishment of a stable right-wing, national government.”

Naftali Bennett, head of the Yamina party seen with Yamina supporters at the party headquarters in Petah Tikva, on election night, on March 23, 2021. (Avi Dishi/Flash90)

In an apparent shot at Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, who declined to endorse a candidate for prime minister, “There are those who call themselves right-wing who have no problem dragging Israel to another terrible elections, and all in the name of lofty ideals.”

“There are no ideals there, only ambitions,” says Bennett.

On the other side of the political spectrum, says Bennett, there are those who believe he would lead a left-wing government and forsake his ideals. “Both are wrong.”

That’s a reference to an offer by Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid to become prime minister first in a rotation agreement between them.

“I don’t know many politicians who faced the real, immediate prospect of becoming prime minister and didn’t grab it. I had no dilemma. I won’t ever give up my ideals, of Zionism and unity, for any job in the world,” says Bennett.

He wishes Netanyahu good luck in forming a government and says the party would negotiate “with goodwill” with Likud and anyone else.

Liberman: Netanyahu trying to ‘bribe’ Yisrael Beytenu MKs to join his government

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman accuses Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of attempting to “bribe” members of his right-wing party to join his government.

“Netanyahu is trying to bribe MKs from Yisrael Beytenu to defect to him. This is bribery,” says Liberman at a faction meeting in the Knesset.

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman speaks to Israelis around Dizengoff Square in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Meretz says won’t join Bennett-led government if it’s dominated by right

The leader of the left-wing Meretz party, Nitzan Horowitz, rules out joining a right-wing government led by Yamina leader Naftali Bennett.

In an interview with Channel 12, Horowitz says Bennett will have to drop his demand that a government formed by parties in the anti-Netanyahu bloc be politically right-wing.

“We will not form a government in which the right rules. We want partnership, not a takeover,” says Horowitz.

Such a government, if formed, would be composed of the right-wing Yamina, New Hope, Yisrael Beytenu parties (together accounting for 20 seats), the centrist Yesh Atid and Blue and White (25 seats), the center-left Labor (7), and left-wing Meretz (6), and would require the backing of Arab lawmakers from the outside to clinch a majority. Bennett, in a statement earlier today, says any government formed must be right-wing.


Labor to submit bill blocking those under indictment from presidency

Labor leader Merav Michaeli announces her party will submit a bill to block a person who is under criminal indictment from becoming president.

Michaeli, at a party faction meeting, says the proposed legislation will be filed today.

The bill aims to block Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for alleged corruption, from possibly seeking the largely ceremonial role, which will be vacated by President Reuven Rivlin this summer.

Recent reports have claimed Netanyahu’s office is considering presenting him as a candidate for president, though the prime minister is said to be opposed to the move.

Labor head Merav Michaeli celebrates with supporters in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Sa’ar backs right-wing government — if Netanyahu doesn’t lead it

New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar says there are only two options for the next government, from his perspective.

The first is a right-wing government — if it’s not led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, he tells reporters in the Knesset.

The second is a power-sharing unity government composed of centrist, right, and left-wing parties, Sa’ar says.

But, he adds that his party cannot be “forced to enter a government that isn’t based on our values.”

His party declined to endorse any candidate for prime minister during yesterday’s consultations with the president.

UTJ’s Litzman predicts Israel heading to 5th elections

United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman predicts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu won’t be able to form a coalition and fifth elections will be called.

Speaking to Channel 12, Litzman rules out any sort of partnership with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid, saying there’s “no chance” his party would break ranks with Netanyahu and join his rivals.

“Only Netanyahu. Period.”



Rivlin arrives at Knesset ahead of swearing-in

The opening procession of the Knesset’s swearing-in ceremony begins.

President Reuven Rivlin arrives at the parliament, where he’s met by Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin.

MK who shared 4-year struggle to get pregnant enters Knesset with her baby

New Hope lawmaker Sharren Haskel, who publicly shared her four years of fertility treatments and struggle to get pregnant, arrives at the Knesset with her baby girl.

Haskel is greeted by congratulations by her fellow lawmakers and reporters.

“Excited with Yaeli at the inauguration in the Knesset,” she tweets.


Politically far apart, physically close: No social distancing at swearing-in

Unlike the swearing-in of the previous Knesset last year, which was held under strict social distancing rules, all 120 lawmakers will be in the plenum today for the ceremony.

The relaxed rules come after Israel has vaccinated the majority of its population.

Lawmakers are also allowed to invite one vaccinated family member.

Mansour Abbas said hospitalized, won’t attend Knesset inauguration

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas, whose Islamist party has been seen as a kingmaker after last month’s inconclusive election, has been hospitalized, according to Hebrew media reports.

Abbas won’t attend the swearing-in ceremony, reports say.

The Kan public broadcaster says he’s suffering from kidney stones.

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas at the party’s headquarters in Tamra on election night, March 23, 2021 (Flash90)

United Torah Judaism MK Meir Porush, who is set to travel abroad for his granddaughter’s wedding, will also skip the ceremony and be sworn in next week.

Some reports say Sara Netanyahu, the prime minister’s wife, may be absent from the audience.

Opening Knesset, Rivlin pleads with politicians to display leadership, end crisis

At the opening session of the 24th Knesset, President Reuven Rivlin implores Israel’s politicians to display leadership, bridge ideological divides, and give Israelis a stable government after over two years of political turmoil.

“Today, I stand before a parliament that has dissolved itself four times in less than two years. A parliament that has relinquished, time after time, the right to express its confidence in the government. The disagreements that divide our society are genuine differences. Many of them are matters of principle. But there are times when we are obliged to resolve even wrenching, tough, painful disagreements,” says Rivlin.

“The seats on which you are sitting, honorable members, are rare and valuable. The power you have, in the voting buttons in front of you, is enormous. The Israeli people looks to you and expects each one of you to show leadership. The kind of leadership this moment demands.

Reuven Rivlin announces his decision to name Benjamin Netanyahu to try to form a government on April 6, 2021. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

“Leadership that is faithful to the people and their values, but that also knows how to mark boundaries and show the way. Leadership that is confident in its path, but that sees ideological rivals not as the enemy, heaven forbid, but as potential partners. Leadership that, in the atmosphere of tribalism, knows how to steer away from separatism and alienation, which may be appropriate for the campaign trail, but are destructive when it comes to building a country and leading a people. Leadership of partnership and respect.

“That is the leadership the Israeli people needs now, and it is not something that is expected only of the Knesset member entrusted with forming a government or the new president you will elect, but of each one of you as representatives and leaders of the people.”

Six years ago, upon becoming president, Rivlin says, he warned Israel was becoming increasingly fragmented into four “tribes”: secular Jews, religious Jews, the ultra-Orthodox, and Arabs.

Those divides, he says, were painfully exposed during the past year’s pandemic and must be bridged.

“If we are not able to find a new model of partnership that allows us to live together here in mutual respect and genuine shared commitment to each other, our national resilience will be in real jeopardy.”

Knesset speaker: Israeli distrust in Knesset amid deadlock is a ‘great danger’

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud warns that Israel’s four consecutive national elections are causing Israelis to lose faith in their leaders.

The growing distrust is a “great danger” to the country and “democracy itself,” he says.

“The downsides of democracy are many, including the difficulty to reach an agreement that will enable the long and stable leadership of the elected representatives. But democracy has been, and continues to be, a better system than any other.”

He expresses hope this Knesset will be long-lived.

Following his comments, the swearing-in of the 120 lawmakers begins.

Joint List MK’s swearing-in disqualified as he invokes Palestinians

Joint List MK Samy Abu Shahadeh changes the declaration of the swearing-in to a commitment to end Israel’s control over the West Bank.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin disqualifies the declaration.

He’ll have to be sworn in again next week.

Among new MKs entering Knesset: neo-Kahanist, Reform rabbi

Among the 16 new lawmakers being sworn in today are: Gilad Kariv, the first Reform rabbi, and Itamar Ben Gvir, a disciple of extremist rabbi Meir Kahane and head of the neo-Kahanist Otzma Yehudit party (elected as a faction within the Religious Zionism party).

Read more about the new faces here.

In total, 30 women were elected, the same as the record high set by the outgoing 23rd Knesset. (The total number of women who served in the 20th Knesset eventually swelled to 36, after seven female lawmakers entered parliament as replacements during its four-year life.)

(New faces in the 24th Knesset, from top left) Religious Zionism’s Itamar Ben Gvir, Avi Maoz, Simcha Rothman and Michal Waldiger; Yamina’s Amichai Chikli, Alon Davidi (he resigned and won’t be entering Knesset), Nir Orbach and Abir Kara; Likud’s Galit Distal; Yesh Atid’s Ron Katz and Nira Shafek; Labor’s Efrat Raitman, Gilad Kariv, Emilie Moatti and Ibtisam Mara’ana; and Meretz’s Renawi Zoabi (Photo credits: Flash90 / Courtesy)

Other Joint List MKs join protest during swearing-in

Other Joint List lawmakers also revise the “I commit” statement during the swearing-in to the Knesset to invoke the Palestinians.

Their declarations are disqualified.

President skips meeting with Netanyahu, Knesset speaker, chief justice

President Reuven Rivlin skips the traditional meeting after the Knesset’s inauguration with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, and Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin.

Netanyahu, Levin and Hayut meet, while Rivlin leaves the parliament.

Top health official: Virus ebbing; Israel has no ‘red zone’ hotspots

In a briefing with reporters, Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of public health services in the Health Ministry, says the rates of COVID-19 infection in Israel are highly encouraging.

“We see the infections declining and we are very encouraged. There is a very significant decline,” she says.

The pandemic is “subsiding,” she adds.

Alroy-Preis says most Israeli cities and towns are now low-infection “green” zones. Israel no longer has any highly infected, or red, areas, she says.

Ministers Deri, Litzman quit Knesset under ‘Norwegian Law’

Shas leader and Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and UTJ’s Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman resign from their parliamentary duties under the so-called Norwegian Law, making way for the entry of fresh lawmakers from the parties to the Knesset.

The moves come a short while after the 24th Knesset is sworn in.

The law allows any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead. Under the rules, if that minister later resigns from the cabinet, they would automatically return to the Knesset.

Shas party chairman and Interior Affairs Minister, Aryeh Deri, left, speaks with United Torah Judaism party leader, then health minister, Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

EU agency to confirm AstraZeneca blood clot link, official says

A top official at the European Medicines Agency says in an interview there is a causal link between AstraZeneca’s coronavirus vaccine and rare blood clots, but that it’s still unclear what the connection is and the benefits of taking the vaccine outweigh the risks of getting COVID-19.

Marco Cavaleri, head of health threats and vaccine strategy at the Amsterdam-based agency, tells Rome’s Il Messaggero newspaper that the EU medicines regulator is preparing to make a more definitive statement this week.

Based on the evidence to date, Cavaleri says there’s a clear association between the AstraZeneca vaccine and the dozens of rare blood clots that have been reported worldwide amid the tens of millions of vaccine jabs that have been given out.

Last month, more than a dozen countries, including Germany, suspended their use of AstraZeneca over the blood clot issue. Most restarted — some with age restrictions — after the EMA said the benefits of the vaccine outweighed the risks of not inoculating people against COVID-19. At the time, the EMA recommended the vaccine’s leaflet be updated to inform doctors and patients about the rare clots.

“It is becoming more and more difficult to affirm that there isn’t a cause-and-effect relationship between AstraZeneca vaccines and the very rare cases of blood clots associated with a low level of (blood) platelets,” Cavaleri is quoted as saying.

He says he appreciates the need for an unequivocal European recommendation on the safety of the vaccine for particular age groups but says he doesn’t expect the EMA to be able to provide that now.

People wait to receive a dose of the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine at the SSE Arena which has been converted into a temporary COVID-19 vaccination center, in Belfast, Northern Ireland on March 29, 2021. (Paul Faith / AFP)

“Certainly the information about the product will be updated, affirming that these adverse events are linked to the vaccine. It will be declared in a very clear way,” he is quoted as saying.

Any further doubts about the AstraZeneca vaccine would be a setback for the shot, which is critical to Europe’s immunization campaign and a linchpin in the global strategy to get vaccines to poorer countries. The AstraZeneca vaccine is cheaper and easier to use than rival vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna and has been approved for use in over 50 countries and groups, including by the 27-nation EU and the World Health Organization. US authorities are still in the process of evaluating the vaccine.

Most European Union countries, including Italy, resumed using the AstraZeneca vaccine on March 19.

Reports: Sudan repeals Israel boycott law after 63 years

Sudan’s cabinet has repealed the 1958 law boycotting Israel as part of normalization efforts between Khartoum and Jerusalem, according to reports.

Sudan earlier this year signed the Abraham Accords with the United States, paving the way for the African country to normalize ties with Israel.

This combination of pictures created on October 23, 2020, shows an Israeli flag during a rally in the coastal city of Tel Aviv on September 19, 2020; and a Sudanese flag during a gathering east of the capital Khartoum on June 3, 2020. (JACK GUEZ and ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

Former US treasury secretary Steven Mnuchin and Sudanese Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari inked the deal, a largely symbolic document indicating Sudan’s intentions to move forward with normalization. The memorandum did not officially establish diplomatic ties between Khartoum and Jerusalem, a move that is expected to happen in the near future, at an as yet undetermined date.

Biden to announce: All Americans to be eligible for vaccine by April 19

US President Joe Biden will announce that all adults across the United States will be eligible for Covid-19 vaccines by April 19 — well ahead of the already ambitious previous target.

The White House says Biden is shifting the deadline for full eligibility from May 1 to April 19 after rapid progress in all 50 states in the vaccine rollouts.

A senior administration official, who did not want to be identified, says the announcement will be made by the president later Tuesday.

Illustrative: Logan Garnica receives his Pfizer vaccine on March 25, 2021, in Spanish Fork, Utah. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer)

If the target is met, this would mean an end to restrictions by age, health issues or other categories for people wanting to get coronavirus vaccines. It would not necessarily mean that anyone could get a shot immediately, as distribution remains a work in progress.

Biden is scheduled to visit a vaccination site in Virginia, just outside of Washington, before delivering remarks on the topic at the White House.

Egypt seeks settlement out of court for Suez Canal blockage

The Suez Canal chief says that authorities are negotiating a financial settlement with the owners of a massive vessel that blocked the crucial waterway for nearly a week.

Lt. Gen. Osama Rabie tells The Associated Press he hopes talks with Shoei Kisen Kaisha Ltd., the Japanese owner of the skyscraper-sized Ever Given, will conclude without a lawsuit.

“We are discussing with them a peaceful resolution to the matter without resorting to the judiciary,” he says. He maintains that bringing the case before a court would be more harmful to the firm than settling with the canal’s management.

The canal chief said last week the Suez Canal Authority was expecting more than $1 billion in compensation, warning the ship would not be allowed to leave the canal if the issue of damages turns into a legal dispute. That amount takes into account the salvage operation, costs of stalled traffic and lost transit fees for the week that the Ever Given blocked the canal. He did not specify then who would be responsible for paying the compensation.

FILE – In this March 28, 2021, satellite file image from Planet Labs Inc, the cargo ship MV Ever Given sits stuck in the Suez Canal near Suez, Egypt. Consumers may face shortages and higher prices for electronics, toys, furniture and other goods should attempts to free the mammoth container ship stuck in Egypt’s Suez Canal drag on several weeks. (Planet Labs Inc. via AP)

The massive cargo ship is currently in one of the canal’s holding lakes, where authorities and the ship’s managers say an investigation is ongoing.

Iran nuclear deal meeting ‘successful,’ says Russian diplomat

A Russian diplomat participating in talks to save the Iran nuclear deal says Tuesday’s meeting had been “successful,” though their salvage efforts will take time.

“The Joint Commission meeting of JCPOA was successful… The restoration of JCPOA will not happen immediately. It will take some time. How long? Nobody knows,” Mikhail Ulyanov, Russia’s Vienna-based envoy to international organizations, writes on Twitter, referring to the pact by its initialism.

Talks aimed at salvaging the deal between Iran and world powers are taking place in Austria’s capital, with the US joining indirectly for the first time since President Joe Biden’s arrival in the White House. The US withdrew from the pact in 2018, under former president Donald Trump.

Netanyahu: To form government, we must end ‘personal boycotts’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, speaking at a Likud faction meeting, appeals to political parties to end their “personal boycotts” and join his government.

Netanyahu says he’ll make “every effort” to remove Israel from the “cycle of elections” and establish a “strong government for all of Israel’s citizens.”

“This won’t be a government of paralysis, but rather a government of action,” says Netanyahu. “To do this, the government must be united, both in policy and action. And to create it, we must first end the personal boycotts.”

He says the establishment of a “strong and homogenous” coalition won’t be easy, but isn’t “impossible.”

“I see myself as the prime minister of everyone,” says Netanyahu, specifically pledging to help Israel’s Arab citizens.

He also says there’s an urgent need for the next government to sign contracts to purchase more vaccines. He also says his government, if formed, will focus on the economy, stopping Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and fighting the ICC war crimes probe into Israel.

Netanyahu also hints the Biden administration will come down hard on Israel’s policy on West Bank settlements.

“Prepare for other pressure against the settlements, and this too we will have to counter, together,” he says.

He says Israel will work to forge other peace treaties with Arab countries. “It’s real… it’s not an election slogan,” he says, adding that four more countries could normalize ties with the Jewish state in the not-too-distant future.

Sudan’s cabinet confirms it abolished Israel boycott law

Sudan’s cabinet approves a bill to abolish a 1958 law boycotting Israel, after Khartoum and the Jewish state struck a deal to normalize ties.

“The Council of Ministers has approved a bill (repealing the 1958 boycott of Israel law) for the year 2021,” the cabinet says in a statement.

The former 1958 law was in line with the policies of Arab nations at the time towards Israel.

Former lawmaker Zoabi to be charged with fraud

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided to charge former Knesset member Hanin Zoabi of the Arab-Israeli Balad party with fraud offenses, pending a hearing.

The allegations pertain to financial irregularities in the Balad party, a hard-line Palestinian nationalist faction that makes up part of the Joint List party.

Zoabi is accused of forging documents that were submitted to the State Comptroller between 2013 and 2016. She is suspected of systematically deceiving the ombudsman by misrepresenting the source of millions of shekels the party had received.

Zoabi was branded an unpopular figure in Israel after she called for the dissolution of the State of Israel, labeled Israeli soldiers “murderers,” and sailed on the Turkish ship Mavi Marmara in 2010 in a bid to break Israel’s blockade of Gaza.

She announced her departure from political life in January 2019, to the cheers of Jewish lawmakers.

Joint List party member MK Hanin Zoabi in the Knesset plenum on July 11, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Hezbollah fugitive can’t appeal over Hariri murder, court rules

A fugitive Hezbollah suspect convicted of the assassination of Lebanon’s former prime minister Rafic Hariri cannot appeal against the verdict until he turns himself in, a UN-backed court says.

Salim Ayyash was found guilty in absentia and sentenced to life imprisonment last year by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon in the Netherlands over the killing of Hariri in a suicide bombing in Beirut in 2005.

The 57-year-old Ayyash remains on the run, with Hassan Nasrallah, the head of the Shiite Hezbollah terror movement, refusing to hand him over or to recognize the court’s authority.

Salim Ayyash (Courtesy)

Ayyash’s defense team appealed against the decision in January but the court says that under its rules he was not allowed to do so while still a fugitive from justice.

“The legal framework for in absentia proceedings at the STL does not contemplate a defense appeal in absentia,” the court says in a statement on the decision by a majority of the court’s judges.

“Counsel for Mr. Ayyash have not been appointed nor accepted by Mr. Ayyash, who absconded and has not been found. An arrest warrant against Mr. Ayyash is outstanding.”

The court adds that Ayyash under international law retained “the right to appeal the judgments if he appears, or request a retrial.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

US Navy medic shoots 2 on base, is shot dead

A US Navy medic shot and critically wounded two people at a Maryland business park, then fled to a nearby Army base where he was shot and killed, police and US Navy officials say.

The man entered a business at the Riverside Tech Park, causing people inside to flee, but it was unclear if the shooting took place inside or outside, Frederick Police Chief Jason Lando says.

After the shooting, the medic drove about 10 minutes to Fort Detrick, where he was shot by base personnel, Lando says at a news conference. The US Navy released an initial statement saying there was an “active shooter incident” at Fort Detrick “involving US sailors” and that the shooter, a Navy medic assigned to the base, was killed. Fort Detrick officials later confirmed that the man who was killed on base was the same person who shot the two people at the business park.

The two people who were shot at the business park were critically wounded and flown to a hospital, Lando says.

Fort Detrick spokeswoman Lanessa Hill says the gunman drove through a gate at an entrance to the base before base personnel confronted him on a road.

“It wasn’t that long before he came through the gate. Not even a quarter of a mile,” Hill says. She says Frederick police had given them advance notice, “so we knew that [he] was out there.”

Fort Detrick is a US Army base in Frederick that is home to the military’s flagship biological defense laboratory and several federal civilian biodefense labs.

Lando calls the shootings “very tragic.”

“It’s happening too frequently. Every time we turn on the TV we’re seeing something like this happening. And now it’s happening in our backyards.”

Helen Mirren to play Golda Meir in upcoming film ‘Golda’

Academy Award winner Helen Mirren will portray Golda Meir, Israel’s only female prime minister, in an upcoming biopic set during the Yom Kippur War.

Production on “Golda” will begin later this year, according to The Hollywood Reporter.

The news follows the announcement last month of another star-powered production on Meir, a series titled “Lioness” led by Israeli actress Shira Haas of “Unorthodox” fame.

While “Lioness” will follow Meir from “her birth in Kiev to her American upbringing in Milwaukee, her role in the formation of Israel and her rise to become the new nation’s first and only female prime minister,” according to a report in Deadline, “Golda” will focus on the turbulent Yom Kippur War period.

Along with the rest of Israel, Meir and her all-male cabinet were taken by surprise by the attack on the eve of the holiday in 1973 by Egyptian, Syrian and Jordanian forces. The ensuing bloody conflict — chronicled in the recent acclaimed Israeli production “Valley of Tears” on HBO Max — shattered the nation’s growing sense of confidence at the time in an embattled region.

“Golda” will be directed by Israeli filmmaker Guy Nattiv, who won the 2018 Academy Award for best short for “Skin,” a film involving neo-Nazis that he later made into a feature.

Actress Helen Mirren attends the 22nd Annual Screen Actors Guild Awards at The Shrine Auditorium, Los Angeles, California, January 30, 2016. (Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images)

“As someone who was born during the Yom Kippur War, I am honored to tell this fascinating story about the first and only woman to ever lead Israel,” Nattiv says in a statement. “Nicholas Martin’s brilliant script dives into Golda’s final chapter as the country faces a deadly surprise attack during the holiest day of the year, a core of delusional generals undermining Golda’s judgment.”

He adds: “I could not be more excited to work with the legendary Miss Mirren to bring this epic, emotional and complex story to life.”

Study: Moderna vaccine lasts at least 6 months

New research suggests the protection the Moderna vaccine gives against COVID-19 lasts for at least six months.

The report Tuesday in the New England Journal of Medicine echoes what Pfizer said last week about its vaccine, which works in a similar way.

Both reports were based on follow-up tests in dozens of people who received the shots during studies that led to the vaccines’ use. Those studies were done before troubling new variants of the coronavirus had emerged and started to spread.

Illustrative: A Palestinian medic displays a vial of the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, February 3, 2021, as the Palestinian Authority began administering coronavirus vaccinations after receiving several thousands of doses of the Moderna vaccine from Israel. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

A separate report in the medical journal adds to concerns about the variants. Scientists measured antibodies that can block the virus in 50 people who had been given the Sinopharm or Sinovac vaccines that were developed in China. Many showed total or partial loss of effectiveness against a virus variant first detected in South Africa.

The vaccines still seemed to protect against a variant first found in the United Kingdom that is now rapidly spreading in the United States and elsewhere.

Pfizer and Moderna have said they are working to update their vaccines, or possibly design a booster shot, in case they’re needed against variants.

Iran refuses to drop 20% enrichment for release of $1 billion in assets

Iran’s chief negotiator says the Islamic Republic will not agree to reduce its uranium enrichment from 20 percent — just a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels — in exchange for the release of $1 billion in frozen assets, Reuters reports.

Abbas Araqchi rules out a possible exchange over the funds held in other countries, which have been inaccessible due to American sanctions. He also says talks with world powers on the return of the US to the nuclear deal were “constructive” and that another meeting will be held Friday.

Officials from five world powers began a new effort Tuesday to try to bring the United States back into the foundering 2015 nuclear deal they signed with Iran, a delicate diplomatic dance that needs to balance the concerns and interests of both Washington and Tehran.

The meeting in Vienna of envoys from Russia, China, Germany, France, Britain and Iran came as the US was due to start its own indirect talks with Iran. It would be one of the first signs of tangible progress in efforts to return both nations to the accord, which restricted Iran’s nuclear program in return for relief from US and international sanctions.

Iranian nuclear negotiator and deputy foreign minister Abbas Araghchi. (YouTube screen capture/Channel 4 News)

Iran is insisting Washington take the first step.

“Lifting US sanctions is the first and the most necessary action for reviving the deal,” Araqchi is quoted by Iranian state TV as saying. “Iran is fully ready to reverse its activities and return to complete implementation of the deal immediately after it is verified sanctions are lifted.”

Unconfirmed reports: Iranian spy ship struck by missile in Red Sea

The Iranian ship 'Saviz' in the Red Sea in 2018 (Al Arabiya video screenshot)
The Iranian ship 'Saviz' in the Red Sea in 2018 (Al Arabiya video screenshot)

Unconfirmed reports say an Iranian-flagged ship, Saviz, has been targeted in a missile strike in the Red Sea.

The ship is said to be an intelligence-gathering vessel linked to Iran’s Revolutionary Guard.

The strike reportedly took place near Yemen.

TV: Yamina plans to try and form government if Netanyahu fails

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett is planning to try and form a government with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails to cobble together a coalition in 28 days, Channel 13 reports, citing sources close to Bennett.

Lapid has offered that Bennett be first in a rotation of the premiership in any joint  government formed by their parties. But Bennett is reportedly seeking to wield outsized control within such a government, such as veto powers to avert legislation that counters his right-wing views — a demand opposed by centrist and left-wing parties.

Bennett has also said he’s open to negotiations with Netanyahu.

Neither Netanyahu nor his rivals have a path to a majority without the outside support of Arab parties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, speaks with then-Defense Minister Naftali Bennett, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu, Bennett to meet Thursday for coalition talks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Yamina leader Naftali Bennett on Thursday night for talks on forming a government.

It will be the second meeting between the two since last month’s elections.

Rollout of electronic bracelets for quarantine indefinitely delayed — TV

A pilot program forcing unvaccinated travelers entering Israel to self-isolate with an electronic bracelet has been postponed indefinitely, according to Channel 13. No reason is given.

According to the government proposal, travelers would receive the bracelet upon landing at Ben Gurion Airport, in a bid to prevent violations of quarantine. The bracelet would be worn on either the wrist or the ankle and would monitor the wearer’s location via Bluetooth and GPS, connected to a person’s cellphone.

Passengers arriving on a flight from Frankfurt take part in the pilot program of wearing electronic bracelets upon arrival in Israel on March 01, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Dubai to deport group over nude photo shoot

The emirate of Dubai announces it will deport a number of people arrested for public debauchery after a naked photo shoot.

Photos and video footage posted online last week showed at least 18 foreign women posing naked in an apartment in the Dubai Marina area.

“The public prosecution office has completed investigations on a recently publicised photo shoot, which contravened UAE law,” the Dubai Media Office says in a tweet.

“The individuals involved will be deported from the United Arab Emirates. No further comment shall be made on the matter.”

Dubai police issued a statement on Saturday that a group of people who appeared in an “indecent video” shared online were arrested.

It warned that such behavior was “unacceptable” and did “not reflect the values and ethics of Emirati society.”

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