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Israel launches 73rd Independence Day celebrations at Mount Herzl

This year’s ceremony once again takes place before a live audience as COVID wanes, though at a reduced size to maintain distancing

Celebrations of Israel's 73rd Independence Day take place at Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl, April 14. 2021 (video screenshot)
Celebrations of Israel's 73rd Independence Day take place at Jerusalem's Mt. Herzl, April 14. 2021 (video screenshot)

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

Attorney general: Petition to deprive PM of mandate should be rejected

In a letter to the High Court of Justice, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says he believes a petition to deprive Prime Minister Netanyahu of the mandate to form a government should be rejected out of hand.

Mandelblit argues there is “no justification for judicial interference” in the matter.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit attends an event at the Dan Hotel in Jerusalem, February 6, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

President Rivlin lays wreath for fallen soldiers at Mount Herzl

President Reuven Rivlin lays a wreath during a memorial ceremony for Israel’s fallen soldiers at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem.

President Reuven Rivlin lays a wreath at a memorial ceremony for fallen soldiers in Jerusalem, April 14, 2021 (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Netanyahu says he’ll approve national commemoration hall for victims of terror

Speaking at a Memorial Day service at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says once he forms a new government, one of the first items on his agenda will be approving a national commemoration hall for victims of terror.

One person in attendance calls out: “No politics! Shame on you! Where were you for 40 years?” People around him asked him to stop heckling the premier.

Jewish Agency marks 60 years since sinking of migrant boat with 44 aboard

During this year’s Memorial Day ceremony, the Jewish Agency marks 60 years since the sinking of the boat Egoz during a mission to bring Jewish Moroccan immigrants to Israel.

Operated by Mossad, the ship made multiple secret trips to ferry immigrants from Morocco to Gibraltar. From there they would travel to Israel.

Forty-four people died in the incident in 1961, 43 of them immigrants. It is believed the boat hit a rock. Twenty-two bodies were eventually found and brought to burial in Israel.

“Our hearts are heavy with grief for every man, woman and child who died simply because they dared to be part of the miracle that is Israel,” Jewish Agency chief Isaac Herzog says.

Jewish Agency chief Isaac Herzog and Gila Gutman Azulay, a relative of people who died on the ship Egoz, light a torch to commemorate the victims of the sinking, April 14, 2021 (The Jewish Agency for Israel)

“We pay tribute to the victims of the Egoz ship and [the Mossad agent on board] Haim Tzarfati. They set sail from Morocco on a stormy winter night 60 years ago and never reached their destination… The ship sank but did not drown the longing for Zion.”

European powers express ‘grave concern’ over Iran’s 60% uranium enrichment

European powers express “grave concern” over Iran’s move to boost uranium enrichment to 60 percent in response to what Tehran says was an attack by Israel against its key nuclear facility at Natanz.

Britain, France and Germany say the announcement is “particularly regrettable” at a time when talks have resumed including the United States to revive the 2015 nuclear deal.

“Iran has no credible civilian need for enrichment at this level,” they say.

In possible reference to the attack on the Natanz plant, they say they also reject “all escalatory measures by any actor.”

During Memorial Day siren, dozens stand where IDF veteran self-immolated

Some 100 people gathered this morning at the site where an IDF veteran suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder self-immolated on Monday, and stood there during the Memorial Day siren, Channel 12 news reports.

The people standing outside the Defense Ministry’s Rehabilitation Department offices in Petah Tikva held signs including “We are all Itzik Saidyan.”

Saidyan is in critical condition after setting himself alight. The IDF Veteran’s Association said that Saidyan was frustrated over his treatment by authorities. He was recognized by the Defense Ministry as having 25 percent disability from his post-traumatic stress disorder, but had requested 50% recognition. The ministry had refused, saying at least a portion of his condition was due to childhood trauma, not his military service.

Protesters stand during the Memorial Day siren at the location where IDF veteran Itzik Saidyan set himself alight, on April 14, 2021 (video screenshot)

An organizer of the event said she had been unable to stop thinking about Saidyan’s case. “I understood I had to do something. I couldn’t just go on with my day,” Eliana Barbal said.

“It’s Memorial Day, when we remember the fallen [soldiers], and it’s intolerable that we don’t remember those who are still here and need help, and are met with indifference.”

Memorial Day service held for ultra-Orthodox soldiers for 3rd year

For a third year, a Memorial Day service was held yesterday for ultra-Orthodox soldiers killed in the line of duty.

The ceremony in Jerusalem focused on the connection between Haredi soldiers and all parts of Israeli society. It was attended by hundreds of religious soldiers and members of bereaved families.

Among those in attendance were the Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef, Jerusalem’s Rabbi Shlomo Amar, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri and Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion.

“We bereaved parents have been chosen by Divine Providence to withstand this test of faith,” said Rabbi Reuven Bitton, father of fallen IDF soldier Eliyahu Bitton.

“We thank the Creator, who gives us the strength to deal with our grief, pain and loss. May it be His will that we merit seeing the vision of the resurrection of the dead.”

Denmark drops AstraZeneca vaccine for good, in European first

Denmark announces it will stop using the AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine altogether, becoming the first European country to do so over suspected rare but serious side effects.

Despite recommendations from the World Health Organization and European medicines watchdog to continue using the inoculation, “Denmark’s vaccination campaign will go ahead without the AstraZeneca vaccine,” Health Authority director Soren Brostrom tells a press conference.

Denmark was the first country in Europe to suspend the use of the AstraZeneca shot in its vaccination rollout, after reports of rare but serious cases of blood clots among those that had received the vaccine.

In this Feb. 5, 2021, photo, vials of AstraZeneca vaccine ready to be used at the Wellcome Centre in London. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein)

More than a dozen countries followed suit but all but a few have since resumed the use after the European Medicines Agency (EMA) emphasized the benefits of the vaccine and deemed it “safe and effective.”

JNF board members demand nixing of meeting to okay buying West Bank land

Representatives of the Reform and Conservative movements on the Jewish National Fund’s board of directors have demanded that a planned meeting of the board on April 22 to permit the organization to purchase land in the West Bank be canceled, Haaretz reports.

The groups base their demand on the legal opinions of two lawyers who examined the JNF’s Memorandum of Association, and who assert that it does not allow such acquisitions.

The board’s management has based its decision on a different legal opinion that claims the opposite.

PA blasts UK’s ‘subversion of global order’ after Johnson opposes ICC probe

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said London opposes the International Criminal Court’s decision to probe Israel for possible war crimes.

In a letter to Conservative Friends of Israel, Johnson said: “We do not accept that the ICC has jurisdiction in this instance, given that Israel is not a party to the Statute of Rome and Palestine is not a sovereign state.”

He added that the decision “gives the impression of being a prejudicial attack” on the Jewish state.

The Palestinian Authority reacts angrily. In a statement, the PA’s mission in London says the statement “marks a low point in UK-Palestine relations and undermines the UK’s credibility on the international stage.”

The International Criminal Court, September 24, 2017 (Courtesy ICC)

It adds, “The letter is a contradiction of international law. It is a contradiction of British policy. It subverts the rules-based global order. And it sets back efforts to secure a lasting and just peace in Palestine.”

Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff reported to die in prison

Bernie Madoff, the financier who pleaded guilty to orchestrating the largest Ponzi scheme in history, died in federal prison earlier today, a person familiar with knowledge of the matter tells The Associated Press.

Madoff died at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, apparently from natural causes, the person says.

Last year, Madoff’s lawyers filed court papers to try to get the 82-year-old released from prison amid the COVID-19 pandemic, saying he had suffered from end-stage renal disease and other chronic medical conditions. The request was denied.

Madoff admitted swindling thousands of clients out of billions of dollars in investments over decades.

UN nuclear watchdog says it has inspected Iran’s Natanz plant after explosion

Inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) have visited the Natanz plant in Iran, where an explosion took place on Sunday, the nuclear watchdog says.

“IAEA inspectors are continuing their verification and monitoring activities in Iran, and today have been at the Natanz enrichment site,” the UN agency says in a statement.

No further details are immediately available.

Saudi official: Any nuclear agreement with Iran should lead to broader deal

A Saudi official tells Reuters the kingdom is in consultations with world powers about negotiations to restore the nuclear deal with Iran, and says any agreement should be “a starting point” to expanding the accord.

“We want to make sure at a minimum that any financial resources made available to Iran via the nuclear deal are not used… to destabilize the region,” says Rayd Krimly, the Saudi foreign ministry’s head of policy planning.

“We are going to do everything we can [so] that a nuclear deal is a starting point, not an endpoint in this process.”

French top court rules against trying Muslim who killed Sarah Halimi

Relatives of a Paris woman who was killed by her neighbor while he spewed anti-Semitic slurs and was high on marijuana have lost their final appeal to have the killer tried.

In its decision Wednesday, the Court of Cassation’s Supreme Court of Appeals upheld rulings by lower tribunals that Kobili Traore cannot stand trial in the 2017 killing of Sarah Halimi because he was too high on marijuana to be criminally responsible for his actions.

The handling of Halimi’s slaying has been a watershed event for many French Jews, who say it underlines the French state’s failures in dealing with anti-Semitism.

Traore broke into the third-story apartment of Halimi, a physician and educator in her 60s, shouted about Allah, called her a demon and pummeled her. The intruder then threw Halimi out the window.

Sarah Halimi. (Courtesy of the Confédération des Juifs de France et des amis d’Israël)

An appeals court said Traore, now in his early 30s, had anti-Semitic bias and that the killing was partly connected to it. But it also accepted the defense claims that Traore was too high to be tried for his actions and he was placed at a psychiatric facility.

The CRIF umbrella group of French Jewish communities called it a “miscarriage of justice.” The founder of the National Bureau for Vigilance Against Anti-Semitism, a communal watchdog known as BNVCA, said he “no longer had full confidence that anti-Semitic hate crimes in France are handled properly.”

Jewish groups to hold joint online celebration of Israel’s Independence Day

Jewish organizations around the world will come together virtually tomorrow to celebrate Israel’s 73rd Independence Day.

The event, led by the Jewish Federations of North America, The Jewish Agency for Israel, United Israel Appeal and others, will be held tomorrow at 7 p.m. EST.

It will include a farewell to Israeli President Rivlin ahead of the end of his seven-year term, as well as a focus on Israeli and Jewish athletes ahead of the Tokyo Olympics this summer.

You can register for it here.

Iran’s supreme leader: Offers being made at Vienna talks ‘not worth looking at’

Iran’s supreme leader dismisses initial offers being made at talks in Vienna aimed at saving Tehran’s tattered nuclear deal with world powers. He describes them as “not worth looking at” after an attack on an atomic site in his country.

The comments by Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has final say on all matters of state in the Islamic Republic, come as informal talks in Vienna continue ahead of a planned formal round of negotiations.

The talks already have been thrown into disarray by a weekend attack on Iran’s main nuclear enrichment site suspected to have been carried out by Israel. Tehran retaliated by announcing it would enrich uranium up to 60%.

In this picture released by an official website of the office of the Iranian supreme leader, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei attends a meeting in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, April 14, 2021 (Office of the Iranian supreme leader via AP)

“The offers they provide are usually arrogant and humiliating [and] are not worth looking at,” Khamenei says in an address marking the first day of Ramadan in Iran.

While saying he remains positive about Iran’s negotiators, he criticizes the US and warns time could be running out. “The talks shouldn’t become talks of attrition,” Khamenei says. “They shouldn’t be in a way that parties drag on and prolong the talks. This is harmful to the country.”

Smotrich begs PM, Sa’ar to join hands, not ‘give keys to our future to enemies’

The head of the far-right Religious Zionism party Bezalel Smotrich publicly urges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar to settle their differences and form a government together.

“Let’s keep our future in our hands, let’s learn us Jews to get along, so that we don’t give the keys to our future to our enemies who rise up on us with sweet words,” he says, in an apparent reference to the Islamist Ra’am party, whose members he has accused of being terror supporters.

Leader of the Religious Zionism party Bezalel Smotrich, on election night, March 23, 2021. (Sraya Diamant/Flash90)

“I promise in advance to support any arrangement you reach between you. It’s in your hands. Save Israel and don’t miss this moment.”

Sa’ar has repeatedly vowed, both before and after the election, not to cooperate with Netanyahu.

Wiesenthal Center: Halimi ruling spurs others — ‘Snort cannabis to kill a Jew!’

Reacting to a decision by France’s top court not to try the killer of Sarah Halimi, the Simon Wiesenthal Center says it is “profoundly distressed” by the ruling.

“This is a devastating blow,” says the center’s Director for International Relations, Shimon Samuels.

Kobili Traore beat Halimi and threw her out of a window while screaming “Allahu Akhbar.” But courts have found Traore was not responsible for his actions because he was high on marijuana.

Kobili Troare (Courtesy)

Samuels says the court’s ruling “denies closure for the family and potentially creates a precedent for all hate criminals to simply claim insanity or decide to smoke, snort or inject drugs or even get drunk before committing their crimes.

“Tonight the murderer will be feted as a hero and frighteningly encourage followers to action… Snort cannabis to kill a Jew!’ he says.

State ceremony for Israel’s 73rd Independence Day beginning at Mount Herzl

The annual state ceremony welcoming in Independence Day is beginning now at Jerusalem’s Mount Herzl.

This year the ceremony is once again taking place before an audience as the coronavirus pandemic wanes, though at a reduced size to maintain distancing between invitees.

Watch the livestream below:

Not a speaker at the state ceremony, Netanyahu finds a way to do so anyway

The prime minister does not usually speak at the official Independence Day celebration. That task is reserved for the Knesset speaker.

However, Benjamin Netanyahu appears to have circumvented that limitation by having organizers air a video which he narrated, and in which he fetes the apparent end of the pandemic and return to normal life.

With the prospects of a new government entirely unclear, this may well be the first campaign video of the fall 2021 election.

Report: Blinken to say expects Israel’s group of friends to grow wider this year

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will say in prerecorded remarks for Israel’s Independence Day celebrations that he expects “Israel’s group of friends to grow even wider in the year ahead,” Channel 12’s US correspondent Yuna Leibzon tweets.

He will add that the Biden administration will continue to push for more countries to normalize relations with Israel.

The full statement will air at an event hosted by Israel’s Embassy to the US later tonight.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a virtual meeting with Mexican Secretary of Economy Tatiana Clouthier, who is in Mexico City, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021 in the Benjamin Franklin room at the State Department in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, Pool)

Rivlin thanks global Jewry ‘for being side by side with Israel’

In a message for Independence Day to Israelis and Jews around the world, President Reuven Rivlin thanks global Jewry “for all that you do for Israel and the Jewish people. For being side by side with Israel, for defending Israel, for defending Zionism and the Jewish people.”

He says: “We must remember that we are one, strong, big and diverse family. We have a shared destiny. A new Israeli and Jewish Hope must be based on unity and diversity, on mutual understanding and shared experiences.”

Watch the full greeting here:

Syria rejects OPCW report it used chemical weapons in 2018

Syria angrily rejects a global watchdog’s report that found it used chemical weapons on a rebel-held town in 2018, dismissing the charge as “fabricated.”

The Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) said Monday that an investigation found the Syrian air force used the chemical weapon chlorine on Saraqib on February 4, 2018.

In a statement carried by state news agency SANA, Syria’s foreign ministry condemns the report “in the strongest terms.” It says Damascus “categorically denies its use of poison gas in the town of Saraqib or any other Syrian town or village.”

The report by “the so-called ‘identification and investigation team’ on the alleged incident in Saraqib… contains unfounded and fabricated conclusions,” it says.

Knesset speaker: After extended uncertainty, ‘time to mend the rifts’

Speaking at the national torch-lighting ceremony at Mt. Herzl, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin acknowledges that Israel has seen “a long period of uncertainty and instability” after four inconclusive election campaigns.”

He says it is “time to mend the rifts… Even when our opinions clash, we are still two sides of the same coin, one people.”

He also gives a statement in Arabic, saying that “this holiday is for all Israelis.”

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin speaks at the ceremony marking the start of Israel’s 73rd Independence Day celebrations, April 14, 2021 (video screenshot)

Torch-lighters include doctors and nurses, volunteers, attack survivors

Torch-lighters this evening include doctors and nurses representing medical teams who have been at the frontlines of battling the coronavirus pandemic; Rabbi Eitan Schnerb, whose daughter Rina was murdered in a 2019 terror attack in the West Bank and who founded a non-profit aiding the needy in the city of Lod;

Shira Isakov, who survived a murder attempt by her husband and has become a vocal advocate against violence toward women, alongside the neighbor who helped save her life; Abie Moses, head of an organization that helps victims of terror attacks; Major Maor Cohen, who volunteers with children with cancer; Zipi Harpenes, a school principal in Beersheba; Gabriela Sztrigler Lew, who volunteers in the Shalom Corps doing community work around the world; and more.

Nurses Maher Ibrahim and Narjas Abu Yamen light a torch for Israel’s 73rd Independence Day at Mt. Herzl (video screenshot)

Biden to detail pullout plans for last troops in Afghanistan

US President Joe Biden is planning to announce his plans to withdraw remaining US troops from Afghanistan, declaring that the September 11 attacks “cannot explain” why American forces should still be there 20 years after the deadliest terror assault on the United States.

His plan is to pull out all the American forces — numbering 2,500 now — by this Sept. 11, according to US officials. That is the anniversary of the attacks, which were coordinated from Afghanistan.

The US cannot continue to pour resources into an intractable war and expect different results, Biden says in excerpts released ahead of an afternoon address in which he intends to detail his withdrawal timeline.

US President Joe Biden at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, April 13, 2021. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, Pool)

The drawdown would begin rather than conclude by May 1, which has been the deadline for full withdrawal under a peace agreement the Trump administration reached with the Taliban last year.

“We cannot continue the cycle of extending or expanding our military presence in Afghanistan hoping to create the ideal conditions for our withdrawal, expecting a different result,” Biden says in the speech excerpts. “I am now the fourth American president to preside over an American troop presence in Afghanistan. Two Republicans. Two Democrats. I will not pass this responsibility to a fifth.”

In Independence Day message, Blinken says further normalization deals possible

Here’s that Blinken message we were talking about, touting the possibility of more normalization deals on the horizon, though he does not say it will necessarily happen this year.

“The United States welcomes and supports the recent normalization agreements,” Blinken says in a message on Israel’s 73rd Independence Day eve. “We will continue to urge more countries to normalize relations with Israel and will look for other opportunities to expand cooperation among countries in the region.

“As a result, I expect Israel’s group of friends to grow even wider in the years ahead.”

The US secretary notes Israel’s world-leading vaccination campaign, salutes its “determination, bravery and ingenuity” and says the US commitment to its security “is ironclad.”

Republican lawmaker said to tell AIPAC Trump’s goal had been to marginalize Palestinians

A senior Republican lawmaker told AIPAC members in a closed door meeting last month that the Trump administration’s goal in its Middle East policy was to “marginalize” Palestinians, according to a recording retrieved by the Huffington Post.

“I think the goal here is to marginalize the Palestinians,” said Rep. Michael McCaul (TX-10), who until January served as the ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

McCaul spoke of the former administration’s efforts to broker normalization agreements between Israel and Muslim-majority countries.

Iran, EU report ‘progress’ in Vienna nuclear talks

A dog passes by policemen guarding the entrance to the Grand Hotel Wien during the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna on April 16, 2021, where diplomats of the EU, China, Russia and Iran hold their talks. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)
A dog passes by policemen guarding the entrance to the Grand Hotel Wien during the closed-door nuclear talks with Iran in Vienna on April 16, 2021, where diplomats of the EU, China, Russia and Iran hold their talks. (JOE KLAMAR / AFP)

Talks on Iran’s nuclear program aimed at salvaging a 2015 deal made “progress” Saturday, a day after Tehran says it had started producing uranium at 60 percent purity.

Iran has warned it would sharply ramp up its enrichment of uranium earlier this week, after an attack on its Natanz nuclear facility that it blamed on arch-foe Israel. Earlier today, Iranian state television named a suspect – 43-year-old Reza Karimi – in the attack that damaged centrifuges at Natanz and said he fled the country.

European Union envoy Enrique Mora says that “progress has been made in a far from easy task. We need now more detailed work.”

Russian ambassador to Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov adds that “participants took note with satisfaction of the progress made so far and expressed determination to continue negotiations with a view to complete the process successfully as soon as possible.”

Speaking to reporters, China’s envoy to the talks, Wang Qun, says that “all parties have agreed to further pick up their pace in subsequent days by engaging (in) more extensive, substantive work on sanctions-lifting as well as other relevant issues,” Reuters reported.

Iran’s deputy foreign minister and head of the delegation to Vienna, Abbas Araghchi, says that there were “good discussions” in the session and that “a new understanding is being formed.”

“There’s an agreement on a final target between all. The path is now more clear. But the path will not be an easy path. There are some serious differences,” he adds.

The ongoing discussions involved EU officials and representatives from Britain, China, France, Germany, Russia and Iran. The talks are aimed at determining which sanctions the United States should lift and the measures Iran has to take in order to rein in Tehran’s nuclear program.

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