The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.

Sa’ar opposes direct elections for PM

New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar opposes a proposal to reintroduce direct elections for prime minister — a proposal made in a bid to break the political logjam, block Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid’s path to the premiership, and prevent a fifth consecutive Knesset election.

The proposal was submitted to the Knesset by Shas lawmakers today.

The proposal was raised by Shas chairman Aryeh Deri and brought to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the weekend by Yamina head Naftali Bennett, Channel 12 reported Sunday, adding that the Likud leader was convinced to back the idea.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar (R). (Flash90)

The proposal would see a special election held for Israelis to pick the next prime minister. There would not be another election for the Knesset, after the vote held last month. A similar proposal was floated amid political deadlock after the September 2019 elections, and went nowhere.

Sa’ar says the move would be akin to “changing the rules during the game.”

Netanyahu and Bennett to meet; Ra’am chief cancels meeting with Lapid

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to meet with Yamina leader Naftali Bennett shortly for another meeting on building a coalition.

Meanwhile, on the other end of the political aisle, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid sits down with the Joint List’s Ayman Odeh and Ahmad Tibi for coalition talks.

According to Channel 12, Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas was also scheduled to meet Lapid today but called off the meeting.

Israel to reconsider airport rules as Indian variant found

The Transportation Ministry is seeking Health Ministry guidance on whether Israel should change the entry rules at the airport, following the discovery of an Indian variant of the coronavirus in the country.

Passengers seen at Ben Gurion International Airport near Tel Aviv on March 8, 2021. (Flash90)

Greece lifts quarantine for some vaccinated travelers, including Israelis

Greece says that travelers from the EU and five other countries who are fully vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test will no longer have to quarantine on arrival.

Visitors from the EU, Britain, the United States, Israel, Serbia and the United Arab Emirates will not be subjected to a week-long quarantine, the civil aviation authority says in a statement.

Travelers must present proof they are fully vaccinated or a negative virus test from the previous 72 hours, it says.

Swimmers pay for sunbeds with an employee of a beach bar who wears a protective mask against coronavirus, at Alimos beach, near Athens, on May 16, 2020 (AP Photo/Yorgos Karahalis)

The quarantine will be lifted from Monday but other restrictions “for domestic or international flights will be in effect until April 26,” the aviation authority says.

The announcement comes despite a surge in coronavirus cases in the country, with dozens of deaths and more than 1,500 new infections per day.

Virus restrictions are still in place in Greece, with only essential travel allowed between regions.

Russia says Iran nuclear talks enter ‘drafting stage’

A Russian diplomat taking part in talks to save the landmark Iran nuclear deal says the negotiations have entered “the drafting stage” though solutions to some of the issues were “still far away.”

The 2015 agreement to curb Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief has been left hanging by a thread since the US withdrew from the pact in 2018 and re-imposed sanctions, prompting Tehran to step up its nuclear activities.

Diplomats from the parties to the deal — Iran, Britain, China, France, Germany and China — have been meeting in Vienna since early this month to find a way to get the pact back on track with US participation under the new Joe Biden administration.

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)

“Summing up the results of two weeks of deliberations on JCPOA restoration we can note with satisfaction that the negotiations entered the drafting stage,” Russian ambassador to Vienna Mikhail Ulyanov writes on Twitter, referring to the acronym of the deal’s formal name.

“Practical solutions are still far away, but we have moved from general words to agreeing on specific steps towards the goal,” he adds.

Meretz urges Rivlin: Give Lapid stab at forming government if Netanyahu fails

The leader of the left-wing Meretz party, Nitzan Horowitz, urges President Reuven Rivlin to task Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid with forming a government if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu fails by an early May deadline.

He makes the call at a Meretz faction meeting in the Knesset.

If Netanyahu does not succeed by May 4 and Rivlin does not grant him an extension, the president can either task a second person with the attempt (for another period of 28 days and a possible additional 14), or send the mandate to the Knesset, giving the legislature 21 days to agree on a candidate supported by 61 MKs.

Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz, center, at a press conference in Tel Aviv on March 23, 2021. (Flash90)

If the president appoints a second person and that person also fails to assemble a coalition, the mandate automatically goes to the Knesset for the 21-day period. During that time, any MK is eligible to attempt to form a government.

Rivlin has indicated that he may not give the mandate to a second candidate if Netanyahu fails, but rather immediately send it back to the Knesset. He also appears unlikely to grant an extension to Netanyahu before doing so.

Neither Netanyahu nor Lapid appear to have a clear path to a majority government.

NASA’s Mars helicopter achieves first powered flight on another planet

NASA’s experimental Mars helicopter rises from the dusty red surface into the planet’s thin air on Monday, achieving the first powered flight on another planet.

The triumph was hailed as a Wright Brothers moment. The mini 4-pound (1.8-kilogram) copter named Ingenuity, in fact, carried a bit of wing fabric from the 1903 Wright Flyer, which made similar history at Kitty Hawk, North Carolina.

“Altimeter data confirms that Ingenuity has performed its first flight, the first flight of a powered aircraft on another planet,” says the helicopter’s chief pilot back on Earth, Havard Grip, his voice breaking as his teammates erupted in cheers.

Flight controllers in California confirm Ingenuity’s brief hop after receiving data via the Perseverance rover, which stood watch more than 200 feet (65 meters) away. Ingenuity hitched a ride to Mars on Perseverance, clinging to the rover’s belly upon their arrival in an ancient river delta in February.

The $85 million helicopter demo was considered high risk, yet high reward.

“Each world gets only one first flight,” project manager MiMi Aung noted earlier this month. Speaking on a NASA webcast early Monday, she calls it the “ultimate dream.”

Ra’am chief derides far-right, doesn’t rule out backing Bennett as PM

The leader of the Islamist Ra’am party condemns efforts by the far right to brand his party “terror supporters.”

“We are attacked by people who are trying to tarnish us as supporters of terrorism while legitimizing inciteful and racist discourse. Ra’am stands firmly opposed to this discourse and won’t change its positions,” Mansour Abbas says at the Knesset, urging other parties to condemn the characterization.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, gives a press statement after meeting with Israeli president Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem on April 5, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

He’s referring to comments by the far-right Religious Zionism, which has ruled out forming a right-wing government with Ra’am’s support and called the party “terror supporters.” Ra’am’s charter calls Zionism racist and backs a right of return for Palestinian refugees and their descendants.

Abbas says his party will consider the proposal for a direct election for prime minister and decide whether to back it.

He also says he’s not ruling out backing a government led by the right-wing Naftali Bennett.

Lapid objects to direct election for prime minister

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid voices his opposition to a right-wing proposal to hold a special election to pick the next prime minister.

“We don’t need more elections. We had elections. They ended with Netanyahu unable to form a government, for the fourth time,” says Lapid at a faction meeting in the Knesset.

Under the Shas-spearheaded proposal, there would not be another election for the Knesset, after the vote held last month. A similar proposal was floated amid political deadlock after the September 2019 elections, and went nowhere.

Suspects in Jaffa assault of rabbi remanded in custody

The Tel Aviv Magistrates’ Court extends the remand of two suspects accused of beating up a yeshiva rabbi in Jaffa by three days.

The suspects deny a racial motive in the assault of Rabbi Eliyahu Mali, who had arrived to look at an apartment in the mixed Jewish-Arab city when he was attacked.

Two residents of Jaffa filmed beating Rabbi Eliyahu Mali on April 18, 2021. (Courtesy)

Smotrich appeals to Sa’ar, Bennett to join right-wing government

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich urges Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina to enter a right-wing government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Appealing to Sa’ar, he says: “I pledge to stand to your right and work together for Israel’s citizens.”

He also accuses Bennett of “sitting on the fence and waiting for Netanyahu to fail [to form a government] in order to establish a government with Lapid, Labor and Meretz.”

Head of the Religious Zionism party Bezalel Smotrich gives a press statement in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, April 4, 2021. (Olivier FItoussi/Flash90)

Smotrich again rules out a right-wing government backed by the Islamist Ra’am.

He makes the comments at the Knesset.

Sa’ar has ruled out joining a government led by Netanyahu. Yamina is in talks with Netanyahu on joining a coalition, but such a government would still require the backing of Ra’am and Smotrich.

Deri calls for direct PM vote to extract Israel from political purgatory

Shas leader Aryeh Deri urges politicians to back a plan to call a special election for prime minister, in an effort to resolve Israel’s two-year political deadlock.

“The simple proposal is aimed at saving Israel from this crisis,” he says, after lawmakers from his party officially submit the bill.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks with Shas party chairman Aryeh Deri during a meeting in Jerusalem, March 4, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“If after the direct vote, there aren’t 61… who rally around one person, we will go to fifth elections,” he says.

“We must let the public choose,” adds Deri.

Gantz to Bennett: Netanyahu setting you up for ‘moral, political bankruptcy’

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz warns Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas not to join a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

He says Netanyahu is setting up a “trap” for them.

Addressing Bennett, Gantz says: “Netanyahu is not negotiating with you — he wants to make you morally and political bankrupt. It’s not a negotiation over the creation of a government, it’s another fraud attempt.”

Gantz also announces he’ll oppose the direct vote for prime minister, a proposal that is being advocated by right-wing parties.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz face away from each other during the swearing in of the 24th Knesset (Knesset spokesperson’s office)

After the 2020 elections, Gantz and Netanyahu agreed to a power-sharing agreement that would see the Blue and White leader become prime minister in November 2021, but another election was called before the transfer of power.

Gantz broke with his centrist allies to join Netanyahu’s coalition in May 2020, despite campaign promises to the contrary. The power-sharing government did not last a year.

Russia moves Navalny to prison hospital under Western pressure

Russia’s penitentiary service says it is transferring ailing Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny to prison hospital, as the EU warns it will hold Moscow “responsible” for the state of his health.

The United States on Sunday threatened Russia with “consequences” if President Vladimir Putin’s major domestic opponent — who is on hunger strike — dies in jail after Navalny’s private doctors warned over the weekend he could pass away at “any minute.”

Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny attends a hearing at a court in Moscow, June 24, 2019. (Vasily MAXIMOV / AFP)

Russia’s prison authorities — which have barred Navalny’s own medical team from visiting him — say its doctors had decided to move him to a medical facility on the premises of another penal colony outside Moscow.

But the authorities insist the jailed anti-corruption campaigner’s condition is “satisfactory,” and say he is taking vitamin supplements as part of medical treatment.

Netanyahu backs direct vote for PM, says Bennett as premier an ‘absurd’ notion

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu backs a proposal for a special election for prime minister and attacks Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, shortly after meeting with him.

“We need a direct election. It is absurd for Bennett to be prime minister,” says Netanyahu, referring to the Shas proposal for a special vote to be called to avert a fifth round of national elections.

His comment comes minutes after his meeting with Bennett ends, after an hour and a half.

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

Speaking at a Likud faction meeting, Netanyahu says: “Today is the moment of truth for Naftali Bennett. He must stop racing toward a left-wing government with Lapid and Labor. He must support a direct election [for prime minister] and back our proposal for the Arrangements Committee.

“If Bennett doesn’t do this, it means he’s partnering with the left,” says Netanyahu.

New Delhi locks down amid devastating virus surge

New Delhi imposes a weeklong lockdown to prevent the collapse of the Indian capital’s health system, which authorities said had been pushed to its limit amid an explosive surge in coronavirus cases.

In scenes familiar from surges elsewhere, ambulances catapulted from one hospital to another, trying to find an empty bed over the weekend, while patients lined up outside of medical facilities waiting to be let in. Ambulances also idled outside of crematoriums, carrying half a dozen dead bodies each.

“People keep arriving, in an almost collapsing situation,” says Dr. Suresh Kumar, who heads Lok Nayak Jai Prakash Narayan Hospital, one of New Delhi’s largest hospitals for treating COVID-19 patients.

Most desperately need oxygen, Kumar says. But the city is facing shortages of oxygen and some medicine, according to Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who tells reporters that the new stringent measures being imposed were required to “prevent a collapse of the health system,” which had “reached its limit.”

Just months after India thought it had seen the worst of the pandemic, the virus is now spreading at a rate faster than at any other time, says Bhramar Mukherjee, a biostatistician at the University of Michigan who has been tracking infections in India.

The surge is devastating for India and has weighed heavily on the global efforts to end the pandemic since the country is a major vaccine producer but has been forced to delay exports of shots abroad, hampering campaigns in developing countries, in particular. In a sign of the high stakes, the chief executive of Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest maker of vaccines, asked US President Joe Biden on Twitter last week to lift the US embargo on exporting raw materials needed to make the shots.

India reported over 270,000 infections on Monday, its highest daily rise since the pandemic started. It has now recorded more than 15 million infections and more than 178,000 deaths. Experts agree that even these figures are likely undercounts. Amid the rise in cases, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called off a trip to New Delhi.

Bennett meets with New Hope’s Sa’ar

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett meets with New Hope’s Gideon Sa’ar.

The meeting comes shortly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issues an ultimatum to Bennett, urging him to back a proposal for a special election for prime minister and support Likud in a vote on a key parliamentary panel, the Arrangements Committee, which will be held shortly.

Netanyahu family to sue Olmert for calling them ‘mentally ill’ — TV

The Netanyahus plan to sue former prime minister Ehud Olmert for calling them “mentally ill,” Channel 12 reports.

Olmert has received a letter warning of the pending lawsuit over his insult in an interview, it says.

They are seeking NIS 1 million ($306,000) in damages.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, and former prime minister Ehud Olmert, left, attend the funeral of Likud MK Zeev Boim, in Binyamina, Israel, March 21, 2011. (AP Photo/Moti Milrod, Pool)

Most East Jerusalem Palestinians can vote in areas that don’t need Israel’s okay

The majority of Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem can vote in the first Palestinian legislative elections in 15 years set for next month, the electoral commission announces.

However, several thousand may yet still be excluded, amid ongoing concerns that the landmark vote might not get off the ground at all.

Palestinians in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem are set to vote in the legislative polls on May 22, ahead of a planned presidential vote in July.

Women wear face mask as they waiting at the registration station of the Central Elections Commission to register their names to the electoral roll, at Gaza City, February 10, 2021. (Adel Hana/AP)

In a statement, the Palestinian Central Elections Commission says 150,000 voters in East Jerusalem will be able to cast ballots at polling stations on the outskirts of the holy city, in a process that does not require a green light from Israel.

Separately, a symbolic total of 6,300 voters are allowed to cast their ballots in East Jerusalem itself, in post offices under Israeli supervision, according to protocols that Israel and the Palestinians signed as part of the Oslo peace accords.

Palestinians say it is critical to allow even limited voting inside the bounds of East Jerusalem, which they hope will be the capital of their future state.

While Israel granted approval for voting in post offices in the 2006 legislative elections, they have not signaled that they will do so this time around, according to elections commission spokesperson Fareed Taamallah.

“They didn’t respond to the request from the Palestinian Authority to implement the protocol,” he says.

Rivlin speaks to PA president, extends Ramadan greetings

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin spoke on the phone today, both presidential offices report.

According to the official Palestinian Authority WAFA news agency, Rivlin expressed his season’s greetings to Abbas on the advent of the Ramadan holiday.

Rivlin’s office further adds in a statement that the two presidents discussed “issues regarding the regional state of affairs.”

President Reuven Rivlin, right, meets Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas during the funeral for late former president Shimon Peres at Mount Herzl Cemetery in Jerusalem, on September 30, 2016. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

Over 150,000 Russian troops are massed around Ukraine — EU

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says that Russia has massed over 150,000 troops along the Ukrainian border and in the annexed Crimea peninsula.

“It is the highest Russian military deployment at Ukrainian borders ever,” Borrell tells journalists after talks involving Ukraine’s foreign minister, refusing to disclose the source of the figure.

Ukrainian servicemen stand guard at a checkpoint with Russia backed separatists near Schastya, Lugansk region on April 16, 2021. (STR/AFP)

Lapid meets with Meretz chief on coalition-building

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid met with Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz in the Knesset this afternoon for talks on building a coalition, the parties say.

In 2006, Netanyahu warned against hasty electoral reform

While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is now pushing for a swift change in the law to hold a special election for prime minister, he has in the past warned against impetuous electoral reform.

“The electoral system is not a pair of socks… that you change every day. It has to be discussed seriously. It’s very complicated. You need the best brains in the country, and maybe some from overseas,” he said as opposition leader in 2006, according to archival footage aired by Channel 12.

Lapid, Mansour Abbas meet in Knesset

Continuing a flurry of political meetings, Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid meets with Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas in the Knesset.

The two discuss efforts to build a coalition.


Israel inks deal with Pfizer for millions of COVID vaccine doses for 2022

Israel has signed an agreement with Pfizer for the purchase of millions of coronavirus vaccine doses for 2022.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein announce the deal, which also includes options to buy millions of additional shots if needed. “The vaccines that were purchased and signed as an option will be adapted to deal with the variants,” a joint statement says.

Netanyahu hails the agreement, which had been held up due to political fights within the transitional Israeli government. He expresses hope that Israel will sign another deal with Moderna for the purchase of more shots.

Barring any variants that bypass the vaccines, “Israel will again lead the world in the fight against the coronavirus. There will be no more lockdowns — we’re out of it,” says Netanyahu.

The number of vaccine doses and the sum paid for the shots is not disclosed.


Netanyahu pledges to appoint permanent ministers by end of month

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office commits to bring the appointment of permanent ministers, including a justice minister, to a cabinet vote by the end of the month, according to Army Radio.

The pledge comes in response to a High Court of Justice petition seeking to force the transitional government to fill the vacant roles.

UN agency launches Palestinian digital learning platform

The UN agency for Palestinian refugees announces the launch of a digitalized education platform to prevent 540,000 students being left without schooling due to coronavirus or conflict.

The platform, in Arabic and English, is to be used by Palestinian students in Jordan, war-torn Syria, Lebanon, the West Bank and Gaza.

It is designed to make remote learning an interactive experience, offering students quizzes and games, with each lesson accompanied by videos.

The new “platform… is crucial for the continuation of learning in times of crisis, including the ongoing Covid-19 crisis and associated school closures,” says Moritz Bilagher, the agency’s acting director of education.

“This system prioritizes giving students a comprehensive, consistent educational experience during this turbulent period,” he adds.

“Given the realities of providing education in one of the most volatile regions of the world, it will become a regularly maintained and monitored part of our educational” program.

Yamina to vote with Likud on makeup of key Knesset panel

Yamina has agreed to support Likud’s proposal on the makeup of a key parliamentary panel, according to Hebrew media reports.

The vote establishing the Arrangements Committee is scheduled for later today.

Likud agrees to relinquish one of its seats on the committee to Yamina, giving it two representatives.

The Arrangements Committee, the first Knesset committee to be formed after an election, controls the legislative agenda in the new parliament until a new government is formed. This includes determining what other parliamentary committees will be formed and who will serve on them.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu earlier today demanded that Yamina support Likud on the issue.

Hamas leader extends condolences over death of Iranian commander

Hamas chief Ismail Haniyeh extends his condolences to Iran’s Revolutionary Guards over the death of the deputy commander of its Quds force, of a heart condition.

“Comrade Ismail Haniyeh, head of Hamas’s political bureau, had a phone call this evening with the commander of the Quds Force in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, Brigadier General Esmail Qaani. Haniyeh offered his condolences for the death of his deputy, General Muhammad Hejazi, and praised the deceased and his role in supporting and aiding the Palestinian resistance,” the terror group says.

Iranian deputy commander of the Quds force of the IRGC, Muhammad Hussein-Zada Hejazi. (Wikimedia Commons/CC BY 4.0)

Likud proposal on key panel falls as Ra’am opposes it

The Islamist Ra’am party votes against the Likud proposal on the makeup of the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee, resulting in a loss for Benjamin Netanyahu’s party.

The Knesset is now voting on the opposition’s proposal on the committee.


After Ra’am votes against right, Smotrich says: I told you so

The head of the far-right Religious Zionism party says Ra’am’s vote against the Likud proposal on a key panel shows it can’t be trusted to prop up a right-wing government.

“The truth is, we’re lucky this happened now and… not in the middle of a [military] operation in Gaza,” he tweets.

Netanyahu’s rivals win control over key Knesset panel with Ra’am’s help

With the support of the Ra’am party, the anti-Netanyahu bloc wins control over the key Knesset’s Arrangements Committee, after Likud’s proposal is knocked down in Knesset and the Yesh Atid version is approved.

The Arrangements Committee, the first Knesset committee to be formed after an election, controls the legislative agenda in the new parliament until a new government is formed. This includes determining what other parliamentary committees will be formed and who will serve on them.

Lapid, Abbas hatched plan to torpedo Likud bill during earlier meeting

Ra’am chairman Mansour Abbas agreed to vote against the Likud proposal on the formation of the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee during a meeting earlier today with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid.

Four MKs from Ra’am waited outside the plenum and pretended to abstain. Then at the last minute, during the second roll call, they entered together and voted the Likud proposal down.

In exchange for their support, Lapid promised Ra’am a spot on the Knesset’s Finance Committee, a deputy Knesset speaker position for one of its lawmakers, and to chair a committee on combating violence in the Arab community, if he forms a government.

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas (L) meets with Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid in the Knesset on April 19, 2021. (Yesh Atid)

Lapid hails vote giving opposition control over key panel

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid cheers as the anti-Netanyahu bloc wins control over the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee, in a major blow to the Likud leader.

The vote “is another small step on the way to an Israeli unity government,” he tweets.

Palestinians receive 72,000 AstraZeneca vaccine doses

The Palestinians received 72,000 doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine through the COVAX initiative today, a spokesperson for the World Health Organization’s representative to the Palestinians says.

The doses arrived in Ben Gurion Airport on Saturday and were transferred to Nablus and Gaza today, according to the WHO. Around 43,200 were handed to the Palestinian Authority in the West Bank and 28,800 were sent to the Hamas-run Gaza Strip.

The Palestinians have lagged behind Israel in vaccinations, even as a stormy debate has raged over Israel’s alleged obligation to immunize them. So far, only around 3.44 percent of Palestinians have received a coronavirus vaccine.

Palestinians anticipated receiving around 400,000 vaccines from COVAX, a global vaccine initiative backed by the United Nations and the WHO. Most of the vaccines COVAX anticipates providing are AstraZeneca vaccines.

An Israeli Defense Ministry official has confirmed the transfer.

Dutch daily apologizes for drawing Jewish pollster as a puppet master

A mainstream daily in the Netherlands apologizes for a caricature depicting a Jewish political pollster and entrepreneur as a puppet master.

Pieter Klok, editor in chief of De Volkskrant, issues a statement saying the image and trope “recall too many memories of anti-Semitic caricatures of the Nazi period and therefore should never have been published.”

The caricature, featured on the cover of the left-wing paper’s culture supplement Monday, depicted a leering Maurice de Hond holding a set of marionette strings. The article focused on a media campaign led by de Hond on behalf of a murderer he said was wrongly convicted in 1999.

Maurice de Hond depicted as a puppet master in the Volkskrant newspaper in the Netherlands, on April 19, 2021. (Volkskrant via JTA)

Critics of the caricature included a previous leader of the Dutch Labor party, Lodewijk Asccher, who has Jewish roots and has been the target of anti-Semitic rhetoric.

Ronny Naftaniel, chairman of the Central Jewish Board of the Netherlands, said the image was reminiscent of Völkischer Beobachter, a German Nazi party daily in the 1930s.

All Americans over age of 16 are now eligible for COVID vaccine

The White House says “it has never been easier” to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot in the United States, as all people 16 and older are eligible for vaccines nationwide as of Monday.

US President Joe Biden is encouraging people to book appointments immediately and to encourage family and friends to do the same.

Says Biden: “You need to be protected, and you need in turn to protect your neighbors and your family.”

On Sunday, the country reached the milestone of having 50 percent of adults at least partially vaccinated.

Monday also marks the expansion of the White House’s federal retail pharmacy program. Senior adviser Andy Slavitt says more than 90% of Americans live within five miles (some eight kilometers) of a vaccination site.

A member of the Philadelphia Fire Department administers the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to a person at a vaccination site setup at a Salvation Army location in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, March 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Sudan repeals 1958 Israel boycott law amid normalization efforts

Sudan officially repeals the so-called Israel boycott law as part of the normalization efforts between Khartoum and Jerusalem.

The 1958 law is struck from the books, after a joint vote of the cabinet and the ruling sovereignty council, according to the country’s justice minister.

Sudanese demonstrators step on an Israeli flag during a rally against their country’s signing of a deal on normalizing relations with the Jewish state, outside the cabinet offices in the capital Khartoum, on January 17, 2021. (ASHRAF SHAZLY / AFP)

The legislation barred the establishment of diplomatic relations with Israel and forbade any business ties with the Jewish state. Penalties for those who violated its stipulations, such as trading with Israelis, included up to 10 years in prison and a hefty fine.

In January, Sudan signed onto the Abraham Accords with the United States, paving the way for the African country to normalize ties with Israel.

Ra’am leader says he could still back Netanyahu government after Knesset drama

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas says he could still support a government led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, after voting against Likud on the establishment of a key parliamentary panel.

“This is unrelated to the next step, this is unrelated to the establishment of the government. We are still saying… all of the options are on the table, whoever accommodates us, we’ll accommodate them,” Abbas tells Channel 12.

But he also attributes the retaliatory step in parliament earlier to “incitement” against Ra’am by the far-right Religious Zionism, which is allied with Netanyahu.

He says his decision to side with Netanyahu’s rivals in parliament was aimed at “preserving our political power.”

“We want to preserve our political power as an independent power” that will benefit Arab Israelis, he says.

Lapid and Labor’s Michaeli meet for coalition talks

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid meets with Labor chair Merav Michaeli, after sitting down with leaders from centrist, left-wing, and Arab parties throughout the day.

“The two discussed steps that can be taken to maximize the victory of the change bloc in the vote on the Arrangements Committee and the steps needed to create a government,” a statement from Yesh Atid says.

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid meets with Labor leader Merav Michaeli in the Knesset on April 19, 2021. (Knesset Spokesperson’s Office)

WHO opposes proof of vaccination for travelers

The World Health Organization’s emergency committee says it is against international travelers being required to have proof of vaccination, partly on grounds that such a measure would deepen inequities.

“Do not require proof of vaccination as a condition of entry, given the limited (although growing) evidence about the performance of vaccines in reducing transmission and the persistent inequity in the global vaccine distribution,” the committee says in a statement summarizing its April 15 meeting, the results of which were only published on Monday.

“States parties are strongly encouraged to acknowledge the potential for requirements of proof of vaccination to deepen inequities and promote differential freedom of movement,” the committee adds.

The group’s recommendation comes as numerous countries are mulling launching vaccine passports for travelers, but also for other activities including sports.

The idea, however, has met with criticism, with many saying it would lead to discrimination between young and old, as well as rich and poor. Some have also raised privacy concerns.

Travelers walk through the Salt Lake City International Airport in Salt Lake City, Utah, March 17, 2021. (AP Photo/Rick Bowmer, file)

Monument unveiled to remember buried Warsaw Ghetto archive

A new monument unveiled in Warsaw on Monday consisting of a glass cube above an underground chamber commemorates the extraordinary history of a Holocaust-era archive hidden by Jewish volunteers.

The somber memorial has been erected on ground now surrounded by Soviet-era buildings where the trove of documents about life and death in the Warsaw Ghetto was buried in total secret in 1942.

Inside the cube is a page from the archive — a handwritten will by 19-year-old Dawid Graber, one of the volunteers who helped hide the documents from the Nazis.

A photo taken on April 19, 2021 shows a monument dedicated to the underground archives of the Jewish ghetto, after its unveiling ceremony at the site where the Ringelblum Archive was hidden during Nazi occupation during the Second World War, in Warsaw. (Wojtek RADWANSKI / AFP)

The will, written on a page torn out of a school book, states that “what we were not able to pass through our cries and screams, we hid underground.”

The monument is being inaugurated on the 78th anniversary of the start of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising — a failed revolt by hundreds of Jewish fighters against their Nazi oppressors in 1943.

Netanyahu rivals inching closer to clinching coalition — TV

Officials in the so-called “change bloc” opposing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu say they are close to agreements with most of the parties on forming a coalition, Channel 13 reports.

The officials cautiously estimate that Yamina leader Naftali Bennett would agree to join such a government, which would include right-wing, centrist, and left-wing parties and be supported on the outside by the Arab lawmakers, according to the network.

Bennett has clarified to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid that he would join him, if Lapid can assemble a coalition both can agree on, Channel 13 says. If Lapid can sign on the other parties, Bennett would consent to become prime minister of such a coalition, it says.

Sources at a series of meetings between Lapid and parties in the “change bloc” earlier today say the Yesh Atid leader is discussing the distribution of government ministries. He is proposing that a ministry be offered for each three seats held by a party. The politicians also discussed a mechanism for agreements and which issues will be off-limits because of various sensitive issues where the status quo will be maintained.

US Embassy acknowledges shortage of consular services in Israel, vows to step them up

The US Embassy in Jerusalem admits it has been falling short in addressing a growing need for consular services for US citizens in Israel due to coronavirus-related obstacles, and says it has expanded its services and is making efforts to “develop creative solutions” to expand them further.

Here is the statement released by the embassy, in full:

Supporting U.S. citizens abroad remains our top priority. U.S. Embassy Jerusalem and Embassy Branch Office (EBO) Tel Aviv are working hard to provide consular services to U.S. citizens in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The U.S. Embassy is required to adhere to Israeli Ministry of Health and Center for Disease Control (CDC) guidelines affecting the number of people who can enter our facility. As a result, the U.S. Embassy has been offering a limited amount of services while demand for services has continued to rise. We are aware that many U.S. citizens are seeking consular services, and we are making every effort to develop creative solutions to allow more U.S. citizens to obtain essential services.

We have reorganized our processing so that we can increase appointments while maintaining the required social distancing. Our top priority is to process more emergency passports, first-time and minor renewal passports (DS-11), and Consular Reports of Birth Abroad (CRBAs), which are services that require in-person appointments. In March, we issued 51% more passports and 31% more CRBAs than in February. We anticipate continuing growth in the number of applicants we can help in the coming months.

To ensure that space is available for those who need to see us in person, applicants who are eligible to receive their services by mail will be required to do so by mail. Mail in services are quick and easy! The following services can be conducted via mail: replacing a 10-year validity passport using form DS-82; replacing an emergency passport using form DS-5504; applying for a first-time Social Security Number for applicants under the age 12 using form SS-5; and replacing Social Security Cards for applicants of any age using form SS-5.

Applicants in need of other services, such as notaries, may use alternatives such as Israeli notaries and U.S.-based online notaries, which are offered in many U.S. states.

This has been a long and difficult journey, and the U.S. Embassy appreciates the patience of U.S. citizens in Israel, the West Bank, and Gaza. Though we remain subject to both U.S. and Israeli health guidelines, we will continue to find solutions to provide consular services for U.S. citizens.”

read more: