The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they happened.
Iran’s president has ordered a probe into the “conspiracy” of leaked audio in which the foreign minister says the military is too influential in diplomacy, a government spokesman announces.
President Hassan Rouhani orders the investigation to identify who leaked the “stolen” three-hour-long recording by top diplomat and member of his moderate government Mohammad Javad Zarif, the spokesman says.
The tape, which comes ahead of presidential elections in June, has dominated the discussion in the Islamic Republic since its publication by media outlets outside Iran on Sunday.
“We believe this theft of documents is a conspiracy against the government, the system, the integrity of effective domestic institutions, and also against our national interests,” government spokesman Ali Rabiei tells reporters.
“The president has ordered the intelligence ministry to identify the agents of this conspiracy,” he adds. The file was “stolen for clear reasons,” he says, without elaborating further.
EU lawmakers have voted to lift the immunity of Greek MEP Ioannis Lagos, a former leader of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party sentenced to jail in his homeland, the European Parliament says.
Legislators overwhelmingly approve the move, with 658 backing it and only 25 opposed in a secret ballot held yesterday.
A police source in Athens tells AFP that Greek judicial authorities have issued an international arrest warrant for the 48-year-old.
In a Twitter post, Lagos voiced disdain for the decision and said he would remain “strong and free.”
“I am not going back to Greece in coming days,” he said, without giving further details.
The High Court of Justice will convene at 5 p.m. to discuss the cabinet’s ongoing failure to appoint a justice minister.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz agreed a short while ago to ask the court for a 48-hour delay to reach an agreement.
Gantz is demanding that he be appointed to the post, while Netanyahu is stalling on the matter for reasons he has not made clear.
The transportation and health ministries have agreed to end the caps on public transportation capacity that were put in place due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The limitations will end on Thursday.
A report by the Anti-Defamation League says antisemitic incidents remained at a historically high level across the US in 2020.
The ADL says 2,024 cases were logged of assault, harassment and vandalism throughout the year. The numbers represent a 4 percent drop from a 2019 record, but is still the third-highest since 1979, when the ADL began tracking such incidents.
“While any decline in the data is encouraging, we still experienced a year in which antisemitic acts remained at a disturbingly high level despite lockdowns and other significant changes in our daily lives and interactions with others,” says ADL chief Jonathan A. Greenblatt. “We can’t let our guard down. As communities begin to open up and people spend more time in person with others, we must remain vigilant.”
Agriculture Ministry inspectors armed with drones and pesticides fan out in southern Israel from Eilat on the Red Sea to the Negev to identify locusts, which have entered the Arava desert in the south of the country and have also been spotted in Syria, near the Golan Heights.
Westerly winds from the Mediterranean helped sweep some of the insects into Jordan on Monday but toward the evening, a “massive stream” flew from Jordan into the central Arava district, in southern Israel, the ministry reports.
The Food and Agriculture Organization meanwhile informs Israeli authorities that small groups of mature locusts were spotted in the Quneitra area of Syria.
The last major locust infestation in Israel was in 2013. At that time, ministry inspectors sprayed pesticides from the ground and the air, daily, around the clock, helping to prevent major damage to crops.
After earlier supposedly agreeing to delay a decision on appointing a justice minister by 48 hours, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has just forced an illegal vote to appoint Likud’s Ofir Akunis to the position.
First Gantz demanded a cabinet vote on his own candidacy for the post. He was voted down, 17-10. Then Netanyahu proposed Akunis and called a vote on the matter, despite Gantz’s opposition.
Such action is illegal under the terms of the current government, as Gantz must sign off on a candidate for the post. The attorney general informed Netanyahu he could not do so.
The vote went ahead anyway and Akunis’s candidacy was approved.
According to Channel 12’s political correspondent Amit Segal, the sides are now screaming at each other.
Has Akunis actually just been appointed justice minister? Your guess is as good as ours.
Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen says the latest happenings at the cabinet should serve as a reminder to any potential partners of the prime minister as he attempts to form a coalition.
“Anyone offered a rotation [of the premiership] by Likud and the prime minister should watch the conduct at the cabinet today closely, and ask himself how such a government would look and what the agreements [with Netanyahu] will be worth,” she tweets.
Egyptian officials say the Palestinian Authority plans to call off its first elections in 15 years, citing Israel’s refusal to allow voting in East Jerusalem.
The decision would effectively grant Israel a veto over the holding of elections, though PA President Mahmoud Abbas could also benefit from canceling a vote in which his fractured Fatah party is expected to lose power and influence to Hamas. The East Jerusalem issue is widely seen as an excuse for Abbas to cancel the vote.
Israel told European ambassadors today that it would not prevent Palestinian elections, but authorities have yet to say whether they will allow voting in East Jerusalem. Israel’s silence on the issue indicates that it would rather be blamed for a postponement than see elections that further empower Hamas.
An Egyptian diplomat and an intelligence official say they have been briefed on the Palestinians’ decision to cancel the election, which will be announced Thursday at a meeting of Palestinian factions. They say Egypt is in talks with Israel to reach a compromise to allow the vote but those efforts have so far failed.
Attorney General Mandelblit tells the cabinet members that Ofir Akunis is not justice minister in spite of their vote to approve him, according to reports in Hebrew media.
“You’ve carried out a vote against [the position of] the attorney general, an unprecedented event,” he tells them.
According to Kan news, Mandelblit shouted at Likud ministers as the vote was taking place: “Don’t think this vote will pass. It’s a vote held against the law.”
New Hope party chief Gideon Sa’ar tweets: “The saga surrounding the (lack of) appointment of a justice minister, which just came to a head in a bizarre cabinet meeting, is further testament to the urgent need to replace the leadership.”
Opposition leader Yair Lapid says: “Anyone who thought even for a moment to make a deal with Netanyahu has just received a reminder that there is no chance he’ll live up to his end of the deal.
“The supreme disdain for the rule of law, for any agreement he’s made, the lies as a way of life — all of these exploded today surrounding the appointment of a justice minister. He just can’t not cheat.”
Likud MK May Golan congratulates Prime Minister Netanyahu on “his steadfast position against the judicial dictatorship.”
She says she hopes the first decision of Ofir Akunis as justice minister (though the attorney general has made clear he is not justice minister) “will be to fire Mandelblit — the adviser for issues of the High Court and the left.”
Coalition chairman Miki Zohar accuses the attorney general of “belligerent behavior in full coordination with Blue and White. It’s amazing they don’t even try to hide it. They’ve lost all inhibitions while ignoring the will of the people.
“I suggest that all the governmental white knights stop threatening us with the High Court. The State of Israel is a democracy that operates according to the will of the majority and not the whims of the attorney general.”
On Twitter, Benny Gantz’s Blue and White says Netanyahu and Likud “attempted to carry out another terror attack against democracy — and Blue and White stopped them.”
The party says Likud is trying to unravel Israel’s judicial institutions and “we won’t let them.”
Likely as a result of today’s drama at the cabinet, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has asked for a one-hour delay to the High Court session on the issue of appointing a justice minister.
Mandelblit asks that the court session, originally scheduled for 5 p.m., be moved to 6 p.m. as he formulates his position.
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett issues a first, somewhat vague reaction to today’s events at the cabinet.
“The State of Israel is approaching an abyss of anarchy. We don’t have any other country. I call on everyone to understand the enormity of the moment, pull themselves together, and show national responsibility,” he says.
“Israel urgently needs a functioning, stable government,” he adds.
It bears mention that Netanyahu can not hope to form a government without Bennett’s support. While the Yamina leader has said the premier has the party’s votes if he can form a government, he is also working on the possibility of potentially forming an alternative unity government which he, Bennett, will likely lead.
Ahead of the High Court convening to discuss the justice minister crisis, the Movement for Quality Government in Israel calls on justices to nix Ofir Akunis’s appointment by the cabinet, saying the vote was illegal.
The organization is echoing the position of the attorney general, whose protestations were ignored by the prime minister in holding the vote.
Α former leading member of Greece’s neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party has been arrested in Belgium, hours after the European Parliament lifted his immunity, Greek police say.
A police source confirms to AFP that MEP Ioannis Lagos was arrested in Brussels under an international arrest warrant to serve a 13-year jail term in Greece. The Brussels public prosecutor’s office confirms that Lagos was taken into custody, declining to elaborate. The independent MEP earlier tweeted: “I am in a Belgian police car… being taken to jail.”
State news agency ANA says procedures are underway for Lagos’ extradition to Greece.
The 48-year-old former nightclub bouncer was convicted in October, along with other leaders and members of the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party, on several charges, including running a criminal organization.
Prime Minister Netanyahu is now asking the attorney general to request a 48-hour stay on a High Court decision on the matter of appointing a justice minister, as had reportedly been agreed upon with Blue and White’s Benny Gantz before all hell broke loose at the cabinet.
Though he asserts that “the decision to appoint minister Akunis was made at the cabinet legally and with a majority” — a claim that the attorney general has said is false — he requests “another 48 hours to try to reach an agreement between the sides.”
Israel announces plans to attract visitors from the United Arab Emirates, after last year’s historic normalization deal and as the Jewish state prepares to reopen to groups of vaccinated tourists on May 23.
Israel’s borders have largely been closed since March 2020, when it imposed its first of three pandemic lockdowns.
But a successful vaccination campaign has enabled a broad economic reopening, months after the UAE established full ties with Israel in a US-brokered deal.
“Dubai has great tourism potential for Israel,” Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen told reporters, as she unveiled a marketing push including a billboard campaign in Dubai.
Israeli officials have predicted interest among Emirati tourists, notably in seeing the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, Islam’s third holiest site in East Jerusalem.
Farkash-Hacohen said that while Israel would initially only let tour groups into the country, vaccinated individual travelers would be granted entry from July.
The Darkenu organization appeals to Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to declare the prime minister unfit for office following his approval of an apparently illegal vote to appoint his ally from Likud Ofir Akunis as justice minister.
The prime minister “is bulldozing over our democracy,” the left-leaning civil society organization says. It says he must be removed from office “in light of his conduct at the cabinet meeting.”
The group says if Mandelblit does not do so, it will appeal to the High Court of Justice.
Both the court and Mandelblit last week rejected efforts to bar Netanyahu from office.
In a letter to Netanyahu and Gantz, the attorney general says the cabinet today “knowingly and deliberately acted in an illegal manner” in voting to appoint Ofir Akunis as justice minister.
He notes that the government was formed in 2020 on the principle that such decisions must be made under the agreement between the two blocs.
Meanwhile Gantz issues a letter to the High Court of Justice ahead of its discussions later, in which he says Netanyahu “is leading a process of the destruction of democracy.” He says a justice minister must be appointed immediately in accordance with the law.
The cabinet has approved a further easing of restrictions in light of falling coronavirus infections.
Children up to age 16 and those who cannot vaccinate for various reasons will now be able to take part in all activities under the Green Pass, so long as they present a negative COVID-19 test from the past 72 hours.
Before the cabinet meeting earlier descended into chaos, Prime Minister Netanyahu noted the dire state of the pandemic in India.
The premier issued condolences “to the citizens of India over the tragic loss of life that is happening there” and said Israel will “render such assistance as may be requested.
“I hope that there will be an international effort, in which Israel is ready to be a full partner, to stop this tragedy. Even as we rejoice here, we still understand that large sections of humanity are suffering greatly. In any case, we are ready to help with whatever may be necessary.”
As the High Court of Justice prepares to convene over the crisis surrounding the appointment of a justice minister, a senior judicial source tells Channel 12 today’s events at the cabinet represents “the worst constitutional crisis Israel has known.”
Like Blue and White earlier, the unnamed source accuses Netanyahu of carrying out “a terror attack on democracy” and says he is “a mere step away” from being barred from the premiership.
A senior official in Likud tells Channel 12 Netanyahu “made a grave mistake” in pushing through the vote on ally Ofir Akunis as justice minister despite the attorney general telling him the move was illegal.
The official posits the clash with the attorney general is beyond Netanyahu’s control, as he begrudges Mandelblit for indicting him on criminal charges.
The official says he does not understand why Netanyahu behaved as he did, as today’s events only leave him farther away from the ability to form a government.
Apparently rejecting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for a 48-hour stay on a High Court decision on the matter, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit tells the court he believes there is no choice but to force the cabinet to immediately appoint a person to the post.
“There is no choice but to issue an injunction instructing the government to man the post without delay,” he writes.
Because the attorney general has declared Netanyahu’s vote to approve Ofir Akunis as justice minister illegal, the prime minister will not be represented by Mandelblit at the High Court.
The attorney general usually represents the government at the court, but now stands in opposition to the cabinet’s stance.
Rather, the premier will be represented by a private attorney, attorney David Peter.
Responding to Naftali Bennett’s comments from earlier, Religious Zionism party head Bezalel Smotrich says Israel is approaching anarchy because of “right-wing leaders who cannot rise to the needs of the hour, overcome difficulties and grudges and form a right-wing government.”
He also blames “irresponsible Gantz who is holding an entire nation hostage and attempting to rule it through bullying with eight seats.”
Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, says “the disregard shown today for the Basic Law of Government, the coalition agreements signed by all the parties, as well as the legal ruling of the attorney general is unacceptable.”
He says the events at the cabinet “are a reminder to all political leaders about the need to respect both our institutions and the rule of law, or risk irrevocable damage to Israel’s democratic system.”
Likud’s Central Committee approves Prime Minister Netanyahu’s request to potentially bring forward a joint slate with other parties in the next election.
The decision gives Netanyahu approval in principle to form such a roster, which the Central Committee would then need to approve.
*מרכז הליכוד אישר: ראש הממשלה נתניהו יוסמך להביא הצעה להגשת רשימת מועמדים משותפת לכנסת ה- 25 pic.twitter.com/jSelhXFLpP
— ???? זירה פוליטית‼ (@Zira_politit) April 27, 2021
Some 150 Israelis who recently arrived from India and Mexico have refused to undergo testing for coronavirus, Channel 12 reports, amid fears of the Indian variant of the virus spreading in the country.
The report says 55 people on the two flights have already been confirmed as carriers — 10 of them despite being vaccinated.
In a statement to the media, Defense Minister Benny Gantz says that at the cabinet today, Prime Minister Netanyahu “attempted in a planned and deliberate manner to steamroll the rule of law. He tried and failed.”
He says the premier tried “to undermine the foundations of democracy” by holding a vote against the law that served as the basis for the current government.
“The prime ministers belligerent and illegal conduct must be stopped now,” he says.
And in a message to right-wing parties that are considering joining with the anti-Netanyahu camp in the Knesset to form a government, Gantz says Netanyahu’s “word is worthless, and personal considerations trump all others.”
High Court justices have heard the positions of the attorney general and the prime minister and will rule this evening on whether the appointment of Ofir Akunis as justice minister is legal or not.
Chief Justice Esther Hayut has noted that the attorney general’s position — against the legality of the appointment — is a weighty one.
She added that the cabinet was obligated to adhere to the attorney general’s position during its meeting, which it failed to do.
An expert on the coronavirus pandemic says officials currently assess that the existing vaccines protect against the Indian variant.
Eran Segal, a computational biologist at the Weizmann Institute of Science, tells Channel 12 the variant “contains 13 mutations, the most important of which we are familiar with from other variants. We know the vaccines are effective against them and the assessment is that the vaccines will be effective against this variant too.”
However, he cautions that “we don’t know that definitively yet.”
Top Israeli officials are meeting in Washington with US administration officials on the planned US return to the Iran nuclear deal.
National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and Ambassador to the US Gilad Erdan are meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, Channel 12 reports.
The report says US Secretary of State Antony Blinken is also slated to meet with Mossad chief Yossi Cohen.
The high-level Israeli delegation is in Washington to voice objection to the US return to the accord.
Israel is generally concerned that the US is rushing too quickly to return to the 2015 nuclear accord, known formally as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, and is ignoring the concerns of Israel and other Middle Eastern countries, notably those in the Gulf.
Naftali Bennett is dismissing as “spin” a report that the Yamina leader fears two of his party members will not join him if he attempts to form a government with Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and the so-called “change bloc.”
Kan news, citing senior officials in parties in the bloc, said Bennett had told them of his concern.
Bennett calls the report “complete fake news” and “spin.”
The party issues a statement that “it stands united and strong behind Bennett’s policy to form a government and prevent fifth elections and chaos.”
The Israel Defense Forces says its forces downed a Hezbollah drone today after it crossed into Israeli airspace from Lebanon.
It also said it had located a second Hezbollah drone that had been shot down a few weeks ago.
“We will continue to operate in order to prevent any attempt to violate Israeli sovereignty,” the IDF says.
The High Court of Justice has frozen Ofir Akunis’s appointment as justice minister, after his questionable approval in a cabinet vote the attorney general declared illegal.
The court issues a temporary injunction blocking the appointment as it continues to review the case. It says the prime minister must argue tomorrow why it should not rule the appointment null and void.
The court will reconvene tomorrow at 3:30 p.m. to continue deliberations.
It says it will consider airing the session live for purposes of transparency.
Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett meets Ra’am party chief Mansour Abbas in the first-ever political contact between the leaders of the two parties, amid efforts to form a government without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
The right-wing party and the Islamist faction have initiated unlikely cooperation lately in the Knesset’s Arrangements Committee, and the ties have gained steam as Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government nears its end.
Ra’am says in a statement following the meeting at Bennett’s Knesset office that the meeting dealt with the positions of both parties regarding the current political events, and was “conducted in a positive atmosphere.”
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