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Netanyahu said mulling temporary coalition to nullify power-sharing government

Report says if PM can’t form coalition, he could try to get Smotrich and Ra’am to unite for just 1 vote to avoid threat of Gantz replacing him, cancel current egalitarian mechanism

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the swearing-in ceremony of Israel's Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem, on April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky / POOL / AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz attend the swearing-in ceremony of Israel's Knesset (parliament) in Jerusalem, on April 6, 2021. (Alex Kolomoisky / POOL / AFP)

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

Tibi walks out of Holocaust memorial ceremony in Knesset to protest Ben Gvir

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi walks out of the traditional Knesset ceremony for Holocaust Remembrance Day in which the names of victims are recited, to protest the participation of new far-right lawmaker Itamar Ben Gvir of the Otzma Yehudit extremist faction of Religious Zionism.

The annual ceremony, titled “Each Person has a Name,” featured several new MKs reciting names, including Ben Gvir, Labor’s Emilie Moatti, and Avi Maoz of Religious Zionism’s ultra-conservative Noam faction.

But when Ben Gvir took the stage to recite the names of Iraqi Jews sent to Auschwitz, Tibi walked out in protest.

Tibi explains later that “I will never legitimize a racist who denies my and my people’s human rights.”

Ben Gvir comments that Tibi “hurt the memory of the survivors and victims,” adding that the Ta’al faction leader is “a terror supporter who shouldn’t be in the Knesset.”

At another point during the ceremony, one of the guests berated Maoz, the head of the anti-LGBT Noam faction.

“Aren’t you ashamed to take part in such a ceremony for those who were burned in the Holocaust? It’s a pity you are alive and that your parents weren’t burned there,” the person said, Hebrew-language media reports, without naming him.

Maoz later files a complaint with the Knesset Guard.

COVID cases in Iran pass two million — health ministry

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Iran has passed the two million mark, the health ministry announces, as the daily caseload reaches a new record high.

The virus has infected 2,006,934 people in Iran and killed 63,884, ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says in televised remarks.

She adds that 22,586 new cases were confirmed in the past 24 hours, an increase of more than 1,600 over the previous record high registered just yesterday.

The Islamic Republic has been battling the Middle East’s deadliest coronavirus outbreak.

Officials have blamed the recent surge in cases on family visits and leisure trips made during the Iranian new year holidays that started on March 21.

In January, the daily numbers of deaths and new infections had remained relatively stable at fewer than 100 and fewer than 7,000 respectively, but since late March those numbers have soared.

Health Minister Saeed Namaki and other officials have acknowledged that the official figures understate the real impact of the pandemic.

Dozens of towns and cities including the capital Tehran are classified as “red,” the highest rating on the country’s coronavirus risk scale, requiring all non-essential businesses to close.

Iran has avoided imposing a full lockdown on its population of 82 million since the pandemic started early last year.

Instead, it has resorted to piecemeal measures, such as temporary travel bans and business closures.

Israeli strikes kill 3 Iran-backed fighters in Syria – monitor

Israeli strikes overnight targeting Syrian regime military positions and a weapons depot near Damascus killed three Iran-backed militia fighters, a Britain-based war monitor says.

The strikes near the capital “destroyed a weapons depot likely used by the Lebanese Hezbollah militia,” among other Iran-backed groups, says the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights.

“It also killed three… Iran-backed militia fighters,” says the pro-opposition monitor, which has had its reliability questioned in the past.

The Observatory says it cannot determine their nationalities but that they are all non-Syrians.

The official SANA news agency reports the raids but not the casualties, saying four soldiers were wounded in the attack.

“At around 12:56 the Israeli enemy carried out an aggression from the direction of Lebanon on some positions in the vicinity of Damascus,” SANA says, citing a military source. “Our air defenses intercepted the aggression and shot down” most of the missiles, the news outlet says, adding that “four soldiers were injured.”

The strikes also caused “some material damage.”

The source does not provide details on the targets.

Since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war in 2011, Israel has routinely carried out raids in Syria, mostly targeting Iranian and Lebanese Hezbollah forces as well as government troops.

Israel rarely confirms the strikes, but its army has said it hit about 50 targets in the war-torn country last year, without providing details.

The Hezbollah terror organization is the only group in Lebanon not to have disarmed after the 1975-1990 civil war, but is also a major player in Lebanese politics. It is a strong ally of Iran and Damascus and has been officially fighting in Syria since 2013.

Israel said set to reply to ICC: You don’t have authority to probe us

Israel has decided to send a response to the International Criminal Court (ICC) saying the court doesn’t have the authority to probe the country’s actions and it won’t cooperate with the investigation, according to Hebrew press reports.

The court has opened a probe into the events of summer 2014 in the West Bank and Gaza, but excluding the murder of three Israeli teenagers by Palestinian terrorists.

The decision is said to have been made following a discussion on the matter today by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Education Minister Yoav Gallant, Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and others.

Symbolic synagogue unveiled at site of Babyn Yar Nazi massacre

The Babyn Yar Holocaust Memorial Center unveils the first Jewish prayer space at the place where 33,771 Jews were murdered by the Nazis during World War II.

The symbolic synagogue structure was inaugurated at a ceremony attended by Ukraine and Kyiv Chief Rabbi Yaakov Dov Bleich alongside nine other rabbis, and addressed by Jewish world leaders and other dignitaries.

The massacre occurred on September 29-30, 1941, at the Babyn Yar ravine.

“When closed, the building is a flat structure that is manually opened, and then unfolds into the three-dimensional space of the synagogue structure,” the center says in a statement. “The imaginative, one-of-a-kind design also features an interior which references two destroyed 17th and 18th century Ukrainian synagogues. It forms part of a planned wider multi-faith space for prayer and reflection, to be completed in due course.”

It is the first of a dozen buildings to be built in the complex, which will be one of the world’s largest Holocaust memorial centers, according to the statement.

“For many years Babyn Yar has had no proper stone or memorial, I find it telling that the first structure of the memorial will be a place for introspection and prayer designed symbolically as a synagogue,” Rabbi Bleich says. “This will help visitors relate to the mass murder that took place in Babyn Yar and not forget the spirituality or the origins of those Jews murdered on the eve of Yom Kippur and Yom Kippur itself.”

In 1st, Netanyahu to host Bennett tonight at PM’s official residence

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett today at 8:30 p.m. as part of efforts to form a coalition, Hebrew media reports.

The meeting will be held at the prime minister’s official residence on Balfour Street.

It will be the first time Bennett has been allowed into the complex, due to past tensions between him and Netanyahu. The premier’s wife Sara Netanyahu has reportedly long vetoed Bennett’s entry. But now, Netanyahu depends on Bennett’s support if he wants to keep his hope of forming a government alive.

Before that meeting, Netanyahu will also meet Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich, whose party has firmly aligned itself with the prime minister.

Merkel urges Russia to reduce troops on Ukraine border

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Russian President Vladimir Putin in a phone call today to reduce Russia’s troop buildup near Ukraine, her office says in a statement.

“One subject of their conversation was, among others, the increased Russian military presence near eastern Ukraine,” the statement says. “The chancellor called for a reduction of these troop reinforcements to de-escalate tensions.”

WATCH: Virtual March of the Living kicks off, hailing doctors during Holocaust and now

The March of the Living begins its main Holocaust Memorial Day virtual event, broadcast online due to COVID-19 restrictions.

The “virtual march” is led by President Reuven Rivlin, Holocaust survivors, Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, Jewish Agency chair Isaac Herzog, KKL chair Avraham Duvdevani, and Rabbi Israel Meir Lau.

Thousands of people usually take part in the march on the grounds of the former Auschwitz death camp, which had been run by Nazi Germany, in Poland. This year, participants from across the globe were filmed using innovative 3D technology so they appear to be marching along the traditional route.

This week’s march is dedicated to medical professionals who saved the lives of Jews during the Holocaust — often at a personal risk — and linking it to the work of doctors during the current pandemic.

The event organizers say doctors “served as rays of light during the Holocaust,” adding: “We salute the relentless commitment of the selfless professionals facing today’s world health crisis.”

The organizers add that among those marching are doctors, nurses, and paramedics including Israel’s coronavirus czar Prof. Nachman Ash, whose parents were doctors during the Holocaust; Prof. Idit Matot, director of anesthesia in Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital; Galia Rahav, head of the Infectious Disease Unit and Laboratories at Sheba Medical Center; Magen David Adom director-general Eli Beer; and Haim Freund, CEO of Ezer Mizion who is marching with his mother, Holocaust survivor Tzipora Freund.

IDF troops fighting COVID leave Bnei Brak after cases drop from 26,000 to just 28

Israel Defense Forces soldiers who have for many months been battling COVID-19 in Israel’s worst-hit city, Bnei Brak, leave the city due to a staggering decline in infection rates.

While at one point there were some 26,000 active cases in the ultra-Orthodox city, the number now stands at just 28, according to Channel 12 news.

That is thanks to the widespread vaccination campaign and likely aided by the many residents who were previously infected and are therefore immune.

Home Front Command troops have been sent to Bnei Brak during over the last year to coordinate and run test facilities as well as epidemiological investigations and more, and have been running a facility there since the second wave of infections last September.

Seven months later, they are out of work.

The IDF has held a ceremony to mark the occasion.

Rivlin at March of the Living urges harnessing ‘all tools’ to fight racism, anti-Semitism

The March of the Living closing event, broadcast online due to COVID-19 and dedicated to medical doctors during the Holocaust and the current pandemic, is followed immediately by an online memorial ceremony with the first torch of remembrance lit by President Reuven Rivlin.

“During this pandemic we are prevented from stepping on the accursed earth, saturated with the blood of six million of our people,” Rivlin says. “Yet, we have vowed never to forget or let go. Technology allows us, each and every one of us, to participate in the March of the Living without leaving home, while contributing to the commemoration of the Holocaust and its victims. We must harness all the tools at our disposal to fight racism, anti-Semitism, attempts at denial. We must continue marching.”

Chairman of the International March of the Living, Dr. Shmuel Rosenman, says: “Although we are unable to step our feet on the land where the most horrific atrocities of human history took place, the March does not stop. We will continue to pass the torch of memory and fight the fight against anti-Semitism and racism of all kind. We will never stop marching — and never forget.”

Polish university says lecturer’s anti-Semitic blood libel part of ‘scientific discourse’

A Polish lecturer who said that Jews had practiced “ritual murders” will not be reprimanded because his claims are the subject of “scientific discourse,” the university that employs him says.

An internal ethics panel makes the decision not to take disciplinary action against Tadeusz Guz, a priest and faculty member at the Catholic University of Lublin, for a second time after again reviewing complaints about a 2018 speech he gave in Warsaw.

“We know, ladies and gentlemen, that the facts of ritual murder cannot be erased from history. Why? Because we, the Polish state, in our archives, in the surviving documents, have evidence spread across centuries when Jews lived together with our Polish nation,” he said.

Ritual murder by Jews is an ancient blood libel that was common throughout Europe in the Middle Ages. Such libels served as the pretext for multiple deadly pogroms and anti-Semitic murders.

The Polish Council of Christians and Jews, a nonprofit that promotes dialogue, asked the university to discipline Guz, who has not apologized for the statements. The university’s ethics panel decided not to punish Guz, citing among other things the fact that the lecture was extracurricular.

The council appealed, leading to the decision last week by the panel, which said Guz “merely referenced scientific positions on this issue.”

Prior to the panel’s ruling, a university spokesperson said that Guz’s remarks do not reflect the position of the university, which he said is committed to fighting anti-Semitism.

Smotrich said to suggest Netanyahu become president, run country via proxy

Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich has reportedly floated a proposal to tap Benjamin Netanyahu as president and replace him as prime minister with the current Knesset speaker, Yariv Levin, who will do Netanyahu’s bidding.

Smotrich will meet Netanyahu today as the premier tries to persuade him not to veto a government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party.

According to ultra-Orthodox weekly “Mishpacha,” Smotrich has told a right-wing rabbi who was sent to convince him to change his stance: “If Netanyahu is so anxious to the fate of the right-wing camp, he is welcome to save Israel, make Yariv Levin prime minister on his behalf and continue to manage the country through him.

“Meanwhile, Bibi will run for the presidency, the legal proceedings against him will stop, after years a full right-wing government will be formed with [Naftali] Bennett and [Gideon] Sa’ar… without having to let terror supporters manage our lives.”

Sa’ar’s New Hope has vowed not to join a government headed by Netanyahu, but is open to work with Likud if Netanyahu doesn’t lead the party.

Israel formally informs ICC it won’t cooperate with war crimes probe

As Hebrew media previously reported was going to happen, Israel says it has formally decided not to cooperate with an International Criminal Court war crimes investigation into the situation in the West Bank and Gaza.

A statement from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office says the government has agreed “to not cooperate with the (ICC)” and will inform The Hague-based court it “had no authority to open an investigation” against Israel.

Avdija writes ‘remember’ in Hebrew on shoes for game on Holocaust Remembrance Day eve

Israeli NBA player Deni Avdija has commemorated his native country’s Holocaust Remembrance Day by writing “Yizkor,” which translates to “will remember,” on his sneakers in Hebrew for his team’s game last night.

Yom Hashoah began that night in Israel, where Avdija grew up and played professionally before being drafted by the Washington Wizards last year.

The Wizards’ Hebrew Twitter account, which the team started to cater to Avdija’s Israeli fans, tweeted a video of Jewish Wizards broadcaster Justin Kutcher mentioning the sneakers before the game on TV.

The account also tweeted a filmed message (in English) by Avdija.

Avdija, who has leaned into talking about his Jewish identity in his time in the NBA, recorded one of the strongest performances of his rookie season, notching 16 points, including four 3-pointers, and five rebounds in a win over the Orlando Magic.

After COVID prevented it last year, troops can visit military cemeteries on Memorial Day

The IDF says soldiers will once again be able to visit the graves of fallen troops and terror victims on next week’s Memorial Day, after the coronavirus lockdown prevented it last year.

Memorial Day for Fallen Soldiers and Terror Victims will be held next Wednesday, transitioning in the evening to Independence Day.

Biden calls US gun violence an ‘epidemic’

US President Joe Biden calls gun violence in the country an “epidemic” at a White House ceremony to unveil new attempts to get the problem under control.

“This is an epidemic, for God’s sake, and it has to stop,” he says, also calling shootings “a public health crisis.”

Palestinians record 2,884 new daily COVID cases, as outbreak worsens

The West Bank and Gaza Strip have seen 2,884 new coronavirus infections over the past 24 hours, according to the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry.

Both Palestinian areas have seen a major surge in coronavirus cases over the past few weeks. Relatively few Palestinians have been vaccinated — less than 5% in total — in contrast with over 65% of Israelis.

The West Bank currently has around 14,403 active cases, down from previous weeks that saw infections peak at around 20,000. However, high numbers of tests continue to come back positive in Palestinian Authority areas, indicating that the virus is likely spreading widely undetected.

In Gaza, the situation is direr; some 1,932 cases were recorded in the blockaded coastal enclave over the past 24 hours alone. Around 35% of coronavirus tests came back positive.

Officially, there are 16,845 active coronavirus infections in Gaza. But health officials in the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry estimate that the true number of infections is more than five times that number.

Biden calls for US ban on private ‘assault weapons’

US President Joe Biden calls for a ban on military-style weapons and large ammunition clips in private hands.

“We should also ban assault weapons and high capacity magazines,” he tells a White House event to unveil a series of measures against what he calls the “epidemic” of gun violence.

Mandelblit warns lack of justice minister has ‘far-reaching’ consequences

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit sends a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz, cautioning that the continued lack of a justice minister will have “far-reaching consequences from a public health point of view.”

Gantz was acting justice minister until last month, when his three-month temporary term — which cannot be extended — ended since Netanyahu refused to appoint a permanent minister. Netanyahu can’t be a minister due to the corruption trial against him.

In the letter, Mandelblit says that starting April 21, thousands of detainees and prisoners will have to be physically brought to court for arrest and remand hearings, since video conference won’t be allowed due to the lack of a minister. Since many detainees and prisoners aren’t vaccinated against COVID-19, that would pose a health risk.

Additionally, some aspects of the pandemic response will be harmed, Mandelblit writes.

Netanyahu said mulling temporary coalition to nullify current power-sharing government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is meeting Religious Zionism party chief Bezalel Smotrich to try and persuade him to accept a coalition propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party, which he staunchly opposes.

Channel 12 news says one option Netanyahu is weighing is trying to convince Smotrich and Ra’am to come together just for one vote: Forming a coalition which will then immediately fall and the country will go to its fifth elections in 2.5 years.

That would nullify the current coalition agreement, which gives Benny Gantz’s Blue and White and his bloc 50% control over the government and a veto over critical matters. Perhaps even more significantly, it would remove the threat of Gantz replacing Netanyahu as prime minister on November 17, which will happen automatically if no new coalition is formed by then.

Haredi parties could ditch Netanyahu if status quo on religion preserved — report

Ahead of Naftali Bennett’s meeting today with Prime Minister Netanyahu, the Kan public broadcaster cites an official in the ultra-Orthodox parties telling the Yamina party chief that they would consider joining a center-left government without Netanyahu’s Likud if the status quo on religious matters in upheld.

The parties, which have been firmly aligned with Netanyahu for years, would reportedly consider the option if Bennett manages to ensure a government with secularists Yair Lapid and Avigdor Liberman won’t change the current state of affairs regarding religion and state.

Iranian military vows response to attack on ship in Red Sea

Iran will “definitely” respond to a recent attack on an Iranian ship in the Red Sea, a spokesman for the Islamic Republic’s military says.

Brig. Gen. Abolfazl Shekarchi tells Russian news agency Sputnik that Iran is investigating Tuesday’s attack on the Saviz and will not retaliate until the completion of the probe.

“If we uncover the source of the attack on the ship, we will definitely respond, we will never be silent,” he says.

Shekarchi also says Iran suspects Israel and the US are linked to the attack.

The Saviz, which was reportedly hit by a limpet mine, has allegedly been used for years by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps as a command-and-control center for its operations in the region.

A US official told the New York Times on Tuesday that Israeli forces carried out the attack.

Netanyahu-Smotrich meeting ends, Bennett enters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s meeting with Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich is over.

Smotrich says in a statement that he and the premier “agreed that every effort should be made to persuade Bennett not to dismantle the right-wing camp and not go to a left-wing government, thus bringing in more partners for a right-wing government.”

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett then enters the prime minister’s official residense for the first time after being a persona non grata there for years, to meet Netanyahu amid efforts to form a coalition. He says it’s “time for national responsibility.”

Bennett said to tell Netanyahu he’s willing to join government with Ra’am

The main message Naftali Bennett is conveying to Prime Minister Netanyahu in their meeting is that he’s willing to enter any right-wing government, but that the premier is responsible for splitting Bezalel Smotrich from himself and now has to deal with the consequences, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Smotrich opposes a government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party, denying Netanyahu a potential majority. The premier is trying to persuade him to change that stance.

Channel 13 news reports that Bennett will say he’s willing to join a coalition with Ra’am if Smotrich changes course.

99% of vaccinated kids have only mild side effects — Health Ministry data

Health Ministry data shows that 99% of children who have thus far received a COVID-19 vaccine have only experienced mild side effects.

According to the data, reported by the Ynet news site, 40% of new cases in recent days are people under the age of 19. Only one of them, a girl, is on a ventilator and three others are in serious condition.

Lee Zeldin, Jewish pro-Trump voice in US Congress, announces run for NY governor

Rep. Lee Zeldin, one of two Jewish Republicans in the US Congress and a staunch defender of Donald Trump, is running for governor of New York.

“The bottom line is this: To save New York, Andrew Cuomo’s gotta go,” Zeldin says in a news release.

Zeldin, a House member from Long Island, handily won reelection in the fall over a Democratic Jewish challenger, despite being unabashedly pro-Trump in a state where the former president is extremely unpopular.

Both Zeldin and David Kustoff of Tennessee, another Jewish House Republican, voted to object to the Electoral College’s presidential vote tally after condemning the January 6 riot at the Capitol.

Cuomo, the incumbent governor, is ensnared in a series of scandals — one involving lies about nursing home deaths in New York from COVID-19, as well as several allegations of sexual harassment by former colleagues.

The last Jewish governor of New York was Eliot Spitzer, who held the office between 2007 and 2008 before resigning amid a prostitution scandal.

Israel says France, Turkey riskiest countries for catching mutated coronavirus strains

The Health Ministry has listed France and Turkey as the current most dangerous countries for Israelis to catch mutated strains of the coronavirus that could prove more resistant to current vaccines.

According to the data, reported by Channel 12 news, 0.5% of recent returnees from France have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and the likelihood of them carrying a new variant of the coronavirus is regarded as very high. The figure for turkey is 0.4%, and the risk level is similar.

In the US, the likelihood is said to be very high as well, despite the low 0.3% rate among returnees from there.

In Germany, the risk of catching a new strain is regarded as high despite a low 0.2% rate among returnees.

Somewhat surprisingly, Britain — where a more infectious strain emerged — is said to pose no risk with just 0.2% of returnees positive. The figure for Russia is 0.3%, and the ministry didn’t determine a mutation likelihood due to lack of information.

Netanyahu’s office says Smotrich statement ‘isn’t in line with reality’

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office, apparently angry at Bezalel Smotrich, says the statement published by the Religious Zionism party chief after their meeting “isn’t in line with reality.”

“This is the time for joint work rather than publications that don’t contribute to the joint effort we’re making,” the statement says.

70 dead as battle for Yemen’s Marib rages on three fronts

Fierce fighting for Yemen’s strategic Marib city has killed 70 pro-government and Houthi rebel fighters over the past 24 hours, with battles raging on three fronts, loyalist military officials says.

The Houthis have been trying to seize Marib, the capital of an oil-rich region and the government’s last significant pocket of territory in the north, since February.

Two officials from pro-government forces tell AFP that the rebels were mounting a concerted push that had left 26 loyalist soldiers dead as well as 44 from Houthi ranks. The rebels rarely disclose their losses.

The new toll adds to 53 killed on both sides in the previous 24 hours, according to loyalist military officials.

One of the officials say that the rebels “are launching simultaneous attacks” in the areas of Kassara and Al-Mashjah, northwest of the city, and Jabal Murad in the south.

“They have made progress on the Kassara and Al-Mashjah fronts, but they have been thwarted on the Jabal Murad front,” he tells AFP.

The other official said that warplanes from the Saudi-led military coalition, which entered the Yemen conflict to support the government in 2015, launched airstrikes that “destroyed 12 Houthi military vehicles, including four tanks and a cannon.”

However, the Saudi firepower does not seem to have halted the rebel offensive.

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