ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 142

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Smotrich said aiming to allocate $180m to settlements, including to illegal outposts

Report says finance minister planning government decision shaving off ministry budgets to fund move, but timing shortly before mayoral elections creates legal difficulties

Michael Bachner is a news editor at The Times of Israel

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich takes part in a march to the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, near the West Bank city of Nablus, during the Passover holiday, April 10, 2023. (Sraya Diamant/ Flash90/ File)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich takes part in a march to the illegal West Bank outpost of Evyatar, near the West Bank city of Nablus, during the Passover holiday, April 10, 2023. (Sraya Diamant/ Flash90/ File)

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

Attorney general refuses to defend ministers’ firing of Israel Postal Co. chair

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara in Tel Aviv on June 20, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara in Tel Aviv on June 20, 2023. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara has told Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi and Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem she will not represent them in High Court of Justice petitions against their firing of the head of the Israel Postal Company, after telling them the move presents significant legal difficulties.

Baharav-Miara adds, however, that the Likud ministers can be represented by private lawyers of their choosing.

The step may mark a new showdown between the justice system and the government, many of whose members have advocated for firing the attorney general.

The removal last month of Israel Postal Company chair Mishael Vaknin has drawn intense criticism from Government Companies Authority director Michal Rosenbaum, and was also opposed by some in the Justice Ministry.

Smotrich said aiming to allocate $180m to settlements, including illegal outposts

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting of his Religious Zionism party at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, July 17, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting of his Religious Zionism party at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, July 17, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich and Settlements Minister Orit Strock from his Religious Zionism party are advancing a government decision to allocate NIS 670 million ($180 million) to West Bank settlements and allow the Interior Ministry to transfer funds to “unregulated places” — meaning illegal settler outposts — according to the Kan public broadcaster.

Kan reports that the move will be partly funded by shaving the budgets of some other ministries — including NIS 130 million ($35 million) from the Education Ministry and NIS 200 million ($53.5 million) from the Interior Ministry.

The report notes that the timing of the move — two months before nationwide mayoral elections — creates legal difficulties since such a government decision would transfer funds to specific localities.

Smotrich’s budgetary actions have recently come under criticism after it was revealed that he has been holding back on NIS 2.5 billion ($670 million) in funds meant for Arabs in East Jerusalem. Under widespread criticism, Smotrich announced a team will be formed to ensure the money isn’t misused, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the funds will then be transferred.

Report: PM’s office tried to oust its legal adviser, seen as a Netanyahu adversary

Prime Minister's Office Legal Adviser Shlomit Barnea Farago attends an award ceremony in Jerusalem on December 4, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister's Office Legal Adviser Shlomit Barnea Farago attends an award ceremony in Jerusalem on December 4, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office in recent weeks tried to oust the office’s legal adviser Shlomit Barnea Farago, who is despised by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Channel 13 news reports.

To extend her tenure, the signature of the office’s director Yossi Shelley was required, and he refused to sign off on the move, the report says.

Shelley was then invited to a meeting with Deputy Attorney General Gil Limon, who explained that failing to sign is akin to firing Barnea Farago.

Ministry legal advisers can’t be fired without a hearing and a justified cause, and the move would be especially problematic in Barnea Farago’s case, since she is a prosecution witness in the ongoing corruption trial against Netanyahu.

Understanding he would be in trouble if he didn’t sign, Shelley then signed off on the tenure extension, according to the report.

The Prime Minister’s Office comments that “the extension of tenures of senior workers is done by the office director in accordance with professional considerations and with good governance rules.”

Blinken says Washington can’t confirm Iran deal linked to nuclear concessions

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a media briefing at the State Department, August 15, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon).
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a media briefing at the State Department, August 15, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon).

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Joe Biden’s administration cannot confirm reports that Iran has recently rolled back some of its enrichment of nearly weapons-grade uranium, amid Israeli claims that the deal struck last week for Tehran to release American detainees is tied to the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program.

“I can’t confirm the reports that you’ve cited. What I can say is, of course, we would welcome any steps that Iran takes to actually deescalate the growing nuclear threat,” says Blinken during a press briefing. “This development — that is the move of our detainees out of prison and to home detention — is not linked to any other aspect of our foreign policy.”

The US says it agreed to allow Iran to access roughly $6 billion in its own funds that have been held in South Korea in exchange for the five detainees’ release, but Blinken reiterated that the funds will be closely monitored and only be okayed for humanitarian use.

“Nothing about our overall approach to Iran has changed,” he says. “We continue to pursue a strategy of deterrence, of pressure and of diplomacy. We remain committed to ensuring that Iran never acquires a nuclear weapon. We continue to hold the regime accountable for its human rights abuses, destabilizing actions in the region, funding of terrorism and provision of drones to Russia for its use in the war against Ukraine, among many other offenses.”

Reporter says United flight attendant yelled at her for refusing Haredi request to change seat

After a series of similar incidents on buses, Channel 13’s reporter Neria Kraus says Haredi passengers asked her to switch seats on a Tel Aviv-New York flight “because I’m a woman,” and that a United Airlines flight attendant shouted at her when she refused.

“I was told the flight might touch down in Egypt and it would be my fault. What a humiliating event for me as a woman,” she tweets.

The flight departed as planned and Kraus didn’t change her seat.

Before the flight lands in Newark, the airline tells Haaretz journalist Josh Breiner: “We offered the customer another seat — which was declined — the flight departed for New York/Newark and is expected to arrive on time.”

Yair Netanyahu publishes post urging High Court chief to ‘take your hands off Basic Laws’

After a previous post castigating the IDF chief caused an outrage, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s son Yair publishes a post urging his followers to participate in a protest on Thursday near Supreme Court President Esther Hayut’s home.

The poster says: “Esther! Take your hands off the Basic Laws!”

It is a reference to scheduled High Court of Justice hearings on whether to strike down amendments to quasi-constitutional Basic Laws alleged to be unconstitutional or passed for personal and political reasons.

Man, 50, drowns at Netanya beach

A 50-year-old man drowns while swimming at a beach in Netanya.

Magen David Adom medics attempt to resuscitate him but eventually pronounce him dead.

CPI up 0.3% in July, but high interest rate helps keep annual inflation in check

The consumer price index rose by 0.3% in July, but annual inflation has significantly dropped from 4.2% last month to just 3.3%, according to figures released by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Prices of fruits and vegetables have risen by 3.4% and transportation prices have risen by 0.7%, while clothing and shoe prices have dropped by 4.8% and furniture prices dropped by 1.2%.

Housing prices have dropped by 0.2% relative to April and May, with the price of new apartments down by 0.6%.

The Bank of Israel has sharply raised the interest rate — from 0.1% to 4.75% — over the past 16 months to battle mounting inflation.

Netanyahu, Gallant ‘fully back’ top military brass after repeated attacks from coalition

Following many attacks on top IDF brass from within the coalition and from the premier’s son Yair Netanyahu in recent days, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant issue a joint statement saying they are “working in close cooperation and fully backing the IDF chief of staff and IDF officers to guarantee the security of the state and its citizens.”

The pair say they “reject any attack against top officials in the security apparatus, and back IDF commanders and soldiers who are working day and night for the security of Israel.”

Man shot on Ayalon Highway south of Tel Aviv in suspected criminal hit attempt

A man has been shot at while driving on the Ayalon Highway, between the Tel Aviv suburbs of Holon and Bat Yam, in what Hebrew media report was a suspected criminal hit attempt.

Two suspects riding a motorcycle reportedly opened fire on a car near Komemiyut Interchange, and then discarded their pistol and escaped. The pistol was found by cops on the road, which has been blocked to search for bullet shells.

The driver has arrived on his own at Holon’s Wolfson Medical Center, and his condition is initially unclear.

Man whose body was hidden in Haifa apartment wall is named; autopsy reveals foul play

Police at the scene where a body was found at an apartment in Haifa, August 9, 2023. (Flash90)
Police at the scene where a body was found at an apartment in Haifa, August 9, 2023. (Flash90)

An autopsy on the body found last week inside the wall of an apartment in Haifa has revealed signs of significant violence that caused his death, Hebrew media reports.

Citing findings of the Institute of Forensic Medicine autopsy, the reports say the body belongs to 61-year-old Vitaly Choklin, a former tenant in the apartment who went missing about 18 months ago.

The chief suspect in the case is reportedly Grigory Ashut, 55, another tenant in the apartment, who died last week from an apparent overdose.

Police suspect a fight broke out between them and that Ashut murdered Choklin, dismembered him, put his body parts in plastic bags and hid them inside the living room wall.

He kept the killing a secret, telling anyone who asked him — including the landlord — that Chorkin had moved to another apartment with friends.

After Ashut’s death last week, the landlord hired a handyman to renovate the apartment. The worker noticed a suspicious concrete bulge in the living room, leading to the discovery of Chorkin’s body parts.

Man, 18, found dead following searches in lake in north

An 18-year-old man is found dead after he went missing while swimming in Maale Hashahar Lake, east of the Sea of Galilee.

After rescue teams conducted searches for the man, divers took his lifeless body out of the water.

Likud, UTJ heads deny reports, say they’re working together to pass overhaul, draft law

The ruling Likud party and the leaders of United Torah Judaism’s two factions, Yitzhak Goldknopf and Moshe Gafni, issue a joint statement attempting to deny reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is seeking a one-year suspension of all judicial overhaul legislation following a revolt by the Haredi coalition parties.

“As opposed to what is being reported, all coalition heads are working in full cooperation to pass both the [ultra-Orthodox] enlistment law and the judicial reform,” the statement says.

Gallant responds to Amsalem’s scathing diatribe: Attack me, not the IDF

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, talks with Regional Cooperation  Minister David Amsalem during a plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, right, talks with Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem during a plenum session at the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 10, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant defends the military following a scathing attack by fellow Likud minister David Amsalem, who castigated IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Air Force chief Tomer Bar over the thousands of reservists, including many pilots, who have said they will stop their volunteer duty in protest of the coalition’s efforts to weaken the judiciary.

“This is happening on their watch,” Amsalem said earlier. “This will enter the history books. People will study 20 and 30 years from now who the chief of staff was and who the Air Force chief was and what happened.”

In response, Gallant hails members of the Air Force as “the best people in the State of Israel” after touring the Ramon base with Bar.

“I appeal to elected officials: If you cannot contain yourselves, attack me, the defense minister,” he says. “Keep the IDF out of the political debate.”

Yehiel Indore, main suspect in killing of Palestinian in Burqa, released to house arrest

Yehiel Indore, who is suspected of shooting and killing 19-year-old Palestinian Qusai Jamal Matan in the West Bank village of Burqa, arrives for a Jerusalem District Court hearing on August 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Yehiel Indore, who is suspected of shooting and killing 19-year-old Palestinian Qusai Jamal Matan in the West Bank village of Burqa, arrives for a Jerusalem District Court hearing on August 15, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Yehiel Indore, the Israeli suspected of killing a Palestinian man during a clash in the West Bank village of Burqa, is released to house arrest.

The release happens after the Jerusalem District Court rejects a police appeal against a lower court’s decision to free him to house arrest.

Netanyahu, Levin said seeking to freeze overhaul for a year to focus on Haredi draft law

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset plenum during a vote on the coalition's 'reasonableness' bill, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin in the Knesset plenum during a vote on the coalition's 'reasonableness' bill, July 24, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin are leading a push to freeze any future legislation of the judicial overhaul for an entire year, the Israel Hayom news site reports, citing senior coalition officials.

The goal is to calm the anti-overhaul movement and create the space needed to pass a controversial law regulating military draft exemptions for Haredi men, a law that the ultra-Orthodox parties are relentlessly demanding on the basis of a Likud promise in the coalition agreements. In recent days, Likud officials have reportedly told the Haredi parties that the public atmosphere is too volatile to legislate that law.

Netanyahu and Levin are waiting for the approval of President Isaac Herzog, hoping the latter will give his blessing and that this will formalize the freeze and cause the protests to weaken, the report says.

Responding to a report that the Haredi parties have demanded a halt to the overhaul, an unnamed government minister is quoted by Israel Hayom as saying: “The Haredim are trying to take credit for a move that is already underway, to soften the criticism of them on the matter of the enlistment law.”

Report: Haredi parties demand halt to judicial overhaul, even if means Justice Minister Levin quits

Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu with MK Moshe Gafni  at a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset on December 28, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Likud's Benjamin Netanyahu with MK Moshe Gafni at a vote in the assembly hall of the Knesset on December 28, 2022 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Haredi coalition partners are demanding that the entire legislative process of the government’s judicial overhaul be halted indefinitely and only be advanced if there is broad agreement, a report says.

Citing the head of one of the ultra-Orthodox Knesset factions, the Kikar HaShabbat news site reports that the Haredi coalition partners are deeply troubled by Netanyahu’s conduct and feel like he’s trying to deflect criticism from himself to the Haredi community, including by issuing a statement against recent incidents of discrimination against women by ultra-Orthodox bus drivers and passengers, and against the backdrop of efforts to pass a bill regulating military exemptions for Haredi men.

The report says the Haredi parties believe the overhaul has divided Israelis too much and are even willing to see Justice Minister Yariv Levin quit his post, as he’s threatened to do if the bills aren’t advanced at a quick enough pace.

The report adds that if more overhaul bills are brought for votes without the agreement of the opposition, the Haredi parties will vote against them.

Heads of public hospitals say they’re on verge of bankrupcy, urge government help

The directors of Israel’s 11 public hospitals strongly warn the Health Ministry that they are on the verge of financial collapse.

In a letter the directors sent to Health Minister Moshe Arbel and Health Ministry Director General Moshe Bar Siman Tov late last week, they said that the hospitals’ corporations will go bankrupt and treatment of patients will be impaired if something is not done immediately to shore up the hospitals’ budgets.

The hospital directors explained that the weakened new Israeli shekel (NIS) is a major reason for the budgetary woes. The hospitals purchase their supplies and medications in foreign currency, which has led to huge price increases. This in turn has caused budget deficits in the tens to hundreds of millions of shekels.

“We are being asked by the Health Ministry to curtail activity. The public hospital corporations will go bankrupt. The requested budgetary restrictions will lead to staff layoffs, lengthening of shifts (which are already long), and diminished quality of care,” the hospital directors’ letter stated.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the directors, who are particularly concerned about the public medical centers in the periphery, are asking for an urgent meeting with Arbel and Bar Siman Tov to discuss possible solutions. It is reported that a similar request two months ago was ignored.

Hamas says it has seized Shin Bet reconnaissance drone that crashed in Gaza

The Hamas terror group says it has seized an Israeli reconnaissance drone that crashed in the Gaza Strip yesterday.

The terror group publishes a video showing the captured aircraft, an Orbiter 1K model.

Yesterday, Palestinian media reported that the drone crashed in the Zaytoun neighborhood of Gaza City.

The drone had been operated by the Shin Bet security agency, rather than the Israel Defense Forces.

The agency declines to comment on the incident.

Small, off-the-shelf drones used by the military for simple reconnaissance missions crash with relative frequency in enemy territory.

Police appeal release to house arrest of main suspect in killing of Palestinian

Yehiel Indore, who is suspected of shooting and killing 19-year-old Palestinian Qusai Jamal Matan in the West Bank village of Burqa, arrives for a Jerusalem District Court hearing on August 14, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)
Yehiel Indore, who is suspected of shooting and killing 19-year-old Palestinian Qusai Jamal Matan in the West Bank village of Burqa, arrives for a Jerusalem District Court hearing on August 14, 2023. (Chaim Goldberg/Flash90)

Police file an appeal to the Jerusalem District Court against the release to house arrest of Yehiel Indore, an Israeli man suspected of killing a Palestinian during a recent clash in the West Bank.

Indore is suspected of fatally shooting 19-year-old Qusai Jamal Matan during a clash on Burqa on August 4. Indore was seriously injured in the incident, allegedly from a rock thrown by a Palestinian that hit his face, and has spent most of his time in custody in a hospital before being transferred on Sunday to a Prison Service medical facility.

Earlier today, the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered Indore released to house arrest, rejecting police’s request to keep him in custody.

Likud minister: Former top officials backing reservist protest should ‘rot in prison’

Likud MK David Amsalem (left) reacts during a discussion and a vote on the state budget at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud MK David Amsalem (left) reacts during a discussion and a vote on the state budget at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Regional Cooperation Minister David Amsalem of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party claims that the Israel Defense Forces is seeing a “rebellion” in its ranks, telling Army Radio: “In any normal army, you treat rebels like rebels should be treated.”

Amsalem castigates IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Air Force chief Tomer Bar over the thousands of reservists, including many pilots, who have said they will stop their volunteer duty in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul.

“This is happening on their watch,” Amsalem says. “This will enter the history books. People will learn in 20 and 30 years who the chief of staff was and who the Air Force chief was and what happened.”

He says public figures backing the anti-government protests should be arrested and imprisoned for life.

“One of the Shin Bet’s jobs is to act against the undermining of state institutions,” he claims. “The head of the Shin Bet needs to arrest [former Supreme Court president] Aharon Barak, [former prime minister] Ehud Barak, [former IDF chief of staff Dan] Halutz and their ilk today, and I believe they should rot in prison until the end of their lives.”

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid reacts, saying: “The IDF commanders and fighters aren’t rebels, they’re wonderful Israeli patriots keeping us alive. But what would you call a minister whose life mission is to divide the country, to inflame hate and violence and racism, to corrupt the public service with jobs for associates, and to lead us to civil war? If this isn’t a rebellion and treason against the state, what is?”

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