The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
Polls indicate far-right split could harm Netanyahu chances of forming next gov’t
Polls published today indicate that plans by far-right Itamar Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit to run separately from Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism could damage Benjamin Netanyahu’s chances of forming a government after the November elections.
The polls also indicate no bump for the Benny Gantz, Gideon Sa’ar alliance, National Unity, since the addition of former IDF chief of staff Gadi Eisenkot.
According to a Channel 12 poll, if they run separately, Ben Gvir will get 9 seats and Smotrich will fail to pass the electoral threshold, leaving the pro-Netanyahu bloc on 58 seats in the 120-seat Knesset.
If the two run together, they will garner 11 seats and the pro-Netanyahu bloc edges up to 59 seats.
Channel 12 forecasts Likud with 34; Yesh Atid 23; National Unity 13; Otzma Yehudit 9; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 7; Meretz 6; Yisrael Beytenu 5; Labor 5; Joint List 5; and Ra’am 5.
Both Religious Zionism and Ayelet Shaked’s Zionist Spirit fail to cross the threshold.
A poll by the Kan public broadcaster has Smotrich’s party just scraping in with 4 seats, pushing Netanyahu’s bloc up to 60 seats, 1 short of a majority.
According to Kan, Likud will win 33; Yesh Atid 22; National Unity 14; Otzma Yehudit 8; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 7; Yisrael Beytenu 5; Meretz 5; Labor 5; Joint List 5; Religious Zionism 4; and Ra’am 4.
Zionist Spirit again does not make the cutoff.
By contrast, a Channel 13 poll sees both Otzma Yehudit and Religious Zionism with a strong showing, although largely at the expense of Likud.
The Channel 13 poll gives Likud 30; Yesh Atid 23; National Unity 12; Otzma Yehudit 9; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 7; Religious Zionism 7; Yisrael Beytenu 6; Labor 5; Joint List 5; Meretz 4 and Ra’am 4.
The pro-Netanyahu bloc is on 61 in this poll. Shaked’s Zionist Spirit falls below the threshold again.
With Israel’s relatively high electoral threshold, smaller parties often feel the need to merge with each other to ensure they get into the Knesset. Ballots cast for parties that don’t garner at least 3.25% of the vote are considered lost, often leading to tens of thousands of wasted votes.
While the polls are often not accurate, they do influence the considerations of the politicians.
Report: 50 charter flights booked to take Israeli pilgrims to Uman in Ukraine
More than 1,000 Hasidic pilgrims are already in Uman in Ukraine and some 50 charter flights are booked to take others there ahead of the Jewish New Year, Channel 12 reports.
Efforts to reach Uman come despite both Ukraine and Israel warning pilgrims not to come this year due to the war.
Last month, Ukraine’s embassy in Israel issued a statement saying that, due to the ongoing war, all tourists are banned from the country and that celebrations over the Jewish New Year, which falls this year at the end of September, were “uncertain.”
Nevertheless, many were undeterred.
The report says the charter flights will take the pilgrims to Moldova and they will then try and make their way overland to Ukraine.
Rabbi Nachman was an 18th-century luminary and founder of the Bratslav Hasidic movement. The city of Uman, the site of the rabbi’s grave, normally sees some 30,000 visitors, most of them from Israel, over the Rosh Hashanah holiday. More pilgrims also arrive from other Jewish communities around the world.
Jewish community leaders in Uman have insisted that Uman is far from the front lines and that a safe arrangement can be found for the pilgrimage.
Renewed fighting in Ethiopia not expected to affect emigration efforts to Israel
The renewed fighting in northern Ethiopia will not have an immediate effect on the ongoing emigration of eligible Ethiopians to Israel, officials say.
Following years of delays, late last year Israel approved the immigration of some 3,000 Ethiopian nationals who were eligible for Israeli citizenship. Initial flights began in June, but thousands remain in Ethiopia, waiting to come to Israel.
The Jewish Agency, which largely oversees the immigration from Ethiopia, says its work is ongoing but that any change to the pace would require a government decision.
“Unlike other countries, aliyah from Ethiopia is determined by the government, not the Jewish Agency for Israel,” a spokeswoman says, using the Hebrew term for Jewish immigration to Israel.
The Immigration Ministry says there is no immediate change to the rate of immigration and that the fighting is still largely contained to northern Ethiopia, far from the camps in Addis Ababa where the prospective immigrants are staying.
“Hopefully, when a new government is formed, we will pass a government resolution to bring over all of those eligible for immigration and to finally shut the waiting camps,” a spokesperson for Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata says.
Netanyahu says emerging Iran deal ‘casts a shadow on our security and future’
Former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reprises his staunch opposition to the 2015 signing of the Iran nuclear deal, saying that the emerging new agreement is even worse than before.
“The terrible deal with Iran… casts a heavy shadow on our security and our future,” Netanyahu tells reporters in Tel Aviv.
Aided by a presentation, Netanyahu points to three elements of the deal that are particularly problematic: it gives “hundreds of billions of dollars” to Iranian “terror,” it “gives Iran an advanced centrifuge network” with upgraded enrichment ability, and it creates what he calls “international immunity” for the Iranian nuclear program.
Netanyahu also criticizes the deal for a number of absent conditions, including a demand to stop terrorist activity, stop the development of ballistic weapons necessary to carry a warhead, stop nuclear weapon development, and effective international oversight.
Earlier in the day, Netanyahu went on Fox News to explain his opposition to the deal.
יחיד בדורו! @netanyahu pic.twitter.com/JUw2BjeSU9
— נהגי הפרדות (@ZMC1915) August 24, 2022
Biden announces long-awaited plan to forgive $10,000 in US student debt
US President Joe Biden announces his long-awaited plan to deliver on his campaign promise to provide $10,000 in student debt cancellation for millions of Americans — and up to $10,000 more for those with the greatest financial need.
Borrowers who earn less than $125,000 a year, or families earning less than $250,000, would be eligible for the $10,000 loan forgiveness, Biden announced in a tweet. For recipients of Pell Grants, which are reserved for undergraduates with the most significant financial need, the federal government would cancel up to an additional $10,000 in federal loan debt.
Biden is also extending a pause on federal student loan payments for what he called the “final time” through the end of 2022. He was set to deliver remarks this afternoon at the White House to unveil his proposal to the public.
If his plan survives legal challenges that are almost certain to come, it could offer a windfall to a swath of the nation in the run-up to this fall’s midterm elections. More than 43 million people have federal student debt, with an average balance of $37,667, according to federal data. Nearly a third of borrowers owe less than $10,000, and about half owe less than $20,000. The White House estimates that Biden’s announcement would erase the federal student debt of about 20 million people.
Iran says it received US response on final nuclear deal proposal
Iran has received a response from the United States to its proposals on a final European Union draft for the revival of the 2015 nuclear deal, the foreign ministry says.
“The process of carefully reviewing the US opinions has begun and the Islamic Republic of Iran will announce its opinion in this context to the [EU] coordinator after it completes its review,” foreign ministry spokesman Nasser Kanani says.
Likud ask AG to probe Palestinian Authority interference in upcoming election
The Likud party is asking the attorney general to probe reports that the Palestinian Authority is meddling in Israel’s upcoming election.
The request comes after Hebrew media reported that the PA’s General Intelligence chief Majed Faraj met with leaders of the majority-Arab Joint List party, in an effort to convince them to rejoin forces with the Islamist Ra’am party.
The reports said PA officials stressed to their Israeli counterparts that they do not intend to intervene in the November election and that any meetings with Arab lawmakers were not for that purpose.
But Likud says the meeting amounts to “a plot to influence the results of the elections and establish a government that will be supported by Ra’am and the Joint List.”
WHO: COVID deaths down by 15%, cases fall nearly everywhere
The number of coronavirus deaths reported worldwide fell by 15% in the past week while new infections dropped by 9%, the World Health Organization says.
In its latest weekly assessment of the COVID-19 pandemic, the UN health agency says there were 5.3 million new cases and more than 14,000 deaths reported last week. WHO says the number of new infections declined in every world region except the Western Pacific.
Deaths jumped by more than 183% in Africa but fell by nearly a third in Europe and by 15% in the Americas. Still, WHO warns that COVID-19 numbers are likely severely underestimated, as many countries have dropped their testing and surveillance protocols to monitor the virus, meaning that there are far fewer cases being detected.
WHO says the predominant COVID-19 variant worldwide is Omicron subvariant BA.5, which accounts for more than 70% of virus sequences shared with the world’s biggest public viral database. Omicron variants account for 99% of all sequences reported in the last month.
Ethiopia says it shot down plane from Sudan carrying arms for rebels
Ethiopia’s air force says it had shot down a plane carrying weapons for the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that had encroached on the country’s airspace via Sudan, state media reports.
“The airplane which violated our airspace from Sudan… and aimed to supply weapons to the terror group was shot down by our heroic air force,” the Ethiopian News Agency quotes armed forces Major General Tesfaye Ayalew as saying.
The date of the incident, the type of aircraft and how it was downed are not detailed.
The plane was “believed to be a property of historical enemies who want Ethiopia’s weakness and for years have been supporting TPLF,” the news agency report says, without elaborating.
#BreakingNews :-Ethiopian Ministry of Defense disclosed that a plane that was carrying weapons for the terrorist group #TPLF, which entered the country through #Sudan by violating the #Ethiopian airspace, has been shot down by Ethiopian air force. https://t.co/4hqX8Vg8n7
— EBC NEWS (@Ebcnewsz) August 24, 2022
The claim was made as fighting between the Tigrayan rebels and government forces erupted in northern Ethiopia for the first time in five months, shattering a truce and dealing a blow to hopes for peace talks to end the 21-month conflict.
Hundreds of Maccabi Haifa fans gather to welcome team at airport
Hundreds of Maccabi Haifa fans are gathered at Ben Gurion airport to welcome back the soccer team after it qualified for the Champions League group stage.
Fans are singing, dancing and waving green team scarves as the players return from their game against Red Star Belgrade.
Maccabi qualified for the premier tournament for the first time in over a decade last night, beating Red Star 5-4 on aggregate.
In dramatic style, Maccabi’s win came from a 90th-minute own-goal from the Serbian side’s Milan Pakvok, clinching the 2-2 tie in Belgrade after Maccabi had won the first leg at home 3-2.
טירוף בנתבג. אוהדי מכבי חיפה הגיעו לקבל את הקבוצה שעלתה לליגת האלופות (צילום: נדב עבאס) pic.twitter.com/c2UapRGX8M
— Asslan Khalil ???? (@KhalilAsslan) August 24, 2022
Gantz to press US over emerging Iran deal
Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he will present Israel’s opposition to the emerging Iran deal when he travels to the US tomorrow.
Gantz says the visit is “aimed at conveying a clear message regarding the negotiations between the powers and Iran on the nuclear agreement: An agreement that does not set back Iran’s capabilities by several years and keep it limited for many years to come — is an agreement that will harm global and regional security,” Gantz says.
“Iran’s rush toward a nuclear (weapon) must be significantly pushed back,” Gantz says.
“We will discuss the issue with the Americans, and at the same time, Israel will continue to build its strength and capabilities — so that in any situation, it will know how to defend itself,” the defense minister says.
Shas slams Michaeli for plan to run Tel Aviv light rail on Shabbat
The ultra-Orthodox Shas party pans Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli for pushing to have the Tel Aviv light rail run on Shabbat, calling it an “election ploy.”
Michaeli is trying “to blur her complete failure in all respects during her time in office with a cynical election campaign at the expense of our beloved Shabbat and the Jewish nature of the state,” Shas says.
Hamas rages at Spanish tourist who posed in ‘immodest’ clothes at Al-Aqsa Mosque
The Hamas terror group that rules the Gaza Strip launches a campaign against a Spanish tourist who posted pictures in what the group called “immodest” clothes while visiting the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.
The young woman is pictured wearing a flowing green dress with a low neckline. In one picture she reveals a leg through a slit in the dress.
Several media outlets associated with the terror group run items on the woman, with Hamas spokesman Hazem Kassam calling her a “Zionist extremist.”
“A Zionist extremist desecrated the blessed Al-Aqsa compound and published revealing photos on it — something that constitutes an unprecedented provocation against the feelings of the Palestinian people and a continuation of the defilement of the purity of Al-Aqsa, as well as Zionist contempt for the entire Arab people,” Kassam said.
مستوطنة صهيونية تلتقط صوراً أمام قبة الصخرة بلباس عاري خلال اقتحامها باحات الأقصى مع مجموعة من المستوطنين !! pic.twitter.com/dKmKwCFaqI
— محمد عبد ???????? (@Qreaqa2M) August 24, 2022
Israel’s Kan public broadcaster said the unidentified woman was a Christian tourist from Spain.
The Temple Mount is the holiest place for Jews, as the site of the biblical temples, and Al-Aqsa is the third-holiest shrine in Islam, turning the area into a major flashpoint in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
First US ambassador to Sudan in 25 years arrives in Khartoum
The first US ambassador to Sudan in 25 years takes up his post in the latest easing of ties since Washington removed Khartoum from its state sponsors of terrorism list.
Ties between the United States and Sudan were severely strained under the three-decade rule of ousted president Omar al-Bashir, with Washington slapping crippling economic sanctions on Khartoum.
In 1993, the US blacklisted Sudan as a state sponsor of terrorism as Bashir’s regime hosted Al-Qaeda founder Osama bin Laden, who resided in the country in 1992-1996.
“Ambassador John Godfrey arrived today in Khartoum, the first US Ambassador to Sudan in nearly 25 years,” the US embassy says in a statement.
Relations with Washington eased under Sudan’s now-ousted transitional government led by former prime minister Abdalla Hamdok, who took office following Bashir’s 2019 ouster on the back of mass protests against his rule.
In December 2019, former US secretary of state Mike Pompeo said the United States would appoint an ambassador to Khartoum.
In May 2020, Sudan named an ambassador to the US. Later that year, Washington removed Khartoum from its blacklist. Among the steps pledged by Sudan was an agreement to normalize relations with Israel as part of the Abraham Accords.
UK PM Johnson visits Kyiv to mark Ukraine Independence Day
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is in Kyiv, hailing the “strong will of Ukrainians to resist” Russia’s invasion, as the nation celebrates its Independence Day and marks the milestone of six months of war.
“There’s a strong will of Ukrainians to resist. And that is what (Russian President Vladimir) Putin failed to understand,” Johnson tells reporters during a surprise visit. “You defend your right to live in peace, in freedom, and that’s why Ukraine will win.”
What happens in Ukraine matters to us all.
That is why I am in Kyiv today.
That is why the UK will continue to stand with our Ukrainian friends.
I believe Ukraine can and will win this war. pic.twitter.com/FIovnqJGTS
— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) August 24, 2022
Michaeli orders Tel Aviv light rail to look into possibility of running on Shabbat
Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli orders Israel’s Metropolitan Mass Transit System to assess the possibility of the under-construction Tel Aviv light rail operating on Shabbat, Ynet reports.
The order from the Labor party leader currently only relates to looking at the issue on a contractual and budgetary basis, the report says.
Nevertheless, the issue of public transportation on the Jewish Sabbath is a touchy political issue in the country.
Minister calls for disbanding religious battalion after troops beat Palestinians
Israel’s minister of Diaspora affairs in a tweet calls for an end to the religious Netzah Yehuda battalion after several soldiers are filmed beating two Palestinian detainees.
“The Netzah Yehuda battalion needs to be disbanded,” says Labor’s Nachman Shai, who served as IDF spokesman for a number of years.
Soldiers in the battalion of the Kfir Infantry Brigade, which operates in the West Bank, have been at the center of numerous controversies connected to right-wing extremism and violence against Palestinians over the years.
Shaked revokes visa of leading Jordanian cleric accused of incitement
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked says she has revoked a visa granted to a leading Jordanian cleric after he gave several inciting speeches while visiting Israel.
“The sheik’s entry visa was issued by COGAT,” she says referring to the military liaison with the Palestinians.
“Following the violation of the visa conditions and the serious incitement against the state, I ordered his entry into Israel to be prohibited,” Shaked says.
Sheikh Taraad Al-Faiz reportedly gave several sermons to Bedouin communities in which he incited against Israel and supported terror attacks during a visit last month.
Lapid slams Iran deal: Won’t prevent nuclear Iran, gives Tehran $100 billion a year to spread terror
Prime Minister Yair Lapid slams the emerging Iran nuclear deal, saying the negotiators are letting Tehran manipulate the talks, suggesting that the apparent terms don’t meet US President Biden’s own red lines, and assessing that it won’t stop Iran from becoming a nuclear state.
“The countries of the West draw a red line, the Iranians ignore it, and the red line moves,” Lapid told reporters at a press conference in Jerusalem. An emerging deal, Lapid said, “does not meet the standards set by President Biden himself: preventing Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”
Calling it a “bad deal,” he said it will give Tehran $100 billion per year to “spread terror around the globe.”
“Israel is not against any agreement. We are against this agreement because it is a bad one. Because it cannot be accepted as it is written right now,” Lapid says in a briefing with foreign correspondents in Israel.
“On the table right now is a bad deal. It would give Iran a hundred billion dollars a year. This money will not build schools or hospitals. This is a hundred billion dollars a year that will be used to undermine stability in the Middle East and spread terror around the globe,” Lapid says.
“This money will fund the Revolutionary Guards. It will fund the Basij who oppress the Iranian people. It will fund more attacks on American bases in the Middle East. It will be used to strengthen Hezbollah, Hamas, and Islamic Jihad,” he says.
Lapid is careful not to openly criticize the US, noting that “we have an open dialogue with the American administration on all matters of disagreement.”
“I appreciate their willingness to listen and work together: the United States is and will remain our closest ally, and President Biden is one of the best friends Israel has ever known,” he says.
Lapid reiterates that “if a deal is signed, it does not obligate Israel. We will act to prevent Iran from becoming a nuclear state.”
Iran denies any link with groups hit in US strikes in Syria
Iran’s foreign ministry is denying any link with groups targeted by US airstrikes in Syria, contradicting a claim by Washington.
A ministry statement strongly condemns the “terrorist act” by the United States, saying it represents a “violation of the sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity of Syria.”
‘Large-scale’ fighting shatters year-long lull in Ethiopia’s Tigray
Ethiopia’s military has launched a “large-scale” offensive for the first time in a year in the country’s northern Tigray region, Tigray authorities allege today while the government counters that Tigray forces attacked first.
The renewed conflict in Tigray is a significant setback to mediation efforts and humanitarian work to reach millions of people starved of food and other needs.
The claims follows months of regrouping by one of Africa’s largest militaries. Ethiopia’s military this week warned the public against any reporting of troop movements.
The Tigray conflict began in November 2020, killing thousands of people in Africa’s second most populous country, and it calmed in recent months amid slow-moving mediation efforts. But last week, the spokeswoman for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed asserted to journalists that Tigray authorities were “refusing to accept peace talks.”
Boaz Bismuth: Netanyahu is greatest statesman in the world
Former Israel Hayom editor Boaz Bismuth, who is running on the Likud slate in the upcoming elections, says party leader Benjamin Netanyahu is the greatest statesman in the world.
In an interview with the Walla news site, Bismuth is asked about the fact that loyalty to Netanyahu is the main requirement of Likud members these days.
Bismuth doesn’t deny the assertion.
“It’s not because we are idol worshipers, but we admire the leader, we think he’s the best,” Bismuth says.
“Furthermore, we have the luxury as Israeli citizens, not just of having the best politician in Israel, but the greatest statesman in the world,” Bismuth says.
Bismuth says that if he is still around in 30 or 40 years he will brag to his great-grandchildren that “I knew Netanyahu.”
Bismuth will be placed at 27 on the list for Likud, which is expected to receive between 30 and 35 seats in the next Knesset.
US giving Ukraine $3 billion in military aid for years ahead
The Biden administration is expected to announce today an additional roughly $3 billion in aid to train and equip Ukrainian forces to fight for years to come, US officials say.
The officials tell The Associated Press that the package will fund contracts for as many as three types of drones and other weapons, ammunition and equipment that may not see the battlefront for a year or two.
The total of the aid package — it is being provided under the Ukraine Security Assistance Initiative — could change, but not likely by much. Officials say it will include money for the small, hand-launched Puma drones, the longer-endurance Scan Eagle surveillance drones, which are launched by catapult, and, for the first time, the British Vampire drone system, which can be launched off ships. Several officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the aid before its public release.
As Russia’s war on Ukraine drags on, US security assistance is shifting to a longer-term campaign that also will likely keep more American military troops in Europe into the future, US officials say. Today is Ukraine’s independence day holiday and the six-month point in the war.
Israeli forces foil effort to smuggle in firearms from Jordan
Israeli security forces foiled an attempt to smuggle several firearms into Israel from Jordan near the Dead Sea, the military and police say.
According to the Israel Defense Forces, soldiers operating security cameras identified four suspects along the border overnight, near the town of Neot HaKikar.
Officers and troops dispatched to the scene seize two bags containing three M-16 rifles and three handguns, police say.
No suspects are arrested.
Saudi paper: Israeli F-35’s penetrated Iran airspace several times in last 2 months
Israeli F-35 stealth fighters penetrated Iranian airspace several times in the last two months, a Saudi-run news outlet reports.
The unverified report in London-based Elaph says the jets successfully evaded Russian and Iranian radars during the exercises.
The report says Israel and the US also carried out secret exercises over the Red Sea simulating a strike on Iran from the sea and air and the seizing of Iranian warships.
In January Elaph, citing the same unnamed source, reported on Israel carrying out massive refueling drills over the Mediterranean, also aimed at practicing for an Iran strike.
The report comes as the US and world powers edge closer to reentering the Iran nuclear deal, which Israel opposes.
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