The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says that Israel is heading towards closing down commerce throughout the country due to a continued rise in infections.
“We are going towards closing trade, in accordance with the data,” he tells the Kan public broadcaster, referring to the more than 2,200 daily cases confirmed yesterday.
“As a government, we made decisions about very clear criteria for starting the ‘tightened restraint’ restrictions — 2,500 patients per day or a basic reproduction number over 1.32.”
The basic reproduction number — a key epidemiological benchmark representing the average number of people each virus carrier infects — currently stands at 1.16, according to a taskforce report from this morning.
Edelstein says there is complacency among much of the public, with many feeling the pandemic is close to being over due to the first batch of vaccines arriving.
“The situation won’t be easy for the coming months,” he says.
However, Edelstein promises that the education system will continue to operate in low- and medium-infection areas designated as “green” or “yellow.”
He confirms he intends to get vaccinated on Saturday.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz plans to appoint MK Eitan Ginzburg to chair the powerful Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee as a replacement for MK Zvi Hauser of the breakaway Derech Eretz party, a day after Gantz announced that he was firing Hauser from the job.
Gantz, who leads the Blue and White party, said he was removing Hauser and Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel from their posts as the two lawmakers have recently said they will join with Gideon Sa’ar, a rebel Likud MK who is planning to form his own new party.
Ginzburg’s appointment requires approval by the committee members and he will also remain as chair of the Knesset House Committee.
The West Bank and Gaza saw 2,307 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours as the outbreak continues to worsen in Palestinian-controlled areas, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry reports.
Four West Bank Palestinian governorates — Nablus, Tulkarem, Hebron and Bethlehem — are currently under total lockdown. A nightly curfew has been imposed in the rest of the West Bank’s Palestinian-controlled areas.
According to the ministry, 1,598 new infections were identified among West Bank Palestinians. Around 22% of tests came back positive, indicating wide, undetected spread.
In Gaza, which saw 709 new coronavirus cases, the positivity rate is far higher, around 37%.
The number of critical coronavirus patients in Gaza — 226 — exceeds the number of beds designated for their care. The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says that it is placing coronavirus patients alongside regular patients in every hospital department now that the areas designated for use by COVID-19 patients have been filled.
— Aaron Boxerman
Tunisia has no plans to match Morocco’s decision to recognize Israel, Prime Minister Hichem Mechichi says, insisting that establishing relations with the Jewish state is “not on the agenda.”
Last week, Morocco became the fourth country in the Arab League to recognize Israel since August, in a flurry of diplomatic deals brokered by outgoing US President Donald Trump.
The United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan have also recently normalized ties with Israel as part of a push that weakens the Arab world’s previously united front over the Palestinians’ struggle for statehood.
“We respect Morocco’s choice, Morocco is a sister country that we love very much,” Mechichi tells the France 24 broadcaster in an interview. But, he says, “for Tunisia, the question is not on the agenda.”
Mechichi says he has not been approached by the Trump administration about the issue.
“Every country has its own reality, its own truth and its own diplomacy, which it considers best for its people,” he says.
Neighboring Algeria has taken a less charitable view of the deal struck with arch-rival Morocco, under which Washington recognized Morocco’s sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara region in exchange for Rabat normalizing ties with Israel.
Algeria, which backs the Polisario independence movement in Western Sahara, has said the move is part of “foreign maneuvers which aim to destabilize Algeria.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to tap the current deputy Mossad head as the spy agency’s next chief, according to a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office.
Netanyahu’s pick is not named in the statement — only identified by the first letter of his first name, Dalet — since Mossad officials aren’t usually named publicly unless they are formally appointed to head the organization. Until recent years, even the Mossad chiefs had tended to remain nameless in the press during their tenure, although the current head Yossi Cohen has long been publicly identified.
“Dalet” is “a Mossad member with much credit and experience,” the statement says.
The appointment must be confirmed by a special committee for senior appointments known as the Goldberg Committee.
Top US infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci says President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris should be vaccinated for COVID-19 as soon as possible.
Speaking to ABC’s “Good Morning America,” Fauci says: “For security reasons, I really feel strongly that we should get them vaccinated as soon as we possibly can.” He adds he’d like to see Biden “fully protected as he enters into the presidency in January.”
Fauci says that while President Donald Trump probably still has antibodies to the virus that will protect him for at least several months, he should get the vaccine as well to be “doubly sure.” Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19 in early October.
Fauci says Vice President Mike Pence should get vaccinated, too. “You still want to protect people who are very important to our country right now,” he says.
Top officials from a major Muslim country in Asia that has no diplomatic ties with Israel visited the Jewish state two weeks ago to discuss the potential normalization of relations, the pro-Netanyahu Israel Hayom daily reports.
The report says the name of the country is currently barred from publication for diplomatic and security reasons.
It says the delegation, which met Israeli officials in Tel Aviv, was headed by the senior adviser to the country’s leader.
Morocco last week became the fourth Arab nation to establish formal ties with Israel since August, following the UAE, Bahrain and Sudan.
Reports in recent days have speculated that Oman, which praised the Israel-Morocco deal, could be next and that Indonesia, the world’s most populous Muslim nation, is eager to have public ties with Israel.
MK Yifat Shasha-Biton becomes the first member of the ruling Likud party to defect to Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, which was announced recently by the prominent Netanyahu rival.
Shasha-Biton has in recent months gone against her party’s leadership and thwarted and criticized many decision on coronavirus restrictions as the head of the Knesset’s Coronavirus Committee, enraging the prime minister and his allies.
She was widely speculated to be considering joining Sa’ar, whose fledgling party is predicted to become a major force after the next elections, which will likely be called over the next week.
— יפעת שאשא ביטון (@sbyifat) December 15, 2020
A man has entered Shamir Medical Center near Tel Aviv, killed his wife — a terminally ill patient — and then committed suicide, Hebrew-language media reports.
The reports say the 76-year-old man broke into the hospital, also known as Assaf Harofeh, with a gun. He shot his wife dead and then shot himself.
The bullet grazed the leg of a patient in an adjacent room, the reports say.
Police are on their way to the scene.
The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issues a positively worded briefing document about the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine ahead of a meeting by experts on whether to grant it emergency approval.
The FDA is upbeat on the vaccine, saying there are “no specific safety concerns identified that would preclude issuance of an EUA (emergency use authorization)” and confirms an overall efficacy of 94.1 percent.
Israel’s car technology company Mobileye publishes an almost hour-long unedited video showing its self-driving car roaming the German city of Munich.
A statement from the company says the video — which features the vehicle navigating both urban areas and a local highway — “demonstrates the company’s unmatched ability to drive AVs [autonomous driving test vehicles] ‘everywhere.'”
Mobileye credits its crowd-sourced, high-definition mapping technology known as Road Experience Management.
Alongside the full video, the company publishes a shorter version with some key maneuvers.
The European Union’s medicines agency says it has moved up a meeting to assess the Pfizer-BioNTech coronavirus vaccine for provisional approval in the 27-nation bloc to December 21.
The agency says it made the decision after receiving additional data from the vaccine makers.
The announcement comes after Germany’s health minister and others publicly demanded that the agency move quicker than its previously planned December 29 meeting at which it was to discuss approving the vaccine.
The vaccine is already being given to thousands of people in Britain, Canada and the United States.
After a filibuster by the ruling Likud party, a Blue and White-pushed bill to dissolve the Knesset will not be voted on today or this week, as expected, Hebrew-language media reports say.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin had scheduled the first reading vote for the end of today’s plenum session, which has been cut short due to the Hanukkah festival. He has been accused by members of Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s party of acting as a partisan political player.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party opposes the bill since it contains clauses introducing a reduction of about 10% to campaign funding and imposing transparency rules for campaign advertising.
The Knesset is expected to dissolve anyway next week, whether the bill is approved in three readings or not, unless an unlikely compromise is reached regarding the state budget that will prevent the parliament from dissolving automatically on December 23.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu didn’t inform Defense Minister Benny Gantz about his choice for new Mossad chief, amid deep distrust between the two, Hebrew-language media reports.
Gantz is said to have called Netanyahu and expressed his fury.
Formally, the prime minister isn’t obligated to inform the defense minister of that decision ahead of time, but that is the accepted practice.
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana has decided to tap Border Police Commander Yaakov “Kobi” Shabtai as the next police commissioner, Channel 13 reports, citing sources in Ohana’s ministry.
Several candidates for the top job — which has been vacant for two years amid an extended political crisis — are being summoned to Ohana’s office to hear the decision.
The High Court has recently ordered the government to appoint a permanent police chief by the end of the year. The force has been led for the past two years by an acting commissioner, Motti Cohen, who wasn’t expected to be given the permanent post.
A man who last month shot dead an individual he said was trying to steal his car in the southern city of Arad will be tried for murder, Channel 12 reports.
Aryeh Schiff, 70, says he saw a suspicious person trying to break into his vehicle in the November 29 incident and fired shots toward him using a licensed gun he had in his possession.
He contends he didn’t aim his weapon at the suspected burglar and did not mean to harm him. An investigation has indicated that he was without his glasses.
The slain man is said to be a member of the Al-Atrash Bedouin clan.
Today’s report says prosecutors have summoned Schiff’s lawyers for a pre-trial hearing, adding that the summons states they intend to file murder charges.
Top US diplomat Mike Pompeo accuses Russia of continuing to “threaten Mediterranean stability” and sowing “chaos, conflict and division” in countries around the region.
In a statement on “Russian Influence in the Mediterranean,” the outgoing Secretary of State responds to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, who he says “accused the United States of playing political games” in the region.
Lavrov “again gets the facts wrong and attempts to rewrite history,” Pompeo says, denouncing Moscow’s actions in Libya, Greece and Syria.
In Libya, he says, the US “supports the formation of an inclusive government that can secure the country and meet the economic and humanitarian needs of the Libyan people,” and is working with the United Nations towards that goal.
“Russia on the other hand undermines Mediterranean domestic politics, supports Syria’s brutal dictator, and fuels Libya’s conflict with its proxy. Who is playing games here?” he adds on Twitter.
He elaborates in the statement, saying: “Russia continues to threaten Mediterranean stability using a variety of techniques to spread disinformation, undermine national sovereignty, and sow chaos, conflict, and division within countries throughout the region.”
A joint US-Israeli delegation is set to visit the kingdom of Morocco next week on the first-ever nonstop flight from Tel Aviv to Rabat, a senior US administration official tells The Times of Israel.
A senior US delegation, headed by President Donald Trump’s senior adviser Jared Kushner and the administration’s envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict Avi Berkowitz, is scheduled to land in Israel next Monday.
The following day, they will be joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, and other Israeli officials for the first-ever flight to the Moroccan capital. The historic trip will occur less than two weeks after the North African Arab country announced that it was establishing diplomatic relations with the Jewish state.
Israeli media are expected to be able to accompany the delegation.
— Raphael Ahren
UK Chief Rabbi Ephraim Mirvis publishes an op-ed in the Guardian newspaper denouncing the widely documented human rights violations by China against its Uighur Muslim minority in the Xinjiang province, saying he “can no longer remain silent” about the matter.
“Elie Wiesel once said: ‘Whoever listens to a witness becomes a witness.’ Having also heard similar accounts from others, and reflecting upon the deep pain of Jewish persecution throughout the ages, I feel compelled to speak out,” Mirvis writes, likening the plight of the Uighurs to that of Jews during the Holocaust and later in the Soviet Union.
“Can it be true that, in our modern, sophisticated world, men and women are still beaten if they refuse to renounce their faith? That women are forced to abort their unborn children and are then sterilised to prevent them from becoming pregnant again? That forced imprisonment, the separation of children from their parents and a culture of intimidation and fear have become the norm?” he asks.
“I have met researchers and campaigners to find out whether there might be any hope of positive change. I have written letters and raised the matter in private with key figures. With every interaction, I have been left feeling that any improvement in the desperate situation is impossible.
“It is clear that there must be an urgent, independent and unfettered investigation into what is happening. Those responsible must be held to account and Uighurs able to escape must be given asylum.
“Alongside these responses and to help bring them about, every one of us shares in the responsibility to act. Today I urge you to write to your MP. Write letters to the press. Write to the companies that have been linked to Uighur forced labour. Take to social media. Talk to your friends about what is happening and encourage them to do the same. Let no person say that the responsibility lies with others.”
Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell congratulates US President-elect Joe Biden, dealing a blow to any lingering hopes Donald Trump may have had of reversing his election defeat.
“The Electoral College has spoken,” the powerful senator from Kentucky says in a speech on the Senate floor. “So today I want to congratulate president-elect Joe Biden.”
Public Security Minister Amir Ohana announces he has selected Border Police Commander Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai as the next Israel Police commissioner, as reported earlier today.
In addition, he says he has tapped the current head of the Israel Prisons Service’s southern district, Katy Perry, as the organization’s next head. This would make it the second time the Prison Service is headed by a woman.
The Prisons Service has been without a permanent chief since 2018, when Ofrah Klinger ended her tenure, and has since been led by an acting head, Asher Vaknin.
Perry last year became the first-ever female district commander in the organization.
החלטתי להמליץ על ניצב יעקב (קובי) שבתאי לתפקיד מפכ"ל המשטרה ועל גונדר קטי פרי לתפקיד נציבת שב"ס. מוזמנות ומוזמנים לקרוא >>>https://t.co/Jvo7fIeBHc
קובי וקטי, בהצלחה! pic.twitter.com/zyLurMJWMy
— אמיר אוחנה (@AmirOhana) December 15, 2020
The weekly cabinet meeting, which had been pushed off this week to tomorrow, faces an additional delay until Thursday amid disagreements between the Likud and Blue and White parties over the agenda, Hebrew-language media reports.
The government is expected to be dissolved next week and elections called for the fourth time in under two years.
The United States places a pro-Iranian group based in Bahrain on its global terror blacklist, accusing it of plotting attacks on US troops in the tiny Gulf kingdom.
The group, Saraya al-Mukhtar, poses a “significant risk of committing acts of terrorism that threaten the national security and foreign policy of the United States,” Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says in a statement.
“Saraya al-Mukhtar is an Iran-backed terrorist organization based in Bahrain, reportedly receiving financial and logistic support from Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps,” Pompeo says.
Iran’s Revolutionary Guards have been on the US “Designated Global Terrorist” list since 2019.
“Saraya al-Mukhtar’s self-described goal is to depose the Bahraini government with the intention of paving the way for Iran to exert greater influence in Bahrain,” Pompeo says. “The group has plotted attacks against US personnel in Bahrain and has offered cash rewards for the assassination of Bahraini officials.”
Placing Saraya al-Mukhtar on the list freezes any assets it has in the United States, deprives it of access to the US financial system and bans US citizens from any dealings with the group.
The Shiite Muslim Saraya al-Mukhtar is known on the internet for making threats against the royal family and condemning the treatment of the Shiite Muslim minority in neighboring Saudi Arabia.
It was accused in 2017 of hijacking the Twitter account of Bahrain’s foreign minister, a member of the Sunni Muslim dynasty which reigns over the Shiite-majority Gulf kingdom.
— with AFP
Outgoing Acting Israel Police Commissioner Motti Cohen announces that he will quit the organization following the nomination of Yaakov Shabtai as permanent police chief, and accuses decision-makers of “ulterior motives” in the failure to appoint his replacement until now.
Cohen, who has served in his interim position for two years during an extended political crisis, makes the announcement in a letter sent to fellow officers and commanders.
He also writes that he has lately faced “attempts to intervene in the work of the Israel Police, intervention that has no place in the organization and which I didn’t allow.”
“It is an open secret that it was possible on several occasions during the past two years to appoint a full-time commissioner,” he charges. “It seems like the decision to not appoint a full-time commission for such a long time was not free of ulterior motives.”
The daughter of a 74-year-old Austrian citizen imprisoned in Iran has told of her fears for her father’s health after he started displaying coronavirus symptoms.
“He started suffering from fever last Thursday, but he doesn’t get the medical attention he needs, and he was denied a COVID test,” Fanak Mani, daughter of Massud Mossaheb, tells AFP of her father’s treatment in Tehran’s notorious Evin prison.
Mossaheb was detained while traveling in Iran with a delegation from an Austrian research center in January 2019 and in August it was announced that he had been jailed for 10 years on charges of spying for Israel and Germany.
“Every time we speak to him we are afraid it’s the last time — he’s 74 and a very sick man, so he might not survive this,” Mani tells AFP a day after her last call to her father.
Mossaheb was already suffering from a series of health complaints, including severe heart problems and diabetes.
This is critical and needs immediate action!
Given Massud Mossaheb’s age and pre-existing conditions, he is at heightened risk of severe illness or death if he contracts #COVID19 in Evin Prison.
— Daren Nair (@DarenNair) December 11, 2020
Mani says her father is being detained in a cell with six other people, one of whom is another Austrian citizen of Iranian origin also jailed on spying charges, 56-year-old Kamran Ghaderi. The families of both men say that they have faced torture in detention.
The Austrian government has called for both men to be released or at the least to be granted furlough and appropriate medical care.
Ghaderi’s family has also been quoted in Austrian media as saying he has developed virus symptoms.
Austrian foreign ministry spokesperson Johannes Aigner tells AFP in a statement that Vienna has “repeatedly pointed to the urgency of granting furlough, given the high risk of an infection with COVID-19 while incarcerated.”
However, Iran does not recognize dual citizenship, severely limiting what foreign governments can do for dual citizens detained there.
An opinion poll published by Channel 12 news shows Likud breakaway MK Gideon Sa’ar’s new party increasing in its popularity and scoring just six Knesset seats less than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, while rival right-wing leader Naftali Bennett’s Yamina and Defense Minister Benny Gantz’s Blue and White both lose ground.
According to the survey, conducted today by the Midgam institute and iPanel, Sa’ar’s New Hope party — including fellow Likud rebel Yifat Shasha-Biton, who said today she joining — would get 21 seats in the 120-member parliament. The poll was conducted before Shasha-Biton joined, but asked respondents about a scenario in which she joins.
The poll predicts 27 seats for Likud, 14 for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid-Telem, 13 for Yamina, 11 for the Joint List, 8 each for Shas and United Torah Judaism, and 6 each for Blue and White, Yisrael Beytenu and Meretz.
That would mean the path to a new government would be hard since the parties loyal to Netanyahu get only 56 seats, and a center-right bloc consisting of New Hope, Yamina, Yisrael Beytenu, Blue and White and Yesh Atid-Telem has a combined 60. To form a coalition, 61 are needed.
If former IDF chief Gadi Eisenkot also joins Sa’ar’s party, it would get 22 seats, the poll says.
Asked who is most fitting to be prime minister, Netanyahu’s name is mention by 33% of respondents, Sa’ar by 18%, Bennet by 9%, Lapid by 8% and Gantz by 7%. Another 18% said none are fitting and 7% said they didn’t know.
The combined phone and online poll surveyed 501 respondents constituting a representative sample of Israeli adults. The margin of error is 4.4%.
The Health Ministry is expected to recommend restrictions on the commercial sector that will start next week and last for five weeks, rather than the previously reported three weeks, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
The ministry expects Israel to reach 2,500 daily coronavirus infections as a weekly average — its benchmark for reimposing restrictions — late next week, the report says, citing senior ministry sources.
Since the restrictions will leave the education system open in low- and medium-infection zones, the restrictions will have to last for more time because the presumed drop in infections that follows will likely be slower, according to the report.
The ministry sources reportedly say that towards the end of the five-week period, certain venues — including performance spaces and shopping malls — will be allowed to open if all participants have a document proving they have either recovered from COVID-19 or been vaccinated against it.
Also allowed will be businesses that operate with a single employee serving a single customer at a time, such as hairdressers and beauty salons.
White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany is describing yesterday’s Electoral College vote confirming Joe Biden as the next US president as just “one step in the constitutional process.”
McEnany’s assessment is the latest example of White House officials declining to accept Biden’s victory.
McEnany is asked by reporters whether President Donald Trump now considers Biden to be the president-elect and whether he plans to invite him to the White House.
She declines to provide such an acknowledgment, saying “the president is still involved in ongoing litigation related to the election. Yesterday’s vote was one step in the constitutional process, so I will leave that to him and refer you to the campaign for more on that litigation.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell earlier broke his silence on the winner of the presidency after the Electoral College vote of 306 for Biden and 232 for Trump. McConnell said, “The Electoral College has spoken.”
McEnany says she has not gotten the president’s reaction to McConnell.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces he is tapping Cabinet Secretary Tzachi Braverman also as the new acting director-general of the Prime Minister’s Office.
Braverman will replace Ronen Peretz, who served in the interim role for the last year and a half.
The US Food and Drug Administration authorizes the country’s first rapid at-home test for COVID-19, which is available over-the-counter and produces a result in around 20 minutes.
The test, made by California-based Ellume, will sell for around $30 and the company plans to roll out three million units in January 2021.
US President-elect Joe Biden says he will receive a coronavirus vaccination publicly and that top infectious disease expert Anthony Fauci has recommended it be “sooner than later.”
“I want to make sure we do it by the numbers and when I do it, you’ll have notice and we’ll do it publicly,” Biden tells reporters before leaving for Georgia to campaign for two Democratic Senate candidates.
“Dr. Fauci recommends I get the vaccine sooner than later,” the 78-year-old president-elect says.
More than 300,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the US and a winter surge is continuing across much of the country.
The US kicked off a mass vaccination drive yesterday and the authorities hope to immunize 20 million people this month, with healthcare workers and long-term care residents at the front of the line.
Authorities want to reach the rest of the population by summer, but much will depend on vaccine confidence. Experts estimate more than 70 percent of people will need to be vaccinated to stem the outbreak.
Top ultra-Orthodox Rabbis Chaim Kanievsky, Gershon Edelstein and Shalom Cohen will order their community to vaccinate against COVID-19 if they can, Hebrew-language media reports, after doubts were raised about whether the Haredi leaders would make that move.
The three spiritual leaders reportedly asked for a medical opinion on the matter by Rabbi Elimelech Firer, who heads a prominent charitable medical organization.
Firer concludes that “anyone who has the option of vaccinating should do it” because the vaccine has been proven safe using standard, accepted methods.
He recommends those with allergies to consult their doctor before vaccinating, and recommends against inoculating kids under 16 years old, since the vaccine hasn’t yet been tested on them.
US President-elect Joe Biden will nominate Pete Buttigieg, a former campaign rival, to be transportation secretary, US media reports, a move that would make him the first openly gay member of a presidential cabinet.
Buttigieg, just 38, is a former Indiana mayor who put his civic duties on hold to serve as a US Navy intelligence officer in Afghanistan.
He enjoyed a fast political rise as he sought the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, but dropped out and quickly supported Biden.
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