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

Ben & Jerry’s settles its lawsuit against parent company over settlement boycott

Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, says it resolved a lawsuit with the ice cream maker over its attempt to boycott Israeli settlements last year.

“Unilever is pleased to announce that the litigation with Ben & Jerry’s Independent Board has been resolved,” the UK-based conglomerate says in a terse statement, without providing further detail.

The announcement appears to finally put an end to a legal battle that has dragged on for over a year. Ben & Jerry’s sued Unilever’s main US branch, Conopco, earlier this year as part of its boycott attempt, which it first announced in July 2021.

Avi Zinger, the head of Ben & Jerry’s Israel branch and a key player in fighting against the boycott, says he is “pleased” that the litigation has been resolved.

There were no details available about the settlement, but Zinger says there was no change to an agreement he inked with Unilever earlier this year.

At Times of Israel event, experts debate effects of override law on democracy

With the incoming government planning to enact a High Court override law, prominent Israeli legal scholars debate the faults and merits of an arrangement that would severely limit judicial review in Israel at a Times of Israel special livestream event at the Israel Democracy Institute.

Constitutional scholar Prof. Yaniv Roznai of Reichman University contends the law would allow the Knesset to override fundamental rights secured in many countries only after hundreds of years of struggle.

Roznai concedes that in theory a legislative body could be allowed the ability to overrule the courts on issues of basic rights, but argues such a framework requires a full constitutional structure including a bill of rights.

“I’m happy to adopt the judicial review mechanism of other democratic countries, but you have to bring their entire constitutional structure along with it; you can’t pick and chose items that give the government and legislature unlimited powers,” says Roznai.

Yonatan Green, an attorney with the Israel Law and Liberty Forum, strongly disagrees with his contention, points out that Israel lacks a formal constitution, asserts that the court assumed the power of judicial review without any legal authorization and that the situation in which it has “the final say” over law in the country is “unthinkable, unjustifiable and untenable.”

Prof. Moshe Koppel, founder of the conservative Kohelet Policy Forum, objected to what he said was the unchecked and unbalanced power of the Israeli High Court, which he says had decided that every issue was justiciable and that anyone can have standing to petition the court.

“I am sympathetic to the idea that there should be barriers to legislation, but how do you get from there to saying that the court can authorize itself to be a barrier to legislation. Judicial review is perfectly reasonable as long as the judicial branch is subject to checks and balances,” says Koppel.

Dr. Tamar Hostovsky Brandes of the Ono Academic College Faculty of Law takes issue with Koppel’s contention, arguing that undermining the powers of the courts is a common tactic adopted by regimes that seek to restrain democratic rights, citing the current governments in Poland and Hungary as examples.

“The type of power courts have is very different to that of governments and legislatures. I don’t recall a country where a court turned a democracy into an autocracy, but I can think of many governments which have done just that,” says Hostovsky Brandes.

Netanyahu backpedals after saying he’ll be in charge of West Bank decisions

Prime Minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu backpedals after telling the Al Arabiya network that he will have full control over Israeli policy in the West Bank.

The comments are in contrast with his coalition agreements with the far-right Religious Zionism party, which gives them control over civilian issues and construction in the area.

Netanyahu’s Likud party issues a statement to “clarify” that  “security powers will be in his hands and in the hands of the defense minister and he was not speaking about the coalition agreement with Religious Zionism regarding the Civil Administration, where  decisions will be made in coordination with the prime minister, as set out in the coalition agreement.”


UN Palestinian rights investigator denies ‘Jewish lobby’ comments are antisemitic

A UN official investigating Israeli activities in the Palestinian territories says her past statements claiming the “Jewish lobby” controls the US are not antisemitic.

During the 2014 Israel-Gaza war, Francesca Albanese said the Jewish lobby “has subjugated the US,” that the “Israel lobby” controlled the BBC and that Israel started the conflict out of greed. The comments were first reported by The Times of Israel on Wednesday.

In her first public statement since the report, Albanese decries “yet another malicious attack” against her office.

She says her comments were “wrongly mischaracterized as antisemitic,” and the report is “decontextualized and disingenuous extrapolation.”

In a previous statement to The Times of Israel, she acknowledged “mistakes” in her past rhetoric and sought to distance herself from the comments.

The UN Human Rights Council has not responded to a request for comment.

Albanese has also more recently compared Israelis to Nazis, which is considered antisemitic under the IHRA definition of antisemitism, and justified violence against Israelis.

Her statements have been condemned by the White House antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt, the US mission to the UN in Geneva, the co-chair of the US House task force on antisemitism, Israeli officials and leading US Jewish groups.

Another UN official, Craig Mokhiber, the director of the New York Office for UN Human Rights, also defends Albanese, calling criticism a “ridiculous campaign of slander” and a “tired old trick” and implies that her detractors are “evil.”

Austria city to rename Porsche street over founder’s Nazi past

The Austrian city of Linz says it plans to rename a street honoring the founder of the luxury carmaker Porsche after a commission probing controversial names found his Nazi past “problematic.”

The renaming of streets and other public places is still a hotly debated issue in Austria — Adolf Hitler’s birthplace — which Nazi Germany annexed in 1938 and which long cast itself as a victim.

Only in the past three decades has the country begun to seriously examine its role in the Holocaust, which saw the murder of about a third of Austria’s Jewish population of 200,000.

The Porscheweg and three other streets are to be renamed in Linz, just under 200 kilometers (120 miles) west of Vienna, a city spokeswoman tells AFP.

The city senate is expected to approve the renaming this month, she adds. No new names have been fixed as yet for the streets.

“[Ferdinand] Porsche played a central role in the NS (National Socialism) war economy and actively promoted the forced labor of prisoners of war and concentration camp inmates,” the city says in a statement, announcing the commission’s findings.

In doing so, Porsche “accepted their deaths and the deaths of their children due to the inhumane conditions in the camps,” it adds.

Porsche did not immediately reply to an AFP request for comment.

Netanyahu dangles peace with Saudis as key to resolving conflict with Palestinians

Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu says he intends to pursue peace with Saudi Arabia and posits that it could be the key to resolving the Palestinian-Israeli conflict.

Speaking to the Al Arabiya channel in an extensive interview, Netanyahu urges Saudi Arabia to join the Abraham Accords.

“I think we face a possibility of not merely an expansion of the peace, I think we can have a new peace initiative that will form a quantum leap for the achievement of the resolution for both the Arab-Israeli conflict and ultimately the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” he says.

“And of course, I’m referring to what could be a truly remarkable historic peace with Saudi Arabia,” he says.

“I think peace with Saudi Arabia will serve two purposes. It will be a quantum leap for overall peace between Israel and the Arab world. It will change our region in ways that are unimaginable and I think it will facilitate ultimately Israeli-Palestinian peace,” Netanyahu says.

“I believe in that and I intend to pursue it. Of course, it’s up to the leadership of Saudi Arabia if they want to partake in this effort.”

Saud Arabia proposed a peace plan two decades ago under which Israel would resolves its conflict with the Palestinians and withdraw to the 1967 borders in exchange for full peace with the Arab World.


Israeli housing prices keep soaring, up a record 20.3% from last year

Israeli housing prices soared a record 20.3% over the last year, according to a report by the Central Bureau of Statistics (CBS) published today, the largest year-on-year jump since price tracking began.

Prices have been climbing steadily since the second half of 2018, but their continued rise defied predictions, a major drop in sales and the reality in most global housing markets, which are seeing prices slow or fall.

According to CBS prices were up 20.3% since the same period last year (September-October 2021) and rose 1.2% in the last month.

The report notes that inflation stands at 5% and the overall consumer price index was up 0.1% from last month.

Netanyahu: US needs to reaffirm its alliance with Saudi Arabia

Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu says the US needs to reaffirm its alliances with its traditional allies in the Middle East, particularly Saudi Arabia.

Speaking to the Dubai-based Al Arabiya channel, Netanyahu says he plans to tell US President Joe Biden that “there is a need for America’s reaffirmation of its commitment to its traditional allies in the Middle East.”

Netanyahu notes Israel’s “unbreakable” alliance with the US, but says that “the traditional alliance with Saudi Arabia and other countries  has to be reaffirmed.”

“There should not be periodic swings or even wild swings in this relationship,” he says, calling these traditional alliances the “anchor of stability in the region.”

While Israel and Saudi Arabia do not have formal relations, they are both closely aligned against common foe Iran.

US ties with Saudi Arabia have been tense under the Biden administration, which has sought to call out the kingdom over its human rights issues. Riyadh has in return refused US appeals to step up gas production to bring down global prices.

Eitan Biran’s grandfather gets suspended jail sentence in plea deal over kidnapping

The grandfather of an orphaned Israeli boy is sentenced to a 20-month suspended sentence by an Italian court for kidnapping the child and bringing him back to Israel.

Eitan Biran, a 6-year-old boy who was orphaned in a cable car crash in Italy, became the subject of a bitter custody fight between his Italy-based paternal family and his Israel-based maternal family.

After an Italian court temporarily granted the paternal family custody, Biran’s maternal grandfather, Shmuel Peleg, secretly smuggled the boy to Israel via Switzerland, prompting charges of kidnapping. Israel’s Supreme Court ordered him sent back.

Under a plea deal, the court gave Peleg a suspended sentence and also ordered him to pay 50,000 euros toward Eitan’s health and educational costs.

Biran was living in Italy at the time of the cable car crash that killed his parents, his younger brother and his great-grandparents.

Thousands rally in Turkey after Erdogan rival banned from politics

Thousands of Turks swarm a central Istanbul square in solidarity with the city’s opposition mayor after he was banned from politics ahead of next year’s presidential election.

A criminal court on Wednesday sentenced Ekrem Imamoglu to more than two years in prison and banned him from politics for the same length of time for “insulting a public official” in 2019.

Imamoglu will continue to serve as mayor of Turkey’s largest city while his appeal is heard in a case linked to a hugely contested election in which his initial victory was annulled.

The appeal could be heard at any time and destroy any bid to run in the June presidential campaign.

The US State Department said it was “deeply troubled and disappointed” by the potential removal of one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s biggest rivals from the political scene.

IDF sees correlation between high socioeconomic level and service in combat units

Statistics released by the IDF today indicate that there is a correlation between higher socioeconomic levels and service in elite and top combat units.

“A socioeconomic analysis of those serving in the IDF finds that as socioeconomic status goes up, so too does the percentage serving in combat roles,” an IDF study finds.

The highest level is seen in the commando units, where more than 40% of the soldiers are from the top 20%, while only 3% came from the bottom 30% socioeconomically.

Overall, 62% of conscripts from the top 30% were serving in combat units, the IDF says.


Iran censures EU for new sanctions over protests

Iran condemns the European Union for imposing new sanctions on the Islamic Republic over its response to protests sparked by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

Protests have swept Iran since the September 16 death of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd, after her arrest in Tehran for an alleged breach of the Islamic Republic’s dress code for women.

Officials in the country say hundreds of people have been killed in the street violence, including dozens of security forces, and thousands have been arrested.

The EU announced on Monday sanctions targeting Iran’s state broadcaster IRIB, its army chief, Revolutionary Guards commanders and a cleric over what it called the “repression” of the protests.

Iran’s foreign ministry hit back, branding the 27-member bloc’s move “unacceptable and groundless.”

“Iran’s police and security forces have tried to control rampant violence in accordance with very precise and specific rules of conduct… as well as our religious teachings, based on respect for human rights and the rights of every individual,” it says in a statement.

Lapid tells Netanyahu to restrain his coalition partners after Ben Gvir attacks AG

Outgoing Prime Minister Yair Lapid calls on his designated successor Benjamin Netanyahu to rein in his coalition partners after far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir slammed the attorney general.

“I call on Netanyahu to restrain his partners. Netanyahu is weak and Ben Gvir is taking advantage of this to attack the attorney general like a common thug,” Lapid says.

“The disdain for legal proceedings, the blitz of legislation even before the government is formed and the attack on officeholder who cannot respond is an affront to the state’s values,” Lapid says.

Ben Gvir earlier accused Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara of thinking she is the prime minister after she warned that a legislative blitz by the incoming government endangered democracy.

Ben Gvir: The attorney general thinks she’s the real prime minister in Israel

Far-right MK Itamar Ben-Gvir, who is set to take control of an expanded police ministry, slams Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara for criticizing a legislative blitz by the incoming government as undemocratic.

“The attorney general mistakenly thinks that she is the real prime minister of of Israel. Any law she disagrees with becomes a ‘danger to democracy,'” says Ben Gvir.

“It’s a shame that she does not participate in the discussions on the bill in the Knesset, because then she would have discovered that the problem is that the police regulations do not allow the minister to set policy, even though in practice all the professionals believe that the minister should set the policy for police activity,” he says.

Baharav-Miara earlier warned that legislation being advanced by the incoming government will weaken the checks on executive power in Israel, and asserted that majority rule without institutional balances to its power could not be considered a true democracy.

Gantz warns adding second minister in Defense Ministry will be bad for security

Hours before a Knesset vote on legal changes to enable a second minister in the Defense Ministry to oversee West Bank construction is scheduled to come for another vote in the Knesset plenum, Defense Minister Benny Gantz  warns that if enacted, it would “break apart” clear command lines and cause a “loss of security.”

In addition to confusion of command concerns raised by Gantz and other former security officials, the bill faces criticism from legal advisers who say it does not clearly delineate the responsibilities that will fall under the minister to be appointed by the Religious Zionism party, likely party leader Bezalel Smotrich.

Requiring a change to Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Law: The Government, 61 lawmakers must vote to advance it through its first reading later today, after which it will return to the special committee preparing the legislative change in preparation for its second and third — final — readings.

Part of a legislative blitz demanded by far-right and ultra-Orthodox parties as preconditions to forming prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, the bill will for the first time create a permanent mechanism for two ministers in a single ministry.

A previous second minister in the Defense Ministry, Gantz’s party colleague Michael Biton, was appointed from 2020 to 2021 through a temporary mechanism and was in charge of non-operational affairs.

The bill to enable Smotrich to be a minister in the Defense Ministry was merged with another change to the Basic Law governing the government, which will clear Shas leader Aryeh Deri’s path to heading three ministries despite his suspended sentence for tax fraud, by loosening restrictions to bar only persons serving custodial sentences.

Both are expected to come for a joint vote on Thursday and be immediately sent back to committee for final vote preparations.

Family says slight improvement in condition of Rabbi Chaim Druckman

The condition of Rabbi Chaim Druckman, one of the leading figures in the Religious Zionist community, has improved slightly since yesterday when he was taken to a Jerusalem hospital in serious condition after being diagnosed with the coronavirus, his family says.

“After a day of being unconscious, the rabbi even opened his eyes for a period of time and responded to questions by moving his head and hands,” the family says in a statement to journalists.

Druckman, who turned 90 last month, has been seriously ill for the past several days after contracting the coronavirus. As his condition deteriorated, he was brought to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem where he was sent to the intensive care ward.

Druckman’s family asks the public to pray for his health and has organized a special service to be held at the Western Wall tonight at 8:30 p.m.

“Despite the difficult situation, we believe and expect his salvation. The stabilizing of his medical condition and the slight improvement from yesterday, which seemed impossible, the prayers and the support from the entire Jewish people, the dedication and professionalism of the hospital staff — they give us strength and we are sure that they give the rabbi strength too,” the family says.

AG warns incoming government’s legislative blitz will undermine democracy

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara warns that legislation being advanced by the incoming government will weaken the checks on executive power in Israel, and asserts that majority rule without institutional balances to its power could not be considered a true democracy.

Speaking at a legal conference at the University of Haifa, Baharav-Miara asserts that legislation being pursued by the incoming government amounts to a “substantive change in governance” that requires greater consideration and debate.

The attorney general expresses particular concern about plans to implement a High Court override law and to make ministerial legal advisers political not professional appointees, as well as legislation increasing the power of the minister responsible for the police over the police commissioner.

“These initiatives are designed to reduce the power of the judicial branch of government,” says Baharav-Miarai as well as “reduce the influence of the Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty.”

She adds, “This group of proposals without an overall and long-term vision may disrupt the system of checks and balances between the government authorities, certainly if they are implemented hastily.”

Speaking more generally, the attorney general suggests that Israeli democracy, as expressed through protections for minorities from the rule of the majority, is in danger.

“It is said that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. This is always correct, including in our times. Even in a country where the government is elected democratically, the principle of majority rule is not enough to ensure freedom and equality for all.”

$100 million expansion planned for Jordan River site of Jesus’ baptism

Jordan announces a $100 million project to expand the facilities at the Jordan River site venerated as the place where Jesus was baptized.

The “Bethany Beyond the Jordan” site lies on the river’s east bank, opposite Qasr al-Yahud on the Israeli side, a major destination for Christian pilgrims.

The project aims to attract 1 million visitors in 2030, celebrating the second millennium of Jesus’s baptism by John the Baptist, according to Religion News Service.

“We decided on a biblical village theme that attempts to re-create a 2,000-year-old experience,” Samir Murad, chair of the project, tells RNS.

He says accommodation will be upscale Arab-style tents, and food will be based on plants mentioned in the Bible.

“The idea is to create an atmosphere like that of the Old City of Jerusalem,” Murad adds.

The project is not yet funded.

Committee recommends replacing IDF soldiers serving as prison guards

A joint committee set up by the defense and public security ministries recommends removing IDF soldiers from service in prisons.

The committee was set up in the wake of a scandal in which female guards doing their mandatory service in prisons alleged they had been pimped out to security prisoners.

The committee recommends gradually reducing the number of IDF soldiers in the prisons and replacing them with professional guards.


EU lawmakers call for suspending Qatar access to European Parliament amid corruption scandal

EU lawmakers are calling for the suspension of Qatar’s access to the European Parliament amid a graft scandal linked to World Cup host.

Earlier the head of the parliament vowed “a wide-ranging reform package” to clean up the legislature.

The parliament’s speaker, Roberta Metsola, says the plan “will include a strengthening of the parliament’s whistle-blower protection systems, a ban on all unofficial friendship groups, a review of the policing of our code of conduct rules, and a complete and in-depth look at how we interact with third countries.”

Belgian authorities triggered the scandal by detaining six people last week.

Four of them — including an MEP and former European Parliament vice president under Metsola, Eva Kaili — have been charged with “criminal organization, corruption and money laundering.” The other two were released.

Both Kaili, a former TV newsreader in Greece, and Qatari officials deny any wrongdoing.

A series of searches at the homes and offices of politicians, lobbyists and parliamentary assistants turned up around 1.5 million euros ($1.6 million) in cash.

Netanyahu defends partnership with Ben Gvir: He’s changed

Prime minister-designate Benjamin Netanyahu defends his partnership with far-right Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir, saying he has moderated his views.

In an interview with NPR, Netanyahu is asked about bringing Ben-Gvir into his coalition and making him police minister despite his previous calls to expel Arabs.

“His eligibility [to serve in the Knesset] was decided by the Supreme Court… He’s modified a lot of his views since then. And I have to say that with power comes responsibility,” says Netanyahu. “Not always; sometimes it works the other way around.”

“And certainly [it’s one thing to speak in] political campaigns a decade and a half ago, and it’s another to actually be in a position of responsibility in governance, and I certainly will ensure that that will be the case,” Netanyahu says.

Netanyahu adds that his coalition partners will have to conform to his policies.

“They are joining me. I’m not joining them,” he says. “I’ll have two hands firmly on the steering wheel. I won’t let anybody do anything to LGBT [rights] or to deny our Arab citizens their rights.”

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