As House debates Trump impeachment, he decries ‘assault on America’
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As House debates Trump impeachment, he decries ‘assault on America’

‘Today we are here to defend democracy for the people,’ says Pelosi; Democrats approve debate rules, confirming strong support for move

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, arrives on Capitol Hill in Washington, December 18, 2019. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s news as it unfolded.

Israel looking into reports of tourists being prevented from entering Russia

The Foreign Ministry says it is looking into reports that Israeli tourists who landed today in Russia are being prevented from entering the country.

In a brief statement, the ministry says it is in touch with the Russian foreign ministry and “and acting to ensure that tourists and businesspeople will be able to continue to enter Russia.”

The Russian embassy in Israel, meanwhile, tells The Times of Israel that many Russians who arrive in the Jewish state are turned back: 5,771 so far during 2019.

“Every day, some 20 tourists who arrive in Israel with money and an organized tour are stopped and sent back to Russia,” it says in a statement, without commenting directly on the reports of Israeli tourists being detained in Moscow.

— with Raphael Ahren

UK Labour figures begin jostling to be party’s next leader

Labour politicians have begun jostling to become the next leader of the British opposition party in the wake of its crushing defeat in last week’s national election.

Keir Starmer, the party’s spokesman on Brexit issues, and senior lawmaker Yvette Cooper are among those suggesting they are considering a run to replace Jeremy Corbyn in the race that will heat up next year.

Former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, meanwhile, places the blame for last week’s loss to the Conservative party firmly at Corbyn’s feet, saying he pursued a policy of “almost comic indecision” on Brexit that alienated voters on both sides of the debate.

“I believe, with different leadership, we would have kept much of our vote in traditional Labour areas,” Blair says. “He (Corbyn) personified politically a brand of quasi-revolutionary socialism, mixing far-left economic policy with deep hostility to Western foreign policy which never has appealed to traditional Labour voters and never will appeal to them.”

— AP

MK Barkat urges US sanctions on Turkey over its reported support for Hamas

Likud MK Nir Barkat says he spoke with US Ambassador David Friedman and asked that Washington sanction Turkey in light of a newspaper report that Turkish authorities were allowing Hamas terrorists to plan attacks on Israel from their territory, including a past plot to assassinate Barkat.

“Once again, we’ve received confirmation that Turkey supports and provides a warm home for terror groups — just like Iran,” he says in a tweet.

Barkat says he wants the US “to trigger international sanctions against Turkey” in light of the report in the British Daily Telegraph.

Prince Charles due in Jerusalem next month for Auschwitz memorial

Prince Charles is planning to visit Israel and the Palestinian territories next month, the future British king’s office announces.

His trip, which comes amid the UK’s efforts to leave the European Union and sign bilateral trade agreements with other countries as well as an ongoing controversy over anti-Semitism in the UK Labour party, will mark only the second official visit to Israel by a member of the royal family since the state was founded in 1948.

Charles, known formally as the His Royal Highness The Prince of Wales, is scheduled to attend the World Holocaust Forum in Jerusalem on January 23, 2020, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp.

At the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum, the prince will join dozens of other world leaders who are traveling to the capital for the event, hosted by President Reuven Rivlin and Yad Vashem. So far, confirmed participants include the presidents of Russia, France, Germany, Italy and Austria, as well as the kings of Spain and Belgium, and many other senior dignitaries.

Prince Charles, Queen Elizabeth’s first-born son and the first in line to the throne, will not be accompanied by his wife, Camilla. Instead, the Duchess of Cornwall will attend a January 26 ceremony with 200 Holocaust survivors at Auschwitz in Poland.

— Raphael Ahren

Lebanese mob attacks cleric’s office, burns Christmas tree over divisive video

A mob in Lebanon attacked the office of a Sunni Muslim religious leader in the northern city of Tripoli, smashing in windows early today, reports say.

The military says a mob of men on motorcycles gathered outside the home of Sunni Mufti Sheik Malek al-Shaar and rioted, “used profanity” and smashed property.

The mob then moved to the square and threw fire bombs at the Christmas tree, setting it on fire.

The military says it arrested four men and confiscated their motorcycles.

The violence indicates that the tensions that recently gripped the Lebanese capital, Beirut, over an online video deemed offensive to the country’s Shiites are spreading to Tripoli, the country’s second-largest city.

On Tuesday, anger boiled over in Beirut after the offensive video was widely circulated online, showing a Sunni resident of Tripoli railing against the leaders of the country’s two main Shiite groups, Hezbollah and Amal, and religious Shiite figures and using expletives.

The daily An-Nahar says the assailants in Tripoli were angered because the Sunni mufti, al-Shaar, had called the powerful Shiite parliament speaker and head of Amal, Nabih Berri, to apologize for the video.

— AP

Iran confirms it is testing new centrifuges

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani confirms that his country has begun testing its latest model of centrifuges.

“Today, our new IR-6 centrifuges are working and the newer IR-9s are being tested,” he says during a visit to Malysia, according to a statement on his website translated by the Russian Sputnik news agency.

According to Iranian officials, an IR-6 centrifuge can produce enriched uranium 10 times faster than the country’s first-generation IR-1 centrifuges.

The IR-9 works five times faster than the IR-6 and 50 times faster than the IR-1, the head of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran, Ali Akbar Salehi, has said.

Iran in recent months has been rolling back its commitments to the nuclear deal in the face of renewed US sanctions, triggered after Washington pulled out of the pact last year.

Transportation officials inaugurate new Jerusalem fast train to ‘connect the country’

Israel’s top transportation officials gather underground in central Jerusalem to formally inaugurate the long-awaited Jerusalem-Tel Aviv fast train.

The direct line between Israel’s two major metropolitan centers has been under construction for 18 years, and its planned opening on Saturday night comes 11 years after its originally scheduled completion date.

“After years of hard work and struggle, Jerusalem is connecting to Tel Aviv,” says Foreign Minister Israel Katz, who as transportation minister from 2009 until earlier this year oversaw much of the construction work.

“I call this the King David track, which connects the City of David to the rest of the country,” he says. “This will enormously strengthen Jerusalem and the country as a whole.”

Current Transportation Minister Betzalel Smotrich also praises the new line’s power to connect.

“With all the talk of a ‘first Israel’ and a ‘second Israel,’” he says, a reference to the public debate on economic inequality, “and the ‘State of Tel Aviv’ and the ‘State of Jerusalem,’ here we are building a bridge. With all our disagreements, we can’t allow ourselves to become divided. We will instead build new roads and new railways, because we are one people.”

Netanyahu hails security forces for arresting suspected terrorists

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu congratulates security forces for arresting a string of members of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, including several who are suspected of involvement in a deadly terror bombing in August.

“Israel’s long arm reaches anyone who wishes to harm us, and will continue to do so,” he says.

Mother arrested after allegedly stabbing her infant son

A mother in the northern town of Ilut is arrested after she allegedly stabbed her infant son, who is in serious condition.

Police say the mother called the police hotline and confessed to the crime.

The baby is receiving treatment at Rambam Medical Center in Haifa.

Israel cutting power to West Bank Palestinians over debt

The Israel Electric Corporation says it is cutting power to several Palestinian cities in the West Bank, citing the Palestinian electric company’s outstanding debt, which it says amounts to $519 million.

According to Reuters, the IEC says it has been cutting power for three hours every day since Sunday and that it is “determined to collect the debt but disconnects the power in a reasonable and proportionate way.”

Hisham Omari, the head of the Jerusalem District Electricity Company (JDECO), the main Palestinian electric company, says there have been afternoon power outages affecting some 130,000 people in Ramallah and Bethlehem.

“When you have no electricity, there is no life. You stop life, you stop work, you feel the winter cold, for three hours,” Omari is quoted as saying.

Gantz hails US recognition of Golan sovereignty, vows to develop Heights

Benny Gantz tours the Golan Heights and praises Washington for recognizing Israel’ sovereignty over the plateau, which it captured from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War, while accusing the government of failing to develop it.

“I welcome the American recognition of the Golan Heights and the state’s intention to develop it,” says Gantz, who leads the Blue and White party and is Netanyahu’s main rival for the premiership.

“But the numbers tell a different story — twenty or thirty thousand residents without significant growth is too little,” he continues. “The Golan is an important place, and we will do everything to speed up its annexation and development.”

Gantz also criticizes the controversial appointment yesterday of an interim state attorney — which has since been frozen by the High Court — saying a caretaker government should be more “conservative.”

Outrage as Ukraine reinstates diplomat sacked for anti-Semitism

Ukraine’s Jewish community expresses indignation after a court decision forced the foreign ministry to reinstate an ex-consul fired last year over anti-Semitic remarks made while serving in his post.

Vasyl Marushchynets served as a Ukrainian consul in Germany’s Hamburg before he was sacked in May 2018 following a series of publications the foreign ministry has deemed “shameful,” anti-Semitic and “inciting inter-ethnic hate.”

According to various media, he also made posts on his Facebook account insulting Jews and claiming that “to be a Nazi is an honor.”

A photo was circulating in the media and on social networks of Marushchynets posing with a birthday cake resembling Adolf Hitler’s notorious book “Mein Kampf,” although AFP was unable to verify its authenticity.

The former diplomat sued over his dismissal and won in November. The Ukrainian foreign ministry said it was “bound to comply” with the ruling, but added that it will contest it in the Supreme Court.

The ministry said it considers Marushchynets’ actions “incompatible with the high rank of civil servant and Ukrainian diplomat” and sees him as having caused “significant damage” to Ukraine’s international image.

The ministry re-hired Marushchynets on December 9 and paid him about $9,000 in wages that would have accrued since his dismissal, spokeswoman Kateryna Zelenko tells AFP.

The news of the reinstatement is slammed by Ukraine’s Jewish community.

“It is ultra-shameful, truly an assault on common sense, if such an obvious anti-Semite and even neo-Nazi is being reinstated in diplomatic service,” Iosif Zisels, a prominent Jewish activist in Ukraine, tells AFP.

“I don’t understand how it’s possible that there are no legitimate mechanisms to prevent his reinstatement in a structure such as the foreign ministry,” he says.

“A person who permits anti-Semitic and xenophobic attacks has no right to hold a diplomatic post,” says Inna Ioffe, director of the Jewish Confederation of Ukraine.


As House convenes on impeachment, Trump declares disbelief

US President Donald Trump wakes in the White House and expresses utter disbelief that he will likely become just the third US president to be impeached by the House of Representatives.

With the House taking up two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Trump starts his day as he often does: by airing his grievances on Twitter.

“Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG! A terrible Thing,” Trump tweets. “Read the Transcripts. This should never happen to another President again. Say a PRAYER!”

Trump has a relatively light schedule Wednesday, but has indicated he won’t be watching the six hours of impeachment debate on the House floor.

He does, however, retweet comments by GOP lawmakers and aides on his favorite morning show, “Fox & Friends,” as they rally behind him and seek to reassure conservative voters that he remains in good spirits despite the dark mark of impeachment looming on his presidency.


House starts historic session to impeach Trump; GOP stalls

The US House gavels in for a historic session to impeach Trump on charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress, votes that will leave a lasting mark on his tenure at the White House.

As soon as the session opens, Republicans try to halt it.

“So we can stop wasting America’s time on impeachment, I move that the House do now adjourn,” says Rep. Andy Bigg (Arizona Republican), the chairman of the conservative House. Freedom Caucus.

He forces a roll call vote — the first of several procedural efforts expected during the day to try to delay the proceedings.

It is defeated on a party-line vote.

Then Republicans then try to force a vote condemning the actions of Democratic committee leaders, based on objections to the way the Democrats conducted hearings leading to Wednesday’s votes.


Russia sending ‘message’ to Israel by delaying tourists, sources say

Diplomatic sources are quoted by Hebrew-language media as saying that the Israeli tourists are being held up in Moscow as a “message” to Israel ahead of the arrival tomorrow of a Russian delegation.

The delegation, the sources say, is coming to Israel to discuss the many Russians who are denied entry to Israel.

Merkel defends Germany’s UN voting record on Israel

Chancellor Angela Merkel defends Germany’s voting record on Israel at the United Nations, arguing that supporting the country doesn’t mean backing all of its actions.

The Jerusalem Post reported last week that the Los Angeles-based Simon Wiesenthal Center criticized Germany’s ambassador to the UN, Christoph Heusgen, for casting “anti-Israel votes” among other things. The German government strongly backed Heusgen, who previously served for years as Merkel’s foreign policy adviser.

“A commitment to the State of Israel … does not mean 100% agreement with all of Israel’s political actions,” Merkel says during a regular question-and-answer session in the German parliament.

She notes that European Union countries consult on how to vote at the UN, where Germany is currently serving a two-year stint on the Security Council.

Germany works to try to ensure that “all tendencies that we can influence that could embody an anti-Israel stance” are removed from resolutions, she adds. “So I think we are doing good work.”


Jews to repair earthquake-struck home of Albanian Muslim whose father saved Jews

An Albanian Muslim man whose house was destroyed in an earthquake will have it rebuilt by a Holocaust commemoration group in honor of his father’s rescue of Jews.

The home of Muhamet Bicaku, 83, was devastated during the November 26 calamity that claimed the lives of at least 55 people in the Balkan nation. During the Holocaust, Bicaku’s father, Mefail, and older brother, Njazi, sheltered about 20 Jewish families from the Italian and German occupation forces in Qarrishte, a town located about 50 miles east of the capital Tirana.

From the Depths, a Poland-based organization that focuses on celebrating the actions of rescuers of Jews, has raised $10,000 to restore the house, the group’s founder, Jonny Daniels, writes in a statement after visiting Albania as part of a humanitarian mission following the earthquake.

The total cost will be $45,000 and fundraising is ongoing, he says.

Muhamet Bicaku, who was 5 when his father began harboring Jewish refugees, is now living in crowded conditions in a home of one his children in Durres, 20 miles west of Tirana.

In 2007, he received on behalf of his family the Anti-Defamation League’s Courage to Care Award. His father and brother were recognized in 1996 by Israel as Righteous Among the Nations, the country’s title for non-Jews who risked their lives to save Jews during the Holocaust.

“They offered our people the most basic of human needs, shelter, during their difficult times, saving their lives,” Daniels writes. “It should be obvious for us today to come together and return that favor.”


Judge tosses Paul Manafort’s fraud case in New York

A New York judge throws out state mortgage fraud charges against Paul Manafort, ruling that the criminal case is too similar to one that has already landed US President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman in federal prison.

The move is a blow to what has widely been seen as an attempt by Manhattan’s district attorney, a Democrat, to hedge against the possibility that Trump would pardon Manafort for federal crimes.

Manafort was convicted in two federal cases stemming from his business dealings and is serving a 7½-year prison sentence.

Judge Maxwell Wiley rules that state law precludes prosecution, citing double jeopardy grounds.

Manafort, 70, isn’t in court for Wiley’s ruling because of a health problem.

Manafort’s lawyers had argued that the state charges should have been dismissed because they involve some of the same allegations as federal cases that have landed Manafort behind bars.

In a hearing that lasts just a few minutes, Wiley says he agrees, announcing his ruling to prosecutors and Manafort’s lawyers.

He says a detailed explanation is provided in a written decision, a copy of which has yet to be provided to media.

“Basically, the law of double jeopardy in New York state provides a very narrow window for prosecution,” the judge says.

Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office says it will appeal the decision.


Russia allows in all Israelis who were detained in Moscow airport

All 46 Israelis who were detained in Moscow airport have been released, Channel 12 reports.

Lebanon’s Hariri says not candidate for own succession

Lebanon’s outgoing prime minister, Saad Hariri, announces ahead of consultations to form a new cabinet that he will not seek a new mandate.

“I announce I will not be a candidate to form the next government,” Hariri says in a statement issued on the eve of consultations that have been postponed twice already.


Bennett: Syria is ‘Iran’s Vietnam’

Defense Minister Naftali Bennett predicts that Iran will “sink in Syria’s sands” if it continues to try to entrench itself militarily there.

“Syria is progressively becoming Iran’s Vietnam,” Bennett says during a visit to an IDF exercise in the north with IDF chief of staff Aviv Kohavi.

“We are upping the pressure,” he adds. “There is nothing for Iran on Syrian soil.”

Cyprus adopts broad IHRA definition of anti-Semitism

Cyprus adopts a broad definition of anti-Semitism that takes aim at some expressions of anti-Israel sentiment, the Mediterranean island country’s ambassador to Israel says in a tweet.

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition states that various forms of vitriol against Israel, including comparing it to Nazi Germany, are examples of anti-Semitism, though criticizing Israel’s policies is not.

Cyprus is the 17th country to adopt the definition.

Israel’s ambassador in Nicosia Sammy Revel welcomes the move, as do Foreign Ministry Director-General Yuval Rotem and David Harris, the CEO of the American Jewish Committee.

Resident of south addresses UN Security Council

Adele Raemer, a resident of Kibbutz Nirim near Gaza, addresses the United Nations Security Council during a periodic hearing on the Middle East and relates her experiences in the shadow of constant rocket attacks.

“Have you ever had to run for your life? When I hear the Red Alert early warning system for incoming rockets, I know that I have between 5-10 seconds to get to someplace safe – regardless of where I am in my little kibbutz house,” she tells the council.

“During the 11 rounds of escalated rocket fire that we have had in the past year and a half, there were numerous alerts every single day. One thousand and eight hundred rockets were launched at our communities during this period. What would any of you do if this number of projectiles was launched over your border?” asks Raemer who speaks at the invitation of US Ambassador Kelly Craft.

She adds that during the 2014 war with Gaza, a rocket destroyed her bedroom, and she was saved only because she sought refuge in her home’s protected safe room.

Concluding her speech, Raemer calls on the council’s ambassadors to act against Hamas, saying, “We all need to be able to raise the next generation to respect our neighbors, not fear them.”

Prominent architect who was NY synagogue board member killed by falling brick

Erica Tishman, a prominent member of the New York Jewish community, was killed by falling debris while walking through Midtown Manhattan yesterday.

Tishman, an architect and vice president of the project management company Zubatkin, died instantly after being struck by a brick that fell off the facade of a building on Seventh Avenue and 49th Street. She was 60.

Tishman, a married mother of three, was active in Jewish and philanthropic affairs. She was on the Executive Committee of the Board of Trustees of the Central Synagogue on the Upper East Side and served as chair of the Real Estate Committee for the Educational Alliance, a social service agency.

According to the New York Post, the owners of the stricken building were aware of the danger and had received a citation last year for “failure to maintain exterior building facade and appurtenances.” The city classed the damage as severe enough to require immediate correction but no action was taken.

One witness told the New York Daily News that he saw medical personnel “working to try to revive her,” describing the scene as “pretty horrific.”

“We all work right over here,” the witness said. “Could have happened to anyone. It’s very scary.”

Tishman, a graduate of Harvard and Princeton, was a founding partner of DeWitt Tishman Architects LLP.

She is survived by her husband, Steven, and their children Adam, Stuart and Julia.


Mass protests erupt across Poland over plan to punish judges

Protesters in Poland gather in large numbers across the country to denounce legislation being pushed by the populist ruling party that would give the government the power to fire judges.

The protesters voice fears that the legislation, if passed, will mark an end to the separation of powers, and be the most dangerous blow to the young democracy’s foundations since the right-wing party, Law and Justice, came to power in 2015.

They also warn that it will add to Poland’s marginalization in the European Union and possibly even lead to its eventual departure from the 28-country bloc.

People chant “free courts!” as they gather in front of the parliament in Warsaw and at court buildings in cities across the nation of 38 million people, including Katowice, Krakow, Wroclaw, Olsztyn, Bialystok and Poznan.

“With this law, the Polish authorities are attempting to remove what little remains of judicial independence in Poland,” Amnesty International says.


In personal letter, Prince Charles thanks Rivlin for opportunity to visit

President Reuven Rivlin says Prince Charles sent a letter to him this evening confirming his arrival in Israel in January for the World Holocaust Forum.

“In his letter, Prince Charles thanked the president for the opportunity to participate in the International Leaders’ Forum on 23 January 2020 and added that he was coming in order to express his solemn respects on behalf of the people of the United Kingdom,” the President’s Residence says in a statement.

“The prince made special mention of the work undertaken by Yad Vashem and its ongoing work to ensure that humanity never forgets the horrors inflicted on the Jewish people during the most awful period in human history,” the statement says.

As House debates Trump impeachment, he decries ‘ASSAULT ON AMERICA’

The US House marches toward a historic evening vote to impeach President Donald Trump, with Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisting Congress must “defend democracy” by evicting him from the White House.

Pelosi invokes the Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Constitution in arguing that the Founders’ vision for a republic was threatened by the actions by Trump in the White House.

“Today we are here to defend democracy for the people,” she says to applause from Democrats in the chamber. “I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States.”

Republicans swiftly come to the president’s defense.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia warns that the Founders were just as concerned about a purely partisan impeachment, as this one is on track to become, wielded by the power of a majority party.

“This is not a solemn occasion,” he mocks. “You’ve been wanting to do this ever since the gentlemen was elected.”

Democrats overwhelmingly approve the rules for the debate, 228-197, with just two defections from Pelosi’s ranks, an early indication of how the votes will eventually fall on the articles of impeachment.

Trump tweets his outrage with even more capital letters and exclamation marks than usual:



Man whose number found on NJ shooter was selling arms

A bail hearing for a man whose number was found in the pocket of one of the perpetrators of last week’s fatal attack on a Jewish market is halted and abruptly postponed after prosecutors say they have evidence he was selling firearms from his pawn shop.

No date is immediately set for a new hearing.

Investigators had previously disclosed that they found several weapons in a search last week of Ahmed A-Hady’s home and a pawnshop owned by his family.

Today, prosecutors tell the federal judge they have evidence that A-Hady himself — as opposed to other members of his family — was buying and selling firearms.

A-Hady, 35, had been prohibited from possessing any firearms because of a previous felony conviction, prosecutors have said.

He hasn’t been charged with providing any of the weapons used in the December 10 Jersey City shootings by two attackers authorities say were motivated by anti-Jewish and anti-law enforcement hatred.

Four people were killed, including a Jersey City police detective who was shot before the attackers drove to the market.

A-Hady’s number was found in the pants pocket of David Anderson, one of two people killed by police after the hours-long standoff at the JC Kosher Supermarket.

Anderson and Francine Graham also killed Jersey City Police Det. Joseph Seals before driving about a mile to the store, where they killed three people inside.


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