The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.
Anti-Iran protesters demonstrate in Iraq
Protesters in Iraq are blocking roads and bridges in southern Iraq, condemning Iranian influence and political leaders who have missed another deadline to agree on a new prime minister.
Anti-government demonstrators burn tires in major cities across the south, forcing the closure of schools and government buildings, AFP correspondents report as political paralysis deepens in Baghdad.
Negotiations over a candidate to replace premier Adel Abdel Mahdi, who quit in November in the face of protests against corruption and unemployment, remains stalemated after a midnight Sunday deadline expired.
While a pro-Iran camp has tried to impose a candidate, Iraqi President Barham Saleh has reportedly put up resistance.
Demonstrators announce civil disobedience campaigns in the southern cities of Diwaniyah, Nasiriyah, Hilla, Kut and Amara, where schools and public buildings are closed today.
Sara Netanyahu pummels residence staff, media in employer abuse testimony
Sara Netanyahu, the wife of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, angrily lashes out at a former worker at the Prime Minister’s Residence and the media while testifying in a suit against her.
Netanyahu calls Shira Raban, who is suing her for abusive work conditions, a liar and accuses her of trying to extort the country.
“It’s so easy when you’re not working to sue Sara Netanyahu,” Netanyahu says, referring to herself in the third person. “Shira Raban was in the residence as a mole — I have no doubt about this.”
Netanyahu, who has been accused in the media and by Raban of placing draconian conditions on workers and subjecting them to loud and angry outbursts, says the media is “trying with all its effort to make claims against me.”
She adds that she is afraid of the workers in the residence. “To be in a house with a staff is a difficult task. For me it’s like having a shadow. I’m afraid of all the workers.”
Authority admits stats showing most immigrants not Jewish are incorrect
The Immigration and Population Authority has admitted that numbers released Monday by the Hiddush movement showing the vast majority of immigrants to Israel are not Jewish according to Israel’s strict rules are incorrect.
A spokesperson tells Ynet and Haaretz that “there are inaccuracies” in the figures, which will be rechecked.
The report had claimed that 86 percent of immigrants to Israel are not considered Jewish by Israeli standards. The Law of return allows non-Jews to immigrate if they have at least one Jewish grandparent.
Nefesh B’Nefesh, which tracks immigration from North America, says just 2.3 percent of immigrants from North America are not Jewish, not 30% as claimed by the report, according to Zvika Klein of Makor Rishon.
בארגון נפש בנפש (האחראי הבלעדי על עלייה מצפון אמריקה) מתכחשים לנתונים שפורסמו הבוקר, בהם נטען כי רק 30 אחוז מהעולים מארה"ב הם יהודים. על פי נתונים רשמיים, רק 2.3 אחוז מהעולים הם לא יהודים בהגדרה – אלא זכאי חוק השבות "על פי הרחבת החוק": בן, נכד או בן זוג של יהודי pic.twitter.com/c5NsXf0m2N
— Zvika Klein (@ZvikaKlein) December 23, 2019
Despite the apparent issues with the numbers, Hiddush, which pushes for religious freedom, has continued to stand by them.
Heavy smog blankets Tehran, shuttering schools
Schools in Iran’s Tehran province have been ordered shut until Friday due to severe air pollution, authorities announced, extending their closure to a full week.
Tehran remains cloaked by thick toxic smog for a third successive day Monday cloaking landmarks like Milad Tower and the snow-capped Alborz mountains.
“All of Tehran province’s schools… except Firuzkuh and Damavand counties are closed for the week due to increasing air pollution,” governor Mohsen Bandpey tells reporters.
He adds that forecasts indicate stable weather and “increasing pollutant density” across urban areas.
Average airborne concentration of the finest and most hazardous particles (PM2.5) was at 147 micrograms per cubic meter in the 24 hours to midday Monday, according to government website air.tehran.ir.
That is close to six times the World Health Organization’s recommended maximum.
Syrian foreign minister accuses Israel of aggression after strikes
Syria’s Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem is accusing Israel of carrying out missile “aggression” on Damascus and its suburbs, after airstrikes late Sunday.
“Yesterday Israel made an attack against [the Syrian Arab Republic], firing a number of rockets against facilities in Damascus and the outskirts,” Moallem says, according to Russian news agency Tass.
Moallem makes the comments in Moscow during a meeting with his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov. He does not provide further details.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitoring group that has activists around the country, says the Israeli strikes killed three non-Syrians, adding that they were most likely Iranians. It said there also were wounded in the attack, which struck an area south of Damascus.
— with AP
Hague celebrates Hanukkah as ICC ignores applesauce vs. sour cream wars
While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and others are accusing The Hague of anti-Semitism over the fact that the ICC has opened a door to a war crimes probe against Israel, the actual Hague is celebrating Jewish traditions with a large Hanukkah display.
The display, in the Dutch capital’s City Hall, includes a large dreidel-like sculpture, a tiny diorama of ye olde menorah, a fake menorah and faker jelly donuts and some Purim swag.
Bij de Chanoekia in het Atrium van het stadhuis van Den Haag staat ook een kleine tentoonstelling gemaakt door @NIGDenHaag over Joodse feesten feestdagen – vroeger en nu – in Den Haag. pic.twitter.com/AhVla4tiFY
— Joods Erfgoed (@JoodsErfgoed) December 23, 2019
Jewish communities around the world are holding large public events throughout the holiday, including public menorah-lightings in city squares.
Perhaps the ICC can rule on whether applesauce or sour cream is the preferred condiment for latkes?
Blue and White MK: Court should not disqualify Netanyahu
Blue and White MK Ofer Shelah says he hopes the High Court does not rule that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu cannot be tasked with forming a government while under indictment.
“A prime minister with an indictment should be disqualified publicly, and we won’t sit with him. But it would be better if the people decide, and not the court,” he says.
The comments echo similar arguments by Netanyahu, who has accused the judiciary of subverting democracy.
Netanyahu’s office thanks Johnson, Modi for Hanukkah messages
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s office thanks the British prime minister for his Hanukkah greetings, trolling UK also-ran Jeremy Corbyn while at it.
“There’s one more reason to be happy this #Hanukkah, because the Jewish People have a true friend in Downing 10. Thank you Boris!” the office tweets.
There’s one more reason to be happy this #Hanukkah, because the Jewish People have a true friend in Downing 10. Thank you Boris! https://t.co/T5SwhB1E3i
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) December 23, 2019
It also thanks Narendra Modi.
May #Hanukkah and Diwali shed their lights on the Peoples of India and Israel and strengthen even further our incredible friendship. 🇮🇱🇮🇳
Thank you my friend @narendramodi! https://t.co/tPvYpwpPJQ
— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) December 23, 2019
Saudis accused of ‘whitewash’ after Khashoggi sentencing
Saudi Arabia’s judiciary is being criticized after sentencing five people to death over the slaying of Jamal Khashoggi.
Rights organization Amnesty International says the verdict is “a whitewash which brings neither justice nor truth” and comes as courts in Saudi Arabia routinely hold “grossly unfair trials.”
Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur for extrajudicial, summary and arbitrary executions, tweets that “the travesty of investigation, prosecution and justice continues” in Saudi Arabia.
In Turkey, Yasin Aktay, a member of Turkey’s ruling party and a friend of Khashoggi, criticizes the verdict, saying the Saudi court had failed to bring the real perpetrators to justice.
“The prosecutor sentenced five hit men to death but did not touch those who were behind the five,” Aktay tells The Associated Press.
“The verdict neither meets the expectations of the public conscience nor the feeling of justice,” he says.
Jewish Agency slams ‘harmful’ false tally of non-Jewish immigrants
The Jewish Agency says it is “disturbed” after a report today included erroneous numbers showing most immigrants to Israel since 2012 were not Jews by Israeli standards.
The Interior Ministry has said it is rechecking the numbers after the figures were tallied inaccurately, showing some 86 percent of immigrants came to Israel under rules which allow non-Jews with a Jewish relative to immigrate.
“These articles are harmful and insulting to the hundreds of thousands of Jewish Olim who are living out the Zionist dream of building their future and their children’s future in Israel,” the agency says in a statement.
It says 97% of immigrants from France are Jewish, as opposed to the figures published earlier, which said only 27% were.
“To the best of our knowledge, the source of the information cited in the articles is not reputable and Jewish Agency data presents a different picture altogether,” it says.
Arak reactor redesign under nuke deal takes step forward
A secondary circuit for Iran’s Arak heavy water reactor has become operational as part of its redesign under the 2015 nuclear deal, the country’s atomic energy chief says.
“Today a significant part of the reactor becomes operational,” Ali Akbar Salehi tells reporters at Arak.
The secondary circuit “transfers the heat generated in the reactor’s heart to cooling towers” and is now complete, he added, in remarks aired on state television.
Salehi noted the reactor’s primary circuit, which contains the core, was still being built.
“Fifty-two systems have to be built so that the reactor can become operational… we have completed 20 so far,” he said.
Monday’s announcement is part of Iran’s pledge under the nuclear deal to “redesign and rebuild” a modernized reactor so that it cannot produce weapons-grade plutonium and only support “peaceful nuclear research and radioisotope production for medical and industrial purposes.”
Powerful Algerian military chief dies at 79
Algeria’s powerful military chief Gen. Ahmed Gaid Salah, who was instrumental in pushing out the gas-rich country’s long-serving president amid pro-democracy protests earlier this year, has died unexpectedly at age 79.
Gaid Salah’s death thrusts Algeria into new political uncertainty as a tumultuous year comes to a close.
Algeria’s military plays a central role in decision-making in the country, a key ally to Western powers in fighting Islamic extremism.
The president declares three days of national mourning, while the army declared a week-long grieving period.
Israel confirms it will sign deal for EastMed gas pipeline
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has confirmed that Israel, Greece and Cyprus will a sign a deal in early January for an eastern Mediterranean gas pipeline.
Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis’s office said Sunday the agreement for the EastMed pipeline would be signed in Athens on January 2.
Netanyahu says he and Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz will fly to Greece to sign the deal, which will “contribute to the energy security of Europe and prosperity in Israel and the eastern Mediterranean.”
The project is expected to make Cyprus, Greece and Israel key links in Europe’s energy supply chain and aims to stymie Turkey’s effort to extend its control to the eastern Mediterranean.
The 2,000-kilometer (1,200-mile) pipeline will be able to transfer between nine and 12 billion cubic meters a year from offshore gas reserves between Israel and Cyprus to Greece, and then on to Italy and other southeastern European countries.
— with AFP
Liberman: ICC coming after us anyway, take down Bedouin village
Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman indicates that if Israel is being probed for war crimes it might as well go for broke, urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to clear out the Bedouin West Bank hamlet of Kahn al-Ahmar post-haste.
“Netanyahu decided not to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar and used the international situation as an excuse, and yet we are still being indicted for war crimes at the Hague. I call on him to take action and stop with the spin and excuses, and make an immediate decision to evacuate Khan al-Ahmar and illegal Palestinian building near Sussiya,” he says, referring to a southern West Bank settlement.
In May, the High Court of Justice accepted the state’s position that it could not move forward with razing the village of Khan al-Ahmar while there is no permanent government.
Prospects of razing the village, east of Jerusalem, have drawn vociferous international condemnation, while its continued existence has been a constant bugbear for some on the right who want to see it torn down.
Officers arrest Palestinian with knife in Hebron
Border guards have arrested a Palestinian man who was found to be in possession of a knife near the Tomb of the Patriarchs in Hebron, police say.
The suspect attempted to enter the holy site with the blade hidden on his person.
No one was injured in the arrest, a police spokesperson says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Court finds Israeli firm did not buy Hebron home, orders settlers out
The Jerusalem District Court has ruled that Israeli families living in a disputed Hebron home must leave within 45 days, after finding that an Israeli firm did not legally purchase the property from its original Palestinian owners.
The court rejected an appeal by “Tal Construction and Investment in Karnei Shomron,” which had initially argued that it had legally purchased the home from the Bakri family in Hebron’s Tel Rumeida neighborhood.
Three families have been living in the home since 2005.
The court earlier determined that the firm had not actually made the purchase from the real landowners, but rather from a third party, which falsified documents in order to carry out the purchase.
The firm subsequently argued that the purchase should stand because of an Ottoman era law which states that if a party has taken over an asset and invested more than its initial value, it buys the property for itself.
However, in rejecting the firm’s appeal, the court reiterated the position it took in March, which deemed that Tal Construction had not acquired the property “in good faith.”
— Jacob Magid
Turkey lambastes Saudis over Khashoggi verdict
Turkey is panning a Saudi court verdict over the 2018 murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying it stopped well short of delivering justice and shedding light on the killing.
The decision announced by the Saudi court “is far from meeting the expectations of both our country and the international community to shed light on the murder with all its dimensions and deliver justice,” the foreign ministry says in a statement.
Ankara also says key aspects of the murder including the whereabouts of Khashoggi’s body were “left in the dark,” which the ministry said was a “fundamental deficiency” in terms of accountability.
Palestinians say Israel ignoring request to hold vote in East Jerusalem
The Palestinian leadership says Israel has ignored a request to allow voting in East Jerusalem in Palestinian elections planned for sometime next year.
PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh tells a cabinet meeting in Ramallah that Israel’s apparent refusal is hampering elections.
“It is clear that the Israeli prime minister is ignoring our request. Therefore President Mahmoud Abbas will call for a meeting of the Palestinian leadership to consult on the most beneficial ways to deal with this matter,” he says.
Israel reportedly opposes East Jerusalem taking part in the vote because it sees the move as challenging its sovereignty over the area which it claims as part its capital. Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem are not allowed to vote in national Israeli elections, but do take part in the vote for the city’s municipality.
Shtayyeh also welcomes the possible opening of an ICC probe into alleged Israeli and Palestinian war crimes.
Abbas announced in September that he would hold elections sometime in early 2020. Palestinians have not held a national vote since 2006.
Top Iranian official threatens Israel over Syria strikes
Ali Akbar Velayati, a top adviser to Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, says Israel will “regret its crimes,” a day after an airstrike near Damascus attributed to Israel killed three Iranians.
“Illegal Israeli attacks in the region cannot pass without a response,” he tells Kremlin-controlled broadcaster Russia Today Arabic.
He also threatens that the Hezbollah terror group will attack Israel if it attacks Lebanon.
Second crash victim named as Hayley Varenberg, 35
Jerusalem resident Hayley (Sevitz) Varenberg has been named as the second victim in a deadly bus crash near Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday.
Varenberg, 35, was originally from South Africa.
Also killed in the crash was Yosef Kahalani, a grandfather, and two other women whose names have not been released for publication.
EU slams Russia for rail link into annexed Crimea
The European Union has sharply criticized the opening of a rail link between Russia and the annexed Crimean peninsula, calling it “another violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.”
The statement was issued hours after Russian President Vladimir Putin rode in the driver’s cabin of a train marking the inauguration of the route starting from the city of Kerch in Crimea, the Ukrainian peninsula that Russia annexed five years ago.
The rail link passes over a 19-kilometer (12-mile) long bridge that was built by a company owned by a billionaire businessman ally of Putin.
Ukraine’s government and Western countries view Russia’s annexation of Crimea as illegal. Ukrainian forces continue to battle Russia-backed fighters in the east in a lingering separatist conflict that has claimed 13,000 lives since 2014.
The statement from the EU underlined that the railway on the Kerch bridge was built “without Ukraine’s consent” and was “yet another step towards a forced integration of the illegally annexed peninsula.”
Justice minister says court was wrong to agree to hear Netanyahu case
Justice Minister Amir Ohana says the Likud will respect the High Court’s decision on whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can be tasked with forming a government, given the charges against him, but slams the bench for agreeing to rule on the matter.
“I think it will do great damage, to itself and also to the state, if it rules on this,” he tells Channel 13 news.
“The High Court erred in taking on the petition. It should have rejected it out of hand,” he adds. “The public needs to decide, not any official or judge — that’s what the public does at the polls.”
Report: 1,500 killed in Iran after Khamenei ordered protests crushed
About 1,500 people were killed during recent unrest in Iran, Reuters reports, citing three Iranian Interior Ministry officials.
The toll is significantly higher than the US estimation of over 1,000 killed, and Amnesty International, which put the toll at some 300.
According to the report, security forces brutally cracked down on the gasoline price protests in November after Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei ordered them to do whatever necessary to quell the demonstrations.
“The Islamic Republic is in danger. Do whatever it takes to end it. You have my order,” Khamenei told a meeting of advisers, according to one source.
“Our imam only answers to God. He cares about people and the Revolution. He was very firm and said those rioters should be crushed,” another source tells the news agency, referring to Khamenei.
Let it rain: Desert trails to be closed as storm appears on horizon
With a winter storm expected to blow into the region later this week, authorities have decided to close several popular hiking routes in the West Bank’s Judean Desert, for fear of flash floods.
Among the trails closed on Wednesday and Thursday will be Nahal Darga, Nahal Og and Nahal Prat (Wadi Qelt). Rappelling routes will also be closed, according to the Ynet news site.
Heavy rains and winds are expected to sweep into the region late Tuesday and Wednesday, just in time for Hanukkah break.
Deadly bus crash befuddles investigators
Investigators are still trying to figure out how a passenger bus crashed into a bus stop near Ben-Gurion Airport on Sunday, killing four people.
The driver of the bus, who has been ordered to remain in police custody, told investigators that he does not know what happened, and denied being on his phone, or tired, according to Channel 13.
The channel reports that tests found no drugs or alcohol in his system and he appeared to be healthy. In addition, the bus passed a safety test just a week ago, the channel says.
The crash has continued to dominate the news agenda, leading all three major news channel’s prime time news programs.
A driver, speaking on condition of anonymity, tells the Kan broadcaster that there is a serious problem of drivers being overworked.
The channel reports there have been over two dozen deadly accidents involving buses in 2019, with 34 people killed.
Channel 13 joins campaign against ICC prosecutor Bensouda
Hours after Yedioth Ahronoth ran a newspaper article painting ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda as the helpmate of brutal Gambian dictator Yahya Jammeh, Channel 13 news has picked up the baton.
The channel, reporting on her “stained past,” airs testimonies from two people to the country’s Truth and Justice Commission, formed after Jammeh was pushed out, who allege that they were tortured and accuse Bensouda of being a large part of the state mechanism that cracked down on them.
Bensouda served as prosecutor and then attorney general under Jammeh before being pushed out by him. Her role in the Jammeh’s administration is no secret, though the channel correctly notes that she has never testified before the commission, which she has said publicly she backs.
On Twitter, Channel 13’s Nadav Eyal called the Yedioth report, which painted her as a literal devil’s advocate, “an excellent story that made me scream out with frustration this morning.”
The stories appears to be part of a concerted effort by some Israeli media outlets to join the Israeli government in casting shadows over Bensouda, given her decision to open the door to prosecution of Israel for war crimes.
The Israelis may be redrawing a page from the American playbook, after the US got the ICC to drop an investigation into American war crimes in Afghanistan by threatening to pull out of the ICC and canceling a visa for Bensouda.
EU needs to accept settlements, Pompeo tells Apocalyptic radio host
US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo tells a Christian radio network that the US is trying to convince the EU that it is wrong in regarding Israeli settlements as illegal, and Europe should get on board the settlements-are-legal, per se, train.
“Ms. Mogherini just – she’s just wrong,” Pompeo says about EU Foreign Policy head Federica Mogherini. “And so we are doing our level best to demonstrate to them our legal theory, our understandings, and why it is that we’re convinced that under international law, these settlements are not per se illegal,” he tells Joe Kerr of CSN.
“We hope that all nations, including member nations inside of the EU and the EU itself and countries all over the world, will come to recognize the fundamental rights that the Israeli people have to this land, to this space,” Pompeo says, according to a State Department transcript.
“The risk that is presented from the world as anti-Semitism is on the rise, we hope that every nation will recognize that and weigh in on this conflict in a way that is constructive, that will ultimately lead to the peace that is so desperately needed,” he adds, nonsensically
The interview is given to “A View from the Wall,” a show hosted by CSN, which offers so-called “Rapture Kits” on its website, which, for just $30, “will help believers know what the Bible says about the Rapture and how to proactively warn and inform those who are not spiritually prepared for the return of the Lord.”
“Yes, dark days are coming, but so is victory and the Millennial Reign of Christ,” it promises.
11-year-old in critical condition after playground accident
An 11-year-old boy in Tel Aviv has been rushed to a hospital in critical condition, after apparently being injured while on playground equipment.
Some reports indicate he was choked while playing on a hammock swing at a park.
Netanyahu calls ICC anti-Semitic again
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is repeating his attack on the ICC as an anti-Semitic organization.
“The claims of the ICC prosecutor that Jews have no right to live in the homeland of the Jewish people is pure anti-Semitism. So is the claim that Jews have no right to defend themselves from those who wish to destroy them,” he says in a statement, slightly twisting the Fatou Bensouda’s decision to possibly open a war crimes probe.
The words are a near carbon copy of comments made by Netanyahu on Sunday night, when he told a Likud event that “they [the ICC] say that Jews do not have a right to settle in the Jewish homeland. They say the Jews do not have a right to live in the land of the Jews, in the Land of Israel. Well, we say, shame on you.”
Netanyahu also repeats his topical comparison of the ICC to the Seleucid empire fought by the Jews in the Hanukkah story.
“We won then, we’re going to win now,” he says.
Giuliani: I’m more of a Jew than Soros is
New York Magazine’s Olivia Nuzzi reports that Rudy Guiliani told her that he is more Jewish than Jewish philanthropist George Soros, in an angry rant.
“Don’t tell me I’m anti-Semitic if I oppose him,” The former New York mayor and current lawyer to Donald Trump tells her. “Soros is hardly a Jew. I’m more of a Jew than Soros is. I probably know more about — he doesn’t go to church, he doesn’t go to religion — synagogue. He doesn’t belong to a synagogue, he doesn’t support Israel, he’s an enemy of Israel. He’s elected eight anarchist DA’s in the United States. He’s a horrible human being.”
Giuliani, who is Catholic, (but does get Jew points for being from Brooklyn) does not say what religion — synagogue he attends.
The interview also includes him denying doing Trump’s bidding in Ukraine, over a traditional Jewish meal of crispy bacon and Bloody Marys, just like Bubbe used to make.
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