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Accusing Netanyahu of destroying Likud, Elkin quits party to join Sa’ar

PM’s confidant says Likud leader has let his personal interests triumph over Israel’s interest, makes promises he doesn’t keep, created a climate of fear

Ze'ev Elkin announces his resignation from Likud as he joins Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope party, December 23, 2020 (video screenshot)
Ze'ev Elkin announces his resignation from Likud as he joins Gideon Sa'ar's New Hope party, December 23, 2020 (video screenshot)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s developments as they unfolded.

Likud MKs lobby for party primaries ahead of general election in March

Some Likud lawmakers are calling for party primaries to shake up Benjamin Netanyahu’s party slate ahead of the March elections, following the defection of several Likud members to Gideon Sa’ar’s new party, New Hope.

MKs Nir Barkat, Eli Cohen and Shlomo Karhi, express support for the move in interviews with Army Radio. Karhi says the internal vote is needed to “restore the trust of its voters,” while Cohen says a final decision will be made next week.

Sa’ar quit Likud earlier this month to form New Hope and challenge Netanyahu from the right in the upcoming vote. He was joined by Likud MKs Michal Shir and Sharren Haskel.

Former justice minister says he’s sorry for calling Netanyahu a ‘political pig’

Former justice minister Haim Ramon apologizes for calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “political pig.”

In an interview with Radio 103FM on Tuesday, Ramon — who represented Blue and White in coalition negotiations with Likud — blamed Netanyahu for the collapse of the government.

“You want to know why we are going to elections? Benjamin Netanyahu, a political pig,” he said.

On Wednesday, he tells Galey Yisrael radio: “I didn’t mean that Netanyahu was a political pig and I apologize to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for it.”

Former justice minister Haim Ramon at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on September 5, 2012. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch / FLASH90)

Think tank: Since 1996, Israel had elections every 2.3 years on average

The Israel Democracy Institute think tank says that Israel, on average, has held elections every 2.3 years since 1996 — the year Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu first took office — placing it in last place compared to some 20 other parliamentary democracies around the world.

“This unfortunate reality is the result of a combination of a deep-seated crisis of governance compounded by the unbearable ease with which early elections can called, while at the same time we have a prime minister who has ensured that the public interest is held hostage to the leader’s personal considerations,” says Prof. Ofer Kenig of the institute.

“When it comes to the average time in office for prime ministers, we are actually close to the top in comparison to other parliamentary democracies. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s long tenure in power places Israel in 6th place. However, of course this sense of stability is illusionary. While the prime minister has remained in office, the political system has suffered from high levels of instability for the past decade.”

Israel is followed by Greece (2.5 years), Spain and Japan (both 3 years), Iceland (3.1 years), Netherlands and Canada (both 3.2 years), according to the research, which comes as Israel calls its fourth election in two years.

Election campaign billboards for the Likud party shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in Bnei Brak, Israel, March 1, 2020 (AP Photo/Oded Balilty)

Egypt bans New Year’s parties to stem virus

Egypt has called off all New Year’s celebrations in order to stem rising coronavirus cases in the country, Prime Minister Mostafa Madbouli says.

“There will be no New Year’s celebrations or gatherings as part of the precautionary measures taken to confront the coronavirus,” the premier says in a statement released after a cabinet meeting.

Egypt’s daily novel coronavirus caseload has been increasing steadily in recent weeks, and the Arab world’s most populous country has officially recorded more than 127,000 cases, including over 7,100 deaths.

While the official recovery rate remains high, limited testing of the general population has stoked fears that cases are going undetected.


IDF believes British variant already in Israel — report

The IDF Home Front Command, which runs the state’s coronavirus quarantine hotels, believes the British mutation has likely arrived in Israel, the Ynet news site reports.

The assessment comes as the army gears up to quarantine all citizens who enter Israel from all other countries starting Wednesday at 10 p.m. in the military-run facilities, per a government order aimed at preventing the variant from spreading in Israel.

A technician collects nasal swab samples for COVID-19 at the coronavirus lab, at Ben-Gurion International Airport, near Tel Aviv on December 14, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

UAE’s top Islamic authority okays vaccines, even if they contain pork gelatin

The United Arab Emirates’ highest Islamic authority, the UAE Fatwa Council, has ruled that coronavirus vaccines are permissible for Muslims even if they contain pork gelatin.

The ruling follows growing alarm that the use of pork gelatin, a common vaccine ingredient, may hamper vaccination among Muslims who consider the consumption of pork products “haram,” or forbidden under Islamic law.

If there are no alternatives, Council Chairman Sheikh Abdallah bin Bayyah says that the coronavirus vaccines would not be subject to Islam’s restrictions on pork because of the higher need to “protect the human body.”

The council adds that in this case, the pork gelatin is considered medicine, not food, with multiple vaccines already shown to be effective against a highly contagious virus that “poses a risk to the entire society.


A medical staff member receives a COVID-19 vaccine, at the Hadassah Medical Center, on December 20, 2020 in Jerusalem. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Amir Peretz announces he’s vacating Labor leadership

Labor chairman Amir Peretz announces he’s stepping aside as leader of the dovish party, after driving Labor to its lowest-ever showing in the past election and later breaking his campaign promise not to join a government led by Benjamin Netanyahu.

Peretz, in a Facebook post, writes: “Out of a sense of responsibility, I am announcing that in the upcoming elections, I won’t lead the Labor party and I won’t head the party in the Knesset. At this time, the Labor party needs renewal and must choose a new chairman and leadership.”

Peretz — the longest-serving MK in Knesset — also says he turned down an offer for a senior spot on the Blue and White list, but stops short of announcing his full resignation from political life. Peretz is seeking to be nominated president after Reuven Rivlin steps down in the summer.

He also defends his decision to join the coalition, saying he only did so after Blue and White agreed to join forces with Netanyahu. During previous election campaigns, Peretz famously shaved his mustache so that Israelis could “read his lips” and promised he won’t join up with Netanyahu.

Economy Minister Amir Peretz in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Recent polls have shown Labor failing to cross the electoral threshold.

The party won just three seats as part of its alliance with Gesher and Meretz in the March 2020 election.

Russia says it expects ‘nothing good’ from Biden

With less than a month before Joe Biden moves into the White House, Moscow accuses the incoming US administration of “Russophobia” after the president-elect promised to punish Russia for a major cyber attack.

Biden is expected to take a tougher stance against Russia than Donald Trump, whose ascent to the US presidency in 2016 was plagued by accusations of Russian interference to boost his campaign.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was one of the last leaders to congratulate Biden on his election victory, sending his congratulatory message six weeks after the November 3 vote and saying he was ready for “collaboration.”

Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov, speaking to reporters, says the Kremlin was expecting “nothing positive” in ties with Washington.

In this July 7, 2017, file photo, US President Donald Trump (R) meets with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the G-20 Summit in Hamburg. (AP/Evan Vucci, File)

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov strikes a similar note, speaking about Moscow’s expectations from the future US administration.

“We are definitely not expecting anything good,” Ryabkov says in an interview with Interfax news agency.

“And it would be strange to expect good things from people, many of whom made their careers on Russophobia and throwing mud at my country,” he adds.

Washington has recently accused Russia of a major cyber attack on government agencies — a claim Moscow has denied.

Biden on Tuesday said the attack cannot go “unanswered,” promising to retaliate once he steps into office on January 20.

The US president-elect also accused Trump of downplaying the gravity of the attack.


Coronavirus czar: Third lockdown is unavoidable

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash says a third lockdown to stem the virus is “unavoidable.”

“If we do nothing, we will see another 3,000 deaths in two months,” says Ash.

The Health Ministry is reportedly planning to present cabinet ministers today with a proposal to introduce an immediate three-week national lockdown that would include shuttering schools and limiting people to within a kilometer of their homes.

Pfizer-BioNTech to supply US with another 100 million doses

Pfizer and BioNTech will supply the US with an additional 100 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine under a new agreement.

The drugmakers say that they expect to deliver all the doses by July 31.

Pfizer already has a contract to supply the government with 100 million doses of its vaccine.

Pfizer’s vaccine was the first to gain approval from the Food and Drug Administration and initial shipments went to states last week. It has now been joined by a vaccine from Moderna, which was developed in closer cooperation with scientists from the National Institutes of Health.


Macron ‘showing signs of improvement’ after COVID infection

French President Emmanuel Macron, who contracted COVID-19 last week, is doing better, his office says.

Macron tested positive for the virus on Thursday showing symptoms of fatigue, coughing and muscle aches.

The president, who self-confined in an official residence near Paris from where he is running meetings remotely, had promised daily updates on his health.

He is now “showing signs of improvement,” the Elysee palace says, without giving details.

All previous daily updates had said that the 43-year-old president was in “stable” condition.


French President Emmanuel Macron gestures after a press conference with Belgium’s Prime Minister at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 1, 2020. (Benoit Tessier/Pool/AFP)

Mladenov turns down offer to lead UN mission in Libya

Nickolay Mladenov, the UN special envoy for the Middle East Peace Process, has turned down an offer to lead the UN mission in conflict-stricken Libya, according to a UN spokesman.

Mladenov told UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Monday that he would not take up the position of special envoy for the North African country “for personal and family reasons,” says UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Mladenov’s term as Middle East peace envoy is set to expire at the end of the year and he’ll be replaced by Norway’s Middle East envoy, Tor Wennesland, according to the UN secretary-general.

Mladenov was appointed as the UN special envoy for the Middle East Peace Process in early 2015. Before that, he was the top UN envoy in Iraq, and had served as Bulgaria’s foreign minister from 2010 to 2013 and in the European Parliament from 2007 to 2009.

The United Nations Middle East special envoy, Nickolay Mladenov, speaks during a press conference in Jerusalem on June 25, 2020. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

He took the job a few months after the end of the deadliest, most destructive war between Israel and Hamas in the Palestinian enclave of the Gaza Strip.

In recent years, Mladenov, alongside other mediators from Egypt and Qatar, played a significant role defusing numerous rounds of cross-border violence that threatened another war between Israel and Hamas.

He was to replace Ghassan Salame, the former UN envoy for Libya, who resigned in March amid fierce fighting between Libya’s rival sides over the capital, Tripoli.

UN acting envoy for Libya Stephanie Williams will continue leading the mission in Libya, and the UN would continue the search for Salame’s replacement, says the UN spokesman.


Health Ministry orders hospitals to join vaccine drive to step up pace

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has ordered hospitals to begin administering vaccines “to significantly step up the pace” of the inoculation drive, the ministry says in a statement.

The hospitals will join the effort — which is currently being run by healthcare providers — from next week.

Coronavirus czar Nachman Ash receives a COVID-19 vaccine in Herzliya, December 20, 2020 (Flash90)

Masks block 99.9% of large COVID-laden droplets — study

Face masks reduce the risk of spreading large COVID-laden droplets when speaking or coughing by up to 99.9 percent, according to a lab experiment with mechanical mannequins and human subjects, researchers say.

A woman standing two meters (yards) from a coughing man without a mask will be exposed to 10,000 times more such droplets than if he were wearing one, even if he is only 50 centimeters away, they report in the journal Royal Society Open Science.

“There is no more doubt whatsoever that face masks can dramatically reduce the dispersion of potentially virus-laden droplets,” senior author Ignazio Maria Viola, an expert in applied fluid dynamics at the University of Edinburgh’s School of Engineering, tells AFP.

Large respiratory droplets — which act like projectiles before being pulled toward the ground by gravity — are thought to be the main driver of SARS-CoV-2 transmission, he notes.

Smaller ones, sometimes called aerosol droplets, can remain suspended in the air for longer periods.

People wearing face masks seen on Jaffa street in downtown Jerusalem on December 15, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We continuously exhale a whole range of droplets, from micro-scale to millimeter-scale,” Maria Viola says by phone.

“Some of the droplets will drop faster than others” depending on temperature, humidity and especially air speed, he says.

The study focused on particles larger than 170 microns in diameter — roughly two to four times the width of a human hair.

Aerosol particles, which tend to follow currents in the air, are generally described as smaller than 20 or 30 microns.

Intermediate size droplets can behave either way, the study finds.

“If you wear a mask, you are mitigating the virus transmission by an order of magnitude — 10 times less,” Maria Viola says.

“In our study, for the larger droplets we measure, we’re talking about 99.9 percent less.”


Pandemic reaches Antarctica, last untouched continent

The pandemic has finally reached every continent on Earth.

Chilean authorities announce that at least 58 people that were at two military bases in Antarctica or on a navy ship that went to the continent tested positive for the new coronavirus.

So far no other country with a presence in Antarctica has publicly reported any other cases.

Chile’s army announced Monday that 36 people at the Gen. Bernardo O’Higgins Riquelme Antarctic base have tested positive, and on Tuesday the health minister for the Biobio region in Chile said there are 21 infections involving people aboard the Chilean navy’s Sergeant Aldea supply vessel.

One more case was reported in Las Estrellas’ village, where civilian personnel working at the Lieutenant Rodolfo Marsh Martin Air Force Base live, says Eduardo Castillo, regional health secretary for the Magallanes area, which oversee Chilean operations in the Antarctic. The Sargento Aldea ship docked at that village, he adds.

The army says the first group of 36 people includes 26 members of the military and 10 civilian employees of a maintenance contract company. It says none so far had shown complications.


View of glaciers at the Torres del Paine National Park in Magallanes region, Chile, on November 1, 2019. (Johan Ordonez/AFP)

Cabinet to discuss recognizing illegal outposts, Bedouin towns

Despite the political enmity between them, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz have decided to raise the issue of regulating unauthorized West Bank outposts and Bedouin towns at the cabinet meeting today, they say in a joint statement.

Both the outposts and Bedouin areas are seeking government recognition and the supply of utilities.

Settlers at the newly-established wildcast Maale Shai outpost, named for slain Rabbi Shai Ohayon, in footage handed by the residents to Channel 13, August 27, 2020. (Channel 13 screen capture)

Committee to meet on nomination of top cop, prisons chief

The Goldberg Committee, which vets senior government appointments, will convene tomorrow to discuss the nominations of the new police commissioner and head of the Prisons Service.

Border Police chief Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai has been nominated to serve as the next Israel Police commissioner, a position that has been vacant for two years. Katy Perry was tapped to serve as the next chief of the IPS. She will be the second woman to lead the organization if approved.

Kobi Shabtai, commander of the Border Police, on September 28, 2017 (Moshe Shai/Flash90)


Minister predicts 5th country will recognize Israel before Trump leaves office

Regional Affairs Minister Ofir Akunis predicts another country could normalize ties with Israel before US President Donald Trump leaves office in a month.

“We’re working on it, I believe it will happen before January 21,” Akunis tells the Ynet news site. “There will be an American statement on another country announcing… the normalization of ties with Israel and in essence the basis of peace treaty. What are the candidates? I won’t say, because we have an arrangement with the Americans that they release the statement, but it will be an interesting country.”

Reports have suggested Indonesia or Oman could be the next country to recognize Israel.  A top Trump administration official said Tuesday that Indonesia, the world’s largest Muslim-majority nation, could receive up to $2 billion in US development aid if it recognizes Israel.

Minister of Regional Cooperation Ofir Akunis at the Knesset in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020 (Oren Ben Hakoon/POOL)

Blue and White ministers expected to back lockdown, with some conditions

Blue and White ministers will support imposing a lockdown, Israel’s third since the start of the pandemic, Army Radio reports.

But they are also exploring “options to ease the economy and enable the education system to operate,” the report says, without elaborating.

Health Ministry set to float 25-day lockdown, with limits on movement

The Health Ministry is set to present a plan to ministers to impose a 25-day lockdown, shuttering all schools and commercial activity and barring Israelis from traveling beyond a kilometer from their homes, according to Hebrew media reports.

According to television reports, ministers are split over schools, with some backing keeping schools open in low-infection areas.

The cabinet will soon convene to discuss the plan, which comes as Israel’s virus cases have climbed to over 3,000 a day.

Police suspect 4 settler youths of manslaughter over fatal crash during chase

Police are accusing four settler youths whose car overturned during a police chase of manslaughter, the Kan public broadcaster reports. The crash during the pursuit led to the death of one of the passengers, Ahuvia Sandak.

The four were lightly injured in the crash when fleeing from police after allegedly throwing rocks at Palestinians in the central West Bank, police said.

The vehicle belonging to so-called hilltop youth flipped over near the Michmash Junction, killing 16-year-old Sandak and injuring the others.

The four have been interrogated on suspicion of manslaughter, Kan says.

But according to Honenu, a legal aid group that often represents far-right settlers, the police car “hit [the settlers’] vehicle with force from behind, and the force of the impact caused their car to run off the road.”

Sandak was trapped under the car and it took roughly 40 minutes to pull him out, the group said.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department announced that it would be probing the circumstances of the crash.

Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed when his car flipped over while being chased by police in the West Bank on December 21, 2020. (Courtesy)

Cabinet begins meeting on 3rd nationwide lockdown

The full cabinet meeting on imposing a lockdown begins.

Among the disagreements that are expected to rise during the meeting is when the closure should begin. Channel 12 says the Health Ministry recommends it start Sunday, but Blue and White will only back the plan if it’s implemented from the middle of next week.

Data shows Israel leading world in COVID vaccination drive

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweets a chart from Our World In Data showing Israel to be the current world leader in administering COVID-19 vaccines to its population, surpassing the UK.

“Tremendous success!” he tweets, alongside the chart showing Israel at the top of the list (0.83 per 100 people). Israel began its drive on Sunday, while Britain started on December 8.

The data for the UK and the US, however, was last updated on Monday, while Israel’s appears to be up-to-date.

Global virus death toll at 1.71 million; nearly 78 million infected

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,718,209 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP at 11:00 GMT on Wednesday.

At least 77,992,300 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 49,481,100 are now considered recovered.

The tallies, using data collected by AFP from national authorities and information from the World Health Organization (WHO), probably reflect only a fraction of the actual number of infections.

Many countries are testing only symptomatic or the most serious cases.

On Tuesday, 14,037 new deaths and 686,758 new cases were recorded worldwide.

Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were United States with 3,030 new deaths, followed by Brazil with 968 and Germany with 962.

The United States is the worst-affected country with 322,849 deaths from 18,237,190 cases. At least 6,298,082 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 188,259 deaths from 7,318,821 cases, India with 146,444 deaths from 10,099,066 cases, Mexico with 119,495 deaths from 1,338,426 cases, and Italy with 69,842 deaths from 1,977,370 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Belgium with 162 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Slovenia with 116, Bosnia-Herzegovina with 116, Italy 116, Peru 113.

Europe overall has 529,976 deaths from 24,485,509 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 489,366 deaths from 14,827,483 infections, and the United States and Canada 337,248 deaths from 18,757,054 cases.

Asia has reported 212,715 deaths from 13,526,275 cases, the Middle East 87,702 deaths from 3,816,525 cases, Africa 60,258 deaths from 2,548,663 cases, and Oceania 944 deaths from 30,792 cases.

As a result of corrections by national authorities or late publication of data, the figures updated over the past 24 hours may not correspond exactly to the previous day’s tallies.


Health Ministry: Pregnant women, the elderly won’t be forced to isolate in hotels

Starting tonight at 10 p.m., Israelis entering the country will be required to self-isolate in a state-run hotel.

But the Health Ministry says exceptions will be made, allowing some to quarantine at home.

A committee will be set up at Ben Gurion Airport to debate “humanitarian” requests, says the ministry.

Those allowed to isolate at home include: the elderly, minors who were traveling alone, women in advanced stages of pregnancy, people who require special treatment, and more, says the ministry.

“All those who get an exemption from the hotel will still be required to isolate at home,” says the ministry.

German police arrest 2 men suspected of far-right attacks

German prosecutors say police in Berlin arrested two men suspected of involvement in a series of far-right attacks.

Authorities are investigating fire-bombings and dozens of other attacks between 2013 and 2019 that were directed at anti-fascist groups and politicians in Berlin’s southern district of Neukoelln.

“At last! The neo-Nazis Sebastian T. and Tilo P. have been arrested as suspects in the right-wing firebombing series in Neukoelln,” Left party lawmaker Martina Renner says on Twitter.

Victims and their supporters had long accused police and prosecutors of failing to properly investigate the case. Earlier this year, the investigation was transferred to a different prosecutors’ office amid concerns over bias.


Health minister says 4 cases of British variant found in Israel – reports

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein tells ministers during a cabinet meeting that four cases of the British coronavirus variant have been found in Israel, according to Hebrew media reports.

Three of the four cases were found among people staying in a state-run quarantine hotel after arriving in Israel from the UK, according to Channel 12.

The mutation is believed to be more infectious, but not more lethal.

Health Ministry confirms first four cases of UK virus variant

The Health Ministry confirms that four cases of the coronavirus mutation that has been circulating in the UK have been located in Israel.

Three of the cases were people who recently returned from England and are staying in state-run hotels and the ministry is attempting to track down the source of the fourth infection, it says.

Britain announces South Africa travel curbs over its new virus strain

Britain introduces restrictions on travel from South Africa over the spread of another new variant of coronavirus, UK Health Minister Matt Hancock says.

“We’re placing immediate restrictions on travel from South Africa,” Hancock says, adding that two cases of the “highly concerning” new virus strain had been discovered in Britain.


Netanyahu: ‘Good chance’ the vaccine will shield against British strain

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the cases of the British variant in Israel prove that his government acted correctly in imposing restrictions on returning travelers.

“We must assume the strain is spreading here. The good news is… that there’s a good chance — but it’s not certain — that the vaccines will be effective [against the variant]. We don’t know for sure, but it’s highly likely,” he says, adding that scientists will know more in days.

During cabinet meeting, education minister informed he must enter quarantine

During the virtual cabinet meeting on imposing a third lockdown, Education Minister Yoav Gallant is informed he was exposed to a virus carrier and must enter quarantine, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant holds a press conference in Tel Aviv, August 6, 2020. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Bennett, Sa’ar to make press statements

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett will hold a press conference later this evening, where he is expected to announce he’s running for prime minister.

His right-wing rival, Gideon Sa’ar, will also make a statement to reporters — 10 minutes later.

Arab MK: ‘No way’ we would back Sa’ar for PM

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi says there’s “no way” his party would recommend that New Hope leader Gideon Sa’ar be tasked with forming the next coalition following the March 2021 elections.

After the vote, the president consults with all political parties and gathers their recommendations for the next prime minister. The Joint List recommended Benny Gantz after the previous election, only to see the centrist former IDF chief join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Illustrative: Joint List party member Ahmad Tibi speaks during a Knesset plenary session on February 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“There is no way we would recommend Gideon Sa’ar for the premiership,” Tibi tells Army Radio. “You don’t always have to recommend someone. Instead of recommending generals, should we go with the worst inciters against the Arabs?”

Sa’ar opposes the establishment of a Palestinian state and is to the right of Netanyahu on many issues.

Nissenkorn offered leadership of Labor party after Peretz bows out — report

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn of the Blue and White party may be tapped to lead the Labor party after Amir Peretz vacates the position, according to the Ynet news site.

Nissenkorn was offered the position by senior officials, with the center-left party set to be named the “New Labor,” the report says.

Nissenkorn, the former Histadrut labor union chief, is also being courted by Tel Aviv mayor Ron Huldai, who is seeking to form a party ahead of the March 2021 elections, according to Ynet.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen at the Knesset, October 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Rivlin laments 4th elections in 2 years as shameful

President Reuven Rivlin, speaking at an Air Force graduation ceremony, terms the upcoming elections — Israel’s fourth in two years — “our shame.”

“Recently, I heard your commander, the commander of us all, Chief of Staff Aviv Kochavi, say words that are important to quote here. ‘Since its creation, the IDF has played a significant role in Israeli society as the people’s army. There is no other army like it in the world, that takes the best of its country’s people, educates them in the principles of loving the country and the state and creates meeting points between the different groups that live here together. Alongside all this, it also teaches its recruits that there is no mission that cannot be accomplished.’ That’s what the Chief of Staff said, and I salute.”

“The Chief of Staff continued his remarks then, and today, when the storm of elections is with us again, to our shame, I would like to give them special emphasis. ‘The role of the IDF as an exemplary organization led by concern for the state – where the country, its interests and principles are paramount – is more important than ever. Our guiding light, all of us, is practical security considerations, and we all must be committed to that principle and to it alone.’

“That is what the Chief of Staff said and I adopt his words wholeheartedly at this time, and undertake to stand against any attempt to call them into question.”

Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID vaccine submitted for UK approval

The University of Oxford and drug manufacturer AstraZeneca have applied to the UK health regulator for permission to roll out their COVID-19 vaccine, Health Minister Matt Hancock says.

“I’m delighted to be able to tell you that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine developed here in the UK has submitted its full data package to the MHRA for approval,” he says.

“This is the next step towards a decision on the deployment of the vaccine,” the health minister adds at a press conference where he announced Britain would impose travel restrictions on South Africa to curb the spread of another new, more transmissible strain of the coronavirus.

The Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine was the first coronavirus shot to be authorized for use by the UK’s independent medicines regulator and has been given to 500,000 of the country’s most vulnerable people since its rollout last month.

The bulk of Britain’s vaccine requirements are expected to be met by the shot developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, as the government has ordered 100 million doses.


Russia clears way to block Facebook, YouTube for ‘censorship’

Russian lawmakers move a step closer to allowing regulators to block internet platforms like Facebook and YouTube if they are deemed to have censored content produced by Russians.

Russia’s lower house of parliament, which passed draft legislation in a third reading, says in a media release that authorities can target platforms if they have been found to limit information based on nationality and language.

The lower house State Duma adds that internet websites could also be sanctioned “in the event of discrimination against the content of Russian media.”

In an explanatory note attached to the bill, the authors write that authorities have been receiving complaints this year from Russian media that their accounts have been censored by “foreign internet platforms Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.”


Police investigating suspected gang rape of 9-year-old girl

A woman in central Israel has filed a police complaint alleging the rape of her 9-year-old daughter by four boys, the oldest of them 14 years old, according to Channel 12. The other suspects are 11-12 years old.

Police have arrested the 14-year-old. A court initially ordered him released to house arrest but reversed course when police conveyed classified information, the network says.


Sa’ar expected to unveil new Likud defector — TV

Gideon Sa’ar is expected to announce that a senior Likud MK is defecting to his New Hope party during tonight’s press conference, according to Channel 12.

Likud MKs Yifat Shasha-Biton, Michal Shir and Sharren Haskel have announced they’re leaving Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s party to join Sa’ar.

Gideon Sa’ar visiting Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem on December 16, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ichilov hospital to begin vaccinating general population from Sunday

The director of the Ichilov Medical Center in Tel Aviv, Ronni Gamzu, formerly the country’s coronavirus czar, says his hospital will begin vaccinating the general population against COVID-19 from Sunday, according to the Ynet news site.

Israel is currently only vaccinating those over 60.

Gamzu says the hospital aims to inoculate 4,000 people a day against the virus. Registration will open on the hospital website on Thursday, he says.

Likud minister Elkin to defect from party, join Sa’ar — report

Likud minister Ze’ev Elkin will leave Benjamin Netanyahu’s party and join Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope ahead of the March 2021 elections, Channel 12 reports.

Ze’ev Elkin, at the time leaving his position as environmental protection minister, speaks at a ceremony at the Ministry of Environmental in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Bennett officially announces he’ll run for prime minister

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett announces he’ll run for prime minister.

“Israel needs new leadership. Therefore, tonight I stand here before you, citizens of Israel, to announce that I am running for prime minister,” he says in a primetime television address, saying he’ll unify Israelis and improve the economy.

Naftali Bennett arrives for a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem, November 18, 2018. (Abir Sultan/Pool via AP)

In blow to Netanyahu, Elkin quits Likud to join Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope

Ze’ev Elkin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close adviser, his translator and adviser in all dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin, and his former coalition chairman who famously never lost a vote, quits Likud to join Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party.

His letter of resignation makes no mention of his shifting political alliance, saying: “I would like to terminate my Likud membership.”

Elkin immigrated to Israel from Ukraine in 1990. He first entered the Knesset as a Kadima MK in 2006, but then switched to Likud, and has held his seat ever since. He was minister of higher education and of water resources in the newly collapsed coalition.

with Haviv Rettig Gur

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (r) seen with Jerusalem and Heritage Minister Ze’ev Elkin in the Knesset in Jerusalem on July 3, 2018. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Elkin rips into Netanyahu: You have destroyed Likud; I cannot tell voters to place their fate in your hands

Ze’ev Elkin issues a scathing indictment of Netanyahu, in his announcement that he’s leaving Likud and joining Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope, which he hopes will grow into the kind of movement Likud was under Menachem Begin.

“For many years, I’ve worked alongside Benjamin Netanyahu… I very much respect him,” says Elkin, touting the prime minister’s achievements, including his contribution to “Israel’s security, world standing and economy.”

“But unfortunately, in the past two years and specifically recently, I increasingly feel that his personal considerations… are becoming more central in the decision-making process, which is critical for the State of Israel and its citizens,” he says.

Ze’ev Elkin announces his resignation from Likud as he joins Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, December 23, 2020 (video screenshot)

“As someone who is watching this dangerous process from up close, I see how his personal considerations are getting mixed up with the national considerations, and even triumphing” over the national interest, says Elkin.

“Mr. Prime Minister, I know you well. And I know you are watching this right now,” continues Elkin. He castigates Netanyahu for dragging Israel into its fourth elections. And he recalls what he says were his personal pleas to Netanyahu to avoid the third of Israel’s recent elections, in March.

“You know well the simple truth: You, again for personal reasons, have taken the country to its fourth election in two years… in the midst of a pandemic” while trying to place the blame on others.

“When it happened the third time, I begged you to prevent it… We could have had a unity government last time,” says Elkin, “but you hoped for [parliamentary] immunity from prosecution and [the passage of] the French law [which would have prevented Netanyahu’s corruption trial]…”

Such hopes were unfounded, Elkin says he told Netanyahu at the time.

“That’s when I lost my faith in you.”

As for the current elections, says Elkin, “you know the truth: We’re going to these surreal elections because you want to influence [the appointment of the] state attorney and the attorney general, and because of your hope for a French law [to stop your trial].

“In this situation, I can’t call for Israeli citizens to vote for you and be certain that you will act on their behalf rather than your own.”

Elkin now announces he is resigning from the government and from the Knesset, and leaving Likud.

“Prime minister, you have destroyed the Likud movement… and turned it into a personality cult” where critics are scared to speak.

He says Netanyahu will dispatch his ministers to attack him in TV studios when this is over, but that they privately say exactly what he has just now said publicly. “They are afraid of you, of the atmosphere you’ve created. You’ve crushed the party’s democracy.”

He says high-ranking Likud members have no influence, since Netanyahu does not reward those who score high in Likud primaries, and that he has “destroyed the [Likud] movement’s democracy.”

He now accuses Netanyahu of breaking his promises — to friends, allies, activists and citizens.

“When you need to, you have no problem making promises with no intention of keeping them,” he says.

Elkin says Netanyahu is now counting on Naftali Bennett “forgetting all the times you’ve tricked him and like a battered woman, rush back into your arms after elections and save you from your trial.”

Elkin says he can’t tell Israelis to “support someone that I’ve stopped believing in” and place their fate in his hands.

He says he hopes Netanyahu wins in his corruption trial, “but the time has come for new leadership, different leadership.”

Likud claims Elkin disgruntled over portfolio, placement in party

In response to Ze’ev Elkin’s announcement, the Likud party claims he’s disgruntled over his place on the party slate.

“Water Minister Elkin skipped from Kadima to Likud and from Likud to Gideon [Sa’ar] simply because he didn’t get into the top ten [slots] in Likud and didn’t receive the job he wanted. Gideon’s party is a refugee camp for defectors who failed in the democratic primaries in Likud and are unable to get elected,” Netanyahu’s party says.

Elkin placed 12th in the party primaries.

Sa’ar welcomes Elkin into party, underlines his extensive political experience

Gideon Sa’ar welcomes Ze’ev Elkin to his New Hope party.

“Ze’ev is of the highest caliber, the smartest and most ethical in our political system. He has extensive experience in senior positions in the Knesset and government. His decision attests to his honesty, integrity and courage. I fiercely believe that together — we will succeed,” tweets Sa’ar.

Israel set to quarantine all arrivals to country in army-run hotels

In less than an hour, all Israelis returning to the country will be forced to quarantine in military-run hotels under government order.

Exceptions will be made for the elderly, pregnant women, children traveling alone and others.

The arriving citizens will be compelled to stay at the facilities for 10 days on condition they are tested twice for the coronavirus, or 14 days, if they aren’t tested.

Foreigners are banned from entering the country.

The measures are aimed at preventing the British variant of the virus from spreading in Israel.

Passengers at the Ben Gurion Airport departure hall on December 14, 2020 (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Netanyahu said to pause cabinet meeting on lockdown

Following the bombshell announcement that his confidant Ze’ev Elkin is quitting Likud to join the rival New Hope party, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called a one-hour break in the virtual cabinet meeting that is discussing imposing a third lockdown to curb virus infections, according to Hebrew reports.

Netanyahu tells ministers he wants to mull over the proposals on the closure.

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