The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
Murdered soldier’s parents call for death penalty against killers
The parents of murdered IDF soldier Ron Kokia call for the death penalty for their son’s murderers, identified in an indictment Sunday as two Bedouin Israelis, Khaled Abu Jaudah, 22, from an unrecognized Bedouin village in southern Israel, and his half-brother Zahi Abu Jaudah, 22.
At the Beersheba District Court, Boaz Kokia, Ron’s father, insists “the punishment has to be comprehensive: the death penalty, which is what I think murderers deserve, or a very long sentence.
“I call on the court to be tough with the murderers and their family members who contributed to the murder with their criminal behavior,” Boaz says. “This is important to give us, the family of the victim, justice, and also to deter other potential murderers. The punishment also has to be economic, like stripping away benefits and fines that compensate the state for the expenses incurred by the murder.”
Ron’s mother Levana Kokia also urges the death penalty: “I hope to see the murderer with a black bag over his head, that’s what I hope for. But it looks like we won’t get a hanging and we won’t get a death sentence, but we’ll go as far as we can.”
Boaz calls for the murderer and his family to be ostracized by all Israelis, Jews and Bedouin alike, “to send a clear message from everyone against violence of any sort and for any reason. This violence hurts everyone, and Bedouin citizens most of all.”
Key coalition partner says won’t back Jewish nation-state bill
The Jewish nation-state bill, a key plank of Likud’s legislative agenda, may not have the votes to move ahead. Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, head of the 10-seat Kulanu party, tells Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Sunday’s meeting of coalition leaders that Kulanu will not support the bill, the Ynet news site reports.
That leaves the bill without a Knesset majority.
Netanyahu has asked his new coalition whip, MK David Amsalem, to prioritize the bill’s passage.
Cabinet committee backs comprehensive ban on cigarette ads
A key cabinet committee approves a bill to ban the advertising of cigarettes and other tobacco products.
“The law would include a general prohibition on advertising tobacco products, with the goal of reducing the exposure of the public to advertising for such products, which cause death, disease and disability,” a press release from the bill’s two key avocates, MKs Yehudah Glick (Likud) and Eitan Cabel (Zionist Union), explains.
“A general prohibition on advertising is especially important to protect children and youths from the effects of marketing, which depicts smoking in a positive light.”
The bill wins the approval of the Minister Committee for Legislation on Sunday, granting it the support of the majority coalition as it heads to the Knesset.
Likud denies reports that Kulanu won’t back nation-state bill
Likud and several media outlets issue a correction to media reports that Kulanu chief Moshe Kahlon said he would not back the Jewish nation-state bill.
“The reports are incorrect. Kulanu backs the nation-state bill,” Likud party sources say in a statement.
According to sources familiar with the meeting of coalition leaders earlier today, Kahlon told the assembled coalition chiefs that he disagreed with the current draft version of the bill, but that his party would vote for it in its first reading. The bill would then have to be amended in committee before Kulanu could support it in the second and third votes required for it to become law.
Israeli players denied travel to Saudi Arabia for chess championship
Israeli chessplayers are being denied visas to travel to Saudi Arabia for a speed chess championship this week, Reuters reports.
Seven Israeli players had requested visas for the tournament on December 26-30. It would have marked the first time Saudi Arabia had publicly hosted Israelis as the Gulf state does not recognize Israel and there are no formal ties between them.
[World Chess Federation] FIDE Vice President Israel Gelfer, speaking in Athens where the body’s Secretariat is based, said visas for the Israeli players “have not been issued and will not be issued.”
Israeli chess official: Effort underway to get Israelis to championship in Saudi
An Israeli chess official says efforts are being made “by various parties” to allow Israeli players to travel to Saudi Arabia for a speed chess championship set to begin on Tuesday.
Reuters quotes Israel Chess Federation spokesman Lior Aizenberg as saying, “The event is not a world championship if they prevent chess players from several countries from taking part.”
Azaria’s parents ask again to commute his sentence
The parents of a former IDF soldier serving a 14-month prison sentence for the March 2016 killing of a prostrate Palestinian assailant ask President Reuven Rivlin once again to pardon their son.
Oshra and Charlie Azaria, parents of Elor Azaria, send the request Sunday, which bears the names of 55 lawmakers and cabinet ministers backing the request, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
They ask the president to reconsider his previous refusal to commute Azaria’s sentence, “in light of the request of the prime minister, ministers and MKs, including Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman.”
Ministers approve NIS 1.5 billion boost in disability benefits
Ministers vote to carry out the first set of benefit increases for the disabled, approving an NIS 1.45 billion ($416 million) package that will see benefits raised for over 200,000 disabled Israelis.
The proposal passes unanimously in today’s cabinet meeting, with the new funds to be made available and distributed to the disabled starting January 1.
The unbudgeted expenditure, which follows a special agreement reached between the Finance Ministry and protesting disability activists earlier this year, must still be either approved by the Knesset Finance Committee or passed as a law in the plenum. According to Hadashot television news, Finance Ministry officials are working to present the plan in bill form to the plenum for its first of three votes as soon as Monday.
Iran: British national could be eligible for early release
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency is reporting that the country’s judiciary spokesman says a British-Iranian woman detained since 2016 could be eligible for an early conditional release next month after completing a third of her sentence, if she does not face new charges.
Gholamhosein Mohseni Ejehi points to a law relating to conditional releases upon completion of a third of the term for sentences less than 10 years, according to the report.
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe is serving a five-year sentence for allegedly plotting to overthrow the government. Iranian authorities have said she has another case pending, but have not elaborated.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe was detained in April 2016 and will have served a third of her sentence by January 2018. Ejehi says Iran’s judiciary will act accordingly, according to the report.
US judge: American caught fighting for IS must be given lawyer
WASHINGTON — A federal judge rules that the US military must provide legal counsel to an American citizen who was picked up months ago on the Syrian battlefield and accused of fighting with Islamic State.
The unidentified American, who has not been charged, surrendered to US-backed fighters in Syria around September 12 and is currently being held in Iraq as an unlawful enemy combatant.
The American Civil Liberties Union filed a court petition challenging his detention and asking to act on his behalf to provide him access to legal counsel.
Late last month, the US government acknowledged that it has detained an American citizen accused of fighting with IS for months without fulfilling his request to see a lawyer.
In her ruling, US District Judge Tanya Chutkan denies the Defense Department’s motion to dismiss the matter and ordered the military to let the ACLU “immediate and unmonitored access to the detainee” so that it can determine whether he wants the ACLU to represent him. The judge also orders the Defense Department not to transfer the detainee until the ACLU tells the court of the detainee’s wishes.
“This is a landmark ruling that rejects the Trump administration’s unprecedented attempt to block an American citizen from challenging his executive imprisonment,” says Jonathan Hafetz, senior staff attorney for the ACLU. “Ensuring citizens detained by the government have access to a lawyer and a court is essential to preserving the Constitution and the rule of law in America.”
Egyptian police kill 9 Sinai attacks suspects
Nine people suspected of belonging to a cell behind attacks in the Sinai Peninsula were killed during a police raid in northeastern Egypt, the interior ministry says.
The cell based in Sharqiya province was implicated in attacks on “security posts and military apparatus in North Sinai, which killed many members of the armed forces and police force,” the ministry says in a statement.
Members were also accused of plotting other attacks on vital infrastructure in the region, it adds.
Police found automatic rifles and ammunition during the raid on a site that had been used as a weapons and explosives training center. Security forces in Cairo also detained nine people and seized weapons and explosive devices, the ministry says.
An insurgency by an Islamic State group affiliate based in North Sinai has killed hundreds of police and soldiers, as well as civilians.
New Zealand pop star Lorde cancels Tel Aviv gig due to BDS pressure
New Zealander singer-songwriter Lorde cancels her June 5 concert in Tel Aviv due to pressure from anti-Israel activists.
The artist has faced mounting calls from boycott activists who told her, in the words of one New Zealand website, that “playing in Tel Aviv will be seen as giving support to the policies of the Israeli government.”
She responded on Thursday: “Noted! Been speaking w many people about this and considering all options. Thank u for educating me i am learning all the time too.”
Noted! Been speaking w many people about this and considering all options. Thank u for educating me i am learning all the time too 🌸
— Lorde (@lorde) December 21, 2017
On Sunday, organizers of her concert say they received word she had formally canceled.
US judge partially lifts Trump ban on refugees
SEATTLE — A federal judge in Seattle has partially lifted a Trump administration ban on certain refugees, after two groups argued that the policy prevented people from some mostly Muslim countries from reuniting with family living legally in the United States.
US District Judge James Robart heard arguments in lawsuits from the American Civil Liberties Union and Jewish Family Service, which say the ban causes irreparable harm and puts some people at risk. Government lawyers argued that the ban is needed to protect national security.
Robart orders the federal government to process certain refugee applications. He says his order applies to people “with a bona fide relationship to a person or entity within the United States.”
US President Donald Trump restarted the refugee program in October “with enhanced vetting capabilities.”
The day before his executive order, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Acting Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke and Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats sent a memo to Trump saying certain refugees must be banned, unless additional security measures are implemented.
Israeli chess players still ‘hope and believe’ they will play in Saudi Arabia
A spokesperson for the Israel Chess Federation says the group is still holding out hope that seven of its players will be allowed to take part in an international championship being held in Saudi Arabia in two days time, despite being denied visas thus far.
“Even now, despite the fact that the world tournament in Riyadh begins on Tuesday, we hope and believe that FIDE (the World Chess Federation)… and the Saudis will reach an agreement regarding the participation of the Israeli chess players,” Israel Chess Federation spokesperson Lior Aizenberg says.
The speed chess tournament includes cash prizes of up to two million dollars, so Israel’s exclusion “presents both economic and professional damage to your players,” Aizenberg says.
He adds that if they are indeed barred from the tournament, then his group plans to organize its own championship “in the near future,” for the Israeli players and “for the excellent players from around the world who support our participation in the tournament.”
Earlier, another top official from the Israel Chess Federation, Moshe Shalev, told The Times of Israel that the group was considering taking legal action against FIDE over the Saudis’ refusal to permit the Israeli players to take part in the tournament.
“It is most outrageous that FIDE allows a state to agree to host an international championship, without promising to accept all athletes, regardless of their country of origin,” Aizenberg says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Sharansky laments this government will be remembered for crisis with US Jews
At today’s weekly cabinet meeting, government ministers discuss Israel’s relationship with Diaspora Jewry.
Jewish Agency Chairman Natan Sharansky praises the various projects initiated by the Ministry of Diaspora Affairs, alongside those of the Jewish Agency.
At the same time, he stresses that we are in the midst of a real crisis: “It is a terrible shame that a government that is headed by someone [Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu] who has contributed so much, who launched Taglit-Birthright Israel and established the Ne’eman Committee, and which includes a diaspora affairs minister who has significantly expanded the budget for programs within his purview, should go down in history as having widened the gap between Israel and the Diaspora and deepened the current crisis with American Jewry,” he says.
— Marissa Newman
In Christmas message, Netanyahu promises Christian tourists to ‘be your guide’
In a video message posted online for Christmas, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offers to “be your guide” to Christians who visit Israel next year on Christmas, on a walking tour of Israel’s Christian holy sites.
“It’s a pleasure for me on Christmas Eve to be here, standing, in Jerusalem, right behind me, the holy city,” Netanyahu says in the video.
“I’m very proud to be the prime minister of Israel, a country that says ‘Merry Christmas’ first to its Christian citizens and to our Christian friends around the world. I’m proud that Israel is the country in which Christians not only survive, but they thrive. Because we believe in this friendship among people and we protect the rights of everyone to worship at the holy sites behind me.”
Then he makes his offer: “So now I have a proposition for all our Christian friends. I’m going to take next year on Christmas, for those of you who come to Israel, a guided tour. In fact, I’ll be your guide on this guided tour. And think of all the places you can walk. You can go to the Jesus boat on the Sea of Galilee, you can get to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre here right behind me, any place that you’ll want to visit in the footsteps of Jesus and the origins of our Judaeo-Christian heritage.
“So please come to Israel, next year in Jerusalem, and merry Christmas to all of you.”
Merry Christmas from Jerusalem, the capital of Israel! pic.twitter.com/ChhsuqudW8
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) December 24, 2017
Egyptian president’s backers say millions want him to run again
CAIRO — Supporters of Egypt’s president announce on Sunday that they have collected more than 12 million signatures from people urging him to run for a second four-year term, a mostly symbolic gesture, as there is little doubt he will contest, and win, next year’s elections.
A general-turned-president, Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi has yet to formally announce his candidacy. He has said he will make his decision after gauging popular reaction to a “factsheet” of his achievements, due to be publicized next month.
El-Sissi was elected in 2014, a year after leading the military’s overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president, Mohammed Morsi of the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. The government has since waged a heavy crackdown on dissent, jailing thousands of people — mostly Islamists, but also many secular pro-democracy activists. It has also blocked hundreds of websites, banned all unauthorized demonstrations and slapped a travel ban on many rights campaigners.
With his win in the 2018 vote an almost foregone conclusion, a large voter turnout would take on added significance, affirming el-Sissi’s candidacy as the people’s choice. His likely opponents — the list so far includes a prominent rights activist, a former prime minister and an opposition politician thrown out of parliament — are not expected to pose a serious challenge to him securing a second term.
‘Kosher’ and ‘hummus’ added to official Spanish language dictionary
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — The Royal Spanish Academy adds the words “kosher” and “hummus” to the latest update of the online version of its official dictionary.
The words will appear in the next print edition of the Dictionary of the Spanish Language, to be published next year.
Spanish is the most common second language spoken in the United States, which is the second largest Spanish-speaking country in the world, after México. The Royal Spanish Academy, or RAE, is the main institution that sets and catalogues the use of the Spanish language worldwide.
Approximately 570 million people around the world speak Spanish. The countries with the most Spanish speakers are Mexico with 122 million, the United States with 57 million, Colombia with 48 million, Spain with 47 million and Argentina with 44 million.
Box of horse manure addressed to US treasury secretary
Authorities say a gift-wrapped box of horse manure addressed to US Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was found near his home in Los Angeles.
The package was found Saturday night in the tony Bel Air neighborhood, after it was dropped off at a neighbor’s house.
The Los Angeles Police Department’s bomb squad was called to the home and officers opened the box, finding a pile of horse manure inside. Police said the package had been gift-wrapped and was marked as being from “the American people.”
Police said the Secret Service was taking over the investigation.