The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Leading religious Zionist Rabbi Chaim Druckman dies following a weeks-long battle with the coronavirus at the age of 90, according to the Or Etzion Yeshiva, which Druckman presided over for 50 years.
A winner of the Israel Prize, Druckman was a major power broker in Israeli politics for decades, as a Knesset member, a deputy minister, and more recently as the spiritual leader of religious Zionist parties. He also held influential religious posts, serving as dean of the Or Etzion Yeshiva, head of the network of all seminaries affiliated with the religious Zionist Bnei Akiva movement, and president of the union of Hesder yeshivas, seminaries for men who combine military service with religious study.
Druckman contracted COVID-19 earlier this month, for the second time. He initially received treatment from a team of doctors at his home in the community of Mercaz Shapira in central Israel, but was moved to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem after his condition deteriorated.
Druckman leaves behind a wife of 65 years, nine children, and hundreds of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
The far-right Otzma Yehudit party criticizes incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu for saying that he would create new legislation barring racist politicians from running for the Knesset.
“To our friends in the Likud: We’re used to a deal being a deal and a word being a word,” says the party in a statement posted by its leader, MK Itamar Ben Gvir. “We were not updated about any new law that Likud says it intends to pass, but we’re obviously open to hear how we can get rid of [Hadash-Ta’al MKs Ahmad] Tibi and [Ayman] Odeh and Ofer Cassif.”
Likud and Otzma Yehudit had agreed to cancel the current law, which bars political candidates who incite to racism or support terror groups. The current wording of the law does not differentiate in any manner between Jews or Arabs. It is infrequently applied, but was used in 2019 to bar far-right MKs Baruch Marzel and Benzi Gopstein, longtime associates of Ben Gvir.
Ben Gvir says that the goal of canceling the clause is to “end the injustice that is done only to Jews.”
Likud had said earlier today in response to the uproar that it does back canceling the current legislation, but plans to pass a new law instead that will be applied equally to Jews and Arabs.
Former Supreme Court justice Yoram Danziger — one of the judges who previously cleared Shas leader Aryeh Deri to become a minister following his conviction — says he would not do so again in the current situation.
“Today, we’re in a different situation, we’re in a situation in which MK Deri committed yet another crime — not years ago, but much more recently,” Danziger tells Channel 12 news in an interview.
Deri was convicted of bribery and sentenced to prison in the late 1990s. In 2013, he returned to the Knesset and in 2015 became a minister, with Danziger and other Supreme Court justices rejecting a petition seeking to bar him from the roll.
Early this year, Deri agreed to a plea deal on unrelated tax offenses, resigning from the Knesset as part of the deal, but today is poised to return as a minister, after the incoming coalition passes legislation allowing such a move.
Today, Danziger says, he would not support Deri returning to become a minister, particularly after he “made statements that he is leaving political life” as part of the plea deal, the retired justice says.
Legislation paving the way for Deri’s return is “not right and not good.”
The coalition agreement signed between Religious Zionism and Likud includes a demand that Israel not become a party to the Istanbul Convention designed to battle violence against women, according to Hebrew media reports.
Previously, Israeli politicians have lobbied the government to join the landmark 2011 treaty. Outgoing Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar has pushed for Israel to join the international treaty, but outgoing Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked halted efforts due to concerns over clauses granting political asylum to international victims of domestic violence.
The 2011 Istanbul Convention, signed by 45 countries and the European Union, requires governments to adopt legislation prosecuting domestic violence and similar abuse, as well as marital rape and female genital mutilation.
President Isaac Herzog expresses grave concern after two members of Knesset with the Religious Zionism party suggested that businesses and even doctors should be able to refuse service to members of the LGBT community if it offends their religious sensibilities.
“A situation in which citizens in Israel feel threatened because of their identity or belief undermines the fundamental democratic values of the State of Israel,” says Herzog in a statement. “The racist comments heard in recent days against the LGBT community and against any different groups and sectors worry and disturb me a great deal.”
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he backs a provision to strike down a longstanding law that says individuals who support terror and racism cannot run for Knesset.
A statement from Likud claims that the current law “did not prevent racists and terror supporters from running for Knesset.”
The statement adds that, “therefore Netanyahu intends to cancel that clause and legislate a new law to fight racism and terror that will ensure equal and effective enforcement for both Jews and Arabs.”
The current clause in question, 7A, does not differentiate between Jews and Arabs in any manner, and simply states that no Knesset candidate can: deny the existence of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state; incite to violence; or support an enemy state or a terrorist group or any armed struggle against the state.
Very few individuals have been barred from running for the Knesset under the current law. While the Central Elections Commission votes often to invalidate the candidacy of many politicians, most are later approved to run after an appeal to the Supreme Court.
Ahead of the most recent election, the Arab nationalist Balad party was barred by the CEC, but allowed by the High Court.
The High Court has on rare occasion allowed such bans to stand: the extremist far-right Kahane party was barred in the 1980s, and far-right politicians Baruch Marzel and Benzi Gopstein were banned in 2019.
Israeli police say that modeling agent Shai Avital is slated to be extradited from the Netherlands to Israel next week to face multiple sex crime charges.
According to the Tel Aviv Police Department, Avital — who was arrested in Amsterdam in August after close to a year as a fugitive — is expected to arrive in Israel on January 3.
Israel based its extradition request on two allegations made against Avital of indecent acts, out of 26 total complaints accusing him of rape and other sexual offenses.
The Israel Defense Forces says it will hold a two-day military exercise on the eastern part of the border with Lebanon, starting tomorrow morning.
According to the IDF the drill, led by the 769th Brigade, was preplanned, meaning it did not stem from any new security assessment.
Residents of the area in the north of the country are warned that explosions may be heard throughout the drill, which is slated to end Wednesday afternoon.
Iran’s top general says that Western claims its drones are being used by Russia against Ukraine show the “effectiveness” of Tehran’s unmanned aerial vehicles, Iranian media reports.
Tehran had repeatedly denied supplying weapons “to be used” in the war in Ukraine, but admitted in early November that it had sent drones to Russia before the invasion began in February.
“Today’s atmosphere-creating by the world of arrogance [a reference to the United States and its allies] regarding the use of Iranian drones in the Ukraine war is part of the enemy’s psychological warfare,” Major General Mohammad Bagheri says, according to Tasnim news agency.
“Apart from the fact that many of these claims may be false, this, in fact, shows the effectiveness, importance and high rank of the Islamic Republic in the field of drones,” says Bagheri.
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterates forcefully that he will not allow any discrimination against members of the LGBT community during his leadership, after comments from his coalition partners raise ire.
“We will not allow discrimination against the LGBT community or any harm to the rights of any citizens of Israel,” Netanyahu says in a video statement, after earlier issuing just a written statement criticizing Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock.
“In the country I will lead, there will not be a situation where anyone — gay, ultra-Orthodox, Arab or anything else — will enter a hotel and not receive service, or go to a doctor and not receive service. It didn’t happen in the 15 years of my tenure as prime minister and it won’t happen now.”
Lebanon’s powerful Hezbollah terrorist group has handed over a man suspected of killing an Irish United Nations peacekeeper earlier this month, a security official tells AFP.
Pvt. Sean Rooney, 23, was killed and three others injured on December 14 when their UN Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) vehicle was attacked near the village of Al-Aqbiya in the country’s south, a stronghold of the Iran-backed group.
UNIFIL acts as a buffer between Lebanon and Israel and operates near the border.
“The main shooter has been arrested by security forces after Hezbollah handed him over hours ago,” the security official says, declining to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media. It is not immediately clear if the individual arrested is a member of Hezbollah.
Hezbollah is cooperating in the probe led by Lebanese military intelligence, the official says, adding that “preliminary investigations are nearly complete.”
King Charles III broadcasts his first Christmas message as monarch in a speech that pays tribute to his late mother, Queen Elizabeth II, and recalls his visit to Bethlehem.
“Some years ago, I was able to fulfill a lifelong wish to visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity,” says Charles of his 2020 visit to Israel and the West Bank. “It meant more to me than I can possibly express, to stand on that spot where as the Bible tells us, the light that has come into the world was born.”
Charles adds that “while Christmas is of course a Christian celebration, the power of light overcoming darkness is celebrated across the boundaries of faith and belief. So whatever faith you have, or whether you have none, it is in this life-giving light and with the true humility that lies in our service to others, that I believe we can find hope for the future.”
The king also says that he wants to “pay tribute to all those wonderfully kind people who so generously give food or donations,” adding that our “churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and gurdwaras have once again united in feeding the hungry, providing love and support throughout the year.”
Oman is reportedly set to convene a discussion to consider amending a law that mandates boycotting all Israeli entities and individuals.
The report comes from the Arabic-language WAF news agency in Oman, which states that such a meeting of the Omani Shura Council is scheduled for tomorrow.
Earlier this year, Saudi Arabia — which also has no ties with Israel — allowed Israel to use its airspace, but Oman has held out against doing so, which means Israeli flights to Asia must still take a much longer route.
Oman and Israel have no official diplomatic relations, though the country has been floated as a potential subsequent nation to join the Abraham Accords with Israel, following the UAE, Bahrain, Morocco and Sudan.
Then-prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is set to return to office in the coming week, visited Oman in 2018.
A Christmas Eve shooting at a pub in northwest England killed a young woman and wounded three men, police say.
The Merseyside Police force say it is investigating the 11:50 p.m. shooting yesterday at the Lighthouse pub in the town of Wallasey as a murder case. Police have not detained any suspects.
“This investigation is in the very early stages, and we understand that this is a truly shocking and devastating incident that has happened just before Christmas Day in a busy venue full of young people,” says Detective Superintendent David McCaughrean.
The woman died at a hospital “with an injury consistent with a gunshot wound,” the police force says in a statement. Along with the three men wounded, several people were injured, according to the statement.
Police arrest a suspect in relation to an ultra-Orthodox protest in Jerusalem earlier this month during which a dumpster was set ablaze and shoved, seriously injuring a woman who was passing nearby.
Police say the suspect was arrested in the Haredi neighborhood of Mea Shearim in the capital and brought to a police station for questioning. Police say they will continue to search for suspects and bring all those involved in the incident to justice.
Mirel Dzalovsky, a 40-year-old mother of 10, was brought to a hospital unconscious and placed on a ventilator.
The demonstration erupted in response to the arrest of a man suspected of torching a cellphone store several months ago. Cellphone stores are sometimes targeted by religious extremists for not complying with “kosher rules” restricting the devices.
To mark Christmas, Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics releases data about the Christian population in Israel.
According to the CBS, there are currently approximately 182,000 Christians living in Israel — about 1.9% of the overall population. About 75.8% of the Christians in Israel are Arab Christians, making up about 6.9% of the total Arab population of Israel.
The Christian population grew by 2.0% in 2021, the bureau says.
Yair Netanyahu, the son of incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, causes an uproar with comments suggesting that police officials and prosecutors involved in the corruption charges against his father deserve the death penalty.
In an interview to Galey Israel radio on Friday, the junior Netanyahu says that those law enforcement officials involved in his father’s case are guilty of “treason” for ousting Netanyahu from office and “subverting the will of the people.”
“Everyone is welcome to look up the laws of the State of Israel and see the punishment for treason: it’s not prison,” the younger Netanyahu adds.
Capital punishment in Israel can only be imposed for charges of treason, genocide and crimes against humanity, and has only been imposed once in the history of the State of Israel: against Holocaust architect Adolf Eichmann in 1962.
The Israeli Air Force grounds 11 of its F-35I fighter jets following the crash of an F-35B in the United States last week.
The military says those specific planes will be checked for a similar issue that apparently caused the crash, before being returned to service.
The Israeli version of the F-35 is based on the A variant of the F-35. The B variant allows for short takeoff and vertical landing.
The military does not detail why 11 of its jets may have the issue that caused the F-35B to crash.
— Houston Air Watch (@houstonairw) December 15, 2022
Zohar Palti, the former head of the Defense Ministry’s political-military bureau and former intelligence director in the Mossad, says that Iran is days to weeks away from enriching uranium to the 90% military-grade level.
Iran, he says “is at a more advanced level than I can ever remember when it comes to uranium enrichment,” Palti says. “They are days or weeks away from enriching uranium to 90%, which is military-grade.” Such a level “does not mean they can immediately build a nuclear weapon… but it’s very bad, and we’ve never been closer to it.”
Speaking at an event in Ramat Hasharon hosted by Times of Israel political correspondent Tal Schneider, Palti says Israel has the military capabilities to attack Iran’s nuclear plants: “I am not implying that Israel is capable, I am saying it is.”
Palti says he believes Israel should prepare for a significant attack on Iran and will have to make “serious decisions” in the near future.
“Iran is not a standalone issue,” Palti says of the current internal Israeli political divisions. “Our national security and our strategic relationship with the US are above all. Nothing can be done in Israel without the Americans.”
Palti warns against inflaming tensions atop the Temple Mount, saying that Israel’s relationship with Jordan is its greatest strategic asset.
“The national security of each of the countries is intertwined,” he says. “The interest of the State of Israel is for Jordan to be strong and unshakable. We have a strong and serious security system. The next IDF chief of staff, Herzi Halevy, will explain to the cabinet ministers what is at stake and what the meaning of violating the status quo on the Temple Mount is.”
Foreign aid groups suspend their operations in Afghanistan following a decision by the country’s Taliban rulers to ban women from working at international and local non-governmental organizations.
Save the Children, the Norwegian Refugee Council and CARE, say they cannot effectively reach children, women and men in desperate need in Afghanistan without the women on their workforces. The NGO ban was introduced a day earlier, allegedly because women weren’t wearing the Islamic headscarf correctly.
“We have complied with all cultural norms and we simply can’t work without our dedicated female staff, who are essential for us to access women who are in desperate need of assistance,” Neil Turner, the The Norwegian Refugee Council’s chief for Afghanistan, tells The Associated Press. He says the group has 468 female staff in the country.
Pope Francis appeals for an end to the “senseless” war in Ukraine, in his traditional Christmas message from St. Peter’s Basilica at the Vatican.
In his address from the central balcony of St. Peter’s, he recalls “our Ukrainian brothers and sisters who are experiencing this Christmas in the dark and cold, far from their homes.”
“May the Lord inspire us to offer concrete gestures of solidarity to assist all those who are suffering, and may he enlighten the minds of those who have the power to silence the thunder of weapons and put an immediate end to this senseless war!”
He references numerous countries in difficulty this Christmas, whether due to conflict or another crisis, from Afghanistan to Yemen, Syria, Myanmar, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Lebanon and Haiti.
For the first time, he also calls for “reconciliation” in Iran, rocked by women-led protests for the past three months.
Two members of Knesset with the Religious Zionist party suggest that businesses and even doctors should be allowed to turn away members of the LGBT community.
Religious Zionism MK Orit Strock says on Kan public radio that “a doctor who has to provide some sort of treatment that goes against his religious beliefs — as long as there are enough other doctors who can provide the treatment, you should not force him.”
Strock did not specifically mention treating LGBT patients, but made the comments in the context of a coalition demand to allow such discrimination to become legal on the basis of religious freedom.
Fellow Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman is more explicit, saying on the same radio station that a religious hotel owner can deny service to a gay couple “if it stands in opposition to and harms his religious sensitivities.”
Incoming prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu condemns Strock’s comments, saying they are “unacceptable to me and to members of Likud.” Netanyahu adds that the coalition agreements “do not allow discriminating against members of the LGBTQ community or harming their rights” and such policies will be strongly opposed by Likud.
Netanyahu’s statement does not mention Rothman’s comments.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
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