The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they happened.
Secretary-general of the Israel Teachers Union head Yaffa Ben-David threatens that the union will declare a labor dispute if all its members are not swiftly vaccinated as part of the country’s mass inoculation program.
The vaccination drive, which began last week, started with medical workers and then moved on to those aged over 60 and at-risk groups.
“It is inconceivable that pedagogic workers who are on the front line will not be vaccinated,” Ben-David says at a meeting of the Knesset Education committee. “The teachers are terribly afraid. ”
She urges a special vaccination program for teachers, separate to the one being run by health maintenance organizations, where the teachers can be quickly inoculated without waiting in line with the general public.
The Knesset Education Committee rejects government regulations that would have closed grades 5-10 in the country’s schools as part of a national lockdown aimed at curbing rapidly rising coronavirus infection rates.
A lockdown, the country’s third since the start of the outbreak earlier this year, is set to begin at 5 p.m Sunday evening. Although intended to be just two weeks with an option to extend, health officials have already warned it will likely go on for a month.
At the meeting, committee chair Blue and White MK Ram Shefa declares that “there is no reason in the world for that children in grades 5-10 should stay at home for a month. We have gathered to take a decision and to do everything possible to return them to studies.”
The government now has 48 hours to issue fresh regulations or the existing orders, approved by the cabinet on Thursday, will automatically be canceled.
The COVID-19 vaccine developed by the British drugs group AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford has achieved a “winning formula” for efficacy, the company’s chief executive says.
The vaccine, currently being evaluated by Britain’s independent medicines regulator, provides “100 percent protection” against severe COVID-19 disease requiring hospitalization, Pascal Soriot says in an interview with the Sunday Times newspaper.
He adds that he believes trials will show his firm has achieved a vaccine efficacy equal to Pfizer-BioNTech at 95 percent and Moderna at 94.5 percent.
“We think we have figured out the winning formula and how to get efficacy that, after two doses, is up there with everybody else,” the chief executive says, while saying only that data would be published at “some point.”
The coronavirus has killed at least 1,758,026 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to a tally from official sources compiled by AFP.
At least 80,264,840 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 50,548,400 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 Saturday, 6,648 new deaths and 472,408 new cases were recorded worldwide. Based on latest reports, the countries with the most new deaths were the United States with 1,488 new deaths, followed by Russia with 552 and Germany with 356.
The United States is the worst-affected country with 331,916 deaths from 18,985,938 cases.
After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 190,795 deaths from 7,465,806 cases, India with 147,622 deaths from 10,187,850 cases, Mexico with 122,026 deaths from 1,377,217 cases, and Italy with 71,620 deaths from 2,038,759 cases.
The country with the highest number of deaths compared to its population is Belgium with 165 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Slovenia with 122, Bosnia-Herzegovina with 120, Italy 118, and the Republic of North Macedonia 116.
Police say they have arrested a 23-year-old Jerusalem resident who was filmed holding a up a knife and threatening protesters demonstrating against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Rishon Lezion.
Police say he was taken in for questioning and eventually sent to house arrest.
Demonstrators have been holding regular protests against Netanyahu, demanding he resign over his trial on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, as well as his handling of the coronavirus pandemic.
The protests have been dogged by a rash of attacks on protesters by far-right extremists supportive of Netanyahu.
More than 300 Syrian refugees were forced to flee an informal camp in northern Lebanon as a blaze raged through and burnt tents to the ground, UN and Lebanese officials say.
The fire late Saturday raged for four hours as firefighters tried to put it out, the Lebanese civil defense says.
The fire ensued following a fight between a Lebanese family in al-Miniyeh in the country’s north and Syrians living in the camp, according to Lebanese media reports.
A Lebanese official says the army is investigating the cause of the fire and conducting raids to round up those responsible for the altercation.
Khaled Kabbara, a UN Refugee Agency spokesman in northern Lebanon, says some 375 people lived in the informal settlement that was located on a plot of rented land. He said the entire camp was burnt to the ground.
Kabbara says four people were injured in the fire and hospitalized with minor injuries. He said some residents of the camp returned Sunday to see if anything could be salvaged from the fire.
The Israel Defense Forces plans to launch its vaccination drive tomorrow, with the goal of inoculating 6,000 servicemembers by the end of the week, the military spokesperson says.
IDF Spokesperson Hidai Zilberman tells reporters that while the military’s internal vaccination effort was beginning Monday, the main thrust of the operation would only begin in a few weeks when larger numbers of vaccines become available.
Currently, the Health Ministry, which is leading the national vaccination effort, has allocated 50,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to the IDF, enough for 25,000 people, as each full course of the vaccine requires two shots.
According Zilberman, the military’s initial focus will be on vaccinating its medical personnel who are actively taking part in the pandemic response and soldiers with health issues that put them at risk, followed by top officers in IDF high command and certain units that may require the vaccine in order to maintain full combat readiness, such as submarine crews, which operate in close quarters.
— Judah Ari Gross
President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn announce a program to delete criminal records of convicted sex workers in order to “encourage people to leave prostitution.”
The president’s office says the scheme, which will be open to application for anyone convicted of crimes related to sex work who did not receive a custodial sentence, aims “to relieve restrictions on leaving prostitution and allow [former sex workers] to join the workforce.
“Sex for pay is an exploitative relation and it has no place in our society, a society that values equality and respect for every man and woman, from every sector and every part of society,” the president says following a meeting with Nissenkorn.
Addressing sex workers, the president says, “I cannot really imagine what you have been through in your lives, but I know that life in prostitution means daily, unbearable exposure to violence, poverty, addiction and exploitation. This is life on the brink of death, on the edge of surrender. To break this cycle of pain, which sometimes seems never-ending, with no horizon, requires enormous mental strength. I know that for you, rehabilitation and re-entering the workforce may be a difficult task. You have to deal not only with the trauma, but also with the past and the stigmas that you carry like weights on your legs.”
“I am hopeful that you will find within yourselves the strength to trust and take the hand the country is extending,” Rivlin add.
Nissenkorn called the program “another important step in protecting, rehabilitating and helping people out of prostitution… Along with the law prohibiting use of sex services, which I recently signed into law, the new program emphasizes that the State of Israel acknowledges the harmful nature of prostitution and the serious damage it does. This statement of values is no less important.”
Archaeologists say they have found the earliest ever example of a stone abrasion tool and dated it to 150,000 years before such tools were thought to have first been used.
Pre-historic hominids apparently used the dolomite cobble, found in the Tabun Cave at Mount Carmel, to wear down materials some 350,000 years ago, but exactly what it was they trying to produce remains unknown, a Haifa University research team assessed, according to a statement.
The dating puts the tool in the hands of human ancestors before the development of homo sapiens, and some 150,000 years earlier than the previously known oldest abrading tool.
“While the tool is seemingly ‘simple,’ its early appearance and the fact that it has no parallel in such an early stage of human evolution give it world importance,” researchers Ron Shimelmitz, Iris Groman-Yaroslavski, Mina Weinstein-Evron, and Danny Rosenberg of the university’s Zinman Institute of Archaeology say in the statement.
Their findings will be published in the January 2021 issue of Journal of Human Evolution.
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz tells MK Asaf Zamir that he will not be included on the party’s electoral list for the March 2021 election due to his decision to vote against extending the budget deadline last week ultimately causing the fall of the government, Zamir says.
“I do not regret the way I voted,” Zamir writes on Facebook.
“I thanked him for the trust he has placed in me so far and I begged him to do everything necessary so that the center-left arrives united to the elections in a structure that will allow him to run for power,” he says.
Gant’z office says the decision was “mutual” and that the defense minister “wished him well going forward”
Zamir, who resigned as minister in October, citing the passage of controversial legislation to restrict protests during the coronavirus lockdowns, was one of three Blue and White MKs to vote against the move, explaining “this was a bad government for Israel.”
Israel is set to impose its third nationwide lockdown since the start of the pandemic.
The lockdown aimed at tackling the COVID-19 resurgence will begin at 5 p.m. and last for at least two weeks, though health officials have indicated it would likely be extended to a month.
The closure comes as daily coronavirus cases climbed steeply upward, surpassing 3,000 a day, amid fears that a British variant of the disease could be spreading undetected in the country.
The lockdown rules will bar Israelis from entering another person’s home; restrict movement to 1 kilometer from home, with exceptions, such as for vaccinations; shut down commerce, leisure and entertainment (except for essentials); limit public transportation to 50% capacity; and limit workplaces that do not deal with customers face-to-face to 50% capacity.
Fines for those breaking rules stand at NIS 500 ($155).
After the Knesset Education Committee rejected government regulations that would have kept students in grades 5-10 at home for remote learning, all schools are set to remain open throughout the lockdown.
The Israel Teachers Union officials announces a labor dispute over its call for its members to be being given priority in Israel’s national vaccination campaign.
The union says in a statement that if the issue is not resolved by January 12, it will suspend studies, including distance learning.
The secretary general of the union, Yaffa Ben-David, says: “If there are no vaccines, there will be no studies. We will not agree to abandon the health of the teaching staff.”
Israel rises to 30th place in the Center for Economic and Business Research (CEBR) ranking of the strongest economies in the world in 2020, after being ranked 33rd last year.
The authors of the report estimate that in 2035 Israel will rise to 29th place.
The report says that the Israeli economy was severely affected by the coronavirus crisis, and as a result it is estimated that GDP fell by 5.9% in 2020.
The economy is, however, expected to recover to the level of its past highs in 2021, according to the report, with the annual growth rate of GDP averaging 4.4% between 2021 and 2025, and slowing to an average of 4% in 2026-2034, according to the report.
Meanwhile, the loss of tax revenue and financial support from the government over the crisis pushed the debt-to-GDP ratio from a fairly stable level of about 57% in 2019 to a predicted 77% in 2021, the CEBR report says.
Top Gulf Arab officials hold a virtual meeting to bolster “cooperation” ahead of a summit next month amid efforts to end a rift between a Saudi-led alliance and Qatar.
The foreign ministers of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Oman and Kuwait take part in the meeting hosted by Manama, while Qatar is represented by its minister of state for foreign affairs.
The participation of Qatar’s foreign minister, Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani, would have been seen as another sign towards ending the diplomatic dispute.
Saudi Arabia led its allies the UAE, Bahrain and Egypt to cut ties with Qatar in June 2017, saying it was too close to Iran and funding radical Islamist movements — charges Doha staunchly denies.
At the meeting, the six countries of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) address “suggestions on supporting and strengthening joint Gulf cooperation in various political, economic and social aspects,” according to a statement by Kuwait’s foreign ministry.
This comes after Manama on Wednesday called for an “end to regional disputes,” softening its rhetoric surrounding the Gulf crisis.
Top US government scientist Anthony Fauci warns that the worst of the pandemic may be yet to come, driving America to a “critical point” as holiday travel spreads the coronavirus.
“I share the concern of President-elect (Joe) Biden that as we get into the next few weeks, it might actually get worse,” the infectious disease specialist tells CNN.
Biden cautioned on Wednesday that the nation’s “darkest days are ahead of us — not behind us.”
Fauci, who has been encouraging everyone eligible to be vaccinated, says he feels fine after receiving a first shot and experienced “nothing serious at all.”
US holiday travel this year was down substantially on the festive season but remained significant. Air travel averaged more than one million passengers a day for six consecutive days last week, according to the Transportation Security Agency.
Following last month’s Thanksgiving holiday, US coronavirus cases surged sharply in December, with more than 200,000 new cases and at times more than 3,000 deaths daily.
With intensive care units in many hospitals near capacity, Fauci reiterated that the country might be facing a “surge upon a surge.”
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein condemns Knesset lawmakers for voting to allow all schools to remain open during the third national lockdown, saying the decision would only prolong the closure.
Under the original terms for the lockdown proposed by the government, preschools, grades 1-4 and grades 11-12 were to have a full day of classes as usual, but grades 5-10 were to stay at home and use distance learning instead. However, the Knesset Education Committee convened on Sunday and voted to overturn the regulations, thereby keeping all students in the classroom.
Edelstein says the “wretched decision to allow studies in all grades — is something that will certainly prolong the lockdown,” which began at 5 p.m..
Benjamin Netanyahu’s lawyers again ask the Jerusalem District Court to cancel the criminal indictments against the prime minister, alleging that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit never authorized the police investigations into his affairs.
A lawyer for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he has not seen the attorney general’s authorization for opening police investigations into the premier, which yielded the corruption charges for which Netanyahu now stands trial.
Citing precedents, the defense lawyer Boaz Ben Tzur tells Army Radio that if the document showing Avichai Mandelblit granted permission to open the probes does not surface, there is a chance that the charges could be canceled.
Netanyahu’s lawyers have asked the court to order the prosecution to disclose Mandelblit’s order. Ben Tzur notes that an investigation of the prime minister can only be authorized by the attorney general, and that failing to do so would be a breach of Israel’s quasi-constitutional Basic Laws.
Jordan confirms two cases of a particularly infectious coronavirus variant in a man and his wife who had arrived from Britain.
Health Minister Nazir Obeidat says the Jordanian couple traveled to the kingdom on December 19 and were found to be infected with the new strain of the virus after being tested and isolated.
The couple were still in quarantine and being monitored by medical experts according to virus protocols, Obeidat says, adding they were both in “excellent health.”
Jordan has barred flights from the UK since Monday, with the ban to be enforced until January 3.
The country has officially recorded more than 286,356 cases of the novel coronavirus and over 3,729 deaths.
Israel is expected to green-light settlement construction ahead of the inauguration of US President-elect Joe Biden, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
The Defense Ministry body responsible for authorizing settlement construction is expected to convene in the next two weeks — for the first time since the November US election — to advance plans for building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, the report says.
The Civil Administration’s High Planning Subcommittee could meet as soon as Thursday, according to the report, which did not specify how many settlement houses were up for approval.
Foreign Minister and Blue and White No. 2, Gabi Ashkenazi, reportedly refuses to promise to party leader and Defense Minister Benny Gantz that he will remain in the centrist-faction in the coming elections if it is headed by Gantz.
According to Channel 12 news, the two met this afternoon amid reports that Ashkenazi is seeking leadership of the party.
Blue and White is collapsing in polls and is projected to win 5-6 seats in the next election, over its electorally disastrous decision to enter Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, after pledging not to do so during its election campaign.
Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz and MK Miki Haimovich meet and agree that she will not to run with the party in the March 2021 election.
“After meeting, the two concluded that Haimovich will not be included on the Blue and White slate during the upcoming elections. Gantz wished her well going forward,” the party leader’s office says in a statement.
Haimovich says in a Facebook post that she “agrees with the decision,” and that the “ideological gaps” between her and Gantz had become “unbridgeable.”
Referring to her decision to vote against extending the budget deadline last week, ultimately causing the fall of the government, she says she has “a clear conscience and pride in the way I voted in order to prevent Netanyahu from dragging things out and gaining more time in his position, after half a year in which he managed the country only based on in his personal and political interest.”
“I thank Ganz for the partnership and trust, and thank him for the right to chair the Knesset’s Interior and Environmental Protection Committee. I wish him success in his future endeavors.” she concludes.
Police have set up some 300 checkpoints across the country to enforce the national lockdown, which came into effect at 5 p.m. this evening.
The checkpoints, placed mainly at the entrance and exits of cities and towns, will be checking cars from 7 p.m. to midnight, Channel 12 news reports.
The channel says, however, that police have been instructed to “implement light enforcement” of certain aspects of the lockdown, with a focus on preventing gatherings and New Year parties.
Fifty-four percent of the public say that the government is to blame for the third national lockdown to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, a channel 12 poll finds.
Conversely, 41% disagreed with the statement, while 5% said they did not know.
Asked if they believed this would be the last lockdown, 33% said yes, 42% said no, and 33% said they did not know, according to the poll.
The Health Ministry has set a goal to give 200,000 shots a day within a month, Channel 12 news reports.
That number would include those receiving their first and second shots, which are given three weeks after the first.
The ministry says it is setting up 250 vaccination stations across the country to fulfill that goal, with some set to be functioning 24 hours a day.
The channel says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu aims for 2.25 million people to be vaccinated within a month and a half.
An opinion poll published by Channel 12 news shows little change in the allocation of Knesset seats since the announcement of a new national lockdown, which came into effect today.
The poll predicts 28 seats for Likud,19 for Likud breakaway MK Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, 16 for Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid-Telem, 13 for Yamina, 11 for the Joint List, 8 each for Shas and United Torah Judaism, 7 for Yisrael Beytenu and 5 for both Blue and White and Meretz.
According to the poll, a theoretical new center-left party made up of Labor leader Amir Peretz, Blue and White MK Avi Nissenkorn, former Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah, and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai could gain up to 7 seats, weakening primarily Yesh Atid and Blue and White.
The ruling party accuses its Blue and White of “endangering the lives of Israeli citizens” and seeking to “disrupt the lockdown for political reasons to prolong the closure during the election.”
The statement — reacting the the decision of the party to reverse a government decision, which Blue and White ministers voted for, to prevent grades 5-10 from attending school during the lockdown — said the move “will bring more deaths and prolong the time when businesses are closed.”
“Blue and White must stop the political games and join Prime Minister Netanyahu in an effort for a fast and well-enforced lockdown together with a huge vaccination campaign that will make Israel one of the first countries in the world to emerge from the coronavirus and open the economy,” the statement says.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly considering recruiting outgoing Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, former police commissioner candidate Gal Hirsch, and former prime minster Ariel Sharon’s son, Gilad Sharon, to bolster the Likud’s electoral slate ahead of the March election.
The three are being considered in a possible effort to strengthen the Likud among center-right voters against the threat posed by breakaway Likud MK Gidon Sa’ar’s new party, New Hope, Walla news reports.
Dermer has long been considered one of Netanyahu’s closest advisers and has been reported to be one of his preferences to succeed him.
Hirsh, a former IDF general and withdrawn candidate for police commissioner, is currently facing possible charges for evading taxes on more than $11m of income from defense deals.
Netanyahu previously rejected Gilad Sharon’s request for an exception to be made to allow him to run on the Likud list in the previous election, reportedly based on a personal vendetta that arose from the historical rivalry between his late father and the current prime minister,
Blue and White responds to harsh criticism leveled at it from the Likud party after its decision to reverse a government order, which Blue and White ministers had voted for, to prevent grades 5-10 from attending school during the lockdown.
“In all countries of the world, the education system also operates in a lockdown.,” the party says, without providing examples to back up that claim.
“Netanyahu, who has avoided dealing with hotspots and raising fines for narrow political reasons, continues to use the coronavirus for his political needs. We will not accept moral sermons from those who bring hundreds of thousands of families to poverty and have not transferred a budget just to escape the law and harm the justice system,” the party charges.
A Saturday night dance party by Palestinians featuring alcohol and techno music in a Muslim holy site has elicited condemnations from across the Palestinian political spectrum.
Videos from the Nebi Musa mosque, close to Jericho, showed a Saturday night rave held at the scene, featuring young Palestinians and Arab Israelis dancing and drinking. A number of other Palestinians, apparently angered by what they considered to be the desecration of the site, arrived and clashed with them.
#فيديو من الحفل الذي أقيم اليلة داخل مسجد النبي موسى بمدينة اريحا…
الذين ادعو انها تصوير مادة لمؤسستهم والمسؤولة عنها مواطنة من إحدى محافظات الضفة.
تم طردهم من ذاك المقام المبارك على يد اهل الخير والنخوة من تلك المنطقة… pic.twitter.com/fMcP0d44St
— الصحفي علي شتية Ali shtayeh (@Aloosh_sh5) December 26, 2020
Most of those present were either Arab Israelis or Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, and the matter is being dealt on their end by Israeli police.
The partygoers told those who came to confront them that they had received permission from the Palestinian Tourism Ministry in Ramallah. PA Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh has assembled an investigative committee to look into the matter.
Nebi Musa lies largely in Area C, meaning that the Oslo Accords designate the area as under full Israeli security control.
“There were Israeli soldiers there, but the incident is being dealt with by Israel Police and Palestinian institutions,” a spokesperson for the Israeli army says.
— Aaron Boxerman
Does The Times of Israel give you valuable insight into Israel and the Jewish world? If so, please join The Times of Israel Community. For as little as $6/month, you will:
We’re really pleased that you’ve read X Times of Israel articles in the past month.
That’s why we come to work every day - to provide discerning readers like you with must-read coverage of Israel and the Jewish world.
So now we have a request. Unlike other news outlets, we haven’t put up a paywall. But as the journalism we do is costly, we invite readers for whom The Times of Israel has become important to help support our work by joining The Times of Israel Community.
For as little as $6 a month you can help support our quality journalism while enjoying The Times of Israel AD-FREE, as well as accessing exclusive content available only to Times of Israel Community members.