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Netanyahu to warn Lebanon via Pompeo: Rein in Hezbollah or we’ll act

A week after alleged Israeli strikes near Damascus, and citing unspecified actions by Lebanese terror group, PM said ready to tell US top diplomat Israel may take military action

Soldiers from the IDF Commando Brigade simulate fighting the Hezbollah terror group,  in northern Israel, in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)
Soldiers from the IDF Commando Brigade simulate fighting the Hezbollah terror group, in northern Israel, in November 2018. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they happened.

Ukraine calls up reservists amid tensions with Russia

KIEV, Ukraine — Ukraine’s president announces a partial call-up of reservists for training amid tensions with Russia, saying the country needs to beef up its defenses to counter the threat of a Russian invasion.

The Kremlin dismisses the Ukrainian leader’s statement as an “absurd” attempt to inflame tensions.

Relations between the two neighbors have been strained further following a November 25 incident in which the Russian coast guard fired upon and seized three Ukrainian naval vessels and their crews off the Crimean Peninsula that Russia annexed from Ukraine.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko responded by introducing martial law for 30 days in much of Ukraine. For the duration of martial law, Ukrainian authorities barred entry to all Russian males aged 16 to 60 in a move the Ukrainian leader said was needed to prevent Russia from further destabilizing the country.

Poroshenko says some reservists will be summoned for training as part of martial law. He also says some military units will be redeployed to strengthen the nation’s defenses.

“Ukraine is taking its own steps in response to the threat of a large-scale Russian invasion,” the Ukrainian leader says.

Over the weekend, Poroshenko said that Russia has deployed a large number of troops along its border with Ukraine and alleged that the Kremlin intends to push inland into Ukraine. Ukraine also accused Russia of blockading its ports on the Sea of Azov.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, dismissed Poroshenko’s claims as an “absurd attempt to foment tensions.”

— AP

Soros-founded university says it was ‘forced out of Budapest’

Hungary’s Central European University announces it has been “forced” to move its most prestigious programs to Vienna after a long and bitter legal battle with Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s government.

“CEU has been forced out,” Michael Ignatieff, rector of the university founded by US-Hungarian billionaire George Soros, says in a statement. “This is unprecedented. A US institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally.”

The university says it would begin teaching all US-accredited programs in a new site in Vienna starting in September 2019.

However, CEU will keep its Budapest campus and those students who have enrolled there will be able to complete their studies.

Attracting students from over 100 countries and mainly offering US-accredited masters programs, CEU has long been regarded by the nationalist Orban as a hostile bastion of liberalism.

Founded by the Hungarian-born Soros in 1991 and chartered in the US state of New York, the CEU says it was the target of a law passed April 2017 that placed tough requirements on foreign universities.

The bill’s adoption, seen by critics as a blow against academic freedom, was cited in a recent scathing EU report on Hungary that prompted the European Parliament to launch unprecedented so-called “Article 7” legal action against Budapest in September.


Top official: Iran faces ‘chronic challenges’ beyond US sanctions

Iran is facing “chronic challenges” that existed long before US sanctions were reimposed, the influential parliament speaker Ali Larijani says.

“External factors do affect our economy, but there are problems persisting from before,” Larijani says at a press conference. He lists a number of challenges, including “big, costly government,” high interest rates that “disrupt production,” cash-strapped pension funds and a water crisis.

Parliament’s research center has “repeatedly warned” of these challenges, Larijani says, but the government has yet to respond on key issues.

The US decision in May to withdraw from the 2015 nuclear deal and reimpose sanctions on Iran has added another layer of difficulty.

The International Monetary Fund says the Iranian economy will contract by 1.5 percent in 2018 and 3.6% is 2019, largely due to reduced oil sales caused by the renewed sanctions.

Larijani is an influential insider who was previously seen as deeply conservative but has lately forged a close working relationship with the faction led by President Hassan Rouhani.


Abbas meets Pope Francis to discuss US pressure on Palestinians

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas meets Pope Francis in the Vatican on Monday and updates him on “the ramifications of the American administration’s decisions regarding the Palestinian issue,” the official PA news site Wafa reports.

In the past year, US President Donald Trump’s administration has infuriated Palestinians by moving the US embassy in Israel to Jerusalem, cutting hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to the Palestinians, and closing the PLO representative office in Washington.

Later on Monday, Abbas is slated to meet Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

— Adam Rasgon

Activists protesting violence against women booted from Knesset debate

Activists against violence toward women are forcibly removed from the public gallery in the Knesset plenum after they hold up protest signs during a debate on a no-confidence motion against the government over the violence.

The no-confidence motion was initiated by the Zionist Union. Coalition lawmakers boycotted the debate.

During the discussion the activists in the stands overlooking the plenum — visitors are not allowed on the plenum floor itself — pulled out signs demanding government action on the issue.

Knesset security officials are ordered by Speaker Yuli Edelstein to remove the protesters by force.

Irish FM lashes US envoy for ‘biased’ Hanukkah tweet on Jerusalem

Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney lashes the American ambassador in Israel for his Hanukkah praise for ancient “Jewish patriots” and assertion that “Jerusalem is the ancient and modern capital of Israel.”

“U are working on a New Peace Initiative that we all hope will be fair, balanced and successful. But comments like this will be seen as provocative and biased. Not helpful in creating the necessary environment of compromise,” Coveney tells Ambassador David Friedman on Twitter.

Early Monday, Friedman tweeted, “More than 2000 years ago, Jewish patriots (Maccabees) captured Jerusalem, purified the Holy Temple and rededicated it as a house of Jewish worship. The U.N. cant vote away the facts: Jerusalem is the ancient and modern capital of Israel. Happy Chanukah from this blessed city!”

Small plane safe after emergency landing at Ben Gurion

A small plane that experienced unspecified trouble in the air carries out an emergency landing at Ben Gurion Airport.

Emergency crews are on the tarmac.

According to initial reports, all seven people aboard the plane are fine.

Court rules against Gaza doctor who sued over shelling that killed 3 daughters

The Beersheba District Court rules against a compensation lawsuit filed by a Gazan doctor who lost three daughters to IDF shelling during 2009’s Operation Cast Lead in the Gaza Strip, finding that it was terror groups who bore responsibility for the girls’ deaths because they carried out their attacks from within a civilian population and stored weapons in the building where the girls died.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish’s daughters and a niece were killed when two tank shells struck his Gaza home in the waning days of Israel’s 2008-9 war with Hamas. The Israeli shelling on January 16, 2009, occurred as Abuelaish, a longtime advocate for coexistence with Israel, was speaking with then-Channel 10 reporter Shlomi Eldar on a live broadcast to Israelis via telephone. He found out his daughters had been killed during the broadcast, with Israeli viewers listening as he cried out into his phone.

For Israelis, the deaths of Bessan, 21, Mayar, 15, and Aya, 14, along with their cousin Noor, put a face to Palestinian suffering during Operation Cast Lead.

Judge Shlomo Friedlander says that IDF shells hit the building in the midst of a battle in the area because figures on the roof of the building were suspected to be acting as lookouts for terror groups and directing fire at IDF forces. In addition, he says, there was evidence that secondary explosions in the building were caused by weapons stored at the site, albeit without Abuelaish’s knowledge.

“It is regrettable that the four children who were not involved in the fighting lost their lives,” Friedlander writes. “However, this is a very unfortunate side effect of the criminal practice of the terrorist organizations of fighting Israel from within a civilian population.”

Trump wants talks with Putin, Xi to end ‘uncontrollable arms race’

US President Donald Trump proposes future talks with the leaders of China and Russia aimed at halting what he described as a “major and uncontrollable Arms Race.”

“The US spent 716 Billion Dollars this year. Crazy!” he says in a tweet.

“I am certain that, at some time in the future, President Xi and I, together with President Putin of Russia, will start talking about a meaningful halt to what has become a major and uncontrollable Arms Race.”


Study finds right-left tension becomes Israel’s chief social divide

A growing fissure between the right and left has catapulted political rifts to become the most powerful source of tension in Israeli society, leapfrogging long-held divisions between Jews and Arabs, a new poll of attitudes from across the widening political spectrum finds.

In 2012, just nine percent of Jewish Israelis identified the right-left divide as the worst in the country. Today, that number stands at 36%, according to the Israel Democracy Institute (IDI) poll released on Monday.

In a damning indication of public trust in elected officials, close to half of Israelis believe the country’s leadership is corrupt, the poll finds. Among voters for coalition parties, however, that number dropped to less than half of the overall average, not registering as the top concern.

Overall, some 45% of respondents agree that Israel’s democracy is in “serious danger.” But the sentiment was also split along political lines, being far more prevalent among Arab Israelis (70%) and left-wing Jewish respondents (57%), while just 13% of religiously identified and right-wing respondents agree.

Those are the starkest of several indications of right-left alienation in the latest Israel Democracy Index, a comprehensive annual survey of Israeli attitudes conducted between April 8 and May 2 by IDI and presented to President Reuven Rivlin this afternoon.

In total, 36% of the 1,041 respondents (with a maximum sampling error of 3.1%) said that right-left tensions were the strongest in Israeli society, while just 28% said tensions between Jews and Arabs were worse.

— Raoul Wootliff

Synagogue in Basel, Switzerland vandalized

A Chabad Lubavitch synagogue in Basel, Switzerland, is vandalized.

A window of the synagogue was smashed in with a hammer, the BZ Basel news website reports.

The damage was discovered on Saturday morning as worshipers gathered for the Shabbat morning service.

“I’ve been living in Basel for 16 years. It’s the first time that I have been worried about myself and my family,” Rabbi Zalmen Wishedski of Chabad Lubavitch tells BZ Basel.

There currently are no suspects in the incident, the Basel public prosecutor’s office tells the news website.

The incident comes after a kosher butcher shop in Basel was vandalized four times in one month in what local Jews have condemned as an anti-Semitic campaign of intimidation.


Driver in LA synagogue ramming attempt to undergo mental competency hearing

Criminal proceedings against the driver who allegedly attempted to run over two people outside a Los Angeles synagogue are suspended over the suspect’s mental competency.

Mohamed Abdi Mohamed, 32, a Seattle man born in Somalia who reportedly is a US citizen, was charged last week with two felony counts and a hate crime. He pleaded not guilty and is being held on $55,000 bail.

On Friday his public defender raised questions about his mental competency, the Los Angeles Times reports. A mental competency hearing is scheduled for December 14, according to the report.

Mohamed was diagnosed with schizophrenia in 2015 and has been treated at mental health facilities in the Seattle area at least twice in recent years, the Times reports, citing medical records seen by reporters.


Condemn anti-Semitic image on pro-government magazine cover, Lauder tells Orban

The head of the World Jewish Congress calls on Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban to publicly condemn an anti-Semitic image on the cover of a pro-government magazine.

A picture of Hungarian Jewish leader Andras Heisler, head of the Federation of Hungarian Jewish Communities, or Mazsihisz, the country’s largest Jewish group, surrounded by money was published late last week on the front page of the Figyelo weekly.

Such an image “is one of the oldest and vilest caricatures of the Jewish people and it places not just the magazine, but all of Hungary in a very bad light. The timing of this is especially critical because people in the United States, and elsewhere, are paying greater attention to the upsurge in anti-Semitism throughout Europe and, especially, in Hungary,” WJC President Ronald Lauder writes in a letter to Orban on Sunday.

The letter also says: “While I understand and respect the boundaries of a free press, I believe your strong, public condemnation of this very clear attack on all Jewish people, would not just distance you, personally, from this most disgusting hatred, worthy of the Nazi era, but it would also place your government and all of Hungary in a better light.”

The magazine accuses Heisler and Mazsihisz of accounting irregularities in connection with a state-funded synagogue renovation project in Budapest including a Jewish museum, according to the AFP news service. Mazsihisz denies the allegation.

Orban’s government had an open row with Mazsihisz over a statue unveiled in Budapest in 2014. Devoted to the Nazi occupation, it shows an angel being attacked by an eagle. Mazsihisz said it whitewashes Hungarian complicity in the Holocaust. Orban has consistently rejected this interpretation and has repeatedly vowed to take an active stance against anti-Semitism.


Rivlin lights Hanukkah candles honoring heroism of Holocaust survivors

President Reuven Rivlin lights candles for the second night of Hanukkah with Holocaust survivors.

“It is a great honor to welcome you here today to the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, the independent, free Jewish and democratic state,” Rivlin tells his audience of aging survivors.

President Reuven Rivlin, center, lights a Hanukkah menorah at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem in a holiday ceremony honoring Holocaust survivors, December 3, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

He lit the candles in a Hanukkah menorah that itself survived the Holocaust after it was hidden underground in the Polish town of Sompolno. The menorah “stood in the synagogue of the Jewish community in the town,” Rivlin relates. “During the Holocaust, the menorah was buried deep in the ground, and it is among the only objects left to the memory of the Jewish community of the town of Sompolno. It was a vibrant town of about 1,200 Jews, almost all of whom were murdered in the Chelmno death camp in February 1942.”

Rivlin concludes: “Hanukkah, according to Jewish tradition, has both heroism and miracles, just like your own lives. Each one of you is a hero. The fact that you survived is a miracle. Your story is the story of a whole generation, which rose from disaster to rebirth, which was rescued from the depths of evil and chose life. A generation of heroism and creation.”

President Reuven Rivlin (front, third from left) at a Hanukkah ceremony honoring Holocaust survivors at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, December 3, 2018. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Gaza officials: Four hurt by IDF fire in border protest

The Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says four Palestinians are wounded from Israeli fire during a border protest in the northern Gaza today. No more details are immediately available.

Hezbollah denies Israel struck its forces near Damascus

A senior Hezbollah official denies reports that Israel carried out a missile attack on its forces near Damascus last week.

Speaking Monday, the official says the report by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights is incorrect. Reuters notes that report was bolstered by a Syrian defector who said the targets included Syrian military formations in which Hezbollah forces were embedded.

The Hezbollah official is quoted by Reuters as saying that “Iranian and Hezbollah positions in Kisweh, southern Syria, were not exposed to any bombardment.”

US urges Europe to impose sanctions on Iran over missiles

The Trump administration is urging Europe to impose tough new sanctions on Iran over its ballistic missile program.

The call comes as Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is to meet European officials in Brussels this week and after the US and others condemned an Iranian missile launch over the weekend.

Iran is expected to be a major topic of conversation when Pompeo meets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Brussels on Monday night. Pompeo also plans to talk about Iran when he meets his counterparts from Britain, France, and Germany on Tuesday, while he is in Belgium for a meeting of NATO counterparts.

US special envoy for Iran Brian Hook rejects Iran’s insistence that its missile program is defensive. He tells reporters traveling with Pompeo that Iran’s continued missile development and testing is a threat to the region and beyond and in defiance of UN Security Council demands.

Hook says US discussions with the Europeans about missile sanctions are gaining traction. Those talks center on slapping penalties on companies and people involved in Iran’s program.

“It is a grave and escalating threat and nations around the world, not just Europe, need to do everything they can to be targeting Iran’s missile program,” Hook says.

— AP

Jared Kushner, in Buenos Aires for G20, commemorates AMIA Jewish center attack

BUENOS AIRES — White House senior adviser Jared Kushner pays tribute to the victims of the 1994 attack on AMIA, the Buenos Aires Jewish community center.

Kushner, the Jewish son-in-law of US President Donald Trump, is part of the US delegation to the G20 summit. He visits the rebuilt headquarters of the building that houses AMIA, the Jewish political umbrella DAIA, and the Argentina Zionist Organization. The building was destroyed by a car bomb in a suicide attack that killed 85 and injured more than two hundred.

Kushner is received by AMIA President Agustin Zbar, who thanks the US for its commitment to the AMIA victims and the positions it has taken against Iran.

According to Argentina’s justice department, Iran and Hezbollah are linked to the attack and also are responsible for a 1992 attack targeting the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires that killed 29.

Earlier this year, Argentina froze the assets of a suspected Hezbollah fundraising network. Alleged Hezbollah operative Assad Ahmad Barakat was subsequently arrested near Brazil’s border with Argentina and Paraguay.


Netanyahu to warn Lebanon via Pompeo: Rein in Hezbollah or we’ll act

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to tell US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo in Brussels tonight that Lebanon must rein in the Hezbollah terror group or risk Israeli military action in Lebanon.

Netanyahu and Pompeo are slated to meet in Brussels soon. Netanyahu flew there earlier today. Pompeo is in the city for meetings with NATO allies.

According to Hadashot television news, Netanyahu’s warning to Lebanon mentions recent actions by Hezbollah that cross Israel’s red lines.

The prime minister may make a public statement about the issue, after the meeting with Pompeo, Hadashot reports.

AG: Supreme Court will decide if Netanyahu must resign after indictment

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says the High Court of Justice will have to determine whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would need to resign if an indictment is filed in his corruption cases.

Speaking to lawmakers in the Knesset State Control Committee, Mandelblit says, “When it comes to a minister, there’s a clear ruling from the Supreme Court that they have to resign if an indictment is filed. As for a prime minister, that’s a complex question and will certainly reach the High Court, which will rule on this issue too.”

Police submitted their final recommendations last week, in the last of the three major corruption probes into Netanyahu’s affairs. Mandelblit is expected to make the final decision on filing an indictment in all three cases in the coming months. He has said he has not yet decided whether the prime minister will be indicted.

Netanyahu has denied wrongdoing in all three cases and insisted he will not resign his post even if an indictment is filed against him.

Regular ministers can be appointed and fired at will, but a prime minister has a special status in Israel’s basic laws that lay out the structure of government: he is selected by the president, is the only member of the cabinet who must be an elected MK, and bears special responsibility and ultimate authority for numerous key functions and powers given to the government by law. That makes his resignation in the case of an indictment a far more difficult legal question, touching on the authority of multiple branches of government.

Nationwide protests planned tomorrow to call attention to violence against women

Nationwide protests are planned for tomorrow to draw attention to rampant violence against women in Israeli society, with activists and victims’ groups saying the government does not do enough to address the issue.

The protest, under the headline “I’m a Woman; I’m on Strike,” will see tens of thousands of women stay home from their workplaces.

At last count, 47 municipal councils, out of over 250, announced they would support the protest and allow protesters to stay home for the day. Eleven unions, 84 NGOs and civil society groups, 27 government agencies and 51 major corporations have also joined the list of supporters of the protest day. All of Israel’s major universities also plan to cancel classes for various parts of the day tomorrow in solidarity.

At least 23 women have been killed in the last year.

Former defense chief Liberman says Israel handed Hamas a decisive victory

Former defense minister Avigdor Liberman slams the government’s policies toward Gaza and its rulers, Hamas, saying Israel handed the terrorist group a decisive victory by rewarding it for leading clashes along the border over the past eight months.

“We came out of it like limp rags, like nerds,” Liberman says, speaking at an event in the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya’s Institute for Counterterrorism.

Liberman resigned from the position of defense minister last month, after an intense two-day battle between Israel and Hamas, citing the government’s Gaza policies among other issues.

“Something we need to learn if we want to survive in this jungle known as the Middle East, you can’t give a prize for violence,” he says.

The former defense minister says the issue arose with the “Great March of Return,” the name Palestinians gave to an ongoing series of weekly riots along the border fence, which Israel says are orchestrated by Hamas.

“Since March 30, Hamas has been using violence on the border, and we decided to pay them money to get back the calm,” Liberman says. “If before March 30, Hamas had difficulties in terms of public opinion, since then, we have turned Hamas into a model for imitation,” he says.

“The public support for Hamas has broken all records,” the former defense minister says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Mexico asylum seekers’ IDs recall Holocaust tattoos on camp inmates

Asylum-seeking migrants waiting in Mexico to gain entrance to the United States are having tracking numbers written on their arms in permanent marker, recalling the Holocaust when concentration camp inmates were tattooed with numbers.

Accounts vary on when and who started the numbers-tracking practice in Mexico, but it has become a part of the process for asylum seekers at one of the US ports of entry, in El Paso, Texas, Yahoo News reported Friday. Children are included in the process, according to the report.

Grupos Beta, the humanitarian branch of Mexico’s federal immigration agency, whose mission is to offer assistance and protection to migrants, uses a list of these tracking numbers to help take care of the asylum seekers. The numbers were first spotted by Yahoo News, while the migrants were waiting to be questioned by Grupos Beta.

More than 6,000 people reportedly are waiting at the border with Tijuana, Mexico, to gain asylum in the United States, most fleeing violence in Central America.


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