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Thousands of police officers deployed to break up illegal New Year’s Eve parties

Checkpoints set up on highways, amid anticipation that Israelis will host gatherings in violation of lockdown rules, despite sky-high infection rates

Police at a temporary checkpoint at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem on December 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Police at a temporary checkpoint at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem on December 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Top justice warns government: Don’t politicize the court system

Supreme Court President Esther Hayut, speaking at the swearing-in ceremony for new judges, appears to accuse the government of seeking to meddle in the judicial appointments.

“There were those who tried to thwart” the work of the Judicial Appointments Committee for “other considerations,” says Hayut.

“For all those seeking to make political capital on our backs, I would recommend you look inward,” she says. “The court system must remain outside the political game, because the attempts to drag it, and its judges, into the political arena are dangerous.”

Justice minister: We thwarted attempt to politicize judiciary

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, shoring up Hayut’s account, says there was a “serious attempt to politicize the appointments of the Supreme Court, in an attempt to make the justices dependent on the whims of the politicians.”

“We stopped it,” he says.

MK gets COVID-19, 10 days after receiving first dose of vaccine

United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler has tested positive for COVID-19, the Knesset confirms.

Eichler, 65, was administered the first dose of the coronavirus vaccine 10 days ago, according to Hebrew media reports.

United Torah Judaism MK Yisrael Eichler at a Knesset committee meeting on November 8, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

China OKs 1st homegrown vaccine

China approves its first homegrown COVID-19 vaccine for general use, health regulators say, marking the addition of another vaccine in the global fight against a virus that is surging back in many places as winter sets in.

The two-dose vaccine from state-owned Sinopharm is the first approved for general use in China. The go-ahead comes shortly after the country launched a program to vaccinate 50 million people before the Lunar New Year holiday in February. It also comes one day after British regulators authorized AstraZeneca’s inexpensive and easy-to-handle vaccine.

The back-to-back approvals could bring poorer countries, many of which have been unable to secure the Pfizer and Moderna doses being snapped up by rich countries, one step closer to getting vaccines sooner. Pakistan’s science minister says that his government will buy 1.2 million doses of a Sinopharm vaccine, two days after its death toll topped 10,000.

A staff member inspects syringes of COVID-19 inactivated vaccine products at a packaging plant of the Beijing Biological Products Institute Co., Ltd, a unit of state-owned Sinopharm in Beijing, December 25, 2020. (Zhang Yuwei/Xinhua via AP)

Technically, China granted conditional approval for the vaccine, which means that research is still ongoing, and the company will be required to submit follow-up data as well as reports of any adverse effects after the vaccine is sold on the market, Chen Shifei, the deputy commissioner of the National Medical Products Administration, tells a news conference.

The vaccine was developed by the Beijing Institute of Biological Products, a subsidiary of state-owned conglomerate Sinopharm. The company announced Wednesday that preliminary data from last-stage trials had shown it to be 79.3% effective.

It is an inactivated vaccine, which means the virus was grown in a lab and then killed. The germ is then injected into the body to generate an immune response.

Final proof of its effectiveness will depend on publication of more data. Experts have said important data was missing from Wednesday’s announcement, such as the size of the control group, how many people were vaccinated and at what point the 79.3% efficacy rate was reached after injection.

AP

World to ring out dismal 2020 with muted celebrations (except for New Zealand)

This New Year’s Eve is being celebrated like no other, with pandemic restrictions limiting crowds and many people bidding farewell to a year they’d prefer to forget.

Australia will be among the first nations to ring in 2021 because of its proximity to the International Date Line. It is a grim end to the year for New South Wales and Victoria, the country’s two most populous states, which are battling to curb new COVID-19 outbreaks.

In past years 1 million people crowded Sydney’s harbor to watch fireworks that center on the Sydney Harbor Bridge, but most will be watching on television as authorities urge residents to stay home.

Locations on the harbor are fenced off, popular parks closed and famous nightspots eerily deserted. A 9 p.m. fireworks display was scrapped but there will be a seven-minute pyrotechnics show at midnight.

New Year’s fireworks erupt over Sydney’s iconic Harbour Bridge and Opera House (L) during the fireworks show on January 1, 2020. (Peter Parks/AFP)

People are only allowed in downtown Sydney if they have a restaurant reservation or are one of five guests of an inner-city resident. People won’t be allowed in the city center without a permit.

Some harborside restaurants were charging up to 1,690 Australian dollars ($1,294) for a seat, Sydney’s The Daily Telegraph newspaper reported Wednesday.

Sydney is Australia’s most populous city and has had its most active local transmission of the coronavirus in recent weeks.

Melbourne, Australia’s second most populous city, has canceled its fireworks this year. “For the first time in many, many years we made the big decision, difficult decision to cancel the fireworks,” Mayor Sally Capp said.

“We did that because we know that it attracts up to 450,000 people into the city for one moment at midnight to enjoy a spectacular display and music. We are not doing that this year.”

In notable contrast, the west coast city of Perth — which has not had community spread of the virus since April — was gearing up to celebrate the new year almost normally with large crowds expected to watch two fireworks spectacles.

New Zealand, which is two hours ahead of Sydney, and several of its South Pacific island neighbors have no COVID-19 cases, and New Year celebrations there are the same as ever.

AP

On last day of 2020, world’s COVID death toll surpasses 1.8 million

The novel coronavirus has killed at least 1,806,072 people since the outbreak emerged in China last December, according to an AFP tally from official sources at 1100 GMT on Thursday.

More than 82,676,050 cases of coronavirus have been registered. Of these, at least 51,918,900 are now considered recovered.

These figures are based on daily tolls provided by health authorities in each country and exclude later re-evaluation by statistical organizations, as has happened in Russia, Spain and Britain.

Since the start of the pandemic, the number of tests conducted has greatly increased while testing and reporting techniques have improved, leading to a rise in reported cases.

However the number of diagnosed cases is only a part of the real total number of infections as a significant number of less serious or asymptomatic cases always remain undetected.

Over Wednesday, 15,599 new deaths and 679,925 new cases were recorded worldwide.

The countries with the most new deaths were United States with 3,927 new deaths, followed by Brazil with 1,194 and Mexico with 1,052.

A volunteer wearing protective clothing prepares a grave for a funeral of a person who died from COVID-19 at a cemetery in the outskirts of the city of Ghaemshahr, in northern Iran, Dec. 18, 2020. (AP Photo/Ebrahim Noroozi)

The United States is the worst-affected country with 342,414 deaths from 19,745,137 cases. At least 6,298,082 people have been declared recovered.

After the US, the hardest-hit countries are Brazil with 193,875 deaths from 7,619,200 cases, India with 148,738 deaths from 10,266,674 cases, Mexico with 124,897 deaths from 1,413,935 cases, and Italy with 73,604 deaths from 2,083,689 cases.

The country with the highest number of deaths compared to population is Belgium with 168 fatalities per 100,000 inhabitants, followed by Slovenia with 128, Bosnia-Herzegovina with 123, Italy 122, Republic of North Macedonia 119.

Europe has seen 568,862 deaths from 26,300,009 cases, Latin America and the Caribbean 505,089 deaths from 15,465,966 infections, and the United States and Canada 357,854 deaths from 20,316,207 cases.

Asia has reported 218,751 deaths from 13,862,834 cases, the Middle East 89,766 deaths from 3,969,128 cases, Africa 64,805 deaths from 2,730,865 cases, and Oceania 945 deaths from 31,041 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.

AFP

UAE sees record-high daily virus cases, but New Year’s celebrations still on

For the second consecutive day, the United Arab Emirates has shattered its single-day record of new coronavirus infections, with 1,730 cases recorded ahead of New Year’s Eve celebrations expected to draw tens of thousands of revelers to Dubai from around the world.

The record figures come after the UAE said it detected its first known cases of the new, fast-spreading variant of the virus in people arriving from abroad. With an economy that runs on aviation and hospitality, the UAE has remained open for business and tourism, including from the United Kingdom, where the new variant of the virus was found. The country is home to hundreds of thousands of British expats.

The commercial hub of Dubai will press ahead with New Year’s Eve celebrations, including the annual fireworks show around the Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest tower. Police will be out in force to ensure spectators are wearing masks and adhering to other measures.

The UAE has reported a total of 207,822 cases and 669 deaths amid an aggressive testing campaign.

AP

Burj Al Arab, a luxury hotel, foreground, and Burj Dubai, the world’s tallest building, in background center, seen from a plane in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, January 3, 2010. (AP Photo/Kamran Jebreili)

First signs of rift emerge in United Torah Judaism party

In the first rumblings of a rift in the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, MKs Meir Porush and Yisrael Eichler of its Agudat Yisrael faction inform MK Moshe Gafni — of the second faction that makes up the party, Degel HaTorah — that he doesn’t speak on their behalf.

All agreements within the party and with other parties must be coordinated and approved by Agudat Yisrael, Porush and Eichler say.

The letter from the Agudat Yisrael MKs to Gafni comes ahead of national elections in March. The disagreement appears to be related to the makeup of the party slate.

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni arrives at a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on March 3, 2020, a day after the general elections. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Netanyahu meets with outgoing UN Middle East envoy

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with outgoing UN envoy Nickolay Mladenov.

Netanyahu “thanked him for the positive role he filled vis-à-vis various elements in the region,” his office says.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu insisted on the importance of continued assistance in the important mission of returning the IDF fallen and the civilians being held by Hamas in Gaza,” the statement adds.

Norwegian diplomat Tor Wennesland is set to replace Mladenov.

Syrian civil war claimed 6,800 lives in 2020, lowest annual toll

The Syrian conflict claimed at least 6,800 people in 2020, the lowest annual death toll since it began nearly a decade ago, a war monitor says.

According to figures compiled by the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 10,000 people were killed in the conflict in 2019.

The deadliest year was 2014, when more than 76,000 people died, according to the UK-based organization, which has an extensive network of sources on the ground.

The overall tally since the start of the conflict has crept up to 387,000, including 117,000 civilians.

The fighting, which erupted in 2011 after the brutal repression of anti-government protests, has largely abated in 2020 as a ceasefire held in northwestern Syria and attention turned to containing the coronavirus pandemic.

Violence continues to claim lives every week, however.

AFP

A Syrian woman with her children, who were displaced by the Turkish military operation in northeastern Syria, wait to receive a tent and other aid supplies at the Bardarash refugee camp, north of Mosul, Iraq, October 17, 2019. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Iran alleges US ‘plot to FABRICATE pretext for war’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif accuses the United States of creating a “pretext” for war with the Islamic Republic, after the US flew strategic bombers over the Persian Gulf yesterday for the second time in a month.

He tweets: “Instead of fighting Covid in US, Donald Trump & cohorts waste billions to fly B52s & send armadas to OUR region

“Intelligence from Iraq indicate plot to FABRICATE pretext for war. Iran doesn’t seek war but will OPENLY & DIRECTLY defend its people, security & vital interests.”

Report: 1 million Moderna vaccines to be delivered to Israel next week

Channel 12 reports that one million vaccines from the US biotech company Moderna will arrive in Israel next week, rather than in March as had previously been agreed.

The report is not immediately confirmed by the Health Ministry.

If confirmed, however, it could make up for a shortfall predicted by the ministry in January, before new batches of the Pfizer-BioNTech shot arrive.

A nurse gives a volunteer an injection during trials for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine in Binghamton, New York, July 27, 2020. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

Police gear up to crack down on illegal New Year’s Eve parties

The Israel Police will begin setting up checkpoints on highways across the country from 7 p.m. and through the night, as part of its efforts to prevent New Year’s Eve gatherings. Police representative Hai Mizrahi tells Channel 12 cops will perform random sobriety tests.

He urges Israelis to heed the rules and avoid any sort of illicit gatherings.

As part of its crackdown on illegal parties, police will deploy helicopters and drones.

Mizrahi says police are also monitoring social media.

Border Police patrol in downtown Jerusalem during Israel’s third coronavirus lockdown, December 29, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

After leaving Blue and White, MK Shefa said in talks to join Huldai

Blue and White MK Ram Shefa, who announced earlier today he’s leaving Benny Gantz’s party, is in talks to join Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s new party ahead of the March elections, reports the Kan public broadcaster.

Avi Nissenkorn, Blue and White’s justice minister, has already joined Huldai’s center-left list.

Blue and White party member Ram Shefa at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on May 14, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Jordan sentences 5 leaders of teachers union protests to prison

A court in Jordan sentenced five leaders of the national teachers’ syndicate to a year in prison over recent protests demanding a salary increase, a lawyer for the teachers says.

Bassam Fraihat says the court also ordered that the syndicate be dissolved. He says the five, who face an array of charges, including incitement to hatred and unlawful gatherings, are appealing the verdict and were released on bail.

The five were among 13 members of the Teachers Association council who were arrested in July after threatening to stage new protests over a long-running salary dispute. The arrests set off protests in the capital, Amman, in which anti-riot police clashed with protesters and beat several people with clubs, including an Associated Press reporter. Dozens of protesters were arrested.

Amman’s deputy attorney general suspended the 13 members from service and ordered the closure of the syndicate and its branches for two years over criminal and corruption charges. Thursday’s court order, if upheld, would dissolve the association.

The Jordanian government had agreed to increase teachers’ salaries by 50% after a month-long strike in September 2019. But after restrictions related to the coronavirus outbreak hit the economy, the government postponed the salary hikes, drawing scorn from the teachers. They accused the government of failing to honor the agreement.

The government now says the salary increase will take effect in January.

AP

1 in 15 deaths in Israel in 2020 were from COVID

Ahead of the new calendar year, the Central Bureau of Statistics releases population data.

It says there are some 9,291,000 Israelis as of the end of the year. The Jewish population accounts for 73 percent (6.87 million), the Muslim population represents 21% (1.95 million), with another 456,000 members of other religions.

According to the CBS, as of the end of November, 44,154 Israelis died this year, with the number projected to climb to 49,000 by the end of the year. One in 15 deaths was coronavirus-related.

Magen David Adom worker at the coronavirus unit at the Hadassah Ein Karem hospital in Jerusalem on November 1, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Modiin-Maccabim-Reut mayor turns down offer to join Likud

Haim Bibas, chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel and mayor of Modiin-Maccabim-Reut, turns down Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer to join Likud on a reserved party spot.

Bibas says he supports Likud, but prefers to remain in city politics.

Haim Bibas, mayor of Modiin and Chairman of the Federation of Local Authorities. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Wisconsin police investigate deliberate spoiling of 500 vaccine doses

Police and federal authorities are investigating after a Wisconsin health system said an employee admitted to deliberately spoiling 500 doses of coronavirus vaccine.

Aurora Medical Center first reported that the doses has been spoiled on Saturday, saying they had been accidentally left out unrefrigerated overnight by an employee at Aurora Medical Center in Grafton. The health system said Wednesday that the doses of vaccine now appear to have been deliberately spoiled.

Police in Grafton, about 20 miles (32 kilometers) north of Milwaukee, say in a statement that the department, FBI and Food and Drug Administration are “actively” investigating the case. Police say they were notified of the alleged tampering Wednesday night. Police say that no other information would be immediately released, and decline to say if any arrests have been made.

In a statement late Wednesday, Aurora said the employee involved “acknowledged that they intentionally removed the vaccine from refrigeration.” Aurora said it has fired the employee and referred the matter to the authorities. The statement said nothing about a possible motive for the action.

“We continue to believe that vaccination is our way out of the pandemic. We are more than disappointed that this individual’s actions will result in a delay of more than 500 people receiving their vaccine,” the statement says.

Aurora said it would provide more information on Thursday.

AP

UN condemns Iran’s executions of young offenders

The UN voices outrage at the execution of a man in Iran who was only 16 when he committed his alleged crime, marking the fourth juvenile offender put to death in the country this year.

The UN human rights office says that Mohammad Hassan Rezaiee was executed early Thursday.

It does not provide further details about Rezaiee or the crime he was convicted of, allegedly committed when he was 16.

But according to Amnesty International, he was arrested in 2007 in connection with the fatal stabbing of a man in a brawl and had spent more than 12 years on death row.

“The execution of child offenders is categorically prohibited under international law and Iran is under the obligation to abide by this prohibition,” UN rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani says in a statement.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, “strongly condemns the killing,” she adds.

Shamdasani says the rights office was dismayed that the execution had taken place despite its efforts to engage with Tehran on the case.

“There are deeply troubling allegations that forced confessions extracted through torture were used in the conviction of Mr. Rezaiee,” she says, adding that there were also “numerous other serious concerns about violations of his fair-trial rights.”

She notes that Rezaiee’s execution, the fourth of a juvenile offender in 2020, had come shortly after a series of other executions in Iran.

AFP

Vaccination center opens in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square

A vaccination center opens in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square.

The center — with 20 vaccination booths — aims to inoculate 5,000 people a day.

According to Channel 12, young people with chronic health conditions are also eligible to receive the vaccine at the site.

Trump cuts Florida vacation short without explanation

US President Donald Trump is cutting short his Florida holiday vacation and returning to Washington on Thursday, one day earlier than expected, for reasons the White House didn’t explain.

The White House announced the abrupt change in the president’s schedule late Wednesday, hours after Sen. Josh Hawley, Republican of Missouri, said he will raise objections when Congress meets on January 6 to affirm President-elect Joe Biden’s victory in the November election.

The Republican challenge is a futile attempt intended to keep Trump in power, and a path the president has pursued after his campaign lost scores of legal challenges to the election outcome, including at the Supreme Court, and the Electoral College certified Biden’s 306-232 win.

Trump’s early return comes as tensions escalate between the United States and Iran in the final weeks of his administration. There is concern in Washington that Iran could order further military retaliation for the US killing last January 3 of top Iranian military commander Gen. Qassem Soleimani. Iran’s initial response, five days after that deadly US drone strike, was a ballistic missile attack on a military base in Iraq that caused brain concussion injuries to about 100 US troops.

AP

Yesh Atid MK urges Huldai to join party, with Lapid as leader

Yesh Atid MK Elazar Stern invites Ron Huldai to merge with the centrist list under Yair Lapid.

“I’m in favor of unity,” Stern tells Channel 12, stressing that Lapid must lead such an alliance.

Huldai launched a new center-left party earlier this week.

Health Ministry denies 1 million Moderna vaccines heading to Israel

The Health Ministry denies Moderna intends to ship 1 million vaccines to Israel next week, as reported by Channel 12.

It says it’s unaware of any intention by the US biotech company to move up its vaccine shipments to the Jewish state, which are currently expected in March.

Health Ministry to recommend restrictions on schools, workplaces

The Health Ministry will recommend the government impose additional restrictions on schools, workplaces, and traffic, according to its director general, Chezy Levy.

Israel is technically under lockdown, but most schools remain open.

Levy, in a briefing to reporters, also predicts the vaccination of the general public will begin in February.

Netanyahu to visit vaccine center in Tira; mayor reportedly not informed

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will visit a vaccination center in the Arab Israeli city of Tira, his office says.

According to reports in the Arabic-language media, Netanyahu has never officially visited Tira before and the municipality was not aware he was coming. Tira mayor Ma’amoun Abd al-Hayy says in a statement that he has been away from the city all day.

The visit comes amid reports of reluctance by Arab Israelis to receive the coronavirus vaccine.

with Aaron Boxerman

Weddings down 25 percent in 2020 — ministry report

Weddings in Israel were down 25% in 2020, amid the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report by the Religious Affairs Ministry.

Some 30,260 couples got married in 2020, compared to 34,083 a year before, the report says.

Despite the general downward trend, some ultra-Orthodox cities — Bnei Brak, Elad, Modiin Illit — saw a 12% rise.

Gal Sade Knigsfild and Nofar Almakias pose for a picture with face masks on, before their wedding in Moshav Yashresh on April 6, 2020. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

2020 saw 20% rise in Israelis who were found dead at home in states of decay

The Zaka emergency service says 157 Israelis were found dead in their homes, days after their deaths, in 2020, marking a 20% rise from 2019.

The organization notes, in a statement: “Most, but not all, were elderly people living alone, with no-one to care for them or check on their well-being – a situation exacerbated by the isolation and lockdowns that characterized 2020. In every case, these were people living alone who died alone. It was only when neighbors noticed the horrible stench emanating from the apartment, or water flowing from a bathroom, that someone remembered that they had not been seen in a while – and called the police.”

Zaka’s Chairman Yehuda Meshi Zahav calls the situation “shocking.”

He says: “Have we become indifferent?! It’s just shocking that this has become part of our routine. Zaka volunteers will continue to fight with all their might for those elderly, lonely and destitute people to save their lives.”

 

Science minister becomes 7th member of Blue and White to jump ship

Science and Technology Minister Izhar Shay informs Blue and White leader Benny Gantz he’s leaving the party, becoming the seventh member of the centrist list to jump ship.

Shay thanks Gantz, and says: “I admire Benny,  respect him very much and wish for Israel to have more leaders like him — with modesty, honesty, personal example, and unconditional sacrifice for the good of the state.”

Izhar Shay poses at the Knesset, on April 29, 2019 (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Tourism to Israel down 81.3% in 2020 — ministry

The Tourism Ministry says 850,000 tourists visited Israel in 2020 — down 81 percent from last year, amid the pandemic.

The Dead Sea shore and hotels on October 18, 2020. (Menachem Lederman/Flash90)

IDF blames loss of control for deadly crash of training flight

The Israel Defense Forces says the deadly crash of a training plane last month was due to a “lack of control,” as it unveils further details on the incident.

It also says Israeli Air Force chief Maj. Gen. Amikam Norkin approved returning the fleet of Grob G 120 “Snunit” trainer planes to service. Norkin ordered the fleet grounded after the November 24 crash, which killed Cpl. Lihu Ben-Bassa, 19, and his trainer, Maj. (res.) Itay Zayden, 42, when their plane crashed near Kibbutz Mishmar Hanegev in southern Israel.

In an interim report presented Thursday to Norkin and the families of the casualties, the investigative team determines that the plane crashed due to a “lack of control over the flight that developed during the drill,” but says it still couldn’t say “what caused the plane to enter into an uncontrolled maneuver.”

Alex Fulbright

The victims of the IAF plane crash on November 24, 2020 — Maj. Itai Zayden (R) and Cpl. Lihu Ben-Bassa (L). (Facebook)

Fatah marks 56 years since its founding

Palestinian Fatah activists are marking 56 years since the movement’s 1964 founding with a series of memorial activities.

Fatah deputy chief Mahmoud al-Aloul — a key confidant of Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mahmoud Abbas — lights a torch in the tomb of Fatah founder Yasser Arafat.

“Our revolution…has seen a number of victories and achievements and perseverance, in Beirut, on Mount Hermon, in the Jordan Valley, and in the First and Second Intifadas,” al-Aloul says.

Aaron Boxerman

Polish rapper under fire for calling COVID-19 ‘modern Holocaust’

A popular rapper in Poland invokes the Holocaust to describe how COVID-19 has affected his country, drawing criticism from a survivor.

The Holocaust reference is part of a song released Tuesday by Jakub Grabowski, better known in Poland by his stage name, Quebonafide. He’s one of the country’s best-known rappers.

By Thursday, there have been more than 900,000 views on YouTube alone for the video clip of “Matcha Latte,” which features a refrain that deals with artists’ financial troubles during the pandemic and a feeling of isolation.

“Outside the window, a modern Holocaust,” Quebonafide raps.

Edward Mosberg, a Poland-born Holocaust survivor and president of the From the Depths Holocaust commemoration group, says the Holocaust reference is “unacceptable and trivializes our common history,” meaning Jews and Poles. Mosberg’s statement demands an apology from Quebonafide.

The 29-year-old rapper defends the line in a conversation with From the Depths founder Jonny Daniels, saying the phrase “modern Holocaust” was an artistic reference to a song by singer Maria Peszek. She used the line to protest racism and hatred.

JTA

Another 3,519 coronavirus cases recorded since midnight

The Health Ministry records another 3,519 new coronavirus cases since midnight, bringing the number of active cases to 43,615.

There are 679 people in serious condition, 165 of them on ventilators. The death toll stands at 3,325.

According to the ministry, 5,809 new cases were recorded Wednesday, with 5.7% of tests returning positive.

The positivity rates today leaps to 8.4%, though the figures are not final and will be revised.

Thousands of cops deployed to break up illegal New Year’s Eve parties

Thousands of police officers are deployed around the country to break up New Year’s Eve parties.

According to Channel 13, police are calling on people to report their neighbors to the authorities if they’re hosting gatherings against the rules.

The current virus regulations ban Israelis from visiting others’ homes.

Police also set up checkpoints on highways and will perform random sobriety tests.

Police at a temporary checkpoint at the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, on December 28, 2020 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

23 schools, kindergartens saw virus outbreaks in past week — report

There have been outbreaks of five coronavirus cases or more in 23 schools and kindergartens over the past week, reports Channel 13.

This includes 20 cases in a kindergarten in Kiryat Motzkin and 20 cases in an elementary school in Hof HaCarmel.

Thousands of Israelis who entered country since October had COVID — TV

Thousands of Israelis who returned to the country between late October and early December were diagnosed with COVID-19 soon after their arrival, reports Channel 13.

The network quotes a Health Ministry report that was submitted to the high-level coronavirus cabinet.

Among those tested upon arrival from abroad, 10 percent of returnees from Turkey tested positive, as did 17% of those from Bulgaria; 3% from the UAE; 8% from Russia; and 2% from the United States.

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

Netanyahu ‘doesn’t rule out’ adding an Arab candidate to Likud list

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a vaccination center in the Arab Israeli city of Tira, amid speculation he could place an Arab lawmaker on his Likud list ahead of the March 23 elections.

According to Channel 12, asked about the possible placement of an Arab lawmaker on his right-wing list, Netanyahu tells a reporter, “I don’t rule that out. I’ll sort out my issues with the Likud election committee and we’ll see.”

Netanyahu’s Likud has campaigned in the past on unfounded claims of electoral fraud in Arab communities. But the prime minister has in recent months formed a quiet alliance with the Joint List’s Mansour Abbas.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits a vaccination center in Tira on December 31, 2020 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Interim police chief steps down tonight

Interim Police Commissioner Motti Cohen leaves the position tonight, after two years on the job as the government dawdled on naming a permanent police commissioner.

He’ll be replaced by Maj. Gen. Alon Assur until the government’s candidate for the position, Border Police chief Yaakov (Kobi) Shabtai, officially assumes the role of police commissioner.

Acting Chief of Police Motti Cohen visits a temporary checkpoint in Jerusalem on September 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

 

US and Israel vote against UN’s 2021 budget

Israel and the United States vote against the UN’s budget for 2021, citing the international body’s “bias” against Israel and its plan to hold an event marking the 20th anniversary of the World Conference against Racism. Israel and the US withdrew from the 2001 conference in Durham, South Africa after texts circulated at the conference censured the Jewish state.

“Twenty years ago, the Durban conference convened with the worthy goal of combating racism. But, like many UN initiatives, it was promptly high-jacked by organization[s] and member states, that are interested in attacking Israel and delegitimizing its right to exist. They are not interested in human rights,” Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan says.

“Today we must all speak out against commemorating the disgrace that was the Durban Conference,” Erdan says. “Israel opposes any measure aimed at allocating a budget for this purpose — we all know that such funds will not be used to support human rights but to spread even more antisemitism and hate towards Israel.”

“It is part of a wider anti-Israel bias at the UN,” says Erdan. “I will not stand by when such lies and incitement against Israel and the Jewish people are freely given a platform.”

Netanyahu speaks on phone with parents of settler teen killed in car chase — TV

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu phones the parents of a settler teenager who was killed in a car crash last week during a police chase in the West Bank, allegedly after throwing stones at Palestinians, according to Channel 13.

Protests have been held nightly in Jerusalem and elsewhere since the death last week of 16-year-old Ahuvia Sandak in the central West Bank.

Netanyahu extended his condolences to Sandak’s parents, who invited him to visit their hometown of Bat Ayin in the West Bank, the network says.

Police intend to charge the four others in the car with Sandak at the time of his death with negligent homicide. Lawyers representing the youths accuse police of ramming into the vehicle, causing the crash.

Israelis protest in Safed on December 22, 2020, following the death of Ahuvia Sandak, who was killed when his car flipped over while being chased by police in the West Bank. (David Cohen/Flash90)
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