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Israel to get first batch of Pfizer coronavirus vaccines on Thursday — reports

Some 100,000 doses said set to arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, alongside company representatives, as pilot for transit and storage of larger amounts

Illustrative: An NHS pharmacy technician at the Royal Free Hospital, simulates the preparation of the Pfizer vaccine to support staff training ahead of the rollout, in London, December 4, 2020. (Yui Mok/Pool Photo via AP)
Illustrative: An NHS pharmacy technician at the Royal Free Hospital, simulates the preparation of the Pfizer vaccine to support staff training ahead of the rollout, in London, December 4, 2020. (Yui Mok/Pool Photo via AP)

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

Netanyahu and Gantz to give press statements at faction meetings

With the coalition hanging by a thread, both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Likud) and Defense Minister Benny Gantz (Blue and White) are to give statements to the media at the start of their factions’ meetings today, their offices say.

Much blame will likely be traded and earnest appeals for unity made, as Israel faces the prospect of a fourth election in a span of two years.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a vote at the Knesset, in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Flash90)

Smotrich: No dialogue over judicial appointments when we return to power

Yamina’s Bezalel Smotrich warns that when his party returns to power there will be no dialogue over judicial appointments, after a panel appointed 61 new judges despite a boycott by three right-wing MKs.

Yesterday the Judicial Appointments Committee convened and selected 61 new judges, despite three coalition lawmakers refusing to take part over the nomination of two Arab justices they accused of anti-Zionism. They claimed — apparently mistakenly — that the panel could not legally convene without them.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn “did what was expected of him by his camp. He’s an aggressive, forceful politician who took advantage of an opportunity to use his power without consideration,” say Smotrich, who is a member of the opposition.

Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich speaks during a Knesset plenum session in Jerusalem on August 24, 2020. (Oren Ben Hakoon/Pool/Flash90)

“We on the right have much to learn from this. When we are in power we are considerate, and here the left acts without any consideration,” he claims, adding: “When we return to power, no one should expect us to hold a dialogue.”

Iran says ‘mediocre’ Saudis have no place in nuclear talks

Iran flatly dismisses a call by Saudi Arabia for Gulf states to be consulted on any potential negotiations with the Islamic Republic on its nuclear program.

“Everyone is free to talk, but it’s better that they do not talk above their level so that they don’t embarrass themselves,” Iran’s foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tells reporters

“Dwelling too much about the place of a mediocre country in the region does not help,” the spokesman says in response to repeated questions on the Saudi position.

Saeed Khatibzadeh (Screen capture: YouTube)

— AFP

Police launch investigation into hacking, ransoming of Shirbit insurance

A police cybercrime unit has opened an investigation into the hacking of the Shirbit insurance company, which has led to the leak of numerous private documents of its clients.

The company has refused to pay the approximately $1 million ransom demanded by the hackers.

Today the hackers’ bitcoin account began to receive payments, indicating the group has begun selling the data as threatened, according to Hebrew media reports.

Lapid: Center-left must unite behind us; we’re through setting egos aside

Opposition leader Yair Lapid says it’s time for the center-left camp to unite behind his Yesh Atid party, otherwise “Netanyahu will win and the country will fall apart.”

Speaking ahead of his faction’s weekly meeting at the Knesset, Lapid says: “The moment it smells elections, the right wing says one thing: ‘I want to win.’ It sets everything aside, doesn’t whine or complain — it goes for the win. That’s what our camp needs to do now. Stop messing about, unite behind Yesh Atid, and go for the win.

“I hear talk of ‘setting aside our egos.’ I hereby announce: We’re through setting our egos aside. Let others set their egos aside this time.”

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid-Telem at his office in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on September 14, 2020. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Report: Man attempts to stab security officers at West Bank checkpoint, is shot

A man is shot after he attempted to stab security officers at the Qalandiya checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel, according to initial, unverified reports.

Photographs from the scene show the alleged suspect on the ground.

No reports of anyone else being hurt.

— with Judah Ari Gross

Rights groups angry as Egypt’s Sissi makes state visit to France

Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi is meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron for talks on fighting terrorism, the conflict in Libya and other regional issues as part of a state visit to France, amid criticism from human rights groups over the Egyptian leader’s crackdown on dissent.

Macron welcomes Sissi at the Elysee Palace, and is expected to raise human rights concerns among the other topics on the agenda, according to Macron’s office.

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi speaks during a press conference in Paris on December 7, 2020 (Michel Euler / POOL / AFP)

Over 20 human rights groups have denounced in a joint statement France’s strategic partnership with Egypt as the North African country “is abusively using counter-terrorist legislation to eradicate the legitimate work in favor of human rights and suppress all peaceful dissent in the country.”

Sissi has overseen the largest crackdown on critics in Egypt in living memory, jailing thousands of Islamists along with pro-democracy activists, reversing freedoms won in the 2011 Arab Spring uprising, silencing critics and placing draconian rules on rights groups.

— AFP

Bob Dylan’s song catalog, rock ‘n’ roll’s holy grail, is sold

Bob Dylan’s entire catalog of songs, which reaches back 60 years and is among the most prized next to that of the Beatles, is being acquired by Universal Music Publishing Group.

The catalog contains 600 song copyrights including “Blowin’ In The Wind,” “The Times They Are a-Changin’,” “Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door,” and “Tangled Up In Blue.”

Financial terms were not disclosed.

Bob Dylan, right, performs during the British Summer Time festival at Hyde Park in London, July 12, 2019. (Isabel Infantes/PA via AP)

“Brilliant and moving, inspiring and beautiful, insightful and provocative, his songs are timeless—whether they were written more than half a century ago or yesterday,” Sir Lucian Grainge, CEO of Universal Music Group, says of the Jewish singer’s work in a prepared statement.

— AP

Police: Man shot at Qalandiya did not attempt stabbing, behaved suspiciously

Police say the Palestinian man who was shot at the Qalandiya crossing this afternoon had not tried to carry out a stabbing attack as initially reported but had behaved suspiciously and ignored security guards’ calls to stop.

According to police, the man began walking in a section of the checkpoint reserved for automobiles.

“From an initial investigation, it appears the guards called for him to stop several times and when he did not answer their calls, they carried out an arrest protocol in which they fired at his lower body,” police say.

The man is reportedly in serious condition. Medics were called to the scene. “The circumstances of the event are being investigated,” police say.

In August guards at Qalandiya shot a deaf man who didn’t hear them calling on him to leave a restricted area.

— Judah Ari Gross

Poll: Majority of Israelis find neither Netanyahu nor Gantz credible

A majority of Israelis do not trust the leaders of Israel’s two biggest parties, according to a poll by the Israel Democracy Institute.

The survey shows 62 percent of Israelis view Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as having very low or moderately low credibility, while 60% say the same of Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

With Netanyahu’s trial set to enter the evidentiary stage in February, public opinion is divided according to political affiliation, with 43.5% thinking Netanyahu will not receive a fair trial, while 44.5% believe he will.

Most Israelis (74%) also believe the incoming Biden administration will be less friendly to Israel than the outgoing one, with only 12.5% believing it will be more so.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, and US Vice-President Joe Biden speak prior to a meeting on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016.(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

Iran hosts new Syrian foreign minister in first visit abroad

Iran’s Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif hosts his Syrian counterpart Faisal Mekdad in Tehran, in the top diplomat’s first official visit abroad.

During their meeting, the two discussed “bilateral, regional and international issues, as well as the joint fight against terrorism,” Iran’s foreign ministry says in a statement. Zarif emphasized the “necessity of vigilance and consultation” between Iran and Syria due to the “recent regional developments and condition,” it adds.

Mekdad succeeded Wallid Muallem as Syria’s foreign minister on November 22, after the veteran diplomat died days before. Iran has been a staunch supporter of Syria’s President Bashar Assad in the civil war that has ravaged the country since 2011.

Then-Syrian deputy foreign minister Faisal Mekdad speaks to reporters in Damascus, Syria, July 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Hassan Ammar, File)Iran hosts Syrian foreign minister in first visit abroad

— AFP

With vaccines in sight, Netanyahu and Gantz stress need for continued vigilance

At the start of the weekly Likud faction meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu says the coronavirus cabinet will meet later and make “correct, determined, non-populist decisions.” He warns that “with the end in sight, if we don’t act correctly, people will fall ill and die.”

He stresses the need to prevent crowding and to keep social distancing and hygiene measures is ongoing.

At his own Blue and White faction meeting, Defense Minister Benny Gantz said the country does not yet have “a vaccine campaign” and is on “a battle for human lives that will continue and not end soon.”

Head of Military Intelligence enters quarantine after exposure to virus carrier

The head of Military Intelligence is entering quarantine after attending a meeting with an officer who was confirmed to be a carrier of the coronavirus today, the Israel Defense Forces says.

According to the military, in addition to Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, a number of other officers will enter quarantine after coming into contact with the officer.

Maj. Gen. Tamir Hayman, chief of Military Intelligence, speaks at a conference in Tel Aviv on June 5, 2019. (Flash90)

“They feel good, have no symptoms and will be tested shortly,” the military says.

The IDF says Hayman and the other officers will continue to follow their normal schedules as much as possible from quarantine.

— Judah Ari Gross

Israeli envoy to US: Israel ‘very comfortable’ with sale of F-35s to UAE

Israeli Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer says Israel is “very comfortable” with the potential sale of American F-35s to the United Arab Emirates.

Recent days have seen growing criticism in Congress of the Trump administration’s planned $23 billion arms deal with Abu Dhabi.

“We have our security officials sit with US security officials anytime there is an arms package being proposed,” Dermer told MSNBC during a joint interview alongside Emirate envoy Yousef al-Otaiba.

Ron Dermer, Israel’s ambassador to the United States, at an event in Detroit, June 4, 2018 (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“We went through that process with the United States and we strongly believe this agreement, this arms package will not violate or undermine America’s commitment to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge… So we’re very comfortable with this moving forward.”

As world goes digital, IKEA to stop printing its iconic catalog

Some tragic news for those who enjoy perusing pages upon pages of perfectly acceptable furniture with incomprehensible Nordic names from the comfort of their own less-than-acceptable couch.

Swedish furniture giant Ikea says it will stop publication of its famed catalog, printed yearly in tens of millions of copies, after 70 years, as customers move to digital alternatives.

A woman reads a catalogue while in line outside a new IKEA store in Michigan, June 5, 2006 (AP Photo/Paul Sancya)

“Customer behavior and media consumption have changed, and fewer people read the Ikea Catalogue today than in years past. Inter Ikea Systems, the worldwide Ikea franchisor, has therefore taken the emotional but rational decision to respectfully end the successful career of the Ikea Catalogue,” the company says in a statement.

— with AFP

FlyDubai ‘revalidating procedures’ after airport holdup of Israelis over visas

After several hundred Israelis were held up for hours in Dubai over a visa mixup this morning, the UAE says that “the policy permitting the entry of Israeli citizens remains unchanged, and Israeli citizens continue to be welcomed to the UAE.”

It adds that the company that operated the flight, FlyDubai, “has apologized to the affected passengers” and is “reviewing the reasons behind the delay and is revalidating the processes and procedures to prevent any delays to subsequent flights.”

Meanwhile, some Hebrew media reports claim that until a visa waiver agreement goes into effect in the near future, Israelis may be forced to pay an additional $90 for visas.

Israeli unemployment dropped to 14.6% in November — statistics bureau

Israel’s unemployment rate dropped from 18 percent in October to 14.6% in November, according to data from the Central Bureau of Statistics.

The drop came after some 130,000 Israelis returned to work as the country’s second national lockdown was eased.

The number of unemployed currently stands at 603,000, according to the CBS.

Political mud-slinging over judicial appointments in full force

There are some rapid exchanges of fire going on in the political sphere over yesterday’s approval of 61 new justices by a judicial selection panel despite a boycott by right-wing political members.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu accuses the committee of impropriety. “Any time elected officials want to appoint anyone, the judicial system ties our hands with demands for dozens of meetings,” he says. “But yesterday the Judicial Appointments Committee checked 136 candidates for 3.5 hours. That’s an average of two minutes per candidate.”

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn retorts: “Anyone who knows anything about how the Judicial Appointments Committee functions knows well that any meeting is preceded by professional discussions on each candidate that add up to dozens of hours.” He says the committee will continue to work with “no political considerations.”

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn seen during a visit at the Jerusalem Municipality on November 10, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90

On the right, the issue has once again raised the right’s longstanding talking point that the justice system must be reformed.

Likud’s Miri Regev attacks Yamina’s Ayelet Shaked for criticizing Likud over the incident. “You’re great on Twitter… great on talk, weak on action. You were justice minister, what did you do [to reform the system].”

Yamina responds: “Likud has taken the day off from failing on coronavirus in order to fail on this too.”

Netanyahu: If Blue and White dissolves Knesset, we will win elections

In a statement at his faction’s meeting, Prime Minister Netanyahu says: “I hope we avoid elections, but if Blue and White insists on dispersing the Knesset [thus calling elections], we will win.”

He asserts that reforms he desires in the justice system have been thwarted for years “by some minority in the coalition,” leading to “a loss of public trust in law enforcement. But more and more people are coming to realize [the need for change].”

Emirati sheikh seals deal to buy 50% of Beitar Jerusalem soccer club

Emirati Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Nahyan has sealed a deal to purchase 50 percent of soccer club Beitar Jerusalem.

The sheikh has agreed to invest NIS 300 million ($92 million) in the club in the coming decade, including in upgrading its training facilities.

The soccer club is associated with the Israeli hard right, with a notable anti-Arab slant. Israeli owner Moshe Hogeg has been working to address the notorious racism problem of some of its fans.

Illustrative: A Maccabi Tel Aviv player, in white, dribbles the ball between opposing players during a match against Beitar Jerusalem in Jerusalem on June 8, 2020. (Flash90)

Coronavirus cabinet convenes to examine new restrictions

The coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers who offices are linked to the fight against the pandemic, has convened to decide on potential new restrictions, as Israel sees a resurgence of infections.

On the agenda is whether to continue to allow malls and street stores to operate despite the rise in cases, as well as other possible limitations.

National Security Council said to recommend nightly curfew starting on Hanukkah

Reports in Hebrew Media say the National Security Council is recommending a nighttime curfew from the beginning of Hanukkah for a three-week period in order to combat rising infection rates.

Meanwhile, coronavirus czar Nachman Ash is hesitant, according to Ynet, saying such a move is unlikely to have much of an immediate effect.

EU delegation to visit Gaza as coronavirus outbreak worsens

A delegation of European diplomats is scheduled to visit the Gaza Strip tomorrow as the coronavirus outbreak worsens in the coastal enclave, a spokesperson for the EU says.

The delegation is set to include the European Union’s representative to the Palestinians, Sven Kuhn von Bergsdorff, as well as several European ambassadors.

The Hamas terror group, the Strip’s de facto ruler, welcomes the delegation in a statement. The terror group says that it hopes that “the visit will bring tangible steps towards ending the blockade [of Gaza] immediately and unconditionally, and for the necessary funding to be mobilized to end the numerous humanitarian crises and contain the pandemic.”

Palestinian children attend a kindergarten while wearing face shields due to the COVID-19 pandemic, in Gaza city on November 23, 2020. (Mohammed ABED / AFP)

There are currently 10,647 coronavirus infections in the Gaza Strip. Around 70% of the overall occupancy for COVID-19 facilities in Gaza was in use on Monday, according to the WHO.

— Aaron Boxerman

Hamas say it has run out of virus test kits in Gaza

More from Gaza — Hamas says it can no longer carry out coronavirus tests in the Strip due to a lack of kits.

It calls for urgent action “to provide the necessary equipment” to screen the population for the virus.

The only laboratory in the territory able to analyze COVID-19 test samples has ceased its work “due to a lack of equipment,” the Hamas-run health ministry says.

— with AFP

Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz announces retirement 4 years early

Supreme Court Justice Menachem Mazuz announces his intention of stepping down from his position.

Mazuz has agreed with Supreme Court President Esther Hayut to end his work on April 30, 2021.

The age of retirement at the Supreme Court is 70, and the 65-year-old Mazuz would have thus have been expected to serve until 2025.

Mazuz says in a statement he made the decision “for personal reasons,” but does not elaborate. He thanks court justices “for the opportunity to serve alongside them and contribute to advancing the rule of law in Israel and to protect the values of democracy.”

Supreme Court Justice Meni Mazuz at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on March 22, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Likud MKs petition High Court to annul approval of 61 new judges

Transportation Minister MK Miri Regev and MK Osnat Mark, both of Likud, have petitioned the High Court of Justice to annul yesterday’s meeting of the Judicial Appointments Committee that saw the approval of 61 new judges, including some opposed by right-wingers.

The two, alongside Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser, are members of the nine-member panel that boycotted the meeting to thwart the appointments. They have believed the panel could not legally convene without them, but legal advisers in the Justice Ministry ruled that the meeting could go forward.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev, who lowered her face mask to speak, during a press conference at the Transportation Ministry in Jerusalem, on July 8, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The two are now calling on the court to undo the panel’s decisions, saying the law demands that at least seven of the nine members take part.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn’s Blue and White party backs him up, saying the meeting came “after two years of no new judges being appointed in Israel, to a justice system that sorely needed them.”

With Mazuz retirement, makeup of High Court seen to be in play

Channel 12’s political reporter Amit Segal notes that Justice Mazuz’s early retirement could have broad consequences.

With Mazuz and Justices Neal Hendel and Hanan Melcer — all seen some of the court’s more left-leaning judges — set to retire in the next 18 months, whoever wields power in the appointments committee over the coming period could have a crucial role in shaping the 15-member court’s makeup and character.

With elections seemingly months away, the results could be a deciding factor on this matter.

Eleven justices of the High Court of Justice attend a hearing at the Supreme Court in Jerusalem, on May 3, 2020. (Yossi Zamir/Pool)

Netanyahu visits cultured meat maker, says Israel to be ‘major power’ in field

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Aleph Farms today, a startup working on the production of cultured meat.

Tasting the product, Netanyahu said it was “unbelievable, taste with compassion. There is no difference here.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits cultured meat startup Aleph Farms in Rehovot. (Koby Gideon/GPO)

Netanyahu says meat “is a major part of pollution in the world” and says his government will work to aid the food substitutes sector.

“Israel will be a major power in alternative meat, alternative protein,” he says.

AG to police minister: Present police chief candidate by month’s end

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit tells Public Security Minister Amir Ohana that he must present a candidate for police commissioner by the end of this month.

He does so days after the High Court of Justice ordered the government to appoint a new permanent police chief, a position that has been filled by a temporary appointment for two years amid ongoing political chaos.

The judges did not give a timeframe for the appointment, but said the injunction must be carried out “at a suitable speed.”

Netanyahu, Edelstein said leaning toward nighttime curfew starting this week

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein are leaning toward approving a nighttime curfew starting on Wednesday or Thursday, Channel 12 news reports, for a period of three weeks.

The curfew would start at 6 p.m. or 7 p.m. every day and last until the morning. Stores and malls will remain open during the day.

According to the proposal by the National Security Council, the next stage, either on December 20 or at 3,500 cases a day (whichever comes first) will see closure of stores as well as schools in high-infection cities.

And on January 2 or at 4,500 cases a day, Israel will potentially enter another full lockdown.

New Likud proposal would see cabinet given power to select judges

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud is proposing a radical change to the method of judge selection in Israel.

The proposal would see the cabinet selecting justices, giving it unprecedented power over the judicial system — instead of the current panel that includes members of the government and Knesset, and members of the court and Israel Bar Association.

Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin nullifies vote calling for inquiry into submarine affair, October 21, 2020. (Shmulik Grossman/Knesset)

Such a proposal is seen as entirely unlikely to pass in the current Knesset, but with the country likely to go to new elections within months, such a proposal could lead Likud’s charge at the polls.

Controversially, it comes as the leader of Likud, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, stands trial in three criminal cases.

First Pfizer coronavirus vaccines to arrive in Israel on Thursday — reports

The first delivery of Pfizer vaccines will arrive in Israel on Thursday, according to multiple Hebrew media reports.

The delivery will see some 100,000 doses arrive at Ben Gurion Airport, along with dozens of company representatives

According to Channel 12, this first delivery is something of a pilot program, to practice the transit and storage of the vaccines, which require storage at -70° C (-94° F).

Ynet says a second, larger delivery is expected the following day.

Israel may get up to four million doses of the vaccine — enough to inoculate two million people, by month’s end.

However, the vaccines are not yet approved for use, and Israel is awaiting word from the US Food and Drug Administration, which is expected to hold a potentially decisive meeting Thursday.

Coronavirus cabinet approves nighttime curfew starting this Wednesday

The coronavirus cabinet has approved a nighttime curfew for several weeks, starting this Wednesday, multiple reports indicate.

It is not yet clear what time the curfew will start and end, and how far from home an individual may venture during the curfew.

Justice official says nation-state law should not be used to harm rights

A state representative tells the Knesset that the nation-state law is not supposed to hurt any of the individual rights of citizens, a Justice Ministry official tells the Knesset, after a judge used the controversial 2018 nation-state law to justify dismissing a lawsuit by Arab residents of Carmiel.

The lawsuit charged that the northern city was violating its obligation to provide transportation for Arab Israeli children to local schools. But it was dismissed by the Krayot Magistrate’s Court, which said providing services to Arabs would encourage Arabs to live in the city while changing its Jewish character.

Eyal Zandberg, head of Public Law in the Consulting and Legislation Department of the ministry, tells the Knesset’s Special Committee for the Rights of the Child it is clear from the law’s wording that “it should not diminish the rights of the children.”

MK Yousef Jabareen attends a committee meeting in the Knesset, December 13, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/ Flash90)

He adds that, as the case is currently being appealed by the plaintiffs, he does not want to go into specifics. He stresses that the state was not party to the case at the Krayot Magistrate’s Court.

Committee chief Yousef Jabareen of the Joint List says the law that defined Israel as the nation-state of the Jewish people is “racist” and there is a need “to fight any attempt to translate it into harmful policy.”

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