The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
Speaking to Channel 12’s “Uvda” program, former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit says the government’s plan for sweeping changes to the judiciary “is not a reform. Call it, you name it — a revolution, regime change.”
On his decision to speak out against the government now, Mandelblit says “I can’t be silent.”
Saying the plan upends the Declaration of Independence, Mandelblit says: “If there is no independent judiciary, it’s over. It’s a different system of government.”
Under that new system, he argues, “the human rights of minorities the government doesn’t like will be harmed significantly and severely… There will be oppression.”
He dismisses Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s insistence that the overhaul will strengthen democracy as “empty words.”
“The ruler will decide. He’ll have prosecutors of his own, legal counsels of his own, judges of his own. And if these people have personal loyalty to him, there is no supremacy of the law.
“This is a sinkhole. We’ll all be swallowed up by this. Where are you taking us? Where are you leading us?”
In quotes aired from the interview earlier in the day, Mandelblit said he believed Netanyahu was supporting the drastic shakeup in order to bring a premature end to his ongoing criminal trial.
Mandelblit also says he’s very worried about growing threats against judicial officials who oppose the government’s efforts.
“I think things are going in a bad direction… It will get worse, we’re only at the start… Someone will play the price in blood.”
The mayor of Barcelona’s arch rival Madrid immediately offers to take up the twinning agreement with Tel Aviv, as both he and Barcelona Mayor Ada Colau jostle for position on international issues and investment in an election year.
José Luis Martínez-Almeida, the Spanish capital’s conservative mayor, accuses Barcelona’s leader of antisemitism and tweets that he has written to Tel Aviv’s mayor to share “Madrid’s commitment to democracy and freedom.”
“It would be an honor to be twinned with Tel Aviv,” he adds. Spain’s right-wing politicians are increasingly making diplomatic and commercial outreach to Israel.
The comments came after Colau announced she was suspending the twinning agreement between Barcelona and Tel Aviv, accusing Israel of rights abuses against Palestinians.
An unnamed Israeli military official tells the Saudi-owned Elaph news site that if Iran ships weapons to its regional proxies under the guise of humanitarian aid to Syria following the major earthquake, the IDF would not hesitate to strike.
The official tells the site that “there is information indicating that Iran will take advantage of the tragic situation in Syria” to ship weapons to the Lebanese Hezbollah and other Iran-backed groups in Syria.
He says Israel will not accept this and it will result in a “firm military response from us without hesitation.”
Several strikes against Iranian weapon shipments disguised as seemingly harmless products have been attributed to Israel in recent years.
Israel has admitted to conducting hundreds of sorties against Iran-backed groups attempting to gain a foothold in the country over the last decade.
The IDF says it also attacks arms shipments believed to be bound for those groups, chief among them Lebanon’s Hezbollah.
The chief of the military’s Home Front Command, Maj. Gen. Rafi Milo, paid a visit to the search and rescue teams working in southeastern Turkey today, the Israel Defense Forces says.
Milo is briefed on the search and rescue operations, which have so far resulted in 17 Turkish civilians being pulled out of collapsed buildings following the major earthquake.
The IDF has some 450 soldiers on the ground, including at a field hospital that is expected to receive its first patients tonight.
Anti-government protesters rally near Prime Minister Netanyahu’s apartment in Jerusalem against his coalition’s plans to radically overhaul the judicial system.
A visiting senior US official urged Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government not to move forward with a plan to transfer key Defense Ministry powers relating to the West Bank to far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, arguing that it would view the measure as a step toward annexation, an official familiar with the matter says today.
The transfer of authority over the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories and the Civil Administration — two Defense Ministry bodies responsible for authorizing settlement construction, legalizing outposts and green-lighting demolitions of Palestinian homes — was enshrined in a coalition agreement that Netanyahu’s Likud signed with Smotrich’s Religious Zionism Party.
It has yet to be implemented though, and Likud Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has quickly pushed back on the plan, saying such powers must remain in his office. The disagreement led to a standoff last month when Gallant signed off on the demolition of an illegal outpost. The razing of the structures that had been erected overnight by young religious nationalist activists went ahead, even after Smotrich sent an urgent letter to the Civil Administration commander ordering him to cease the operation, revealing that Gallant still has the upper hand.
However, Netanyahu agreed to hold a subsequent meeting with Gallant and Smotrich during which the latter demanded the coalition agreement be implemented. Gallant, for his part, argued that he was not part of those negotiations. He also has the backing of the defense establishment, which has warned of the security ramifications of placing such sensitive powers in the hands of a pro-annexationist such as Smotrich.
At the same time, Smotrich may well have more leverage than Gallant, given that he heads a party large enough to bring down the government, in addition to being in control of the Treasury.
Netanyahu has yet to rule on the matter, but US Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs Barbara Leaf warned his senior aides last week against siding in Smotrich’s favor, the official familiar with the matter says, confirming a report in the Walla news site.
West Bank staff at the UN agency for the Palestinians, UNRWA, end an 18-day strike that demanded higher wages for employees.
UNRWA says a “technical committee” is meeting with the West Bank’s Area Staff Union to resolve the dispute. The UN agency does not say if it raised salaries for employees.
UNRWA thanks the Palestinian Authority and Palestine Liberation Organization for helping “resolve a situation that was severely impacting the access of Palestine refugees to critical services.” The PLO is designated as a terror group by the US and Israel.
The UN agency said last month that the strike had shut down services including health care, education and sanitation.
The union initiated the strike “in reaction to the lack of response by the UNRWA management to a requested salary increase in the face of high cost of living,” UNRWA said.
Salaries for UNRWA employees were equivalent or higher than the pay for comparable positions with the Palestinian Authority, the agency said.
UNRWA’s West Bank director had called on the union to end the strike in order to reopen schools for 45,000 students.
Late last month, UNRWA requested $1.6 billion in funding for 2023 operations.
The Israeli military’s Unit 9900, part of the Military Intelligence Directorate, has been assisting in efforts to map out sites in Turkey damaged by the devastating earthquake.
The Israel Defense Forces says the unit has been producing data sets and decoding satellite photographs, “allowing forces on the ground to pinpoint the location of the damaged sites and thus optimize their work.”
Yesterday, a small team with “advanced technologies capabilities” landed in southeast Turkey to assist the Home Front Command search and rescue teams in rescuing Turkish civilians trapped under the rubble, the IDF says.
“I am proud to take part in the Israeli effort to save lives in Turkey. We are employing mapping capabilities that are usually used for special operations, in order to save lives wherever needed,” says Lt. Aleph — who can only be identified by the first initial of his name in Hebrew — the commander of the small Unit 9900 team.
PARIS — Iran has released a number of prominent women activists and journalists from Tehran’s Evin prison, campaigners say, with video showing them defiantly chanting pro-protest slogans outside the jail.
Media based outside Iran says a total of seven women were released, while Iran continues to press a crackdown against protests that erupted in September.
They include campaigner Saba Kordafshari, held since 2019 after she campaigned against the obligatory hijab for women, and prominent photographer Alieh Motalebzadeh whose latest stint in jail began in April last year, the reports say.
After being released, they chanted the slogan of the protest movement “Woman, Life, Freedom” and also “down with oppressors worldwide,” according to a video posted by Motalebzadeh on her Twitter account.
— Alieh Motalebzadeh (@a_motalebzadeh) February 9, 2023
The Dublin-based rights group Front Line Defenders says Kordafshari and Motalebzadeh “have played a pivotal role in the women’s rights movement and have been unjustly in prison in the past years.”
The others released are Fariba Asadi, Parastoo Moini, Zahra Safaei, Gelareh Abbasi and Sahereh Hossein, all campaigners who in some cases had been serving years-long sentences.
NEW YORK — Burt Bacharach, the singularly gifted and popular composer who delighted millions with the quirky arrangements and unforgettable melodies of “Walk on By,” “Do You Know the Way to San Jose” and dozens of other hits, has died at 94.
The Grammy, Oscar and Tony-winning Bacharach died Wednesday at home in Los Angeles of natural causes, publicist Tina Brausam said Thursday.
Over the past 70 years, only Lennon-McCartney, Carole King and a handful of others rivaled his genius for instantly catchy songs that remained performed, played and hummed long after they were written.
He had a run of top 10 hits from the 1950s into the 21st century, and his music was heard everywhere from movie soundtracks and radios to home stereo systems and iPods, whether “Alfie” and “I Say a Little Prayer,” or “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” and “This Guy’s in Love with You.”
Officials and medics say 16,546 people have died in Turkey and 3,317 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 19,863. Experts fear the number will continue to rise sharply.
Palestinian emergency responders left the West Bank today to assist with rescue efforts in Turkey and Syria.
Imad Zuhairi, director of the Palestinian International Cooperation Agency, says 73 doctors, paramedics and specialists will travel to neighboring Jordan, and from there one team will be dispatched to Turkey and the other to Syria.
Shas says it agreed to pull a bill that would severely curb non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, after being assured by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that he’ll seek to push off a High Court hearing on petitions for the state to either formally recognize the egalitarian section or allow mixed-gender prayer at the main plaza.
“We welcome the prime minister’s announcement that the status quo will be maintained, as it has been till now,” the Haredi coalition party says in a statement.
“The Western Wall doesn’t need any law. Most of the Jewish nation respects the holiness of the place, except for the provocateur women who don’t cease turning it into an arena of political combat, all under the cover of the High Court,” the statement goes on to claim, referring to the Women of the Wall.
Shas insists its proposal was aimed at “preserving the existing situation.” It also denounces criticism of the bill as “cheap populism.”
An Israeli soldier is seriously hurt after being hit in the head by a bullet ricochet during a training exercise in southern Israel yesterday, the Israel Defense Forces says.
The soldier is taken to a hospital for treatment. The IDF barred publication of the story until his family was notified.
The IDF Military Police has launched a probe into the incident, the results of which will be examined by military prosecutors.
Israeli military search and rescue teams operating in southeast Turkey save a 7-year-old girl from a collapsed building a short while ago, the Israel Defense Forces says.
The girl’s uncle gifts one of the IDF Home Front Command rescuers an old coin as a token of gratitude.
The rescue brings to 12 the total number of Turkish civilians the IDF teams have managed to rescue alive from the rubble as a result of the devastating earthquake.
Some citizens in rebel-held parts of Syria rocked by the deadly earthquake earlier this week are seeking help from Israel due to a lack of other assistance, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
A volunteer with the White Helmets first responders network tells Kan that all international aid is sent to the Assad regime, which doesn’t pass it on.
“The world abandoned us. We ask the Israeli people for help,” Hazem Mohammed from the Idlib area is quoted as saying.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu comments on a bill proposed by his Shas allies to restrict non-Orthodox religious customs at the Western Wall.
“The status quo at the Western Wall, which is dear to all the Jewish people, will be maintained as it is today,” he says in a video statement.
Netanyahu says he spoke with coalition chiefs and they agreed the bill “won’t come up right now.”
“And if it does come up, it won’t include the clauses criminalizing [immodest] clothing or musical instruments… which are unacceptable to everyone,” he adds. “Therefore the Western Wall will remain exactly as it is today.”
Police open an investigation after a young man is found dead in the abandoned village of Lifta on Jerusalem’s outskirts.
Officers are gathering evidence from the scene. The Zaka emergency service says the 20-year-old died of unnatural causes.
Following intense pushback, a proposal by the coalition’s Shas party to place far-reaching restrictions on non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall will not come up for initial approval when the Ministerial Committee for Legislation convenes Sunday, according to Hebrew media reports.
The Walla news site says Justice Minister Yariv Levin, the No. 2 in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party, informed coalition heads that the bill will not be voted on.
The Israel Defense Forces says no soldiers were hurt in the attempted stabbing attack near Hebron.
In a statement, the IDF says the Palestinian suspect approached troops and tried to stab them.
“The forces fired at him and neutralized him,” the IDF says, attaching a photo of the knife.
A Palestinian man who allegedly attempted to stab an Israeli soldier near the West Bank town of al Fawar, close to Hebron, has been shot, according to initial reports.
Images from the scene show him being treated by army medics.
No Israeli soldiers are hurt in the incident, the Rescuers Without Borders emergency service says.
There is no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces on the incident.
Another member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party voices opposition to a bill filed by the coalition’s Shas party that would severely restrict religious practices at the Western Wall that aren’t endorsed by the ultra-Orthodox Chief Rabbinate.
Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel shares a story on the proposal with a headline noting that it would introduce potential prison sentences for women deemed to be dressed immodestly at the Jerusalem holy site.
“It won’t happen,” Gamliel tweets.
The Movement for Quality Government in Israel files an appeal to the High Court of Justice asking that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu be declared unfit for office.
The group argues Netanyahu is in violation of a conflict of interest arrangement that bars him from involvement in matters that could impact his ongoing trial on graft charges, including legislation his coalition is advancing that would drastically curb the High Court’s ability to strike down laws and give politicians full control over judicial picks.
“Netanyahu has proved that he is incapable of separating between his legal matters and the management of the country, and is trying to destroy democracy,” the organization charges in a statement.
More opposition lawmakers rip the Shas party’s proposal to sharply restrict non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall, with penalties that include prison time or a fine.
“No Jew, from any stream, has ownership over the most holy place to the Jewish people,” former defense minister Benny Gantz, who heads the National Unity party, writes on Twitter.
The Western Wall is the holiest place Jews are allowed to pray, though not technically the holiest place, which is the Temple Mount.
“The Western Wall belongs to everyone — religious and secular, right and left, and we must safeguard it as a place that unites all parts of the nation,” he adds.
He also calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to block the proposal: “Put politics aside at out holiest side. Don’t tear away the Western Wall from the Jewish people.”
National Unity MK Ze’ev Elkin says to Shas: “Have you lost it?”
ATHENS, Greece — Greece’s parliament has banned a far-right political party led by a jailed former lawmaker from participating in the general election later this year.
Parliament publishes the text today of a legislative amendment that will disqualify the Greek National Party on the grounds that its leader has been convicted of a serious criminal offense. Lawmakers approved the amendment late last night.
Ilias Kasidiaris, who founded the breakaway party two years ago, is serving 13-year prison sentence for membership in and being a former leading member of Golden Dawn, a political party of neo-Nazi origins.
A court in 2020 designated Golden Dawn as a criminal organization for waging a campaign of violence against migrants and ideological opponents. Kasidiaris and other members of the Golden Dawn leadership were jailed as a result of the ruling.
Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos tells state-run television that banning the Greek National Party was appropriate.
“The Government did the right thing by responding to a demand from a vast majority of Greek citizens: to exclude a party led by a convicted member of a criminal organization.”
Elections are expected in April with the governing center-right New Democracy party leading but unlikely to gain an outright majority, opinion polls suggest. The likely stalemate is expected to trigger a repeat election the following month, when a new election law takes effect.
Recent polls suggest the Greek National Party would cross the threshold of 3% of the national vote needed to gain parliamentary representation.
The party describes the vote in parliament as a violation of the constitution and voters’ rights, and vows to set up its own unofficial ballot boxes on election day.
A senior Shas source tells Israeli television outlets that the Haredi party will soften a proposal to impose sweeping restrictions on non-Orthodox worship at the Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, following intense criticism of the bill.
The source is quoted by Channel 12 news as saying the proposed penalties of a six-month prison stint or NIS 10,000 ($2,900) will be removed from the bill filed by MK Uriel Buso. The source also blames the High Court of Justice, attributing the hasty rollout to the court’s refusal to put off an upcoming hearing on a petition demanding the justices formally recognize the egalitarian section or allow mixed-gender prayer at the main plaza.
Israeli medics working to save lives of Turkish civilians, victims of the major earthquake, are using an advanced mobile app developed by the Elbit defense firm to coordinate their activities.
The app, named SYNCH, is enabling United Hatzalah supervisors in Jerusalem to manage all the emergency and rescue teams in a centralized manner, including with a map. The teams themselves can transmit text updates, voice memos, photos, and live video to the command and control centers, Elbit says.
Elbit says SYNCH works as long as there is cellular network coverage.
“We are proud to make our technology, developed for operational purposes, available for the effort to save lives in Turkey,” says Haim Delmar, the manager of Elbit’s C4I and Cyber Division.
BRUSSELS — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky is wrapping up a whirlwind tour of his major European backers, seeking assurances that Ukraine could one day become part of the European Union.
Zelensky will already head home with heaps of goodwill and commitments of more military aid.
He arrived today to the European Parliament to rapturous applause, cheering and hoots from legislators, insisting in his plenary speech that Ukraine’s fight against Russia was one fought for the freedom of Europe as a whole.
“A Ukraine that is winning is going to be member of the European Union,” Zelensky says to applause, building his address around the common destiny that Ukraine and the 27-nation bloc face in confronting Russia head-on.
“Europe will always be, and remain Europe as long as we are together and as long as we take care of our Europe, as we take care of the European way of life,” he says.
Zelensky adds that Russia wants to destroy the European way of life, but “we will not allow that.”
He holds up an EU flag after his address and the entire legislature stands in somber silence as the Ukrainian national anthem and then European anthem “Ode to Joy” are played.
Zelensky then heads to the urn-shaped Europa building where the 27 EU leaders are meeting to push those same points.
Before Zelensky spoke, European Parliament President Roberta Metsola said allies should consider “quickly, as a next step, providing long-range systems” and fighter jets to Ukraine. Metsola said the response to Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war against Ukraine “must be proportional to the threat, and the threat is existential.”
Metsola also told him that “we have your back. We were with you then, we are with you now, we will be with you for as long as it takes.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is scheduled to travel to the quake-hit provinces of Gaziantep, Osmaniye and Kilis amid ongoing criticism that the government’s response has been too slow.
ISTANBUL — The death toll from a huge earthquake that hit Turkey and Syria climbs to more than 17,500, as hopes fade of finding survivors stuck under rubble in freezing weather.
Officials and medics say 14,351 people have died in Turkey and 3,162 in Syria from Monday’s 7.8-magnitude tremor, bringing the confirmed total to 17,513.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
I'm proud of our coverage of this government's plans to overhaul the judiciary, including the political and social discontent that underpins the proposed changes and the intense public backlash against the shakeup.
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