ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 143

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Putin recognizes Ukraine separatist territories as independent, defying West

Russian president says Western countries threatening Russia; EU says sanctions are on the table over separatist republics; 2 Ukrainian soldiers and 1 civilian killed in shelling

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Ukrainian troops patrol the frontline outside the town of Novoluhanske, eastern Ukraine, on February 19, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)
Ukrainian troops patrol the frontline outside the town of Novoluhanske, eastern Ukraine, on February 19, 2022. (Aris Messinis/AFP)

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

Zelensky says he spoke with Biden about Russian recognition of Ukrainian separatists

US President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office of the White House, on September 1, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)
US President Joe Biden meets with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in the Oval Office of the White House, on September 1, 2021, in Washington, DC. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelensky says he has discussed Russia’s recognition of his country’s two Kremlin-backed separatist regions with US President Joe Biden.

Zelensky tweets that he “discussed the events of the last hours” with the US leader and then convened a national security council meeting focused on responding to Vladimir Putin’s unilateral recognition of the independence of part of eastern Ukraine.

EU vows to respond with ‘firmness’ to Putin’s recognition of Ukraine separatists

BRUSSELS — European Union leaders denounce Russian President Vladimir Putin’s decision to recognize the independence of Ukraine’s separatist regions and warn that the bloc and its allies will react firmly.

“The recognition of the two separatist territories in Ukraine is a blatant violation of international law, the territorial integrity of Ukraine and the Minsk agreements,” EU chiefs Ursula von der Leyen and Charles Michel each tweet.

“The EU and its partners will react with unity, firmness and with determination in solidarity with Ukraine.”

Putin recognizes Ukrainian separatist regions as independent

Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 21, 2022. (Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP)
Russian President Vladimir Putin speaks during his address to the nation at the Kremlin in Moscow, on February 21, 2022. (Alexey Nikolsky/Sputnik/AFP)

MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin has recognized the independence of separatist regions in eastern Ukraine — a move that will severely ratchet up tensions with the West amid fears that his country could invade Ukraine at any moment and use skirmishes as a pretext for an attack.

Putin’s announcement comes after a meeting of his Security Council and paves the way for Russia to openly send troops and weapons to the long-running conflict pitting Ukrainian forces against Moscow-backed rebels.

A 2015 peace deal ended large-scale fighting, but violence has simmered and has seen a spike in recent weeks amid the wider crisis.

Jewish Agency pulls its emissaries out of Kyiv

The Jewish Agency says it is moving its emissaries out of Kyiv, to the western Ukrainian city of Lviv.

The agency will continue to operate and provide services to Jews in Kyiv through local workers.

The decision will be reassessed early next week.

The Foreign Ministry also decided to move its staffers from Kyiv to Lviv earlier today.

Calcalist to investigate its own reporting after government probes refute claims

The Calcalist news outlet says it will investigate its own reporting after government probes refute the site’s claims about police spying.

Calcalist said earlier this month that police had used NSO Group spyware to illicitly spy on dozens of Israeli civilians in an explosive, unsourced report.

A probe led by the deputy attorney general, alongside Shin Bet and Mossad investigators, said today it had found no evidence of wrongdoing. A police probe also found no serious problems.

“The findings necessitate a new investigation into the findings and claims we published,” Calcalist says, while saying some of the reporting has been verified and there are still problems with police wiretapping.

US rejects Bennett’s criticisms of Iran deal negotiations

The Biden administration rejects Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s criticisms of a potential Iran nuclear deal.

A spokesperson for the US state department tells Walla news that, when the US left the Iran deal, senior Israeli defense officials thought it was a mistake.

“We cannot make the same mistake another time and put off another opportunity for diplomatic progress,” the spokesperson says.

“We believe that diplomacy, alongside coordination with our allies in the region, is the best way to achieve our goal,” he says. “We will not respond in the media about details from the talks.”

Bennett said Sunday that the emerging Iran deal will “likely create a more violent, more volatile Middle East,” said Iran would use freed-up assets to target Israel, and vowed that Israel “won’t accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state.”

Putin will recognize rebel separatists as independent

Russian President Vladimir Putin will recognize rebel separatist territories in eastern Ukraine as independent, the Kremlin says.

The move will further stoke tensions that are already sky-high.

The leaders of France and Germany say they are “disappointed by the decision” to recognize the breakaway republics.

The UN warns against “unilateral action” that will “undermine” Ukrainian sovereignty.

Ukrainian leader President Volodymyr Zelensky convenes his top military and security aides.

“Given the statements made at the meeting of the Security Council of the Russian Federation, I held urgent consultations with Emmanuel Macron and Olaf Scholz and convened the National Security and Defense Council,” Zelensky says.

French President Emmanuel Macron convenes his defense council.

Two Ukrainian soldiers killed in shelling

Two Ukrainian soldiers are killed and three are wounded in a shelling attack on a frontline village.

Ukraine’s national police say the two soldiers died in Zaitseve, a village 30 kilometers (18 miles) north of the rebel stronghold Donetsk, near to where a civilian died in another attack Monday.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky convenes the country’s national security council.

Germany warns Putin against recognizing separatist Ukraine rebels

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz warns that Moscow would be unilaterally breaching the 2015 Minsk peace accords if it were to recognize the independence of east Ukraine’s rebel republics.

In a call between Scholz and Russia’s Vladimir Putin, the German leader underlines “such a step would be a gross contradiction of the Minsk agreement for a peaceful settlement of the conflict in east Ukraine and a unilateral breach of these deals from the Russian side.”

Scholz, whose country currently holds the presidency of the G7, also urges Putin to “immediately de-escalate and withdraw the massed forces from the borders to Ukraine.”

“He stressed that it was now particularly important to observe the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine and to set signs of detente,” according to a statement issued by the chancellery.

“Russia has a particular responsibility here,” he says.

Following the conversation, Scholz is currently consulting with his “closest partners” including France’s President Emmanuel Macron and Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, the chancellery says.

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell says the union is “ready to act” if Putin recognizes the separatists.

Earlier today, Putin said he was considering the move.

Police minister: ‘Many need to apologize’ after report turns up no illegal hacking

Public Security Minister Omer Barlev, who oversees police, applauds law enforcement after an investigation into illegal police hacking turns up no evidence of wrongdoing.

The report is “a resounding victory for Israel Police and those who wear the uniform,” Barlev says.

“There are many officials today that need to bow their heads and apologize to Israel’s policewomen and policemen and their families — 30,000 public servants whose names have been smeared in the mud in every forum in recent weeks,” Barlev says.

He says he aims to restore public faith in police, which has been severely damaged.

“Together we will protect democracy. Together we will defend the country,” he says.

Gantz meets with Republican US congressional delegation

Defense Minister Benny Gantz meets with a visiting delegation of Republican US lawmakers.

“We discussed the strategic and operational challenges that Israel must be prepared to face, including Iranian aggression and Hezbollah and Hamas on our borders,” Gantz says.

“We discussed the importance of ensuring that Israel has the means to defend its citizens and strategic assets and reiterated the strategic, bipartisan bond that Israel and the US share,” he says.

The delegation led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy met with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett earlier today.

A delegation of Democrats visited Israel last week.

Gantz’s party is boycotting coalition votes due to a legislation holdup, reportedly centered on pensions for career soldiers.

Ukrainian civilian killed in frontline shelling

A Ukrainian civilian is killed in a shelling attack on a government-held village, Ukrainian officials say.

Local officials say the civilian, identified only as a man born in 1970, was killed in an attack on Novoluganske, a settlement 35 kilometers (25 miles) north of the eastern rebel stronghold Donetsk.

The death marks the first officially-confirmed civilian casualty of the year in Ukraine’s eight-year separatist conflict, which has claimed more than 14,000 lives and forced 1.5 million from their homes.

Ukraine’s Western-backed leadership has also confirmed the death of five soldiers this year.

Russian state media says President Vladimir Putin is going to make a televised address “soon.”

Lapid orders Ukraine embassy to leave Kyiv due to threat of war

After a situational assessment, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid directs Israel’s embassy in Kyiv to relocate to Lviv in western Ukraine. He and ministry staff in Jerusalem hold detailed discussions on the logistics of the move, according to a ministry spokesman.

The embassy staff will be working from the temporary consular office Israel opened in Lviv last Thursday, located in an office rented by Israel.

Other western nations, including the US and UK, moved their embassy staff to Lviv last week.

Israel’s diplomats in Ukraine have been working to convince the 15,000 Israelis who were in the country before the crisis to leave, but only around 3,100 have done so.

They are also preparing for the dramatic possibility of a land evacuation of Ukraine’s 150,000-200,000 Jews.

Probe led by deputy AG, with Mossad and Shin Bet, finds no police wrongdoing

An investigation into police use of spyware against civilians says there is no evidence police used NSO Group spyware illegally.

“There are no indications that the police infected the phone of anyone named in the media with the Pegasus program without a court order,” the investigation says.

Deputy Attorney General Amit Marari led the probe, which included personnel from the Shin Bet and Mossad.

It looked into 26 names included in a Calcalist report, who were allegedly targeted using NSO Group’s Pegasus program.

The unsourced report sparked at least three government investigations, which have not yet turned up wrongdoing, leading to doubts about the Calcalist report’s veracity.

Marari’s team submits the report to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara.

The investigation took place between February 9 and February 20.

Bennett on coalition dustup: ‘There is a problem. We will solve it.’

Bennett says the coalition will resolve the dustup caused by the Blue and White party’s boycott of coalition votes.

A reporter asks Bennett, “Mr. Prime Minister, is Gantz behaving like a little child?”

“This government is doing excellent things for the citizens of Israel, in the economy, in security,” Bennett responds.

“There’s a problem. We will solve this problem,” he says.

The opposition Likud party, led by former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says “the Bennett government is collapsing.”

“This is the third week in a row that the coalition is withdrawing all its proposed bills because it is failing and losing votes. They will fall down much faster than they think.”

Serious COVID cases drop below 800 for the first time in a month

The number of COVID-19 patients in serious condition falls below 800 for the first time in a month.

There are 786 patients in serious condition, out of 118,196 active patients, the Health Ministry says. At the height of the Omicron wave, there were around 1,250 patients in serious condition.

There were 17,676 new infections yesterday.

In the past week, 222 Israelis died from COVID, bringing the toll since the start of the pandemic to 9,989.

Bennett meets Republican US lawmakers, discusses Iran negotiations

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with a US congressional delegation in Jerusalem.

The AIPAC-organized Republican group is led by House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy from California.

Bennett “discussed a range of issues with the delegation regarding his diplomatic and security outlook including regional issues, especially the nuclear talks in Vienna,” his office says.

Bennett met with a Democratic group of US lawmakers last week.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets US lawmaker Kevin McCarthy in Jerusalem, on February 21, 2022. (Amos Ben-Gershom/GPO)

Gantz-Bennett meeting ends with no agreements; coalition pulls its bills for the day

Defense Minister Benny Gantz walks out of a meeting with Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, as the coalition dustup continues.

The two do not reach any agreements and the coalition is withdrawing its legislation for the day, as Gantz’s Blue and White party boycotts coalition votes to protest holdups in its legislation.

The move has infuriated Gantz’s coalition partners.

The Islamist Ra’am party boycotted the coalition last week, preventing it from voting forward legislation.

Bank of Israel keeps interest rate unchanged at 0.1%, despite economic strength

The Bank of Israel says it will keep the interest rate changed at a low 0.1 percent, despite Israel’s strong economic recovery from the pandemic.

The bank says economic activity is at a “high level” despite the pandemic, but cites the risk of more COVID outbreaks and continued uncertainty.

It says inflation was 3.1% over the past year, at the upper end of the bank’s target range. Inflation is expected to remain within the bank’s target range in the coming year, as well as long-term.

Omicron’s impact on the global economy has been “relatively moderate,” and economic activity continues to recover, the bank says.

The shekel has weakened against the dollar and the euro, the bank says. A strong shekel had been hurting Israeli exporters and producers.

Israel’s GDP grew by 8.1% last year, surpassing previous forecasts and marking the highest financial growth rate recorded in Israel in 21 years.

The entrance to Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, in the center of Tel Aviv, December 25, 2018. (Adam Shuldman/Flash90)

Coalition lashes ‘childish’ Gantz boycott: ‘He thinks we’re all fools’

Coalition members deride Defense Minister Benny Gantz after his Blue and White party boycotts coalition votes to protest holdups in its legislation.

“We were surprised by this move from Gantz, who has the support of all senior members of the coalition. This is childish behavior from someone who thinks we’re all fools,” senior coalition sources tell Ynet.

“Gantz is acting sour again and trying to undercut the coalition’s stability like a little child. Maybe he’s fantasizing about a government with Bibi again,” the source says, using former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s nickname.

Gantz signed a coalition deal with Netanyahu in May 2020 that was supposed to see Gantz serve as prime minister after 18 months. That government collapsed after it failed to pass a budget, in a move widely seen as engineered by Netanyahu to prevent Gantz taking power.

Putin accuses West of threatening Russia, may recognize separatist rebels

Russian President Vladimir Putin say Western powers are using Moscow’s feud with Ukraine to threaten Russia’s own security and says he is considering recognizing the independence of two breakaway Russian-backed regions.

“The use of Ukraine as an instrument of confrontation with our country poses a serious, very big threat to us,” Putin says, adding that Moscow’s priority was “not confrontation, but security.”

“Our goal is to listen to our colleagues and determine our next steps in this direction, bearing in mind both the appeals of the leaders of the DNR [Donetsk People’s Republic] and LNR [Lugansk People’s Republic] to recognize their independence,” Putin said.

Openly backing the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk in eastern Ukraine would effectively put to an end an already shaky peace plan and dramatically increase the likelihood of an all-out Russian invasion.

Moscow appears to be already laying the groundwork for such an operation by claiming — to furious Ukrainian denials — that its forces have intercepted and killed five Ukrainian saboteurs who infiltrated Russian territory, and accusing Ukraine of shelling a border post.

The claims undermine efforts by European leaders to broker a diplomatic resolution by urging Putin to hold a summit with US President Joe Biden, although Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov did say he would meet his US counterpart on Thursday.

Putin makes his declaration as he opens a carefully stage-managed meeting of Russia’s national security council with made-for-television opening remarks.

He says he no longer feels that a key 2015 plan agreed on with France, Germany and Kyiv would be able to resolve Ukraine’s separatist conflict.

“We understand that there are no prospects” for the implementation of the 2015 Minsk peace accords, agreed on in the capital of Belarus to end fighting between Ukraine’s army and pro-Moscow rebels in the east of the country, Putin tells his security council.

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan tells NBC news that a Russian invasion of its neighbor would be an “extremely violent” operation followed by a brutal occupation.

“It will be a war waged by Russia on the Ukrainian people to repress them, to crush them, to harm them,” Sullivan says.

 

Blue and White party boycotts coalition votes to protest holdup of its legislation

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says his Blue and White party will not vote with its coalition partners today to protest delays passing legislation that his faction put forward.

His centrist party is apparently feuding with left-wing parties in the coalition.

He says the boycott is to protest “damage to national security and the breach of coalition commitments in past months.”

His party will not take part in Knesset plenum votes today, excluding no-confidence votes, which would topple the government.

Blue and White says Gantz has recently been “having a quiet conversation with the prime minister and alternate prime minister, on a wide range of security subjects and other subjects.”

Blue and White lists a number of issues it says were part of its coalition agreement that have not been honored, including advancing a new conscription law.

A senior coalition source tells Ynet the tussle is over the left-wing Labor and Meretz parties refusing to pass a Blue and White pension plan for career soldiers.

“Gantz has decided that pensions for his friends has risen above all other considerations,” the source says.

Blue and White holds eight seats in the 120-seat Knesset. Its boycott deprives the government of its majority.

The Islamist Ra’am party boycotted the coalition last week due to its legislation being held up, and ended its protest earlier today, meaning the coalition may not be able to move legislation forward for the second week in a row.

Gaza construction workers find 31 Roman-era tombs

Construction workers at a building site in northern Gaza have uncovered 31 Roman-era tombs dating from the first century CE, the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group says.

The tombs were discovered near the town of Beit Lahia as work began on an Egyptian-funded residential area, part of the $500 million reconstruction package Cairo pledged after the 11-day war in May between Israel and armed groups in the Gaza Strip.

Naji Sarhan, an official at Gaza’s Ministry of Public Works, confirms the find and said there is “evidence that there are other graves” at the site.

Construction work is halted and technicians from Gaza’s Ministry of Antiquities and Tourism are sent to the site to catalogue gravestones and artifacts, officials say.

One technician, who requested anonymity, says the tombs are believed to be part of a cemetery linked to a nearby Roman site in Balakhiya.

Hamas announced finding the first tomb earlier this month.

Last month, Hamas reopened the remains of a fifth-century Byzantine church following a years-long restoration effort backed by foreign donors.

Israel and Morocco sign economic cooperation and trade agreement

Israeli and Moroccan ministers sign a new economic and trade agreement at a meeting in Morocco.

Economy Minister Orna Barbivai and Moroccan Industry and Trade Minister Ryad Mezzour ink the deal to develop bilateral economic and trade relations, increase cooperation, hold joint conferences, put in place some customs exemptions and establish a joint committee to implement the measures.

Barbivai says she instructed her ministry to work toward increasing bilateral trade from $131 million to $500 million in the next five years.

Barbivai says, “The economic cooperation agreement is designed to bring about economic growth and prosperity for Israel and Morocco. By working together we will realize the latent economic potential in bilateral relations, increase the scope of trade and strengthen technological cooperation alongside rapprochement between the peoples.”

Mezzour says, “After resuming diplomatic relations one year ago, today Morocco and Israel have laid the foundation for an innovative and multi-faceted partnership. Today marks a new stage in which we will embark together on a partnership that is intensive, productive and beneficial for both sides.”

Economy Minister Orna Barbivai, left, and Moroccan Industry and Trade Minister Ryad Mezzour. (Courtesy/ Ministry of Economy and Industry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz made an unprecedented visit to Morocco in November, signing a security pact that angered Morocco’s neighbor and rival Algeria, and the Palestinians.

Israel and Morocco had initially established relations in the 1990s, but Rabat broke them off at the start of the second Palestinian intifada (uprising) in 2000.
Cooperation has expanded swiftly since ties were re-established as part of the US-brokered Abraham Accords in late 2020.

Ukraine denies ‘saboteurs’ crossed into Russia; rebels ask Putin for recognition

Ukraine firmly denies Russian claims that Russian forces killed five Ukrainian “saboteurs” who allegedly crossed the border to stage an attack.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba denies a string of claims issued by Russian officials throughout a tense day that has heightened fears that the Kremlin is paving the way for an invasion of Ukraine.

Russian officials had earlier also said that a Ukrainian shell had destroyed a border facility used by Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB).

“No, Ukraine did NOT: attack Donetsk or Lugansk, send saboteurs or APCs [armored personnel carriers] over the Russian border, shell Russian territory, shell Russian border crossing, conduct acts of sabotage,” Kuleba says in an English-language tweet.

“Ukraine also does NOT plan any such actions. Russia, stop your fake-producing factory now,” he says.

Also, the rebel leaders of east Ukraine’s two self-proclaimed republics ask Russian President Vladimir Putin to recognize the independence of their breakaway territories in a coordinated appeal.

“I ask you to recognize the sovereignty and independence of the Lugansk People’s Republic,” separatist Leonid Pasechnik says in a video aired on Russian state television. Denis Pushilin, the rebel head of the Donetsk People’s Republic, makes a similar appeal.

‘Mossad is in Bahrain,’ senior Bahraini official says at security conference

A senior official from Bahrain’s foreign ministry says Israel’s intelligence agency is active in his country.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Ahmed Al Khalifa, a Bahraini undersecretary for the ministry of foreign affairs, makes the comment publicly at the Munich Security Conference in a discussion with Defense Minister Benny Gantz.

“There is intelligence cooperation between Bahrain and Israel. Mossad is in Bahrain and they’re present in the region.

“If this security cooperation between Bahrain and Israel would mean providing more stability and security, so be it, if it would mean saving the lives of innocent civilians, so be it. That is why, during a number of visits for the head of Mossad to Bahrain, that was publicly announced in the Bahrain news agency.”

“The head of Mossad was received by his counterpart in Bahrain so we do believe security cooperation, intelligence cooperation is part of our ongoing partnership between Bahrain and Israel and will continue.”

The session was called “Abraham Accords and Peace Options,” according to Bahrain’s Foreign Ministry.

Parks authority backs down from Mount of Olives park plan after outcry from churches

Israel’s Nature and Parks Authority says it is backing down from a contentious plan to encompass Christian holy sites on Jerusalem’s Mount of Olives in a national park following outcry from major churches.

The Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem rises above Jerusalem’s Old City and its sites are holy to three monotheistic faiths. Its slopes to the east of the Old City are studded with churches of various sects that mark the traditional places of events in the life of Jesus.

The Armenian, Catholic and Greek Orthodox churches petitioned Israel’s environmental protection minister, whose department is in charge of the Parks Authority, in a letter last week.

The churches expressed the “gravest concern and unequivocal objection” to the plan, saying it would disrupt the longstanding state of affairs and aims to “confiscate and nationalize one of the holiest sites for Christianity and alter its nature.”

Shortly after the churches’ outcry, the Nature and Parks Authority says it is freezing the plan, which was to be approved on March 2 by Jerusalem’s planning committee.

The authority says it has “no intention of advancing the plan in the planning committee and it is not ready for discussion without coordination and communication with all relevant officials, including the churches, in the area.”

Israeli rights groups and peace activists denounced the plan as an attempt by Israeli authorities to marginalize Palestinian residents and increase the Jewish religious and national significance of the Mount of Olives.

Russian army says it killed 5 ‘saboteurs’ from Ukraine on Russian territory

The Russian army says it killed five “saboteurs” from Ukraine on Russian territory.

Ukraine denies any involvement.

There have been hundreds of ceasefire violations on the border in recent days. Two Ukrainian soldiers were killed by artillery fire on Friday.

Western leaders have repeatedly accused Russia of planning to stage “false flag” operations to justify an attack on Ukraine.

Lapid says Israel not bound by Iran deal: ‘We will not hesitate to act’

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid blasts the Iran negotiations at a faction meeting for his Yesh Atid party.

“The terrible nuclear deal is about to be signed in Vienna. Iran is seeking to cancel the Revolution Guards listing as a terrorist organization. If they’re not a terror group, then what are they?

“In another two and a half years, the restrictions on Iran will disappear. It will be able to return to its activity with advanced centrifuges and enrich uranium for a bomb.

“We will continue to have a sharp and open conversation with the US government, as one does with friends, to make sure that this deal is not the end.”

“To be clear: We are not subject to this deal. Israel will protect its security by itself. We have a strong army, we have the Mossad, we have a determined government, we will not hesitate to act to prevent Iran from reaching its goal,” he said.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Sunday warned the emerging deal will “likely create a more violent, more volatile Middle East,” said Iran would use freed-up assets to target Israel, and vowed that Israel “won’t accept Iran as a nuclear threshold state.”

Ra’am says it will start voting with coalition again after boycott

The coalition’s Ra’am party, an Arab faction led by Mansour Abbas, says it will start voting with the coalition again, after a weeklong protest.

Last week, three bills backed by the opposition advanced in the Knesset when Ra’am boycotted.

Ra’am was reportedly angry at coalition ministers for holding up its own legislation on tax exemptions in Bedouin communities in the Negev, Ra’am’s voter base.

The coalition fumed over Ra’am’s boycott last week.

“Ra’am is toying with us. We are living from vote to vote,” a coalition source told the Kan public broadcaster.

Israel’s birthrate trended downward in 2020, statistics bureau says

The Central Bureau of Statistics says Israel’s birthrate trended downward in 2020, during the first year of the pandemic.

The fertility rate in 2020 was 2.9 children per woman.

The birthrate fell by 3.8% from its peak in 2018.

Israel still has the highest birthrate in the OECD, Ynet says.

The report records 177,307 births in Israel in 2020, with 73.3% born to Jewish women, 21.7% born to Muslim women, 1.4% to Christians and 2.4% to Druze.

The average age for a mother having her first child was 27.7.

Modiin Illit, an ultra-Orthodox community, had 7.16 children per woman, the highest rate in the country.

Jewish women had an average of three children per woman, and Arabs had 2.82, the report says.

Judges Khaled Kabub, Gila Kanfi-Steinitz break ground in Israel’s highest court

The Judicial Selection Committee convenes to select four new judges for the Supreme Court.

The new judges include Khaled Kabub, the court’s first permanent Muslim judge, and its first Mizrahi woman, Gila Kanfi-Steinitz.

The two other new judges are Ruth Ronen and Yechiel Kasher.

There are 15 judges on the Supreme Court, headed by Esther Hayut. Women make up about one third of the judges.

Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked, a right-wing politician and former justice minister, says “at least two are on the right side of the citizenship law and destroying terrorists’ homes.”

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