The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s news as it unfolded.
Top military prosecution officials have warned in recent weeks that the judicial shakeup could expose senior army officials as well as senior political officials to criminal proceedings in international courts, Kan news reports.
The report says legal counsels to Shin Bet and Mossad and top justice officials issued the same warning at a closed meeting today of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee.
The International Criminal Court in The Hague does not investigate individuals in countries that have strong justice systems and which are seen as capable of investigating themselves. However, it is feared that a view of the Israeli system as being grievously harmed could lead the court to assert jurisdiction and investigate Israeli officials on suspicions of war crimes.
After Justice Minister Yariv Levin made a veiled threat that Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara’s job may be at risk if she doesn’t cooperate with the government, her office says in a statement: “The threat of dismissal will not deter the attorney general from carrying out her job.”
Levin has said during an interview earlier that the government “is not concerned at the moment with firing the attorney general because we’re focusing on the [judicial] reform, and at the moment the High Court of Justice will undo it anyway.
“As for the future — hopefully she’ll get a grip and stop thwarting the government.”
A woman has died in Ashdod after being attacked inside a home, police say, adding that the death is being investigated as a suspected murder.
The woman, aged 40, was apparently struck with a blunt object multiple times. She was rushed in serious condition to Assuta medical center in Ashdod, where she died.
Police have detained a man in connection with the incident.
Meeting US senators in Jerusalem, Benjamin Netanyahu says that “despite disagreements, the US is our greatest friend,” the Prime Minister’s Office says.
It is unclear what disagreements the PM is referring to, as the two governments have recently seen disputes both over Israel’s policies toward Palestinians and its plan for sweeping justice reform.
Netanyahu met today with Republican Senator Jim Risch and Democratic Senator Alex Padilla. According to the PMO, he spoke with them “about the Abraham Accords and the possibility of broadening them,” as well as about the Iranian threat.
Reservists and veterans of Israel’s submarine fleet come out strongly against the coalition’s planned judicial overhaul, warning in an open letter that its repercussions could “reach the depths of the sea and damage the critical strength of the submarine fleet.”
The hundreds of submariners who signed the letter, some of whom still serve in the reserves, join the groups of pilots, tankists, special forces and sailors who have penned similar letters in recent weeks.
In the open letter, which will be published tomorrow in the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper, the roughly 300 submariners call on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt the proposed judicial legislation immediately.
“Full of fear, we are watching the regime change that you are leading and the division that it is already causing in the nation,” they write.
The submariners hint at the unparalleled strategic significance of the fleet, which according to foreign reports, is able to carry nuclear missiles and grant Israel a “second strike” capability, meaning the ability to launch atomic weapons even if the homeland is attacked.
“We submariners are concerned for the future of the fleet that we helped create and built into a force. It is a unit that needs the best youth to continue to volunteer to serve in it, and it requires almost absolute cohesion among its fighters and total faith in the political echelon that is dispatching it. The rifts, the division, and the hatred that we are all witnessing will get worse if the regime change that you are leading is completed. They will fray the best parts of the nation and the military and they are poised to reach the depths of the sea and damage the critical strength of the submarine fleet,” they say.
“We are calling on you — full of pain and with a clear voice — stop this rapid decline that you are bringing us to before we reach the abyss. The security of Israel is dear to us. Take your hands off Israeli democracy. The damages caused will be devastating and irreversible.”
A military court sentences a senior Palestinian Islamic Jihad member to 22 months in prison, according to Palestinian media reports.
The arrest of Bassem Saadi in the West Bank city of Jenin last year sparked a round of fighting between Israel and the terror group in the Gaza Strip.
Saadi was indicted in August over membership in a terror group (the PIJ), conducting operations on behalf of the terror group, incitement to terrorism, assisting others to contact an enemy, and assuming a false identity.
There is no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces on the sentencing.
US President Joe Biden says support for wartorn Ukraine “will not waver” as he delivers a speech in Poland ahead of the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion.
“There should be no doubt: our support for Ukraine will not waver, NATO will not be divided and we will not tire,” Biden tells a crowd gathered outside the Royal Castle in Warsaw.
“Ukraine will never be a victory for Russia — never,” he says.
Military chief Herzi Halevi has appointed Brig. Gen. Guy Markizeno as Defense Minister Yoav Gallant’s new military secretary, the Israel Defense Forces says.
The IDF says Gallant has approved Halevi’s appointment of Markizeno.
Markizeno, who currently serves as the chief of staff at the IDF Northern Command, will be replacing Brig. Gen. Yaki Dolf.
Dolf is set to command the IDF’s West Bank division.
The IDF has yet to set an exact date for the handover.
Germany condemns as “inhuman” a death sentence an Iranian court handed down today against an Iranian-German national who supporters say was abducted abroad and forcibly returned to Iran for a show trial.
The Tehran Revolutionary Court convicted Jamshid Sharmahd, 67, in connection with the deadly bombing of a mosque in 2008, the judiciary’s Mizan Online website reported.
Iranian authorities announced in August 2020 that Sharmahd, who is also a German national and a US resident, was arrested in what they described as a “complex operation” without specifying how, where or when he was seized.
His family say that he was abducted by the Iranian security services while in transit in Dubai and then brought under duress to the Islamic Republic.
The court’s ruling is “absolutely unacceptable,” German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock says in a statement, promising a “strong reaction” to the decision. “Not only is the death penalty cruel, inhuman and degrading, but Jamshid Sharmahd has never had anything approaching a fair trial.”
In response to Netanyahu’s call for talks, opposition leader Lapid accuses the prime minister of “lies and spin.”
Lapid says the opposition has sought “for long weeks to hold discussions” with the coalition.
“The president pled with them to stop the legislation and hold talks, the Americans asked them to stop the legislation and hold talks, and the entire people of Israel are asking the government to prevent a terrible rupture in the people, to stop this frenzy.”
Lapid says talks are possible immediately if “you call the president, tell him you are stopping all legislative processes and starting discussions based on the president’s proposal.”
The US Supreme Court refuses to step into a legal fight over state laws that require contractors to pledge not to boycott Israel.
The justices reject an appeal on behalf of an alternative weekly newspaper in Little Rock, Arkansas, that objects to a state law that reduces fees paid to contractors that refuse to sign the pledge.
The full federal appeals court in St. Louis upheld the law, overturning a three-judge panel’s finding that it violated constitutional free speech rights.
Similar measures in Arizona, Kansas and Texas were initially blocked by courts, prompting lawmakers to focus only on larger contracts. Arkansas’ law applies to contracts worth $1,000 or more.
Republican legislators in Arkansas who drafted the 2017 law have said it wasn’t prompted by a specific incident in the state. It followed similar restrictions enacted by other states in response to a movement promoting boycotts, divestment and sanctions of Israeli institutions and businesses over the country’s treatment of Palestinians. Israeli officials said the campaign masked a deeper goal of delegitimizing and even destroying their country.
In a statement addressed to the public, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says: “People of Israel, it’s time to talk.”
The premier says he is aware of worries over the plan to overhaul the judiciary, and says he backs negotiations “to reach agreements or at least minimize the disagreements between us.”
This, he argues, “demands leadership and national responsibility” by opposition leaders,” while saying “unfortunately on the other side so far no one has risen [to the occasion].”
He says talks should be held “without preconditions, without excuses.”
Opposition leaders have said the coalition’s legislative blitz must be paused for talks to be held — a position backed by President Isaac Herzog — while the coalition has dismissed this as an illegitimate precondition and refuses to halt the legislation.
Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter, former head of the Shin Bet security service, dismisses a letter of concern from hundreds of former agents who urged him today not to back the government’s plan for sweeping reforms of the judiciary, while warning they threaten Israel’s democracy.
“I have great respect for the people of the Shin Bet,” he says, noting he has indeed received many concerned messages, but he stresses that he believes and hopes “that it will be seen eventually by myself and my friends… that the legislative process we began last night is a process to strengthen democracy.”
He adds that it is best “not to give too much attention too soon to hysterical claims” about the effects of the bills.
He compares the current atmosphere to that before 1967’s Six Day War when many people felt the country was doomed.
Dichter asserts that the coalition is candid in its desire to talk and calls on opposition leaders to take up the offer in order to reach a compromise.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan responds to the UN rights chief’s comments against the judicial shakeup, arguing that the commissioner has no legitimacy to make them.
“The UN Human Rights Council commissioner, who is responsible for one of the most distorted and immoral bodies in the world, is the last one who can teach Israel what democracy is,” Erdan says in a statement.
The Israeli envoy argues that Turk’s statement “has no legal or moral validity and he has no right to interfere in Israel’s internal affairs.”
“I suggest that the commissioner deal with the protection of human rights in Syria, the murder of women and protesters in Iran, the persecution of the gay community by the Palestinian Authority and a long list of terror organizations and grave injustices committed by dark regimes, which he and his council routinely ignore before, he intervenes and preaches morality to the only democracy in the Middle East.”
German Justice Minister Marco Buschmann meets Israeli counterpart Yariv Levin, expressing concerns over the Israeli government’s efforts to weaken the High Court, several Hebrew media outlets report.
According to Ynet, Israeli officials are denying Buschmann expressed concern, saying he only asked questions about the plan — while German sources are insisting he did express worry.
More on MK Ze’ev Elkin and MK Yuli Edelstein’s trip to Ukraine:
The lawmakers — who both grew up in Ukraine and lead the Israel-Ukraine parliamentary friendship committee — tell Zelensky that Israel “ cannot stand on the side at this time.”
“Israel must meaningfully expand its support for Ukraine,” they say. “Israel can and must do much more than it has done until now.
“We must stop being afraid, and must take an unequivocal, active stance in line with basic moral values, as is expected of every Western country.”
They call on Israel to help in all fields, including military, in which its technology can help protect Ukraine’s civilians, independence, and freedom.
“We support tangible cooperation between Israel and Ukraine in air defense and missile defense, and in more defensive measures,” they tell Zelensky.
“All those guilty of war crimes against humanity must bear responsibility,” they say, having pointed a finger at Russia for bombing civilian areas.
“As sons of Ukraine,” they say, “whose relatives live today in Ukraine under shelling, we know from eyewitnesses how hard it is for you today.”
“But truth and justice always win.”
Yahoo News reports on a secret Kremlin document it says discusses plans to take over Belarus and incorporate it into Russia by 2030.
According to the outlet, the paper details plans for gradual annexation through various means.
The merger would be done while “ensuring the predominant influence of the Russian Federation in the socio-political, trade-economic, scientific-educational and cultural-information spheres,” the document declares.
Yahoo says the document was issued in the fall of 2021 — a few months prior to Moscow’s disastrous invasion of Ukraine.
Belarus, led by the authoritarian Alexander Lukashenko, is a close ally of Russia and has aided it in its invasion, including allowing Russian forces to stage parts of their assault of Ukraine from its territory.
After Foreign Minister Eli Cohen and Likud MK David Bitan criticized the Bank of Israel’s decision to raise the benchmark interest rate to its highest level since 2008, and said the bank should be made to stop the hikes, PM Netanyahu issues a statement in both Hebrew and English stressing that he stands behind the bank.
“The Bank of Israel Law was passed under my leadership and ensures the independence of the Monetary Committee, led by the governor, in determining the interest rate. Nothing will change that.”
The English statement appears intended to calm markets as Israel’s economy takes a hit amid the ongoing legislative effort to radically change the judiciary.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich also backed the bank yesterday, saying: “I stand firmly against populist statements threatening the Bank of Israel’s independence.”
The bank increased the benchmark interest rate for the eighth straight meeting yesterday, raising its key lending rate by 50 basis points to 4.25 percent, as the central bank battles rising inflation pressure and a weakening shekel.
Today, the shekel dropped more than 2% as government bonds and shares slid in Tel Aviv as well, the day after the government approved a key bill in the judicial overhaul in its first reading. Leading businesspeople and economists have warned the legislation could cause the country lasting economic damage.
The Jewish Federations of North America urges Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition Leader Yair Lapid to clarify that a 61-seat Knesset majority should not be allowed to override Supreme Court decisions.
“The essence of democracy is both majority rule and protection of minority rights,” the umbrella organization writes in an open letter that notes its deep and abiding love and unconditional and eternal support for the State of Israel.
“We recognize that any system of checks and balances will be different than those in our own countries, but such a dramatic change to the Israeli system of governance will have far-reaching consequences in North America, both within the Jewish community and in the broader society.”
The letter also urges the leaders to embrace the proposal set forth by Israel’s President Isaac Herzog to consider and resolve issues around judicial reform.
“President Herzog has the respect and admiration of Jews around the world, as do both of you. Whatever the final resolution of these issues, this process will ensure that the views of all stakeholders are fully considered.”
A top Likud MK has called on Israel to “stop sitting on the fence” on aid to Ukraine, after a meeting with President Volodymyr Zelensky yesterday.
Yuli Edelstein, head of the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, is in Kyiv with the opposition’s National Unity MK Ze’ev Elkin.
In a tweet with a photo of the pair’s meeting with the Ukrainian leader, Edelstein says “Iranian involvement is clear” in the Russian offensive, with “Iranian technology and weapons in Russian use while providing Iran with combat experience.”
“Israel must stand beside Ukraine in the face of the dangerous combination of Russia and Iran,” says Edelstein.
נפגשתי אמש עם נשיא אוקראינה, זלנסקי וראיתי במו עיניי את המתרחש באזור. המעורבות האיראנית ניכרת. טכנולוגיה וכלי מלחמה איראניים מצויים בשימוש רוסי ומספקים לאיראן ניסיון לחימה. אל לזה להמשיך ואל לנו לשבת על הגדר עוד. ישראל חייבת להתייצב לצד אוקראינה מול השילוב המסוכן של רוסיה ואיראן. pic.twitter.com/1mJa9TP5XU
— Yuli Edelstein ???????? יולי אדלשטיין (@YuliEdelstein) February 21, 2023
The shekel drops more than 2% and government bonds and shares slide in Tel Aviv after the Knesset passed the first reading of a bill to make contested changes to the judiciary.
The local currency fall more than 2%, trading at 3.64 against the US dollar in afternoon trading in Tel Aviv and headed for the lowest level since April 2020.
Since the beginning of the month the shekel is down more than 5% against the greenback.
The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange’s benchmark TA-125 index declines 1.8%, while the TA-35 index of blue-chip companies slips about 1.5%, and longer-term government bond prices plunge between 1% and 2%. That’s after shares on Wall Street on Monday closed 1% lower.
Local and foreign institutional investors, as well as banking heads and prominent economists, have issued numerous warnings about the potential economic and financial fallout from the judicial shakeup.
“If until now, the market was pricing in the possibility for a compromise or dialogue on the judicial changes, with the Knesset vote we are further away from that,” IBI Investment House Ltd. chief economist Rafi Gozlan tells The Times of Israel. “Should the proposed judicial changes be fully passed this is very worrying as Israel is going to have a very different economy from where we are now with a strong government and no separation of institutional power.”
“The market is now repricing the risk premium on domestic assets and we are seeing strong demand for foreign exchange and a sale of local government bonds which is putting pressure on the government,” Gozlan adds.
A London and Tel-Aviv based research and policy institute that analyzes tolerance in education around the world issues a report on growing themes of acceptance toward Jews in Morocco’s education system.
The Institute for Monitoring Peace and Cultural Tolerance in School Education (IMPACT-se) reviewed student textbooks over the past decade, finding particular reforms since 2021, with the Jewish community of Morocco “frequently and affectionately represented,” and students told Jews are “an inseparable part” of the country.
“Textbooks describe Jewish history, culture, and contributions to Moroccan society… The portrayal of Jewish people is sympathetic, and antisemitic stereotypes are avoided or subverted with positive traits like generosity, and loyalty to Morocco.”
The owners of a Kfar Saba cafe say they found a menacing message at the entrance to their business after closing it yesterday to join protests in Jerusalem.
Israela and Yaki Brosh shut the establishment’s doors Monday with a note saying the cafe was closed for the day as “We are in Jerusalem” — an obvious reference to the mass demonstrations against the government’s judicial overhaul.
This morning, they found a message declaring that “We don’t buy from those who protest against the government in Jerusalem,” under which was the logo of the defunct racist Kach party.
Roni Dori, a friend of the couple, wrote in a Facebook post: “I don’t want to write what this reminded me of. Any person with a brain and eyes can see and understand.” Dori was referring to the Nazis’ boycott of Jewish shops in Germany in 1933.
הורים של חבר טוב שלנו, Noam Brosh, הם בעלי בית קפה בכפר סבא. אתמול הם לא פתחו את העסק כי עלו לירושלים להפגין. השאירו פתק…
At the Knesset, the head of Israel’s largest venture capital fund warns Israel is facing major economic damage from the judicial transformation.
Chemi Peres, the son of former prime minister and president Shimon Peres and the CEO of Pitango, tells the Knesset’s Science and Technology Committee that tech entrepreneurs will depart Israel if the plan moves forward in its current form.
“My friends and I are good citizens, under the understanding that we live in a democratic country,” Peres says.
“I sit on the boards of huge companies that want to get their money out of Israel. There is a quiet drip of companies [out of the country]. Once there is an understanding that we are going toward anti-democratic legislation, the majority of investment and [high-tech] taxes won’t be paid in Israel, and we’ll lose an industry that is embraced everywhere in the world.”
He adds: “This is legislation that is dangerous to society and the economy and the government has chosen to shut its ears.”
The United Nations Human Rights Council chief urges Israel to pause its judicial overhaul plans, saying they risk weakening human rights protections and need opening up for wider debate and reflection.
“These changes risk weakening human rights protections for all,” Volker Turk says in a statement, adding that the proposals being considered by Israel’s parliament “would drastically undermine the ability of the judiciary to vindicate individual rights.”
A far-right MK filmed himself at the Knesset plenum yesterday making racist comments about opposition lawmakers, including treating a lawmaker from a majority-Arab party like a farm animal while saying one should “talk to them in a language they understand.”
In his video, MK Almog Cohen of Otzma Yehudit is seen filming Hadash MK Ofer Cassif and making clicking and hissing noises at him to draw his attention.
“Shut your trap!” he calls out, before moving to the Arabic word “Uskut!” (“Be silent”) and then to animal calling sounds.
“When you talk to them in their language they understand you,” he says. “You need to talk to him like a sheep.”
“I’m not telling him to be quiet in Hebrew because he doesn’t speak Hebrew,” Cohen adds.
He also says of Ta’al’s Ahmad Tibi, a trained gynecologist, “That’s a doctor. I wouldn’t let him treat my dog.”
Cohen goes on to say Yesh Atid’s Merav Ben-Ari “has a voice like a floor cleaner’s.”
— וואלה! (@WallaNews) February 21, 2023
President Vladimir Putin suspends Moscow’s participation in a nuclear arms reduction treaty with Washington during a speech in which he accuses the West of escalating the Ukraine conflict.
In his scathing state of the nation address to Russian lawmakers, Putin also vows that Russia will keep fighting in Ukraine ahead of the first anniversary of the military campaign.
Accusing Western powers of wanting “to be done with us once and for all,” he says Russia was “forced” to suspend the New START treaty but would not pull out of the agreement altogether.
The 2010 treaty is the last major US-Russia arms control pact still in force but it has frayed in recent years, with accusations from Washington that Moscow was not complying with it.
Referring to the conflict in Ukraine, Putin says: “Step by step, we will carefully and systematically solve the aims that face us.” He says it is “impossible to defeat Russia on the battlefield.”
“The responsibility for fueling the Ukrainian conflict, for its escalation, for the number of victims… lies completely with Western elites,” Putin says.
A Tehran court sentences to death an Iranian-German dual national accused of being the leader of a “terrorist” group behind a deadly 2008 mosque bombing, the judiciary says.
“The Tehran Revolutionary Court sentenced Jamshid Sharmahd, the leader of the Tondar terrorist group, to death on the charge of corruption on earth through planning and directing terrorist acts,” the judiciary’s Mizan Online news agency reports.
Mizan says Sharmahd can appeal against his death sentence before the supreme court.
Iran-born Sharmahd, 67, who is also a German national and a US resident, was arrested in August 2020. The group he is accused of leading aims to topple the Islamic Republic and is outlawed as a terrorist organization by Iran.
After President Isaac Herzog describes a morning “of sorrow” in the country over the successful first reading of a bill that makes up a significant part of the government’s judicial overhaul, a key architect of the legislation calls it “a morning of “joy.”
MK Simcha Rothman (Religious Zionism), head of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee who is chaperoning the bills making up the sweeping reforms, tells Army Radio: “This is not a morning of sorrow. It’s a morning in which a huge part of the people… has erupted in roars of joy.”
“Yes, sometimes the joy of one person can create sorrow in another, certainly in a political disagreement,” he says. In his view, “after 30 years of judicial dictatorship, the State of Israel is on the path to democracy.”
With the first reading done and the bill heading back to his committee for deliberations ahead of its second and third readings, some had hoped the coalition and opposition could engage in constructive talks to reach a broad understanding and compromise on the highly contentious effort to remake the judiciary.
Rothman rejects any change in approach, asserting he has been open to negotiations from the start while accusing the opposition of refusing. (Herzog’s proposal for talks had included the precondition of the coalition pausing its legislation. The coalition has refused to do this, leading the opposition to refuse to talk.)
“You will not hear a different approach from me, as I have been open to talks since day one,” Rothman says, adding he has no plan to halt the process. He accuses the opposition of “behaving as though it won the elections” by making demands as a prerequisite of holding talks.
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