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Ron Huldai, Ofer Shelah drop out of race ahead of deadline to file party rosters

Both experienced politicians failed to gain traction since forming new parties to run in the March election, and were not projected to make it into the Knesset

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai holds a press conference at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, on January 24, 2021 in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai holds a press conference at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, on January 24, 2021 in Tel Aviv. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

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

Rivlin: No one working to eliminate plague of despair and isolation

Visiting Shamir Medical Center south of Tel Aviv, President Reuven Rivlin says coronavirus rule violations should be enforced equally across Israeli society.

“No violation of the lockdown is legitimate, for any group or any person,” Rivlin says.

But, he adds, “even violation of the lockdown rules by many does not make it okay to foment hatred against entire populations.” The ultra-Orthodox community has faced intense criticism for many such violations.

“Any violation… is used cynically for political purposes and becomes propaganda.”

He further says: “I am afraid no one is working to eliminate the plague of despair and isolation.”

He calls on Israel’s leadership: “Alongside your demands of us to observe the rules as much as is required, we expect you to outline a horizon that will show us the way back to normalcy, and to a shared life after the pandemic.”

Smotrich urges Jewish Home to join slate alongside Otzma Yehudit

National Religious Party chief Bezalel Smotrich urges Jewish Home to join his slate, which includes the far-right Otzma Yehudit.

“Shake our outstretched hand and come to a true partnership,” Smotrich says in a statement.

MK Betzalel Smotrich. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90)

Meanwhile, numerous officials inside Jewish Home are urging leader Hagit Moshe not to sign with Smotrich unless he guarantees the party two seats in “realistic” spots on the slate, complaining that Smotrich’s decision to join with Otzma Yehudit would leave their party at a disadvantage in a partnership.

France says failure to probe Beirut blast ‘unacceptable’

France lambasts Lebanese authorities for failing to uncover the causes of a massive explosion that killed more than 200 people and ravaged swaths of Beirut six months ago.

As families of the victims mark half a year since the deadly August 4 port blast, French Ambassador to Lebanon Anne Grillo calls for speedy action.

“Six months after the explosion, it is unacceptable that the Lebanese people should still be waiting for answers from its leaders,” she said in a statement.

One of the largest non-nuclear blasts in history was caused by a vast stock of highly explosive ammonium nitrate that had sat for years in a port warehouse, a stone’s throw from residential districts.

A drone picture shows the destruction after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon, August 5, 2020. (Hussein Malla/AP)

‘Thank you Russia’: Palestinians get 10,000 doses of Sputnik V vaccine

Around 10,000 doses of the Sputnik V vaccine arrive in the West Bank in a freezer trunk, says senior Palestinian Authority official Hussein al-Sheikh.

“10,000 doses which Russia donated to Palestinian have arrived. Thank you, Russia,” al-Sheikh tweets.

The vaccines arrived earlier today at Ben Gurion International Airport and are intended for healthcare workers and the elderly

Police ask public for help in search for 5-year-old, mother from south

Police are searching for a 5-year-old child and his mother who disappeared two weeks ago, after a court ordered the woman to hand over custody of the child to his father.

Officials say they have been quietly searching for Galit Tzarfati and the child, residents of Kochav Michael, near Ashkelon, but are now asking members of the public for any information they may have on Tzarfati’s whereabouts.

Rouhani hails ‘big victory’ over US in sanctions court case

Iran’s president applauds a ruling by the International Court of Justice that it can hear Iran’s case against the US seeking to end sanctions, calling it a “big victory” for the Islamic Republic.

A report by state-run IRNA news agency says President Hassan Rouhani congratulates the nation on its legal “victory” over the US.

“I congratulate the Iranian people on a very big victory the government achieved yesterday at the Hague, and this is one of several victories that the government has gained against America at the tribunal,” he says in remarks carried by State TV.

The United Nations’ highest court ruled yesterday that it can hear a case brought by Iran against the United States. It seeks to end sanctions the administration of former president Donald Trump reimposed in 2018 after pulling out of the international deal aimed at curtailing Tehran’s nuclear program.

Jeremy Corbyn’s brother arrested for leaflet likening vaccination to Auschwitz

Piers Corbyn, brother of former UK Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, has been arrested for disseminating a leaflet that compared the country’s vaccination campaign against COVID-19 to the Auschwitz death camp, British media reports.

Corbyn, an anti-vaccination activist and conspiracy theorist, was behind the concept for the leaflet that was shared online and pushed into doors of homes in London.

It replaced the words “Arbeit Macht Frei” (“Work sets you free”) that adorned the main gate to the infamous Nazi camp with the words “Vaccines are safe path to freedom.”

Police arrested Corbyn and another man, accusing them of “malicious communications and public nuisance.”

Cabinet now meeting to discuss exit from lockdown

After several delays, the cabinet is now meeting to discuss when and how to end the weeks-long national lockdown, as virus infections remain high throughout the country.

Benny Gantz’s Blue and White is demanding a clear exit plan outline to present to the public, while Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is much more reluctant to set anything in stone.

The lockdown is currently set to end tomorrow, but Netanyahu wants to delay to Sunday.

The Health Ministry reportedly seeks a gradual opening starting next week as well.

First batch of Russian COVID-19 vaccine arrives in Iran: state media

The first batch of Russia’s Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine arrives in Iran, state media says in the Middle East country hardest hit by the pandemic.

“The first shipment of vaccines from Moscow … has landed at Imam Khomeini airport in Tehran,” the IRNA official news agency reports without specifying the quantity of doses.

Police appear to fudge facts on use of water cannon against protesters

Facing accusations they made illicit use of water cannons against anti-government protesters over the summer, the police have fudged dates pertaining to their own regulations on use of the cannon, Times of Israel sister site Zman Yisrael reports.

The website says police have attempted to present a false claim that a change to their regulations — shortening the allowed distance for use of the cannon from 20 to 13 — occurred prior to the incident in which a protester was hit directly in the head with a water jet, even though the regulations were only changed days later.

The moment a demonstrator is hit in the face with a stream of liquid from a water cannon at a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem, July 2020 (Screen grab/Channel 12)

The report says police presented the man’s lawyers with various documents with incorrect and misleading dates pertaining to the change in regulations, as he seeks compensation for the injuries he suffered.

Is Israeli insurer unnecessarily telling Israelis abroad its policy covers vaccinations?

Israeli insurance company David Shield is telling Israelis abroad that its policies will enable them to get vaccinated here for free, The Times of Israel’s sister site Zman Yisrael reports.

With vaccinations lagging abroad but proceeding swiftly in Israel, the company is promising that its clients can get vaccinated through the Clalit health maintenance organization.

However, Zman Yisrael notes that according to the Health Ministry, any person in Israel can get vaccinated for free, no matter what policy he has or whether he is currently a resident of the country.

The company says it received many queries on the issue from clients and simply wished to clarify that its arrangements with Clalit include the vaccine.

There have notably been some sporadic reports that non-residents have found it harder to get vaccinated.

Kremlin: Thousands of arrests at protests a necessary response

The Kremlin says that thousands of arrests at protests against the jailing of opposition leader Alexei Navalny were a necessary response to the unsanctioned rallies and strongly rebuffed Western criticism.

Asked about the harsh treatment of thousands of detainees, many of whom spent long hours on police buses and were put in overcrowded cells, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman, Dmitry Peskov, said that they have to bear responsibility for joining the unauthorized protests.

“The situation wasn’t provoked by law enforcement, it was provoked by participants in unsanctioned actions,” Peskov said in a call with reporters.

Gantz: Lockdown has stopped being a work plan and solution

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says the government must begin responsibly opening up parts of the country and the economy, after weeks of lockdown, as minister meet to discuss what action to take.

“When there’s no choice — you close things down, but when you can, you should open. I believe it is now possible and necessary to open,” Gantz says.

“Lockdown has stopped being a work plan and solution.”

He says the government should immediately remove limitations on travel from one’s home, allow businesses with in-person service to reopen and other limited steps. Next week, he says, schools should start reopening, as should stores and businesses adhering to COVID-19 regulations.

Renovation work is completed at Jerusalem’s Western Wall

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation announces it has finished reinforcement, stabilization, and infrastructure improvement at the Western Wall plaza.

The work follows recommendations made over the past several months by the Israel Antiquities Authority and safety engineers to, among other goals, prevent falling stones, the foundation says.

The work was completed during the ongoing coronavirus lockdown to cause the least disturbances to prayer, it says.

The Western Wall plaza on February 4, 2021 (Courtesy Western Wall Foundation)

Labor, Tnufa fail to agree on joint run; Ra’am, New Economic Party file slates

The Labor party and Ofer Shelah’s Tnufa have failed to agree on a joint election run. There are some reports that Shelah, who is not currently expected to clear the threshold to enter parliament, will drop out of the race.

Meanwhile the Arab Ra’am party, having recent split from the Joint List, has filed its slate for the election. So has the New Economic Party of economist Yaron Zelekha, which is also not currently projected to pass the electoral threshold.

Screen capture from video of Yesh Atid MK Ofer Shelah announcing he was leaving the party to set up his own political movement, December 24, 2020. (Channel 12 news)

Germany records new jump in far-right crime in 2020

The number of crimes committed by right-wing extremists in Germany jumped to its highest level for at least four years in 2020, according to provisional police figures released today.

Police recorded 23,080 crimes of a far-right nature last year — around 700 more than the previous year — the figures published by left-wing lawmaker Petra Pau show.

The number is already the highest since 2016, and could yet rise to the highest level since records began in 2001 by the time the final figures are released later this year.

Until recently seriously ill with COVID-19, David Bitan will file Likud’s election slate

MK David Bitan of Likud, who was hospitalized for weeks in serious condition in December after contracting COVID-19, has left Ramat Gan’s Shiba Medical Center after recovering from the disease.

The party says Bitan will be filing its slate for the upcoming election with the Central Elections Committee this evening.

Likud MK David Bitan at a committee in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on July 31, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ofer Shelah drops out of election race

MK Ofer Shelah announces he and his Tnufa party will not run in the coming election, after failing to reach a deal with Labor for a merger, and with his party not projected to pass the electoral threshold.

“I made every effort for an alliance with Labor to succeed. It did not happen, and not because of any demand on my part,” he says. “Under these circumstances, I must do what I promised many and prevent a loss of votes for the camp seeking to replace Netanyahu.

Shelah had for years been a top member of Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, but fell out with the party leader after the latter refused to hold open primaries for its leadership. He broke off to form his own Tnufa party but never gained much traction in the polls.

An election campaign billboard of Tnufa party leader Ofer Shelah, in Tel Aviv on January 17, 2021. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

After hemorrhaging support, Ron Huldai drops out of election race

Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai says he will drop out of the March election race, after failing to agree on a merger with Labor ahead of tonight’s deadline to file party rosters.

Once projected to win some eight seats in the polls, Huldai has seen support erode over recent weeks and is now not expected to pass the threshold to enter the Knesset.

“I did my best,” he writes in a Facebook post. “Unfortunately we did not succeed.”

He says he knows that “the most responsible action on my part is to take a step back, step down and let others lead the effort on behalf of all of us to build the country back up.”

He adds: “I do not blame anyone and take full responsibility. I will continue to do all I can to replace this bad government.”

Labor leader Merav Michael says she hopes Huldai will rejoin the party, of which he was a longtime member.

“I have told him I will be happy for any advice and aid he can give. I thank him for the effort to rejuvenate and give new life to the [political] camp and urge him to continue to do so.”

Netanyahu lawyers request to nullify hundreds of pieces of evidence in Case 4000

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s defense team has filed a request to rule out hundreds of pieces of evidence in Case 4000, the most serious among the premier’s criminal cases, in which he is accused of bribery.

Lawyers claim authorities “conducted illegal searches knowingly.”

In the case, Netanyahu is accused of pushing regulatory decisions benefiting the controlling shareholder of the Bezeq telecommunications giant, Shaul Elovitch, in exchange for positive coverage from the Elovitch-owned Walla news site.

The lawyers claim evidence was in many cases gathered without proper authorizations, which were sometimes only requested retroactively.

Netanyahu’s defense team has repeatedly attempted to delay and disqualify the trial on various technical grounds, but has so far had little success in doing so.

The start of the trial against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Jerusalem District Court, May 24, 2020. (Amit Shabi/POOL)

Likud announces first Muslim ever on its election slate — on 39th spot

Likud says it plans to have the party’s first Muslim MK on its slate this election.

Nail Zoabi will be placed 39 on the party’s roster, a spot that likely won’t enter the Knesset. But Likud says it will use the so-called Norwegian law in the next government — which it hopes to form — which will see Likud MKs who are appointed as ministers resign, freeing up spots for more MKs from its slate.

Zoabi, an Arab school principal from the village of Nein, is a supporter of Netanyahu and longtime Likud activist.

Netanyahu has publicly declared he hopes to win votes from the Arab community in the coming March elections and has made a number of high-profile visits to Arab-Israeli towns.

Screen capture from video of Nail Zoabi. (YouTube)

Outcast Iranian cleric: Israel belongs to the Jewish people

A former Iranian ayatollah, who spoke with Israeli TV earlier this week and called for an end to hostilities between the countries, has said he believes Israel belongs to the Jewish people.

In a conversation with the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Rabbi Abraham Cooper, Abdol-Hamid Masoumi-Tehrani quoted two Quranic verses that he said prove the clear connection of Jews to the land — Sura Asra 8: “If you return to the religion of Moses, then God will return you to the holy land”; and Sura Maedeh 21: “O children of Israel, enter this holy land.”

He also asserted that “the majority of Iranian people do not hate Israel.”

Earlier this week, Masoumi-Tehrani told Channel 12 news it was time to end the enmity between the nations. The cleric, who has had the honor of the “ayatollah” title revoked by Tehran due to his disagreements with the regime, said he has “no problem” with the Jewish state.


Biden to end US support for Saudi-led offensive in Yemen

US President Joe Biden will today announce an end to US support for a grinding five-year Saudi-led military offensive in Yemen that has deepened humanitarian suffering in the Arabian peninsula’s poorest country, national security adviser Jake Sullivan says.

The move would fulfill a campaign pledge by Biden, whose administration plans to pursue diplomacy to end the overall conflict in Yemen. Biden sees the United States “playing a more active and engaged role” to end the war through talks, Sullivan says at a White House briefing.

Biden also is announcing the choice of Timothy Lenderking as special envoy to Yemen as soon as this afternoon, when the president is due to speak at the State Department. A person familiar with the matter confirms the selection, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the announcement. The Gulf-based newspaper The National first reported the pick.

Tribesmen loyal to Yemen’s Houthi rebels raise their weapons as they chant slogans during a gathering aimed at mobilizing more fighters for the movement; in Sanaa on February 25, 2020. (AP Photo/Hani Mohammed)

US condemns killing of Lebanese Hezbollah critic, calls for justice

Washington is condemning the killing of a leading critic of Hezbollah in Lebanon today.

“The United States condemns the murder of pro-democracy activist Lokman Slim, an outspoken critic of Hezbollah’s corruption and mismanagement,” says Emily Horne, a spokeswoman for the National Security Council.

“The United States calls for Lebanon to enforce rule of law and bring the culprits to justice.”

Netanyahu, Gantz said close to agreement to extend lockdown into next week

Benjamin Netanyahu and Benny Gantz are close to an agreement to extend the national lockdown until Sunday or Monday, Channel 13 reports.

The network says Gantz may be on the verge of agreeing to an extension in exchange for a pilot program to reopen businesses around the country.

A man wearing a face mask in Jerusalem, on February 4, 2021 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

TV: Health Ministry fears huge infection wave if no full curfew on Purim

The Health Ministry is warning that a full lockdown and curfew is necessary on the Purim holiday, set to take place on February 25, Channel 13 reports.

Without taking such drastic steps, Israel is expexted to experience a huge wave of infections in the wake of the holiday known for its parties and revelry.

With serious cases rising despite mass vaccinations, a senior official tells the network: “We are in chaos, it’s not clear how we can get out of it.”

Likud official tells TV: ‘We’ve critically hurt anti-Netanyahu bloc’

Likud officials are satisfied with the failure of center-left parties to unite ahead of the deadline for parties to file their slates for the election tonight.

“We’ve critically hurt the anti-Netanyahu bloc,” a senior official tells Channel 13.

Otzma Yehudit head: Kahane was ‘holy man’; backs expulsion of ‘disloyal’ Arabs

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, tells Channel 13 the party’s spiritual progenitor, the late extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, was “a holy man” and a “hero.”

But he says he does not agree with all the rabbi’s teachings. For instance, he does not believe in the expulsion of all Israeli Arabs, “only those who are not loyal to the state.”

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the Otzma Yehudit party, holds a press conference in Jerusalem on February 26, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

With Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s backing, Otzma Yehudit merged with Bezalel Smotrich’s Religious Zionism Party in the hopes of garnering enough votes to enter the Knesset.

Netanyahu has been repeatedly panned in Israel and abroad for his efforts to bring the extremist party into parliament, while the prime minister insists it is necessary to prevent tens of thousands of right-wing votes from going to waste.

First conviction under Romania Holocaust denial law

A former Romanian intelligence officer was sentenced to one year and one month in prison for Holocaust denial in the first conviction under a 2002 law, a court in Bucharest confirms.

Vasile Zarnescu, 74, who worked for eleven years for Romania’s Intelligence Service (SRI), was convicted by a court in Bucharest for writing several online articles in which he described the Holocaust as a “fraud.”

Vasile Zarnescu in 2014 (video screenshot)

In 2016, he also published a book titled: “The Holocaust, A Diabolical Hoax.”

Zarnescu says he will appeal the sentence.

“It’s the first conviction for denying the Holocaust and it’s a strong message from the justice system, one that shows important progress,” Alexandru Muraru, the government’s special representative for fighting anti-Semitism and xenophobia, says.


TV: Several vaccinated elderly tested positive for coronavirus, but had no symptoms

An internal Health Ministry report indicates those vaccinated against coronavirus may be able to test positive for the virus, and possibly infect others, but not suffer serious symptoms, Channel 12 says.

Recent tests in nursing homes, where all residents have received both doses of the vaccine, showed several people positive for coronavirus. But none of those people developed any symptoms, despite their advanced age, the network says.

Virus czar said to warn of another lockdown within weeks if gov’t not careful

Virus czar Nachman Ash warns ministers if Israel emerges from the lockdown irresponsibly, a fourth closure will be necessary within weeks.

“If we emerge widely amid the current morbidity figures, there will be a fourth lockdown in two weeks,” Ash says, according to Channel 13.

Israel’s coronavirus czar Nachman Ash visits the Jerusalem Municipality, November 22, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas says he does not ‘hug terrorists’

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas says he does not “hug terrorists,” telling Channel 12 he met with Hamas officials in the past only as part of effort to advane peace.

“[Those who] put Mansour Abbas in the category of a terror supporter, one who hugs terrorists — it never happened.”

MK Mansour Abbas in an interview on DemocratTV, October 27, 2020. (Twitter screen capture)
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