The Times of Israel liveblogged Saturday’s events as they unfolded.
Shin Bet chief speaks with police chief on rising ‘violent, inciting discourse’ against PM
Shin Bet chief Ronen Bar speaks with police commissioner Kobi Shabtai regarding the “increase in violent and inciting discourse against elected officials in general and the prime minister in particular,” the agency says.
In their conversation, Bar noted that “in recent days there has been an increase in the scope and severity of public statements, with an emphasis on social networks, which contain calls for physical harm and violent activity against the Prime Minister and other elected officials,” the Shin Bet says.
The agency says the pair agreed on a “zero tolerance” approach toward “those who incite violence or call for harm to individuals and elected officials, as well as those who call for harm to protesters.”
“The right to demonstrate and protest is a legal and an important right in a democratic country, and alongside this, it is correct to clarify that calls for harm and violence are outside the legitimate discourse,” the Shin Bet adds.
Tel Aviv mayor at anti-government protest: ‘If words end, actions will begin’
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai speaks to the crowd at tonight’s anti-government protest in Tel Aviv, warning that “if words end, the actions will begin.”
“We are fighting for our home… a Zionist, Jewish, and democratic state. We fight for our basic beliefs,” he says.
“This is an opportunity to reach broad agreements, and if the words end, the actions will begin. We will not stop at public squares, we will not be indifferent, we will not react with acceptance,” Huldai adds.
Biden congratulates military for taking down China balloon
WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden congratulates fighter pilots for taking down a Chinese spy balloon off the east coast after it spent several days flying over the United States.
“They successfully took it down. And I want to compliment our aviators who did it,” Biden tells reporters in Maryland.
Former pilot who bombed Iraqi nuke reactor walks back comments justifying assassination of PM
A leading figure in the anti-government protest movement walked back comments he made apparently justifying a potential assassination of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after they drew backlash from across the political spectrum.
“If the prime minister stands up and takes dictatorial powers for himself, he is a dead man, it’s as simple as that,” Ze’ev Raz, a former air force pilot who flew in the 1981 mission to bomb an Iraqi nuclear reactor, wrote in a Friday Facebook post.
Raz told followers that the Jewish religious principle of din rodef, allowing the killing of an individual who intends to kill or harm others, should apply to the prime minister as well as his ministers and followers.
Prior to the 1995 assassination of then-prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, some in the religious-Zionist community argued that Rabin’s intentions to sign the Oslo Accords with the Palestinian Liberation Organization defined him as a rodef.
If the prime minister “leads in a dictatorial way, there’s an obligation to kill him,” Raz wrote.
Channel 12 news, reporting on the Facebook post, says Raz is a leading figure in the anti-government protest movement.
After the report, Raz deletes the post and says: “I do not identify with that post.”
On Twitter, opposition leader Yair Lapid and National Unity party chief Benny Gantz slam Raz’s comments.
US downs Chinese balloon over ocean, moves to recover debris
WASHINGTON — The United States downs a suspected Chinese spy balloon off the Carolina coast after it traversed sensitive military sites across North America and became the latest flashpoint in tensions between Washington and Beijing.
An operation is underway in US territorial waters in the Atlantic Ocean to recover debris from the balloon, which was flying at about 60,000 feet and was estimated to be about the size of three school buses.
The balloon is downed by Air Force fighter aircraft, according to two officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss the matter and spoke on condition of anonymity.
US President Joe Biden had told reporters earlier that “we’re going to take care of it,” when asked about the balloon.
The Federal Aviation Administration and Coast Guard worked to clear the airspace and water below the balloon as it reached the ocean.
Video of the Chinese reconnaissance balloon being shot down off the east coast of the US
— Air & Sea Intel (@air_intel) February 4, 2023
Thousands of Jerusalemites protest government judicial overhaul outside President’s Residence
For the fourth week in a row, thousands of Jerusalemites gather outside the President’s Residence, demanding the cancellation of the government’s planned judicial overhaul.
Jerusalemites stood bundled up, umbrellas up against the steady drizzle, along with Israeli flags and signs.
The protest began with chants and speeches followed by the weekly march to Paris Square.
Speakers included Hebrew University law professor Yoav Dotan who spoke against the current government’s attempts to create “an all-out assault” on the police, army, and government ministries.
“The most important thing we can do is to be here,” says Dotan. “To win this battle, we’ll win it by being here, the thousands who are already here and bringing the thousands more who feel the same way. We need half a million in the streets.”
Nazier Magally, head of research at think-tank Shaharit, acknowledged that not many Arabic speakers — like him — were in the crowd.
“Not many Arabs come out, they don’t think they are part of this,” says Magally. “They have criticisms of the legal system, and they should take responsibility because there’s no question there’s what to correct in this system.”
The current leaders, says Magally, are scared of accents like his Arabic-accented Hebrew. The current leaders are scared of justice and democracy.
The last government didn’t get enough time to succeed, adds Magally, exhorting all Israelis to come out and protest, in order to be able to look in their children’s and grandchildren’s eyes and be able to tell them that they protested in the name of democracy.
Former PM Bennett: Putin assured me he wouldn’t kill Zelensky
Former prime minister Naftali Bennett says Russian President Vladimir Putin assured him, in the early days of the war when he flew to Russia in a mediation effort, that he wouldn’t kill Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky
“He gave me two great concessions,” says Zelensky of his meeting with Putin in Moscow on March 5, 2022. “I knew Zelensky was under threat, in a bunker… I said to him [Putin], ‘Do you intend to kill Zelensky?’ He said, ‘I won’t kill Zelensky,'” Bennett says in the interview, conducted with journalist Hanoch Daum and self-published on Bennett’s own Youtube channel.
“I need to understand, are you giving me your word that you won’t kill Zelensky?” Bennett recalls asking Putin. “He said, ‘I won’t kill Zelensky.'”
Bennett says he called Zelensky immediately after the meeting, and told him, “I’ve just come out of a meeting, he is not going to kill you. He asked me, ‘Are you sure?’ I said 100 percent. He’s not going to kill you.”
“Two hours later, Zelensky went to his office, and did a selfie in the office, [in which the Ukrainian president said,] ‘I’m not afraid’ and everything.”
Bennett says Putin also agreed not to push for the disarming of Ukraine, and Zelensky that same weekend dropped his push to join NATO.
“Everything I did [in the mediation effort] was coordinated with the US,” Bennett adds.
The full interview (with English subtitles) can be watched at the link below.
IDF: Iron Dome intercepts drone launched from Gaza
The military says the Iron Dome air defense system has intercepted a drone launched from the Gaza Strip.
Residents of southern Israel in the Sderot area and Palestinians in the northern Gaza Strip report hearing a large explosion.
Footage shows two Iron Dome interceptor missiles launched in the area.
The Israel Defense Forces says the suspicious aircraft was downed over the Gaza Strip.
The Sderot municipality assures residents that no rockets have been fired toward the city, and the drone was successfully downed.
No sirens sounded in the area.
The IDF says there are no special instructions for residents following the incident.
Footage shows Iron Dome interceptor missiles launching over Sderot, apparently to intercept a drone. pic.twitter.com/HH2qZYdtvr
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) February 4, 2023
Police clear protesters attempting to block major Tel Aviv highway
Police officers are preventing several protesters from blocking the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv, amid the anti-government rally in Tel Aviv.
Footage shows officers removing several people from the highway, but none are being detained.
ניסיון החסימה של איילון. צילום: מחאת הסטודנטים pic.twitter.com/sOPLS3b6YD
— Noa Landau נעה לנדאו (@noa_landau) February 4, 2023
Some 40,000 protesting in Tel Aviv, thousands more in other cities
The Haaretz daily says some 40,000 people are gathered in Tel Aviv for tonight’s anti-government protest.
Two weeks ago saw some 110,000 protesters in the coastal city.
Meanwhile, at least 10,000 have gathered tonight in the northern city of Haifa, 2,000 in Jerusalem, 2,000 in Ra’anana, and another 2,000 in Kfar Saba, the newspaper says.
Former JPMorgan official, BoI chief slams Netanyahu for ignoring int’l warnings on economic danger of overhaul
Jacob Frenkel, a former chairman of JPMorgan Chase International and the former chief of the Bank of Israel, slams Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government’s far-reaching plans for overhauling the judicial system.
“I’m very surprised” by what Netanyahu is doing, he tells Channel 12 news.
“When JPMorgan makes a recommendation — take it very seriously,” Frenkel says, referring to a company internal memo released Friday, which warned of the growing risk of investing in Israel.
JPMorgan manages over $3.5 trillion worldwide.
Many have compared Israel’s situation to Poland, and Frenkel says this underlines that “the situation could deteriorate.”
In the case of Poland, “its credit rating dropped; citizens were harmed; prices went up; its capacity to borrow money on the international markets was reduced,” he says. “Countries that have weakened their judicial oversight are the countries where the citizens have suffered.”
“The prime minister I worked with was careful, cautious, did not take chances… It’s very dangerous to say I’m ignoring the professional reports of the relevant bodies because I think differently,” Frenkel warns.
“I want to avert the fire… We’re issuing warnings… This prime minister has led Israel to astounding achievements. So there is a great deal to lose,” he says.
He says Netanyahu reportedly deploying his Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer to speak to the relevant financial institutions is inappropriate. “It shows contempt for these organizations… They’re issuing warnings.”
The emergency is not here yet, but “there is a danger of losing everything that has been achieved,” he says. If it happens, “it will happen much faster than you’d think.”
For the public, “this is not the time for panic. This is the time to demand that the [warning] opinions be heeded. This is not how you carry out a reform,” Frenkel says.
“Netanyahu and I carried out a reform of Israel’s foreign currency market. It was done gradually, with fieldwork, transparency, and a process. Not deep, fast, now! What is this?” he adds.
Former chief of police: Government judicial plan ‘has nothing Jewish in it’
Roni Alsheich, the former Israel Police commissioner speaks at the weekly anti-government rally in Tel Aviv, protesting against Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s proposals to shake up the judiciary by severely curbing the High Court of Justice’s judicial review powers and cementing political control over the appointment of judges.
“The proposal amounts to a coup d’etat, no less than that,” Alsheich says. “As an observant [Jew], I must admit that there is also nothing Jewish in what is being proposed.”
“Restraining power is a basic and deep Jewish value that must not be abandoned,” he says.
“I feel ashamed as a believing and observant Jew due to the behavior of the politicians. I hear repeated claims that the religious community has become the ‘shield of public corruption,'” Alsheich adds.
Biden: US will ‘take care’ of suspected China spy balloon
WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden promises “to take care” of a suspected Chinese spy balloon flying over the United States, an incident that further strained ties with Beijing.
Asked by reporters to comment on relations with China and the balloon incident, Biden told reporters Saturday, “We’re gonna take care of it.”
He did not elaborate.
The controversy erupted Thursday, when American officials said they were tracking a large Chinese “surveillance balloon” in US skies, but decided not to shoot it down over concerns of hurting people or property on the ground.
All clear given in Kochav Yaakov and Tel Zion after suspected infiltration alarm
All clear is given in the settlements of Kochav Yaakov and Tel Zion after a suspected infiltration alarm sounded.
According to local officials, the alert was activated after a car crash occurred at one of the entrances to Tel Zion.
The army swept the area for possible suspects that may have entered the settlements following the crash.
The military’s Home Front Command says the incident is not terror related.
“This is not a security incident. Residents can leave their homes and move around the area without restriction,” it says.
Police suspect man who allegedly broke into Gedera home and raped woman was not trying to commit burglary
Police suspect a Bedouin Israeli man, 22, who was detained for allegedly breaking into a home in the city of Gedera early Friday morning and raping a woman in her 30s, was not planning a burglary.
Hebrew-language media cite an initial police investigation as saying the man broke into the home to rape the woman, and did not have other intentions.
The suspect was arrested earlier this morning in the West Bank.
האונס האכזרי בגדרה: תיעוד המעצרים
צילום: דוברות המשטרה pic.twitter.com/NUxCMhWTmQ
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) February 4, 2023
Stones hurled at buses in south, one lightly hurt
Police say suspects hurled stones at two buses on the Route 31 highway in southern Israel, near the Bedouin village of Mulada.
One person is lightly hurt in one of the attacks.
“Police officers are investigating the incident and conducting searches,” a law enforcement spokesperson says.
Suspected infiltration alert sounds in settlements of Kochav Yaakov, Tel Zion
A suspected infiltration alert is sounding in the West Bank settlements of Kochav Yaakov and Tel Zion, north of Jerusalem.
The military’s Home Front Command orders residents to remain in their homes and lock doors and windows until further notice, as the army conducts scans of the area.
Opposition leader Lapid arrives at Haifa protest: ‘We refuse to live in an undemocratic country’
Opposition leader Yair Lapid arrives at an anti-government in Haifa.
Lapid says the protesters have come “to save the country.”
“We will fight here in the streets, we will fight in the Knesset, we will fight in the courts, we will save our country, because we refuse to live in an undemocratic country,” Lapid says.
הערב הגענו לחיפה כדי להציל את המדינה שלנו. ???????? pic.twitter.com/e9fTrN6CEW
— יאיר לפיד – Yair Lapid (@yairlapid) February 4, 2023
Thousands gather in Tel Aviv for weekly anti-government protest
Thousands of protesters are gathering in Tel Aviv for two anti-government protests in the coastal city, one on Kaplan Street and the other at Habima Square.
The demonstrations mark the fifth week that opponents of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government will take to the streets, protesting Justice Minister Yariv Levin’s proposals to shake up the judiciary by severely curbing the High Court of Justice’s judicial review powers and cementing political control over the appointment of judges.
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