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‘Blood will be on your hands’: Recordings leaked from chaotic cabinet meeting

Exchanges aired by 2 networks show Netanyahu hurling accusations at Gantz over lockdown extension, in mudslinging apparently aimed at potential voters

Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz (L) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset plenum on August 24, 2020. (Knesset Spokesperson's Office)

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

Israel’s vaccine drive has slowed 50%, health official laments, blaming fake news

Even though vaccines are now offered to all Israelis over the age of 16, the pace of inoculations has slowed dramatically, a senior official in the country’s largest health provider says, blaming online fake news promoting vaccine skepticism.

“At the beginning of the [vaccination] campaign we got used to inoculating between 100,000 and 120,000 people per day, and in the last few days we are barely reaching half of those figures,” Kalanit Kaye, the manager of Clalit’s vaccination drive, tells the Ynet news site.

Kupat Holim Clalit’s Kalanit Kaye (Channel 12 Screenshot)

“We are prepared, our centers are big and accessible, the process should be pretty simple on the whole, vaccines are being given for free, so I don’t understand the people who don’t come to get the shot. It’s a big mistake,” she laments.

“There was greater cooperation among the at-risk populations,” Kaye adds. “Right now we’re reaching out to the younger public, and some people don’t understand the vaccine’s importance. Unfortunately, the fake news on social media and in the press is doing damage. People aren’t sufficiently afraid of the coronavirus because they aren’t familiar with what it causes.”

Three dead, 150 missing in India river torrent disaster

Three people have been confirmed dead and at least 150 are missing in northern India after a broken glacier caused a major river surge that swept away bridges and roads, police say.

The massive burst of water tore through the Dhauliganga river valley, destroying everything in its path, videos taken by terrified residents show.

Three bodies have been found and a desperate search is underway for more, police say, and efforts are underway to clear villages in the stricken region of Uttarakhand state.

“We have located at least three dead bodies on the river bed,” a police spokesperson in the state tells AFP. “Our last update puts the missing persons number at 150, and there are 16 or 17 persons trapped inside a tunnel.”

Most of those missing are at the Tapovan power plant next to a dam that was breached by the surge.

Emergency workers are desperately trying to reach about 17 people trapped inside a tunnel at the complex that has been filled with debris.

Likud members gear up to go to court to support Netanyahu in graft trial hearing

Members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party are gearing up to accompany the premier to the Jerusalem District Court tomorrow morning, when a key hearing will take place in his corruption trial.

After repeated delays, the hearing will discuss the defense’s response to the indictment in the three cases. It is the second hearing Netanyahu must appear for in person, and he will be required to verbally confirm the defense filed by his lawyers.

The Kan public broadcaster has posted a screenshot of an internal Likud WhatsApp group, showing Boris Aplichuk — who on Thursday was reserved a spot on the party’s slate in the upcoming election — saying it is “our duty to support [Netanyahu] and show him love.”

“We will be there before he comes,” he writes.

In the first hearing of the trial last May — the previous time Netanyahu was required to attend — most of the party’s lawmakers showed up and the premier made a long, fiery speech lambasting the justice system and saying the charges are “fabricated.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement before entering a courtroom at the Jerusalem District Court on May 24, 2020, for the start of his corruption trial. Among those alongside him from left are Likud MKs and ministers Gadi Yevarkan, Amir Ohana, Miri Regev, Nir Barkat, Israel Katz, Tzachi Hanegbi, Yoav Gallant and David Amsalem. (Yonathan Sindel/Pool/AFP)

Pope voices ‘solidarity with people of Myanmar’

Pope Francis expresses “solidarity with the people of Myanmar” following last week’s military coup, urging the army to work toward “democratic coexistence” as thousands demonstrate in the streets.

The pope speaks as tens of thousands of protesters pour on to the streets of Yangon in the biggest rally yet against the military coup.

“I pray that those in power in the country will work… towards the common good,” he says from the balcony overlooking St. Peter’s Square after his recital of the Angelus prayer.

The pope, who visited Myanmar in 2017, calls for “social justice, national stability and harmonious democratic coexistence.”

There have been reports of large protests today against the military regime in several cities across Myanmar.

Probe closed into police shooting of Palestinian mistakenly believed to be terrorist

The Justice Ministry has closed an investigation into police conduct during the shooting death of Nur Shuqeir, an East Jerusalem Palestinian killed in late November by cops who mistakenly believed him to be committing a terror attack.

Shuqeir, who was driving without a license, apparently attempted to flee police in his car at a checkpoint outside of East Jerusalem. One officer was lightly wounded, leading to an initial determination that he had committed a ramming attack, which was later reversed.

The Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department says that investigators reviewed security footage and spoke to those involved in the incident before reaching their conclusion.

“Given the real and immediate danger to the police and soldiers at the checkpoint, the shooting was carried out according to the regulations,” the PIID says.

According to a video of the incident provided by the B’Tselem rights group, however, Shuqeir’s shooting did not happen close to the checkpoint, and instead took place a few hundred meters down the road sometime after the suspected ramming. In the video, Shuqeir appears to have pulled his car over to the side of the road as several police officers race toward him.

An officer can clearly be heard calling out “Don’t shoot!” before a Border Police officer fires four bullets toward Shuqeir’s car.

Netanyahu urges supporters not to go to court to support him in tomorrow’s hearing

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls on his supporters not to come tomorrow to the Jerusalem District Court as the premier attends a hearing in his graft trial for the second time, citing the danger of COVID-19 infections.

“I know you want to give me strength in light of the fabricated and false cases against me,” says Netanyahu, who has denied any wrongdoing in the cases, which include bribery charges.

“But we are at a time when a [mutated strain] is spreading around the world, and in Israel too, so for the sake of your own health I ask you: Don’t come tomorrow.”

UN envoy makes first visit to Iran to push for peace in Yemen

The United Nations special envoy for Yemen has arrived on his first visit to Iran for talks on the grinding war in the Arab world’s poorest country, Iranian state TV reports.

Martin Griffiths is set to meet with Iranian Foreign Minister Javad Zarif and other officials during his two-day visit, his office says. The sessions are part of a broader effort to negotiate a political solution to the nearly six-year conflict pitting Iran-allied Houthi rebels against Yemeni government forces supported by a Saudi-led military coalition.

The trip comes just days after US President Joe Biden announced that his country will end its support, including some arms sales, for the Saudi-led coalition’s war against the Houthis. The long-awaited move refocused a spotlight on the world’s worst humanitarian crisis and was welcomed by many Yemenis and aid groups that hope the policy change might add to momentum for peace talks.

Griffiths’ “immediate priority” in Tehran is to push a nationwide ceasefire, urgent humanitarian measures and the resumption of the political process, his office adds. Those goals repeatedly have proved elusive over years of ruinous war that have left the country deeply divided. The visit was planned long before Biden’s announcement, Griffiths’ spokeswoman Ismini Palla says.

Online classes cause surge in school dropouts, increase socioeconomic gaps — data

A year into the coronavirus pandemic, the results of specially designed tests unveil the extent of the havoc the repeated lockdowns and the move to online studies have wreaked on the education system.

The number of students having difficulties in writing, math and other studies has increased up to fourfold, the number of students who cut off all contact with their school has increased fivefold, and the dropout rate has tripled, according to a senior education official familiar with the test results who spoke to Zman Yisrael, The Times of Israel’s Hebrew-language sister site.

The situation has been worse in lower socioeconomic communities than in more affluent areas, increasing the gap between those who better managed to adapt to the educational and technological challenges of online learning and those who couldn’t.

The largest toll has been exacted on grade 1 students, who went straight from kindergarten to online studies, without getting to know how a school functions and without meeting their teachers or classmates, says Dr. Eli Vinokur, vice president of the Gordon Academic College of Education.

Vinokur tells Zman Yisrael that the requirement for basic reading and writing skills has been postponed by the Education Ministry to grade 2.

Israeli Press Institute launched to promote critical media consumption, press freedom

President Reuven Rivlin hosts the launch of the Israeli Press Institute, which according to a statement from the President’s Residence will “work to strengthen press freedom and to restore public confidence in the press, focusing on educating children and young people in critical consumption of the media and raising awareness of the importance of freedom of expression and freedom of the press.”

“The role of the institute will be, first and foremost, to redefine the blurred borders between political propaganda, marketing content and serious journalism,” says Rivlin. “To remind us all that the media… is a uniquely important part of the democratic apparatus whose task it is to criticize and investigate, without fear or favor, and to whom the principle of separation of powers must also apply.”

“Journalistic ethics are not a recommendation, but rather a decisive issue of conscience and professionalism,” he tells the members of the new body. “You will need to clarify what the role of the state is and what is its area of responsibility when distinguishing between factual reporting and fake news, between legitimate expressions and dangerous incitement.”

President Reuven Rivlin (R) hosting the launch of the Israeli Press Institute at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, February 7, 2021. (Mark Neyman/GPO)

The president of the new body, former Supreme Court justice Dalia Dorner, says: “In recent years, we have seen the deterioration of public trust in the media. This trend is very dangerous for democracy, whose strength relies largely on a strong and trustworthy press and on a public consensus regarding the crucial value of the freedom of the press. I have met many young people in recent years, and many of them receive most of their information from social networks. I came to the conclusion that in order to restore public confidence in the press, and particularly among young people, we must work on media literacy, which is not currently taught in the formal education system. I worked to create the Israeli Press Institute primarily to fill that gap.”

2 expectant mothers in serious condition with COVID; doctors deliver babies

Two expectant mothers in their 20s arrived at Hillel Yaffe hospital in Hadera, were diagnosed with COVID-19 and have been hospitalized in serious condition, with doctors delivering their babies in emergency C-sections, Hebrew-language media reports.

The babies are in good condition.

Top health official: Herd immunity impossible since kids can’t be vaccinated

Israel’s vaccine drive won’t be enough for herd immunity even if everyone eligible gets inoculated, one of the country’s top health officials says during a government meeting, according to Hebrew media.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis. (Courtesy)

The head of public health services in the Health Ministry, Sharon Alroy-Preis, says: “Since there are 2.5 million children who cannot be vaccinated, we likely will not reach herd immunity even if the entire rest of the population gets vaccinated.”

“If there had not been a third lockdown… the situation would have been much worse, this is what worries me with the exit now,” Alroy-Preis adds.

She says: “If we do not want to reach tens of thousands of cases and thousands of those in serious condition, the lockdown exit strategy must be careful, responsible, and slow.”

She says reopening the country when there are almost 1,000 serious patients is “crazy,” but adds: “We don’t want to hold Israel hostage.”

Exemptions committee to Israel’s travel ban starts operating

A committee discussing potential exemptions to Israel’s current near-total ban on incoming and outgoing international flights starts its operations, with the public able to file requests through the Regional Cooperation Ministry website [Hebrew].

The government approves Regional Cooperation Minister Ofir Akunis’s authority to pick the committee chairman, and Akunis selects his ministry’s deputy director-general Hashem Hussein to fill the role.

Biden says US won’t lift sanctions before Iran stops uranium enrichment

US President Joe Biden tells CBS that his administration won’t agree to lift sanctions on Iran before Tehran halts its uranium enrichment program, adding that the Islamic Republic will have to first resume compliance with the nuclear deal.

Asked in a snippet from the interview whether he will heed Iran’s demand to first lift sanctions to facilitate talks, Biden tells the network: “No.”

Biden foresees ‘extreme competition’ with China, not ‘conflict’

US President Joe Biden anticipates the country’s rivalry with China will take the form of “extreme competition” rather than conflict between the two world powers.

Biden says in a CBS interview that he has not spoken with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping since he became president.

“He’s very tough. He doesn’t have — and I don’t mean it as a criticism, just the reality — he doesn’t have a democratic, small D, bone in his body,” Biden says.

Impeachment trial to pause for Shabbat after Trump’s lawyer requests accommodation

The impeachment trial for Donald Trump will pause for Shabbat, after the former US president’s lawyer requested accommodations for his religious observance.

David Schoen, the Orthodox attorney leading Trump’s defense, has asked for the trial to be paused for the duration of the Jewish day of rest, which begins this coming Friday in Washington, DC, at 5:24 p.m. and lasts for 25 hours.

A spokesman for US Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who is also Jewish, tells CNN that Schoen’s team requested that the trial, which is set to begin Tuesday, be paused on Friday afternoon and resume Sunday.

“We respect their request and of course will accommodate it. Conversations with the relevant parties about the structure of the trial continue,” says the spokesman, Justin Goodman.

Trump is fighting an incitement charge in connection with the January 6 insurrection at the US Capitol. The former president denies inciting his supporters, who had gathered to protest the election results, to storm the Capitol building, in a riot that resulted in five deaths.

The trial is Trump’s second. His first took place over multiple weeks in 2020, ending with his acquittal on February 5.

Leaders from 14 Palestinian factions arrive in Cairo to advance national elections

Senior Palestinian officials from 14 factions arrive in Cairo for negotiations to determine the regulations for the scheduled Palestinian elections.

“We are at a turning point in the Palestinian struggle,” pledges Hamas leader Khalil al-Hayya to Hamas-linked Safa News.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas issued a decree in mid-January ordering three successive rounds of Palestinian national elections, the first in nearly 15 years. The first round of elections — for the currently defunct Palestinian legislature — is set to be held on May 22.

Observers are skeptical that elections will happen, as several previous election announcements have fallen through.

Rabbi Chaim Meir Wosner, Bnei Brak yeshiva head, dies of COVID; funeral set for 9 p.m.

Rabbi Chaim Meir Wosner, a prominent ultra-Orthodox spiritual leader, dies at 83 from COVID-19, with police gearing up for another potential mass funeral tonight at 9 p.m, after several were held illegally in recent weeks.

Wosner, the dean of the Chachmei Lublin Yeshiva and a senior figure in the city of Bnei Brak, caught COVID-19 last month and was treated at home until his oxygen saturation levels dropped and he was hospitalized in serious condition.

He tested negative for the virus in recent days, but his condition deteriorated over the past day and he died.

He was the son of Rabbi Shmuel Wosner, who was the top spiritual leader in the Hasidic world for decades until his death in 2015 at the age of 101.

Some 100,000 people attended Shmuel Wosner’s funeral at the time, with two people dying due to the dense crowds.

Thousands attend the funeral of Rabbi Shmuel Wosner in the ultra-Orthodox city of Bnei Brak, April 4, 2015. (photo credit: Flash90)

Former secretary at Nazi death camp, 95, to stand trial for accessory to murder

Prosecutors in Germany have indicted a 95-year-old woman who served as a secretary to a Nazi death camp’s commander during the Holocaust.

The woman, identified under German privacy laws only as Irmgard F., is charged with complicity in the murders of 10,000 people at Stutthof, a camp in occupied Poland. She will be tried in a juvenile court because she was under 21 when she worked at the camp.

The indictment against the woman, who reportedly resides in an old-age home north of Hamburg, is based on testimonies from survivors of the camps who are now living in the United States and Israel. About 65,000 people were murdered at Stutthof.

Germany has prosecuted several accused accomplices to Nazi war crimes since the 2011 conviction in Munich of former concentration camp guard John Demjanjuk, who had been living in the US before being arrested, deported and tried for his role at the Sobibor concentration camp. He was found guilty as an accessory in the murders of nearly 30,000 Jews at the camp and died in 2012.

The Demjanjuk case set a precedent that being a guard at a death camp was sufficient to prove complicity in murder. But the number of people present at the camps who are still alive and able to face prosecution is dwindling. The indictment against Irmgard F. has resulted from a five-year investigation, prosecutors say.

George Shultz, US secretary of state who helped end Cold War, dies

George Shultz, Ronald Reagan’s genial US secretary of state who identified a diplomatic opening that helped end the Cold War, and also contributed to a new brand of conflict by advocating preemptive strikes, has died. He was 100.

“One of the most consequential policymakers of all time, having served three American presidents, George P. Shultz died Feb. 6 at age 100,” the Hoover Institution think tank says in a statement published on its website.

Security cabinet rejects ‘outrageous’ ICC ruling that it can prosecute Israel

The security cabinet issues a statement rejecting outright the “outrageous” ICC ruling that it has the jurisdiction to prosecute alleged war crimes by Israel and Palestinian terror group Hamas.

“The cabinet rules that the court has no such authority,” it says. “Israel isn’t a member of the international court and the Palestinian Authority doesn’t have the status of a state.”

“The international court was formed to prevent atrocities like those committed by the Nazis against the Jews. Instead, it is persecuting the Jewish state,” it says, adding that the ICC is ignoring crimes regularly committed by Iran and Syria.

The cabinet says the decision renders the ICC a political body “that stands in one line with international organizations motivated by anti-Semitic roots.”

Cabinet discusses plan to reopen kindergartens, schools starting Tuesday

After repeated delays, the cabinet convenes to decide on an outline for the partial reopening of the education system on Tuesday.

Hebrew media says the plan being discussed is to send kindergarten kids and grades 1-4 and 11-12 back to school. The return in low-to-medium infection zones will be full-time, while in more hard-hit areas the students will study outdoors and in two pods with alternating days.

The meeting is not discussing reopening businesses.

Iran’s supreme leader: ‘The post-US era has started’

Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei dismisses US President Joe Biden’s statement that Washington will only remove sanctions once Tehran stops enriching uranium, tweeting: “The post-U.S. era has started.”

“If they want Iran to go back to its #JCPOA commitments, the U.S. must practically end all sanctions. We will verify if it has been done properly. If yes, we will go back to our JCPOA commitments,” he says in a follow-up tweet, reiterating a stance repeated multiple times in recent days.

Facebook removes group promoting conspiracies about COVID vaccines

Facebook has removed a major group promoting conspiracy theories about the COVID-19 vaccines that in recent weeks urged its thousands of members to reserve vaccination appointments and fail to show up, aiming to make shots go to waste.

The Hebrew-language group was called “No to the green passport,” referring to a document that will enable vaccinated people to attend certain public venues and events and potentially travel abroad.

But many of its 14,000 members made use of the group to promote unfounded allegations that the vaccine is harmful.

Facebook comments that the group violated its community standards regarding fake news.

‘Blood will be on your hands’: Recordings leaked from chaotic cabinet meeting

Two of Israel’s three major networks broadcast extensive leaked recordings from Thursday night’s tumultuous cabinet meeting on the extension of the lockdown, during which Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at one point accused Defense Minister Benny Gantz that “the blood of many Israelis” would be on his hands and the Blue and White party head charged the premier that he was “throwing dust in the public’s eyes.”

The recordings are aired simultaneously on both Channel 12 news and the Kan public broadcaster — with each branding them “exclusive” — causing Gantz’s office to complain that Netanyahu’s associates leaked them to benefit the premier in the upcoming elections and to demand that the entire protocol of all cabinet meetings on the coronavirus be made public.

The chaotic night, which began after Gantz conditioned the lockdown extension on the prior passage of a law doubling fines for violations, saw an initial decision to continue the closure overturned by the attorney general who said the extension could not be passed with the entire Blue and White bloc of the egalitarian government opposing it.

Many of the angry exchanges between Netanyahu and Gantz during the meeting have previously been published in the media, but the recordings are new, highlighting the unity government’s inability to agree on even simple steps to battle the surging COVID-19 infections, given the respective parties’ deep distrust and elections looming next month.

The recordings seem to focus mainly on Netanyahu’s attacks against Gantz and other Blue and White party members, many of which appeared to be aimed more at potential voters — convincing them that the premier should not be blamed for the rampant infections — than at fellow ministers.

“The public understands your game very well. It understands you are condemning many Israelis to serious illness and death,” says the premier, who himself has been widely accused of failing to take sufficient action against surging infections between May and September last year.

Gantz, a former IDF chief of staff, is heard retorting: “Don’t tell me stories, don’t lecture me about responsibility for human lives. You are throwing dust in the public’s eyes.”

Netanyahu: “The lives of many Israelis will be on your hands, Benny, don’t tell me stories.”

The premier charged that Blue and White prefer to reopen the economy even if it costs lives: “We understand you’re adopting an oppositional stance, we understand it’s your strategy. Open, open, open, morbidity will rise, and you know exactly what the result will be. In these 50 days left until the election, I expect that you will always object to what we propose.”

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