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

US President-elect Joe Biden receives second COVID vaccine shot

US President-elect Joe Biden receives his second COVID-19 shot, and says that getting vaccines into people’s arms will be a “number one priority” for his incoming administration.

It comes as the vaccine rollout has faltered badly in the world’s hardest-hit country, where some 375,000 people have died from the coronavirus and about 3,000 more are dying every day. Some 25.5 million first doses of Covid vaccines have been shipped out to hospitals, clinics, and nursing homes across the country, but only around 9 million have been injected, according to official data.

“Three to four thousand people a day dying is just beyond the pale… it’s wrong, and we can do a lot to change it,” Biden says.

He emphasizes the need to continue social distancing and mask-wearing, and adds that he was “appalled” that Republican lawmakers refused to wear masks when they were forced into a security lockdown during last week’s Capitol attack by supporters of President Donald Trump.

“I think it’s irresponsible. It’s not a political issue, it’s an issue of public safety.”

Yesh Atid responds to Gantz: ‘We’ll make every effort to form alliances’

Yesh Atid, which broke up with Benny Gantz when he entered Netanyahu’s coalition, is not closing the door on a reunion.

“We will make every effort to form alliances that will lead to a sane, liberal government that will change the country,” the party says in a statement.

Party leader Yair Lapid has in the past said he would be open to a possible union with Gantz once more — but only if he leads the slate.

Opposition leader Yair Lapid of Yesh Atid-Telem at his office in the Knesset, Jerusalem, on September 14, 2020. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Liberman to Gantz: If you want to help the country, remove yourself from running

Yisrael Beytenu chief Avigdor Liberman rejects Benny Gantz’s call for an alliance.

“We had a chance to replace Netanyahu,” he tweets. “But you chose to be a ‘reserve prime minister.’ The only thing you can do now for the country is to announce you’re not running for the next Knesset.”

MK Avigdor Liberman meets with settler leadership in the West Bank, September 6, 2020. (Sraya Diamant/ Flash90)

FBI said to warn that armed protests are planned in all 50 states ahead of January 20

The FBI is warning that “armed protests are being planned at all 50 state capitals from January 16 through at least January 20, and at the US Capitol from January 17 through January 20,” ABC News reports, citing an agency bulletin.

The agency has “received information about an identified armed group intending to travel to Washington, DC on January 16. They have warned that if Congress attempts to remove [the president] via the 25th Amendment, a huge uprising will occur.”

Meanwhile, the bulletin also warns that a group is urging supporters of the president to storm government houses in states and on the federal level if Trump is removed from office ahead of time.

Trump supporters stand on top of a police vehicle, January 6, 2021, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/ Julio Cortez)

Gantz: I was wrong to shake Netanyahu’s hand, parties that oppose him must unite

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says he “was wrong” to shake Benjamin Netanyahu’s hand and enter into his coalition, but pleads for an alliance of all who oppose the premier, in order to boot him from office.

“Three times, we were close to ensuring that he’d end [his job],” Gantz says at a press conference. But when the coronavirus ravaged Israeli earlier this year, “I, a soldier of the State of Israel, stood forward. I shook the hand of this man I had promised to replace. I shook the hand of a serial promise-breaker. I shook it because Israel was at war and I am first and foremost its soldier.

“I was wrong,” he says. “You who believed in me were disappointed.”

“And while tens of thousands of businesses collapsed and the population suffered under the strains and restrictions of the pandemic, he says, Netanyahu continued “to incite and divide, simply because it serves his personal interests, and to allow him to escape the courthouse… He deceived me, he deceived you, he deceived one too many times. Now he must pay.”

Gantz has been asked many times in the days since the coalition collapsed late last month whether he was wrong to enter a coalition with Netanyahu in May, abandoning his three-election pledge to Blue and White voters not to do so. This speech marks the first time he has publicly declared that he made a mistake.

Gantz now calls for an alliance of multiple parties that oppose Netanyahu’s continued rule, and implies that he does not assume he would head such an alliance.

He urges Yair Lapid (Yesh Atid), Ron Huldai (The Israelis), Moshe Ya’alon (Telem), Avigdor Liberman (Yisrael Beytenu), Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz), Itzik Shmuli (Labor), and Yaron Zelekha (New Economic Party) to come to a meeting in order to “search for and find the way.”

“This is an hour of emergency. We cannot let [Netanyahu] smash us into slivers of parties,” he says.

“I call on all those for whom Israel is important, on all those who will not go with Bibi, to let go of their egos,” he says, using Netanyahu’s nickname. “Let’s go into a room tomorrow, and find solutions. We will unite for the good of the country, without ego and past grievances. I am willing to sacrifice much for Bibi to go. If we get rid of our egos, we’ll get rid of Bibi.”

According to Channel 12 News, Lapid, whose Yesh Atid is projected to be the largest of those parties (at around 15 seats), is unlikely to agree to such an alliance, nor would Meretz.

Blue and White won 33 seats in the March 2020 elections, but its Yesh Atid and Telem components broke away and went into the opposition after Gantz agreed to partner Netanyahu. His Blue and White is now polling at 4-5 seats, barely enough to clear the threshold for seats in the Knesset in the scheduled March 23, 2021 elections.

Health expert says 60%-70% population immunity no longer enough to end pandemic

Prof. Gabi Barbash, former director-general of the Health Ministry, tells Channel 12 News that health experts around the world no longer believe that 60%-70% immunity in the population will be enough to achieve herd immunity and end the pandemic.

Due to the new variants of the coronavirus that are more contagious than the previous forms, it is now believed that immunity of some 90% will be needed to effectively vanquish the disease.

The World Health Organization warns, meanwhile, that herd immunity will not be achieved this year.

“We are not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan tells a briefing, stressing the need to continue measures like physical distancing, hand washing, and mask wearing to rein in the pandemic.

Bezalel Smotrich says will not run with Yamina in the next election

Bezalel Smotrich, head of the National Union party now renamed the Religious Zionist Party, tells Channel 12 that his party will not run with Naftali Bennett’s Yamina in the coming election.

“We are going our separate ways,” Smotrich says. He says Bennett is focused on the economy, while he is set on “uniting religious Zionism, and chiefly to be the ideological right-wing voice in the Knesset.”

Yamina responds: “Smotrich has decided to split up the right. We wish him luck.”

MK Bezalel Smotrich in Jerusalem, on November 11, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

Benny Gantz set to seek alliance with other parties — report

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz is expected to announce this evening his willingness to make personal concessions in order to ally with other political parties ahead of the next election, Channel 12 reports.

Gantz is expected to give a press statement soon.

The report appears to indicate that Gantz would be willing to cede the number one spot on a joint slate. His crumbling party is currently polling at some 4-5 seats, after he led it to 33 seats in the March election. But he later broke a key election promise by agreeing to join a government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a decision that splintered his party and has caused him to hemorrhage support.

Stun grenade explodes outside home of former Beitar Jerusalem owner

A stun grenade explodes outside the home of businessman Eli Tabib, former owner of the Beitar Jerusalem soccer club.

Tabib is abroad, but his family were at home in Kfar Shmaryahu at the time.

Tabib has been convicted of various criminal acts in the past, including fraud and assault. He has suffered attacks and an assassination attempt.

Ofer Shelah calls for union between center-left parties

MK Ofer Shelah, who split off from Yesh Atid to form the Tnufa party, calls for an alliance with the Labor party and Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai’s The Israelis.

“A little more than two months before election day, the political map is hazy, but the center-left bloc is shattered,” he says in a statement. “I call on Ron Huldai, Avi Nissenkorn, and the leaders of the Labor party: Let us sit together. You all know me. There are no preconditions. Let’s negotiate and form the body that an entire camp yearns for.”

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)

Current polls show Shelah’s Tnufa failing to pass the electoral threshold. Labor faces the same danger, while Huldai’s party is polling at around 6 seats.

Pelosi: Republican ‘complicity’ with Trump ‘endangers America’

The top Democrat in the House of Representatives accuses Republicans of endangering America by blocking moves to immediately remove President Donald Trump from office.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slams Republican lawmakers for blocking a resolution introduced by Democrats calling on Vice President Mike Pence and the Cabinet to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution and remove Trump from the White House.

“The House Republicans rejected this legislation to protect America, enabling the president’s unhinged, unstable, and deranged acts of sedition to continue.” Pelosi says in a statement. “Their complicity endangers America, erodes our democracy, and it must end.”

Deputy health minister: Those who refuse to vaccinate shouldn’t work with public

Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch says he believes people who choose not to vaccinate should not be allowed to work with the public.

Kisch tells Army Radio that he believes it is within any person’s rights to decide not to vaccinate, though he adds that “it’s a very big mistake” to reject inoculation.

He says, “Whoever chooses not to vaccinate… I think anyone who is [working] with the public, whether it’s a teacher, counselor, bus driver — if they do not vaccinate, I don’t think they should take part [in that activity].”

Kisch stresses that this is his personal opinion, and that no formal one has been made by the health establishment at this time.

Yoav Kisch leads a discussion on rules of ethics for Knesset Members, January 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/ Flash90)

Hadassah Ein Kerem stops arrival of non-COVID patients until tomorrow morning

In an out-of-the-ordinary step, the Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center asks emergency services not to deliver patients that hospital, except for coronavirus patients, until 6 a.m. tomorrow.

The hospital cites the heavy load on its departments due to the influx of COVID-19 cases.

Patients will be taken to other medical facilities during this time, including Hadassah Mt. Scopus.

Ambulance workers transfer a woman with suspected COVID-19 at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital, in Jerusalem, on March 22, 2020. (Flash90)

Democrats begin 2nd Trump impeachment process, introduce measure in House

Democrats begin the process of impeaching US President Donald Trump for a second time if Vice President Mike Pence and the cabinet do not remove him from office.

Democrats introduce a resolution calling on Pence to invoke the 25th Amendment of the Constitution and remove Trump from the White House.

Pence has given no indication he is ready to proceed on such a course.

Republicans block an immediate vote on the resolution and Democrats follow up by introducing an article of impeachment of Trump for “incitement of insurrection” over his role in Wednesday’s storming of the US Capitol.

“President Trump gravely endangered the security of the United States and its institutions of Government,” the legislation says.

Israel sees $50.4 billion budget deficit in 2020 — largest in history

Israel’s budget deficit for the year 2020 was its highest ever, at NIS 160.3 billion ($50.4 billion) — 11.7 percent of its GDP, the Finance Ministry says.

The huge deficit — some three times higher than that of 2019 — was expected due to the severe economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Percentage-wise, the deficit is one of the highest in the world, Ynet reports, expected to be surpassed only by the US, Canada, the UK, Iceland and Australia.

In some good news, the GDP only dropped by some 3.3%, the ministry assesses — a better state of affairs than had been feared.

Finance Minister Israel Katz holds a press conference at the Finance Ministry in Jerusalem on July 1, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Man arrested in 14-year-old rape case and 2nd rape attempt in 2014

A 38-year-old man has been arrested on suspicion of sexually assaulting two women in 2006 and 2014, Channel 12 reports.

The man, a resident of Qalansawe, is suspected of raping one woman 14 years ago, when she was 16 years old, and attempting to rape another young woman six years ago.

He allegedly picked up both women in his car in the Sharon region, northeast of Tel Aviv, drove them to a nearby wood and there assaulted them.

Police recently obtained new unspecified evidence that led them to the suspect, the report says.

PA says it’ll buy Russian coronavirus vaccine, 1st shipment next month

Palestinian Authority Health Minister Mai al-Kaila announces that a deal has officially been struck between Russia and the PA to provide Moscow’s controversial Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine to the Palestinians.

A Russian official says in a statement that the shipment of vaccines will arrive in the West Bank next month. Palestinian health officials had previously speculated that the Sputnik vaccines could arrive as soon as the end of December, although those predictions proved unfounded.

A Russian medical worker prepares a shot of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Dec. 5, 2020. Thousands of doctors, teachers (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Public health experts have been skeptical of the Russian vaccine, which they charge was produced and rolled out without sufficiently stringent testing mechanisms.

Twitter shares tumble after nixing @realDonaldTrump account

Shares of Twitter are tumbling at the opening bell after it permanently kicked US President Donald Trump off the social media platform.

There was a broad market selloff Monday to start the week, yet the 11% slide in shares of Twitter Inc. far outpaced those declines.

Twitter on Friday shut down @realDonaldTrump, citing concern that Trump would use it for “further incitement of violence.” Trump retorted that he’d be “building out our own platform in the near future. We will not be SILENCED!”

In this photo illustration, a Twitter logo is displayed on a mobile phone with President Trump’s Twitter page shown in the background on May 27, 2020 (Olivier DOULIERY / AFP)

There is a protest planned outside of Twitter headquarters in San Francisco by Trump supporters today, though employees are working from home due to the pandemic and there are few if any people there.

Ashdod yeshiva opens against rules; police arrest 6 in clashes

Police arrest six people during clashes at a yeshiva in the city of Ashdod, which was opened against health regulations.

Officials say those arrested were disorderly and blocked roads near the yeshiva as police attempted to disperse them.

Melania Trump ‘disappointed and disheartened’ by deadly riot at Capitol

Melania Trump says she is “disappointed and disheartened” by the deadly riot at the Capitol last week by supporters of her husband.

But in breaking her silence, she also lashes out at people she says have used the tragic event to spread “salacious gossip, unwarranted personal attacks and false and misleading accusations about me.”

The statement marks the first lady’s first public comment in the five days since a violent mob of Trump supporters stormed the Capitol.

The first lady does not say who she is referring to. Last week, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff, the first lady’s former friend and one-time assistant at the White House, wrote an editorial accusing Mrs. Trump of being “complicit in the destruction of America.”

US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump walk on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, December 5, 2020, (Patrick Semansky/AP)

Israeli tycoon in Swiss court over alleged bribes in Guinea

Israeli diamond and minerals magnate Beny Steinmetz goes on trial in Switzerland on charges of corruption and forging documents in an alleged bid to win lavish iron ore mining concessions in Guinea by paying millions to a former wife of late President Lansana Conte.

Steinmetz, 64, the only one of three defendants present today in the Geneva court, has denied the charges. The alleged plot involved Steinmetz’s BSGR Group squeezing out a rival for mining rights for vast iron ore deposits in Guinea’s southeastern Simandou region over several years.

In an opening statement, Steinmetz lawyer Marc Bonnant says the alleged corruption took place many years ago, raises questions about why the other defendants are absent, and calls on the Geneva tribunal to declare “null and void” the case against the tycoon.

Attendance at the courtroom in Geneva’s old town has been limited because of concerns about COVID-19.

French-Israeli diamond magnate Beny Steinmetz (L) arrives with his lawyers for his trial in Geneva on January 11, 2020. (Fabrice Coffrini/AFP)

Gantz: Blocking vaccines to Palestinian inmates ‘illegal, endangers human lives’

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is calling on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to order the vaccination of Palestinian inmates aged 60-plus at security prisons. He says Public Security Minister Amir Ohana’s decision to block the vaccinations, against the instructions of the Health Ministry and the attorney general, is “an illegal action that endangers human lives.”

He says “politicization of the battle against the coronavirus will harm the government’s ability to fight the virus.”

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the Knesset on December 1, 2020. (Alex Kolomoisky/Pool/Flash90)

The Israeli Medical Association has said Israel “has an ethical obligation to offer the vaccines to the prisoner population.”

IAEA chief: Iran moving ‘rapidly’ to enrich uranium, mere ‘weeks’ to save deal

The head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog says there are “weeks” left to salvage the nuclear deal with Iran, as US President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.

Rafael Grossi, director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, says at the Reuters Next conference that Tehran is advancing “quite rapidly” toward enriching uranium to 20 percent, as it has announced it would, in breach of the accord. He says the IAEA assesses Iran will be able to produce some 10 kilograms a month.

“It is clear that we don’t have many months ahead of us [to save the deal]. We have rather weeks,” he says.

If talks between the signatories of the accord are launched, “there will have to be a clear understanding on how the initial terms and provisions of the [nuclear deal] are going to be recomplied with,” Grossi says.

Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) Rafael Mariano Grossi speaks during an AFP interview in Vienna on November 30, 2020. (Alex Halada/AFP)

Merkel finds Twitter halt of Trump account ‘problematic’

German Chancellor Angela Merkel believes that the decision by social media giants to permanently suspend Donald Trump’s accounts is problematic because freedom of opinion should not be determined by such online platform bosses, her spokesman says.

“The fundamental right to freedom of opinion is a fundamental right of elementary importance, and this fundamental right can be interfered with, but through the law and within the framework defined by the legislature, not according to the decision of the management of social media platforms,” says Merkel’s spokesman, Steffen Seibert.

“From this point of view, the Chancellor considers it problematic that the accounts of the US president have been permanently blocked.”

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a statement on September 2, 2020 at the Chancellery in Berlin about tests carried out by the German army on Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny. (Markus Schreiber/POOL/AFP)

He says that lies or incitement to violence are also “very problematic,” but that the path to dealing with them should be for the state to draw up a legal regulatory framework. Completely blocking out views by halting the account is a step too far, the spokesman says, but backs action taken by social media in recent months to flag false claims.

Former envoy to Egypt to serve as interim ambassador to Morocco — official

Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt David Govrin will head the country’s Israeli mission to Morocco as a temporary appointment, a foreign ministry official says.

Govrin will serve in the interim role until an ambassador is formally appointed. He will depart for Rabat soon.

Israeli Ambassador to Egypt David Govrin at his home in Mevaseret Zion, near Jerusalem, on June 5, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Biden chooses veteran diplomat Burns as CIA director

US President-elect Joe Biden announces he has chosen veteran diplomat William Burns to be his CIA director.

A former ambassador to Russia and Jordan, Burns, 64, had a 33-year career at the State Department under both Republican and Democratic presidents. He rose through the ranks of the diplomatic corps to become deputy secretary of state before retiring in 2014 to run the Carnegie Endowment of International Peace.

Under former secretary of state John Kerry, Burns led secret talks with Iran that helped kick-start negotiations that led to the 2015 nuclear deal between six world powers and Iran, from which US President Donald Trump withdrew in 2018.

“Bill Burns is an exemplary diplomat with decades of experience on the world stage keeping our people and our country safe and secure,” Biden says. “Ambassador Burns will bring the knowledge, judgment, and perspective we need to prevent and confront threats before they can reach our shores. The American people will sleep soundly with him as our next CIA Director.”

80% of Japanese say Tokyo Olympics should be called off or won’t happen

More than 80% of people in Japan who were surveyed in two polls in the last few days say the Tokyo Olympics should be canceled or postponed, or say they believe the Olympics will not take place.

The polls were conducted by the Japanese news agency Kyodo and TBS — the Tokyo Broadcasting System.

The results are bad news for Tokyo organizers and the International Olympic Committee as they continue to say the postponed Olympics will open on July 23.

Tokyo is battling a surge of COVID-19 cases that prompted the national government last week to call a state of emergency. In declaring the emergency, Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said he was confident the Olympics would be held.

China: WHO experts to visit from Thursday to probe origins of COVID-19

Ten World Health Organization scientists will visit China from Thursday to probe the origins of COVID-19, authorities in China say, more than a year after the pandemic began and amid accusations Beijing has tried to thwart the investigation.

The long-awaited mission is of great political significance at a time when the coronavirus pandemic has devastated the world, caused almost two million deaths, and brought the global economy to a virtual standstill.

The WHO team “will conduct joint research cooperation on the origins of COVID-19 with Chinese scientists,” the National Health Commission says in a statement.

A last-minute delay to the mission earlier this month earned China a rare rebuke from the head of the WHO.

Health officials say failure to provide Palestinians vaccines is unwise – TV

Health Ministry officials believe Israel’s alleged refusal to provide vaccines from the stocks it has purchased to the Palestinian Authority is a misstep, Channel 12 News reports.

Recent days have seen reports that the World Health Organization appealed to Israel to send inoculations to the PA, but Jerusalem said it would not do so at this time.

The unnamed health officials tell the network this is unwise from an epidemiological standpoint. “We can’t have tens of thousands of unvaccinated people coming into Israeli territory,” they say.

Tens of thousands of workers from the West Bank enter Israel every day, though some limitations have been placed on their entry during national lockdowns.

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