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

Jewish strategists who worked with Netanyahu said behind campaign against Soros

Two Jewish media strategists who have closely worked with a wide range of Israeli politicians over the years are behind a Hungarian smear campaign against Jewish billionaire George Soros, according to an interview one of them recently had with Swiss weekly Das Magazin.

Arthur Finkelstein (left) and Benjamin Netanyahu in March 10, 1999. (Flash 90)

They are Arthur Finkelstein and George Birnbaum, two longtime advisers who worked with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Netanyahu introduced the pair to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban in 2008, The Times UK reports.

Finkelstein — who died in 2017 aged 72 — and Birnbaum reportedly identified the Jewish businessman and progressive philanthropist in 2013 as an ideal scapegoat for Orban in 2013, the report says.

Political adviser George Birnbaum during an interview with CNN in 2014. (YouTube/GuariscoGroup)

“The perfect opponent is one whom you punch over and over again and who never hits back,” Birnbaum, 48, told the Swiss weekly.

“When we planned the campaign we did not consider for one second that Soros was Jewish,” he added.

US dismisses ‘false reports’ that it knew of Kenya attack in advance

The US ambassador in Kenya says the United States is working closely with Kenyan authorities following the jihadist attack in Nairobi this week.

US Ambassador Robert F. Godec in a statement also dismisses “false reports on social media” that the US knew about the attack in advance and warned Americans to stay away from the DusitD2 complex before it was attacked on Tuesday.

Godec says that “we deplore the spread of false information in the wake of this tragedy, which only serves to hamper ongoing efforts to defeat terrorism.”

— AP

Hamas unveils Iran-funded homes for ex-prisoners in Israeli jails

Hamas says it has allocated new homes funded by Iran in Gaza to former Palestinian prisoners who were sentenced to jail terms in Israeli courts.

The prisoners ministry run by the terror group says 26 apartments in a new building in southern Gaza have been given out in a lottery between 125 former Palestinian prisoners.

Officials from Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip, say the program is the first of its kind funded by Iran.

A second building will be constructed in northern Gaza, the ministry says, adding the project aims to “reduce the suffering of our freed prisoners.”

Iran has long been a strong backer of Hamas and its ally Islamic Jihad, providing them with funds, weapons and training.

Hamas has fought three wars with Israel since 2008.

— with AFP

Israel Bar Association head stepping down following judicial sex scandal

Efi Nave announces his resignation as the head of the Israel Bar Association following a sex scandal in which he allegedly helped appoint a female judge in exchange for sexual relations and tried to promote a male judge in return for sex with the judge’s wife.

“I decided to do so since the association is important and very dear to me,” he says in a statement. “I don’t want my issues — which I assume will end quickly — to harm the important work of the association.

“I thank all my friends and acquaintances for the joint path we went through and wish good luck to my replacement.”

Nave was already on a leave of absence, taken yesterday after the case broke out.

European Parliament passes resolution urging restoration of Nazi-looted art

The European Parliament passes a resolution calling on member states to identify and recover art the Nazis looted from Jews during World War II.

Out of 626 MEPs, 544 support the resolution, 62 vote against and 20 abstain.

“Cultural heritage constitutes one of the basic elements of civilization, given, for example, its symbolic value and cultural memory of humankind uniting people,” the motion, promoted by Czech MEP Pavel Svoboda, says.

It calls for creating “a comprehensive listing of all cultural objects, including Jewish-owned cultural objects plundered by the Nazis and their allies, from the time of their spoliation to the present day.”

The World Jewish Restitution Organization (WJRO) welcomes the development.

“Ahead of International Holocaust Remembrance Day, this is a powerful declaration of support by the European Parliament for Holocaust survivors and their families in their decades-long quest for justice from the largest cultural theft in history,” says Gideon Taylor, WJRO chair of operations.

Uri Keinan replaces Efi Nave as Israel Bar Association head

Attorney Uri Keinan becomes the new head of the Israel Bar Association after the resignation of Efi Nave.

Uri Keinan (L) and Adi Keidar, lawyers for some of the six suspects held in the murder of an Arab teenager, speak outside a courtroom in Petah Tikva, Sunday, July 6, 2014. (Flash90)

Keinan had been acting head of the association since Nave took a leave of absence yesterday over a sex scandal in which he allegedly helped appoint a female judge in exchange for sexual relations and tried to promote a male judge in return for sex with the judge’s wife.

“I hope that all this affair will end quickly and that all suspects will be cleared,” Keinan says in a statement.

“I’m confident that I’ll lead the association forward along with my friends, for the benefit of Israel’s lawyers and general public.”

Hamas leader discusses Palestinian reconciliation with Russian diplomat

Hamas Politburo chairman Ismail Haniyeh and Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Mikhail Bogdanov speak by phone about the “latest developments related to the Palestinian issue,” the terror groups’s official website reports.

Haniyeh told Bogdanov of Hamas’s “keenness” to achieve intra-national Palestinian reconciliation, the report says.

— Adam Rasgon

Lebanese military arrested suspect who crossed over from Israel — reports

The Lebanese Armed Forces earlier in the week captured a man suspected of infiltrating into Lebanon from Israel, local media reports.

According to the Hezbollah-affiliated Al-Mayadeen news service, the suspect was picked up by the Lebanese military’s intelligence.

The Israel Defense Forces says it is looking into the reports.

— Judah Ari Gross

Half the Palestinians killed by Israel in 2018 weren’t engaging in hostilities – B’tselem

Israeli security forces killed 290 Palestinians in 2018: 254 Palestinians in the Gaza Strip, including two women and 47 minors, 34 in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and two in Israel, according to a report released today by B’tselem, a left-wing Israeli human rights group.

B’tselem says 149 of those killed in the coastal enclave did not “take part in hostilities,” while 90 did, and it was unable to determine whether the remaining 15 of those killed in Gaza “took part in hostilities or not.”

An IDF spokesman does not immediately respond to a request for comment about the B’tselem’s findings.

“An analysis of the incidents in which Palestinians were killed over the last year reveals that most were the result of the reckless open-fire policy implemented by Israel’s security forces,” the report says.

— Adam Rasgon

President Rivlin joins Holocaust survivor in falafel-based celebration of life

President Reuven Rivlin shares a poignant falafel lunch with 88-year-old Holocaust survivor and falafel aficionado David “Dugo” Leitner.

Leitner’s story has inspired thousands in Israel and around the world to take up the custom of eating falafel on January 18 each year, the anniversary of the start of the 1944 death march from Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

88-year-old Holocaust survivor David “Dugo” Leitner, left, and President Reuven Rivlin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for a falafel lunch, January 17, 2019. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

As he tells Rivlin today, the 14-year-old Leitner marched exhausted and starving, and dreaming of “bilkelach” rolls.

“I was walking with my eyes shut. I couldn’t open them because of the heavy snow. During the march I fell asleep and dreamed of my mother. She always told me that we would go and live in Israel, and that in Israel ‘bilkelach’ grew on the trees,” Leitner says.

Leitner would go on to survive the war and move to Israel, where on his first visit to the Mahane Yehuda market in Jerusalem he first encountered the local delicacy that reminded him of the “bilkelach,” the falafel ball.

Leitner has been eating falafel on January 18 ever since, in celebration of his survival.

Canadian geologist kidnapped in Burkina Faso found dead

A Canadian geologist kidnapped at a remote gold mine in northeast Burkina Faso by suspected jihadists has been found dead, the ministry of security tells AFP.

A body found with gunshot wounds yesterday night is that of Kirk Woodman, “the Canadian who was kidnapped the day before yesterday,” ministerial spokesman Jean-Paul Badoum says.

The body “is being taken to Dori for identification,” the source says. Another security source says the remains will then be flown by helicopter to Ouagadougou.

Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland says her country is “appalled and deeply saddened” by the killing.

“Canada condemns those responsible for this terrible crime. We are working with the government of Burkina Faso and other international partners to pursue those responsible and bring them to justice,” she says.

Woodman is one of two Canadians who have gone missing in Burkina Faso, an impoverished country in the front line of a jihadist rebellion in the Sahel.

He was vice president of a Canadian company, Progress Minerals, which owns a gold mine at Tiabangou, located in Yagha, a volatile province near the Niger and Mali border.

He was at the mine when the site came under attack from about 10 armed men, Security Minister Clement Sawadogo said yesterday.


Michael Cohen says he tried to rig 2015 polls in Trump’s favor

US President Donald Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen paid a polling company thousands of dollars to rig early online polls in the 2016 presidential elections in favor of Trump, the Wall Street Journal reports.

The attempts were unsuccessful, according to the report.

It said Cohen paid John Gauger, who owns RedFinch Solutions LLC, between 12,000 and 13,000 dollars to manipulate CNBC and Drudge polls in 2015.

Confirming the report, Cohen tells CNN that his actions were “at the direction of and for the sole benefit of Donald J. Trump. I truly regret my blind loyalty to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”

This combination of pictures created on April 11, 2018, shows Michael Cohen (L) and US President Donald Trump. (Mark Wilson and Nicholas Kamm/various sources/AFP)

US-led coalition airstrikes pound IS areas in eastern Syria

Syrian activists are reporting intense airstrikes on the last area held by the Islamic State group in the country’s east where the jihadists’ control has been shrinking over the past weeks.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the airstrikes hit the 15 square kilometers (5.8 square miles) controlled by IS in the eastern province of Deir el-Zour after US-backed Kurdish-led fighters of the Syrian Democratic Forces scored gains in recent weeks.

Europe-based activist Omar Abu Layla of the DeirEzzor 24 monitoring group confirms intense airstrikes are ongoing, adding that they were triggered by a counter-offensive carried out by IS during a strong fog.

The airstrikes come a day after a suicide attack carried by IS insurgents killed 19 people, including four Americans, in the northern town of Manbij.

— AP

Israel rejects new Jerusalem consulates, pressuring countries to open embassies — report

Israel is pressuring countries to move their embassies to Jerusalem by no longer accepting requests to open honorary consulates in the capital, Channel 13 reports.

The Foreign Ministry sent an official letter last November to all countries that have diplomatic relations with Israel, saying from now on such requests will be refused and honorary consuls’ terms won’t be renewed unless those countries already have an embassy in Jerusalem, the report says.

The move reportedly came after Australia and the Czech Republic sought to open honorary consulates in Jerusalem instead of moving their embassies to the contested city, as the US and Guatemala have done.

Senior officials are quoted as saying Israel seeks to prevent countries from making largely symbolic moves and cause them to open more substantial institutions in the city, such as cultural centers.

Shaked: Opposition using judicial sex scandal for ‘ugly campaign’ against me

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked hits back at an “unconstrained, false and inciting attack” on her, a day after coming under fire when a sex scandal involving the appointment of judges was revealed.

Opposition figures assailed Shaked, blaming her for a “toxic environment” in the legal system after it was exposed that Israel Bar Association head Efi Nave allegedly helped appoint a female judge in exchange for sexual relations, and tried to promote a male judge in return for sex with the judge’s wife.

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends an Israeli Bar Association conference in Jerusalem on January 17, 2019. (Noam Rivkin Fenton/Flash90)

At a Bar Association seminar on Jewish law in Jerusalem, Shaked says the accusations are “false attacks and lies.”

“The most disappointing attack is the attack by female lawmakers from the left-wing,” she says. “We have our political differences, but I viewed them as colleagues. They are all women, and that is my disappointment.

“They are using the latest affair for an ugly and personal political campaign. The political attacks from the left won’t deter me.”

Rejecting calls to step down, Shaked says she’ll continue serving as justice minister “four more years, until I complete the revolution I have started.”

Israeli, Russian militaries meet, reach ‘understandings’ on cooperation in Syria

The Israeli and Russian militaries complete a series of meetings aimed at improving relations between the two armed forces, following the downing of a Russian spy plane in September which Moscow blamed on Israel.

Jerusalem and Moscow maintain a so-called “deconfliction mechanism,” which is meant to ensure that there are no accidental clashes between the two militaries in Syria, as the Russian Army supports Syrian dictator Bashar Assad and Israel conducts airstrikes against Assad-allied Iranian and Hezbollah targets in the country.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, the meetings dealt with “advancing and improving the deconfliction mechanism between the two countries in the northern arena and the IDF’s activities against Iranian entrenchment and the Hezbollah organization’s rearmament efforts in Syria.”

The army says the conversations were held in a “good and professional spirit.” They were led by the head of the IDF’s Operational Division, Brig. Gen. Yaniv Assur, who previously served as commander of the IDF division defending the Syrian border.

“The delegations reached understandings and agreed on continued collaboration,” the IDF says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Egypt extends detention of mother held for ‘false news’

An Egyptian court extends the detention of a woman accused of spreading false news by telling the BBC her daughter has been forcibly disappeared, according to a judicial source.

Mona Mahmud Mohammad, also known as Umm Zubeida, was ordered to remain in jail for 45 days after prosecutors appealed a ruling on Tuesday to release her, the source adds.

Mohammad has been in custody since March 2018 over accusations that she belongs to a “terrorist group” and spread false news.

She was featured in a BBC report aired in February last year saying her daughter had been the victim of a forced disappearance.

The report, which stirred a strong backlash from the government, also detailed other allegations of people being jailed, tortured or disappeared in Egypt.

Mohammad’s daughter later appeared on a local television show saying she had run away from her mother, married and had a child.

Egypt’s State Information Service, which regulates foreign media, called on the British broadcaster to retract its report or face a government boycott.

The BBC responded that it stood by “the integrity of our reporting teams.”

Rights groups have repeatedly accused Egyptian authorities of carrying out a widespread crackdown on dissent, but the government denies the allegations.


National security adviser returns from India after meetings with Modi, officials

National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat returns from a visit to India, during which he visited Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other officials, Hebrew-language media reports.

The visit focused on potential defense deals between Jerusalem and New Delhi, as well as promoting new collaborations on defense, technology and finance.

Ben Shabbat also met his Indian counterpart Ajit Doval, the director generals of India’s Defense Ministry and Foreign Ministry, and heads of local security firms.

He flew on an Air India flight that crossed through Saudi and Omani airspace — a move achieved recently by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat. (Amos Ben Gerschom/GPO)

Israel condemns Malaysia sports ban, asks Paralympic Committee to nix event

The Foreign Ministry lambastes Malaysia and its openly anti-Semitic leader Mahathir Mohamad over the country’s declaration that it will host no events with Israelis, including a Paralympic swimming tournament later this year.

“The Malaysian government has taken the decision to ban the participation of Israelis in official international sport events in Malaysia, including the participation of athletes with disabilities in a swimming competition organized by the International Paralympic Committee,” the ministry says in a statement. “This is shameful and totally opposes the Olympic spirit.”

“Israel condemns the decision, inspired no doubt by Malaysia’s PM Mahatir’s rabid anti-Semitism,” the statement continues.

“We call upon the International Paralympic Committee to change this wrong decision or change the venue of the event,” it adds. “Sports Minister Miri Regev has addressed the president of the International Paralympic Committee with such a request.”

Soccer team Hapoel Tel Aviv fined over fans’ ‘Holocaust’ taunts

Israeli soccer’s governing body issues a fine against premier league side Hapoel Tel Aviv over its supporters’ “Holocaust” taunts at bitter rivals Maccabi Tel Aviv.

The Israel Football Association says Hapoel was fined 25,000 shekels ($6,770 or 5,950 euros) for disorderly behavior during a championship match on January 14, when Hapoel fans hurled bottles after a scuffle on the pitch between players from the two teams.

The FA says the Hapoel supporters twice chanted “Holocaust for Maccabi,” a reference to the annihilation of Europe’s Jews by the Nazis.

The association rejected the Hapoel lawyer’s argument that the fans used the Hebrew word “Shoah” in its more general sense of “destruction” without meaning to link it to the genocide of Jews.

Hapoel’s management issued a statement denouncing its supporters’ behavior and “all forms of violence,” without mentioning the offending chants.

Maccabi has won 21 national championships and is currently top of the league table.

Hapoel, straggling in 12th place out of 14 teams, has won 13 championships.


AG to meet Netanyahu’s lawyer on request not to publish decision on indictment

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit summons Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attorney for a meeting next week on the latter’s request not to publish a decision on whether to indict the premier in the three corruption cases against him before the April 9 elections, according to a statement from Mandelblit’s office.

The attorney, Navot Tel-Zur, this week filed the request, arguing that a decision to charge Netanyahu pending a hearing — a process that would definitely take at least several months — would affect the election outcome with Netanyahu being able to present his version of events.

In the meantime, Mandelblit says that his office is continuing examine the evidence in the cases as usual, and that his current position is that he won’t refrain from making a decision before the election.

Veteran Jewish Home MK Nissan Slomiansky quits politics

Veteran lawmaker Nissan Slomiansky announces he is quitting politics and won’t seek a place in the next Knesset for the Jewish Home party.

The 73-year-old was a lawmaker from 1996 to 1999, again in 2003-2009 and again in 2013-2019.

Slomiansky tells Jewish Home members, however, “I’m not leaving the home. I’ll continue to act and help strengthen the Jewish Home so that it succeeds in the elections.”

“Israel needs a party like the Jewish Home, big and strong,” he says, referring to the party’s dire situation after popular leaders Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked defected to form a new party.

In a poll yesterday, Jewish Home was seen failing to enter the next parliament.

Nissan Slomiansky attends a session of the Constitution, Law, and Justice Committee, which he chairs, in the Knesset on January 16, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

AG associates accuse Netanyahu of ‘dragging the whole country down with him’

Associates of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit assail Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying his attacks will harm all Israelis.

“The messaging against the attorney general’s office and him [Mandelblit] is ordered from above,” the associates are quoted as saying by Hadashot news.

“The prime minister is dragging the whole country down with him. It is sad and it will harm all of us.”

Egyptian fishermen washed to Gaza returned home, Hamas says

Six Egyptian fishermen, whom Gaza’s Hamas authorities said earlier today they had rescued in the stormy Mediterranean Sea, have returned to Egypt, the terror group-run interior ministry says.

The fishermen returned to Egypt in the afternoon via the Rafah crossing, the ministry says.

— Adam Rasgon and AP

Likud denies that PM is ordering campaign against AG, demands ‘fair process’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party responds to strong criticism voiced by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s associates.

Netanyahu “isn’t messaging against the attorney general and is merely demanding a fair process, as every citizen deserves,” his party says in response to the Hadashot TV report.

Likud argues that Mandelblit, who is reportedly set to decide whether to indict Netanyahu in three corruption cases next month, is taking far less time than normal examining the evidence.

“It is unfortunate that the premier is accused over a basic demand for a fair process and abstention from intervening in the elections, while nothing is said about three years of thuggish pressure toward the attorney general to indict Netanyahu at any cost,” the statement says.

AG leaning toward charging Netanyahu of bribery in Case 4000 — reports

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s office has reportedly concluded its discussions on the evidence in Case 4000, widely regarded as the strongest of the three corruption cases against Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Mandelblit is leaning toward accepting the police recommendation in the case — charging the premier for bribery and other offenses, the Kan public broadcaster and Channel 13 TV channels report.

In Case 4000 Netanyahu is suspected of advancing regulatory decisions as communications minister and prime minister that benefited Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder in Bezeq, the country’s largest telecommunications firm, in exchange for positive coverage from Elovitch’s Walla news site.

The office will soon begin discussions on Case 2000, which involves a suspected illicit quid pro quo deal between Netanyahu and Yedioth Ahronoth publisher Arnon Mozes that would have seen the prime minister hobble a rival daily newspaper, the Sheldon Adelson-backed freebie Israel Hayom, in return for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

Palestinian-American held by PA for selling land to Jews handed to US — report

Issam Akel, a Palestinian-American resident of East Jerusalem held by the Palestinian Authority for months on suspicion of selling land to Jews, has been transferred to the US, the Kan broadcaster reports.

A secret deal was signed between the PA and US authorities, the report says.

Israeli and US officials had demanded Akel’s release from custody.

Questioning of judicial sex scandal suspect Efi Nave ends after 10 hours

Former Israel Bar Association head Efi Nave, who resigned today over a judicial sex scandal, emerges from a grueling 10-hour interrogation at the police’s Lahav 433 anti-graft unit headquarters in Lod.

Nave allegedly helped appoint a female judge in exchange for sexual relations, and tried to promote a male judge in return for sex with the judge’s wife.

Gaza zoo owner blames winter storm for lion cub deaths

The owner of a dilapidated Gaza zoo is blaming stormy weather for the death of four lion cubs.

Fathi Jumaa says he covered the cage of the day-old lions with blankets ahead of yesterday’s winter storm, but found them dead the next morning at the small zoo in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah.

Most of the animals in the zoo were smuggled into Gaza from Egypt via underground tunnels a few years ago, before the Egyptian military destroyed the tunnels running beneath the border.

The wintry weather sweeping the region has made it especially hard for animals that lack proper care.

International animal care groups have carried out several evacuation missions in recent years to relocate animals and birds in poor condition to sanctuaries outside Gaza.

— AP

10 treated for smoke inhalation in East Jerusalem apartment building blaze

Emergency medics treated 10 residents of an apartment building in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sur Baher for smoke inhalation caused by a fire that started in a bedroom on the second floor.

Police have opened an investigation into the cause of the blaze.

read more: