The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
After the coalition’s failure in the vote on a new draft law, Defense Minister Benny Gantz says: “Israel needs a draft law and a new plan for [national] service.”
“Things that worked for the country’s first 73 years do not fit the reality of Israel today, in which only half of 18-year-olds enlist. We will bring the draft bill again within three weeks… I will not rest until I complete this national task.”
A third person has filed a police complaint against screenwriter and producer Gal Uchovsky, alleging sexual assault.
Police opened an investigation into Uchovsky in November, after Kan news published testimonies of men who said that Uchovsky sexually assaulted them in recent years.
Uchovsky is a well known activist and figure in the Gay community.
A Polish Senate commission opens an investigation into the use of powerful spyware against government critics, by hearing testimony from cybersecurity experts, who compare targeting of opposition figures under the right-wing government to methods used by the Kremlin against critics in Russia.
John Scott-Railton and Bill Marczak, senior researchers with the Citizen Lab, a research group based at the University of Toronto, tell the seven-member committee that they were able to confirm that data was stolen from the phone of a Polish senator, Krzysztof Brejza. That came on top of their findings in late December that Brejza and two others — a Polish lawyer and a prosecutor — were hacked aggressively with Pegasus, spyware produced by Israel’s NSO Group.
The revelations have shocked many Poles because Pegasus is a tool meant to be used by governments to fight terrorists and other dangerous criminals. It gives its operators complete access to a mobile device, allowing them to extract passwords, photos, messages, contacts and browsing history and activate the microphone and camera for real-time eavesdropping.
Many view it as a human rights violation to use it against domestic opponents who criticize the government, but pose no danger to society.
The Knesset has rejected the coalition’s proposed draft bill in its first reading.
The bill was brought to a vote, despite the coalition being aware it probably lacked a majority, because of a High Court demand that the government advance efforts to legislate clear rules on the recruitment of Haredi yeshiva students.
The government is currently working on a new proposal on national service. Thus, the latest failed vote appears to have been more of a stopgap to appease the court than a true attempt to pass legislation.
Meanwhile, Channel 12 and Channel 13 report that as discussions between Netanyahu’s team and the attorney general continue, the former premier has agreed to Avichai Mandelblit’s demand that he accept “moral turpitude” in the plea deal — a designation that would legally bar him from politics for seven years.
Netanyahu in response issues a statement saying he “has not announced he agrees to moral turpitude,” though pundits note the use of the word “announced,” rather than a full denial.
Channel 13 says top prosecution officials are currently meeting on the matter. It says Liat Ben-Ari, the top prosecutor in the Netanyahu case, has cooled in her attitude toward a potential deal.
It also says prosecutors are doubtful that a deal is achievable before Mandelblit’s term ends on January 31.
None of the reports cite sources.
According to Channel 12, at a meeting yesterday between the Netanyahu family and their attorneys, the lawyers said the agreement on offer was the best they can achieve for Netanyahu.
The network says the meeting was mostly intended to convince the opposition leader’s family leaders to accept the deal, as Netanyahu himself is already for it.
According to Channel 13, at the meeting, Netanyahu’s wife Sara opined that “the prosecution is toying with us. They’ll show everyone that Bibi is prepared to admit to crimes, and then they’ll thwart the deal. Mandeblit cannot be trusted.”
Channel 12 notes both sides are aware that the devil is in the details: if the terms are too lenient, the court may end up refusing to accept it, and if the charges are too severe, the court may demand a harsher sentence than the sides agree to.
Rumors have been circulating in recent hours that Benjamin Netanyahu has decided to sign a plea deal with prosecutors in his criminal trial.
In response, his spokesman says the opposition leader has told MKs: “Guys, there’s nothing to update you on. If there’s something to update, I’ll update.”
The UAE vows reprisals after a suspected drone attack today that it blames on Yemen’s Houthi rebels triggered a fuel tank blast that killed three people in Abu Dhabi.
The United Arab Emirates is part of a Saudi-led military coalition that supports Yemen’s government against the Iran-backed Houthi rebels, who have repeatedly targeted Saudi Arabia with cross-border strikes.
But this is the first deadly assault on its own soil that the UAE has blamed on the rebels, and while there has so far been no direct claim of responsibility by the Houthis, they announced earlier a “military operation” in the UAE.
Two Indians and a Pakistani working for oil giant ADNOC died as three petrol tanks exploded near a storage facility, while a fire also ignited in a construction area at Abu Dhabi airport in the heart of the UAE, a renowned safe haven in the volatile Middle East.
Moderna aims to roll out a combined COVID-flu-RSV booster vaccine in late 2023, the US pharmaceutical firm says, hoping a joint shot will encourage people to get an annual vaccination.
The single vaccine for COVID-19, influenza and respiratory syncytial virus — a common virus that causes the cold, but can be more serious for infants and elderly people — could appear on the market before 2024.
“Best-case scenario will be the fall of ’23,” Moderna chief executive Stephane Bancel tells a virtual World Economic Forum roundtable session.
“I don’t think it would happen in every country, but we believe it’s possible to happen in some countries next year. Our goal is to be able to have a single annual booster so that we don’t have compliance issues where people don’t want to get two to three shots a winter, but to get one dose.”
A study conducted at Sheba Medical Center indicates a fourth shot of the Pfizer coronavirus vaccine provides insufficient protection against the Omicron variant of the virus.
The data appears to raise serious questions regarding Israel’s current strategy of boosting all people over the age of 60.
Prof. Gili Regev-Yochay, a top infectious disease expert at the hospital, says the results of the research are only preliminary, but acknowledges there is high public interest in the matter.
“We see an increase in antibodies, higher than after the third dose,” she says. “However, we see many infected with Omicron who received the fourth dose. Granted, a bit less than in the control group, but still a lot of infections.”
Data from the study was not immediately available.
Regev-Yochay says “the bottom line is that the vaccine is excellent against the Alpha and Delta [variants], for Omicron it’s not good enough.”
She still says it is probably a good idea to give a fourth shot to those at higher risk, but that perhaps the current recommendations should be changed to only include older groups.
The Jerusalem District Planning Committee advances a 1,465-unit plan for a new neighborhood in the capital, half of which would be over the Green Line.
The new neighborhood is being planned for the land between the Jewish neighborhoods of Givat Hamatos and Har Homa, both of which are located beyond the Green Line.
Left-wing Israeli groups and Palestinians oppose Israeli construction in East Jerusalem, which they hope will one day become the capital of a Palestinian state. Right-wing Israelis, who oppose Palestinian independence, support an undivided Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
According to Peace Now, the planned units would “conclusively prevent territorial contiguity between East Jerusalem Palestinian neighborhoods and Bethlehem.”
“This is another way in which Israel is erasing the Green Line in Jerusalem, ending Palestinian contiguity, and expropriating the lands of Palestinians. When Palestinians tried to plan construction there, it was rejected — and now the territory will be confiscated,” says Aviv Tatarsky, a researcher at the left-wing Ir Amim nonprofit.
Rabbi Charlie Cytron-Walker, among four people held hostage at his Congregation Beth Israel, has given his first on-camera interview since Saturday’s crisis in Texas.
Remembering the moment the gunman revealed himself as a threat, the rabbi tells CBS: “It was during prayer, my back was turned. we face towards Jerusalem when we pray… I heard a click, and it could have been anything and it turned out it was his gun.”
He then recounts the moments when he realized he and the other hostages must escape from their captor.
“The last hour or so of the standoff, he wasn’t getting what he wanted. He was getting… it didn’t look good, it didn’t sound good. We were very — we were terrified,” Cytron-Walker says.
“And when I saw an opportunity where he wasn’t in a good position, I made sure that the two gentlemen who were still with me, that they were ready to go, the exit wasn’t too far away,” he recalls (the fourth person has been released by the attacker earlier).
“I told them to go, I threw a chair at the gunman, and I headed for the door. And all three of us were able to get out without even a shot being fired.”
The moments in which the three hostages flee the building can be seen in this video. Three people run out a door. A fourth follows them but then stops at the door and runs back in.
— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) January 16, 2022
Cytron-Walker earlier credited security courses he had taken for helping them flee.
“When your life is threatened, you need to do whatever you can to get to safety. You need to do whatever you can to get out.”
The rabbi says the hostages are still reeling from their ordeal, noting that “It was terrifying, it was overwhelming. We’re still processing. It’s been a lot.”
Asked how he managed to remain calm during the long hours of being held at gunpoint, he says: “I guess you do what you have to do. As part of Rabinnic training, as part of training as clergy we talk a lot about the idea of being a calm, non-anxious presence.”
A new poll by the Israel Democracy Institute finds 54 percent of Israelis say the pandemic has caused them to change their daily routine, while 45% say they’ve made substantial changes to their lives, like changing professions or study plans.
Meanwhile 36.5% of respondents define their economic situation as good or very good, 41.5% define it as middling and 20% as moderately bad or very bad.
Asked for their opinions on the government, 42% give it a poor grade, 28% give it a moderate grade and 25% give it a good or excellent grade.
Prime Minister Bennett says quarantine for coronavirus patients will be shortened to five days for asymptomatic individuals.
Vaccinated people will need two negative antigen tests on the fourth and fifth day to be released from quarantine.
Unvaccinated people will need the test on the fifth day to be at a recognized testing facility, and cannot rely on a home test.
Iran says it is time for the United States to make political decisions to resolve key remaining issues, including on lifting sanctions, at talks aimed at reviving Tehran’s nuclear deal.
“What remains are important and key issues that require specific political decisions,” foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh says at his weekly news conference.
“Washington, in particular, must announce its decisions on removing sanctions and the remaining issues,” he says. “If this happens… we will reach a lasting, reliable agreement at a good pace.”
His remarks come on the day chief negotiators are due to return to Vienna for the talks after having traveled home on Saturday for consultations.
NATO inks a deal to bolster its cyber support for Ukraine, after a sweeping hacking attack against Kyiv heightened tensions amid fears that Russia could be plotting an invasion.
Ukraine said yesterday that it had evidence Moscow was behind the attack last week that knocked out government websites — but the Kremlin has denied any involvement.
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said Friday that experts from NATO and its members were already on the ground, working with Ukraine to tackle the latest cyber attack.
He said the new agreement would involve “enhanced cyber cooperation, including Ukrainian access to NATO’s malware information sharing platform.”
A Palestinian man who drove Faleh Mousa Shakir Jaradat to the Gush Etzion Junction, where he was shot dead as he attempted to stab soldiers, has handed himself over to Israeli security forces, the Defense Ministry’s Civil Administration says.
Following the attempted stabbing, the Israel Defense Forces launched a search to find the car and the driver that delivered Jaradat to the scene, setting up roadblocks in the surrounding area.
The Civil Administration, which is responsible for day-to-day governance of the West Bank, says the man turned himself in earlier this afternoon.
The gunman who took hostages at a Texas synagogue on Saturday had been barred from court buildings in Britain’s Blackburn 20 years ago for ranting about the 9/11 attacks, the Mail Online reports.
The news site says Malik Faisal Akram was declared a “menace” after his outburst there shortly after the 2001 attacks. He is reported to have verbally abused court ushers on several occasions, including once telling one of them, “you should have been on the f***ing plane.”
It is not clear whether Akram was known to security bodies in the UK.
French far-right presidential candidate Éric Zemmour is convicted of inciting racial hatred over 2020 comments he made about unaccompanied migrant children.
A Paris court ordered Zemmour to pay a fine of 10,000 euros (more than $11,000) and several thousand euros in damages to anti-racist groups.
Zemmour, who has two prior hate speech convictions, went on trial in November on charges of “public insult” and “incitement to hatred or violence” against a group of people because of their ethnic, national, racial or religious origin.
The former TV pundit, who is running in April’s presidential election, is drawing fervent audiences with his anti-Islam, anti-immigration invective. He is considered among the major challengers to centrist President Emmanuel Macron, who is seen as the front-runner, according to polls. Macron has yet to confirm he will run for a second term.
A cold case investigation led by an ex-FBI agent has identified a Jewish notary as the prime suspect in the mystery of who betrayed teenage diarist Anne Frank and her family to the Nazis, a new book claims.
Arnold van den Bergh may have revealed the Franks’ hiding place in Amsterdam in order to save his own family, according to a six-year probe detailed in “The Betrayal of Anne Frank” by Canadian author Rosemary Sullivan, which will be published tomorrow.
The case against van den Bergh, who died in 1950, is supported by evidence including an anonymous note sent to Anne’s father Otto after World War II naming him as the betrayer, according to elements published in Dutch media.
The Anne Frank House museum says that the results of the probe, led by retired Federal Bureau of Investigation detective Vincent Pankoke, are a “fascinating hypothesis” but need further investigation.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz says he plans to push toward shortening coronavirus quarantine time to five days.
Horowitz and PM Naftali Bennett are set to discuss the matter today.
The minister also says the government is planning mass handouts of home test kits for public use.
Britain promises “full support” to US investigators after it emerges that the man behind a hostage-taking at a Texas synagogue was a British citizen.
“This was a terrible and antisemitic act of terrorism,” Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s spokesman tells journalists after the attack during which British captor Malik Faisal Akram was killed.
Iran has sentenced to death a local boxing champion over his role in 2019 protests, activists say, expressing fear that another athlete risks execution after a wrestler was put to death.
The death sentence issued against Mohammad Javad Vafaei-Sani comes just over a year after the execution of wrestling champion Navid Afkari in September 2020, which prompted an international outcry and calls for Iran to be barred from sporting events.
The Norway-based Iran Human Rights (IHR) NGO says that Vafaei-Sani, 26, was sentenced to death after being convicted of arson and destruction of government buildings.
He had been detained in February 2020 and one of the charges against him was taking part in protests on November 2019 sparked by a sudden fuel price rise, it says.
Thousands in Sudan take to the streets to protest a military coup nearly three months ago, and are quickly met by tear gas fired by security forces, according to an AFP correspondent.
Security officers have deployed in large numbers as the demonstrators carrying the Sudanese flag gather in the capital, Khartoum, as well as other cities.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu tweets a thanks to the thousands of people who donated money to his cause as part of an online crowdfunding effort to help cover the costs of his criminal trial.
The campaign started by the former prime minister’s supporters has so far raised over NIS 2.6 million. Due to Netanyahu being an MK, it is unlikely that he can accept the funds.
“Thank you, to the multitudes of Israeli citizens, for your immense support and wonderful love in recent days. Your warmth has touched my family and myself. The feeling is incomparable.”
תודה לכם, המוני אזרחי ישראל, על התמיכה האדירה והאהבה המופלאה שלכם בימים האחרונים. חום הלב שלכם ריגש אותי ואת בני משפחתי בהתרגשות שאין שנייה לה ❤️ pic.twitter.com/TqpOu8MKaa
— Benjamin Netanyahu (@netanyahu) January 17, 2022
During a faction meeting of his Yesh Atid party, Foreign Miniser Yair Lapid dismisses concerns that the coalition may collapse if Benjamin Netanyahu signs a plea deal in his criminal cases and resigns from politics.
It is generally thought that this could lead the government’s right-wing factions to break away and form a coalition with Likud under new leadership.
“The government will last. It does not depend on Netanyahu,” Lapid says. “It depends on joint work, depends on our having formed a government that unifies Israeli society rather than divisions, discord and incitement.”
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