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Blinken to visit Israel next week amid US concern over new government

Trip will be second by a senior American official in as many weeks as Washington tries to steer Israel away from volatile moves in West Bank, Jerusalem

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks as his image in seen on a large screen behind him at the J Street National Conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, December 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks as his image in seen on a large screen behind him at the J Street National Conference at the Omni Shoreham Hotel in Washington, December 4, 2022. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

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

Netanyahu meets AJC delegation in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with an American Jewish Committee delegation in the Knesset on January 23, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with an American Jewish Committee delegation in the Knesset on January 23, 2023. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with an American Jewish Committee delegation at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu thanks the US Jewish leaders for working to strengthen the relations between Israel and the US, a statement from his office says.

Netanyahu briefed them on the dangers posed by Iran and also on the benefits to Israel of the Abraham Accords agreements that normalized ties with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco.

Netanyahu stressed that expanding these accords would help bring stability to the region.

US Secretary of State Blinken to visit Israel, PA next week

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department, January 17, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks during a news conference with British Foreign Secretary James Cleverly, in the Benjamin Franklin Room at the State Department, January 17, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken will visit Israel and the West Bank for meetings with Israeli and Palestinian leadership.

Blinken is slated to hold meetings in Israel on Monday before traveling to the West Bank to sit down on Tuesday with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and his aides, a Palestinian official tells The Times of Israel.

Blinken will be the second senior Biden administration official to visit Israel this month, coming less than two weeks after White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.

A US official told The Times of Israel earlier this month that the meetings are aimed at gaining an understanding regarding the new government’s plans vis-a-vis the West Bank while making clear the administration’s red lines on the issue.

The US is also using the trips to convey its stance in support of maintaining the status quo at the flashpoint Temple Mount and has also asked for clarification regarding the new government’s plans to overhaul the country’s judicial system, an official familiar said.

UTJ submits bill to ban hametz from hospitals during Passover

Secular Jews object to ultra-Orthodox Jews trying to stop stores, cafes and restaurants from continuing to sell bread and other leavened foods during the Passover festival in downtown Jerusalem, April 22, 2008. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Secular Jews object to ultra-Orthodox Jews trying to stop stores, cafes and restaurants from continuing to sell bread and other leavened foods during the Passover festival in downtown Jerusalem, April 22, 2008. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Members of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party submit a bill to ban leavened goods, or hametz, from hospitals during the Passover holiday.

For years, hospitals and other public institutions banned the entrance of hametz during the week-long holiday — when Jews traditionally refrain from eating leavened goods — with some even instructing guards to search for forbidden foods in people’s bags at the doors.

In 2020, the High Court declared such bans in hospitals to be illegal, and last year the court tentatively issued a similar ruling regarding army bases.

Former health minister Nitzan Horowitz’s apparent glee over the fact that these hametz bans were overturned gave long-struggling coalition whip Idit Silman the reason she needed to jump ship and leave the government — decrying that more liberal parties were destroying the state’s “Jewish character.”

This denied the coalition a majority and led to its downfall. (In what Silman maintains is a happy coincidence, in the elections following her bringing down the previous government she was given a plum spot on the Likud party list and was even made a minister.)

Today, UTJ MKs Moshe Gafni, Yaakov Asher, and Yitzhak Pindrus put forward a bill to not only legalize — but require such hametz bans in hospitals.

“During the period of Passover, no hametz or other food — other than that which is in line with the directives set by the Chief Rabbinate of Israel — will be allowed in or held in a medical facility,” the bill reads.

Similar bills have been put forward by religious lawmakers in every Knesset since the 2020 High Court ruling but so far to no avail.

Opposition MK and former religious services minister Matan Kahana ridicules the bill, saying it will almost surely have the opposite effect.

“Mister prime minister, if you want to ensure that people will bring hametz into hospitals, please accept the request of Gafni,” Kahana writes in a tweet.

The progressive Orthodox Ne’emanei Torah V’Avoda similarly knocks the proposal, saying it will “sow hatred” and drive people away from religion.

“In terms of Jewish law, there are a number of solutions that do not require peeking around in people’s personal bags, as was done in different hospitals in the past. Laws like this that impose religion and get into people’s personal lives never bring people closer to Judaism and they are ultimately a boomerang that weakens the Judaism of the state,” the group says.

AG denies holding discussions on forcing Netanyahu into leave of absence

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at her inauguration ceremony in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara at her inauguration ceremony in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara denies that she has held discussions on forcing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to take a leave of absence over conflict of interest issues with his legal reform.

In a terse response to a letter from the coalition heads, Baharav-Miara says: “In response to your letter, and without reacting to the issues as you have described them, I want to clarify that contrary to reports in the media, I have not held discussions relating to the leave of absence for the prime minister.”

In the letter, the coalition heads warned her that any steps against Netanyahu would be tantamount to a coup.

Ex-tourism minister Yoel Razvozov announces he’s leaving politics

Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov seen in Jerusalem, March 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Tourism Minister Yoel Razvozov seen in Jerusalem, March 6, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Former tourism minister and Yesh Atid MK Yoel Razvozov announces he is quitting politics.

Razvozov sends a letter to Lapid, informing him of his decision to take a break from public life.

“After 15 years as a representative of the public, in which I have served as tourism minister in the government of Israel, as a member of Knesset and as head of the immigration and absorption committee — and before that as a member of the Netanya city council — at the end of the month I will resign from the Knesset,” he writes.

Razvozov was a successful judoka in the past, representing Israel at the European Championships, the World Championships and the Olympics, and was known as a standout in the former government for his good looks and muscular physique.

Coalition heads warn AG that moves to suspend Netanyahu are tantamount to a coup

On the left: Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara at welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90). On the right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
On the left: Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara at welcome ceremony for her in Jerusalem on February 8, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90). On the right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Prime Minister's office in Jerusalem, on January 11, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The heads of the coalition send a scathing letter to Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara over reports she is close to ordering Benjamin Netanyahu to take a leave of absence as prime minister, warning her that such a move is tantamount to a coup.

Baharav-Miara is reportedly discussing the prospect on the grounds that Netanyahu’s government’s plans to overhaul the judiciary amount to a breach of conflict of interest rules that bar him from involvement in matters that might impact his ongoing criminal trial for corruption.

“Recently, several news items were published in the media according to which you are holding discussions regarding the possibility of compelling the Prime Minister of Israel to ‘take a leave of absence.’ To our astonishment, you have not denied these reports until now,” says the letter.

“An attempt to declare or announce such a move for an incumbent leader is a clearly illegal attempt to depose and overthrow an elected and legal government, without an iota of justification by the law,” the letter warns.

The Kan public broadcaster reported Friday that Baharav-Miara and her aides are closely studying a 2021 decision by Supreme Court Justice Hanan Melcer, who ruled that the attorney general alone has the authority to make such a call. Channel 12 news went further, reporting that Baharav-Miara is close to making the unprecedented decision.

Neither network cited a source in their reports, which came days after Baharav-Miara notified Netanyahu that he remains bound by conflict of interest rules, first drawn up in late 2020 by former attorney-general Avichai Mandelblit, barring him from making senior law enforcement and judicial appointments, or getting involved in legislative matters that may impact his ongoing trial.

The letter is signed by the heads of all the coalition members, with the exception of Netanyahu’s Likud. Justice Minister Yariv Levin signs for the ruling party.

Netanyahu is on trial in three corruption cases on charges of fraud and breach of trust, as well as bribery in one of them. He denies wrongdoing and claims the charges were fabricated in an attempted political coup led by the police, the state prosecution, the media, and left-wing rivals.

Netanyahu’s new government is in the midst of pushing contentious legislation that will weaken Israel’s judiciary. The overhaul proposed by Levin would drastically limit the High Court of Justice’s power of judicial review of legislation; allow the Knesset to re-legislate laws if the court strikes them down; give the government control over judicial appointments; turn ministry legal advisers’ into political appointees, and make their counsel non-binding.

US joins UK, EU in slapping more sanctions on top Iranian officials

Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, in the capital Tehran, on September 22, 2018. (AFP/Stringer)
Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the 1980-1988 war with Iraq, in the capital Tehran, on September 22, 2018. (AFP/Stringer)

The Biden administration announces that, concurrently with the United Kingdom and the European Union, it has slapped sanctions against another 10 Iranian officials and an entity connected to the suppression of the ongoing anti-regime protests throughout the Islamic Republic.

The US Treasury Department is designating Iran’s Deputy Intelligence Minister Naser Rashedi, along with Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps commanders Hossein Tanavar, Mohammad Nazar Azimi, Kourosh Asiabani and Mojtaba Fada.

“Azimi and Asiabani command IRGC units that have allegedly committed some of the worst acts by Iranian security forces since the beginning of protests in September 2022,” the Treasury Department says, adding that they led forces who used live fire to kill and wound dozens of protesters.

The Biden administration has announced numerous sanctions against Iranian officials in recent months as negotiations to revive the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action nuclear deal have fallen apart.

It is unclear how impactful such moves are at this point, given that Iran’s economy has long been shut out from American investments and Tehran has been working to expand financial ties with non-Western countries and entities in order to compensate.

Erdogan says Turkey won’t support Swedish NATO bid

Women chant slogans during a protest outside the Swedish consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, January 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)
Women chant slogans during a protest outside the Swedish consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, Sunday, January 22, 2023. (AP Photo/Khalil Hamra)

Turkey’s president says Sweden shouldn’t expect support for NATO membership following weekend protests in Stockholm by an anti-Islam activist and pro-Kurdish groups.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan slams Rasmus Paludan’s Quran-burning protest on Saturday, saying it was an insult to everyone, especially to Muslims. He also criticizes Swedish authorities for allowing the demonstration to take place outside the Turkish Embassy in Stockholm.

Erdogan also criticizes Sweden for pro-Kurdish protests where demonstrators waved flags of various Kurdish groups, including the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, or PKK, which has waged a decades-long insurgency against Turkey. The PKK is considered a terrorist group in Turkey, the European Union and the United States, but its symbols aren’t banned in Sweden.

“So you will let terror organizations run wild and then expect our support for getting into NATO. That’s not happening,” Erdogan said, referring to Sweden and Finland’s accession bids for the military alliance. He said if Sweden won’t show respect to Turkey or Muslims, then “they won’t see any support from us on the NATO issue.”

Turkey has been holding up the Nordic nations’ historic NATO bids.

Dermer said to make secret visit to UAE ahead of possible Netanyahu visit

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer arrives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer arrives at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer made a secret visit to the United Arab Emirates yesterday, the Walla news site reports.

Dermer, who was instrumental in negotiating the Abraham Accords deal that saw Israel normalize ties with Abu Dhabi when he was ambassador in Washington, is the first Israeli minister to visit the UAE since the establishment of the new government.

The report says one of the main goals of the trip was to discuss a possible visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Netanyahu was set to visit several times before leaving power in 2021, but ultimately did not make the trip.

The report also says Dermer’s visit was aimed at reassuring the UAE regarding some of the far-right members of the new government, in particular after National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir made a controversial visit to the Temple Mount.

Lapid denies offering compromise on judicial overhaul

Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid denies offering the government a compromise deal on its plans to radically overhaul the judiciary.

“I did not offer any compromise with the government,” Lapid says after fellow opposition leaders criticize his call to President Isaac Herzog to set up a presidential committee to examine the issue.

“Not only is it not true, but my proposal said exactly the opposite,” Lapid says.

“I proposed to take the issue out of the hands of a criminal government that has foreign interests, and transfer it to an independent public committee to be established by the president.”

EU agrees on extra 500 million euros to arm Ukraine

Protestors hold signs and wave Ukrainian flags during a demonstration in support of Ukraine outside of an EU foreign ministers meeting at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, January 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Protestors hold signs and wave Ukrainian flags during a demonstration in support of Ukraine outside of an EU foreign ministers meeting at the European Council building in Brussels on Monday, January 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

EU foreign ministers agree to spend an extra 500 million euros ($540 million) from their common coffers on arms for Ukraine, diplomats say, as Kyiv pleads for heavier weapons.

The accord will take the total commitment to supplying Ukraine’s military from common EU spending to 3.6 billion euros ($3.9 billion), which is separate from national spending by individual member states.

Overall, European nations have pledged more than 11 billion euros ($12 billion) on weapons for Ukraine, EU officials say, less than half of what the United States is spending.

The latest tranche of funds comes as Germany faces intense pressure over its hesitation on giving battle tanks to Ukraine.

“We need bold, decisive, and audacious steps to secure Ukraine’s victory in 2023,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba tweets after briefing his counterparts from the EU.

Ministers from the EU’s Baltic nations led calls for Berlin to greenlight sending Leopard 2 tanks to Kyiv at the meeting in Brussels.

Berlin has signaled it could be ready to grant permission for other countries such as Poland to hand over the German-made tanks.

Human Rights Watch: New Israeli restrictions will turn West Bank into ‘another Gaza’

Passengers sit in a waiting room on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan on July 19, 2022. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)
Passengers sit in a waiting room on the Jordanian side of the Allenby Bridge crossing between the West Bank and Jordan on July 19, 2022. (Khalil Mazraawi/AFP)

Human Rights Watch charge that new Israeli rules for foreigners entering the West Bank risked turning the territory into “another Gaza,” cutting residents off from the outside world.

The regulations, which have faced condemnation from the European Union and the United States, have also been clouded by uncertainty.

Israeli has said the rules, which came into force in October, are aimed at clarifying the procedures surrounding West Bank entry and are being implemented on a two-year trial basis.

They were also revised last year amid widespread criticism.

Despite those revisions, HRW says the measures “threaten to further isolate Palestinians from loved ones and global civil society.”

“By making it harder for people to spend time in the West Bank, Israel is taking yet another step toward turning the West Bank into another Gaza, where two million Palestinians have lived virtually sealed off from the outside world for over 15 years,” HRW’s Eric Goldstein says.

Israel and Egypt imposed a blockade on Gaza in 2007 when the Hamas terror group seized control in a bid to stop the import of weapons.

Some of the most controversial new West Bank access measures relate to foreigners seeking to join their Palestinian spouse.

Israel, under the new rules, can reject such family reunification claims if they violate “the policy of the political echelon.”

Spotify latest tech name to cut jobs, axes 6% of workforce

FILE- This March 20, 2018 file photo shows the Spotify app on an iPad in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE- This March 20, 2018 file photo shows the Spotify app on an iPad in Baltimore. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Music streaming service Spotify says it’s cutting 6% of its global workforce, becoming yet another tech company resorting to layoffs as the post-pandemic economic outlook weakens.

CEO Daniel Ek announces the restructuring in a message to employees that was also posted online.

As part of the revamp involving a management reshuffle, “and to bring our costs more in line, we’ve made the difficult but necessary decision to reduce our number of employees,” Ek writes.

Big tech companies like Amazon, Microsoft and Google announced tens of thousands of job cuts this month as the economic boom that the industry rode during the COVID-19 pandemic waned.

Stockholm-based Spotify had benefited from pandemic lockdowns because more people had sought out entertainment when they were stuck at home. Ek indicates that the company’s business model, which had long focused on growth, had to evolve.

The company’s operating costs last year grew at double its revenue growth, a gap that would be “unsustainable long-term” in any economic climate, but even more difficult to close with “a challenging macro environment,” he says.

Spotify made “considerable effort” to rein in the costs over the past few months, “but it simply hasn’t been enough,” he says.

US, Israel begin ‘large-scale’ air, naval and land military drills in apparent message to Iran

IAF and AFCENT F-15 and F-16 jets are seen over southern Israel during the 'Desert Eagle' drill, on August 10, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
IAF and AFCENT F-15 and F-16 jets are seen over southern Israel during the 'Desert Eagle' drill, on August 10, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

The Israel Defense Forces and United States Central Command have begun a joint “large-scale” exercise in Israel and over the eastern Mediterranean sea, CENTCOM announces.

The drill, dubbed Juniper Oak 2023, involves over 140 aircraft, 12 naval vessels, and artillery systems from both nations, CENTCOM says.

A senior US defense official tells NBC news that the drill is aimed at showing adversaries, such as Iran, that Washington is not distracted by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and threats from China to mobilize a large military force.

“This exercise strengthens collective US-Israeli readiness and improves the interoperability of both forces, thereby contributing to regional stability. Exercises like Juniper Oak show that interoperability and integration represent the improved security in the region,” CENTCOM says in a statement.

General Michael Kurilla, commander of CENTCOM, says the drill “enhances our ability to respond to contingencies, and underscores our commitment to the Middle East.”

The IDF does not immediately publish details about the drill.

Michaeli slams Lapid, Gantz for willingness to compromise with Netanyahu

Labor party head Merav Michaeli leads her faction meeting at the Knesset, January 16, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Labor party head Merav Michaeli leads her faction meeting at the Knesset, January 16, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Labor party leader Meirav Michaeli slams fellow opposition leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz after they called for compromise on the government’s planned judicial overhaul.

Lapid earlier called on President Isaac Herzog to set up a presidential committee to find a “balanced” reform.

“I am very disturbed by the calls made by Gantz and Lapid. These are exactly the calls that our protesters oppose. These are exactly the calls that weaken their hands and may make them stay at home,” she says speaking at a meeting of her faction in the Knesset.

“Sending a proposal to [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, whether it is directly or through some intermediary, is surrender to him,” she says.

 

MKs gear up for all-night legislative battle over expanded ‘Norwegian law’

From left: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, during the swearing in ceremony of the new Israeli government at the Knesset in Jeruslaem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
From left: Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and Justice Minister Yariv Levin, during the swearing in ceremony of the new Israeli government at the Knesset in Jeruslaem, on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Coalition whip Ofir Katz tells his Likud party colleagues to prepare for a long night at the Knesset, as the opposition plans to fight the final two readings of a bill to expand the so-called “Norwegian law.”

If passed, the bill would update Basic Law: The Knesset by enabling more ministers and deputy ministers from large factions to resign, with their positions as MKs taken by members of their parties.

The bill will also create a mechanism for tiny spin-off factions to make use of the clause.

Likud has pushed the provision in order to increase its parliamentary power in the wake of appointing 17 ministers in its 32-MK faction. The new bill allows for large parties of 10 or more MKs to swap out a third of its lawmakers, which would enable Likud to appoint up to 11 new MKs.

Hezbollah erects new extra-tall watchtowers on Lebanon border

An alleged Hezbollah position overlooking the northern Israeli town of Shtula on the Lebanese border, January 23, 2023 (Channel 12 screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
An alleged Hezbollah position overlooking the northern Israeli town of Shtula on the Lebanese border, January 23, 2023 (Channel 12 screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group has established new tall observation posts on Israel’s northern border as the Israel Defense Forces has ramped up the construction of a defense wall, Hebrew-language media report.

Residents of the northern town of Shtula who spoke to the Ynet news site and Channel 12 news say one such 18-meter-tall tower, just dozens of meters from the border, had been constructed over the past month, right where the IDF was replacing its aging border fence with a nine-meter-tall concrete wall.

Ynet’s northern correspondent reports that at least 20 posts manned by Hezbollah members in civilian clothing 24 hours a day have been built over the past year.

Biden picks Jeff Zients, Jewish adviser behind DC bagel chain, as new chief of staff

FILE - White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients speaks during a press briefing at the White House, April 13, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)
FILE - White House COVID-19 Response Coordinator Jeff Zients speaks during a press briefing at the White House, April 13, 2021, in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, File)

Days after his first chief of staff announced that he would step down, US President Joe Biden announces a replacement: another Jewish adviser, this time an investor in a popular Washington, DC, Jewish deli.

Jeff Zients led the Biden administration’s COVID-19 response from 2021 to 2022. He has previously held multiple positions in government, including as adviser to the Biden transition team and the Obama administration and director of the National Economic Council, following a career in business.

Zients is also known locally in Washington as the businessman who helped start the chain Call Your Mother, which says it serves “Jew-ish deli favorites.” Now operating in seven DC-area locations with an expansion planned to Denver, Call Your Mother offers bagels, smoked salmon, whitefish salad and black-and-white cookies, as well as an assortment of gear that has turned the Jewish catchphrase into a local fashion statement.

Some of the recipe testing for the deli’s first location was done at Zients’s home, according to Washingtonian magazine. Zients first connected with Andrew Dana, the Jewish chef behind Call Your Mother and his business partner, through Dana’s father’s friend from summer camp; he reportedly wanted the deli to be called Apples and Honey.

Starting next month, Zients will take over for Ron Klain, Biden’s chief of staff since he was inaugurated. Klain, who is open about his Jewish identity and tweets frequently about it, reportedly has described himself as worn down by the intensity of the chief of staff role.

MK Tamano-Shata writes to PM to protest marginalization of women in new government

Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata attends a press conference at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on April 4, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata attends a press conference at the Ben Gurion airport near Tel Aviv, on April 4, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Pnina Tamano-Shata tells Channel 12 that she wrote to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu today to protest the marginalization of women in the new government.

MK Tamano-Shata, a member of the opposition National Unity party and a former minister of immigration and absorption, cites an all-male meeting of 10 coalition party heads and other senior coalition members hosted by Netanyahu yesterday.

She also says there is “not a single woman” set to serve as the director general of a government ministry.

“We won’t accept this,” she says. “We will fight this in the Knesset.”

Netanyahu says coalition will combat ‘all illegal building’ in West Bank

Security forces move in to evacuate an illegal settlement outpost established in the West Bank on January 20, 2023. (Courtesy)
Security forces move in to evacuate an illegal settlement outpost established in the West Bank on January 20, 2023. (Courtesy)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that his government will combat illegal building by both Palestinians and Israelis in the West Bank.

Netanyahu’s comments come days after Defense Minister Yoav Gallant ordered the evacuation of an illegal Israeli settlement with Netanyahu’s backing but in defiance of far-right Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich.

Smotrich, who is a minister in the Defense Ministry responsible for civilian affairs in the West Bank, claimed the outpost was his responsibility and ordered it not be touched.

“We’ll fight against Palestinian illegal building,” promises Netanyahu, adding that “it doesn’t mean that we’ll enable illegal Israeli building” in the West Bank’s Area C, which is under full Israeli control.

“What’s important to me is that all heads of the coalition agree upon this,” the premier adds, in comments seemingly directed at Smotrich.

Netanyahu is speaking at a meeting of his Likud party in the Knesset.

Deri: Judicial system will come up against ‘coalition with foundations of steel’

Aryeh Deri speaks during a Shas party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Aryeh Deri speaks during a Shas party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Shas leader Aryeh Deri attacks the judiciary after his appointment as a minister was ruled “unreasonable in the extreme,” by the High Court of Justice, saying the judicial system would find itself poised against a “coalition with foundations of steel.”

Deri vowed the government would not be deterred.

“The coalition continues, the government continues,” he says.”We won’t let Israel fall.”

Deri slams the judges for not giving an indication of their opposition to his appointments before they were made, even though they were “in the air for a full month.”

Deri says that his legal woes are not his fight alone and that he remains in politics because he wants to promote “governance” and “to respect the definitive Jewish identity of Israel.”

“I am here because I have a real obligation,” he says.

All the coalition heads turn out at the Shas faction meeting at the Knesset as a sign of solidarity with Deri.

UN troops seen breaking up standoff between Israeli, Lebanese forces on border

United Nation peacekeepers are reportedly breaking up a standoff between Israeli and Lebanese forces along the border between the two countries, after the latter complained that Israeli engineering work crossed over the demarcation line.

Footage from the scene near the northern town of Margaliot shows armed Lebanese soldiers standing guard where Israeli soldiers had placed barbed wire.

Troops of the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) are seen separating the two forces

.According to Lebanese media reports, UNIFIL has stopped the Israeli engineering works over Israel’s border fence — which was built in Israeli territory — after complaints by the Lebanese army that it had crossed the so-called Blue Line.

The IDF does not immediately provide a comment on the incident. Last week, engineering work was halted after an IDF excavator may have crossed the Blue Line by several centimeters.

Herzog confirms talks with Lapid on judicial reform, part of a broad effort

File: President Isaac Herzog at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 6, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
File: President Isaac Herzog at the Federation of Local Authorities conference in Tel Aviv, December 6, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog confirms that he has spoken to opposition leader Yair Lapid regarding judicial reforms in Israel. Lapid said earlier today that he had urged him to set up a “presidential committee” on the issue.

“As part of the discussions held by the president in recent weeks in an attempt to avoid a historic constitutional crisis and to stop the rift in the nation, the president has also spoken with opposition leader MK Yair Lapid,” Herzog’s office says.

“The president continues in his unending efforts with all relevant actors in a bid to create a wide-ranging respectful dialogue in the hope of reaching a broad understanding,” the statement says.

In show of solidarity with fired Deri, top Likud brass attend Shas faction meeting

Shas leader Aryeh Deri (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a Shas party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas leader Aryeh Deri (right) and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu attend a Shas party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 23, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a rare move, coalition partners — including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Justice Minister Yariv Levin — join Shas’s Knesset faction meeting to express support for Aryeh Deri, who was fired as a minister yesterday after a High Court of Justice ruling that his appointment was inappropriate in light of his past financial crimes.

Levin tells Deri that “it’s not your private fight” but rather “an issue for the whole public.”

“In a democracy, the one who votes and decides who the government, the ministers, and the lawmakers will be — is the public, the nation,” says Levin.

“A place in which a judge decides” who can be a minister “is a thing that you can call by many different names; democracy its not one of them. Judicial rule is not the rule of law. In many cases it’s the opposite of the rule of law.”

Netanyahu tells the crowd that the coalition “came to save democracy. What is democracy? Rule of the majority and respecting individual rights.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses the Shas party’s Knesset faction meeting on January 23, 2023, in a show of solidarity for Aryeh Deri (left); Netanyahu fired Deri on January 22, after the High Court ruled he could not hold ministerial office (Knesset channel screenshot)

Sitting to Deri’s right during the meeting was Netanyahu, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana, and Levin, all from Netanyahu’s Likud party. Leaders from every coalition party were in attendance.

United Torah Judaism senior lawmaker Moshe Gafni tells Deri: “We’re with you.”

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich says that by firing Deri, the court is taking on the whole coalition.  “We’re all here for you and at your side, with the understanding that the fight is for all of us.”

Lapid proposes Herzog set up presidential committee for ‘balanced’ judicial reform

Incoming prime minister Yair Lapid (L) meets President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 30, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Incoming prime minister Yair Lapid (L) meets President Isaac Herzog at the President's Residence in Jerusalem on June 30, 2022. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Opposition leader and former prime minister Yair Lapid says he has urged President Isaac Herzog to set up a commission to enact a “balanced” judicial reform.

Speaking at a meeting of his Yesh Atid faction in the Knesset, Lapid says: “I proposed to President Herzog that he form a presidential committee to offer a balanced and reasonable recommendation to improve the judicial system and find the proper balance between the legislative and judicial branches.”

“President Herzog is considering the proposal. I hope and believe the committee will be formed and will prevent the destruction of our democracy and the terrible division among the people of Israel,” Lapid says.

Lapid’s proposal comes amid widespread protests against the government’s plans to radically transform the judiciary, which critics say will undermine democracy.

The government says the reform is necessary to take back control from an overactive judiciary.

Lebanon port blast probe resumes after 13-month halt

Silos in the north block of the Beirut Port, that were destroyed by a massive explosion in 2020, have caught fire due to fermented grains in Beirut, Lebanon,July 24, 2022. (Hassan Ammar/AP)
Silos in the north block of the Beirut Port, that were destroyed by a massive explosion in 2020, have caught fire due to fermented grains in Beirut, Lebanon,July 24, 2022. (Hassan Ammar/AP)

The Lebanese judge investigating the deadly 2020 Beirut port blast has resumed his work, a judicial source says, after a 13-month suspension due to political pressure.

“Judge Tarek Bitar has decided to resume his investigation,” the official tells AFP, adding that he ordered the release of five detained suspects, while charging eight others, including two high-ranking security officials.

Abu Ghosh student arrested for assaulting teacher

Police arrest a 17-year-old high school student from the Jerusalem-area village of Abu Ghosh on suspicion of assaulting a teacher.

Police say the youth was found in possession of a knuckle duster and pepper spray.

Details of the incident were not immediately clear, but the Teachers Union says the teacher was hospitalized.

The union calls for classes to be suspended at the school.

Gantz: Protests showing results, Netanyahu already changing his tune in English

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 16, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on January 16, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

National Unity Chief Benny Gantz says that mass protests against the government are having a real effect and leading officials to reconsider their planned dramatic overhaul of the judicial system.

Speaking at a meeting of his faction in the Knesset, Gantz says he “sees the enormous impact of the public outcry and demonstrations, and I’m starting to hear voices from among coalition officials who want to reach agreements and don’t want to ‘throw out the democracy with the bathwater.'”

“More and more right-wing people are talking about it, more and more Knesset members are whispering it in the corridors, and many ultra-Orthodox people understand the threat it poses to them in the future as a minority,” Gantz says.

Gantz notes that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has already softened his rhetoric when speaking to the international community.

“We are starting to see the cracks and Netanyahu is already speaking differently in English,” he says.

Iran arrests three female journalists amid protests

A protestor with red tears painted on her face during a rally in support of the demonstrations in Iran, in Toulouse, south-western France, on December 3, 2022. (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)
A protestor with red tears painted on her face during a rally in support of the demonstrations in Iran, in Toulouse, south-western France, on December 3, 2022. (Charly TRIBALLEAU / AFP)

Iranian authorities have arrested three female journalists in the past two days, local media reports, amid months of protests triggered by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

Iran has been gripped by protests since the September 16 death of Amini, a 22-year-old Iranian Kurd who had been arrested by morality police for allegedly breaching the country’s strict dress code for women.

“In the past 48 hours, at least three female journalists, namely Melika Hashemi, Saideh Shafiei and Mehrnoush Zarei, have been arrested in Tehran,” reformist newspaper Etemad quotes the Tehran journalists’ union as saying.

The paper says the three women had been transferred to Evin prison, where many of those arrested in connection with the protests are being held.

It is estimated that about 80 journalists have been arrested since the start of the unrest in the country four months ago.

EU plans more Iran sanctions but won’t list IRGC as terror group

Illustrative: Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade, marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, in the capital Tehran, on September 22, 2018. (AFP/STR)
Illustrative: Members of Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) march during the annual military parade, marking the anniversary of the outbreak of the devastating 1980-1988 war with Saddam Hussein's Iraq, in the capital Tehran, on September 22, 2018. (AFP/STR)

The European Union is set to impose sanctions on several more Iranian officials suspected of playing a role in the crackdown on protesters, but won’t add the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to the EU’s terror group blacklist.

The 27-nation bloc has already imposed three rounds of sanctions on Iranian officials and organizations — including government ministers, military officers and Iran’s morality police — for human rights abuses over the protests that erupted in Iran in mid-September over the death of Mahsa Amini.

The 22-year-old woman died after being arrested by the morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict dress code. Women have played a leading role in the protests, with many publicly removing the compulsory Islamic headscarf, known as the hijab.

While EU foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, will target more officials with travel bans and asset freezes, they won’t move forward on blacklisting the Revolutionary Guard Corps, despite last week’s appeal from the European Parliament for them to do so.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, who chaired the meeting, says that this could only happen once a court in a member country hands down a ruling condemning the Iranian guard corps for terror acts.

“It is something that cannot be decided without a court decision first,” he tells reporters.

European officials also fear that blacklisting the Revolutionary Guard would all but end the slim hopes the bloc might have of resuscitating the Iran nuclear agreement, which has been on ice since the Trump administration withdrew from the internationally backed accord in 2018.

Senior Bank of Israel official quits to take part in anti-government movement

Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, January 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Tens of thousands of Israelis protest against the government's planned judicial overhaul, in Tel Aviv, January 21, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Senior Bank of Israel official Moshe Hazan is resigning his position in order take up a role in an organization involved in protesting the current government, Channel 12 reports.

In Hazan’s letter of resignation, he cites his intent to “become involved in the sociopolitical sphere.”

Hazan was a member of the bank’s five-person monetary committee.

Recent weeks have seen mass protests against the government, which includes several far-right factions, and its plans to shake up the legal system, legitimize some forms of workplace discrimination and further steps that critics warn will undermine democracy.

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