The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Diplomatic sources tell The Times of Israel that US Ambassador Tom Nides is concerned by overly optimistic messages from the Foreign Ministry implying that joining the US Visa Waiver Program is a done deal for Israel.
A statement earlier today from the Foreign Ministry said in its headline: “The visa to the US is being canceled!”
While Israel managed to get below the three-percent visa rejection rate, it must still pass a series of laws and establish systems to share information. A senior Homeland Security official told National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi and Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana today that if the Knesset does not pass the legislation by the April recess, it will not be able to meet the September deadline.
Nides released a video hailing the “important progress,” while warning that “we’re not there yet.”
“Israel now has a lot of work to do in a short period of time,” Nides continued. “The Knesset needs to act… the whole Israeli government will have to move quickly on many technical requirements.”
He also stressed that the “door will close” if Israel does not complete all the requirements by September.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is slated to fly to Paris this Thursday, and stay in France through Saturday evening, his office confirms.
Netanyahu is slated to meet with French President Emanuel Macron during his visit.
Macron called Netanyahu yesterday to express condolences over the deadly Jerusalem terror attack and urged Israelis and Palestinians not to “feed the spiral of violence.”
Garnering rare cross-Knesset support, a bill to revoke the Israeli citizenship of terror convicts paid by the Palestinian Authority passes its first reading on the Knesset floor.
Coming up for a vote just days after a deadly terror attack outside a Jerusalem synagogue, the bill advances 89-8. The bill also cleared its preliminary reading in mid-January with support from opposition lawmakers.
If the legislation passes its final readings to become law, it would revoke the citizenship or residency of convicted terrorists who are remunerated by the Palestinian Authority.
The bill applies to both Israeli citizens and permanent residents incarcerated following a terror conviction. The Palestinian Authority regularly pays stipends to convicted terrorists, and the bill also applies to those receiving payments made on the PA’s behalf by other organizations.
President Isaac Herzog and US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speak about the public controversy over the government’s plan to overhaul the judicial system in their public statements at the President’s Residence this evening, following their private working meeting.
Herzog says he is “heavily devoted” to resolving the issue or at least helping the sides debate the issue civilly.
“This is an issue that requires wide consensus, and it is an issue many democracies debate. We are a vibrant democracy,” says Herzog, saying he is proud of Israelis expressing their opinions.
“But, at the end of the day,” the president says, “we have to resolve our issues amicably, internally, as societies and nations should do, and this is my main focus these very days.”
Blinken praises “the clarity of your voice when it comes to working to deescalate tensions here among communities, and the clarity of your voice when it comes to finding a good way forward that builds consensus on the question of judicial reform.”
This is the fourth time the two leaders have met since Herzog became president.
The condition of two victims of the Friday night terror attack in Jerusalem’s Neve Yaakov neighborhood has improved, the Hadassah Mount Scopus hospital says.
The hospital says a 15-year-old who was shot in the attack is now listed in light condition, and a 20-year-old is listed in light-to-moderate condition.
Yesterday, the Shaare Zedek hospital said the third wounded victim of the attack that left seven dead, a 65-year-old woman, was still in moderate condition.
One of the victims of the second shooting attack in Jerusalem on Saturday morning was released yesterday from Shaare Zedek. The 22-year-old off-duty IDF officer also wounded in the second attack, remains listed in serious condition, Shaare Zedek says.
The head of the Israel Bar Association allegedly performed an indecent act during a video chat with a young female lawyer, according to a Channel 13 report.
Avi Himi, one of the loudest opposition voices against the government’s plan to radically overhaul the judicial system, allegedly exposed himself during a video conversation and touched himself on screen.
Himi announced last month that he would not run for another term as head of the IBA in protest of the government’s proposal.
Himi denies the Channel 13 report.
An Iraqi social media account shares footage of the aftermath of reported Israeli strikes on the Syria-Iraq border today and late last night.
According to various reports, unidentified aircraft, believed to be Israeli, struck several Iranian trucks carrying weapons at the al-Qaim crossing.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 30, 2023
The videos published by Sabreen News, which is thought to be linked to the IRGC, show damaged trucks and children playing with the remains.
There are no credible reports of injuries in the strikes.
Footage shows the aftermath of the reported Israeli strikes against Iranian trucks on the Syria-Iraq border. pic.twitter.com/UPQ0QUkF3T
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) January 30, 2023
Rabbi Marc Katz of Temple Ner Tamid in New Jersey says the congregation has resumed its activities after a masked man hurled a firebomb at its door early yesterday morning. The synagogue canceled all events and classes yesterday.
“There’s a little bit of heaviness about today, as one would expect, but I was heartened to see that our building is full again with preschoolers learning,” Katz tells The Times of Israel. “From what I’m finding, people are not going to let this scare them away from educating their children, from finding spiritual connection, from finding community.”
He says the synagogue began investing in security measures after the white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017. The congregation received a grant from Homeland Security, hired consultants, created emergency plans, and trained staff.
The reinforced door to the synagogue blocked the Molotov cocktail last night and surveillance cameras captured the suspect, aiding law enforcement’s search. Katz says the synagogue will not likely change its security measures after the incident because the congregation is well-protected.
He says there have been recent incidents of antisemitism in the area, including swastikas drawn on playgrounds and school desks.
“There’s a general ethos of hate. In general what I would say though is I still fundamentally believe that the majority of people are allies and that any hatred that we are seeing is lone actors or very small groups who feel emboldened in this climate,” he says.
He thanks other faith leaders and political leaders for the “outpouring of support” after the attack.
Alongside Foreign Minister Eli Cohen at the Foreign Ministry, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken hits many of the same notes he did in his statement with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying the US-Israel relationship is “grounded in a long history of shared democratic values.”
He also speaks about reducing the ongoing “cycle of violence,” saying that it is “incumbent on all parties to deescalate tensions.”
Blinken also pledges to work together to confront Iran.
“Iran is not only a threat to Israel and the region,” says Blinken, “but increasingly to the world.”
The US secretary of state also speaks about Israel’s position on the Russia-Ukraine war.
“We appreciate Israel’s humanitarian assistance,” says Blinken, adding that “we look forward to discussing what more can we do.”
Blinken also reiterates America’s “deep condolences” in the wake of Friday’s terrorist attack. “We stand in solidarity with all the people of Israel as they confront terrorism. We will do so together.”
Cohen thanks Blinken for America’s condemnation, and notes the strong reaction against the attack from the Arab world.
“The international community must act quickly and effectively” against Iran’s nuclear program, he says.
Cohen highlights Israel’s aid to Ukraine, noting that the US embassy in Kyiv will return to full activity soon. Cohen also confirms the Times of Israel report that he would visit Kyiv “in the near future.”
Cohen also vows to “take all necessary measures, including legislation” to fulfill the requirements for Israel to join the US Visa Waiver Program.
In remarks at a press conference alongside US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu focuses primarily on the Iranian threat.
“Most of the international community have seen the true face of Iran,” he says.
“We’ve had very good discussions on forging a common policy,” says Netanyahu, “on trying to work together to thwart the danger.”
Referencing his desire to achieve peace with other Arab countries – Saudi Arabia first and foremost – Netanyahu says that the two countries are working together to “achieve dramatic breakthroughs that would be historic and enormously significant in our common efforts to bring security prosperity and peace to this part of the world and beyond.”
Netanyahu does reference the Palestinians, which Israeli officials often avoid alongside world leaders. He says that Israel is “working to close the file of the Arab-Israeli conflict that would also help us find a solution with our Palestinian neighbors.”
“We share common interests, and common values,” says Netanyahu, speaking before Blinken. “We will remain, I assure you, two strong democracies.”
Alongside Netanyahu, in apparent allusion to judical overhaul, Blinken stresses ‘rights of people to make their voices heard’
Speaking alongside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu after their one-on-one meeting, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken speaks at length about the “shared interests and shared values” at the foundation of the US-Israel relationship.
Blinken rattles off a list of key democratic values, including minority rights, the rule of law, a free press, an active civil society, and “rights of people to make their voices heard.”
“The vibrancy of Israel’s civil society has been on full display of late,” he says, in an apparent reference to demonstrations against the coalition’s judicial overhaul plans.
“The commitment of people in both our countries to make their voices heard, to defend their rights, is one of the unique strengths of our democracies,” he says. “Another is a recognition that building consensus for new proposals is the most effective way to ensure they’re embraced, and that they endure.”
The top US diplomat says the two countries must hold themselves “to the mutual standards we’ve established.”
He and Netanyahu had “a frank conversation” about these issues, he says.
Blinken also points out in his remarks that expanding the Abraham Accords is “not a substitute for Israel-Palestinian peace.”
He says the best way of ensuring “equal measures” of freedom, security, opportunity, security, justice and dignity “is through preserving and then realizing the vision of two states.”
US officials usually do not speak of “preserving” the two-state solution. The term is likely a reflection of nervousness about Israeli actions that in their eyes undermine the long-term possibility of such a reality.
Blinken also goes out of his way to mention US support for “religious coexistence” in Jerusalem, and “upholding the status quo on the Temple Mount/Haram al Sharif.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Agarnesh Mengistu, mother of Avera Mengistu — one of the two Israeli citizens being held captive by Hamas in Gaza.
Government military secretary Avi Gil joins the meeting as well.
Two weeks ago, Hamas released a video clip of Mengistu, the first such footage since he was captured more than eight years ago, filling his family with both hope and added concern.
The death toll from a blast at a mosque inside a police headquarters in northwest Pakistan today has risen to at least 47, a hospital spokesman says.
Muhammad Asim Khan from Peshawar’s Lady Reading Hospital says more than 150 people have been wounded, while senior government official Shafiullah Khan tells AFP that the death toll is expected to rise even further as bodies are still being pulled from the rubble.
Israel’s Defense Ministry says it has delivered three additional armored ambulances to Ukraine’s emergency services today amid Russia’s nearly year-long invasion of the country.
One such ambulance from Israel, which was delivered several weeks ago, “is already assisting rescue forces in life-saving activities,” the ministry says.
The bulletproof Mercedes Sprinter ambulances are armored by the Israeli Plasan Re’em company.
Jerusalem has so far avoided providing direct military aid to Kyiv — including offensive arms or advanced defensive technology — since Russian troops invaded Ukraine on February 24 last year, in an attempt to avoid sparking a crisis with Moscow.
Israel has, however, provided defensive equipment to Ukraine’s emergency and rescue forces as well as tons of humanitarian aid, and set up a field hospital in western Ukraine for several weeks.
Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen clashes with students at Tel Aviv University protesting the IDF raid on Jenin last week.
In video from the scene, the far-right lawmaker can be seen attempting to rip a Palestinian flag out of the hand of one student at the protest.
ח"כ אלמוג כהן עוצמה יהודית לא מאפשר להניף אץ דגל טרור אש"ף באונ' ת"א: pic.twitter.com/MsjMgzckhu
— שולי חכמון. (@HkmwnSwly) January 30, 2023
There was no immediate comment from police.
Cohen’s party has called for police to intervene when protesters wave the Palestinian flag, but police officials have resisted, noting that it is not illegal.
After the US announces that Israel managed to get below the 3% visa rejection rate — a key step in joining the US Visa Waiver Program — a senior US Homeland Security official meets with Israeli leaders about ensuring that the government fulfills the remaining requirements before the September deadline.
Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana says he met with Homeland Security Department Undersecretary for Strategy Robert P. Silvers, and agreed that the two countries would work together to complete outstanding legislation by the end of March.
The Knesset goes into recess in April, and US officials are concerned Israel will miss its window to join the VWP if it doesn’t wrap up legislation and establish the necessary computerized systems to share information with the US.
Silvers also meets with National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi, the Prime Minister’s Office tells The Times of Israel.
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir pledges to take “responsibility” in the wake of this weekend’s deadly Jerusalem terror attack, in which seven people were killed.
“The terror attack happened on my watch. I’m not shirking responsibility,” Ben Gvir says at the outset of his Otzma Yehudit party’s Monday faction meeting in the Knesset.
“I asked the police to prepare a list of targets and gather intelligence. For me, the solution is to move from neighborhood to neighborhood” to collect weapons, “but if at the moment we are prevented from doing so, then we will definitely make a list of targets and intelligence, because this is our number one task, to collect the weapons,” he says.
Ben Gvir also reaffirms his commitment to resubmit legislation to institute a death penalty for terrorists.
“Anyone who murders, harms and slaughters civilians should be sent to the electric chair,” the national security minister says.
Noam party leader and Deputy Minister Avi Maoz says he has not yet given up on gaining control over external programming in Israel’s schools, despite the holdup that has stalled the formation of his Jewish National Identity authority, slated to be moved to the Prime Minister’s Office.
“I haven’t canceled any plan,” Maoz tells The Times of Israel at the outset of his one-man faction meeting. “I have responsibility over the unit,” he asserts.
The external programming unit is still housed within the Education Ministry, Education Minister Yoav Kisch confirms to The Times of Israel, saying that only one full-time position has moved from the ministry to working for Maoz’s office.
A source close to Maoz says his office has been held up by administrative issues and “distractions” taking up government leaders’ attention, including a political crisis stemming from Shas leader Aryeh Deri being disqualified as a minister and the government’s push to pass a broad judicial reform.
Landing in Tel Aviv, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken calls on Israelis and Palestinians not to inflame tensions amid one of the deadliest recent surges of violence.
“It’s the responsibility of everyone to take steps to calm tensions rather than inflame them,” the top US diplomat says after landing in Tel Aviv. “That is the only way to halt the rising tide of violence that has taken too many lives, too many Israelis, too many Palestinians.”
Blinken condemns the deadly terror attack near a synagogue in Jerusalem on Friday: “To take an innocent life in an act of terrorism is always a heinous crime, but to target people outside their place of worship is especially shocking,” he says.
“We condemn it in the strongest terms,” he adds. “We condemn all those who celebrate these and any other acts of terrorism that take civilian lives no matter who the victim is or what they believe. Calls for vengeance against more innocent victims are not the answer. And acts of retaliatory violence against civilians are never justified.”
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen speaks with Blinken about the importance of working together to stop Iran’s nuclear program, and having the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps be designated by allies as a terrorist organization, the Foreign Ministry says.
“I thank the secretary of state for America’s commitment to regional stability,” says Cohen in a statement, “for the unequivocal message against terrorism that he offered immediately after landing in Israel, on the willingness to work to expand the Abraham Accords… and the continued determined front against Iran.”
The Shas party submits a bill that will prevent justices from interfering with the appointment of cabinet ministers, a week after the High Court of Justice ruled that Shas chief Aryeh Deri could not be a minister.
According to a draft version of the bill, the court system, “including the Supreme Court sitting as the High Court of Justice, is not authorized to judicially audit the appointments of ministers and their identities.”
According to Ynet, the full coalition is expected to back the legislation. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has vowed to advance Knesset legislation to allow Deri to return to the post of minister despite the High Court ruling.
Unverified media reports claim unidentified aircraft struck a truck near the Syria-Iraq border a short while ago, hours after a similar strike was reported last night.
Naher Media, a Syrian opposition online outlet, says the truck was loaded with weapons and ammunition destined for Iranian militias.
There are no further details on the apparent attack, but images circulating online show smoke rising from the area.
Last night, several Syrian and Arab outlets reported that unidentified aircraft struck several trucks belonging to Iranian militias at the al-Qaim crossing between Syria and Iraq.
مباشر من مدينة البوكمال السورية.. انفجار كدس طحين بعد الغارة الجوية على الشاحنات التي دخلت من الاراضي العراقية الى سوريا والتي تحمل مساعدات غذائية pic.twitter.com/AmjxOIbxF9
— 𝒉𝒂𝒊𝒅𝒆𝒓 (@hyd_64) January 30, 2023
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken lands in Tel Aviv from Cairo, an AFP journalist says, ahead of meetings with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and President Isaac Herzog in Jerusalem, and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich accuses Opposition Leader Yair Lapid of lending a hand to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, because Lapid has slammed the government’s sweeping judicial reform plan as a threat to democracy and to the economy.
“Yesterday I saw a video that Yair Lapid published, the conclusion of which is that investments should be taken out of the State of Israel and transferred to Singapore,” Smotrich says at the outset of his Religious Zionism party’s Knesset faction meeting.
“I want to turn to you, Yair. You are a former prime minister and finance minister — what happened to you? Don’t you have a drop of responsibility? Have you become a supporter of BDS?” Smotrich adds.
The Israel Defense Forces confirms a man crossed the border into Lebanon this morning, after Lebanese media reported the man was arrested by local security forces.
The Israeli military says it is holding talks for his release with the Lebanese side via intermediaries, as the two countries technically remain at war.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet US Secretary of State Antony Blinken at 4 p.m. in Jerusalem, the Prime Minister’s Office announces.
The top American diplomat, in Israel for a two-day visit, will meet Foreign Minister Eli Cohen later in the day as well as President Isaac Herzog.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke by phone last night with Emmanuel Macron, the Prime Minister’s Office announces, thanking the French president for his condolences over the deadly terrorist attack on Friday night.
The two leaders also “strongly condemned” Iran’s active participation in attacks on innocent Ukrainians, says Israel.
Netanyahu and Macron agree to meet in the near future.
Netanyahu’s predecessor and current political rival Yair Lapid is a close friend of Macron, and made a point of strengthening bilateral ties with Paris.
The French readout says that Macron “shared France’s complete and total identification with Israel’s fight against terror,” and stresses France’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.
At the same time, Macron warns that all parties “must avoid steps that could worsen the cycle of violence.”
On Iran, Macron expresses his concern over Iran’s destabilizing activities in the region and Tehran’s nuclear progress. He adds that Iran’s involvement in Ukraine “exposed it to sanctions and growing isolation.”
Lebanese media report that an Israeli man who crossed the border into Lebanon this morning has been arrested.
The Lebanon 24 news site says the man climbed over Israel’s border fence near the Lebanese village of Zhayra, across the border from the Bedouin village of Aramsha.
The report says the man is being questioned by the Lebanese Military Intelligence.
There is no immediate comment from the Israel Defense Forces on the incident.
The Defense Ministry says security guards foiled an attempt to smuggle thousands of Captagon pills from the West Bank to the Gaza Strip this morning.
The ministry says the pills were hidden in the doors of office refrigerators. The shipment — en route to the Gaza Strip — was found at the Tarqumiyah Crossing, in the southern West Bank.
The drugs have been handed over to police for further inspection.
Captagon is an amphetamine-type stimulant manufactured mostly in Lebanon and Syria. Much of it has been bound for illegal recreational use in Saudi Arabia.
Israeli officials call it the “Islamic State drug,” as it was supposedly used by jihadists to prevent fear and fatigue during fighting in Syria and Iraq.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken urges “calm” and “deescalation” after violence flares between Israel and the Palestinians, as he kicks off a Middle East tour in Cairo.
At a press conference in Cairo, Blinken urges “all parties to calm things down and deescalate tensions,” while also stressing the “importance of working for a two-state solution.”
Blinken is due to arrive in Israel in a few hours and meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as President Isaac Herzog.
He will travel to Ramallah tomorrow to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.
As The Times of Israel’s political correspondent, I spend my days in the Knesset trenches, speaking with politicians and advisers to understand their plans, goals and motivations.
I'm proud of our coverage of this government's plans to overhaul the judiciary, including the political and social discontent that underpins the proposed changes and the intense public backlash against the shakeup.
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