The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Blue and White party chief claims today’s mass funeral of a top ultra-Orthodox rabbi killed by the coronavirus shows authorities are currently failing to equally enforce the lockdown restrictions on all parts of Israeli society, reiterating his stance that he won’t support extending the lockdown in a cabinet meeting later today if fines for violators aren’t doubled.
An estimated 10,000 people are taking part in the funeral for the head of the Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, who died at 99.
The Israel Police has said hundreds more have been prevented from attending, but an anonymous official has told Hebrew media: “We need to use logic. Nobody wants to see clashes that will likely lead to many casualties.”
“This is how unequal enforcement looks: Millions of families and children are closed in their homes and adhering to the rules while thousands of ultra-Orthodox crowd together at a funeral, mostly without wearing masks,” Gantz says in a statement.
“We won’t agree to continue an ineffective fake lockdown,” he adds. “Either everyone is locked down, or everyone isn’t. The days of manipulation are over.”
The Knesset is due to vote later today on doubling fines for violators, a bill that has been vehemently opposed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Haredi allies. Later, the cabinet is set to vote on extending the lockdown, which currently is set to expire at midnight.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemns Russian authorities for their “harsh” response to protests across the country that have called for the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny.
“The US condemns the persistent use of harsh tactics against peaceful protesters and journalists by Russian authorities for a second week straight,” Blinken says on his official Twitter account.
“We renew our call for Russia to release those detained for exercising their human rights,” he adds after Russian police detained more than 1,000 people, including 142 in Moscow.
A prominent member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party voiced rare criticism of the ultra-Orthodox community, after an estimated 10,000 people attend the funeral of the head of the Brisk Yeshiva, Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, who died of COVID-19.
Coalition whip and Likud faction leader Miki Zohar calls the footage of the funeral “sad.”
“While the nation is battling the surging morbidity, there is no justification for such gatherings, no matter the circumstances,” he says in a tweet. “Determined steps are needed to step up enforcement against gatherings, in all communities.”
Alon Davidi, mayor of the Gaza-adjacent city of Sderot which has been targeted by terrorists with thousands of rockets over the past 15 years, announces he is entering national politics by joining Naftali Bennett’s right-wing Yamina party.
Davidi has previously been a registered member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party.
He has been Sderot mayor for seven years, and is the deputy head of the Federation of Local Authorities in Israel.
The Maariv daily cites a “knowledgeable source” as saying Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party will quit the Knesset race this week if it doesn’t merge with several other parties.
The report says Telem aims to unite first with Ron Huldai’s The Israelis party, and will then try to merge with the revamped Labor Party headed by MK Merav Michaeli.
Telem, which split from Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and rebranded itself as representing the protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has been struggling in opinion polls, as has The Israelis.
Mergers are seen as a virtual certainty this week on the center-left and on the right, to prevent votes from going to small parties of which some are sure to fail to enter the Knesset in the March 23 elections.
The deadline for finalizing the party slates is Thursday.
Qatar officially says it will raise its yearly aid to Gaza to $360 million, according to Qatari state media.
Around $240 million was handed out by Doha in 2020, according to the Palestinian media site Amad News. Hamas officials announced the increase in mid-January, but Qatari authorities have not confirmed their intention until today.
With Israel’s approval, Qatar since 2018 has periodically provided millions of dollars in cash to Gaza’s Hamas rulers to pay for fuel for the Strip’s power plant, allow the group to pay its civil servants and provide aid to tens of thousands of impoverished families.
Rabbi Yitzhok Scheiner, 98, head of the Kamenitz yeshiva in Jerusalem and Israel’s oldest Haredi yeshiva head, dies of COVID-19 at Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital.
The announcement comes during the funeral of Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, 99, who had been the oldest yeshiva head until yesterday, when he also succumbed to the coronavirus.
The US-born Scheiner was a member of the rabbinical panel leading the Degel HaTorah non-Hasidic Lithuanian faction of the United Torah Judaism party.
אבל כבד וטרגדיה בעולם התורה: נפטר כעת זקן ראשי הישיבות מרן הגאון רבי יצחק שיינר זצ"ל (98) לאחר שנדבק בנגיף הקורונה. כיהן כראש ישיבת קמניץ, וחבר במועצת גדולי התורה. pic.twitter.com/CSw1gxjn67
— אבי רבינא Avi Ravina (@AviRabina) January 31, 2021
Despite Israel closing its land borders with the West Bank as part of the effort to curb rampant coronavirus infections, Palestinian workers largely continued crossing into Israel, with footage showing them passing through holes in the fence.
Photos and videos have been taken since this morning in the area of the Tarkumiya crossing in the southern West Bank, where police and military authorities have made no move to stop the widespread flouting of the rules.
The closure is aimed at preventing cases among West Bank Palestinians from making their way into Israel.
Apart from the health hazard, settler leaders also highlight the security risk, especially after an attempted stabbing attack earlier today.
מחסום תרקומיה סגור לכניסת פועלים פלסטינים בגלל קורונה, אבל הפרצה פתוחה כרגיל. ככה זה נראה הבוקר, משלב הפרצה בגדר, ועד ההסעות לארץ המובטחת. צילום: מיכאל היימן pic.twitter.com/bUbcccmeJP
— רועי שרון Roy Sharon (@roysharon11) January 31, 2021
Police announce that a 15-year-old boy from Bnei Brak will be indicted over the torching of a bus in Bnei Brak last week, during widespread Haredi riots over police enforcement of lockdown rules.
The teenager has been arraigned on suspicion of disturbing the peace and setting the bus on fire.
China has recorded more than 2,000 new domestic cases of COVID-19 in January, the highest monthly total since the tail end of the initial outbreak in Wuhan in March of last year.
The National Health Commission says 2,016 cases were reported from January 1 to January 30. That does not include another 435 infected people who arrived from abroad. The tally for January 31 is due to be released tomorrow.
Two people have died in January, the first reported COVID deaths in China in several months.
Most of the new cases have been in three northern provinces. The hardest-hit Hebei province, which borders Beijing, has reported more than 900 cases. Beijing, the Chinese capital, has itself had 45 cases this month.
The numbers, while low compared to many other countries, have prompted officials to tighten restrictions and strongly discourage people from traveling during the Lunar New Year, a major holiday when people typically return home for family reunions.
Train trips were down nearly 75% in the first three days of the holiday travel season, the official Xinhua News Agency says, citing the state railway company. The Lunar New Year falls on February 12.
In a rare occurrence, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) uses his position to rebuke Defense Minister Benny Gantz for issuing an ultimatum according to which he’d only support extending the current lockdown if the Knesset convenes beforehand to approve a law bill doubling fines for lockdown violations.
With Gantz standing next to him ahead of his five-minute speech before the final votes on the fine-increasing bill, Levin tells him he “failed miserably in safeguarding the Knesset’s status.”
“There has never been a situation where such an ultimatum has been made during a Knesset hiatus,” he says, accusing Gantz of “holding Israeli citizens and the Knesset by the throat.”
Gantz responds by saying he understands the “shaming speech you just made, which the Knesset speaker is expected not to make. For over two months, this bill has been ready at the cabinet and you didn’t ensure it goes up on time, and that’s a shame.”
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai, head of the new The Israelis party, will make a press statement at 6:30 p.m. today, his party says.
Huldai could be planning to announce his party is merging with another slate, or possibly even that the party is quitting the Knesset race after its recent freefall in opinion polls and the departure of his No. 2, Avi Nissenkorn
A bill stepping up enforcement of the lockdown by doubling fines for violators passes its final votes in the Knesset plenum and will become law.
The law, which has been vehemently opposed by the ultra-Orthodox and Arab parties, passes 40-18 in the second reading, and 37-18 in the third and final reading.
A senior education manager at the Jerusalem Municipality has left his position after three female workers complained about sexual harassment and problematic work conditions under his management, Hebrew media reports.
After the employee went through a review process, it was agreed that he will leave his position.
But in a Facebook post he wrote announcing his departure, the employee made no mention of these circumstances or of the reason and gave the impression that it was his decision to leave, the Ynet news site reports.
The reports don’t name the official.
Car bombs have killed 11 people, including six civilians, in two separate incidents in Turkish-held northern Syria, a monitoring group says.
The first attack near a cultural center in the town of Azaz killed six civilians, including a young girl, the Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.
A mangled car has been seen ablaze, black smoke billowing into the sky. A man rushed away from the site of the blast, carrying what appeared to be a child wrapped in a bloodied cloth.
In the second incident, a car bomb targeted a checkpoint of pro-Ankara rebels near the town of Al-Bab, killing five fighters, the Observatory adds.
Areas of northern Syria held by Turkish forces and their Syrian proxies are regularly rocked by such bombings.
There is usually no claim for them, although Turkey routinely blames Kurdish fighters it accuses of being terrorists linked to its outlawed Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK).
A man and woman have been found dead in an apartment in the city of Karmiel, Hebrew media reports.
No signs of violence have been found on the bodies, with police investigating the cause of death.
The right-wing Im Tirtzu movement launches an initiative to “safeguard the integrity of the elections,” in a campaign that bears similarities to former US president Donald Trump’s baseless claims of wide-scale election fraud in that country’s November 2020 vote.
A post from Im Tirtzu’s Facebook page begins with the sentence: “This year, nobody will steal votes,” in reference to the March 23 Knesset elections.
A poster attempts to delegitimize Central Elections Committee chairman and Supreme Court judge Uzi Vogelman by noting that he is an alumnus of the Wexner Foundation’s leadership program, which has been the focus of right-wing conspiracy claims. The poster also says Vogelman approved the candidacy of “terror supporter” Hiba Yazbak of the Joint List’s Balad faction.
“With all due respect to Justice Vogelman, to ensure the integrity of the upcoming elections, the public first needs to trust itself,” the poster says.
תרשמו לעצמכם שתיאוריות הקונספירציה של ׳גנבו לנו את הבחירות׳ התחילו.
מה עושים? עושים דה-לגיטימציה ליו״ר ועדת הבחירות, עושים דה-לגיטימציה לקרן וקסנר ומקווים שהציבור יבלע את זה.
בארה״ב זה נגמר בפריצה אלימה לקפיטול ובתביעות ענק כנגד בכירים שקידמו את התיאוריות ההזויות הללו.
— Karine Nahon • קרין נהון (@karineb) January 31, 2021
IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi meets with the head of the United Nations peacekeeping force in Lebanon UNIFIL to discuss the Hezbollah terror group and its presence in southern Lebanon in violation of the UN Security Council resolution that ended the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the military says.
“During the meeting, they discussed the security situation of southern Lebanon and UNIFIL’s missions in the area, against the backdrop of Hezbollah’s ongoing violations of UN Security Council resolution 1701 and the Lebanese military’s lack of enforcement as the sovereign,” the Israel Defense Forces says in a statement.
The UN peacekeeping force is tasked with ensuring the resolution is maintained, though its limited mandate prevents it from being able to enforce the provisions of the order that require all armed groups besides the Lebanese military to remain north of the country’s Litani River. Israel also violates Lebanese airspace by flying missions over the country in violation of the resolution, something that is regularly denounced by Beirut. Israel maintains that such operations are necessary in light of Hezbollah’s illicit terrorist activities in the country.
Though UNIFIL is generally seen as ineffectual in preventing violations of UN Resolution 1701, it is seen by Israel as a crucial intermediary with Lebanon, which does not maintain regular relations with the Jewish state. UNIFIL is also responsible for regularly updating the UN Security Council on the situation along the border, which keeps the threat posed by Hezbollah on the international community’s radar.
“The IDF sees UNIFIL as an important and significant force in preserving regional stability and expects it to transmit detailed, honest and rapid reports and investigations. In addition, UNIFIL is expected to carry out to rigorously enforce the violations of an international resolution that are being carried out by the terror army Hezbollah,” the IDF says.
High Court of Justice judges rebuke Public Security Minister Amir Ohana (Likud), saying he didn’t have the authority to order the Israel Prisons Service to delay the vaccination of prisoners.
The ruling has no effect now that prisoners are being immunized, but the court has issued the decision at the request of Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit.
The three judges write different explanations. Justice Noam Solberg says Ohana’s order was issued “without legal authority,” saying that only the Health Ministry has the power to give it. He adds that the prevention of vaccines cannot be a punishment for a convict.
Justice Dafna Barak-Erez adds that Ohana had no right to disregard Mandelblit’s opinion that the order was illegal.
Justice Menachem Mazuz writes even blunter words, saying Ohana issued the order “with blatant lack of authority and illegally, and it is void of all legal validity.”
Police have detained more than 4,000 people across Russia today at protests calling for the release of jailed Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, a monitor says.
The OVD-Info monitor says 4,027 people have been detained, after reporting more than 4,000 arrested at similar protests last weekend.
The number of detentions today has hit 1,167 in Moscow and 862 in Saint Petersburg, it says, as the protests are coming to a close after a day that has seen thousands rally in cities across the country.
The cabinet is reportedly set to convene tonight to decide on extending the nationwide tightened lockdown, which is currently set to expire at midnight.
The meeting of ministers can go ahead after the Knesset approved a law doubling fines for violators, since Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz conditioned his support for the lockdown extension on the prior approval of the legislation.
The head of the Mossad spy agency has reportedly panned as “irresponsible” a controversial speech by IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi last week during which he disparaged the Biden administration’s policy on Iran’s nuclear program.
In private conversations, Mossad head Yossi Cohen reportedly said Kohavi had been too quick to come out publicly against the US government and should have waited to see how the new administration acts first. Cohen further said that Kohavi had acted of his own accord.
A defense source responds by telling Army Radio: “It is a shame that there is in the defense establishment someone who chooses to publicly defame the chief of staff.”
“The chief of staff made his position known to the Israeli public and is not required to update the head of the Mossad before he speaks,” the source says. “The Iranian issue doesn’t belong to Yossi Cohen and even if there are differences of opinion it is better that they stay behind closed doors.”
The Israel Police is quoted by Channel 12 news as saying it couldn’t have prevented the mass funeral of a top ultra-Orthodox rabbi, since “enforcement would have ended in bloodshed.”
Around 10,000 attended the burial of Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, 99, who died of COVID-19, in violation of the lockdown rules.
A second funeral of a top ultra-Orthodox rabbi is expected tonight, with authorities bracing for the possibility of thousands showing up again in violation of lockdown rules.
Rabbi Yitzhok Scheiner, 98, head of Jerusalem’s Kamenitz yeshiva, died today of the coronavirus, while some 10,000 packed the funeral of Brisk Yeshiva head Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, 99, who also succumbed to the virus.
Scheiner’s funeral will begin at 8 p.m., with the procession starting at the Kamenitz yeshiva and making its way to Har Hamenuhot cemetery.
Nathan Rozenblum, who attended today’s funeral, tells Channel 12 news that lessons have been learned and that will be evident in the second funeral.
Rozenblum tells the network that the ultra-Orthodox community should be commended since during normal times, the crowd at Soloveitchik’s funeral would have been 10 times bigger.
“Sadly, I have had to attend many such funerals recently because of COVID-19, and lessons have been learned.” But, he adds, Soloveitchik was “a yeshiva head for 75 years who taught tens of thousands.”
That “4,000 attended,” he says, shows restraint by the community. Reports have estimated that in fact, around 10,000 people attended.
Ron Huldai, head of the new The Israelis party, which lost its No. 2 when Avi Nissenkorn announced his departure from politics today, says he is not quitting the Knesset race despite a consistently poor showing in opinion polls.
In a press statement, Huldai says he was “saddened” by Nissenkorn stepping down, but adds he will “focus on replacing Netanyahu and regrouping the center-left.”
“The reality of the last few days taught me a lesson: Don’t revel in flattering polls,” says Huldai, who was predicted to get up to eight Knesset seats mere weeks ago.
“My life’s mission is to replace the leadership” of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Huldai says. “I am speaking to everyone. We cannot take the risk of running in parties that could end up below the electoral threshold. We have only one way to win: Together.”
Top ultra-Orthodox rabbi Gershon Edelstein’s associates say he will not attend tonight’s Jerusalem funeral of Rabbi Yitzhok Scheiner, following criticism of today’s earlier mass funeral of another senior rabbi.
Even though he was close to Scheiner and is related to him, Edelstein will eulogize him from his home in Bnei Brak via telephone.
The cabinet meeting where ministers will decide on extending the nationwide lockdown has begun, with Defense Minister Benny Gantz at odds with the Health Ministry.
While the Health Ministry is demanding that the lockdown measures be extended as is for a week, Gantz is calling for them to only be extended by three days, with businesses in low-medium infection zones reopening on Thursday and the education system reopening next Sunday.
At the cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urges ministers not to “play politics” with extending the lockdown, calling for the measures to be extended for a full week.
The premier proceeds by pledging to bring a million more vaccines to the country over the next week, an issue he himself has been widely seen as politicizing.
Sharon Alroy-Preis, head of public health services at the Health Ministry, tells ministers at the cabinet meeting that some 40 percent of current coronavirus infections in Israel are among kids and teenagers.
She says the number of people aged 40-60 who are on ventilators has recently multiplied by six. She says Israel has 25 people under the age of 40 who are on cardiopulmonary bypasses, and 17 on ventilators.
As the funeral is set to begin for Rabbi Yitzhok Scheiner in Jerusalem following the mass funeral of another top Haredi rabbi earlier today, police sources tell Channel 12 news they will not prevent it.
A senior cop was earlier cited by the network as saying about the first funeral, attended by some 10,000 people: “Anything can be dispersed. The question is at what cost. If the police had forcefully dispersed the funeral, including by using tear gas, water cannons and clubs, it would have ended with hundreds injured among the protesters and the police. The state would not have forgotten this event.”
“We are alone in this effort. Don’t expect us, and only us, to do the dirty work with the price of bloodshed.”
As ministers are set to vote on extending the lockdown, Health Ministry figures show the coronavirus outbreak is still refusing to abate, with the test positivity rate remaining at a sky-high 9.5 percent.
The figures show 2,595 new cases were confirmed yesterday and 2,632 more were confirmed today by 7 p.m.
The total cases have reached 643,006, including 65,810 active cases — a figure that is finally starting to go down.
Of them, 1,165 are in serious condition, including 406 in critical condition and 323 on ventilators. The death toll reaches 4,786.
The ministry says 3,056,065 Israelis have received the first vaccine dose, with 1,773,213 getting both shots.
Channel 12 news says that out of the first 993,401 who have had their second shot, there have been only 704 confirmed cases, including 12 serious cases, five critical cases, and two deaths.
Despite officials saying earlier that many fewer people were expected to attend Rabbi Yitzhok Scheiner’s funeral than the 10,000 who packed a funeral earlier today for another top ultra-Orthodox rabbi, footage from Jerusalem shows thousands crowding in this funeral as well.
— Suleiman Maswadeh סולימאן מסוודה (@SuleimanMas1) January 31, 2021
The footage comes despite Rabbi Scheiner himself having discouraged large gatherings and urging adherence to the rules.
שעות לאחר לווית ההמונים המקוממת כעת הלוויתו של הרב יצחק שיינר ז"ל, ראש ישיבת קמניץ בירושלים בהשתתפות אלפים pic.twitter.com/AS1hT48XBg
— Haim Goldich | חיים גולדיטש (@HGoldich) January 31, 2021
The day’s first such funeral was of Rabbi Meshulam Dovid Soloveitchik, the head of the Brisk Yeshiva in Jerusalem and scion of the Soloveitchik rabbinical dynasty, who died early Sunday morning at the age of 99.
Ofer Shumer, a senior Jerusalem police officer, told Channel 12 news earlier that “there would certainly have been bloodshed” had police tried to disperse the crowds there.
“We tried to limit the participation,” he said. “We issued fines… about 100… We prevented buses coming from Bnei Brak, Beit Shemesh… In total we stopped about 60 buses.”
“Yes, the funeral was large, unwantedly so,” he said. “But remember, the people have a responsibility; their leaders have a responsibility … Ultimately, the police can’t tackle everybody who breaks the restrictions.”
“We prevented bloodshed today,” he said. “If we had acted with force… there would certainly have been bloodshed. I personally saw 1,000 young kids aged 10-14 [at the funeral].”
“The Haredim are not our enemies. They are citizens of Israel, and we have to use the wide range of means available to us in dealing with them,” he said.
“I won’t spill blood in order to enforce the coronavirus restrictions. We won’t spill blood. The police won’t do it.”
Due to the still-high coronavirus infections and the discussions on extending the lockdown, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has significantly shortened his historic visit to Gulf states that recently established ties with Israel from three days to just three hours, Hebrew media reports.
Instead of the planned tour of Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Bahrain, Netanyahu will reportedly only briefly visit Abu Dhabi, with the other legs canceled.
Netanyahu’s shortened itinerary includes a meeting with the UAE’s crown prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan at his palace.
The visit has already been postponed several times.
Qatari envoy Mohammad al-Emadi arrives in the Gaza Strip to announce a new series of Qatar-backed aid projects in the coastal enclave.
According to Palestinian media reports, al-Emadi will lay the foundation stone for a new hospital in Rafah, as well as dispense $10 million worth of aid to poor Gazan families.
Qatar announced today that it was increasing its yearly aid to the Gaza Strip by about 50 percent, to $360 million, confirming earlier statements by Hamas officials.
An election poll published by Channel 12 news shows that about 10 percent of the electorate support parties that currently are predicted not to pass the electoral threshold of 3.25% of the votes, compounding the need for mergers before slates must be finalized on Thursday.
The poll is similar to recent surveys, and shows Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party and Opposition Chief Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid strengthening slightly over Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina.
Likud is predicted to get 30 seats in the 120-member Knesset; Yesh Atid 17; New Hope 14; Yamina 13; Joint List 10; Shas 8; United Torah Judaism 8; Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu 7; Labor 5; Meretz 4; and Blue and White 4.
Ron Huldai’s The Israelis party gets a mere 1.2%, with Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem at just 0.2% of the vote.
After the recent death of two prominent ultra-Orthodox Israeli rabbis from COVID-19, American rabbi and psychiatrist Abraham Joshua Twerski has also succumbed to the virus at age 90, according to various reports.
Twerski, from Milwaukee, Wisconsin, belonged to the Chernobyl Hasidic dynasty and as a psychiatrist specialized in substance abuse, helping thousands overcome addictions.
He died in Israel after contracting the coronavirus last week.
Rabbi Dr. Twerski has passed away here in Yerushalayim pic.twitter.com/pr0KV5GEno
— Rabbi Michoel Green (@rabbigreen) January 31, 2021
Hossein Salami, the commander of Iran’s Islamic Revolution Guard Corps (IRGC), says the Islamic Republic no longer needs an agreement with world powers on its nuclear deal, as efforts are underway to revive the 2015 nuclear deal, according to the semi-official Fars News agency.
“Today, we have come to a point that we have really grown needless of the nuclear deal and we have understood that we should prioritize efforts to become needless of sanctions removal rather than staying in need of the removal of embargos,” Salami reportedly says in Tehran.
“Our enemies had big dreams and (now) they have forgotten all of them altogether,” he adds. “Now they are watchful not to sustain heavier defeats at our hands.”
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