The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
A bill that would lower the exemption age of ultra-Orthodox community members being drafted into mandatory military and national service has passed its first Knesset reading, two weeks after the coalition failed to muster enough support for a similar measure to overcome a tie.
Ultra-Orthodox lawmakers heckle Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, after the proposal passes 51 to 48, calling out “shame on you.”
“There’s no such thing as rights without obligations. We all have a responsibility for the fate of the country,” says Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who had long pushed for legislation to regulate the drafting of ultra-Orthodox into the military or civilian volunteer programs.
The bill must pass two more readings before becoming law.
In August, ministers approved the new draft plan, under which the exemption age would be lowered to 21 from the current 24 for ultra-Orthodox Israelis. Many yeshiva students are thought to remain in religious study programs longer than they normally would in order to dodge the draft by claiming academic deferments until they reach the age of exemption. By lowering the exemption age, the government hopes to spur those Haredi men to leave the yeshiva and enter the workforce at a younger age.
But two weeks ago, a bid to pass the measure in the Knesset failed, when Meretz MK Ghaida Rinawie Zoabi voted against it, in protest against government policies toward Negev Bedouin. This time she voted with the coalition, “after reaching understandings.”
Opposition member Yoav Kisch had threatened to show up to vote despite being positive for the coronavirus, until coalition whip Idit Silman agreed to abstain to offset his absence.
The Haredi population of Israel overwhelmingly opposes performing mandated national civil or military service, seeing it as a way for external forces to potentially draw away its members. Some extreme elements in the Haredi community have protested violently against military conscription.
Bulldozers digging for an Egyptian-funded housing project in the Gaza Strip have unearthed the ruins of a tomb dating back to the Roman era, Hamas authorities say.
The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism and Archaeology says its crews seized objects uncovered in the tomb and asked for construction work to be stopped. An independent archaeologist said, however, that photos he saw suggest the site was a cemetery, rather than a tomb.
Local media reports say people, some of them using donkey-drawn carts, have looted many artifacts from the site in northwest Gaza City. Residents in the area say archaeological objects including casket covers and inscribed bricks were found a week before the ministry’s announcement.
Gaza, a coastal enclave home to more than 2 million people, is known for its rich history stemming from its location on ancient trade routes between Egypt and the Levant. But Israeli occupation, a blockade, conflicts and rapid urban growth in the crowded, narrow territory are among the reasons most of Gaza’s archeological treasures have not been protected.
An independent archaeologist briefed on the issue said photos suggest the site was a cemetery dating back to the late Roman era to early Byzantine period 1,600 years ago.
“They indicate that a Roman temple or a Byzantine church is nearby,” said the expert, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to comment.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas that the US “rejects” settlements and attacks by settlers on Palestinians, the PA’s official mouthpiece says.
According to WAFA, Blinken told Abbas that the US also rejects home demolitions and evictions, and that the US is committed to reopening its consulate in Jerusalem.
He said he would talk to US President Joe Biden “about the challenges and difficulties facing the Palestinians,” WAFA says.
Abbas told Blinken “that the current situation is not sustainable,” WAFA says, rattling off a list of issues Abbas brought to Blinken, from settlement activity to “the Israeli occupation of the land of the State of Palestine,” to prisoner rights, the Temple Mount/al-Aqsa Mosque compound and tax deductions to offset money Ramallah disburses to Palestinians jailed for attacking Israelis and the families of slain attackers.
There is no immediate readout on the call between the two from the US State Department.
Airplanes flying into Israel from the west are again experiencing problems, due to a signal spoofing system installed by Russia in Syria, Israel’s Kan news outlet reports.
According to the report, pilots began having issues a few weeks ago, and Israel has sent a message to Moscow informing it that the system is interfering with its civilian airspace, but Russia has insisted the system is needed to protect its soldiers.
The interference with the airplanes’ GPS reception appears to stem from a form of electronic warfare known as “spoofing,” which Russia has been accused of doing in the past as a defensive measure, despite the disruptions it causes to nearby aircraft and ships.
According to the report, the issue is related to a signal jammer installed at Hmeimem air base in Latakia, close to where some alleged Israeli air strikes have taken place recently. However, officials reportedly believe the jamming to be aimed at other targets, with Israel just collateral damage.
One pilot tells the station that the spoofing has caused pilots to have to react suddenly, such as when a plane’s GPS guidance system tells it is in a different place than it is, or that it suddenly has to pull up immediately.
“What we’ve run into is [electromagnetic] spectrum interference from the east, which has taken us a while to understand what it is,” the pilot says.
Even before the report on the jamming, some had taken notice of odd behavior by Israeli planes nearing Israel.
This a tracking glitch on several apps for several flights? One feeder's glitch? or something's jamming gps / reported positions? Wx related? pic.twitter.com/lEnukimexJ
— avi scharf (@avischarf) January 25, 2022
In 2019, Israel civil air authorities complained publicly that similar Russian interference was having a “significant impact on all aspects of operating a plane from the cockpit, as well as on managing air traffic.”
Russia dismissed the allegations as fake news, but the problem was dealt with, until recently.
This time, there has been no official confirmation or complaint about the interference.
The pilot charged that officials knew of the problem but were “burying their heads in the sand,” rather than issue an official complaint.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s office says that the premier supports Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar’s pick of Gali Baharav-Miara as the next attorney general, to replace Avichai Mandelblit.
The recommendation is set to come before the cabinet next week.
The Health Ministry announces 78 new deaths from the coronavirus since Monday morning, as the number of patients in serious condition also jumps.
The ministry says the death toll is now 8,802, after last reporting it at 8,724 Monday morning.
It is not immediately clear whether all 78 deaths occurred in the intervening hours, as reporting timing vagaries can sometimes skew daily tallies.
The ministry reports that there are now 1,139 patients in serious condition, up from 1,099 Monday morning. Since midnight, over 41,000 new cases have been confirmed.
Israel Hayom editor Boaz Bismuth’s visage will no longer grace the paper, as he announces his departure, during a shift by the tabloid away from opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu.
Bismuth, who helmed the paper for five years, after an eight-year stint as international editor, says he is leaving to take on “new challenges,” recounting highlights of his career, which he says are topped by the US embassy moving to Jerusalem.
An astute political observer who once served as Israel’s envoy to Mauritania, Bismuth was nonetheless criticized for his fawning coverage of Netanyahu, as well as that of former US president Donald Trump. Even before he took over, the popular free tabloid was seen by many as a mouthpiece for Netanyahu, credited with helping bring the Likud leader back to power just a few years after it started operations, and helping sustain his subsequent 12-year stint in office.
According to reports, Bismuth’s departure is tied to a shift by the paper away from Netanyahu and toward Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, whose right-wing ideology dovetails with many of the paper’s columnists. Bismuth was seen as closely tied to Netanyahu.
On Friday, Israel Hayom was one of several papers to run wide-ranging interviews with Bennett.
Last week, Walla gossip editor David Vertheim tweeted that he was hearing from journalists there that a shift toward Bennett and Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked and away from Netanyahu was underway, and that by this week the paper would be fully in their corner. He later noted that Bismuth’s departure was tied to this shift.
Yair Netanyahu, the son of the former PM, also takes note of the shift, tweeting that the paper is now “just another leftist outlet, and another propaganda tool for Bennett.”
Publisher Miriam Adelson, whose late husband Sheldon Adelson started the paper, says Omer Lahmanovich will take over as acting editor.
At least a half-dozen historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) in five states and the District of Columbia are responding to bomb threats Monday, with many of them locking down their campuses for a time.
In warnings to students, school officials say some of the threats were directed at academic buildings. Affected schools include Albany State University in New York; Southern University and A&M College in Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Bowie State University in Bowie, Maryland; Bethune-Cookman University in Daytona, Florida; Delaware State University in Dover and Howard University in Washington, DC.
Students and staff at Howard have been given the all clear, local affiliate WTOP reports.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz defends having held talks with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as his government survives a no-confidence motion over the meetings.
Gantz says at the Knesset that the years of frozen contacts between Jerusalem and Ramallah “strengthened Hamas, harmed Israeli security and failed from the perspective of results.”
He also swipes at opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who was reported to have held secret talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
“Unlike those who have talks under the table, I chose to have them openly in Ramallah and Rosh Ha’ayin — to coordinate, to work together, to strengthen the economy and also to ask for concessions,” Gantz says of his meetings, which were held under media blackout and only announced after the fact.
While he admits that there is no peace talks push underway, he adds that “we have to keep in contact to allow for a diplomatic horizon.”
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas speaks with United States Secretary of State Antony Blinken over the phone, a top Abbas adviser says.
“They discussed the latest developments in the region,” writes senior PA official Hussein al-Sheikh on Twitter.
Raz Nizri, the deputy attorney general for constitutional affairs, has announced he is leaving the Justice Ministry after being left off of a shortlist of candidates to become attorney general.
Nizri writes that he was caught off-guard, “like many others who were quite surprised (I’m choosing not to use other words that dozens of people from inside and externally wrote to me) by the fact that I was not included in the three candidates recommended by the panel.”
On Sunday, the race to replace Avichai Mandelblit entered the final stretch with the search committee tasked with finding a new attorney general announcing the names of the final three candidates: Gali Baharav-Miara, Roi Scheindorf, the current deputy attorney general for international law; and Defense Ministry legal adviser Itai Ofir.
Earlier Monday, Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar tapped Baharav-Miara, the former Tel Aviv district attorney for civil affairs, for the role, pending Knesset approval.
Nizri says he will depart within two months.
Starting today, the Israeli Navy is taking part in the US Navy 5th Fleet’s International Maritime Exercise, the largest naval exercise in the world, alongside dozens of other countries and international military organizations, the Israel Defense Forces says.
According to the US Navy, more than 9,000 people from 60 militaries will take part in the exercise, known by its acronym IMX, which will focus on unmanned naval systems and the use of artificial intelligence.
Participants include a number of countries with whom Israel does not have formal ties, like Oman, Comoros, Djibouti, Somalia, Yemen and Pakistan, along with a several countries with which Israel has recently normalized relations, like Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates.
“The Missile Ship Flotilla and the Underwater Missions Unit will train with the American 5th Fleet in the area of the Red Sea, as part of the overall exercise,” the IDF says in a statement.
“The exercise will strengthen our regional security and advance our regional cooperation,” the Israeli military adds.
A spokesperson for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is sticking to her guns amid a flurry of criticism after she responded to antisemitic neo-Nazi rallies near Orlando by questioning whether those waving Nazi flags and making “Heil Hitler” salutes were perhaps just liberals trying to make conservatives look bad.
Christina Pushaw tells Newsweek that she deleted a tweet in which she questioned whether the group of white supremacists calling Jews “devil” and “fucking kike” were actually antisemitic “because it was attracting trolls and abuse.”
While she tweeted that DeSantis will always condemn hatred and antisemitism, she indicates that she does not know what the “National Socialist Movement” is and is waiting for law enforcement to investigate, while fending off what she says are attempts to tie DeSantis to the rallies.
“In my tweet, I deferred to law enforcement to determine who was behind the protest, because frankly, I didn’t know anything about the group. But I can guarantee it wasn’t the Governor. Attempts to tie the protest to his policies are disgusting political smears,” she says.
Among those to condemn Pushaw are Fred Guttenberg, an anti-gun campaigner whose daughter was killed in the Parkland school shooting.
Holy shit!!! @GovRonDeSantis, two weeks ago your press secretary @christinapushaw made a Hitler joke. This is now her response to the disgusting anti Semitic Nazi behavior taking place in Florida this weekend, targeted at people like me. Is this your public position? pic.twitter.com/9tAUd78hMB
— Fred Guttenberg (@fred_guttenberg) January 31, 2022
JFC, @ChristinaPushaw, you unyielding troll.
How do we know they’re Nazis?
If the Nazi salutes weren’t enough, how about when the Nazis pulled someone out of a car and beat them up?
Nazi enough for you? pic.twitter.com/aNW3tIkGXa
— Peter Schorsch (@PeterSchorschFL) January 31, 2022
— Brett Meiselas (@BMeiselas) January 31, 2022
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has apologized for lockdown-flouting parties in Downing Street — but insisted that he and his government can be trusted.
Johnson told lawmakers in the House of Commons that he would make changes to the way the government is run in the wake of the “partygate” scandal.
He said: “I get it and I will fix it.”
He spoke after senior civil servant Sue Gray found that gatherings by the prime minister and his staff represent a “serious failure” to observe the standards expected of government.
Gray published findings on four gatherings in 2020 and 2021, and police are investigating a further dozen events.
Johnson has rebuffed calls to resign from opposition politicians and some of his own Conservative lawmakers.
Central Florida officials are condemning a neo-Nazi rally that took place near Orlando Saturday, in which some two dozen people in neo-Nazi gear waved swastikas and yelled antisemitic epithets at passersby, though Florida governor’s spokesperson has expressed doubt over whether the demonstrators were actually antisemitic.
In videos and pictures shared on social media, the demonstrators can be seen waving National Socialist flags and banner, calling someone filming them a “fucking kike,” and making Nazi salutes.
Here’s the original video that I took that day is Eastern Orlando. I really can’t believe we’re seeing Nazis in 2022. FYI: I am of Jewish descent and a large portion of my family was killed in the holocaust. #HateSpeech #hatersgonnahate #orlando #Florida #Antisemitism pic.twitter.com/lmUPTjHw65
— Luke Denton (@Ekulnotned) January 30, 2022
"The Jew is the devil"
"Jews rape children and drink their blood"
"Jews brought slaves here"
A horrific antisemitic, anti-black rally is happening right now in Orlando, FL orchestrated by white supremacist Eddie McBride and his group NSM
Why are local PD allowing this? pic.twitter.com/QImbMY8xiJ
— StopAntisemitism.org (@StopAntisemites) January 29, 2022
However, a spokesperson for Florida Governor Ron DeSantis declines to speak out against the rallies, casting doubt that they may be liberal plants, in a since-deleted tweet.
“Do we even know they are Nazis,” Christina Pushaw wrote, according to Floridapolitics.com.
Despite deleting the tweet, she has continued to retweet those who agree with her position.
There is no immediate statement from DeSantis’s office on the neo-Nazi rallies.
Other politicians don’t hesitate to condemn the demonstrations, which took place Saturday and Sunday near the campus of Central Florida University, which has a large Jewish student body, and near Disney World.
“Anti-semitism and hatred are not welcome in this community,” Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer says in a tweeted statement.
Anti-semitism and hatred are not welcome in this community. Despite displays of hate in Central Florida this weekend, our collective commitment to building an inclusive, compassionate community for all is stronger than ever.https://t.co/9v3fmv2n0k
— Mayor Buddy Dyer (@orlandomayor) January 31, 2022
Orange County Sheriff John Mina also tweets out that hate has no place, though his office tells Newsweek that the demonstrators were within their First Amendment rights.
I am aware of the anti-Semitic demonstration in Orange County. I along with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office deplore any type of hate speech. This hatred has no place in our society. Any reports of criminal activity will be thoroughly investigated.
— Sheriff John Mina (@SheriffMina) January 31, 2022
Yesterday neo-nazis rallied in Orlando. But America beat their disturbing ideology before and we'll do it again. As a police commander I saw similar rallies, and I also saw that for every nazi there were a hundred Floridians there to stand up for what's right.
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) January 30, 2022
A tearful Jonathan Pollard eulogizes his wife Esther who died Monday after contracting COVID-19.
The former spy, who moved to Israel with Esther in late December 2020, praises her for advocating on his behalf during his 30-year stint in prison and five years of parole before they moved to Israel.
“This is not how I expected for us to come home to the land,” he says as she is buried in Jerusalem’s Har Hamenuhot cemetery. “But as much as you love the land, the land will now love you, the land will embrace you and you will truly become part of the land you loved so much.”
Esther Pollard, 68, battled breast cancer for years. She was hospitalized at Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem Medical Center over the weekend after she was infected with the coronavirus and her condition deteriorated.
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) January 31, 2022
A Foreign Ministry spokesperson says Israel’s embassy in Kyiv is open, after a report that workers unhappy about a cut in hazard pay had shut the mission “until further notice.”
An Israeli official, speaking on condition of anonymity, indicates that the embassy may in fact be shut in the future, though. According to the source, diplomats had pushed for a 4 percent hazard pay bonus, which was supposed to end at the start of 2022, to be gradually removed over January, though he says workers will still need to pay back money they got beyond what they should have. The Foreign Ministry initially attempted to remove hazard pay for embassy staff in January 2021, but had given the workers a one-year reprieve, the source says.
The labor dispute comes as tensions in Ukraine have rocketed in recent weeks over a standoff between Russia and NATO. While other countries have evacuated non-essential personnel from embassies, Israel, which has sought to maintain close ties with both Moscow and the West, has not done so.
Israel’s close relations with Russia are often seen as linked to the two countries’ close military coordination in Syria, in particular when the Israel Defense Forces is alleged to carry out strikes on sites within Syria, where hundreds of Russian troops are deployed.
The Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces say a prison overrun by the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria is now fully under its control, thwarting a dangerous plot by the extremists to launch further, multiple attacks across the volatile region.
The US-backed SDF says more than 120 of their fighters and prison workers died in the 10-day standoff at the Gweiran prison, also known as al-Sinaa prison, in Hassakeh, which houses at least 3,000 Islamic State group detainees. Some 374 IS militants, including the initial attackers, were also killed, it added.
At a press conference, SDF commander Nowruz Ahmad says the IS prison attack aimed at liberating a number of terrorist detainees, but also was part of a broader plot that IS had been preparing for a long time.
According to seized documents and confessions of some of the attackers, the extremist group had planned attacks on other neighborhoods in Hassakeh, the town of Shaddada and areas of Deir el-Zour in eastern Syria. Also planned were simultaneous attacks on the al-Hol camp, which houses thousands of families of IS members.
“They (IS) wanted to launch a massive attack on the region, and once again to spread their terror and impose darkness on the people of the region and revive the terrorist organization once again,” Ahmad says.
In Washington, US State Department spokesperson Ned Price commends the SDF for their effective response to the prison attack.
IS’s “desperate and violent tactics are a grave reminder to the world that the terrorist group remains a threat that can and must be defeated,” he says in a statement.
President Isaac Herzog is speaking out against Iran while concluding his landmark visit to the United Arab Emirates.
“There are only two alternatives for this region. One is peace, prosperity, cooperation, joint investments and a beautiful horizon for the people, or alternatively, what Iran is doing, which is destabilizing the region and using its proxies to employ terror,” he says, according to a readout from his office. “These are the two alternatives, and this visit symbolizes hope, peace, and a great future for our nations, the region, and the world at large.”
Herzog speaks a day after the UAE shot down a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Iran-backed Houthi rebels.
Wrapping up their two-day trip, Herzog and his wife visit Abu Dhabi’s massive Sheikh Zayed Grand Mosque.
The United States and Russia are set to square off at the UN Security Council over Ukraine, with Washington calling Moscow’s actions a threat to international peace and security, while a Kremlin envoy ridiculed Monday’s meeting as a “PR stunt.”
The UN meeting, which begins at 10 a.m. New York time (5 p.m. in Israel) kicks off more high-level diplomacy this week, although talks between the US and Russia have so far failed to ease tensions in the crisis, in which Russia has massed an estimated 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders, stoking fears in the West of an invasion.
Russia denies it intends to launch an attack but demanded that NATO promise never to allow Ukraine to join the alliance, halt the deployment of NATO weapons near Russian borders, and roll back its forces from Eastern Europe. NATO and the US call those demands impossible.
While Russia could try to block the Security Council meeting if it gets the support of nine of the 15 members, the US was confident it had “more than sufficient support” to hold it, according to a senior official in the Biden administration who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk publicly.
Any formal action by the Security Council is extremely unlikely, given Russia’s veto power and its ties with others on the council, including China.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov says that “hysteria promoted by Washington triggers hysteria in Ukraine, where people are almost starting to pack their bags for the front line.”
US President Joe Biden warned Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a phone call Thursday that there is a “distinct possibility” Russia could begin an incursion in February, but the Ukrainian leader sought to play down the war fears, saying Western alarm over an imminent invasion has prompted many investors in the country’s financial markets to cash out.
US Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Russia’s actions pose “a clear threat to international peace and security and the UN Charter.”
Speaking Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” Thomas-Greenfield said: ”We’re going into the room prepared to listen to them, but we’re not going to be distracted by their propaganda.”
A US rights monitor has raised the alarm over athletes’ safety at China’s upcoming Winter Olympics, after the host authorities threatened “punishment” for anti-Beijing comments.
The Congressional-Executive Commission on China — a group of Washington lawmakers and White House officials — asked US Olympics authorities for an “urgent effort” to protect their sports stars’ free speech rights at the February 4-20 tournament.
The commission spoke out after Yang Shu, a senior official in the Beijing organizing committee, told an online briefing on January 18 that “any behavior or speech that is against the Olympic spirit, especially against the Chinese laws and regulations, are also subject to certain punishment.”
“While we hope no Olympians face punishment for exercising their freedom of speech, given Yang Shu’s statement and the Chinese government’s documented behavior, we urge the USOPC to be vigilant and prepared to defend any Olympians who speak out,” the commission said in a letter to the US Olympic and Paralympic Committee seen by AFP.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz warns that the number of patients seriously ill with COVID-19 is expected to continue to rise before leveling off soon, and says there’s optimism that the Omicron-driven wave of infections is receding.
He says hospitals are still dealing with crowding, but “we expect to see these figures stabilize.”
“There’s room for optimism, but we can’t ease up now and need to continue making sure to take precautions, even in the coming days, especially at the end of the wave.”
According to Health Ministry figures released Monday morning, there are 1,099 patients in serious condition, 332 of whom are in critical condition. The ministry says 241 patients are hooked up to ventilators.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman defends hikes in prices of utilities and other goods, particularly electricity, saying they are “the most moderate in the world.”
Electricity prices were hiked 4.9 percent at the start of the month.
Despite the fact that Israel has become a major natural gas producer in recent years, he blames part of the rise on the cost of shipping gas, which he says has gone up 640% since the start of the pandemic.
He adds that he won’t tolerate using the cost hikes to price gouge, however, indicating that he knows of some manufacturers doing so, without divulging who they are.
“We are looking at the companies’ balance sheets, revenues, dividends and foreign exchange rates. When I look at a few companies I see them taking cynical advantage,” he says during a weekly faction meeting.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has received a long-awaited report from an investigation into lockdown-breaching government parties, the government says.
The Cabinet Office says senior civil servant Sue Gray “has provided an update on her investigations to the Prime Minister.”
Johnson’s office has promised the report will be published “swiftly,” and that the prime minister will address Parliament about its findings.
But some of Gray’s findings are being withheld because of a separate police investigation into whether some of the gatherings broke COVID-19 laws.
Allegations that the prime minister and his staff flouted restrictions imposed on the country to curb the spread of the coronavirus have caused public anger and led some Conservative lawmakers to call for Johnson’s resignation.
Johnson has urged his critics to wait for Gray’s conclusions. He has denied personal wrongdoing and said he has “absolutely no intention” of resigning.
Asked today if he had done anything wrong, Johnson says: “You’re going to have to wait and see the outcome of the investigations.”
The lawyer of a British woman cleared by a Cyprus court of making false accusations against a group of Israeli teens that she alleged gang raped her is calling for an external investigation into what he says was “a trial process that was manifestly unfair.”
“We believe the next step for justice to be done is a full review and investigation of the case takes place by a different police force,” says Michael Polak outside the courtroom in Nicosia. “We have always maintained that our client was not given a fair trial, and today, the Supreme Court of Cyprus has agreed with us.”
His client, who was 18 at the time of her arrest, alleged that she was raped by up to 12 Israelis in a hotel room in the seaside holiday resort of Ayia Napa in July 2019, but her alleged attackers were eventually released and a district court in January 2020 convicted her of causing public mischief and handed her a four-month jail term, suspended for three years. She has not been named publicly.
Polak alleges that the judge in her trial had tried to suppress evidence in his client’s favor and had decided the case before the trial began. He says the defense was fighting “with one hand tied behind our back.”
“During the trial proceedings, our client was shouted at and treated with contempt, as were our female Cypriot lawyers who continued to put forward evidence supporting what our client was saying about the rape taking place, even when the judge sought to stop them from doing so,” says Polak, the director of the UK-based Justice Abroad advocacy group.
He calls the ruling “a watershed moment.”
“We hope now that vital safeguards, to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again in Cyprus, are put in place. Such as the recording of interviews in police stations. This must be done as soon as possible,” he adds.
Nir Yaslovitzh, the Israeli lawyer who defended the main suspect “Sam” and two others accused of taking part in a gang rape of a British tourist, who was cleared Monday of having lied in claiming the rape, tells The Times of Israel the ruling “changes nothing.”
He indicates that his confidence stems from the fact that judges did not order a reexamination of the original case regarding the alleged rape of the British teen.
“The decision changes nothing. If I understand correctly, the meaning is not that they will reopen everything from the beginning now, and because of that, I am not worried about the future at all,” says Yaslovitzh in English, which is not his native tongue.
Speaking to Ynet, he says the ruling indicates only “failings in [the woman’s] trial, and not my clients’ guilt.”
He maintains that his clients engaged in “group sex.” He says he can give further comment after he reads the court decision.
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