The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they occured.

Report: Morocco delaying Tel Aviv embassy until Israel backs Western Sahara claim

Moroccan officials are reportedly pressuring Israel to recognize its control of Western Sahara and may be holding off on opening a full embassy in Tel Aviv until the request is met.

Axios, citing four current and former Israeli officials, reports that Rabat has brought up the issue repeatedly in meetings in recent months.

While some Israeli politicians have supported Morocco’s claims in public statements, the Foreign Ministry maintains a more nuanced position.

Morocco agreed to normalize ties with Israel as part of a 2020 deal that also saw the US recognize its sovereignty over Western Sahara, where the Polisario Front has fought an insurgency for independence.

According to the report, Israel has refused to accede to Rabat’s demands, which officials believe is being used by Morocco to justify its foot-dragging on the embassy opening.

Iran calls in French envoy over magazine’s vulgar Khamenei cartoons

Iran has summoned the French ambassador to condemn the publication of offensive caricatures of the country’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo.

The magazine has a long history of publishing vulgar cartoons mocking Islamists, which critics say are deeply insulting to Muslims. Two French-born al-Qaeda extremists attacked the newspaper’s office in 2015, killing 12 cartoonists, and it has been the target of other attacks over the years.

Its January issue features the winners of a recent cartoon contest in which entrants were asked to draw the most offensive caricatures of Khamenei, who has held Iran’s highest office since 1989. The contest was billed as a show of support for anti-government protests rocking Iran.

One of the finalists depicts a turbaned cleric reaching for a hangman’s noose as he drowns in blood, while another shows Khamenei clinging to a giant throne above the raised fists of protesters. Others depict more vulgar and sexually explicit scenes.

Iran’s Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian vows a “decisive and effective response” to the publication of the cartoons, which he says insulted Iran’s religious and political authorities.

The French government, while defending free speech, has rebuked the privately-owned magazine in the past for fanning tensions.

Gallant discusses Iran with US counterpart Austin, in first call

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has held a first call with his American counterpart Lloyd Austin, during which he vowed to prevent Iran from obtaining a nuclear bomb, his office says.

According to a statement, “Gallant emphasized in the conversation Israel’s commitment to do whatever it takes to prevent Iran from obtaining nuclear weapons… and emphasized the need to harness the international community for cooperation on the issue.”

The call “took place in a friendly atmosphere” and the pair agreed to meet soon, Gallant’s office adds. There is no immediate readout from the US Secretary of Defense.

IDF drone crashes in West Bank, cause unknown

A small Israeli military drone crashed in the northern West Bank earlier today, the Israel Defense Forces says.

The drone, a Skylark model, was on a reconnaissance mission when it fell out of the sky for as-yet-unknown reasons.

The device was collected by troops shortly after, the IDF says.

An IDF soldier with a Skylark drone during a drill at the Tze’elim army base, August 5, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

The “sky rider,” as it’s known in Hebrew, is a tactical surveillance drone created by Elbit Systems and operated by the IDF’s Artillery Corps.

The miniature unmanned aerial vehicle can be launched by one or two people, depending on the model, and once airborne provides a live video feed to soldiers on the ground.

Many such comparatively inexpensive UAVs have crashed in hostile territory over the years.

Republicans in disarray with McCarthy no closer to winning speaker vote

Republicans in the House of Representatives are flailing through a second day of balloting for speaker, unable to elect Rep. Kevin McCarthy after four separate votes.

A fifth nomination, also expected to fail, comes moments after a fourth vote showed 20 conservative holdouts still refusing to support him, unchanged from the previous time around. He fell far short of the 218 votes typically needed to win the gavel.

The California Republican is vowing to keep fighting despite the historic losses, which have thrown the new majority into tumult.

Animated private discussions have broken out on the chamber floor between McCarthy supporters and detractors searching for an endgame.

Democrats have re-upped their leader, Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, for speaker, and a right-flank leader from the Freedom Caucus twice offered a challenge to McCarthy — nominating Rep. Byron Donalds, R-Fla., in another history-making moment. Both Jeffries and Donalds are Black.

Israeli, Cypriot defense chiefs discuss expanding military ties

Defense Minister Yoav Gallant has spoken with his Cypriot counterpart, Charalambos Petrides, the Mediterranean island nation’s Defense Ministry says.

According to the Cypriot Defense Ministry, Petrides called Gallant to wish him success upon entering the role, and to discuss “expanding the long-term and robust” military ties between the nations.

There is no immediate comment from Gallant’s office on the call.

Judicial overhaul ‘a threat, not a reform’ Lapid says, promising battle

Opposition Leader Yair Lapid says that Justice Minister Yariv Levin timed announcing the government’s plan to place political control over Israel’s judiciary in order to exert influence over a Thursday hearing on the propriety of recent legislation paving a way into the cabinet for Aryeh Deri.

“Like a gang of criminals, the day before the High Court hearing on the Deri Law, the government put a loaded gun on the table,” the opposition head and Yesh Atid party leader says. Last week, the new coalition passed a Basic Law change to enable Shas leader Deri to become a minister, despite a recent tax fraud conviction.

Promising to fight the “madness” of Levin’s sweeping plan to place political control over Israel’s judiciary, Lapid says his bloc will reverse reforms if they return to power.

“What Yariv Levin presented today is not a legal reform, it is a threat. They threaten to destroy the entire constitutional structure of the State of Israel,” says Lapid. “We will continue to fight, we will return, we will cancel everything.”

National Unity party MK Gideon Sa’ar, who until last week occupied Levin’s seat in the Justice Ministry, tweets that Levin’s plan to neuter the judiciary betrays the ideals of Likud founder Menachem Begin, whom Levin name-checked at the start of his address.

Levin’s “words were no less than a death sentence for Menachem Begin’s… doctrine,” Sa’ar tweets shortly after Levin’s presentation. “There is no doubt that Menachem Begin would have rejected each of the sections of the plan to change the regime in Israel.”

Sa’ar, a former senior Likud member before breaking with Netanyahu in 2019, wrote that Begin’s “true disciples have the duty to fight it. And so I will.”

Christians, Jews punching above demographic weight in Congress, Pew finds

Christians and Jews are overrepresented in Congress compared to their relative size in the general population of the US, while those without religious affiliation are practically absent from the halls of American power, according to an analysis by Pew Research Center of the 118th Congress.

Nearly 88 percent of members of Congress identify as Christian, compared with only 63% of US adults overall. That includes 57% of congresspersons who identify as Protestant and 28% as Catholic, both higher than national rates.

Another 6% of members of Congress identify as Jewish, compared with 2% of the overall population.

Even though nearly three in 10 Americans claim no religious affiliation — a rate that has steadily risen in recent years — only two of the 534 incoming members of Congress publicly identify as such.

Congress “remains largely untouched by two trends that have long marked religious life in the United States: a decades-long decline in the share of Americans who identify as Christian, and a corresponding increase in the percentage who say they have no religious affiliation,” says the Pew report released Tuesday. It is based on a CQ Roll Call survey of members of Congress.

Pew lists 20 other members of Congress as having unknown religious affiliations, either because they declined to answer CQ Roll Call’s query or because the answers are otherwise muddled (such as in the case of New York Republican George Santos, along with much else in his background).

Smotrich praises plan to ‘restart judiciary,’ says voters asked for it

Supporting Justice Minister Yair Levin’s newly unveiled plan to neuter the judiciary, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich releases a video messaging “blessing” the “restart to the judicial system” Levin laid out minutes earlier.

Smotrich, who leads the far-right Religious Zionism party and presented a similar plan during its election campaign, adds, “you all know that this is what [Israeli voters] declared, we have a full mandate to increase the Israeli public’s faith in the judicial system, to strengthen Israel and a Jewish and democratic state.”

Levin lays out the 4 central points of his judicial overhaul package: ‘Now is the time to act’

Justice Minister Yariv Levin holds a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Justice Minister Yariv Levin holds a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on January 4, 2023. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin now lays out what he says are the four specific elements of this “first stage” of his planned “judicial reform,” which he says is aimed at “strengthening democracy, rehabilitating governance, restoring faith in the judicial system, and rebalancing the three branches of government.”

“I’ve warned against the damage caused by judicialization. Now, the time has come to act.”

He says the overhaul package he is laying out will be debated at length in the Knesset, with all MKs to be heard and members of the judiciary and others.

His first change: The makeup of the panel that chooses judges will be changed to water down the voices of “sectoral representatives.”

“There will no longer be a situation whereby judges choose themselves in back rooms with no protocol,” he says. Specifically, there will henceforth be two representatives of the public chosen by the justice minister” instead of by the Israel Bar Association.

(The nine-member committee currently includes three members of the government and ruling coalition. Adding two representatives chosen by the justice minister would give the government a majority of at least five against four on the committee.)

Furthermore, he says, candidates for the High Court will have a public hearing before the Knesset constitution committee.

His second change: The Knesset will legislate “an override clause” giving the Knesset the ability to override court rulings striking down legislation. He defends the planned legislation as “balanced.”

“There will be no more striking down of Knesset laws without authority,” he says.

According to Levin’s proposals, the High Court will be explicitly prevented from deliberating and ruling on Israel’s Basic Laws, and will only be able to strike down Knesset legislation by a panel of all the court’s judges and with a “special majority.”

A High Court override clause will also be legislated to allow the Knesset to re-legislate a law struck down by the court with a majority of 61 MKs.

Levin says, however, that the Knesset will not be able to re-legislate a law struck down by the court in a unanimous decision of all 15 judges during the course of that Knesset term.

His third change: Levin previews moves to forbid the court from using a test of “reasonableness” against which to judge government decisions.

“There’s no such thing as a reasonableness test,” he claims.

(The attorney general earlier today advised against the return to ministerial office of Shas leader and criminal recidivist Aryeh Deri, calling it “unreasonable in the extreme. The High Court is to hear petitions against Deri’s appointment tomorrow.)

His fourth change: The final part of his reform, says Levin, will be new regulations allowing ministers to appoint their own legal advisers, instead of getting counsel from advisers operating under the Justice Ministry aegis.

In sum, Levin concludes: “The reform I am presenting will strengthen the judicial system and restore public faith in it. It will restore order. It will allow the legislators to legislate, the government to govern, the advisers to advise, and the judges to judge.”

He takes reporters’ questions, including one that suggests that the timing of his announcement, on the eve of the High Court hearing regarding Deri, amounts to “holding a pistol” to the head of the justices.

Levin says he has been working on these reforms for 20 years, that the timing would always have been queried, and that their unveiling today “is not related to any specific case. It is an “essential reform,” he says, “and should have been carried out long ago.”

Levin: Court has lost public’s trust, harming governance, democracy

Justice Minister Yair Levin starts his speech by referring to a famous quote by Menachem Begin, saying that, like Begin, “I believe ‘there are judges in Jerusalem,’ but there is also a government and a Knesset in Jerusalem.”

He says not only the Knesset and government, but also the judicial system, “rest on the trust the people place in it.”

But the so-called “judicial revolution” and “the judiciary’s increasing involvement in government decisions and Knesset legislation “have brought public faith in the court system to a historic low, undermined governance and harmed democracy.”

“We go to the polls, vote, elect, and time after time, people we didn’t elect choose for us. Many sectors of the public look to the judicial system and do not find their voices heard,” he charges. “That is not democracy.”

Netanyahu says judicial overhaul will ‘balance’ branches of governance

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a judicial overhaul plan set to be announced in the coming hour will create balance between Israel’s courts, the cabinet and the Knesset.

“We will revise the way we govern,” he says at a conference of the Revisionist Beitar movement in Jerusalem. “We’ll take steps that strengthen personal security throughout the state. We’ll start by enacting reforms that will ensure the proper balance between the three branches of government.”

Critics say the planned moves will remove the judiciary’s role as a check on the power of the executive and parliament. Proponents say court rulings overturning legislation or government decisions subvert the democratic will of Israeli voters.

Netanyahu peppers his speech with reference to “the State of Israel and the land of Israel,” a nod to West Bank territories under Israeli military control but not part of the state, which the right-wing group and some government members are seeking to annex.

He also touts his intention to start speaking out loudly against Iran and its nuclear program in the international arena, which he says goes according to the playbook of Beitar founder Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

“Our voices will be heard in the world,” he says.

Ankara foreign minister tells Israel Ben Gvir Temple Mount jaunt was ‘unacceptable’

Turkey’s Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu speaks to his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen by phone, and expresses concern over National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir’s visit to the Temple Mount a day ago.

A Turkish readout says Cavusoglu reminded Cohen of Ankara’s “sensitivities and expectations regarding the Palestinian issue.” He called Ben Gvir’s visit “unacceptable,” while underlining the importance of maintaining the status quo at the flashpoint holy site.

According to an Israeli statement, Cohen assures Cavusoglu that Israel is committed to the status quo on the Temple Mount, and that religious freedom will be protected for all faiths.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir visits the Temple Mount, January 3, 2023. (Courtesy: Minhelet Har Habayit)

Turkey was among the slew of countries to condemn the right-wing minister’s visit.

The two also discuss expanding ties, especially the economic relationship, and noted the importance of the recent mutual return of ambassadors.

Last week, Israel’s envoy to Ankara Irit Lillian presented her letter of credentials to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, filling a post that has been vacant for more than four years.

In August of this year, Israel and Turkey announced the full renewal of diplomatic ties after two years of slow reconciliation, which picked up pace noticeably with mutual visits by senior officials.

After Netanyahu’s election victory in November, Erdogan and Benjamin Netanyahu held a very positive phone call, sources in the room told The Times of Israel, with both leaders pledging not to surprise the other.

Deri says court won’t overrule 2 million Israelis ‘who want to see me as minister’

Interior Minister Aryeh Deri says he trusts the High Court to keep him in place when it holds a hearing Thursday on his fitness to be minister.

“I trust and rely that the [High] Court in Jerusalem, meeting in an expanded panel of 11 justices, will heed the votes of over 2 million Israeli citizens and 400,000 Shas voters who want to see me as a minister,” he says in a statement.

The comments come hours after Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara said Deri’s appointment was far outside the bounds of reasonableness, citing his repeated graft convictions for offenses while in office.

Justice Minister Yariv Levin is expected to announce plans for legislation that would forbid the court from overturning government decisions based on a test of reasonableness.

Israeli law does not yet exempt politicians from rules and regulations based on how many votes their party receives.

Iran says Basij guard shot outside home killed in robbery gone awry

Police in Tehran say a Revolutionary Guards commander killed outside his home was shot to death while trying to chase a robbery suspect.

Qassam Fathollahi was shot “three times when he and a fellow resident tried to capture the burglar in the building’s car park,” criminal investigation division chief Colonel Morteza Nesari tells state broadcaster IRIB.

“Mr. Fathollahi and his neighbor were taken to the hospital… but Mr. Fathollahi died from the severity of his injuries and bleeding,” the police officer says, adding that the “shooter fled the scene.”

Fathollahi was a base commander for the Basij militia, an elite paramilitary unit that is part of the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps and has been heavily involved in putting down months of protests.

Israeli tech workers to get hit by Salesforce, Kaltura layoffs

Salesforce is laying off about 10 percent of its workforce in the latest round of job cuts in the tech industry, with dozens of Israeli workers expected to be affected.

The San Francisco cloud computing software company will also be closing some offices, according to a regulatory filing Wednesday.

Salesforce maintains three offices in Israel, employing some 700 people, some of whom are expected to be laid off. The company employs nearly 80,000 worldwide.

“The environment remains challenging and our customers are taking a more measured approach to their purchasing decisions,” CEO Marc Benioff says in a letter to employees. “With this in mind, we’ve made the very difficult decision to reduce our workforce by about 10%, mostly over the coming weeks.”

Benioff says employees being released will receive nearly five months of pay, health insurance, career resources, and other benefits.

Kaltura, an Israeli-founded video software company now based in New York, has also announced that it will be laying off 11 percent of its employees. That includes 39 Israel-based workers, according to Calcalist.

The company says in an SEC filing that the move is planned “to further increase efficiency and productivity, in reaction to the current macroeconomic climate.”

Army razes homes, pens in southern West Bank hamlets

The Israeli military has demolished homes, water tanks and olive orchards in the Palestinian villages of Ma’in and Shaab al-Butum in the southern West Bank, residents and activists say.

According to images shared by local residents and activists, armored vehicles escorted construction equipment to the demolitions Tuesday.

Shaab al-Butum sits inside an arid area of the West Bank known as Masafer Yatta, which the Israeli military has designated as a live-fire training zone. Some 1,000 residents of the eight hamlets that make up Masafer Yatta are slated for expulsion, an order Israel’s Supreme Court upheld in May after a two-decade legal battle.

A Palestinian man walks inside his house in the West Bank Bedouin community of Jinba, Masafer Yatta, Friday, May 6, 2022. (AP/Nasser Nasser)

Ma’in sits just outside the firing zone, some two kilometers (1.2 miles) from Shaab al-Butum.

Guy Butavia, an activist with the Israeli rights group Taayush, says the army razed five homes, animal pens and cisterns, spilling the contents of people’s lives out onto the cold desert.

Most residents of the area have remained in place since the ruling, even as Israeli security forces periodically roll in to demolish structures. But they could be forced out at any time.

Local officials and rights groups said Israeli defense officials have informed them that they would soon forcibly remove more than 1,000 residents from the area.

COGAT, the Israeli defense body that deals with Palestinian civilian affairs, declined to comment.

WHO says China hiding COVID deaths, not sharing enough data

The World Health Organization is criticizing China’s “very narrow” definition of COVID deaths, warning that official statistics were not showing the true impact of the outbreak.

“We believe that the current numbers being published from China under-represent the true impact of the disease in terms of hospital admissions, in terms of ICU admissions, and particularly in terms of deaths,” the WHO’s emergencies director Michael Ryan tells reporters.

WHO Director Tedros Ghebreyesus also presses China, saying it has not been forthcoming with information.

“We continue to ask China for more rapid, regular, reliable data on hospitalizations and deaths, as well as more comprehensive, real-time viral sequencing,” he tells a news conference.

Patients on stretchers are seen at Tongren hospital in Shanghai on January 3, 2023 (Hector RETAMAL / AFP)

“WHO is concerned about the risk to life in China and has reiterated the importance of vaccination, including booster doses, to protect against hospitalization, severe disease, and death.”

He says that approximately 10,000 deaths a day are recorded due to COVID, though the true toll is likely much higher.

AFP contributed.

Lapid: Opposition will fight judicial reforms, reverse them when back in power

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid says in a statement that the Knesset opposition he helms will fight each move planned by Justice Minister Yariv Levin aimed at watering down the Supreme Court’s powers.

The former prime minister adds that he will roll back the changes once he returns to power.

“Anyone mounting a coup on Israel’s way of governing should know that we will not be obligated to it in any way,” he tweets.




Levin to unveil sweeping court reform plan

Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with MK Yariv Levin during Levin's election as Knesset speaker, December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks with MK Yariv Levin during Levin's election as Knesset speaker, December 13, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Justice Minister Yariv Levin plans to unveil a package of judicial reforms at a press conference Wednesday night.

During the appearance, scheduled for prime-time news slot 8 p.m., Levin is expected to roll out the government’s plans to enact wide-reaching changes to the courts. Planned reforms include legislation that would allow 61 lawmakers to override the High Court should it seek to strike down a law, and new regulations replacing lawyers on the Judicial Appointments Committee with politicians, according to Hebrew media reports.

Levin will announce that the government plans to rush the changes through the Knesset all at once in a legislative blitz, Channel 12 news reports.

The timing of Levin’s announcement is seen as significant, coming just as Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara submits an opinion to the High Court rejecting the government’s appointment of Shas leader Aryeh Deri to the cabinet despite legislation passed by the coalition last week paving the convicted grafter’s way in.

The High Court is expected to hold a hearing on petitions against Deri’s appointment tomorrow, which will now occur under the shadow of a threat to hobble the court’s power to overrule the government, critics charge.

“The new government is putting a whip on the table and is using threats and extortion in ways that would not embarrass a criminal organization,” tweets Yisrael Beytenu MK Yulia Malinovski.


Attorney general says Deri as minister radically unreasonable

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference at the University of Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara attends a conference at the University of Haifa, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara says the appointment of Shas head Aryeh Deri as a minister despite his graft conviction is a “radical departure from the reasonable” in an opinion submitted to the High Court.

The court is considering several petitions filed against the government’s decision to make Deri interior minister and health minister, which argue that his 2022 conviction on tax fraud charges, as well as his conviction in 1999 on bribery charges and a third conviction on breach of trust from 2003, make his appointment “unreasonable.”

Baharav-Miara writes that Deri was found to be borderline unfit for a ministerial post in 2015 and 2016, even before his latest conviction. She says the Shas chief has “a pattern of criminal activity, most of it while serving in public office… which is instructive regarding how he relates to the rule of law.”

The government “did not give sufficient weight to the seriousness of an MK’s repeated violations which carry moral turpitude, and did not show serious weight being given to matters of ethics and the rule of law by those steering the regime,” she adds.

Interior and Health Minister Aryeh Deri at a ceremony of the incoming minister of Social Affairs Yaacov Margi (not seen), at the Social Affairs Ministry in Jerusalem on January 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Deported French-Palestinian lawyer wants France to help him return to Jerusalem

Palestinian lawyer and activist Salah Hamouri is urging France to use more diplomatic leverage to force Israel to reverse his deportation from Jerusalem last month.

Hamouri, who holds French citizenship, landed in Paris on December 18 following months of legal wrangling, despite France’s public opposition to the expulsion over what Israel says are tied to terror group PFLP.

France didn’t “work enough to help me and my cause” and opted not to use “means of pressure” at its disposal, he tells the Associated Press.

He urges French authorities “to use the best means of pressure so that I can go back home.”

Salah Hamouri arrives in Paris after he was deported from Israel, on December 18, 2022. (Daphné BENOIT / AFP)

Hamouri says his deportation “will leave me only the courage to continue my struggle against the Israeli occupation and to defend the rights of the Palestinian people.”

“I can’t imagine myself living out of Jerusalem and out of Palestine because this is the place where I grew up. This is the place where I want to live and this is the place where I want to go back,” he says.

Hamouri says he’s spending time his wife and children, who are French, in the Paris region, resting and recovering from a 19-day hunger strike he went on in October to protest Israel’s policy of administrative detention.

He does not provide details on how he will continue his political activities.

Otzma Yehudit’s Cohen drops protest after talks with Ben Gvir

New Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen poses for a picture a day before the opening session of the Knesset on November 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
New Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen poses for a picture a day before the opening session of the Knesset on November 14, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Otzma Yehudit MK Almog Cohen has walked back his threat to boycott Knesset proceedings, after receiving promises from party leader Itamar Ben Gvir “that the Negev will not be abandoned in any way.”

He also receives a promise that the party will dig its heels in against any law or regulation that could negatively impact the south, according to a statement from his office.

Cohen had said he would skip out on parliamentary activity to protest tax breaks being pulled from areas near Beersheba.

The lawmaker was recently passed over for a deputy speakership position at the last moment, and his protest had been lumped in with other MKs skipping the Knesset to punish the coalition for not handing them plum jobs.

Cohen’s office, citing “sources close to Cohen,” says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet with regional council heads from the Negev this evening over the tax issue.

Zohar, Katz give up Knesset seats to make way for more Likud MKs the Norway way

Culture and Sports Minister Miki Zohar and Tourism Minister Haim Katz have resigned Knessets seat, becoming Likud’s first ministers to vacate a Knesset spot under the framework of the Norwegian Law.

Likud party sources have said the question over which of Likud’s 17 ministers would resign as Knesset members — retaining their ministerial positions but allowing more of the party’s slate to enter parliament — has caused some tension within the 32-lawmaker party. Politicians who lowered their Knesset profile in the past have suffered in primaries; some in Likud are pointing to Labor party ministers who got bumped from their party’s slate over the summer after resigning as MKs under the law.

Holding the next spot in Likud’s candidate roster, Canada-native Dan Illouz is expected to be sworn in as Zohar’s replacement next week, while Ariel Kelner will get the nod instead of Katz.

Up to five Likud ministers can pass their Knesset seats on under the current system, but Netanyahu is mulling expanding the number to 10 to bring in more Likud members as parliamentarians, given the high number of ministers in his party. Ministers cannot vote on laws, staff committees, propose bills, or serve as Knesset speaker or deputy speaker.

Twitter lifting ban on political advertising

Twitter says it will ease up on its 3-year-old ban on political advertising, the latest change by Elon Musk as he tries to pump up revenue after purchasing the social media platform last year.

“We’re relaxing our ads policy for cause-based ads in the US, ” the company says in a tweet sent late Tuesday.

“We also plan to expand the political advertising we permit in the coming weeks,” it adds.

Twitter banned all political advertising in 2019, reacting to growing concern about misinformation spreading on social media.

Political advertising made up a sliver of Twitter’s overall revenue, accounting for less than $3 million of total spending for the 2018 US midterm election.

In reversing the ban, Twitter said that “cause-based advertising can facilitate public conversation around important topics” and that the change will align the platform’s advertising policy with those of “TV and other media outlets,” without providing further details.

Regev brushes aside vetting panel’s rejection of ex-aide for ministry job

MK Miri Regev holds a phone to her ear in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Miri Regev holds a phone to her ear in the Knesset in Jerusalem, on February 7, 2022 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Transportation Minister Miri Regev plans to push ahead with naming a former aide, Moshe Ben Zaken, as ministry director, despite a state vetting panel ruling out the appointment, the Kan news site reports.

Regev is overheard in the Knesset hallway saying into her phone that “it can’t be that some senior bureaucrats are going to tell a minister who they can appoint as their director,” the religious news site Kipa reports.

The Senior Appointments Advisory Committee cited Ben Zaken’s past as a political operative in turning him down for the job. While the committee’s recommendations are not binding, the government rarely goes against them.

Regev reportedly plans to bring Ben Zaken’s posting for approval to the next government meeting, setting up a potential showdown.



Bitan given Economic Committee chair as unhappy MKs stew

File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with MK David Bitan during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, November 27, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
File: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, with MK David Bitan during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset, November 27, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appoints Likud MK David Bitan head of the Knesset Economics Committee, but has yet to head off a simmering rebellion by unsatisfied coalition lawmakers.

Bitan, a former coalition whip on trial for allegedly taking bribes, got the nod despite being harshly critical of Netanyahu’s handling of negotiations over the past month.

Meanwhile, three lawmakers passed over for sweetheart ministry postings or other high-profile parliamentary assignments are signaling that they won’t go quietly. Likud’s May Golan and David Amsalem and Almog Cohen of Otzma Yehudit are skipping Knesset activities Wednesday.

Both Likud MKs say they don’t feel well. Cohen earlier said his disappearance was due to the decision to end tax breaks for residents of some cities in the Beersheba area.

According to the Ynet news site, Golan was offered the Economics Committee post but turned it down, claiming it was owed to Bitan,

Golan and Cohen were earlier promised a slot as one of four deputy ministers in the Prime Minister’s Office, until it turned out that only two are allowed by law.

Golan’s “only expectation is that [Netanyahu] will stand by his promise given her to appoint her as a government minister,” a source close to the lawmaker says.

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