The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Netanyahu to AIPAC: It’s time to ‘close ranks’ between Israel and the US on Iran
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu virtually addresses an AIPAC conference, saying he looks forward to working with the Biden administration on the issue of Iran.
Netanyahu says that today, “because of the brave men and women of Iran, the entire world sees what we’ve been talking about, that this is a terrible, repressive, terrorist regime.”
“It’s time to close ranks between Israel and the United States – and others,” he adds. “And I look forward to discussing this issue with President Biden and his team. I think there is more of a meeting of the minds today than there has ever been.”
Strong 7.6-magnitude quake hits off the coast of Indonesia
A strong 7.6-magnitude earthquake hits deep under the ocean off Indonesia and East Timor early Tuesday, the US Geological Survey reports.
The epicenter of the quake is located 427 kilometers (265 miles) south of the Indonesian island of Ambon at a depth of 95 kilometers, USGS says.
US says Iran may be ‘contributing’ to war crimes in Ukraine
The Biden administration says Iran’s sale of lethal drones to Russia for use in its ongoing invasion of Ukraine means the country may be “contributing to widespread war crimes.”
National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan levels the charge against Iran, as he speaks to reporters accompanying President Joe Biden on a trip to Mexico. While it did not signal a policy shift, the charge marks some of the sharpest US rhetoric against Iran since it began providing weapons to Russia to support its nearly year-long war in Ukraine.
Sullivan says Iran has chosen “to go down a road where their weapons are being used to kill civilians in Ukraine and to try to plunge cities into cold and darkness, which from our point of view, puts Iran in a place where it could potentially be contributing to widespread war crimes.”
Otzma MK: Jew who kills Arab should be jailed, Arab who kills Jew must be executed
Otzma Yehudit MK Limor Son Har-Melech suggests that the punishment for Arab murderers should be different from the punishment for Jewish murderers.
“[A Jew] who kills an Arab needs to sit in prison until the end of his life,” Son Har-Melech says an interview with Ynet radio. “[An Arab] who kills a Jew needs to die.”
Son Har-Melech, whose husband was killed in a terror attack in 2003, says that “any terrorist who kills a Jew for nationalist reasons opposes the existence of the State of Israel and cannot be a citizen of the state.”
She made the comments after a key Knesset panel gave a green light to fast-track bills seeking to revoke the Israeli citizenship or residency of convicted terrorists who receive payment from the Palestinian Authority for their actions.
Dermer reportedly set to meet with White House officials in DC this week
Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer is reportedly set to meet with senior US officials in Washington this week — the first meeting between a member of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government and the Biden administration.
According to Axios, Dermer — a former Israeli ambassador to the US and close Netanyahu confidant — is expected to discuss a range of issues in his meetings, including Iran, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the expansion of the Abraham Accords.
While Eli Cohen is officially foreign minister, Dermer is expected to serve as Netanyahu’s point-man on the US-Israel relationship.
US appears to subtly knock Israel’s planned judicial overhaul
The Biden administration appears to offer vague criticism of the planned overhaul to Israel’s legal system recently announced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
“As a general matter, Israel’s independent institutions are crucial to upholding the country’s thriving democracy, and our shared democratic values are at the heart of our bilateral relationship,” reads a statement from the US State Department that was distributed to reporters who requested comment on the matter.
White House National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan says at a press conference that he is slated to visit Israel next week for meetings with senior officials in Netanyahu’s government in order to get a better understanding of Jerusalem’s plans moving forward.
Members of fringe Neturei Karta sect meet with Islamic Jihad officials in Jenin
Members of the fringe anti-Zionist Haredi sect Neturei Karta enter Jenin and meet with Palestinian terrorists, according to video shared on social media.
تغطية صحفية: وفد من جماعة ناطوري كارتا اليهودية يزور عائلات عدد من الفلسطينيين الذين ارتقوا في القدس ونابلس وجنين. pic.twitter.com/DdTy5tc5D2
— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) January 9, 2023
Neturei Karta opposes the modern State of Israel on religious grounds, regularly protesting against the Jewish state, and has met with Holocaust deniers and leaders of the Iranian government in the past.
According to Hebrew and Arabic language reports, the Neturei Karta members met with prominent Palestinian Islamic Jihad officials as well as families of terrorist attackers.
تغطية صحفية: "وفد من جماعة ناطوري كارتا اليهودية المؤيدة للقضية الفلسطينية والرافضة للاحتلال تزور منازل عائلات عدد من الشهداء في القدس ونابلس وجنين". pic.twitter.com/cmrPC4rgpB
— وكالة شهاب للأنباء (@ShehabAgency) January 9, 2023
Russia backs UN vote to keep Turkey-Syria border crossing open to aid deliveries
The UN Security Council votes unanimously to keep a key border crossing from Turkey to Syria’s rebel-held northwest open for critical aid deliveries for another six months. Syria’s ally Russia — in a surprise move — supports the resolution.
All eyes had been on Russia, which in the past has abstained or vetoed resolutions on cross-border aid deliveries. It has sought to replace humanitarian aid crossing the Turkish border to northwest Idlib province with convoys from government-held areas across conflict lines. Since the early years of the war, Turkey has sided with and supported Syria’s rebels.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres had warned that the already dire humanitarian situation in Syria is worsening and if the aid deliveries from Turkey to northwestern Idlib aren’t renewed, millions of Syrians might not survive the winter.
Guterres said deliveries have increased across conflict lines within the country, but he said they cannot substitute for “the size or scope of the massive cross-border United Nations operation.”
The resolution puts the Security Council on record as “determining that the devastating humanitarian situation in Syria continues to constitute a threat to peace and security in the region.”
Foreign Minister Cohen to speak with his Ukrainian counterpart this week
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is scheduled to speak by phone on Thursday with his Ukrainian counterpart Dmytro Kuleba, a Foreign Ministry source confirms to The Times of Israel.
Ukraine’s Foreign Ministry informed Israel earlier today that Kuleba was willing to go ahead with the conversation, saying that he could not return an answer until now because he was on vacation, according to the Israeli source.
After Cohen irked Kyiv last week by taking a call from Russian FM Sergey Lavrov and saying Israel would “talk less” about Moscow’s invasion of its Western neighbor, Ukrainian sources raised doubts as to whether Kuleba would want to speak with Cohen.
Cohen is looking into ways to keep Israel’s humanitarian aid flowing to Kyiv without a state budget for 2023.
Ben Gvir: Police must arrest protesters who block roads at rallies
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir says that he supports public protests — up to a point.
“I’m in favor of protests, freedom of expression is allowed,” Ben Gvir says at an Otzma Yehudit faction meeting in the Knesset.
“But we also saw great harm to democracy, incitement against Minister Yariv Levin, blocking roads,” says Ben Gvir about the anti-government protest in Tel Aviv on Saturday night. “I’m in favor of protests, but anyone who blocks roads and who gets wild needs to be arrested.”
Ben Gvir adds that the “rules of a protest in Tel Aviv must be the same as the rules of a protest in Jerusalem — the rules for the left, the same as the rules for the right.”
The national security minister, who oversees the police, says these are the demands he will make over how the Israel Police must act at protests.
“Freedom of expression is not freedom of incitement,” he says.
US Supreme Court rejects NSO Group request for immunity in WhatsApp lawsuit
The US Supreme Court rejects an Israeli spyware maker’s bid to derail a high-profile lawsuit filed by the WhatsApp messaging service.
The justices leave in place lower court rulings against the Israeli firm, NSO Group. WhatsApp claims that NSO targeted some 1,400 users of the encrypted messaging service with highly sophisticated spyware.
WhatsApp parent Facebook, now called Meta Platforms Inc., is trying to block NSO from Facebook platforms and servers and recover unspecified damages.
NSO argued that it should be recognized as a foreign government agent and therefore be entitled to immunity under US law limiting lawsuits against foreign countries. The request appeals a pair of earlier federal court rulings that rejected similar arguments by the Israeli company.
The Biden administration recommended that the court turn away the appeal.
The Justice Department writes that “NSO plainly is not entitled to immunity here.”
Hadash leader Ayman Odeh accuses Lapid of ‘constantly lying’
Joint List chief Ayman Odeh accuses opposition leader Yair Lapid of “constantly lying,” pointing to comments he made earlier today saying the Joint List is working together with Likud.
“He knows that it doesn’t have a grain of truth, that it’s all lies,” Odeh says at a faction meeting in the Knesset of the Hadash-Ta’al party.
“You didn’t succeed in leading your camp in the election, you’re not succeeding in leading the opposition,” Odeh says to Lapid. “You got used to the ‘nice Arab,’ therefore it’s hard for you to deal with Arabs with a backbone.”
Odeh accuses Lapid of leading a government “that killed 114 Palestinians. Tell me: is there one Jewish politician who would support a government that killed 114 Jews?” Nevertheless, Odeh added, it was not Hadash-Ta’al that brought down the past government.
Regardless, Odeh adds, his party is willing to work with the opposition against the current government “in a way that is consistent with our values.”
Odeh was responding to Lapid’s comments earlier today when the opposition leader was asked why Hadash-Ta’al was not part of opposition party meetings. Lapid in response accused the Arab party of working with Likud against his camp.
Netanyahu says Gantz’s comments about civil war constitute ‘sedition’
Responding to MK Benny Gantz’s calls to take to the streets and accusations that the premier is inciting a civil war, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Gantz is “planting the seeds of disaster” by not condemning protesters who compare Netanyahu’s government to the Nazi regime.
“I heard what MK Gantz said and I have to say that I’m shocked,” Netanyahu says during his Likud party’s closed faction meeting, in a clip released by Likud spokespeople. Netanyahu adds that Gantz’s statements were “a call to sedition from within the Knesset.”
A large protest against the government’s judicial reform platform in Tel Aviv on Saturday included placards comparing the government and its justice ministers to Nazis, behavior that Gantz has yet to publicly condemn.
“Someone who does not condemn the comparison of the justice minister to a Nazi and of the government of Israel to the Third Reich — he is the one who is planting the seeds of disaster,” Netanyahu adds, calling on Gantz to “immediately” rescind his comments.
Michaeli says protesters will ‘take to the streets week after week until we replace you’
Labor chief Merav Michaeli, the former transportation minister, says the current government is destroying everything the past coalition managed to achieve.
“This group of pyromaniacs are going ministry by ministry and simply destroying and ruining,” Michaeli says at the outset of the Labor faction meeting in the Knesset. “These are not publicly elected officials; they are a group of demolition contractors.”
Michaeli says the protests against the government over the weekend “are just the beginning. Make no mistake: We will take to the streets, week after week, until we replace you.”
The former transportation minister slams government proposals to limit rail work over Shabbat: “Remember when Netanyahu promised that everything would be OK and nothing would happen?” she asks about such demands, noting that his promise appears to be already broken.
Edelstein to head defense committee, ex-cop Edri tapped as Knesset director-general
Likud MK Yuli Edelstein is nominated as head of the prestigious Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.
Edelstein says he accepts the role “with great pride and great humility.”
Separately, Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana taps longtime Israel Police official Moshe Edri to serve as director general of the Knesset.
Edri was once considered to be in line for the job of police commissioner, but dropped out after it was revealed that he had met with polygraph examiner Hava Yodfat but failed to disclose this fact to the state vetting committee, which eventually rejected his candidacy.
Ohana says Edri’s “skills, experience and understanding of the field will greatly assist the ongoing work of the Knesset.”
Netanyahu says government has ‘clear mandate’ to pursue judicial reforms
Defending the sweeping judicial reform platform his Likud party is advancing, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the recent elections delivered his coalition a mandate to pursue the changes, which he says will create a proper balance between judicial and political authorities.
“What we’re trying to do is return Israel to the correct balance” between political and judicial authorities, Netanyahu says, claiming that his government’s reforms will make Israel’s division of powers more similar to those found in the United States and European countries. The multi-point plan for increasing political power over the judiciary “doesn’t destroy democracy,” but rather “rehabilitates” it, he says.
Speaking at the outset of Likud’s Monday Knesset faction meeting, Netanyahu adds that “we received a clear mandate from the public to execute” plans his coalition previewed during elections, including judicial reform. “We are not afraid of the one-sided media campaign against us,” says the premier.
Netanyahu assigns two female Likud MKs new ministerial roles
Prime Minister Bejamin Netanyahu appoints two female Likud MKs to new ministerial roles in his government.
Likud MK Galit Distel Atbaryan — who was until now a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office — will become the minister of public diplomacy, and Likud MK May Golan will be appointed a minister in the Prime Minister’s Office.
The appointments are expected to bring the total number of current ministers to 32, and the total number of female ministers to 6.
Smotrich rejects Gantz’s warning that civil war is coming, calls for end to ‘inflammatory discourse’
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich attacks opposition politicians who accused his camp of inciting “civil war,” and averred that the government’s judicial reform plan aims to “strengthen Israeli democracy” and restore public trust in the courts.
Speaking minutes after National Unity party leader Benny Gantz warned that the judicial reform plan set out last week would push Israeli society to the brink, Smotrich says “it is doubly sad when harsh words and threats of civil war come from the highest echelons.”
Speaking at the outset of his own Religious Zionism party faction meeting, Smotrich urges “that everyone cease the inflammatory and inciting discourse at once.”
“From time immemorial, then and now, the nationalist camp has said no to civil war,” he adds.
Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman is a key figure in pushing the coalition’s judicial reform plan spearheaded by Likud Justice Minister Yariv Levin.
Smotrich recalls that he presented elements of the judicial overhaul program at a press conference shortly before the elections, and says that the public voted for it.
“I won’t live a day in a country without a strong, independent judiciary — a judiciary that will protect individual rights but will not advance a radical leftist agenda,” he says. “The correction is starting. We are seeking a court that has the public’s trust. A diverse, strong court that defends the weak and protects the ordinary citizen.”
Sa’ar says overhaul in judicial appointments will make every new judge corrupt
Former justice minister and National Unity MK Gideon Sa’ar says the government’s planned reforms to judicial appointments will add “ulterior motives and political considerations” to naming Israel’s arbiters of justice.
“Anyone who is familiar with the political system immediately understands what will happen. Ulterior motives and political considerations will dictate who is chosen to be Israel’s judges,” Sa’ar says at the outset of National Unity’s faction meeting.
“Every judge will know whom he owes and every litigator coming before him will also know who holds the debt,” he adds. “This is a surefire way to turn our judicial system into a corrupt system.”
As justice minister, Sa’ar increased panel transparency by making the Judicial Selection Committee’s hearings public. As a Likud MK, he balanced appointment power between politicians and professional representatives.
Sa’ar also says that a High Court override clause should require a “special majority,” although he did not set out a specific number.
Striking a similar line to party leader Benny Gantz, whose proposal to create an across-the-aisle judicial reform package was rebuffed by the government, Sa’ar adds that “it is certainly possible to regulate the relationship between authorities” through the Basic Law that undergirds the judiciary.
Gantz says judicial reform plan will lead to ‘civil war’; urges Israeli masses to take to the streets
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz says the government’s judicial reform plan will lead to “civil war” in Israel.
“If you continue on the path you are following, you will be responsible for civil war in Israeli society,” Gantz says at his National Unity party’s Knesset faction meeting, just days after the government unveiled its four-point plan to increase parliamentary power over the judiciary.
The former defense minister adds that the judicial reform plan “will have a fatal impact on national security -– both in the sense of the resilience of citizens from all parts of society, and in the ability of the High Court of Justice and the legal system to be our legal iron dome vis-à-vis the world.”
He says “liberal right-wingers, who love the state,” should be “the first to go out and protest” for what they believe in — “not against Netanyahu or against the government, but against the demolition of democracy and this unbridled, destructive move.”
Stressing that any and all such action must be within the law, he urges the wider public to take to the streets, saying, “This is the time go out en masse and to demonstrate, the time to make the country tremble.”
On Thursday, Justice Minister Yariv Levin set out the cabinet’s plan to establish a legal mechanism for the Knesset to reinstate laws invalidated by the court, retool how judges are selected, eliminate the independence of government legal advisers, and curtail the court’s ability to evaluate the “reasonableness” of government decisions.
Gantz says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal troubles, culminating in his ongoing corruption trials, has pushed his Likud party to pursue judicial reform that will lead the country to being “democratically disabled.”
“If you believe that a legal injustice has been done to you –- do not correct it with injustice to the State of Israel and to Israeli society. This is an anti-patriotic and anti-Zionist act,” Gantz adds in an appeal to Netanyahu.
Lapid says judicial reform proposal is actually ‘extreme regime change’
Speaking at a Yesh Atid faction meeting, opposition leader Yair Lapid continues his harsh criticism of the government’s judicial reform plans.
“This isn’t judicial reform — this is extreme regime change, this is canceling the Declaration of Independence, this is cutting Israel off from the family of liberal countries,” Lapid says. “This isn’t fixing democracy — this is eliminating democracy.”
“A country in which the government can do anything is not a democracy,” he adds. “A government which, in the course of one morning, cancels all the checks and balances that exist on power is not a democracy.”
Palestinian Authority PM Shtayyeh: Sanctions against PA will lead to its collapse
Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh warns that a series of sanctions approved last week by the security cabinet against the PA would usher in its collapse.
In a rare interview with the Israeli daily Haaretz published today, Shtayyeh defends Ramallah’s move at the United Nations to have the International Court of Justice draft a legal opinion regarding Israel’s conduct in the Palestinian territories – a step referred to by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “an extreme anti-Israel” measure.
The Palestinians “have a right to complain to the world about the occupation,” he tells Haaretz, accusing Israel of “profiting from the occupation.”
Gallant taps Steinitz to serve as chairman of defense giant Rafael
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant appoints ex-Likud MK Yuval Steinitz as the chairman of the state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems arms firm, his office says.
Steinitz will be replacing the current chair, Uzi Landau, who has served in the position since 2017.
His appointment still requires the approval of the Government Companies Authority.
Steinitz, 64, served as a minister and Knesset member for 23 years, including 12 in the high-level security cabinet.
As well as serving as finance, energy, strategic affairs, intelligence, and international relations minister in periods between 2009 to 2021, Steinitz chaired the Knesset’s powerful Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee from 2003 to 2006.
New communications minister says there’s ‘no room’ for public broadcasting in Israel
Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi says there is no reason to support public broadcasting in the State of Israel.
Speaking at a digital journalism conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, Karhi says his goal is to “remove blocks and to remove regulation” in the industry to allow the free market to prevail.
Israel’s current public broadcaster, Kan, is among the bodies that “police the conversation, that cut off the connection between the public and the media,” he says.
“In my eyes, there is no room in this age for public broadcasting,” says Karhi, pointing to Kan as well as Army Radio.
Likud has long been accused of seeking to shut down the Kan public broadcaster because it is deemed too left-wing.
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