ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Gantz and Sa’ar hold first joint party meeting, vow to establish ‘broad’ government

Blue and White-New Hope leaders call for an end to years-long political crisis; Sa’ar says won’t be deterred by ‘machine of poison, lies, fake news and slander’

Blue and White leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) and New Hope leader Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar announce a merger of their parties, July 10, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Blue and White leader Defense Minister Benny Gantz (right) and New Hope leader Justice Minister Gideon Sa'ar announce a merger of their parties, July 10, 2022. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s news as it happened.

Week after July 4 parade shooting, a moment of silence

HIGHLAND PARK, Illinois — One week after a shooting at a Fourth of July parade that left seven dead, the Chicago suburb of Highland Park holds a moment of silence to mark the exact time police say the first shot was fired.

More than 100 people gather and hug each other in a downtown plaza for a tribute that begins at 10:14 a.m. and lasts longer than the planned two minutes. Churches in the community along Lake Michigan north of Chicago toll their bells seven times.

The event is held not far from the building along the parade route where a gunman fired dozens of shots from its roof. A huge memorial of flowers, together with chairs holding photographs of the seven victims is now there.

The tribute comes a day after the reopening of restaurants and small shops in the business district where the shooting occurred, and which had been blocked off with crime scene tape since the shooting.

Robert E. Crimo III, 21, has been charged with seven counts of first-degree murder and, according to prosecutors, will face several counts of attempted murder and other charges. More than 30 people were wounded in the attack. Authorities have said that Crimo, of neighboring Highwood, legally purchased five weapons and planned the attack for weeks.

New Hope-Blue and White poised to be third-largest party – polls

The new alliance between the New Hope and Blue and White parties will be a success in the coming elections, according to two polls published this evening.

But perhaps more importantly, both surveys predict that the Likud-led right-religious bloc will not garner 61 seats, meaning Israel’s years-long political crisis, which has already generated five election cycles in under four years, is poised to continue.

Following are the results of a survey by the Kan public broadcaster:

Likud 34
Yesh Atid 23
Blue and White-New Hope 14
Religious Zionism 10
Shas 8
United Torah Judaism 7
Joint List 6
Yisrael Beytenu 5
Labor 5
Ra’am 4
Meretz 4
Yamina below threshold

And the results of a Channel 12 poll:

Likud 34
Yesh Atid 23
Blue and White-New Hope 13
Religious Zionism 10
Shas 8
UTJ 7
Joint List 6
Yisrael Beytenu 6
Labor 5
Ra’am 4
Meretz 4
Yamina below threshold

The Channel 12 poll also finds that most of the Israeli public (52 percent) does not think far-right MK Itamar Ben Gvir would be a legitimate cabinet appointment, as opposed to 33% who have no problem with him being named a minister.

Gantz says Israel to update Biden on efforts to forge regional defense alliance

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says Israel will bring Biden up to speed on the progress toward building a regional military alliance against Iran during the US president’s visit this week.

“The first security challenge that you all deal with and will deal with is the fight against Iranian aggression, Iran’s nuclear pursuit, and preserving Israel’s operational capabilities to defend itself, alongside establishing various collaborations,” Gantz tells graduates at the National Security College.

“In two days, President Biden will land here, and we will show him the integrated force building we are doing with partners throughout the region against Iran,” he says.

Gantz adds that Israel’s defense establishment will “have the task of developing this cooperation in the coming years, as the main means of curbing Iranian aggression in the region.”

Biden won’t be greeted by line of Israeli dignitaries when he lands

In contrast with his predecessors, US President Joe Biden, when he arrives in Israel on Wednesday afternoon, will not be greeted by a long line of notables waiting to meet him.

Ministers were told in writing today, Channel 12 reports, that “because of scheduling pressure, COVID, and the hot weather, the US president will not shake hands with the invited [guests at the airport arrival ceremony], and there will be no opportunity for personal photographs.”

Still, the ministers are invited to attend the welcoming ceremony, set to take place after Biden lands at Ben Gurion Airport at 3:25 p.m. He will be greeted by Prime Minister Yair Lapid and President Herzog, with Alterative Prime Minister Naftali Bennett possibly speaking as well, the report says.

Channels 12 and 13 report that much of the president’s itinerary is still in the air, and it is unclear whether he will speak at the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem.

There are also as doubts as to whether he will attend the Maccabiah Games.

Netanyahu pledges to make ‘full peace’ with Saudi Arabia as PM

Netanyahu delivers a press statement pledging to establish “full peace agreements” with Saudi Arabia should he be elected prime minister.

He also says he will sign “additional deals that will bring us closer to the end of the Arab-Israeli conflict.”

Netanyahu says the Abraham Accords, signed during his term, “truly brought about a new Middle East.”

He thanks the crown prince of Saudi Arabia, Mohammed bin Salman, “for his contribution” to the efforts to attain the accords.

Kyiv condemns Russia’s fast-track citizenship for Ukrainians

KYIV, Ukraine — Ukraine condemns a decree from Putin that simplifies the Russian citizenship procedure for all Ukrainians, more than four months after Russia’s invasion.

“The mentioned decree is another encroachment on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, incompatible with the norms and principles of international law,” the foreign ministry says.

“Ukrainians do not need Putin’s citizenship and attempts to impose it by force are doomed to failure,” Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba says.

Kuleba called today’s decree “worthless” and proof of “Putin’s aggressive appetites.”

Monty Norman, composer of the James Bond theme, dies at 94

LONDON — Monty Norman, a British composer who wrote the theme tune for the James Bond films, has died. He was 94.

British composer Monty Norman is seen in March 19, 2001 (Kirsty Wigglesworth/PA via AP/File)

A statement posted on Norman’s official website says: “It is with sadness we share the news that Monty Norman died on 11th July 2022 after a short illness.”

Born Monty Noserovitch to Jewish parents in the East End of London in 1928, Norman got his first guitar when he was 16. He performed with big bands and in a variety double act with comedian Benny Hill before writing songs for early British rockers Cliff Richard and Tommy Steele and composing for stage musicals, including “Make Me an Offer,” “Expresso Bongo,” “Songbook,” and “Poppy.”

Norman was hired by producer Albert “Cubby” Broccoli to compose a theme for the first James Bond film, “Dr. No,” released in 1962.

He drew on a piece he had written for a proposed musical adaptation of V.S. Naipaul’s “A House for Mr. Biswas,” shifting the key riff from sitar to electric guitar. The result — twangy, propulsive, menacing — has been used in all 25 Bond thrillers.

Producers hired composer John Barry to rearrange the theme, and Barry was widely assumed to have written it — to Norman’s chagrin. Barry, who died in 2011, went on to compose scores for almost a dozen Bond films, including “Goldfinger” and “You Only Live Twice.”

Norman went to court to assert his authorship, suing the Sunday Times newspaper for libel over a 1997 article asserting the theme was composed by Barry. He won in 2001 and was awarded 30,000 pounds in damages.

Senior Iranian officer says Israeli-partnered ‘Arab NATO’ doomed to fail

A top officer in the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps blasts the regional says an air defense pact between Israel and Arab regional allies — formed under US leadership to counter the threat of Iran’s drones and missiles — is doomed to fail.

Brigadier General Yadollah Javani cites previous regional pacts, some of which also included American involvement, as proof that such initiatives fail, speaking ahead of Biden’s visit to Israel and Saudi Arabia.

“When the United States and the Zionist regime and Saudi Arabia were at the peak of their power, the coalitions that they built to counter the resistance front and the Islamic Republic had no other result but failure,” Javani says, according to Press TV.

“An example is the coalition that the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia formed along with many other countries against the oppressed nation of Yemen. However, they got nothing, but humiliating defeat,” he adds.

Javani also claims that efforts by the US, Saudi Arabia and “about 100 European and regional countries” to remove Syrian President Bashar Assad from power failed, “despite spending trillions of dollars over these years… and today, the resistance front is more powerful than ever before.

“Therefore, it is quite easy to predict the possible fate of the [so-called] Arab NATO. Compared to the past coalitions, the new alliance will be even weaker and lack effectiveness in the face of the resistance front and the Islamic Republic of Iran,” he says.

The pact, called “MEAD — Middle East Air Defense,” is meant to connect air defense systems to combat Iran’s increasing use of drones and missiles in the Middle East.

Israeli ambassador en route to Kyiv to reopen embassy

Israel’s Ambassador to Ukraine Michael Brodsky is on his way from Poland to Kyiv to reopen the embassy for two weeks.

The consular section will be open as well, Brodsky tells The Times of Israel.

While in Ukraine, Brodsky will hold meeting with Ukrainian officials on humanitarian assistance and on rebuilding the country.

He will also discuss the recent statement from the Ukrainian Embassy in Israel warning Jewish pilgrims against traveling to Uman for Rosh Hashanah, an event that sees some 30,000 visitors during the High Holidays in a normal year.

Photo essay: President’s Residence completes final preparations for Biden reception

In anticipation of Biden’s upcoming meeting with Herzog, staff members at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem are in the midst of making final preparations.

The Times of Israel is given access to photograph the work.

Israeli officials will literally roll out the red carpet for Biden on his first visit to Israel as president. Ironed US and Israeli flags are decorating the street, and a red carpet stretches from the garden into the residence. Floral arrangements in the shape of the Star of David are already spread out around the garden.

More than 100 journalists will be accompanying Biden, more than the residence has ever hosted. A media tent is being erected to host them, and a shaded stage on which the leaders will give statements is going up as well.

Director-General Eyal Shviki points out how “important” a proper reception is, given that “the US president’s visit to the Middle East begins in Israel.”

The reception will take place Thursday afternoon at the residence, during which Herzog is expected to award Biden the Presidential Medal of Honor.

Staff at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem prepare for the visit of US President Joe Biden on July 11, 2020 (Jacob Rivkin)
Staff at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem prepare for the visit of US President Joe Biden on July 11, 2020 (Jacob Rivkin)
Staff at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem prepare for the visit of US President Joe Biden on July 11, 2020 (Jacob Rivkin)
Staff at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem prepare for the visit of US President Joe Biden on July 11, 2020 (Jacob Rivkin)
Staff at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem prepare for the visit of US President Joe Biden on July 11, 2020 (Jacob Rivkin)

Gantz and Sa’ar hold first joint party meeting, vow to establish ‘broad’ government

Gantz and Sa’ar hold a first joint meeting of their new joint Blue and White-New Hope party and declare their goal of forming a big-tent coalition after the coming elections.

“Our goal is to end the political crisis and establish a stable, broad… government that will serve a full term,” Gantz says.

“Today Israel needs a patriotic… leadership that can lead it out of the diplomatic crisis and ensure its future,” Sa’ar says.

“We won’t allow the machine of poison, lies, fake news and slander to work overtime in an effort to distract us from that goal,” he adds, alluding to Likud and its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu.

Frozen out by New Hope-Blue and White deal, minister Hendel seeks to join Yamina

Communications Minister Yoaz Hendel meets with Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked to discuss the option of joining her Yamina party ahead of the elections.

Hendel and Zvi Hauser constitute the Derech Eretz faction, which splintered off from the Blue and White party to merge with New Hope in 2020.

Yesterday, when New Hope and Blue and White announced they would merge their slates ahead the upcoming elections, it emerged that Hendel and Hauser were not included in the agreement.

A brief statement from Hendel and Shaked after their meeting expresses optimism that a deal can be made for Hendel and Hauser to join Yamina.

Gantz wishes Bahraini military chief a happy holiday

Defense Minister Gantz speaks with the chief of the Bahraini military to wish him and the Gulf nation’s citizens a happy Eid al-Adha.

“It was a pleasure speaking with BDF Commander-in-Chief HE Field Marshal Sh. Khalifa bin Ahmed Al Khalifa. I wished him and the people of Bahrain Eid al-Adha Mubarak,” Gantz says on Twitter.

“I conveyed my humble blessings to His Majesty the King, as well as my appreciation for his vision and leadership,” he says.

“I also took the opportunity to emphasize the growing defense, economic and civilian ties between our countries. Our partnership is critical to ensuring peace and stability in the Middle East region,” Gantz adds.

Excitement builds as Biden to release first image from Webb telescope

US President Joe Biden will release later today one of the first images taken by the James Webb Space Telescope, the most powerful observatory ever sent into orbit and a leap forward in uncovering the secrets of the distant universe.

The unveiling will take place at 5 p.m. (midnight in Israel) during a livestreamed event at the White House, official statements say, leaving the space community in a state of eager anticipation.

NASA revealed last week Webb’s first targets included distant galaxies, bright nebulae and a faraway giant gas planet.

The very first image, released by the US president, will be of the “deep field” — an image taken with very long exposure time, to detect the faintest of objects in the distance — according to a person familiar with the matter.

NASA previously said Webb would achieve this shot by pointing its primary imager toward massive foreground galaxy clusters called SMACS 0723, which bend the light of objects far behind them toward the observer, an effect called “gravitational lensing.”

This promises to be what NASA chief Bill Nelson called last month the “deepest image of our Universe that has ever been taken.”

The rest of the first wave of images are set to be released by NASA tomorrow.

Webb’s infrared capabilities are what make it uniquely powerful, allowing it to both pierce through cosmic dust clouds and detect light from the earliest stars, which has been stretched into infrared wavelengths as the universe expanded.

This lets it peer further back in time than any previous telescope, to the period shortly after the Big Bang, 13.8 billion years ago.

“When I first saw the images… I suddenly learned three things about the Universe that I didn’t know before,” Dan Coe, a Space Telescope Science Institute (STSI) astronomer and expert on the early Universe, tells AFP. “It’s totally blown my mind.”

Dissident Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi arrested

Award-winning dissident Iranian filmmaker Jafar Panahi has been arrested, the third director to be detained in less than a week, the Mehr news agency says.

Panahi, 62, won a Golden Bear at the Berlin film festival in 2015.

“Jafar Panahi has been arrested today (Monday) when he went to the prosecutor’s office to follow up on the situation of another filmmaker, Mohammad Rasoulof,” Mehr reports.

State news agency IRNA had reported late Friday that Rasoulof, also an award winning filmmaker, had been arrested along with colleague Mostafa Aleahmad.

Panahi has won a slew of awards at international festivals, including the top prize in Berlin for “Taxi” in 2015, and best screenplay at Cannes for his film “Three Faces” in 2018.

But since being convicted of “propaganda against the system” in 2010, following his support for anti-government protests and a string of films that critiqued modern Iran, he has been barred from leaving the country to pick up any of these awards.

Rasoulof, 50, won the Golden Bear in Berlin in 2020 with his film “There Is No Evil” but was likewise unable to accept the award in person as he was barred from leaving Iran.

Rasoulof and Aleahmad were arrested over events relating to a deadly building collapse of the Metropol building in the city of Abadan, an event that sparked angry protests, official news agency IRNA said.

“In the midst of the heartbreaking incident in Abadan’s Metropol, (the filmmakers) were involved in inciting unrest and disrupting the psychological security of society,” IRNA said.

Billionaire’s aide testifies about $46,000 necklace he gave Sara Netanyahu

Key state witness Hadas Klein ends her testimony today with more lurid details about the alleged conveyor belt of gifts provided to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara by billionaires Arnon Milchan and James Packer.

Klein was accompanied by security personnel on her way into court this morning following a complaint of harassment that she filed against a journalist who photographed her home last week and published the pictures online.

Klein testifies about one set of earrings Sara requested from Milchan that were worth NIS 6,000 to NIS 8,000 and were designed for her specifically by a jewelry studio.

The witness also gives testimony about a North Face jacket she bought for Netanyahu at Sara’s behest worth NIS 1,800, as well as around 10 luxury Brioni shirts bought by Milchan for the prime minister worth “several hundred pounds sterling each,” from a shop in the Savoy Hotel in London.

Klein also testifies about a bracelet worth $46,000 with 121 diamonds that Packer’s assistant bought for Sara Netanyahu after she requested “something beautiful” ahead of the couple’s anniversary and a visit to Washington DC.

Aside from the frequent purchases of luxury gifts for the Netanyahus, Klein mentions intervention by Milchan on behalf of Yossi Cohen, who at the time was seeking to be appointed head of the National Security Council.

Klein says that Milchan had told her Cohen contacted him about his interest in the position and that Milchan had told Cohen he would talk to Netanyahu about it. Klein says one Friday Milchan phoned Klein and told her to tell Cohen that he had spoken with the Netanyahus and that they had agreed to Cohen’s appointment.

Klein is set to be cross-examined by Netanyahu’s defense attorney tomorrow. The former prime minister will not attend.

Singer Noa Kirel selected to represent Israel at Eurovision 2023

Pop star Noa Kirel is selected as Israel’s representative to the 2023 Eurovision Song Contest.

In a departure from previous years, when the representative would be selected via a singing contest on TV, Kirel is chosen by a panel of experts.

As of now it is unclear where the contest will take place, as last year’s winner, Ukraine, which has the right to host the contest, is in the midst of a war with Russia.

Herzog meets Czech president in Prague, hails his ‘love of Israel’

President Isaac Herzog meets his Czech counterpart, Miloš Zeman, in Prague, and awards him the Israeli Presidential Medal of Honor.

Herzog is welcomed by Zeman and First Lady Ivana Zemanová at Prague Castle, the Czech presidential residence. The welcome ceremony includes an honor guard and the playing of the Israeli and Czech national anthems.

The two leaders then hold a one-on-one meeting, followed by a larger meeting with their staffers.

Herzog awards the medal at the start of a state luncheon.

President Isaac Herzog and his Czech counterpart, Miloš Zeman, survey an honor guard in Prague on July 11, 2022 (Haim Zach/GPO)

“You are an important ally,” says Herzog, “and your love of Israel has given it renown in the family of nations. It is no secret that for several decades, Israel and Czechia have been true partners, learning from each other, supporting each other, and relying on each other.”

Herzog thanks Zeman for Prague’s support of Israel in international forums, and for relocating a branch of the Czech embassy to Jerusalem.

“Needless to say, the Czech Republic fully supports the Israeli people against the international community,” says Zeman. “In this context, we also discussed with Mr. President the anti-Israel decision of the UN Human Rights Council, a decision that we have both forcefully condemned.”

Many Democrats don’t want Biden to run for reelection – poll

Beset by a sharp economic downturn, US President Biden is also facing perilous personal prospects ahead of the 2022 midterms, with many voters in his own Democratic Party saying he shouldn’t run for reelection in 2024, according to a new poll.

The survey, published by The New York Times, puts the president’s approval rating among Democrats at 70 percent, but only 26% say the party should nominate him again.

That latter figure swells to 94% among Democrats under the age of 30.

Biden administration accuses Russia of antisemitism and exploiting Jewish suffering

WASHINGTON (JTA) — In hard-hitting language, the Biden administration is set to accuse the Russian government of antisemitism and of exploiting Jewish suffering through its claims that its war against Ukraine is a “denazification” operation.

“To serve its predatory ends, the Kremlin is exploiting the suffering and sacrifice of all those who lived through World War II and survived the Holocaust,” the US State Department says in a dossier scheduled to appear on its website today. “In the process, the Kremlin is detracting from critically important global efforts to combat antisemitism and is instead propagating one of antisemitism’s most insidious forms, Holocaust distortion.”

The dossier, obtained in advance by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency, will appear on a dedicated page, “Disarming Disinformation,” devoted to exposing Russian disinformation in its war against Ukraine.

It is timed ahead of an informal session this afternoon of the United Nations Security Council that Russia called to bolster its denazification claim. Tass, the Russian news agency, on Friday quoted Dmitry Polyansky, the deputy Russian envoy to the United Nations, as saying the session will “be our response to Western colleagues, who express doubts about one of the main goals of our special military operation in Ukraine, namely de-Nazification, and claim that we are exaggerating the problem.”

The State Department dossier quotes historians and Holocaust remembrance institutions, including Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial, and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum, as denouncing the denazification claims as bogus.

The three-page document emphasizes that the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish and lost family to the Holocaust. It includes a photo of Zelensky in a kippah, surrounded by Orthodox Jews, at the Western Wall in Jerusalem during a 2020 visit.

A US State Department dossier on Russian disinformation will feature this photo of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, January 23, 2020. (Office of the Ukraine President)

“The Kremlin falsely claims the worst Nazis were actually Jews, and seeks to downplay the role of antisemitism in Nazi ideology,” the dossier says.

The document refers to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov’s widely discredited claim from May that Jews contend that “the biggest antisemites are Jewish themselves.” It quotes Israeli officials condemning Lavrov’s statement.

The document concludes by saying that Russia is damaging the fight against antisemitism. “With antisemitism on the rise around the world, it is imperative for all to call out this particularly pernicious kind of Russian disinformation,” it says.

Likud to hold primaries August 3; ex-Yamina MKs expected to get reserved slots

The Likud party decides overnight to hold primaries for its Knesset slate on August 3, some three months before the elections.

In addition, the party’s leadership agrees to grant its leader, Benjamin Netanyahu, the right to personally appoint several candidates — in slots 14, 16, 28, 37 and 43 of the slate.

According to assessments, Netanyahu is likely to reserve some of those slots for several defectors from the Yamina party who helped to bring down the Bennett-Lapid government — Amichai Chikli, Idit Silman and Nir Orbach — as well as former IDF general Gal Hirsch.

Likud had originally intended to hold a leadership primary as well, but the only member of the party who was in the running to replace Netanyahu, Yuli Edelstein, backed out of the race two weeks ago.

Putin issue decree fast tracking Russian citizenship for Ukrainians

Russian President Vladimir Putin issues a decree to fast track citizenship for all Ukrainians, more than four months into Moscow’s military offensive in Ukraine.

The decree orders that “all citizens of Ukraine” be given “the right to apply for admission to the citizenship of the Russian Federation in a simplified manner.”

Man returned to Lebanon after crossing into Israel

A Lebanese man who climbed over the Israeli border into an empty guard post last night has been returned to Lebanon, the military says.

According to the IDF, the suspect spent some 10 minutes in Israel before he was detained, near the town of Misgav Am.

The unarmed man is questioned and returned to Lebanon through the Rosh Hanikra Crossing, via the United Nation’s peacekeeping force, UNIFIL.

IDF general promoted to lead West Bank forces despite past censures

A general who in the past was censured over the death of a military recruit, a subsequent subpar probe, and the death of another soldier has been tapped to head Israeli military forces in the West Bank.

Brig. Gen. Yaki Dolf, who currently serves as military secretary to Defense Minister Benny Gantz, had his promotion delayed for a year over the death of Ron Oved during a tryout for the Paratroopers Brigade in 2019 and the flawed investigation into the event.

Dolf, while serving as the commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, received an official censure on his record over the drowning of Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi, 20, in the Hilazon stream near the northern city of Karmiel, also in 2019.

Dolf will replace Brig. Gen. Avi Blot, the current commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Judea and Samaria Division, in the coming months.

The IDF and Gantz have not yet named a new defense minister military secretary.

Netanyahu calls off court appearance Tuesday

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu cancels his planned appearance tomorrow at the Jerusalem District Court for a hearing in his trial.

Netanyahu’s lawyers are expected to begin the cross-examination of Hadas Klein, an aide to billionaires James Packer and Arnon Milchan, as part of so-called Case 1000, one of three cases against the former prime minister.

Klein has described during her testimony at the Jerusalem District Court the incessant demands for luxury goods made for years by former prime minister Netanyahu and his wife Sara to her bosses.

Her testimony is highly significant since it undermines Netanyahu’s defense that he was merely accepting gifts from a friend and that he was also not aware of the extent of the gifts.

EU urges second COVID-19 boosters for people ages 60 to 79

The European Union says it’s “critical” that authorities in the 27-nation bloc consider giving second coronavirus booster shots to people between the ages of 60 and 79 years and other vulnerable people, as a new wave of the pandemic sweeps over the continent.

“With cases and hospitalizations rising again as we enter the summer period, I urge everybody to get vaccinated and boosted as quickly as possible. There is no time to lose,” European Commissioner for Health and Food Safety Stella Kyriakides says in a statement.

The European Center for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the European Medicines Agency say that the second boosters can be given at least four months after the first booster.

Today’s advice comes after the agencies in April recommended that people over age 80 be considered for a second booster.

‘The left is maximizing its power’: Ben Gvir urges a merger with Religious Zionism

Following last night’s announcement of a union between Benny Gantz’s centrist Blue and White party and Gideon Sa’ar’s center-right New Hope party ahead of November’s election, Itamar Ben Gvir, leader of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, is calling for a similar union in Israel’s far-right.

Speaking at a press conference the Vert Hotel in Jerusalem, Ben Gvir calls on Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich to join forces ahead of Israel’s fifth round of elections since 2019.

“Yesterday we saw the left unite in order to win the elections. Sa’ar and Gantz are doing whatever is necessary for them to beat the right. They know that in order for them to win they need to merge now,” Ben Gvir says, urging Smotrich to enter negotiations about a merger as soon as possible.

“The left is maximizing its power, while on the right things are still shaky. We can’t fight for months and then reach the elections exhausted — the public does not deserve it, the State of Israel does not deserve it,” the far-right politician added.

A poll published Friday indicated that the bloc of parties loyal to former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu could receive 61 of the Knesset’s 120 seats in the upcoming election, enabling it to form a government.

Ben Gvir has tried to portray his party as fundamental to any Likud-led government, claiming that a merger with Religious Zionism would net 10 to 12 seats in the upcoming election.

Jewish Israeli sentenced to 38 months for racist assault on Arab

A Jewish Israeli man is sentenced to three years and two months behind bars for his part in a mob assault of an Arab man last year during a wave of intense intercommunal violence in the country.

Nissim Azulay, 29, of Petah Tikva was convicted of aggravated assault and vandalizing a vehicle, both with racist intent, during the May 2021 incident at a mosque in Herzliya.

A second man, Yaakov Atenau, was sentenced in May to five years for taking part in the same assault.

According to police, as many as 15 men participated in the assault on Ghassan Haj Yahya, an Arab Israeli resident of Taibe, who was eating the Ramadan fast-breaking meal in his car outside the Sidna Ali Mosque in Herzliya.

Six people in all were indicted in the incident.

Routine gas pipeline shutdown starts amid German suspicion of Russia

A major gas pipeline from Russia to Germany shuts down for annual maintenance amid German concern that Russia may not resume the flow of gas as scheduled.

The Nord Stream 1 pipeline, Germany’s main source of Russian gas, is scheduled to be out of action until July 21 for routine work that the operator says includes “testing of mechanical elements and automation systems.” The operator’s data shows the gas flow dropping as planned this morning.

German officials are suspicious about Russia’s intentions, particularly after Russia’s Gazprom last month reduced the gas flow through Nord Stream 1 by 60%. Gazprom cited technical problems involving a gas turbine powering a compressor station that partner Siemens Energy sent to Canada for overhaul and couldn’t be returned because of sanctions imposed over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Canada said over the weekend that it would allow the part to be delivered to Germany, citing the “very significant hardship” that the German economy would suffer without a sufficient gas supply.

German politicians have dismissed Russia’s technical explanation for last month’s reduction in gas flows through Nord Stream 1, saying the decision was a political gambit to sow uncertainty and push up prices.

German Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck has said he suspects that Russia may cite “some little technical detail” as a reason not to resume gas deliveries through the pipeline after this month’s maintenance.

Blue and White and New Hope to hold first meeting since declaring alliance

Members of the Blue and White–New Hope alliance will hold a first meeting later this afternoon, the parties say, a day after the new slate was established.

The meeting will take place at 4:30 p.m. at the Council for a Beautiful Israel in Tel Aviv.

Israelis split on prospects of Biden bringing peace with Saudi Arabia

The Israeli public is split on the question of whether the upcoming visit of US President Joe Biden to the region could bring about a diplomatic breakthrough between Israel and Saudi Arabia, according to a new poll.

Forty-four percent of respondents tell the Israel Democracy Institute that they believe in Biden’s ability to effect a peace agreement between the two countries, and 44% say they don’t.

When it comes to the possibility of a breakthrough with the Palestinians after years of stagnation, the Israeli public is almost universally pessimistic, with only 11% saying they believe it is a viable option.

Biden is expected in Israel on Wednesday for a packed two-day visit that will also include a trip to the Palestinian Authority, followed by a visit to Saudi Arabia on Friday for a Saturday meeting with regional Mideast leaders as part of the GCC+3 summit (the Gulf Cooperation Council — Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE along with Iraq, Egypt and Jordan).

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