The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
Shortly after about a third of its lawmakers submitted a bill to split the role of the attorney general, Likud distances itself from the legislation.
The party issues a statement saying the bill is a “private” one that “was not coordinated with the leaders of the coalition, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was not a partner to it.
“Such bills will not be advanced without the approval of the coalition leaders and [this bill] is not on the agenda.”
This is the second time in as many days that Likud is forced to distance itself from a contentious bill, after ultra-Orthodox lawmakers presented a bill Tuesday to enshrine the value of Torah study in a quasi-constitutional Basic Law. The legislation was quickly shot down by Likud amid backlash.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell briefly left his own press conference earlier after stopping his remarks mid-sentence and staring off into space for several seconds.
The Republican leader approached the podium for his weekly press conference and began speaking about the annual defense bill on the floor, which he said was proceeding with “good bipartisan cooperation.” But he then appeared to lose his train of thought, trailing off with a drawn-out “uh…”
He then appeared to freeze up and stared vacantly for around 20 seconds before his colleagues in Republican leadership, who were standing behind him and could not see his face, grabbed his elbows and asked if he wanted to go back to his office.
U.S. Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell froze and appeared unwell while speaking at a press conference pic.twitter.com/FURwwSCdZm
— BNO News (@BNONews) July 26, 2023
He did not answer, but slowly walked back to his office with an aide and Wyoming Sen. John Barrasso, a former orthopedic surgeon who is the No. 3 Republican in the Senate. McConnell later returned to the press conference and answered questions from the press.
Asked about what happened, McConnell said he was “fine.” He did not elaborate.
McConnell, 81, was out of the Senate for almost six weeks earlier this year after falling and hitting his head. His office later said he suffered a concussion and fractured a rib.
Days after passing the first major judicial overhaul bill and with the country still reeling from that legislative earthquake, coalition MKs have submitted a new bill to the Knesset sure to be highly contentious: one to split up the role of the attorney general and hand over the powers to prosecute members of the cabinet to the state attorney.
Eleven Likud lawmakers co-sponsored the bill, which says the attorney general, while also serving as legal adviser to the cabinet, faces a potential conflict of interest when called upon to potentially investigate individuals with whom he or she is closely familiar, and is thus hard-pressed to remain objective on such matters.
The bill would take effect only after the next election.
Likud officials tell Kan news the bill was submitted for legal review several weeks ago and has now been approved for filing. They assert that it will not be advanced without broad agreement on the matter.
Opponents of the coalition have long feared it may seek to dismiss or sideline Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara, who has often opposed the government’s positions on various matters, and particularly on its efforts to curtail the judiciary.
Several members of the cabinet have repeatedly said she should be fired, sometimes to her face.
Treasury officials told Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich during a meeting today that they have no tools to restore trust with credit rating agencies, the Kan public broadcaster reports.
Senior ministry officials reportedly stressed to Smotrich that financial institutions were concerned about the government’s conduct and is advancing judicial overhaul without consensus, making it impossible to improve Israel’s economic image.
Smotrich said he believes the economy is in good shape, according to the report.
Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, the Health Ministry’s director-general, calls on medical workers considering leaving Israel over the government’s judicial overhaul not to do so.
“I know that there are many walking around today with very difficult feelings, and it’s understandable. Instinctive responses to the issue are also understandable. Having said that everyone also knows that we don’t have another country or health system,” he says.
“I really think that nobody among us has the privilege to give up, not on the country and not on the system. We are the foundation of societal solidarity in Israel and show where it’s possible to live, work and receive care together,” he adds.
He says public health workers’ have significant independence in their duties, and should give a reason for them to remain.
“Don’t give up on it and don’t go to other systems. Stay here and you will be part of setting the rules by which it operates. The health minister was updated about this meeting and we are committed to you, to ensuring your ability to continue and make the right decisions, and to prevent as much of the background noise and disputes in Israeli society from affecting the way the system works,” Bar Siman-Tov says.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich convened a meeting with Treasury officials to discuss a report issued yesterday by the Moody’s credit agency warning of negative economic fallout after the government passed first the judicial overhaul law, according to Hebrew outlets.
“We are treating this seriously, are in close contact with ratings firms and are frequently examining the economic situation and risks,” Smotrich is quoted as saying by Army Radio.
Another 120 reservists have informed the Israeli Air Force they will not show up for volunteer duty, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
The broadcaster says some 830 IAF reservists have now taken such a step, including over 260 pilots, and reports a signifiant drop in the number of reservists at the air force’s flight school.
Leaders of the protest movement against the judicial overhaul urge demonstrators to rally at Tel Aviv’s Kaplan Street tomorrow evening, after the government’s passage of the reasonableness law.
“The Israeli government passed a clearly illegitimate law that has a black flag flying above it,” the protesters say in a statement, “and is therefore is becoming a clearly illegitimate government.”
“It’s forbidden to believe or hold dialogue with an illegitimate government,” they add.
BRUSSELS — NATO condemns Russia’s “dangerous” moves to block Ukrainian grain exports in the Black Sea, after urgent consultations with Kyiv following Moscow’s withdrawal from a UN-backed deal.
“Allies and Ukraine strongly condemned Russia’s decision to withdraw from the Black Sea grain deal and its deliberate attempts to stop Ukraine’s agricultural exports on which hundreds of millions of people worldwide depend,” a statement from NATO says.
“They also condemned Russia’s recent missile attacks on Odesa, Mykolaiv, and other port cities, including Moscow’s cynical drone attack on the Ukrainian grain storage facility in the Danube port city of Reni, very close to the Romanian border.”
Likud MK Ofir Katz, who holds the post of coalition whip, hits out at President Isaac Herzog for suggesting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government bore the brunt of the blame for the failed efforts to reach compromise on judicial reform.
“On the eve of Tisha B’av, the president’s message is particularly saddening,” Katz, says in a statement. “Instead of sending a message of reconciliation and and joining the coalition’s calls to resume dialogue, he points an accusing finger at the coalition.”
Katz also accuses Herzog of ignoring the opposition, who he again blames opposition leaders for the breakdown of negotiations.
In his earlier remarks, Herzog said those who are in power have “the greater responsibility — even if not exclusive — for finding solutions.”
ATHENS, Greece — Fire evacuation orders are issued for the outskirts of two major Greek cities — Volos and Lamia — where a new front breaks out amid intense heat.
The official account of the 112 emergency line says the fire is near the industrial center of Volos, a city of some 85,000 people, while another burned outside Lamia, with a population of 60,000.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu again says he’s seeking to reach agreement on judicial reform, after passing the first piece of legislation in his government’s push to weaken the judiciary without any opposition support.
“On the eve of Tisha B’Av, I believe it’s possible to reach agreements among ourselves, and together with my friends we are working toward that,” Netanyahu writes on Twitter, referring to the Jewish fast day that begins this evening.
Opposition figures have so far dismissed Netanyahu’s public overtures, charging the premier is beholden to hardline partners who will not let him compromise.
EU says it’s tracking overhaul tensions in Israel ‘with concern,’ urges government to seek consensus
The European Union says it’s following “with concern” events in Israel relating to the judicial overhaul.
“EU-Israel relations are based on shared values, including the separation of powers and the rule of law, where the independent judiciary is an essential element to ensure effective checks and balances,” the bloc’s diplomatic service says in a statement. “While the specific arrangements related to the judicial reform and its scope are to be decided by the Israelis, it is important that the core values on which our partnership is based are preserved.”
The EU also calls for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to work toward consensus and inclusivity.
“It is important to reach a compromise which would be acceptable for the Israeli citizens and political parties,” the statement says.
“The ongoing debates and demonstrations are a sign that a considerable part of the Israeli population is concerned about the reforms and that Israel is a vibrant democracy,” it adds.
The chief of the United States Central Command, Gen. Michael Erik Kurilla, meets with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi, and other military and defense officials.
According to a readout from the Defense Ministry, Gallant discussed with Kurilla “the Iranian terror activity throughout Middle East, including financing, training and the transfer of weapons to the terror organizations in Syria and Lebanon.”
The pair also discussed “the progress in the security-military coordination between Israel and the US, to prevent Iran from obtaining military nuclear weapons,” the statement says.
“Minister Gallant emphasized to General Kurilla the importance of continuing military, security and technological cooperation against the growing threats in the region,” the Defense Ministry says.
The meeting today at the defense minster’s office at the IDF headquarters in Tel Aviv is the fifth official meeting between Gallant and Kurilla.
Amid strained ties with Biden administration, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with China’s Ambassador to Israel Cai Run and is gifted an autographed copy of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s book.
“The ambassador said the [Chinese] president is looking forward to the meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, which will be held later this year in Beijing,” a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says.
Netanyahu’s trip to China was initially planned for this month, but sources in the Prime Minister’s Office have said they believe it will take place in October, after the High Holidays.
While Netanyahu said he updated the White House ahead of time, some analysts and former security chiefs expressed concern that such a trip risked further straining ties with Washington, given longstanding US concern about China expanding its influence across the globe.
Ahead of the start of the Tisha B’Av fast mourning the destruction of the two Temples in Jerusalem, President Isaac Herzog laments the increasingly deep slits among Israelis over the government’s judicial overhaul push.
Herzog says he’s “deeply disappointed” after his efforts to bring together the coalition and opposition to negotiate a broad judicial reform agreement broke down, with the coalition passing the first piece of legislation this week in the planned shakeup of the judiciary.
“I warned of this moment,” the president says in a statement, while stressing he’s not willing “to lose hope.”
“If there’s the smallest chance, my team and I will continue to act in all possible ways to lower walls and build bridges,” he adds.
Noting his joint address to US Congress last week, Herzog reiterates his commitment to maintaining democracy in Israel, which he says in the country’s DNA, before appearing to pin the lion’s share of the blame for the failure to reach a compromise on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his government.
“As I’ve previously stressed, the greater responsibility — even if not exclusive — for finding solutions that will benefit the country and society as a whole will always lie with whoever holds the reins of power,” the president says. “That’s how democracy works. I soon expect the [government’s] words of reassurance to turn into actions.”
He appeals to all Israelis to refrain from “violence and irreversible moves,” then addresses reserve soldiers who have stopped showing up for volunteer duty or threatened to do in protest of the overhaul.
“You are truly the best of the best. But at the same time I fear for Israel’s security, which has been harmed by the threats of not volunteering or not appearing for service, and all the more from the fulfillment of those threats,” he says.
He urges the reservists to reconsider and says he trusts them “to defend a stable and safe State of Israel.”
NEW YORK — A tall construction crane catches fire in Manhattan this morning, and its arm hits a building as it crashes to the street below.
Photos and videos posted on social media show flames bursting from the car of a crane hundreds of feet above 10th Avenue at 41st Street. The crane’s arm scrapes the top floors of a skyscraper across the street as it falls.
There are no immediate reports of injuries from the crane fire and collapse, which happened shortly before 8 a.m local time.
Firefighters stationed on a roof deck of another building use hoses to battle the blaze. Surrounding streets are closed to traffic.
The location on Manhattan’s West Side is near the Port Authority Bus Terminal and an entrance to the Lincoln Tunnel, which carries auto traffic to and from New Jersey under the Hudson River.
BREAKING: CRANE COLLAPSES AFTER CATCHING FIRE, DAMAGES A BUILDING, DEBRIS FALLS ON GROUND IN MANHATTAN, NEW YORK CITYpic.twitter.com/FFjY49mGUk
— Insider Paper (@TheInsiderPaper) July 26, 2023
DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran says it gave new details to the United Nations about two sites near Tehran that inspectors say bore traces of manmade uranium, part of a wider probe as tensions remain high over the Islamic Republic’s advancing program.
The comments by Mohammad Eslami, the head of Iran’s civilian nuclear program, come as Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers remains in tatters and as Tehran enriches uranium closer than ever to weapons-grade levels. Resolving questions from the International Atomic Energy Agency could see Iran avoid further censure as an October deadline approaches that would lift international restrictions on its ballistic missile program as well.
Speaking after a cabinet meeting, Eslami says Iran has sent “detailed answers” to the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“If those answers are not accepted and there are any ambiguities or doubts, as we have always said, we will clarify and revise the documents,” Eslami says in comments carried by state television. “We are now in that phase now, and we have given the IAEA more evidence and documents and will give more so that it can move past this issue.”
The Vienna-based IAEA doesn’t immediately respond to a request for comment from The Associated Press. However, Eslami’s comments mark a change in tone as Iran has limited inspections, held surveillance footage and taken years to respond to the IAEA after then-president Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew the United States from the nuclear deal in 2018.
Eslami doesn’t name the sites, though the IAEA has identified them as Turquzabad and Varamin just outside of Tehran. At Varamin, the IAEA in a March report said that inspectors believe Iran used the site from 1999 until 2003 as a pilot project to process uranium ore and convert it into a gas form, which then can be enriched through spinning in a centrifuge. The IAEA said buildings at the site had been demolished in 2004.
Turquzabad is where the IAEA believes Iran took some of the material at Varamin amid the demolition, though it said that alone cannot “explain the presence of the multiple types of isotopically altered particles” found there.
In 2018, the site became known publicly after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu revealed it at the United Nations and called it a clandestine nuclear warehouse hidden at a rug-cleaning plant. Iran denied that, though IAEA inspectors later found the manmade uranium particles there.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan met today with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas and Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh at his office in Ankara, the official Anadolu news agency reports.
The meeting was held behind closed doors, it says.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had also been due to visit Turkey this week, but his visit was postponed after he had surgery last weekend and as Israel is roiled by protests over contentious judicial reform.
After several years of tensions, relations between Turkey and Israel have improved over the past year, with several high-level visits, including that of President Isaac Herzog.
Erdogan yesterday promised to continue supporting the Palestinian cause and voiced concerns over the flare-up of violence in the West Bank in recent months, after meeting with Abbas.
Along with the petition against the reasonableness law, the High Court of Justice in September will hear deliberate the opposition Yesh Atid party’s petition to have the court make Justice Minister Yariv Levin convene the Judicial Selection Committee.
Levin, one of the key figures behind the government’s judicial overhaul, has been refusing to assemble the panel — which chooses judges for Israel’s courts — while he pushes to recompose the committee in a way that will give the government greater control.
PARIS — Iranian authorities have in the last months launched an intensified crackdown against women deemed to have violated the Islamic Republic’s strict dress rules, Amnesty International says.
Iran was convulsed for months by unprecedented protests sparked by the September 2022 custody death of Mahsa Amini, 22, who had been arrested by the morality police for purportedly breaking the rules.
Some politicians inside Iran had argued in the wake of the protests that the rules should be loosened and there were even indications — never confirmed — that the morality police could be abolished.
But with the intensity of protests diminishing over the last months, Amnesty says Iranian authorities have launched a new crackdown on women’s dress since April.
“The Iranian authorities are doubling down their oppressive methods of policing and punishing women and girls to quell widespread defiance of degrading and discriminatory compulsory veiling laws,” Amnesty says.
It has been obligatory for women to cover their heads and necks since shortly after the Islamic Revolution of 1979 that ousted the secular shah.
The High Court of Justice will hear petitions against the reasonableness law, according to the Movement for Quality Government in Israel, with a court date set for September.
The government will have to file its response 10 days before the hearing.
“We are ready. We will appear at the Supreme Court to defend Israeli democracy and do everything we can to stop the judicial coup,” said MQG chief Eliad Shraga. “We will continue to protest and fight everywhere and from every podium until the threat is removed.”
The organization is one of seven petitioners against the law, which blocks courts from using the judicial standard of “reasonableness” to scrutinize government decisions.
While scheduling a hearing, the court did not issue an injunction against the law, which formally took effect today.
The September court date means that outgoing Chief Justice Esther Hayut will hear the petition, before her scheduled retirement the next month.
A 29-year-old resident of Lod is killed in a car explosion, in what Hebrew media reports indicated was a suspected underworld hit.
Police said the investigation would be led by a local crime-fighting unit and would look into “all directions.”
The victim, who has not been named, is the 133rd Arab in Israel to be killed in this year’s deadly crime spike, more than double the 64 who died at the same point in 2022, according to the Abraham Initiatives watchdog.
The Health Ministry asks Israel’s public hospitals to expand their in vitro fertilization departments so more couples and individuals seeking IVF treatments or fertility preservation can do so. The ministry is allocating a special budget to support the public hospitals in this effort, which it wants to get going as soon as possible.
The request comes shortly after the ministry’s barred the IVF department at the private Assuta Medical Center in Tel Aviv from accepting new patients, following a series of disturbing errors. Assuta was found to have tried to cover up the fact that a child conceived there by IVF was later found to not be genetically linked to its father, and that 13 fertilized eggs had dried up at the hospital.
In September 2022, a woman discovered that her embryo had been mixed up at Assuta’s Rishon Lezion branch. She and her husband waged a legal battle to keep the baby, who was born in October. In that case, the Health Ministry initially sought to determine the child’s biological parents, but after a couple thought to be the most likely match was ruled out by tests, officials announced in November that they would halt the search. In March 2023, the Supreme Court decided not to allow further genetic testing for six other couples to determine if they were the biological parents of the child.
Even before protocol and patient safety problems surfaced at the Assuta fertility clinics, the Health Ministry had begun evaluating options for dealing with the rise in demand in recent years for IVF treatment. Among the recommendations of a specially appointed committee was to support public hospitals in expanding their IVF services and help them make them more attractive to the public.
Public hospitals that expand capacity at their IVF clinics will receive budgetary support from the Health Ministry to increase clinic operating hours and enable patients to choose their doctor without additional cost.
Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer declines to say if the government would adhere to a theoretical High Court of Justice ruling striking down the freshly passed reasonableness law, after several petitions were submitted against the controversial legislation.
When asked directly by CNN if the government would heed such a decision by the court, which has yet to hear the petitions, Dermer — a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu — says “the government will always obey and abide by the rule of law.”
“[But] what we have in Israel is the rule of law. What we don’t have is the rule of judges,” he adds.
Members of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee have been invited to a classified briefing with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant that will address the IDF’s readiness for battle, according to Israeli television reports.
The invitation was sent out today, with Channel 12 news reporting that members were told the hearing “will focus on the skill and readiness of the IDF in carrying out its missions, both routinely and in an emergency.” The meeting is expected to be held next Monday.
Growing numbers of reservists have announced they will stop volunteering for reserve duty or have threatened to do so in protest of the government’s judicial overhaul legislation, the first piece of which was passed into law on Monday, raising concerns that military’s fighting capacities could be hurt.
Yesterday, the IDF warned combat readiness could be harmed within weeks due to the reservists’ protests.
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