The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
SAN RAMON, California — Google is postponing a return to the office for most workers until mid-October and rolling out a policy that will eventually require everyone to be vaccinated once its sprawling campuses are fully reopened in an attempt to fight the spreading Delta variant.
In an email sent today to Google’s more than 130,000 employees, CEO Sundar Pichai says the company is now aiming to have most of its workforce back to its offices beginning October 18 instead of its previous target date of September 1. The decision also affects tens of thousands of contractors who Google intends to continue to pay while access to its campuses remains limited.
“This extension will allow us time to ramp back into work while providing flexibility for those who need it,” Pichai writes.
And Pichai discloses that once offices are fully reopened, everyone working there will have be vaccinated. The requirement will be first imposed at Google’s Mountain View, California headquarters and other US offices before being extended to the more than 40 other countries where the Google operates.
The vaccine mandate will be adjusted to adhere to the laws and regulators of each location, Pichai writes, and exceptions will be made for medical and other “protected” reasons.
“Getting vaccinated is one of the most important ways to keep ourselves and our communities healthy in the months ahead,” Pichai explains.
Google’s decision to require vaccines to be in the office comes on the heels of similar moves affecting hundreds of thousands government workers in California and New York as part of stepped-up measures to fight the Delta variant.
WASHINGTON — The United States is ramping up pressure on Poland in hopes of stopping legislation that would prevent families from receiving restitution for property seized during the Holocaust and communist era.
The US says that Poland is the only country in Europe to have regressed over the past year in meeting commitments to return seized property or provide compensation for Holocaust victims and their families. The public admonishment is likely to anger Polish authorities, who have rejected previous criticism on the matter.
The proposed compensation law, which may be enacted in August, has already been denounced by Israel, Jewish groups and the US. The new US criticism comes just before the one-year anniversary of the release of a congressionally mandated report tracking European progress in adjudicating Holocaust claims. That report called out several nations but was particularly critical of Poland.
On the eve of the anniversary, Cherrie Daniels, the US special envoy for Holocaust issues, says the Polish legislation “would cause irreparable harm to both Jews and non-Jews by effectively extinguishing claims for restitution and compensation of property taken during the Holocaust that was subsequently nationalized during the communist period.”
If adopted, the law would prevent property ownership and other administrative decisions from being declared void after 30 years, which would mean that pending proceedings involving communist-era property confiscations would be discontinued and dismissed. It affects Polish, Jewish and other property that are subject to contested previous determinations.
Ra’am is in talks with other coalition factions to appoint the Islamist party’s MK Mazen Ghanaim as a deputy minister on the condition he gives up his Knesset seat, according to Channel 12 news.
According to the network, Ghanaim’s independent streak has raised concerns and his appointment as deputy housing minister is meant to ease pressure on the coalition by not having to ensure his support for every vote.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield says the Biden administration will “continue to fiercely advocate” for the return of the two civilians and bodies of two fallen IDF soldiers currently being held captive in Gaza.
Speaking at the UN Security Council’s monthly session to discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Thomas-Greenfield recalls a meeting she held last month with Leah Goldin, the mother of Hadar, one of the two soldiers whose body is being held by Hamas.
“For the last seven years, the Goldins have advocated endlessly for his return. When I met with her, I promised her I would do everything possible to support her efforts to have her son returned. No parent – no one – should have to endure such a wretched experience,” the US envoy says.
“The United States will continue to fiercely advocate for the return of Israeli soldiers killed in action in Gaza, as well as the return of Israeli civilians held captive there. And we will continue to push for decency, for humanity, for equality, and for peace for all,” Thomas-Greenfield adds.
Turning to the Palestinian Authority, Thomas-Greenfield expresses concern over recent reports that the PA “is acting to restrict Palestinian freedom of expression and harass civil society activists and organizations. That is unacceptable.”
She says she’s particularly disturbed by the death of Palestinian activist Nizar Banat while in PA custody and adds that “the circumstances of his death must be fully investigated and those responsible held accountable.”
The envoy expresses US commitment to a two-state solution and opposition to “efforts to single out Israel unfairly in UN forums.”
She said Washington opposes certain actions by Israel and the Palestinians, such as “settlement activity, annexation of territory, evictions, demolitions, incitement to violence, and compensating individuals imprisoned for acts of terrorism.”
As for the flashpoint city of Jerusalem, Thomas-Greenfield says the US hopes to cooperate with Israel and the Palestinian Authority to maintain calm at the Temple Mount and in Sheikh Jarrah, where Palestinian families face eviction by Israeli authorities.
The envoy highlights the decision earlier this month by the Biden administration to sign a “framework for cooperation” with the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA.
“UNRWA and its staff are tirelessly committed to serving the needs of Palestinian refugees – but the agency needs operational and managerial improvements,” Thomas-Greenfield says. “The United States has zero tolerance for manifestations of anti-Semitism, racism, or other forms of hatred in UN agencies, and that includes UNRWA. This is why our framework of cooperation – the most robust to date – outlines expectations and include benchmarks to increase UNRWA’s transparency and accountability, consistent with UN principles, including neutrality.”
The ambassador notes the subsequent US contribution of $136 million in humanitarian assistance for UNRWA, bringing the year’s total to $318 after such figures had been cut significantly by the Trump administration.
WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden meets with Belarus opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya at the White House, where he expresses support for the eastern European nation’s quest for democracy.
“I was honored to meet with @Tsihanouskaya at the White House this morning,” Biden says in a tweet, referring to the exiled opposition leader.
“The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights,” he adds.
I was honored to meet with @Tsihanouskaya at the White House this morning. The United States stands with the people of Belarus in their quest for democracy and universal human rights. pic.twitter.com/SdR6w4IBNZ
— President Biden (@POTUS) July 28, 2021
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett rebuked Education minister Yifat Shasha-Biton for her criticism of top Health Ministry officials, according to Channel 12 news.
“Stop dealing in this style with the Health Ministry,” Bennett is quoted as telling her.
Shasha-Biton reportedly fired back: “With all respect, I have my own opinion.”
In an interview with the network, Shasha-Biton denies that such an exchange between her and Bennett took place.
New Health Ministry figures show 1,438 new coronavirus infections have been confirmed since midnight, while serious cases tick down slightly to 149.
According to the ministry, there are 14,573 active cases, including 29 people on ventilators. A total of 866,866 infections have been confirmed in Israel since the pandemic began.
The death toll stands at 6,462, up two from the morning.
The ministry reports that 2.36 percent of tests today have come back positive.
The Defense Ministry says a number of government officials visited the offices of the NSO Group today to investigate recent claims that the firm’s cyber-surveillance technology was used to track political activists and journalists around the world.
“Representatives from a number of offices visited the offices of NSO Group to check the reports and claims that have come up regarding it,” the ministry says in a statement.
The ministry refuses to elaborate on the nature of the visit, if a formal investigation had been launched, who the officials were and what specific allegations they were checking.
“At this stage I cannot elaborate beyond the phrasing of the statement,” a spokesperson says.
The NSO Group has been under fire over the past week, following an investigation by a consortium of 17 international news outlets that claimed the firm’s cyber-surveillance program Pegasus had been used to crack down on political dissent and investigative journalism by autocratic regimes around the world.
After the stories were published, the Defense Ministry said it would take “appropriate action” if it determined that NSO Group violated the terms of its export licenses.
New Hope MK Sharren Haskel’s bill to decriminalize recreational marijuana use fails to clear a snap vote in the Knesset plenum due to opposition from lawmakers in the coalition’s Ra’am party.
A previous vote on the bill had been delayed due to the opposition of Ra’am.
The head of the Israel Teachers Union says her members agree with Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s opposition to administering COVID-19 vaccines at schools.
“There are HMOs and parents and can go vaccinate their kids. Educational institutions will remain educational institutions,” Yaffa Ben-David tells Kan public radio.
Noting differing views on the vaccine, Ben-David says she’s concerned that quarrels could break out between parents and school administrators over inoculation against the coronavirus.
Earlier, Ben-David sent a letter to Shasha-Biton expressing opposition to elements of her plan for reopening schools, which the education minister is currently fighting over with health officials.
RABAT, Morocco — The US position on disputed Western Sahara remains unchanged under President Joe Biden’s administration, a senior State Department official says in Morocco.
Under former president Donald Trump, the United States became the first Western country to recognize Moroccan sovereignty over Western Sahara in exchange for Rabat’s normalization of relations with Israel.
“There is no change in the US position,” Joey Hood, the Acting Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, tells a news conference in Rabat.
“Where you may see a change is in the level of energy and emphasis we are putting on helping the UN process to really produce results.”
Hood calls for the speedy appointment and backing of an envoy to the UN secretary-general “so that we can get a solution that is acceptable to all parties and will lead to peace and stability.”
Morocco laid claim to the Western Sahara, a former Spanish colony with rich phosphate resources and offshore fisheries, after Spain withdrew in 1975.
But the Algeria-backed Polisario Front took up arms to demand independence there, proclaiming the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic (SADR) in 1976, and fighting a 16-year war with Morocco.
Morocco has offered Western Sahara autonomy, but maintains the territory is a sovereign part of the kingdom.
Hood said the US welcomed Morocco’s decision to normalize ties with Israel last year, along with Bahrain, Sudan and the United Arab Emirates.
“What we’re seeing now is a fantastic age of these normalization agreements with Israel, including by Morocco, that are going to give future generations much more hope and much more of a foundation to build upon,” he says.
Matti Caspi, one of Israel’s best-known musicians, says he is canceling a series of concerts due to the reinstatement of “Green Pass” entry restrictions at events and some venues.
“I won’t cooperate with dictatorship or fascism,” Caspi writes on Facebook.
He explains that he prefers to not appear at all than to have one of his unvaccinated fans be prevented from attending. Under the Green Pass system, the unvaccinated can attend events if they present a negative coronavirus test from the past 72 hours.
“I will only show up at performances if the restrictions are removed and whoever wants to come to my performances can,” Caspi adds.
Last year, Caspi branded then-premier Benjamin Netanyahu a “dictator” over the government’s shuttering of cultural institutions during the pandemic.
The Jerusalem District Court rejects an appeal by producers and exporters of large plastic bottles, ordering them to pay a NIS 48 million ($14.7 million) fine imposed by the Environmental Protection Ministry in 2019 for failing to hit targets for collecting and recycling the bottles.
The court also orders them to pay the ministry NIS 30,000 ($9,100) to cover costs.
Health Minister Nitzan Horowitz and Environmental Protection Minister Tamar Zandberg met today their Palestinian Authority counterparts, officials confirm to The Times of Israel.
The high-level meeting of civilian officials is rare and has not happened for several years due to poor ties between Israel and the PA.
Today’s meetings were initiated by Regional Cooperation Minister Issawi Frej, who is encouraging ministers to renew contacts with their PA counterparts. Horowitz, Zandberg and Frej are all members of the left-wing Meretz party.
“Not just [those two]. There will be other meetings with the transportation ministers, the economic ministers. The process is continuing. There is will and commitment on both sides — we are going to talk,” Frej says.
The meetings come amid a growing number of high-level contacts between Israel and the PA following the new Israeli government’s swearing-in last month.
LONDON — Fully vaccinated travelers from the United States and much of Europe can enter England without quarantining starting next week.
The British government says people who have received both doses of a vaccine approved by the FDA in the US or the European Medicines Agency can take pre- and post-arrival coronavirus tests instead of self-isolating.
There is one exception: France, which Britain has dubbed a higher risk because of the presence of the Beta variant of the coronavirus. Visitors from France will continue to face a British quarantine.
Currently only people who have been vaccinated in Britain can skip 10 days of quarantine when arriving from most of Europe or North America. The move to boost Britain’s ailing travel industry comes despite rising coronavirus cases.
The rule change takes effect Monday and only applies to England. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will decide whether to follow suit.
A 12-year-old Palestinian boy is in critical condition after being shot with live bullets near Beit Amr, a West Bank town near Hebron, the Palestinian Authority Health Ministry reports.
Palestinian media report that the boy was shot by Israeli soldiers while sitting in a car near the entrance to his town. The PA Health Ministry, unusually, did not itself specify whether the boy — identified by Palestinian media as Mohammad al-Alaami — had been shot by soldiers or not.
The Israel Defense Forces says it is looking into the incident.
Deputy Public Security Minister Yair Golan says he has asked for his name to be removed from a letter to the CEO of Unilever calling for a reversal of the decision to halt Ben & Jerry’s ice cream sales in Israeli settlements.
The letter was signed by 90 MKs, with Golan the sole lawmaker in the left-wing Meretz party to sign it.
“After signing I understand the letter does not reflect my views. Cities in Judea and Samaria are not cities in Israel,” Golan tweets, using the biblical names for the West Bank.
Members of the Knesset salute the family of Sgt. Max Steinberg, a lone soldier from the US killed fighting in Gaza in the 2014 war.
Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy hails Steinberg’s family as they sit in the gallery.
“In the name of the Knesset and the name of the people in Israel, I salute you and send you a warm hug,” Levy says while choking up.
Lawmakers in the plenum then rise and applaud Steinberg’s family.
רגע של אחדות בכנסת: יו"ר הכנסת מיקי לוי בירך במליאה את משפחתו של חלל צה"ל מקס שטיינברג, חייל גולני בודד שנהרג במבצע צוק איתן, ונכחה ביציע. בקול חנוק מדמעות אמר יו"ר הכנסת – "בשם הכנסת ובשם העם בישראל אני מצדיע לכם ושולח חיבוק חם, מי ייתן לא תדעו עוד צער"@ZeevKam pic.twitter.com/9STZ3NlRhF
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) July 28, 2021
ATHENS, Greece — King Abdullah II of Jordan meets in Athens with the leaders of Greece and Cyprus as part of regular high-level contacts launched between the three Mediterranean countries in 2018.
Greece is seeking to expand its economic and military cooperation with countries in the region, wary of ongoing rivalry with neighboring Turkey over mineral rights in the eastern Mediterranean Sea.
“We look forward to seeing how we as three countries could tap into many opportunities, whether it’s trade, food security, tourism, energy, agriculture, water, the environment, health care and investment,” Abdullah says in opening remarks ahead of talks with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis and President Nicos Anastasiades of Cyprus.
Today’s meeting was delayed by 15 months due to the pandemic.
A group of 90 Knesset members pens a letter to the CEO of Unilever, the parent company of Ben & Jerry’s, calling on it to reverse the decision to stop selling ice cream in Israeli settlements.
“The decision to boycott towns and cities in Israel… is an immoral and regrettable decision that harms all residents of Judea and Samaria as well as harms hundreds of Israeli workers, Jews and Arabs alike,” the lawmakers write, using the biblical names for the West Bank.
90 חכים(הקפדתי שרק חכים יחתמו, כי זו פנייה של המחוקקת)פנו למנכל יוניליוור העולמי לבטל את ההחלטה של בןאנד ג'ריס
קואליציה ואופוזיציה, חרדים, דרוזים, דתיים, חילוניים, ימין ושמאל מתנגדים לחרם על ישראל
ביום א פגשתי את זינגר מנכל המפעל ואמרתי לו שנעשה הכל כדי לסייע לו ול160 העובדים שלו pic.twitter.com/RXDzmCU1CN
— מירב בן ארי🟠Merav Ben Ari (@Meravbenari) July 28, 2021
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with senior government and police officials to discuss plans for addressing violence and crime in Arab Israeli communities.
A statement from Bennett’s office says an anti-crime plan will be released soon.
“The violence in the Arab community is a national calamity that has been neglected for many years,” Bennett is quoted saying in the statement. “The crime is everyday and fear rules the streets. It is the responsibility of the government to fight and deal with the phenomenon and it is a national mission.”
Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton releases a statement against what she calls an “unprecedented campaign” against her, as she wrangles with the Health Ministry over her plan for reopening schools.
“The public needs to be bothered by the fact that anyone who presents a difference approach to the fight against coronavirus is immediately tagged as a coronavirus denier,” she says in a statement. “We’ve reached an absurd situation. All health problems in the State of Israel disappeared and the only thing to deal with is vaccinating children during school hours in September!”
JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — South Africa vehemently objects to last week’s “unilateral” decision by the African Union Commission to grant Israel an official observer status at the continental organization.
In a strongly worded statement, the continental powerhouse, which last year held the annually rotating AU presidency, says it “is appalled at the unjust and unwarranted decision of the AU Commission to grant Israel observer status in the African Union.”
The AU handed Israel the observer status on Thursday, a move the two parties expected would enable Israel to further help the AU battle the coronavirus pandemic and terrorism on the continent.
“The decision to grant Israel observer status is even more shocking in a year in which the oppressed people of Palestine were hounded by destructive bombardments and continued illegal settlements of the land,” South Africa’s foreign affairs ministry says, blasting the move as “inexplicable” and “incomprehensible.”
South Africa backs the Palestinian cause with formal diplomatic relations established in 1995, a year after the end of apartheid, and it downgraded its embassy in Tel Aviv in 2019.
Opposition Leader Benjamin Netanyahu, who became the first person in Israel to be vaccinated in December while serving as premier, recently had a serological test that found his level of coronavirus antibodies to be low, according to a report by journalist Ben Caspit carried by the Walla news site.
The report directly links Netanyahu’s call for older Israelis to be given third vaccine shots to the test results, asserting the former prime minister reached the conclusion about the need for a booster shortly after learning about his antibody levels.
It also notes that Netanyahu, 71, has recently been photographed double-masking in the Knesset.
— וואלה! (@WallaNews) July 28, 2021
Israel Teachers Union chief Yaffa Ben-David expresses opposition to Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s plan for reopening schools.
“The plan as published in the media does not provide a response to education workers and school administrators concerning basic scenarios, when the coronavirus is raising its head and quickly spreading,” Ben-David writes in a letter to Shasha-Biton.
NEW YORK — Pfizer sharply increases its 2021 projection for revenues tied to its COVID-19 vaccine, forecasting the delivery of 500 million more doses compared with earlier expectations.
The US drugmaker, who has partnered with Germany’s BioNTech on the vaccine, estimates delivering 2.1 billion doses, generating $33.5 billion in sales. The company’s May forecast was for $26 billion in sales.
Pfizer also lifts its full-year profit outlook.
BERLIN — A Syrian doctor has been charged in Germany with crimes against humanity for allegedly torturing people in military hospitals in his homeland and killing one of them, German federal prosecutors say.
The Federal Prosecutor’s Office in Karlsruhe says in a written statement that Alla Mousa, who came to Germany in 2015 and practiced medicine before he was arrested last year, is accused of 18 counts of torturing people in military hospitals in Homs and Damascus. The allegations include that Mousa tried to make people infertile.
A federal indictment charged him with murder, severe bodily harm, attempted bodily harm and dangerous bodily harm, the statement says.
Prosecutors say that after the beginning of the opposition uprising against Syrian President Bashar Assad in 2011, protesters were frequently arrested and tortured. Injured civilians who were thought to be members of the opposition were also taken to military hospitals where they were tortured and sometimes killed.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s supreme leader calls the US “stubborn” in stalled nuclear talks in Vienna for discussing Tehran’s missiles and regional influence, likely signaling challenges ahead in efforts to revive its tattered atomic accord with world powers.
Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei’s remarks come as his hardline protégé, President-elect Ebrahim Raisi, is poised to be sworn in next week as the head of the country’s civilian government.
While Raisi has said he wants to return to the deal, which saw Iran limit its enrichment of uranium in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions, Khamenei seemingly calls for a more adversarial approach in his remarks. He also appears to describe outgoing President Hassan Rouhani’s eight-year government as naive for its approach in reaching the 2015 agreement as its officials sat before him.
“Others should use your experiences. This experience is a distrust of the West,” Khamenei says in remarks broadcast by state television. “In this government, it was shown up that trust in the West does not work.”
He adds: “Westerners do not help us, they hit wherever they can.”
The US State Department doesn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. The Biden administration days earlier criticized Iran for saying America had delayed a possible prisoner-swap deal, calling it “an outrageous effort to deflect blame for the current impasse.”
In his remarks today, Khamenei describes American negotiators as verbally promising to lift sanctions, but says any return to the nuclear deal must “include a sentence” on negotiating on other issues.
“By putting this sentence, they want to provide an excuse for their further interventions on the principle of (the deal) and missile program and regional issues,” the leader says. “If Iran refuses to discuss them, they will say that you have violated the agreement and the agreement is over.”
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett comes to the defense of a senior Health Ministry official after Israeli television quoted what it described as unnamed sources in the high-level coronavirus cabinet lashing out at her.
“Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis is a devoted and professional public servant who works day and night for the health of Israeli citizens and the personal attack her is inappropriate and unacceptable,” Bennett tweets.
He adds that “there is full backing for her actions,” citing Alroy-Preis’s role as a leading official in the government’s pandemic response.
Health Minister Nitzman Horowitz also tweets his support of Alroy-Preis, who heads the ministry’s department of public health, saying she has his full support and the backing of the ministry.
The statements of support came after the sources claimed to Channel 13 news that Alroy-Preis “acts like she’s crazy. She’s always screaming and when she’s asked to provide figures, she stutters and is evasive. There is no data behind this hysteria.”
The network made a point of noting the remarks came after the Health Ministry rejected Education Minister Yifat Shasha-Biton’s plan to shorten quarantine for students to 48 hours with a negative test when the school year starts.
Channel 12 news, meanwhile, quotes unnamed government ministers assailing Shasha-Biton, who has been a vocal critic of many coronavirus restrictions and previously feuded with Alroy-Preis.
“Has she completely gone crazy?” the ministers are quoted saying. “Two million Israeli students are captive in the hands of a coronavirus denier.”
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