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

Israeli, US national security convene meet of strategic group aimed at addressing Iran

National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in front of the White House on October 5, 2021. (Jake Sullivan/Twitter)
National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata (L) and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in front of the White House on October 5, 2021. (Jake Sullivan/Twitter)

National Security Council chairman Eyal Hulata and his US counterpart Jake Sullivan have concluded the latest meeting of the US-Israel Strategic Consultative Group in Washington.

The SCG has met several times since the start of the Biden administration to coordinate efforts aimed at curbing the various threats posed by Iran. The meeting was attended by foreign policy, defense and intelligence officials from both governments, the White House says in a statement.

The sides also “discussed economic and diplomatic steps to achieve these goals and reviewed ongoing cooperation between the US and Israeli militaries,” the US readout says. “The US and Israeli officials committed that, working toward the same goal, they will remain in close coordination on the full range of issues of mutual interest and to remain united against all threats to their national security.”

Hulata was expected to have discussed US President Joe Biden’s trip to Israel and the West Bank, which is slated to take place in late June. Additionally, he was reportedly slated to receive an update on US efforts to broker an agreement that will see Egypt transfer the Red Sea islands of Tiran and Sanafir to Saudi Arabia.

That deal requires Israeli approval because of the multinational observer force that has been deployed on the islands since the Jewish state’s peace deal with Egypt. As a result, the US and Israel are reportedly pushing Riyadh to take a series of small steps toward full normalization with Jerusalem.

Sheryl Sandberg, longtime No. 2 at Facebook, steps down

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms' on Capitol Hill, Washington, on September 5, 2018. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms' on Capitol Hill, Washington, on September 5, 2018. (AP/Jose Luis Magana)

SAN FRANCISCO — Sheryl Sandberg, the No. 2 executive at Facebook owner Meta, is stepping down, according to a post today on her Facebook page. Sandberg has served as chief operating officer at the social media giant for 14 years. She joined from Google in 2008, four years before Facebook went public.

Meta doesn’t immediately respond to a message for comment.

“When I took this job in 2008, I hoped I would be in this role for five years. Fourteen years later, it is time for me to write the next chapter of my life,” Sandberg writes on her Facebook page. She doesn’t say what she plans to do.

Sandberg has led Facebook — now Meta’s — advertising business and was responsible for nurturing it from its infancy into an over $100 billion-a-year powerhouse.

PA report death of Palestinian critically wounded in clashes with Israeli troops

A Palestinian critically wounded during clashes with Israeli forces in the northern West Bank has been pronounced dead, the Palestinian Authority’s health ministry says.

He is identified as Bilal Kabha, 24.

Knesset advances opposition bill banning Palestinian flags at state-funded institutions

Israeli and pro-Palestinian students stage protests at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba on May 23, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)
Israeli and pro-Palestinian students stage protests at Ben-Gurion University in Beersheba on May 23, 2022. (Emanuel Fabian/Times of Israel)

The Knesset has advanced through a preliminary reading an opposition bill banning Palestinian flags from being hung at state-funded institutions.

The vote is 63 for and 16 against, with lawmakers from the New Hope and Yamina parties — including Prime Minister Naftali Bennett voting alongside opposition MKs.

Although Palestinian flags have sometimes been prohibited or confiscated by police, they are not illegal. The legislative push, which began ahead of Sunday’s nationalist Jerusalem Day Flag March, follows criticism of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after Palestinian flags were displayed during a recent rally at the school in Beersheba.

Responding to the criticism, the university noted in a statement that the events showed that students from all segments of Israeli society at the campus were able to “hold a variety of opinions and views.”

US and UAE reportedly in talks to sign major security agreement

US and Emirati officials have been holding talks to sign a “Strategic Framework Agreement” that would give the UAE certain security guarantees from the US, Axios reports.

The deal appears to be an effort by the Biden administration to mend ties with the UAE that have strained over the past year, with Abu Dhabi accusing Washington of not providing it with enough support amid missile attacks from the Iran-backed Houthis.

Why it matters: The discussions began last November, but became more serious after the UAE and Biden administration eased tensions in late March. Relations had been strained over what the Emiratis saw as a slow and weak US response to the Houthi missile and drone attacks on Abu Dhabi in January.

The deal would demonstrate the US commitment to the UAE’s security, current and former US officials told Axios.

Discussions are expected to continue in the coming weeks.

IDF said to enter West Bank town to demolish home of terrorist in Bnei Brak attack

Diaa Hamarsheh, the suspected terrorist in the March 29, 2022 shooting attack in Bnei Brak. (Courtesy)
Diaa Hamarsheh, the suspected terrorist in the March 29, 2022 shooting attack in Bnei Brak. (Courtesy)

Israeli soldiers and military bulldozers are seen entering the West Bank village of Ya’bad near Jenin, according to Palestinian media reports.

According to reports, troops are expected to demolish the home of Diaa Hamarsheh, the Palestinian who killed five people in a terror attack in Bnei Brak in March.

The Israel Defense Forces issued a demolition order against the home last month.

Soldier moderately hurt after stun grenade explodes in his hand

An Israeli soldier is moderately hurt after a stun grenade he was holding exploded in his hand earlier today, the military says.

According to the IDF, the incident occurred during “routine activity” in central Israel. (Though, the army often refers to the West Bank as part of central Israel).

The soldier was treated at the scene and then taken to a hospital, the IDF says.

The incident is being investigated.

Report: Despite widely documented assaults on Palestinians, just 2 Flag March participants arrested

Israeli youths march through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City on May 28, 2022, on the eve of the Jerusalem Day flag parade. (Screenshot/Twitter)
Israeli youths march through the Muslim Quarter in Jerusalem's Old City on May 28, 2022, on the eve of the Jerusalem Day flag parade. (Screenshot/Twitter)

Dozens of videos from Sunday’s Jerusalem Day Flag March showed participants beating and harassing Palestinian onlookers.

Police carried out 60 arrests during the march but just two of the suspects brought in were Jews, Haaretz reports. The footage shows religious-nationalist participants hurling stones, vandalizing and stealing Palestinian property and shouting racist and inciting chants.

The clips also caught several participants pepper-spraying Palestinian onlookers. Many of the videos uploaded to social media showed the faces of the Jewish suspects, but police have yet to carry out widespread arrests.

The only two suspects who were arrested were ones who allegedly beat a Palestinian journalist in Sheikh Jarrah.

Sa’ar denies talks with Likud, says vote to renew civil law for settlers a red line

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then Minister of Internal Affairs Gideon Sa'ar, in the Knesset, July 9, 2013. (Flash 90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then Minister of Internal Affairs Gideon Sa'ar, in the Knesset, July 9, 2013. (Flash 90)

Unnamed coalition members are aiming criticism at Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar over his headline-grabbing push to rally support for a law that would renew a measure extending Israeli civil and criminal law to West Bank settlers, Channel 12 reports.

Members of the coalition think Sa’ar’s strategy is making it more difficult for Ra’am to back the measure, the channel says.

Sa’ar tells Channel 12 that whoever aimed the criticism at him is a coward for hiding behind anonymity, and shoots his own criticism at the coalition for failing to fully support the measure, which he again claims will create massive legal headaches.

“When I’m fighting for the bill, I’m fighting for the coalition’s existence. Anyone who does not support the bill wants the coalition to not exist,” he says. “I’m committed to this coalition, but if this coalition is to exist it has to govern.”

“We have to do the maximum to avoid unnecessary elections … this coalition “is the least bad option… we fought for it… but that’s if it is able to govern.”

The New Hope head denies outright reports of talks between Likud and him or Housing Minister Ze’ev Elkin. He does so in interviews with Channels 11 and 13, which are all aired at the same time.

Reminded that before elections he said he wouldn’t join a government with Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu, and asked to explicitly repeat that pledge, he says “my stance hasn’t changed.”

He refuses three times to explicitly repeat that he won’t sit with Netanyahu, but does criticize the opposition leader for refusing to support the bill renewing settler legal protections.

“For his personal interest, Netanyahu is waging a campaign against the core national interest of the state of Israel,” he says.

Evidently, Netanyahu hasn’t changed, says Sa’ar, and “thus my stance [against sitting with him] hasn’t changed either… and I can’t see a circumstance in which it would.”

Gantz pencils in India trip for Wednesday night after fresh delays

After delays, Defense Minister Benny Gantz will head to India tonight for a trip marking 30 years of security and diplomatic relations between the countries, his office says.

Gantz was supposed to travel this afternoon, but postponed the flight after opposition lawmakers refused to offset his absence during votes in the Knesset.

During the trip, Gantz is slated to meet with India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and Defense Minister Rajnath Singh.

Joining Gantz is Yair Kulas, the head of the Defense Ministry’s weapons exports department; Dror Shalom, who heads the ministry’s Political-Military Bureau; and Yaki Dolef, Gantz’s military secretary.

Knesset members bicker over which of them supports terrorists

Likud-New Hope comity may have ruled the day when the Knesset voted on a bill recognizing bereaved siblings, but the debate ahead of the vote was anything but collegial.

During the debate, Knesset members got into several shouting matches, with a number of lawmakers slinging charges of “terror supporter” at each other.

Many of the brickbats were aimed at Joint List MK Ahmed Tibi, who was sitting in as Knesset speaker during the debate, and was called a “terrorist” by several right-wing lawmakers.

“That’s the harshest thing you can say,” Tibi responds. “You are accusing Arab MKs of being responsible for murder and killing, you are libeling MKs in this chamber.”

He also accuses Religious Zionism MK Orit Struck of being an avowed terror supporter due to her links to extremist settler groups.

Tibi eventually boots Struck, Religious Zionism head Bezalel Smotrich and party member Simcha Rotman from the plenum.

New Hope bill recognizing bereaved siblings passes Knesset with Likud support

A New Hope-sponsored bill that would recognize the siblings of a victim of a fatal incident as a bereaved relative has passed the Knesset on preliminary reading with Likud support, amid reports of a possible partnership between the parties.

The bill would require authorities to not only inform the parents of a victim, but also their siblings, and would also receive information about what help or benefits might be available to them.

The bill, proposed by the coalition’s Michal Shir, passes with 72 votes in support after getting backing from some Likud MKs, despite the opposition party vowing to vote down any coalition bill, regardless of content.

The support comes on the heels of a report earlier in the day detailing secret backchannel talks between New Hope and Likud about possibly forming an alternative government.

According to Ynet, Likud ordered a reduction in public attacks on New Hope head Gideon Sa’ar as part of the talks. Most New Hope MKs are former Likud lawmakers who left after feuding with party leader Benjamin Netanyahu.

New Hope members have denied the reports.

IDF head bashes decision to ban female speaker from ceremony

IDF chief Aviv Kochavi says an incident last week in which a female officer was prohibited from speaking at a Western Wall military ceremony “harmed the army’s values and command structure.”

“Women serve in the IDF, are essential to the IDF and their service is needed in the IDF. They command, they train, they investigate, they fight and they carry out various missions, and they are treated exactly like men who serve in the IDF,” Kochavi writes in a missive.

IDF chief Aviv Kochavi speaks at a ceremony marking Memorial Day at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, on April 13, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

The incident occurred on Thursday during a swearing-in ceremony for new recruits, a common occurrence there. According to media reports, the woman was told not to speak at the last moment, due to a request by the Western Wall Foundation, a government body responsible for managing the holy site.

Kochavi says the decision disrespected the officer, and that only professional considerations can justify gender discrimination in the heavily integrated army.

He also bemoans the influence of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation in determining who could speak at the ceremony.

Israeli soldiers attend a swearing-in ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem, June 23, 2016. (Zack Wajsgras/Flash90)

“Only IDF officers can set the values and norms of a company, only they set what the company’s standards are. IDF officers cannot allow themselves to be influenced by pressure groups or actors outside the chain of command,” he writes.

In its response to an outcry of the incident, the Western Wall Heritage Foundation said military ceremonies at the site are held in accordance with IDF guidelines and chalked up the incident to a “local misunderstanding.”

The foundation runs the site according to ultra-Orthodox traditions; some ultra-Orthodox consider it immodest for women to speak or sing in public.

Kochavi notes that officers face tough dilemmas, but says they must be guided by the need to uphold the army’s values, including respect and equality.

Lavrov warns West being drawn into Ukraine war with weapons shipments

Western countries transferring weapons to Ukraine to help Kyiv fight off invading Russian forces are being drawn into the conflict, Moscow’s foreign minister warns in a thinly veiled threat while on a trip to Saudi Arabia.

Lavrov accuses Ukraine of a “direct provocation” for requesting missile launchers, air defense systems and other weapons.

“This is a direct provocation aimed at drawing the West into hostilities,” he says.

“Of course, sane Western politicians are well aware of these risks,” he adds, apparently referring to fears that Russia will attack countries in Europe supplying arms to Ukraine.

US President Joe Biden announced earlier that Washington would send Ukraine the Himars multiple launch rocket system, or MLRS, a mobile unit that can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles up to 50 miles (80 kilometers) away.

Lavrov commends what he calls “reasonable assessments” from Washington, apparently referring to a pledge that the system won’t be used to launch rockets into Russia itself.

In an article in the New York Times, Biden insists: “We are not encouraging or enabling Ukraine to strike beyond its borders.”

“So long as the United States or our allies are not attacked, we will not be directly engaged in this conflict, either by sending American troops to fight in Ukraine or by attacking Russian forces,” he adds.

Lavrov says that while Russia is making its case via backchannels, some Europeans don’t seem to be convinced that they should stop supporting Ukraine militarily against the Russian onslaught.

“I will say it frankly: not everyone in the European Union, especially in its northern part [understands this]. There are politicians, who are ready to do this madness in order to satisfy their ambitions. But serious countries in the EU naturally are well aware that such scenarios are unacceptable,” he says, according to state-run Russian media.

The comments come as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announces Berlin will deliver an air defense system capable of shielding a “large city” from Russian air raids to Ukraine.

“The government has decided that we will send the Iris-T system — the most modern system that Germany currently possesses,” he says in parliament.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock admits however that it would take months for the air defense system to reach Ukraine.

Germany will also deliver a tracking radar system capable of detecting enemy rocket artillery, he adds.

AFP contributed to this report.



Iranian hack attack on Boston Children’s Hospital thwarted by FBI — Wray

The FBI thwarted a planned cyberattack on a children’s hospital in Boston that was to have been carried out by hackers sponsored by the Iranian government, FBI Director Christopher Wray says.

Wray tells a Boston College cybersecurity conference that his agents learned of the planned digital attack from an unspecified intelligence partner and got Boston Children’s Hospital the information it needed last summer to block what would have been “one of the most despicable cyberattacks I’ve seen.”

“And quick actions by everyone involved, especially at the hospital, protected both the network and the sick kids who depended on it,” Wray says.

Boston Children’s Hospital. (YouTube screenshot)

The FBI chief mentions the anecdote in a broader speech about ongoing cyberthreats from Russia, China and Iran and the need for partnerships between the US government and the private sector.

He says the bureau and Boston Children’s Hospital had worked closely together after a hacktivist attacked the hospital’s computer network in 2014 in an attack that cost the facilities tens of thousands of dollars and disrupted operations for days.

“Children’s and our Boston office already knew each other well — before the attack from Iran — and that made a difference,” Wray said.

He did not ascribe a particular motive to the planned attack on the hospital, but he noted that Iran and other countries have been hiring cyber mercenaries to conduct attacks on their behalf.

‘Don’t try to dance with Turkey’: Angry Erdogan cuts off talks with Greece

Turkey will no longer hold high-level talks with neighboring Greece, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan says amid rising tensions between the traditional rivals.

Ankara resumed negotiations with Athens last year following a five-year break to address differences over a range of issues such as mineral exploration in the eastern Mediterranean and rival claims in the Aegean Sea.

“We broke off our high-level strategy council meetings with Greece,” Erdogan tells a meeting of his party’s lawmakers in Ankara, adding: “Don’t you learn any lessons from history? Don’t try to dance with Turkey.”

The talks had made little headway, but were a means for the two countries to air out their grievances without resorting to a potential armed standoff as had occurred as recently as two years ago.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, right, on a two-day official visit to Greece, meets Kyriakos Mitsotakis, left, leader of the main opposition New Democracy party in Athens, December 7, 2017. (Kayhan Ozer/Pool via AP)

Erdogan’s pivot on the talks appeared to have been triggered last week when he signaled his displeasure at comments made by Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis during a trip to the US

Erdogan says Mitsotakis “no longer exists” for him after accusing the Greek leader of trying to block Turkey’s acquisition of F-16 fighter planes.

Army says drone shot down near border with Egypt Monday

The Israel Defense Forces says it shot down a drone that infiltrated Israeli air space earlier this week.

The army says the unmanned aircraft was shot down by fighter jets near Mount Sagi in the Negev on Monday.

The army does not say where the drone crossed into Israel from, but Mount Sagi is only a few kilometers from the border with Egypt.

An official statement given on condition of anonymity notes that the drone was unarmed and apparently entered Israel from Egypt after running into technical issues. The downing of the aircraft was coordinated with Egypt, it says.

The army says the incident is being investigated.

It is unclear why the military kept the incident under wraps for two days.

Litzman steps down, but says he’ll stay in politics

Shortly after handing in his resignation, soon-to-be-former MK Yaakov Litzman says he won’t be far from the halls of power, during his final speech on the Knesset floor.

“I will stay in politics,” the 23-year veteran of the Knesset says. “I am staying for a few things in which I can help,” he adds, without elaborating.

Litzman, 73, expresses his disappointment that his resignation — linked to an upcoming hearing on his plea deal to settle graft charges related to the Malka Leifer case, which requires him to step down — precludes his ability to vote for the current Knesset’s dispersal.

MK Yaakov Litzman seen at the Israeli parliament during a plenum session in the assembly hall of the Israeli parliament, in Jerusalem, on June 1, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“This Knesset is not what’s supposed to be and you all know this,” he says, expressing hope for change.

The current government has worked to pass measures against and slash funding for issues close to the Haredi community and is currently working on a budget expected to cut off ultra-Orthodox access to the coalition’s discretionary funding pot.

Holding the reins of his United Torah Judaism party for 18 years before turning control over to MK Moshe Gafni last year, the Haredi leader served in a number of ministerial and committee head positions.

Closing his remarks, Litzman recalls an undated vote on funding for yeshivas during which he could have used his influence to “have gotten anything,” but rather decided to split the pot with others.

Litzman says that “this Prime Minister [Naftali Bennett] and Interior Minister [Ayelet Shaked] need to put very well into their heads how I behaved then and how they’re behaving today.”

Tel Aviv study claims antisemitism in Black Lives Matter movement being ignored

A study released today by the INSS think tank at Tel Aviv University argues that the Black Lives Matter movement is the latest manifestation of longstanding antisemitism in the American Black community that stems from the era of Malcolm X.

“Black Antisemitism in America: Past and Present,” by University of North Texas history and Jewish studies professor Eunice G. Pollack, also claims that American Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Jewish Council for Public Affairs have minimized the extent of the antisemitism in the BLM movement.

After the Movement for Black Lives posted its policy platform in 2016, which accused US of complicity “in the genocide taking place against the Palestinian people” and calling for support of the BDS movement, ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt said it was only “some individuals and organizations associated with the Black Lives Matter movement [that] have engaged in antisemitic rhetoric.”

More than 600 Jewish groups signed a 2020 letter that appeared in a full-page New York Times ad denying any antisemitism in the BLM movement, the INSS study points out. Such accusations are used by “politicians and political movements in this country who build power by deliberately manufacturing fear to divide us against each other,” the letter read.

Illustrative: A man wearing a kippah holds a sign reading ‘Jews for Black Lives’ at the weekly Black Lives Matter ‘Jackie Lacey Must Go!’ protest in front of the Hall of Justice in Los Angeles, California, September 9, 2020 (VALERIE MACON / AFP)

The ”Black Antisemitism” study argues that despite extensive Jewish involvement in the civil rights movements, in the 1960s Black activists began to see the Arab-Israeli conflict through a racial lens, and saw both themselves and Palestinians being oppressed by “white” Jews.

Pollack – author of the 2013 book “Racializing Antisemitism: Black militants, Jews, and Israel, 1950-present” – contends that instances of blatant antisemitism among prominent Black officials like Jesse Jackson, Louis Farrakhan, and Ilhan Omar are ignored, or excused by the claim that oppressed communities cannot be racist.

She does not examine contemporary support for Israel in many Black churches in America. For example, the 9 million-strong Church of God in Christ appointed in 2019 prominent African-American Zionist Bishop Glenn Plummer as its first Bishop of Israel, to help build bridges between Israel and Black Americans.

Pollack’s INSS study is the latest publication of the INSS research project on antisemitism in the US, launched in March 2020.

Palestinian flag comes off Ramat Gan tower after outcry

Israeli workers hang large Palestinian and Israeli flags as part of a campaign, in Ramat Gan, June 1, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Israeli workers hang large Palestinian and Israeli flags as part of a campaign, in Ramat Gan, June 1, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

A Palestinian flag hoisted on the side of a tower in Ramat Gan’s bourse district has been removed after opposition by Ramat Gan Mayor Carmel Shama Hacohen.

The flag had been hung some 30 stories above the Tel Aviv suburb’s Diamond Exchange alongside an Israeli flag, with a banner reading “We were meant to live together” in Hebrew and Arabic. The campaign was organized by Mehazkim, a left-wing group focused on getting progressive messages into the public sphere.

The display did that and then some, garnering widespread reactions online, much of it less than supportive.

Mehazkim says on Facebook that will continue to put up similar signs around the country, asking for volunteers and donors.

“Even if the pressure of yellowbellies and violent people brought down the Palestinian flag from our sign, things like this only give us more strength and motivation to spread the word,” it says.

Shama Hacohen says the Palestinian flag is being replaced by an Israeli flag with symbols for various state and security bodies as well as the city’s logo, though some have some other ideas.

Gantz postpones India trip for 2nd time, after opposition refuses to offset his vote

Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the IDF Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem, on March 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz at the IDF Central Command headquarters in Jerusalem, on March 30, 2022. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz is delaying a visit to India, for the second time, after opposition lawmakers refuse to offset his absence during votes in the Knesset.

Gantz was slated to travel to India at 3 p.m. to sign a “special security declaration” marking 30 years of security and diplomatic relations between the countries. The trip was initially meant to take place in late March, but Gantz delayed it then amid a series of deadly terror attacks in Israel and the West Bank.

Hours before he is scheduled to take off, a Likud party source confirms that the opposition would “absolutely” refuse to offset Gantz’s vote.

Offsetting votes is a common Knesset practice, whereby a coalition and an opposition MK cancel out their votes by an agreed-upon mutual absence or abstention.

It was not immediately clear if Gantz would fly later in the day. A Defense Ministry spokesperson says the trip would happen at a later time or date, and a Blue and White party spokesperson says he will stay in the country for now.

Over 180 Ethiopians land in Israel as immigration flights restart

Immigrants from Ethiopia arrive at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel on June 1, 2022. (Amy Spiro/ The Times of Israel)
Immigrants from Ethiopia arrive at Ben Gurion Airport in Israel on June 1, 2022. (Amy Spiro/ The Times of Israel)

A hundred and eighty-one new Israeli citizens — from months-old babies to octogenarians — have landed at Ben Gurion Airport from Ethiopia, kicking off the restart of immigration flights from the civil war-torn nation after more than a year.

A second flight tomorrow, also from Addis Ababa, is scheduled to bring a further 160 new immigrants, making up the first round of a series of planned airlifts that together are eventually slated to bring 3,000 new immigrants from Ethiopia to Israel.

Today’s flight is the first immigration flight from Ethiopia since March 2021, when Israel marked the completion of the first half of Operation Tzur Yisrael (Rock of Israel), which brought around 2,000 new immigrants. Approved by a government decision in November, this wave — which is being considered the second half of Operation Tzur Yisrael — is slated to be completed by November, say Jewish Agency officials.

The immigration process was held up after the right-wing Israeli Immigration Policy Center filed an appeal against it with the High Court, which froze the measure as it deliberated. In March, the High Court rejected the petition, paving the way for the immigrants to begin to arrive.

The vast majority of the immigrants landing today and tomorrow have first-degree family members in Israel. They will all move to absorption centers across Israel where they will begin months of Hebrew language courses and a conversion process mandated by the state rabbinate.

The immigration drive has been pushed heavily by Immigration and Absorption Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata — herself an immigrant from Ethiopia — who was aboard today’s flight from Addis Ababa to Tel Aviv.

Kremlin says US ‘adding fuel to fire’ in Ukraine with missile launcher shipment

The Kremlin is accusing Washington of “adding fuel to the fire” by planning to supply Ukraine with advanced missile systems.

“We believe that the United States is adding fuel to the fire deliberately and on purpose,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters.

“Such supplies” do not encourage Kyiv to resume peace talks, Peskov says, adding that Washington wanted to “fight Russia to the last Ukrainian.”

Yesterday, Washington said it would be supplying Ukraine with advanced missile systems, including the Himars multiple-launch rocket system that can simultaneously launch multiple precision-guided missiles.

Earlier, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov said that the planned delivery of these new US weapons to Ukraine increased the risk of drawing the United States into direct conflict with Russia.

“Any arms supplies that continue, are on the rise, increase the risks of such a development,” Ryabkov was quoted as saying by state news agency RIA Novosti.

Russia shuts gas spigot to Denmark as energy war over Ukraine escalates

Denmark’s largest energy company says Russia has cut off its gas supply because it refused to pay in rubles, the latest escalation over European energy amid the war in Ukraine.

Russia previously halted natural gas supplies to Finland, Poland and Bulgaria for refusing a demand to pay in rubles. And on Tuesday, the tap was turned off to the Netherlands.

Danish energy company Ørsted says it still expects to be able to serve its customers.

“We stand firm in our refusal to pay in rubles, and we’ve been preparing for this scenario,” Ørsted CEO Mads Nipper said. ”The situation underpins the need of the EU becoming independent of Russian gas by accelerating the build-out of renewable energy.”

In response to Western sanctions imposed against Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree saying foreign buyers needed to pay in rubles for Russian gas as of April 1.

“This is totally not acceptable,” Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says. “This is a kind of blackmailing from Putin. We continue to support Ukraine, and we distance ourselves from the crimes that Putin and Russia commit.”

Liberman touts Palestinian flag ban ahead of Knesset vote

Legislators are expected to vote in the coming hours on a controversial measure that would ban flags of enemy states — including Palestinians — at publicly funded institutions.

The bill is from Likud’s Eli Cohen, but the coalition has allowed MKs to support the measure in its preliminary reading, giving it a chance to pass this initial hurdle before moving to committee.

Ahead of the expected vote, Finance Minister and Yisrael Beytenu party head Avigdor Liberman tweets, “In our state there is only room for one flag – the flag of Israel.”

Although Palestinian flags have sometimes been prohibited or confiscated by police, they are not illegal. The legislative push follows criticism of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev after Palestinian flags were displayed during a recent rally at the school in Beersheba.

Meretz to back measure renewing Israeli civil law for settlers — report

A Knesset member from the progressive Meretz party says the faction will unanimously support a bill renewing a controversial measure that renews Israeli legal protections for West Bank settlers while leaving Palestinians under a separate military justice system.

“The whole faction will vote for it,” MK Mossi Raz says, according to Channel 12 news.

Raz cannot immediately be reached to confirm the support.

The apparent backing of Meretz leaves only Ra’am as the only apparent holdout against the bill within the coalition.

(From L-R)  Meretz head Nitzan Horwitz, Meretz MK Mossi Raz, former Peace Now executive director Yariv Oppenheimer and current director Shaqued Morag stand outside an illegal outpost in the central West Bank on July 22, 2019. (Peace Now)

The Islamist party has remained tight-lipped about how it will vote on the bill, but is thought to generally oppose the fact that settlers are granted rights withheld from Palestinians.

The comment from Raz comes as Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar and Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hold a meeting with other party heads to rally support for the bill. According to Sa’ar, if the bill is not passed, Israeli settlers will be subject to the same military legal system as Palestinians, which he has described as a catastrophic outcome.

According to Sa’ar, the future of the government depends on the bill passing, and rumors Wednesday morning had him in talks with opposition figures over a potential new government.

The opposition has vowed to oppose the bill even though the Likud-led right-religious bloc supports extending the rights.

Meretz’s Michal Rosin tells Channel 12 that Meretz’s support is based on coalition agreements to not make any major changes on the Middle East peace process front, a key component of the pact holding the motley government together.

“There’s no doubt that this continues the status quo. But regarding anything with the territories, on the one hand we don’t advance diplomatically, and on the other hand we don’t advance annexation. What was will be,” she says.

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