The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
BRUSSELS, Belgium — The European Union’s top diplomat says he has written to all African foreign ministers to explain that the bloc’s sanctions on Russia are not responsible for the looming global food crisis, and pledges to work out ways for exports of food and fertilizers to reach their continent.
The EU has not banned exports of Russian food or fertilizers to non-EU nations as part of its sanctions package.
Earlier this month, the chairman of the African Union, Senegal’s President Macky Sall, told Russian President Vladimir Putin that the fighting in Ukraine and Western sanctions had worsened food shortages, and appealed to other countries to ensure grain and fertilizer exports from Russia and Ukraine are not blocked.
“Russia is blockading Ukrainian exports,” Josep Borrell says after a meeting of EU Foreign Affairs ministers. “Not us. Russia is destroying ports, and destroying food stocks, destroying transport infrastructure.”
Russia’s war against Ukraine has been preventing some 20 million tons of Ukrainian grain from getting to the Middle East, North Africa and parts of Asia.
Borrell says it is “a deliberate attempt (by Russia) to create hunger in the world,” adding that the Kremlin’s attempt to blame Western sanctions for the crisis was just “propaganda.”
‘Don’t believe everything in the media,’ Shaked says after reports of not being consulted by Bennett
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked — No. 2 in Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party — issues her first public response to Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid’s decision to hold a vote next week to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections, with the latter set to take over as interim premier.
“I heard a few things are happening in Israel,” Shaked says in a video from Morocco, where she is currently visiting. “Don’t believe everything you read in the media and from partisan journalists. It’s all nonsense.”
It is not clear what specifically Shaked is referring to, but her comments come after political sources said Bennett informed her of the plan, but did not consult with her.
A 38-year-old Israeli bus driver is lightly hurt after stones are hurled at his vehicle on the Route 60 highway in the West Bank, medics say.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says the alleged attack took place near the outpost of Givat Asaf.
Medics are taking the man to Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek hospital with injuries from glass shards.
נהג אוטובוס נפצע קל בראשו מזכוכיות כתוצאה מידוי אבנים סמוך לגבעת אסף שבבנימין. הנהג המשיך בנסיעה וחייג למוקד בנימין. חובשים של מדא העניקו לו טיפול רפואי ראשוני ופינו אותו לביהח שערי צדק. pic.twitter.com/rxi0hKWHP1
— Elisha Ben Kimon אלישע בן קימון (@elishabenkimon) June 20, 2022
CAIRO — Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman arrives in Cairo today on the first leg of a Middle East tour that comes ahead of US President Joe Biden’s trip to the region next month.
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi of Egypt received bin Salman at the airport, a courtesy to the de facto leader who is a steady financial backer of the Egyptian government, according to the Egyptian presidency.
Both leaders are scheduled to hold talks in the country’s presidential palace in Cairo tomorrow. The Saudi crown prince, who is commonly referred to by his initials MBS, will then depart to Jordan for talks with its monarch, King Abdullah II, also a close ally of Saudi Arabia.
Bin Salman is then scheduled to travel to Turkey to meet with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who visited Saudi Arabia in April for the first time in five years, as the two countries repair ties. Saudi-Turkey relations frayed following the 2018 killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate.
The crown prince’s talks in Cairo and Amman aim at coordinating their positions on key issues, Saudi officials told The Associated Press last week ahead of a joint summit with US President Joe Biden in Jeddah next month. The summit will also include Iraq’s prime minister and other Gulf leaders. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss details of the tour.
Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu slams Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s claim that he acted out of selflessness in forming and also dissolving the current government as a “charade” and “brainwashing.”
Speaking to reporters in the Knesset, Netanyahu claims “everyone is smiling” at the imminent fall of the government, which he says “gave in” to terror and “caused the loss of personal security, raised the cost of living, and, most importantly, caused the loss of national pride.”
Netanyahu says he intends to form a “wide” government that will “return the national pride” and also sign more normalization deals, following those with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Morocco, and Sudan. He says he is preparing for elections but does not rule out an alternative government in the current Knesset if additional right-wing MKs drop their “personal boycott” of Netanyahu.
Netanyahu insists he never intended to sit in a government with the Islamist Ra’am party, despite Ra’am leader saying he has proof otherwise, and Netanyahu’s Likud members making many statements at the time in favor of such an alliance. Netanyahu said that contrary to the “lies,” he only sought collaboration with Ra’am on passing a specific law to introduce direct premiership elections.
Rabbi Shalom Cohen, the spiritual leader of the ultra-Orthodox Shas party, hails the impending dissolution of the government from his hospital room.
“His name is praised in the world! A government that harmed and tried to destroy Judaism and the sanctity of Israel and harmed the weak has been driven from the world. The Holy One, Blessed Be He, has taken mercy on the people of Israel,” Cohen says in a statement.
Cohen, 91, has been in and out of the hospital regularly over the past year. He was admitted to Jerusalem’s Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem last week for routine tests.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid, who will become premier next week, thanks Prime Minister Naftali Bennett “for the responsibility he is showing today, for the fact that he is putting the country before his personal interests.”
Speaking at a joint press conference in the Knesset, Lapid also thanks Bennett for his friendship.
“I want to thank you for the friendship; I love you very much,” he says.
“Our friendship was put to the test and met obstacles along the way, but we always overcame them. We showed that you can think differently, and still work together towards a common goal,” he says. “Prime Minister Bennett is younger than I am and we still have a road ahead of us together. He’s a vital Israeli leader, innovative and brave, and I have no doubt that his place is in the leadership of this country for many years to come.”
Addressing the near future, he adds: “Even if we are going to elections in a few months, the challenges we face will not wait. We need to tackle the cost of living, wage the campaign against Iran, Hamas, and Hezbollah, and stand against the forces threatening to turn Israel into a non-democratic country. What has happened in the past few days, what has happened here tonight, is further proof that the Israeli system is in need of serious change and major repairs. A year ago, we started the process of rebuilding, and now we’re carrying it on, and carrying it on together.”
In comments made following the decision to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett hails his government as a good government, as it saved Israel from an extended political crisis, improved the country’s security and political climate, prevented a new Iran nuclear deal, and “boosted national dignity.” He says that taking apart the government “isn’t an easy moment,” but is the right move for the country.
“A year ago, we formed a government that had seemed impossible, that stopped the severe leadership paralysis,” he says in a televised statement. “We formed a good government, and together we got Israel out of the slump. Israel went back to being governed.”
“Over the past weeks, we did whatever we could to save this government, not for us, but for the benefit of the country. I held many talks and understood that if the Knesset did not dissolve within 10 days, Israel’s security would be severely harmed,” he says, referring to the fact that temporary laws applying Israeli law to settlers would have expired at the end of the month, with the opposition and rebel coalition MKs refusing to back their extension.
“Unlike the opposition, which turned Israel’s security into a political pawn, I refused to harm Israel’s security for even one day,” he says.
He likens the situation to the biblical judgement of King Solomon, in which each of two women claimed to be a baby’s mother and the king suggested cutting the baby in two in order to award each woman half a baby, and then ruling that the woman who was unwilling to tolerate harm to the child was the true mother. “We chose to be the mother that saves the baby’s life,” Bennett says.
Bennett calls Foreign Minister Yair Lapid — who will become premier next week — a “mensch who represents a big public,” despite ideological disagreements. He pledges to “do everything so that the transition is successful and comprehensive.”
Addressing his critics, Bennett stresses that his motives for forming the government are not a hunger for power, but a genuine will to do good for the country.
Opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu hails the coalition’s imminent collapse as “great news for millions of Israeli citizens.”
In a statement, Netanyahu says that “after a year’s determined struggle by the opposition in the Knesset and great suffering by the public in Israel, it is clear to everyone that the worst government in Israeli history has come to an end.
“A government that was dependent on supporters of terrorism, that abandoned the personal security of Israeli citizens, that raised the cost of living to unprecedented heights, that imposed unnecessary taxes, that endangered the Jewish character of our state, this government is going home.”
The Likud party chief says he and his colleagues intend to form “a wide, national government headed by Likud. A government that will look after you, all the citizens of Israel, without exception. A government that will cut taxes, reduce prices, lead Israel to amazing achievements, including widening the circle of peace, as we have done in the past. And above all, a government that will restore national pride to the citizens of Israel so that you can walk in the street with heads held high. With God’s help, we will do this and we will succeed.”
Following the decision by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to submit legislation to dissolve the Knesset and have Foreign Minister Yair Lapid replace him as premier, a US official reiterates to The Times of Israel what the Biden administration has stressed for months: the visit by US President Joe Biden will take place, regardless of who is prime minister.
Lapid will welcome Biden as caretaker prime minister in next month’s visit.
Former Yamina MK Yomtob Kalfon confirms that Yamina’s faction meeting was canceled this afternoon and the broader faction was not made aware of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s decision to dissolve the Knesset before he made it.
“We knew this was one of the possible scenarios, but there was no faction meeting today,” Kalfon says.
“It makes sense that he did this. It’s very military-like,” Kalfon adds. By dissolving the Knesset, Bennett joins a list of other prime ministers who left on their own terms, including David Ben Gurion and Ariel Sharon.
“It’s ‘I lead,’ not ‘I’m led,'” Kalfon says.
Interior Minister Ayelet Shaked was notified earlier today by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett of the decision to dissolve the 24th Knesset, according to political sources. There was no prior consultation with her.
Bennett and Shaked have been close partners since entering politics almost a decade ago, but this development seems to indicate that their partnership may be coming to an end.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz says it is a “shame that the country needs to be dragged to elections,” as a Blue and White source tells The Times of Israel that Gantz did not know about the final decision before it was made.
Gantz adds that he is not “judging” the decision, saying that the government will continue functioning “as much as possible” in an interim capacity.
A source close to the matter says that part of Prime Minister Naftali Bennett’s motivation for dissolving the Knesset of his own volition is that Yamina MK Nir Orbach has planned to vote to dissolve the Knesset, a move that the 59-member political minority cannot defend itself against.
Hebrew media reports indicate the most likely election date is October 25.
The nationwide strike in the education system will continue tomorrow for the third straight day, with studies in kindergartens, elementary and middle schools starting at 10 a.m., the Israel Teachers Union announces.
The strike, which does not include special education studies, has been called to protest teachers’ salaries and work conditions and the Finance Ministry’s resistance to the union’s demands.
The coalition will submit a bill to voluntarily dissolve itself next week, ending Israel’s 24th Knesset and calling new elections, according to a dramatic joint statement issued by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and Foreign Minister Yair Lapid.
Bennett and Lapid will address the public at 8 p.m. (Israel time).
Following the Knesset’s dissolution, Lapid will become caretaker prime minister until a new government is sworn in.
Given legal and holiday constraints, elections are expected at the end of October.
The Polish government wants formal rules to regulate the terms under which Israeli high school students pay Holocaust study visits to the country, including on the presence of armed Israeli guards, an official in Warsaw says.
Deputy Foreign Minister Marcin Przydacz says the armed guards accompanying the youth groups, the visits’ focus on the Holocaust only, and a lack of contact with Polish youth have been giving young Israelis a “negative image” of Poland.
“There are also threads appearing (to suggest) that Poland is an antisemitic country and for that reason it’s dangerous here,” Przydacz tells Radio RMF24.
He says a new intergovernmental agreement should state in what cases guards with loaded weapons can be present. Warsaw has been seeking such a deal for months, Przydacz says.
Poland would also like young Israelis to meet with their Polish peers and understand their approach to Polish-Jewish history that spans many centuries.
The annual educational trips by thousands of young Israelis were suspended during the pandemic and last week Israel said it was not resuming them because Poland’s right-wing government was trying to control the curriculum.
Przydacz says the reason they have not been resumed is “because we believe that (they) should be regulated by an agreement between Poland and Israel.”
Ukraine is engaged in “complex negotiations” to release its ports from Russia’s blockade, President Volodymyr Zelensky says, warning the global grain crisis will last as long as Russia’s “colonial war.”
“We are conducting complex multilevel negotiations to unblock our Ukrainian ports. But there is no progress yet. That is why the global food crisis will continue as long as this colonial war continues,” he says in a video address to the African Union.
The Federation of Jewish Communities of Spain condemns a recent decision by the Catalan parliament’s foreign affairs committee to accuse Israel of practicing “apartheid.”
In a statement, the federation “rejects and condemns” the resolution “in all its terms,” casting it as “destructive, biased and not at all representative of the recognized values of the people of Catalonia.”
The resolution “will not bring any benefit to the citizens,” the federation says, adding that it “expects public institutions to act with common sense, respecting the general interest and always supporting dialogue solutions.”
Three men have been diagnosed today with monkeypox, bringing the total cases identified in Israel to nine, the Health Ministry says.
The three men are all from central Israel and aged from 30 to 60. One of them contracted the disease in Israel and not abroad, the ministry says.
The World Health Organization is set to hold a meeting this week to weigh declaring the outbreak a global health emergency.
National Security Adviser Eyal Hulata returns from a working visit to Jordan, the Prime Minister’s Office announces.
Ties with Jordan, which were tense under the previous government, had been markedly improving over the past year under the current government until tensions erupted during the month of Ramadan. Since then, the visible high-level contacts that had occurred in prior months have stopped.
Hulata’s visit, and the official announcement publicizing it, could be a sign that the sides are interested in getting past the recent downturn in relations.
Israel’s primary goal during US President Joe Biden’s visit will be “to finalize a clear joint plan of action together with the US to stop Iran’s nuclear program,” Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says.
“This visit is vital for Israel,” says Bennett, explaining that it will deal with key priorities for Israel over the past year, especially Iran’s nuclear program.
Bennett says that “the world is waking up to Iran’s true face,” pointing to the IAEA censure of Iran earlier this month during its Board of Governors meeting in Geneva.
Bennett makes the comments in his Jerusalem office to Israeli reporters.
Israel is working in the short term to stop Iranian enrichment, he explains. “Iran will understand that in the current reality, without an agreement, we have succeeded,” Bennett argues. “We had a goal of the agreement not being signed.”
In the long term, however, Israel does want an improved agreement, the prime minister says. He defines such a deal as one that permanently prevents Iran from progressing toward a nuclear weapon.
The decomposing body of a 56-year-old man with disabilities has been found in his home in the central Israel city of Petah Tikva, with his disabled and partially blind and deaf wife found near him, exhausted and dehydrated in her bed, not knowing her husband’s fate.
Neighbors called in authorities after noticing a bad smell from the apartment. The woman has said her husband had been nursing her and she didn’t understand why she stopped receiving food and drinks for the last few days.
“Nothing can prepare even the most experienced [first-aid] volunteer for such a sight,” says Chaim Otmazgin of the ZAKA emergency response group. “The whole house is in a dirty and inhuman state. To think his wife stayed next to him for days without anyone taking interest or checking in on them.”
The woman, in her 50s, has been taken to the city’s Beilinson hospital for treatment.
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says that Israel is “working closely with Turkish officials to thwart the attempts to strike Israelis and Jews.”
Senior Israeli leaders have sounded a series of warnings since last week that Iran is trying to carry out terror attacks against Israelis in Turkey.
“The operational efforts alongside Turkish security forces have borne fruit,” Bennett says, speaking in his office to Israeli reporters. “Cooperation between Turkey and Israel is tight and is being carried out on all levels.”
Bennett says that Turkish security forces have foiled a number of terror attempts and arrested a number of terrorists in Turkey. He does not include details on the number of attacks or the nationality of the terrorists.
“The goal is to return the situation to normal as quickly as possible,” Bennett says.
The Environmental Protection Ministry publishes a draft policy document on the future of the Dead Sea for public comment.
The document’s recommendations include calling on the government to act immediately to stabilize the saline lake’s falling water levels, limit the pumping of its water and charge the Dead Sea Works or its successor for the water taken from the Dead Sea for the extraction of minerals.
As part of an inter-ministerial committee on the Dead Sea, led by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Environmental Protection Ministry has been tasked with formulating a long-term policy for the Dead Sea Basin that includes addressing the level of the shrinking saline lake.
The ministry has produced the draft document in collaboration with the Geological Survey, the Dead Sea Drainage Authority and the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Studies.
Police say officers and military forces have foiled an attempt to smuggle drugs into Israel from Lebanon.
Three residents of the Arab town of Jadeidi-Makr — all family members, aged 20, 34, and 42 — have been detained near Moshav Shtula, adjacent to the border with Lebanon, police say.
In a statement, police add that 35 kilograms of hashish, worth around NIS 1 million ($290,000), have been seized by authorities.
The coalition and opposition continue their tug-of-war over Yamina MK Nir Orbach, who has been tight-lipped publicly since he announced that he was leaving the coalition over its failure to pass the settler law two weeks ago.
In a faction meeting, Likud party leader and opposition chief Benjamin Netanyahu calls on Orbach to “complete the step” of returning to the opposition bloc of right-wing and ultra-Orthodox parties.
Addressing Orbach, Netanyahu says: “You have already taken an important step to disengage from this dangerous government; now is the time to complete the job.”
Orbach is the third Yamina member to desert the coalition, which is headed by Yamina party leader Prime Minister Naftali Bennett.
Whereas Amichai Chikli and Idit Silman’s defections are viewed with finality, coalition sources continue to press upon Orbach to either quit the Knesset entirely or refrain from voting to dissolve the government.
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had an operation on his sinuses under general anesthetic today, his office says.
Johnson’s spokesman, Max Blain, says the prime minister is back at his 10 Downing Street home and resting after the “routine” procedure.
He says the operation was scheduled in advance and was performed by medics working for the state-funded National Health Service at a London hospital.
Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab filled in for Johnson during the operation.
Johnson was hospitalized in intensive care with the coronavirus in April 2020. Blain said today’s procedure was unrelated to COVID-19.
Johnson, 58, is due to travel to a Commonwealth conference in Rwanda later this week and to attend Group of Seven and NATO summits later this month.
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid renews his call for coalition discipline, saying that lawmakers who cannot stand the pressure should resign from the Knesset altogether.
“Whoever is having difficulties, go home. Whoever cannot stand the pressure, quit,” Lapid says at the outset of his Yesh Atid party’s faction meeting.
The coalition is currently facing four rebellions by MKs, the most serious of which is posed by Yamina MK Nir Orbach, who left the diverse political alliance after the coalition failed to renew legislation to apply Israeli law to settlers, saying the current situation cannot continue.
Orbach is reportedly weighing accepting a guaranteed spot on the opposition Likud party’s election slate, in exchange for his help in toppling the government. While Orbach is not expected to support an opposition bid to dissolve the Knesset this week, he may do so in the near future.
“The law says you can’t guarantee a spot on a party slate to someone in order for them to vote against the government,” Lapid says.
Ukraine’s Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba criticizes Russia after it accused Lithuania of imposing trade restrictions on the transit of EU-sanctioned goods to Moscow’s exclave of Kaliningrad.
“Russia has no right to threaten Lithuania. Moscow has only itself to blame for the consequences of its unprovoked and unjustified invasion of Ukraine,” Kuleba writes in a statement on social media.
Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman says he’ll withstand political pressure in searching for a solution to the ongoing teachers union rolling strike, offering to negotiate but “without ultimatums.”
“No, there won’t be any electoral considerations,” Liberman says regarding pressure to close a deal, at the outset of his Yisrael Beytenu party’s faction meeting.
“We’ll come and sit and we’ll make a real honest effort to come to an agreement,” he says, but adds that there are significant financial gaps between public workers’ salary demands and the treasury’s willingness to pay.
“We don’t have enough police officers, teachers and public transportation drivers,” the finance minister says, broadening the scope of the wage debate. “Wage claims amount to NIS 41 billion ($11.86 billion). Obviously, we can’t pay that.”
Liberman also claims he’s received suggestions to “bring foreign workers” to ease the labor pressures, but says “that also isn’t the solution.”
This morning, rolling strikes occurred in both the education and transportation systems.
Russia’s foreign ministry demands the immediate lifting of Lithuania’s “openly hostile” restrictions on the rail transit of EU-sanctioned goods to Moscow’s exclave of Kaliningrad, wedged between Lithuania and Poland.
“If in the near future cargo transit between the Kaliningrad region and the rest of the territory of the Russian Federation through Lithuania is not restored in full, then Russia reserves the right to take actions to protect its national interests,” the ministry says in a statement.
The ministry says it has summoned Lithuania’s charge d’affaires in Moscow to protest the “provocative” and “openly hostile” measures.
Earlier today, the Kremlin said Lithuania’s decision was “unprecedented” and “in violation of everything there is.”
“The situation is more than serious and it requires a very deep analysis before formulating any measures and decisions,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
The Baltic nation of Lithuania announced last week that it was banning the rail transit of goods that are subject to EU sanctions from mainland Russia to Kaliningrad. The list includes coal, metals, construction materials and advanced technology. According to Kaliningrad governor Anton Alikhanov, the ban would affect around 50% of all imports to the exclave.
A week into his renewed boycott of most coalition votes, Blue and White MK Michael Biton softens his stance by agreeing to vote with the coalition to approve Omicron-related grants, while stressing that “large gaps” still remain between himself and Transportation Minister Merav Michaeli on resolving Biton’s ongoing protests over public transportation reforms.
“We had to clear the air over issues with the Economic Affairs Committee that developed over time,” Biton says in comments made at the outset of the committee’s afternoon session. He has expressed frustration that Michaeli’s Transportation Ministry bypassed the Economic Affairs Committee, which Biton chairs, when pursuing reforms.
But regarding the specific issue of transportation reforms on the table, “large gaps remain,” he says.
Biton has not resumed voting with the coalition, says his spokesman, but he will vote for the financial grants for businesses hurt during the Omicron wave of COVID-19 earlier this year. A spokesperson for Yamina MK Abir Kara, who initiated the legislation, says that it’s not expected to come up for its second and third readings today, following opposition reservations.
Since last Monday, Biton has been on a renewed boycott against voting in most coalition votes in protest over transportation reform. Yesterday afternoon, Biton and Michaeli met for the first time to discuss a way to solve what has become a coalition headache at a sensitive time.
“The issue of the periphery and poorer communities is in my soul,” says Biton, explaining that he is still unwilling to accede to Michaeli’s plan to cancel regional price discrimination in favor of a united public transportation fare.
However, Biton says he has “given up on the issue of stored value discounts” on public transportation passes, which Michaeli’s reform also eliminates.
Veteran Palestinian-American journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was apparently killed by an Israeli soldier during a West Bank raid, but there is no evidence the targeting was deliberate, according to a month-long investigation published by the New York Times.
The US outlet publishes a detailed analysis of last month’s gunfight in Jenin, concluding that “the bullet that killed Ms. Abu Akleh was fired from the approximate location of the Israeli military convoy, most likely by a soldier from an elite unit.”
“The Times found no evidence that the person who fired recognized Ms. Abu Akleh and targeted her personally,” it adds. “The Times was unable to determine whether the shooter saw that she and her colleagues were wearing protective vests emblazoned with the word Press.”
The report says the findings contradict several Israeli claims.
“The evidence reviewed by The Times showed that there were no armed Palestinians near her when she was shot. It contradicted Israeli claims that, if a soldier had mistakenly killed her, it was because he had been shooting at a Palestinian gunman,” it says.
“The Times investigation also showed that 16 shots were fired from the location of the Israeli convoy, as opposed to Israeli claims that the soldier had fired five bullets in the journalists’ direction.”
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