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Bennett: ‘I told my kids their father will be the most hated person in Israel’

PM-designate defends teaming up with Lapid: ‘My core vow was to get Israel out of the chaos’ * Retracts his pre-election remarks that Ra’am leader Abbas is a ‘terror supporter’

Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on May 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel is liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.

Putin congratulates Herzog, calls for stronger Israel-Russia ties

Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulates Isaac Herzog on winning the presidency and calls for the strengthening of relations between the two countries.

“Russia and Israel enjoy friendly relations. I hope that your work as head of state will contribute to the further development of multifaceted and constructive bilateral cooperation, including interaction in international affairs. This undoubtedly meets our peoples’ fundamental interests,” Putin’s message reads.

US military says it killed 23 civilians in 2020, NGOs disagree

WASHINGTON – The US military takes responsibility for unintentionally killing 23 civilians in foreign war zones in 2020, a death toll far below figures compiled by NGOs.

The tally includes civilian fatalities in operations in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, Yemen and Nigeria, according to the Pentagon report.

The US Department of Defense “assesses that there were approximately 23 civilians killed and approximately 10 civilians injured during 2020 as a result of US military operations,” reads in part the document, an annual report required by Congress since 2018 — even though parts of it remain secret.

Most of the civilian casualties were in Afghanistan, where the Pentagon says it was responsible for 20 deaths, according to the public section of the report. One civilian was killed in Somalia in February 2020 and another in Iraq in March. The document released to the public does not specify when or where the 23rd victim was killed.

Illustrative: American soldiers wait on the tarmac in Logar province, Afghanistan, November 30, 2017. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

The document says that although Congress allocated $3 million to the Pentagon in 2020 for financial compensation to the families of civilian victims, no such compensation has been paid.

NGOs regularly publish much higher civilian death tolls in areas where the US military is active around the world. The NGO Airwars, which lists civilian victims of airstrikes, said that their most conservative estimates show that 102 civilians were killed in US operations around the world — five times higher than the official Pentagon figures.

The United Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) counted 89 dead and 31 wounded in operations by US-led coalition forces, Airwars said.

Wealthiest nations’ health chiefs to mull vaccine sharing

LONDON – The G7 health ministers will meet Thursday to discuss sharing vaccines with poorer countries and improving identification of animal-borne infections ahead of next week’s summit in the United Kingdom.

Ministers from Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the United States will pledge at a meeting in Oxford to “combat future health threats by working together to identify early warning signs from animals and the environment,” the British government says.

They will agree to a “new international approach” to prevent diseases spreading, since three-fifths of all infections jump from animals to humans, Britain’s health ministry says.

The meeting comes as the world’s wealthiest countries face pressure to do more to help vaccines reach poorer countries that do not have enough stocks for comprehensive inoculation programs.

People wait in line to receive a dose of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine, at Tej Bahadur Sapru hospital in Allahabad on May 1, 2021, during the first day of India’s vaccination drive to all adults. (Sanjay Kanoija/AFP)

The British government has just published a new report on G7 progress since 2015 on helping developing countries access vaccines and contain the spread of infections. The G7 countries are already committed to support the COVAX global vaccine sharing program.

British health minister Matt Hancock on Wednesday said over half a billion doses of the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine had been released for supply globally, mostly in “low- and middle-income countries.”

But calls are mounting for wealthier countries to share more. At a meeting of G7 finance ministers in London on Friday, Kristalina Georgieva, managing director of the International Monetary Fund, will present a relatively low-cost plan to end the pandemic by expanding vaccination access. The plan, developed with the World Health Organisation and the World Trade Organisation, is calling for a financial commitment of $50 billion.

Lapid calls to replace Knesset speaker Levin ahead of vote on new government

The eight parties in the new coalition formally submit 61 signatures calling a vote on a new speaker for the Knesset, amid fears Likud’s Yariv Levin was planning to delay the vote officially forming the new government as Likud continues its efforts to peel away defectors.

Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, the two heads of the new coalition announced on Wednesday night, are reportedly worried that Levin was planning to prevent the scheduling of the vote of confidence in the new government.

The new coalition has exactly 61 MKs, the thinnest possible majority in the 120-seat Knesset. A single rebel could theortetically derail the new coalition and leave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in power.

Sources close to Lapid said late Wednesday that if Levin attempted to drag out the scheduling of the plenum vote officially establishing the new government, they would call a vote to replace him as speaker.

Lapid appears to have decided overnight not to wait for the possibility, submitting the required number of signatures to replace the speaker.

The petition names Yesh Atid’s Mickey Levy, a former Jerusalem police chief, as the new coalition’s choice for the next speaker.

MK Mickey Levy during a vote on the state budget at the Finance committee, in the Knesset on March 12, 2018 (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Vote on new Knesset speaker and new government slated for Monday

The parties of the new coalition call to schedule the planned Knesset votes on the parliament’s new speaker and the new government for Monday.

The petition names Yesh Atid’s Mickey Levy, a former Jerusalem police chief, as the new coalition’s choice for the next speaker amid fears Likud’s Yariv Levin was planning to delay the vote officially forming the new coalition as Likud continues its efforts to recruit defectors.

The Knesset plenum traditionally meets for votes on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays each week.

Yamina MK withdraws support for replacing Likud’s Levin as Knesset speaker

Yamina MK Nir Orbach arrives for the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Yamina MK Nir Orbach arrives for the swearing-in of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Yamina MK Nir Orbach, who has been openly second-guessing in recent days his initial support for the broad-based coalition agreed to last night, says he is withdrawing his signature from the petition submitted a short time ago to replace Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud.

The move could leave Levin in his post, and enable him to delay the expected Monday vote on the new government while Likud works to peel away rebels from the new coalition.

At 61 seats, the new coalition can scarcely afford to lose any members.

First cracks in not-yet-formed coalition? Meretz vows to advance LGBT rights

Meretz party chairman Nitzan Horowitz, center, attends a protest of the LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Meretz party chairman Nitzan Horowitz, center, attends a protest of the LGBTQ community in Tel Aviv, July 14, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Meretz chair MK Nitzan Horowitz says this morning that his progressive party’s coalition agreement with Yesh Atid “includes a commitment to advance the LGBT community and the [legal] standing of same-sex couples as married.”

Meretz would work to carry out that commitment in the new government, Horowitz says.

Horowitz’s pledge appears to run counter to the coalition agreement signed with Islamist party Ra’am, which freezes any LGBT initiatives.

Shortly after Horowitz’s interview with Army Radio, the station interviews Ra’am’s MK Walid Taha.

Taha praises the new coalition, saying it is based on “the many things over which there is no disagreement,” but adds, “We won’t support anyone forcing on us values that our community doesn’t believe in.”

Gay Pride Parade set to march through Jerusalem later today

Thousands are expected today in Jerusalem for the city’s annual — and fraught — Gay Pride Parade, set to begin at 1 p.m.

The Jerusalem parade is a controversial event. Unlike in secular Tel Aviv, where the annual parade is a carnival supported by the municipality and the vast majority of the city’s inhabitants, the Jerusalem event often meets with counter-protests along its route, and occasionally with violence.

Leaders of the Haredi community and other religious groups call for its cancelation each year. Some years have seen more police deployed to protect the event than participants marching in it.

Police arrest two teens for hanging signs protesting Jerusalem pride parade

Two 17-year-olds are arrested in Jerusalem on suspicion that they hung signs protesting the Gay Pride Parade set to march through the city center later today.

Police say dozens of additional signs were found in the teens’ possession.

They are slated to be brought before a judge for a remand hearing later today.

It’s not immediately clear what justifies the arrests. Police did not say why the content of the signs or the places where they were placed might have been illegal.

AIPAC welcomes announcement of new Israeli government

Then-vice president Joe Biden is seen on large video screens as he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)
Then-vice president Joe Biden is seen on large video screens as he addresses the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference in Washington, Sunday, March 20, 2016. (AP Photo/Cliff Owen)

Leading US lobby groups welcome Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid’s announcement late Wednesday that he had succeeded in forming a coalition government to replace Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, and while applauding the breadth of parties it includes, also mull what that would mean for its actual operation.

In particular, groups laud the fact that the coalition would include the Islamist Ra’am party, the first time that an Arab party has formally joined an Israeli government.

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, AIPAC, congratulates Lapid and Bennett “for assembling a broad and diverse coalition — spanning the political spectrum of Zionist and Arab parties — to form an Israeli government pending Knesset approval.”

Establishing such a government after the recent conflict with the Gaza Strip, when Palestinian terrorists fired thousands of rockets at Israeli cities, “further demonstrates the resilience of Israel’s democracy and its commitment to democratic values,” AIPAC says in a statement.

“We look forward to further bolstering the bond between the US and Israel as the two democracies work in close partnership to advance our shared interests and values,” the statement says.

While new coalition stutters, Shin Bet begins protecting PM-designate Bennett

Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset, on May 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset, on May 30, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Shin Bet’s unit that protects the top officials of the state, Unit 730, has placed a security detail around Naftali Bennett, the coalition-to-be’s new prime minister, the security service says in a statement.

Nothing is final yet. The new government must still be voted into office by the Knesset, and then must be officially sworn in.

Meanwhile, the new coalition is struggling to keep its right-wing flank, especially MK Nir Orbach from Bennett’s Yamina party, in line.

But sources familiar with the decision say the Shin Bet decided to begin protecting Bennett at this early stage over fears that anger at him from some parts of the political right could lead to attempts on his life.

Oil refinery fire near Iran’s capital burns into second day

Huge smoke rises from Tehran's main oil refinery as a plane approaches Mehrabad airport south of Tehran, Iran, June 2, 2021. A massive fire broke out Wednesday night at the oil refinery serving Iran's capital, sending thick plumes of black smoke over Tehran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)
Huge smoke rises from Tehran's main oil refinery as a plane approaches Mehrabad airport south of Tehran, Iran, June 2, 2021. A massive fire broke out Wednesday night at the oil refinery serving Iran's capital, sending thick plumes of black smoke over Tehran. (AP Photo/Vahid Salemi)

TEHRAN, Iran — A massive fire at an oil refinery near Iran’s capital burns into a second day Thursday as firefighters struggle to extinguish the flames.

The fire began at the state-owned Tondgooyan Petrochemical Co. to the south of Tehran on Wednesday night, sending a huge plume of black smoke into the sky over the capital.

The Oil Ministry’s SHANA news agency said the fire broke out over a leak in two waste tanks at the facility. Authorities initially suggested the flames affected a liquified petroleum gas pipeline at the refinery.

Iranian Oil Minister Bijan Zanganeh visited the scene overnight. While seeking to assure the public the fire wouldn’t affect production, Iranians queued up for gasoline on Thursday morning, the start of the weekend in the Islamic Republic.

SHANA also quoted refinery spokesman Shaker Khafaei as saying authorities hoped the fire would extinguish itself after running out of fuel in the coming hours.

It wasn’t immediately clear what started the blaze. Temperatures in Tehran reached nearly 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) on Wednesday. Hot summer weather in Iran has caused fires in the past.

The blaze came the same day a fire struck the largest warship in the Iranian navy, which later sank in the Gulf of Oman.

Netanyahu calls emergency meet to discuss stymieing Bennett-Lapid government

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center meets with leaders of his allied parties, Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman (L), United Torah Judaism leader MK Moshe Gafni (2L), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (R) along with Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, (2L) in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 6, 2021. (Likud party)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, center meets with leaders of his allied parties, Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman (L), United Torah Judaism leader MK Moshe Gafni (2L), Interior Minister Aryeh Deri (R) along with Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, (2L) in the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, May 6, 2021. (Likud party)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls an emergency meeting of the heads of the right-Haredi bloc, as well as Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and coalition chairman MK Miki Zohar.

The heads of the Yesha Council, the advocacy umbrella for West Bank settlements, are also invited to the meeting.

The purpose of the meeting, according to Hebrew media reports: to brainstorm ways to disrupt the new unity government before it is voted into office next week or the week after.

Gunmen open fire on home of Ynet’s Arab affairs reporter, nearly hit children

Two masked gunmen fire dozens of rounds at the home of the Ynet news site’s reporter covering the Arab community, Hassan Sha’alan.

Three bullets struck near the beds of his children, who were in their bedroom at the time. One hit just 10 centimeters from his youngest son’s head, according to Ynet.

Sha’alan has covered the crime wave in Arab towns caused by out-of-control criminal gangs.

Ra’am calls for more Arab parties to back new coalition’s bid to oust Levin as speaker

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra'am party, arrives to take part in coalition talks, at the Maccabiah Village in Ramat Gan on June 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra'am party, arrives to take part in coalition talks, at the Maccabiah Village in Ramat Gan on June 2, 2021. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

In an interview with Army Radio, Mansour Abbas of Ra’am calls on fellow Arab party Ta’al to vote with the Lapid-Bennett coalition to oust Yariv Levin of Likud from his position as Knesset speaker.

Unconfirmed reports say other Arab parties that are part of the Joint List alliance are said to be mulling supporting Levin’s ouster, a move that would enable the new government to be sworn in as early as next Monday.

If Levin remains in the speaker’s chair, he can legally delay a vote on the new government for a week or more, giving Likud more time to try to peel away rebels from the right-wing factions of the unity coalition.

Ra’am leader Abbas says Netanyahu has called him repeatedly in recent days

Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas tells Army Radio that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called him repeatedly in recent days, including yesterday and Tuesday, in an effort to prevent him from joining the Lapid-Bennett coalition.

After the March election, Netanyahu and Abbas held talks on Ra’am supporting a Netanyahu-led coalition, but the talks were undermined by Religious Zionist party leader Betzalel Smotrich, who publicly opposed a government supported by Ra’am.

Likud MKs have since insisted that the talks never took place.

Jerusalem Pride Parade set to start by commemorating 16-year-old Shira Banki

Participants in Jerusalem's annual Gay Pride Parade hold up a picture of 15-year-old Shira Banki on August 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Participants in Jerusalem's annual Gay Pride Parade hold up a picture of 15-year-old Shira Banki on August 3, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Roads are set to close in Jerusalem’s city center starting in one hour for the city’s annual Pride Parade.

The parade will start with a special “traveler’s prayer” ceremony at 3 p.m. at Jerusalem’s Liberty Bell Park in memory of Shira Banki, a 16-year-old killed by an anti-gay extremist in the 2015 parade.

Shira’s parents Uri and Mika, the Tag Meir organization, and Labor party leader Merav Michaeli will take part in the ceremony.

Over 2 billion COVID vaccinations given worldwide

Medical staff prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination center in Versailles, France on May 29, 2021. (Stephane de Sakutin/AFP)
Medical staff prepares a dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against COVID-19 at a vaccination center in Versailles, France on May 29, 2021. (Stephane de Sakutin/AFP)

PARIS, France — More than two billion doses of COVID-19 vaccines have been given across the world, according to an AFP tally Thursday drawn from official sources.

The milestone comes six months after the first vaccination campaigns against COVID-19 began.

At least 2,109,696,022 shots have been given in 215 countries and territories, according to the count from an AFP database taken at 0915 GMT.

Israel, which has led the race from the start, has seen nearly six in 10 people vaccinated, and is set to start vaccinating ages 12-15.

It is followed by Canada (59 percent of the population have had at least one shot), the United Kingdom (58.3%), Chile (56.6%) and the United States (51%).

Six out of 10 of the injections have been administered in the world’s three most populous countries — China (704.8 million doses), the US (296.9 million) and India (221 million).

Nearly four out of 10 people in the European Union have had at least one shot, with Germany leading with 43.6%, followed by Italy (40%) and France and Spain at 39.4%.

Only six countries in the world have not yet started vaccinating — North Korea, Haiti, Tanzania, Chad, Burundi and Eritrea.

Netanyahu: Bennett, Lapid ‘sold out the Negev to Ra’am’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claims that the Lapid-Bennett coalition has “sold out the Negev to Ra’am.”

In a social media post, Netanyahu presents a chart he claims compares his own concessions to Ra’am with those of Lapid and Bennett.

The post marks a change of tack for Likud, which until now has claimed repeatedly and consistently that it never negotiated with Ra’am.

Netanyahu claims Lapid and Bennett agreed to cancel the so-called Kaminitz Law, which upped enforcement of building restrictions, while his own agreement with Ra’am does not.

He claims Lapid and Bennett agreed to recognize “most of the illegal Bedouin settlements in the Negev,” whereas he only agreed to “three alone.”

He claims Lapid and Bennett are handing NIS 52.5 billion in “state funding to the Arab sector,” whereas he only agreed to NIS 15 billion.

And he claims that unlike Bennett and Lapid, he never agreed to let Ra’am be part of a coalition — an incorrect assertion, according to Likud and Ra’am officials last month — but only sought its support for one-off legislation for direct election of a prime minister.

US Senator Booker launches coalition of Black and Jewish senators

JTA — Sen. Cory Booker is leading a group of US Jewish and Black senators in establishing a coalition to fight antisemitism and racism.

The so-called Black-Jewish coalition will also include Booker’s fellow Democrats Sens. Raphael Warnock of Georgia and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, as well as Tim Scott, a South Carolina Republican from across the aisle.

“There’s been a long history of Black people and Jewish sisters and brothers working together on a whole range of concerns,” Warnock is quoted as saying by NJ.com.

The idea of convening the lawmakers was spurred by reports of rising antisemitism amid a national reckoning around racial injustice.

“We will be fighting both racism and anti-Semitism,” Blumenthal says. “I think we’re in the midst of a racial justice moment and a reckoning now that could draw us together.”

Scott Richman, director of the Anti-Defamation League in New York/New Jersey, praises the initiative.

“This would be an important step towards bringing together two communities with a shared commitment to justice and an end to bias and bigotry,” he tells NJ.com.

A similar body, called the Congressional Caucus on Black-Jewish Relations, already exists in the House of Representatives.

Booker, who keeps a Hebrew Bible on his Senate desk, has a long history of connections with the Jewish community. He often cites Torah passages and recites Hebrew quotes in public appearances.

Yamina pushes back against Netanyahu critique, claims he offered Ra’am more

The Yamina party responds to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s claim it has “sold the Negev to Ra’am” with a chart claiming Netanyahu had himself offered Ra’am even more sweeping concessions to entice the Islamist party to join his coalition.

The Likud-Ra’am talks were torpedoed by Religious Zionism party leader Betzalel Smotrich, who campaigned vociferously against a right-wing coalition that included a non-Zionist party. Likud has since claimed that it had never conducted negotiations with Ra’am, though officials from both parties have said otherwise.

In Yamina’s chart, it claims Netanyahu offered Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas the cancellation of the so-called Kaminitz Law.

It claims Netanyahu offered a comprehensive freeze on demolitions of illegally built buildings, whereas the Lapid-Bennett coalition deal with Ra’am freezes the demolitions for three months while the government establishes a new framework together with Ra’am.

Yamina claims, too, that Netanyahu agreed to dismantle the Yoav unit of the Israel Police, a special SWAT-style unit that helps deal with criminal organizations in the Bedouin towns of the Negev.

It even claims that Netanyahu agreed to end JNF tree planting in the south.

Finally, Yamina criticizes Netanyahu for failing to include in his purported agreement with Ra’am any budgets for developing the Arab community and integrating Arab Israelis into the broader Israeli polity. The Lapid-Bennett coalition deal with Ra’am includes over NIS 5 billion ($1.54 billion) each year for the Arab community.

Ra’am coalition deal grants the Islamist party a deputy minister in the PMO

The coalition deal between Ra’am and Yesh Atid includes a deputy ministerial post for Ra’am in the Prime Minister’s Office, Hebrew media reports.

Ra’am leadership, its Shura Council, has yet to decide if the party will activate that article in the agreement and appoint such a deputy minister, and it’s not yet clear what the post’s powers or areas of responsibility would be.

But if Ra’am ends up with a deputy minister in the PMO, that would be a first for the Islamist party.

Gantz lands in US for talks on Iran, Gaza reconstruction and Hezbollah

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, fist-bumps US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel on April 12, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)
Defense Minister Benny Gantz, left, fist-bumps US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at the Nevatim Air Base in southern Israel on April 12, 2021. (Ariel Hermoni/Defense Ministry)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz lands in the United States ahead of meetings with US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan, his office says.

Gantz is due to discuss the emerging deal between Washington and Tehran regarding Iran’s nuclear program and the recent conflict between Israel and Hamas in the Gaza Strip and reconstruction efforts going forward, as well as concerns in Israel over the Hezbollah terror group’s growing brazenness, including cross-border incidents and repeated threats against Israel by Hezbollah officials in recent weeks.

Upon landing in the US, Gantz spoke by phone with Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid and Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, congratulating the pair for brokering a coalition agreement, his office says.

Diaspora minister tells US Reform leaders Israel should formally acknowledge liberal streams

From left to right: Yair Lotstein, Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch, Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and Rabbi Josh Weinberg. (Courtesy, Ministry of Diaspora Affairs)
From left to right: Yair Lotstein, Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch, Jennifer Brodkey Kaufman, URJ President Rabbi Rick Jacobs, and Rabbi Josh Weinberg. (Courtesy, Ministry of Diaspora Affairs)

In a meeting with American Reform Jewish leaders, Diaspora Affairs Minister Omer Yankelevitch calls for Israel to formally acknowledge liberal Jewish streams.

Yankelevitch meets in Jerusalem today with Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs and other Reform leaders.

“In their meeting, Minister Yankelevitch called for increased recognition and investment by Israel in the Reform movement and other progressive Jewish streams,” a statement from the Diaspora Affairs Ministry says.

“As I conclude my position and look ahead, the path forward is clear. Israel must build on the mutual dialogue that we have fostered with world Jewry, formally acknowledge liberal Jewish practice and interests, and work directly with relevant stakeholders as partners,” the minister is quoted as saying.

She adds: “While we did not have a regular government budget this year, we did pass a long-term government decision concluding that Israel must invest in world Jewry. This investment must include all parts of the Jewish people, including the Reform movement. As a Haredi minister focused on bringing all voices to the table, I understand the importance of investing in the Reform community. This work must only continue and expand with the next government.”

Under intense right-wing pressure, Yamina MKs to meet Friday at Bennett’s home

Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are seen on Wednesday evening, as they inform President Reuven Rivlin they have succeeded in forming a government, June 2, 2021 (Courtesy)
Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid are seen on Wednesday evening, as they inform President Reuven Rivlin they have succeeded in forming a government, June 2, 2021 (Courtesy)

Amid growing pressure on members of his party from the right to defect from the nascent unity coalition, Yamina leader Naftali Bennett summons the MKs to his home in Ra’anana for a meeting tomorrow at 10 a.m.

The move comes after Yamina MK Nir Orbach was the only member of the Lapid-Bennett coalition to refuse to support the coalition’s bid to remove Likud’s Yariv Levin as Knesset speaker, and amid plans by Likud and Religious Zionism to organize large protests outside the homes of Yamina MKs.

Netanyahu ’emergency meeting’ ends; some settler leaders criticize PM for ‘thwarting’ right-wing gov’t

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ends his emergency meeting of right-wing politicians and settler leaders, in which they reportedly brainstormed ways to disrupt the new unity government before it is voted into office next week or the week after.

The Walla news site reports that the courses of actions weighed include organizing a massive ultra-Orthodox demonstration against the emerging government.

Army Radio reports the meeting was initiated by the heads of the Yesha Council, the advocacy umbrella for West Bank settlements. It says plans raised include various forms of protests and intense pressure on MKs in the “change bloc” seen as weak links who could be tempted to defect.

The report also says some in the meeting criticized Netanyahu for refusing to hand over the Likud leadership to anyone else and thus preventing a right-wing government (since Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope would then have agreed to join a Likud government).

Netanyahu rejects that notion: “I’m not the story, I suggested every outline possible, including exiting the prime minister’s residence for the first two years of the term.”

IDF arrests Arab Israeli father and son suspected of smuggling drugs, arms from Lebanon

An Israeli investigator unwraps bricks of hashish smuggled into the country from Lebanon on June 2, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)
An Israeli investigator unwraps bricks of hashish smuggled into the country from Lebanon on June 2, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Israeli security forces arrested an Arab Israeli father and son suspected of smuggling a large amount of hashish and firearms into Israel from Lebanon yesterday, potentially on behalf of the Hezbollah terrorist organization, the military says.

The suspects were found in possession of 15 handguns, dozens of ammunition magazines and some 36 kilograms (80 pounds) of hashish, a processed form of marijuana. In total, the Israel Defense Forces says the contraband is worth roughly NIS 2 million ($616,000).

“The IDF is investigating — among other things — if the smuggling attempt was done with assistance from the Hezbollah terror group,” the military says.

Though most illegal firearms in Israel are used for criminal purposes, not necessarily for terrorism, Israeli security services believe that at least some of the pistols were meant to be used in terror attacks orchestrated by Hezbollah.

An Israeli investigator weighs a brick of hashish that was smuggled into the country from Lebanon on June 2, 2021. (Israel Defense Forces)

Bennett meets Yamina would-be-rebel MK Nir Orbach

Yamina party leader and PM-designate Naftali Bennett is meeting Yamina MK Nir Orbach in Bennett’s Ra’anana home.

Orbach, who has been openly second-guessing in recent days his initial support for the broad-based coalition agreed to last night, said earlier today that he was withdrawing his signature from a petition to replace Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud.

The move could leave Levin in his post and enable him to delay the expected Monday vote on the new government while Likud works to peel away rebels from the new coalition.

At 61 seats, the new coalition cannot afford to lose any members.

Queen Elizabeth II to meet with Joe Biden at Windsor Castle

Buckingham Palace says Queen Elizabeth II will meet US President Joe Biden at Windsor Castle during his visit to the UK to attend the Group of Seven leaders’ summit next week.

The monarch will host the president and first lady Jill Biden on the final day of the June 11-13 summit taking place in Cornwall, England, the palace says.

The leaders of the wealthy industrialized nations are holding their first face-to-face meeting in more than two years.

Host nation Britain is keen to show that the rich countries’ club still has clout in a fast-changing world. It also hopes to use the UK’s G-7 presidency this year to help forge a post-Brexit “Global Britain” role for the country.

After health rumors, Hezbollah chief Nasrallah to deliver speech next week

Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah coughs during a May 25, 2021, address (Twitter screenshot)
Hezbollah leader Hasan Nasrallah coughs during a May 25, 2021, address (Twitter screenshot)

After widespread rumors about the health of Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, a journalist for the Lebanese terror group’s Al-Manar TV station tweets that Nasrallah will deliver a public address next Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. to mark 30 years since the network’s founding.

Nasrallah coughed and wheezed his way through a televised address last week in which he threatened “regional war” if Israel attacked holy sites in Jerusalem.

That started a swarm of speculation about his health, including that he had contracted COVID-19. Sources close to Nasrallah on Tuesday said the terror leader was suffering from pneumonia and seasonal allergies.

Elkin denies reports he could oppose emerging government

New Hope MK Ze’ev Elkin denies reports that he is rethinking his support for the emerging “change government.”

“I see there are many who are volunteering to speak on my behalf,” Elkin tweets. “To anyone who asks — I am part of the New Hope party and am committed to it. Anything else is spin.”

Huge fire at refinery near Tehran extinguished after 20 hours — report

A picture taken on June 2, 2021, shows smoke billowing from the site of a refinery fire in the Iranian capital Tehran. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)
A picture taken on June 2, 2021, shows smoke billowing from the site of a refinery fire in the Iranian capital Tehran. (ATTA KENARE / AFP)

A massive fire that broke out at an oil refinery near Iran’s capital and sent a huge plume of black smoke into the sky over Tehran has been extinguished after more than 20 hours, a news agency reports.

The semi-official ISNA agency quotes the country’s deputy oil minister, Alireza Sadeghabadi as saying the blaze was first fully contained and then finally put out.

“The courageous actions by firefighters … led to the complete extinguishing of the fire and prevented the flames from spreading to other nearby tanks,” says Sadeghabadi, thanking the fire department.

The fire erupted at the state-owned Tondgooyan Petrochemical Co. to the south of Tehran last night. The Oil Ministry’s SHANA news agency says it was caused by a leak in two waste tanks at the facility. Authorities initially suggested the flames affected a liquified petroleum gas pipeline at the refinery.

Jalal Maleki, spokesman for the Tehran Fire Department, tells state TV that 10 fire department stations, including 60 heavy operating vehicles and more than 180 firefighters, took part in the operation to battle the blaze.

Joint List backs bid to replace Knesset speaker, boosting effort to quickly form gov’t

The Joint List has signed the call by the “change bloc” for a vote to replace Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud, giving the bid a parliamentary majority despite the objection of Yamina MK Nir Orbach to the move.

The predominantly Arab party’s six members add their signatures to the call, in which Levin is set to be replaced with Yesh Atid MK Mickey Levy. The move would enable the new government to be sworn in as early as next Monday.

If Levin remains in the speaker’s chair, he can legally delay a vote on the new government for a week or more, giving Likud more time to try to peel away rebels from the right-wing factions of the unity coalition.

Likud swiftly responds, attacking Naftali Bennett and Yair Lapid for “relying on the Joint List” and calling on more Yamina and New Hope MKs to oppose the collaboration.

After meeting Bennett, Yamina MK Orbach seems to indicate he won’t defect

Yamina leader Naftali Bennett concludes his meeting with his party MK Nir Orbach, who has opposed a bid to quickly elect a new Knesset speaker to expedite the swearing-in of the new government and is said to be weighing thwarting the government’s razor-thin majority.

But minutes later, Orbach tweets that he is with Bennett and will do “everything” to ensure his efforts to benefit the country succeed in the long-term.

“I have no intention of holding talks with those who didn’t make any effort over the last two months to form a right-wing government,” he says, seemingly signaling he isn’t contemplating a defection to the Netanyahu-led bloc.

Yesh Atid, Yamina distance themselves from Joint List support

The parties leading the emerging “change government,” Yesh Atid and Yamina, have both reportedly distanced themselves from the support of the Arab-majority Joint List in their move to replace Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin and expedite the swearing-in of the government.

Yesh Atid has said the Joint List’s declaration of support wasn’t coordinated with the party, according to Channel 12 news. The report says the bloc may elect not to rely on the Joint List votes for the move.

Similarly, Yamina sources are quoted by the Walla news site as saying they won’t rely on Joint List support and will elect a new Knesset speaker when the government is sworn in and not before, meaning the move won’t be expedited.

Kamala Harris congratulates Isaac Herzog on becoming president

US Vice President Kamala Harris congratulates Isaac Herzog on his election as Israel’s president, saying he “has long worked to promote dialogue, protect the State of Israel, and champion close ties to the U.S.”

She also thanks outgoing president Reuven Rivlin.

IDF general warns further Gaza fighting could break out

The head of the Israel Defense Forces’ Southern Command indicates he anticipates fighting to again break out in the Gaza Strip, saying that the conflict last month was only the “first stage” of a wider campaign.

“The operation ended, or at least its first stage did. The next stage will happen if we see that the security situation has changed,” Maj. Gen. Eliezer Toledano says in an on-stage interview at a conference held by Israel’s Channel 13 news.

Last month, Israel and Hamas fought an 11-day battle, beginning when the terror group fired a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem. During the fighting, the IDF launched some 1,500 strikes on Hamas targets in the Strip, and the terror group fired over 4,300 rockets and mortar shells at Israel.

“We are totally prepared to continue from the 11th day, with the 12th day, with the 13th day. It’s all contingent upon the security situation,” Toledano says.

Though top Israeli officials hailed the campaign as a resounding success for the IDF, Toledano is far warier of making such boasts.

“I try to not speak in ‘exclamation points’ at this time, two weeks after the ceasefire. On the one hand, I want to report what we did. On the other hand, I don’t want to be caught making hasty comments,” he says.

Some 7,500 take part in Jerusalem Pride Parade under heavy security

People take part in a rally marking the annual Pride Parade in Jerusalem, June 3, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)
People take part in a rally marking the annual Pride Parade in Jerusalem, June 3, 2021. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

The Jerusalem Pride Parade is going ahead under heavy security, with Hebrew media estimating the number of participants at some 7,500.

Many streets in the capital’s city center have been closed and thousands of police officers are securing the parade’s route.

The event demanding LGBT equality began with a ceremonial prayer for Shira Banki, who was stabbed to death by an ultra-Orthodox extremist during the 2015 parade when she was 16 years old.

The parade didn’t go ahead last year due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and even this year, organizers have said there won’t be a mass event at Independence Park concluding the event.

A counter-demonstration is held by members of the far-right Lehava organization.

Ra’am chief: Talking first with Netanyahu gave me legitimacy also in center, left

Ra’am party leader Mansour Abbas, who is set to join the emerging coalition, explains to the Kan public broadcaster that he preferred to conduct his initial negotiations with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, because that enabled him to gain legitimacy not only on the right, but in the center and left as well.

“It was more perfect to take this step with full-blown right — because in these matters, when you do the process with the right you also get the center and the left,” the Islamist leader says, adding his move led to “recognition in the entire political and social spectrum in Israel.”

Gantz ends meeting with US national security adviser, says they discussed Iran

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he has concluded his meeting with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan at the White House.

Gantz says they discussed “the need to promote regional stability by halting Iranian aggressiveness, while strengthening the alliance of moderates, and protecting Israel’s QME,” or qualitative military advantage.

Facebook blocks Yair Netanyahu from posting for 24 hours

Yair Netanyahu, son of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen in court in Tel Aviv on December 10, 2018, (FLASH90)
Yair Netanyahu, son of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, seen in court in Tel Aviv on December 10, 2018, (FLASH90)

Yair Netanyahu, the prime minister’s son, says he has been barred from posting on Facebook for 24 hours after he posted a poster advocating a demonstration next to the house of Yamina MK Nir Orbach, who is reportedly contemplating opposing the emerging “change government.”

In a tweet, Netanyahu says that “Bolsheviks at Facebook blocked me for 24 hours over this picture! The big tech, deep state and pseudo-justice system — together with their puppets in the new government — are leading Israel to a very dark period. Lets hope it won’t end with gulags.”

US to give 80 million vaccine doses to priority nations, 75% via Covax program

US President Joe Biden unveils his plan for the first of 80 million coronavirus vaccine doses being distributed globally, with 75% of shots disbursed via the UN-linked Covax program.

“We are sharing these doses not to secure favors or extract concessions. We are sharing these vaccines to save lives and to lead the world in bringing an end to the pandemic, with the power of our example and with our values,” Biden says in a statement.

In a fact sheet, the White House says that for the doses shared through Covax, Washington will prioritize countries in Latin America and the Caribbean, South and Southeast Asia, and Africa.

Gantz, Blinken meet to discuss Gaza reconstruction, other issues

Defense Minister Benny Gantz has arrived at the US State Department for a meeting with Secretary of State Antony Blinken.

Speaking to reporters ahead of the sit-down, Blinken says the two will discuss the US commitment to Israel’s security, “the needs that Israel has on that regard,” humanitarian assistance to Gaza and reconstruction efforts in the coastal enclave, along with other issues.

Gantz thanks Blinken for the Biden administration’s support for Israel, “which is really important for us in our challenging area.” He says he looks forward to discussing the issues of Iran, the Palestinians, Gaza, and “how we can work toward stability and prosperity for everybody.”

“As the defense minister, I think the combination of moving forward with [Gaza] construction and making sure that everything stays secure is very important,” he adds, hinting at the importance of preventing humanitarian aid from reaching Hamas.

Bennett defends breaking his election promise to not join forces with Lapid

Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett pushes back on the widespread criticism that he broke his promise not to join a government with Yair Lapid or sign a rotation agreement with him.

“The core promise in these elections was to get Israel out of the chaos,” he tells Channel 12 news in a snippet from an interview that will be broadcast during the 8 p.m. news. “I was the only party that was neither ‘only Bibi’ nor ‘just not Bibi,’ and I paid an electoral price for that.

“I understood that if I stick to those words, we won’t get Israel out of the chaos. It’s the easiest thing to entrench yourself in every promise, if everyone did that no government would have been formed, and it happened after four elections. I knew I was going to be criticized, and in the choice between what’s good for Israel and this thing, I chose what’s good for Israel.”

France probes bomb threat on a flight from Chad to Paris

French authorities are probing a bomb threat made against an Air France plane flying from the capital of Chad to Paris which has landed without incident, the interior ministry says.

“The passengers have been disembarked. Checks are underway,” a statement from the ministry says. After the threat during the flight, the plane was escorted to the airport by a French Rafale fighter jet.

IDF: Officer who died in military prison wasn’t charged with espionage or treason

An IDF intelligence officer who died in a military prison last month was not charged with espionage or treason, the Israel Defense Forces allows publications to report, though many aspects of the case remain heavily censored.

The military says the officer had not been in contact with a foreign agent and was not operated by one.

In the midst of the fighting last month, the Israel Defense Forces announced that a soldier in its newly opened Neve Tzedek prison had died under unclear circumstances.

The serviceman was found in serious condition in his cell on the night of May 16, and later pronounced dead in what military officials said was a suspected suicide, though no official cause of death had been designated.

Sullivan pushes Gantz on need for immediate Gaza humanitarian aid — White House

US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan pushed the Biden administration’s desire to see “immediate humanitarian aid” reach the people of Gaza during his meeting with Defense Minister Benny Gantz in Washington, the White House says.

“Sullivan reaffirmed President Biden’s unwavering support for Israel’s right to defend itself and commitment to strengthening all aspects of the US-Israel security partnership, including support for the Iron Dome System,” according to a statement from a spokesperson for the US National Security Council.

During the meeting, Gantz and Sullivan “discussed their common interest in steps to enhance stability, peace, and security, not just for Israelis and Palestinians, but across the entire region,” the statement says.

“They shared their concerns about the threat posed by Iran’s aggressive behavior in the Middle East and expressed their determination to counter these threats.”

“They agreed that the United States and Israel would remain closely engaged in the weeks ahead to advance their strategic priorities in the region,” the statement adds.

Right-wing activists pressure Yamina MK Orbach to thwart emerging government

Dozens of right-wing activists have, for several hours, been staging a loud protest next to Yamina MK Nir Orbach’s home, pressuring him to oppose the emerging government spearheaded by his party leader Naftali Bennett.

Meanwhile, the Kan public broadcaster reports that officials in the “change bloc” estimate that Orbach will not prevent the government’s formation. Orbach indicated earlier today that he would not defect to Netanyahu’s bloc, even though reports are saying he has not made a final decision.

Referring to leader of the Islamist Ra’am party, which is part of the emerging coalition, Kan quotes Orbach as telling his associates: “I know who [Mansour] Abbas is. I don’t want to sit with him in one government.”

Iran’s foreign minister cheers Netanyahu being sent ‘into the dustbin of history’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif celebrates Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s potential ouster, saying he has joined former president Donald Trump and several of his administration’s hardline officials who were sent “into the dustbin of history.”

TV: As Likud slams Bennett’s concessions to Arabs, Ra’am says Netanyahu promised the same

As Likud slams Naftali Bennett for promising significant funds for Arab Israelis and canceling a law to increase enforcement of illegal construction in the Bedouin community, Channel 12 news reports that the Ra’am party is saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made a promise yesterday to do just that. Likud is denying it.

The report says Netanyahu called Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas and said that the promises by the emerging government are not reliable.

“I believe in change, I want to do it with you,” Netanyahu said, according to Channel 12. “I am the only one who can open a new page with the Arab society.”

Active COVID cases drop by over 40% in 12 hours, dip below 200

The number of active COVID-19 cases in Israel has dropped by over 40 percent today, from 338 this morning to just 193, according to Health Ministry figures.

The number was over 88,000 a mere 4.5 months ago, before the world-leading vaccination campaign took effect.

Only 12 new cases have been identified in the country since midnight, out of over 18,000 tests, and just six cases were diagnosed yesterday.

There are 41 serious cases, including 28 on ventilators, and the death toll grew by three today to 6,416.

Report: AG set to indict Likud MK David Bitan with bribery

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided to indict Likud MK David Bitan with bribery in a corruption case involving his time in the Rishon Lezion Municipality, the Ynet news site reports.

The unsourced report says the charge sheet is being finalized and a formal announcement will be made when it is complete.

Bennett: ‘I told my kids their father will be the most hated person in Israel’

Yamina leader and PM-designate Naftali Bennett speaks in a Channel 12 interview, June 3, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)
Yamina leader and PM-designate Naftali Bennett speaks in a Channel 12 interview, June 3, 2021 (Channel 12 screenshot)

PM-designate Naftali Bennett tells Channel 12 news that when he joined forces with centrist and left-wing parties to form a new government ousting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, “I told my kids that their father was going to be the most hated person in the country. But I explained that I was doing it for the sake of their country.”

He says he “hopes and believes” the new, eight-party government, which appears to have a slender 61-59 majority in the Knesset, will be safely voted into office in the next few days.

He denounces Netanyahu and Religious Zionism party leader Bezalel Smotrich for leading “a machine that produces nonstop lies.”

Asked about Ra’am party leader and new coalition partner Mansour Abbas, whom he repeatedly called a “terror supporter” before the elections, Bennett says: “Mansour Abbas isn’t a terror supporter. I met an honest man and a brave leader who is reaching out and seeking to help Israeli citizens.”

He insists that his government would take whatever military action is necessary, including in Gaza, despite its reliance on Ra’am. If the coalition were to fall apart after any such operation, “so be it… there’d be elections.”

He says the coalition deal with Ra’am only refers to civil matters, not security issues.

Before the elections, Bennett slammed Netanyahu for negotiating with Ra’am’s Abbas, whose party is the political wing of the southern branch of Israel’s Islamic Movement.

Responding to Netanyahu’s and Smotrich’s allegations that his will be a left-wing government, dangerous to Israel’s security, Bennett notes, “It wasn’t me who gave up [much of] Hebron [to the Palestinian Authority]. That was Netanyahu. It wasn’t me who released thousands of terrorists and murderers [in the 2011 Gilad Shalit prisoner deal]. That was Netanyahu. We’re establishing a government with people who think a little differently [from the political right]. That’s all.”

Bennett, a former head of the Settlers’ Council who favors annexation of much of the West Bank, says the new government will not approve any territorial withdrawals. Asked whether he still considers the Palestinian problem to be akin to “shrapnel in the butt” — a 2013 parallel he drew apparently to indicate that living with it was preferable to the surgery of territorial separation — Bennett says this was “a comment that I would have changed in retrospect.” In fact, he goes on, “the national conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinians is not over land. The Palestinians do not recognize the essence of our existence here, and this will apparently be the case for a long time to come.”

His goal, he says, will be to “minimize the conflict. We won’t be able to solve it.” He says he will favor moves to safely improve and ease conditions for the Palestinians — in terms of the economy, freedom of movement and so on– “for a better quality of life.”

Reminded that the left-wing parties in his planned coalition see things differently, he says, “We’ll manage.”

White House says strategic alliance will continue even if Netanyahu replaced

The United States says the strategic partnership with Israel will continue if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is replaced after 12 consecutive years in power.

“Israel will remain an important strategic partner, one where you have an abiding security relationship, and that will continue,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki says, when asked about the matter, according to Reuters.

Report: Bridge serving as sole entry point for Jews to Temple Mount in immediate danger of collapsing

A structural engineer has warned that the wooden bridge serving as the sole access point for Jews and tourists into Jerusalem’s Temple Mount holy site is in immediate danger of collapsing, and poses a risk to anyone who uses it, Channel 13 news reports.

The bridge in the Western Wall compound leading to the Mughrabi Gate was hastily constructed over 15 years ago as a temporary replacement for a mound that had been in danger of collapsing.

After examining the bridge, engineer Ofer Cohen writes in an official letter to the Western Wall Heritage Foundation that the wood is “in a state of extreme dryness and has many longitudinal cracks.”

A wooden footbridge leads up from the Western Wall to the Mughrabi Gate of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem’s Old City, November 28, 2011. (Kobi Gideon/Flash90).

He writes that efforts to extend the wood’s life have failed and its current state “doesn’t enable safe use of the bridge over time.”

His “unequivocal” recommendation is to replace the bridge with a metal one that would be more durable and fireproof.

However, that would likely highly inflame tensions with the Palestinians and with Jordan, who view any such activity as a provocation against Muslims at the Temple Mount, which houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque.

High Court petition against Netanyahu urges appointment of 35 ambassadors, consuls

The Movement for Quality Government and a union of Foreign Ministry employees have filed a High Court petition against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for holding up the appointment of 35 ambassadors and consuls for over half a year, the Walla news site reports.

They demand that the court issue an order forcing Netanyahu to explain why he has not been approving the appointments, which include diplomats in about one-third of Israel’s diplomatic missions.

The petitioners say the current situation is significantly harming Israel’s relations and raises the suspicion the premier has “ulterior motives.”

Democratic senators pan ‘anti-Palestinian hate’ after community center receives bomb threats

US Sen. Cory Booker, back, looks on as Sen. Bob Menendez speaks during a news conference at Newark Liberty International Airport to address the partial government shutdown on Jan. 8, 2019, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)
US Sen. Cory Booker, back, looks on as Sen. Bob Menendez speaks during a news conference at Newark Liberty International Airport to address the partial government shutdown on Jan. 8, 2019, in Newark, N.J. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Both of New Jersey’s Senators have issued statements condemning the recent bomb threats called in to a Palestinian community center in their state.

“Anti-Palestinian hate and Islamophobia have no place in our state, our nation—or anywhere. These violent and vile threats are unacceptable. We must all speak up and call out hate in all its forms,” tweets Sen. Cory Booker.

“There is no excuse or justification for threatening and terrorizing our Palestinian-American neighbors. Diversity & tolerance are quintessential NJ values, and such acts of hate must be universally condemned and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” says Sen. Robert Menendez.

On Tuesday, the Palestinian American Community Center in Clifton received roughly 30 calls by at least two individuals who threatened to bomb the site and physically and sexually assault staff members, Northjersey.com reports.

“Are you Palestinian? … so I know to come blow you up,” the suspect can be heard warning in one of the calls.

The suspect claimed the center was “a terrorist organization who blows buildings up and beheads people.”

Police placed a patrol car outside the center as a result and a complaint was filed with the FBI, according to Northjersey.com.

The community center has issued a statement calling for the incident “to be taken extremely seriously as a racially, politically, and gender-based motivated hate crime.”

“The staff is shaken but empowered by community; like our people in Palestine, we are not going anywhere.”

Civil society NGOs urge Biden to establish international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace at G7

Palestinians and Israelis attend a joint ceremony for families of Israeli and Palestinian victims on Memorial Day organized by "Combatants for Peace" and the "Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace" in Tel Aviv, April 21, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
Palestinians and Israelis attend a joint ceremony for families of Israeli and Palestinian victims on Memorial Day organized by "Combatants for Peace" and the "Israeli-Palestinian Bereaved Families for Peace" in Tel Aviv, April 21, 2015. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

A coalition of over 150 civil society NGOs is calling on the Biden administration to lobby for the establishment of an international fund for Israeli-Palestinian peace at the annual G7 summit in the UK next week.

“Envisioned as a $200 million annual fund dedicated to support people-to-people programs to heal divides between Palestinians and Israelis, this fund would mirror the International Fund for Ireland, which was created by the US Congress and funded by public and private entities across the world that was vital to brokering peace during The Troubles,” the Alliance for Middle East Peace (ALLMEP) says in a statement. 

ALLMEP says American funding for such an initiative already exists, thanks to the decision last year by Congress to pass legislation known as the Lowey Fund, which allocates $250 million over five years to expand Israeli-Palestinian peace and reconciliation programs in the region.

Support for an international version of the Lowey Fund is already gaining steam. Earlier this week, Sixty-five members of the UK parliament signed a letter to their Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, urging London to push for the establishment of the peace-building fund at the G7.

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