The Times of Israel liveblogged Sunday’s events as they unfolded.
Israel pulls off 3-1 win over Nicaragua in its first game at World Baseball Classic
After being stymied for 8 and 1/3rd innings, Israel comes from behind to beat Nicaragua 3-1, as it kicks off its 2023 World Baseball Classic campaign in Miami.
Israel, the Cinderella of the 2017 tourney, is hoping to repeat the magic that got it into the second round six years ago. The team, made up largely of pros eligible for Israeli citizenship, got off to a slow start, leaving the bases loaded twice before a one-out Spencer Horwitz blooper into shallow left field finally sends Jakob Goldfarb home in the bottom of the eighth.
The score is followed by two more, as Garrett Stubbs smacks a two-run ground-rule double over the left field wall at Loandepot Park.
Pitcher Robert Stock quickly retires the side for Israel to put the win in the books.
Israel plays three more games over the next three days against a tough field of Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, and then Venezuela.
ELECTRIC ????@GarrettStubbs | #WorldBaseballClassic pic.twitter.com/BAnK0Rc81B
— Philadelphia Phillies (@Phillies) March 12, 2023
Israel denies report UAE plans suspend some defense deals due to government actions
Israeli officials are denying a Channel 12 report that the United Arab Emirates intends to suspend certain defense purchases from Jerusalem due to some of the current government’s actions and statements.
According to the unsourced report, the UAE has pointed particularly to incendiary comments and behavior from far-right ministers Itamar Ben Gvir and Bezalel Smotrich, as well as recent West Bank violence and the violent settler rampage in Huwara.
The TV network cites UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as saying that “until we can ascertain that Prime Minister Netanyahu has a government that he can control, we can’t work together.”
The Prime Minister’s Office issues a strong denial, calling the report “baseless” and saying that Israel and the UAE are constantly holding “fruitful diplomatic contact… including today.”
The Foreign Ministry issues a similar statement, calling relations “strong.”
IDF chief apologizes for saying ‘secure dictatorship better than unprotected anarchy’
Military chief Herzi Halevi admits to saying a controversial quote attributed to him over the weekend, but clarifies that it “does not reflect my worldview.”
Halevi was quoted by the Yedioth Ahronoth newspaper as saying “a secure dictatorship is better than an unprotected anarchy.”
“In the last few days, I talked and held meetings with hundreds of reserve commanders from all branches and wings of the IDF. I listened to the murmurings, the different opinions and perceptions,” Halevi says at a military ceremony, calling the tensions over the judicial overhaul “days of controversy in Israeli society.”
“In one of the conversations, a remark was made regarding an extreme point to which the dispute could develop. I replied with a moral response about our duty to protect, about the fact that I will always be in this country, and added a sentence that I should not have said and that does not reflect my worldview at all,” Halevi says.
“I would like to take this opportunity to clarify my intentions,” he adds. “The IDF will not be able to act during the disintegration of society. The IDF will not be able to act without the spirit of volunteerism of the reservists and their willingness [serve], which depends on the preservation of the IDF as the people’s army in a democratic Jewish state.”
The military chief cites the IDF’s code of ethics, known as Spirit of the IDF: “The soldiers of the IDF will act according to the values of the IDF and its orders, while keeping to the laws of the state and human dignity, and respecting the values of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”
“I am committed to this on behalf of the entire IDF,” he adds.
Report: Netanyahu, Deri agree to appoint Shas strategist as consul to Los Angeles
Shas chief Aryeh Deri and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have struck a deal to appoint a Shas insider as the next Israeli consul to Los Angeles, according to the Kan public broadcaster.
Israel Bachar, who served as a senior political strategist with the Shas party in the most recent election, will reportedly be tapped for the position in the coming weeks.
Bachar, who would replace outgoing envoy Hillel Newman, has worked for several other party’s campaigns in the past.
Ben Gvir says questioning cop who threw stun grenade at protesters ‘sends a very bad message’
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir says that the investigation by the Police Internal Investigations Department of the police officer who threw a stun grenade at anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv “sends a very bad message of lack of backup for Israel Police officers.”
“The decision of PIID turns it into a political body,” he says. “If we were talking about a demonstration of Haredim or Ethiopians, we wouldn’t hear about it or remember it,” Ben Gvir charges.
Hundreds in New York protest Israeli government’s judicial shakeup plan
NEW YORK — Several hundred Israelis and US Jews protest against the Netanyahu government in New York City.
The rally in Washington Square Park appears to be the biggest in New York since the government announced its judicial overhaul plans more than two months ago.
Protesters carry Israeli flags and hold signs reading “No democracy no future,” “Hands off Israel’s democracy,” and “Crime minister.”
Speakers urge the crowd to take action against the government by attending demonstrations, contacting legislators and taking other action. The crowd boos and chants “shame” in Hebrew at the mention of Netanyahu and Smotrich.
The speakers express solidarity with the mass protests taking place in Israel.
“This is not about right and left; it’s about democracy against autocracy,” says Jeremy Levin, the former CEO of Teva. “We are watching a democracy fighting for its life.”
A delegation of IDF officials will address members of the New York Jewish community about the overhaul later today. The group, largely made up of Israeli expats, has been holding rallies most weekends.
AIPAC, ADL, JFNA, AJC won’t meet Smotrich during DC visit
WASHINGTON — Several of the most prominent Jewish organizations in the US will not be meeting with Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, who arrived earlier today for a three day trip in Washington and New York.
Spokespeople for the Conference of Presidents, the Jewish Federations of North America, the American Jewish Committee, AIPAC, and the ADL tell The Times of Israel that they have no plans to meet with Smotrich this week.
These groups refrained from joining 73 more progressive organizations who signed onto a petition against hosting Smotrich, but they have each quietly made the decision not to meet with the far right minister who called earlier this month to wipe out the Palestinian town of Huwara, where two Israelis were shot dead in a terror attack and hundreds of settlers carried out a deadly rampage hours later. Smotrich has since apologized for the remark.
The Orthodox Union and the right-wing Zionist Organization of America are the only two organizations that have publicly confirmed that they will be meeting with Smotrich, who landed in Washington this morning.
The minister will be the keynote speaker at the Israel Bonds conference gala dinner this evening. Hundreds of American Jews are expected to protest outside the hotel where the conference is being held.
Main labor union backs Herzog’s judicial overhaul compromise deal
The Histadrut labor union issues a statement giving full support to a compromise deal pushed for by President Isaac Herzog in the government’s contentious judicial shakeup plan.
After meeting Herzog in Jerusalem, Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David says that he backs Herzog’s compromise efforts, but warns that if an agreement is not reached, he “will not sit idly by,” hinting at broader labor actions against the government.
Herzog has yet to reveal the details of the purported compromise agreement.
Iraqi military says there are still hundreds of IS fighters active in country
The Islamic State group still has up to 500 active fighters in Iraq, a senior military official estimates, in the country where jihadist cells continue to launch sporadic attacks.
But Iraqi General Qais al-Mohamadawi, part of the anti-jihadist coalition, stresses that IS — now based in remote desert and mountain hideouts — has “lost its ability to attract new recruits.”
Mohamadawi, deputy commander of the Iraqi operations unit working with the international anti-jihadist coalition, says that hundreds of IS fighters remain active in Iraq.
“According to information from intelligence agencies, the total number of IS members does not exceed 400 to 500 fighters, in three or four provinces,” he tells a press conference.
The group has “lost its ability to attract new recruits,” he adds, also pointing to a February 26 military operation that had killed 22 IS members and destroyed a “training camp” in Al-Anbar province.
Iran says rapprochement with Saudi Arabia will help end war in Yemen
Iran’s mission to the United Nations says a breakthrough agreement with Saudi Arabia restoring bilateral relations will help bring a political settlement to Yemen’s yearslong war, according to Iranian state media.
Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed Friday to reestablish diplomatic relations and reopen their embassies after seven years of tensions that brought the two regional powerhouses to the brink of conflict and fueled tensions across the region.
Citing a statement from Iran’s UN mission, IRNA news agency says the deal with Saudi Arabia will accelerate efforts to renew an expired ceasefire deal, “help start a national dialogue, and form an inclusive national government in Yemen.”
The Saudi-backed Yemeni government issues a carefully crafted statement on the deal, expressing some optimism — and caveats.
“The Yemeni government’s position depends on actions and practices not words and claims,” it said, adding it would proceed cautiously “until observing a true change in [Iranian] behavior.”
Police: Palestinian man with knife arrested in Netanya
A Palestinian man armed with a pocketknife has been arrested by officers in Netanya, police say.
According to a police spokesperson, law enforcement received calls about suspicious activity at the coastal city’s Independence Square.
Police say the man, who did not have an entry permit to Israel, was detained after a short while, and a pocketknife was found on his person.
He has been taken for further questioning.
Police do not immediately say if the suspect sought to carry out a terror attack.
נתניה מעצר חשוד pic.twitter.com/AzSaYIPIww
— כל החדשות בזמן אמת ???? (@Saher95755738) March 12, 2023
Israel postpones scheduled hearing on E1 settlement project
Israel pushes off a hearing to discuss the controversial E1 settlement project by several months.
Last month, the Civil Administration subcommittee that hears legal objections to settlement projects scheduled a hearing on E1 for March 27. Today the meeting was rescheduled for June 12, according to a letter from the body published by the Kan public broadcaster.
The plan to build 3,412 homes in a new neighborhood of Ma’ale Adumim has been characterized by critics as a “doomsday” settlement that would divide the West Bank in half.
Last month a joint communique from an Israeli-Palestinian summit in Aqaba, Jordan, included a commitment by Jerusalem to “stop discussion of any new settlement units for four months and to stop authorization of any outposts for six months,” though Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu immediately rushed to vow that there was no settlement freeze.
Cops questioned over throwing stun grenade at Tel Aviv protesters
Six police officers are being questioned by the Police Internal Investigations Department over their role in the decision to throw a stun grenade at anti-government protesters in Tel Aviv earlier this month.
The cop who threw the grenade, Meir Suissa, and five others who were with him at the time were summoned to PIID for an investigation.
Hundreds demonstrate in London against Israeli judicial shakeup plan
Hundreds of people show up to a protest in London’s Parliament Square against the Israeli government’s radical plan to overhaul the judiciary.
עכשיו 14:39 שעון לונדון פרלמנט כיכר pic.twitter.com/rYrs4hMn2j
— Ronit Farber (@FarberRonit) March 12, 2023
Holding signs in both Hebrew and English reading “A government of criminals will not appoint judges” and “Israelis for the future of Israel,” the protesters chant “democracy,” and some even show up in the “Handmaid’s Tale” costumes that have become a hallmark of the protests in Israel.
Hundreds currently demonstrating in London's Parliament Square in solidarity with the hundreds of thousands who have been protesting in Israel against @netanyahu's judicial overhaul pic.twitter.com/8hOmZy5rEK
— Raoul Wootliff (@RaoulWootliff) March 12, 2023
US says Iranian claims of prisoner swap deal are a ‘cruel lie’
The US dismisses claims by Iran’s foreign minister of an imminent prisoner swap deal as a “cruel lie.”
US State Department spokesperson Ned Price calls the comments “another especially cruel lie that only adds to the suffering of their families.”
“We are working relentlessly to secure the release of the three wrongfully detained Americans in Iran,” Price says. “We will not stop until they are reunited with their loved ones.”
A separate statement from the White House’s National Security Council also calls the remarks “false.”
“Unfortunately, Iranian officials will not hesitate to make things up, and the latest cruel claim will cause more heartache for the families of Siamak Namazi, Emad Shargi and Morad Tahbaz,” the council says.
Herzog, Rothman wrap up three-hour meeting on judicial overhaul
President Isaac Herzog and Religious Zionism MK Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, wrap up their meeting at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem after close to three hours.
Herzog’s office says that during the meeting the president “reaffirmed his call for the need to formulate as broad agreements as possible, for the sake of the State of Israel and its citizens.”
The president has been among the loudest voices calling for a compromise deal on the government’s controversial judicial overhaul plan, including in an impassioned speech last week imploring the coalition to halt its current legislation.
Rothman said earlier today that he “very much did not agree” with Herzog’s speech but that he was still open to listening to him and would meet him.
Smotrich lands in DC where hundreds plan to protest his speech at Israel Bonds confab
WASHINGTON — Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich lands in Washington where he will speak later today at the Israel Bonds conference, an appearance clouded by the controversy caused by his remarks earlier this month calling for a Palestinian town to be “wiped out.”
Hundreds of American Jews are expected to protest outside the Grand Hyatt Hotel where Smotrich will be the keynote speaker at the evening gala of Israel Bonds, which sells Israeli government bonds to investors abroad.
Dozens of Jewish groups have vowed to boycott his visit, and even mainstream organizations like AIPAC and the American Jewish Committee — which avoided signing onto boycott statements — were not slated to meet with him. The White House also said that no US officials would meet with Smotrich during his trip
Smotrich appeared to acknowledge the controversy surrounding his arrival, saying in a statement prior to taking off that that “the message I am departing with is that as in Israel, so too in the Diaspora, it is okay to have differences of opinion and arguments between us, but nothing will break our bond. We are stronger together.”
Iran’s foreign minister claims Tehran nearing prisoner swap deal with US
Iran’s top diplomat claims that a prisoner swap is near with the US, though he offers no evidence to support his assertion. American officials do not immediately respond to requests for comment about his remarks.
Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has made similar comments in the past about possible deals with the US on frozen assets abroad and other issues that never came to fruition. Some of those remarks have appeared aimed at shoring up domestic support amid the mass protests challenging Iran’s theocracy and supporting the country’s troubled rial currency.
However, in an interview today with Iranian state television, Amirabdollahian claims that Iran has “reached an agreement in recent days regarding the exchange of prisoners between Iran and the United States.”
“If everything goes well on the American side, I think we will see the exchange of prisoners in the short term,” he adds. He alleges a document between Iran and the US laying out the exchange has been “indirectly signed and approved” since March 2022.
Israeli MK elected to countererrorism committee of International Parliamentary Union
Likud MK and former Israel envoy to the UN Danny Danon is elected to the International Parliamentary Union’s Counter-Terrorism Committee in Bahrain during the IPU’s 146th assembly.
Danon is elected by secret ballot by lawmakers from 47 countries, running against parliamentarians from Sweden, Holland and Spain.
“My election by many world countries to this post is firm recognition of the challenges Israel faces in this regard as well as our extensive know-how and capabilities in the fight against terrorism,” says Danon.
He is in Manama with Likud MK Dan Illouz from the governing coalition, and opposition MKs Elazar Stern and Yifat Shasha-Biton, both former ministers.
Mandelblit: Looming constitutional crisis will end Israel’s place in ‘family of nations’
Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit says that a looming clash between the government and the court system will end Israel’s place among “the family of nations.”
If the law giving the government complete control over judicial appointments passes, he says, “the court will issue a restraining order against it, and if the government does not accept the ruling of the High Court of Justice, the State of Israel has finished its story as part of the family of nations,” he says during a conference at the University of Haifa.
“The price for that will be devastating and I believe and hope that we won’t get there,” he adds.
Mandelblit, once considered a close confidant of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, says that sidelining the judiciary “will bring us to situation where he will no longer be a democracy. We will become a dictatorship. If the legal advisers are appointed by the government and the judges are appointed by the government — what remains of the Declaration of Independence? It will just become a piece of paper we can throw in the trash.”
Israeli fighter jets escort US bomber over Israeli airspace in message to Iran
Israeli F-16 fighter jets escort an American B-52 bomber as it makes its way through Israeli airspace toward the Persian Gulf, in an apparent show of force to Iran amid lingering tensions in the region.
The flight took place “as part of close cooperation with the US Armed Forces, which is a significant component in maintaining the aerial security of the State of Israel and the Middle East,” the Israel Defense Forces says.
Israeli jets escorting American bombers have become a regular fixture in the skies of the Middle East in the past year, as tensions between Tehran and the West have risen amid stalled attempts to negotiate a new deal that would block the Islamic Republic from obtaining nuclear weapons in exchange for sanctions relief.
After Netanyahu trip to Rome, Italian foreign minister lands in Israel
Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani, who also serves as Deputy Prime Minister to Giorgia Meloni, lands in Israel ahead of his meeting tomorrow evening with his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen.
The two will sign a number of joint declarations and agreements on deepening ministerial dialogue on energy, the Abraham Accords, Iran and other issues. Cohen will bring up Israel’s desire to see Italy’s embassy moved to Jerusalem, according to an Israeli diplomatic source, but no breakthrough is expected at this time.
Tajani is also scheduled to visit Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah.
Cohen is expected to also host Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov at the end of the month for a ceremony officially opening his country’s embassy in Israel.
Saudi Arabia unveils new airline to compete with Gulf rivals
Saudi Arabia announces the creation of a new national airline, part of a plan to turn Riyadh into a global aviation hub rivaling regional leaders like Dubai and Doha.
Riyadh Air “aims to launch flights to more than 100 destinations around the world by 2030,” the official Saudi Press Agency (SPA) reports.
The Gulf kingdom is pursuing ambitious aviation goals as part of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s wide-ranging “Vision 2030” reform agenda, including more than tripling annual traffic to 330 million passengers by the end of the decade.
The new airline is the latest in “a huge package of projects” that will “consolidate our country’s position as an international hub for aviation and a global logistics center,” Saudi Transport Minister Saleh Al-Jasser says on Twitter.
Eiland says his outline for judicial compromise appears to have failed
Giora Eiland, a former national security adviser, says his compromise deal for the government’s judicial overhaul plan has failed and is no longer being pursued.
“From my perspective, I would say that as of this morning the intitiative failed,” Eiland says on Army Radio. “From my perspective it’s no longer on the agenda.”
Eiland says the plan — formed along with former justice minister Daniel Friedmann — was intended as a starting point for talks and to convince the coalition to halt the current legislation for negotiations.
He says that he spoke with both Justice Minister Yariv Levin and MK Simcha Rothman — the two main architects of the plan — in an attempt to get them to freeze the advancement of the bills, “but they continued, even though we very much recommended that they shouldn’t.”
Eiland says that the plan was designed to give the coalition about 80% of what it was seeking, but that even that was rejected, and therefore he doesn’t see a path forward.
Aryeh Levin, father of Justice Minister Yariv Levin, dies at 85
Prof. Aryeh Levin, the father of Justice Minister Yariv Levin and a past winner of the Israel Prize for his work in researching the Arabic language, dies at the age of 85.
His death is announced by the justice minister’s office in a statement. Levin, chair of the Ministerial Committee on Legislation, is the chief figure behind the government’s controversial judicial overhaul plan. A spokesperson for Levin says the committee will continue to meet as scheduled, although it is not immediately clear who would chair the meetings.
Ben Gvir tells AG that he does not trust her to legally represent him moving forward
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tells Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara that he cannot rely on her to represent him in ongoing or pending lawsuits and appeals.
In a letter to the attorney general’s office, Ben Gvir — who is himself a lawyer — writes that in light of her recent activity, “I cannot trust you to faithfully represent me in the various petitions,” and therefore he intends to represent himself.
Ben Gvir has repeatedly lashed out at Baharav-Miara for her rulings and recommendations in recent months, calling her the “real prime minister” of Israel and asserting that she wants to control the government and the police.
Netanyahu: In every democracy, the government must control the police, army
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to criticize Attorney General Gali Baharav Miara after she moved over the weekend to freeze the removal of the Tel Aviv district police chief.
“In every functioning democracy, the elected government is responsible for the army, for the police, and for other security services,” he says at the start of the weekly cabinet meeting. “This is how it must be — and woe to us if it is not.”
The prime minister says such a hierarchy “is not just anchored in the law but in common sense.” Netanyahu says such a system “is the basis of every democracy and society, and if you undermine it, you undermine the very existence of democracy.”
The prime minister also hits back at threats by some to leave the country if the overhaul legislation passes.
“You cannot say ‘I support the country’ but ‘If you don’t accept my position I will leave the country,'” he says. “There is no conditional Zionism.”
Netanyahu claims that during conversations with Italian business leaders during his recent trip to Rome, none of them brought up the controversial judicial overhaul plan.
“During my trip I met with dozens of heads of leading Italian companies,” Netanyahu says. “None of them spoke to me about judicial reform, but all of them — without exception — spoke to me about investing in Israel, about increasing investments in Israel and boosting cooperation with the Israeli economy.”
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