The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Prime Minister says he condemns violence by Likud party activists who crashed a campaign event by New Hope party leader Gideon Sa’ar. At the same time, Netanyahu sarcastically swipes at Sa’ar, calling him “irrelevant.”
“I condemn all violence against all candidates, and especially against irrelevant candidates like Gideon Sa’ar,” the prime minister says in an interview with the Religious Zionist website Kipa.
Sa’ar, a former Likud party stalwart, on Saturday night had accused Netanyahu supporters of disrupting a party event by throwing objects at participants, including stones and eggs. One person was injured.
He shared video that showed people carrying Likud flags arguing with his supporters and calling him a traitor, apparently outside the meeting.
Sa’ar blamed Netanyahu for the violence and reiterated his campaign pledge to oust Netanyahu from office in the upcoming elections on March 23.
“Netanyahu has completely lost it. Bibi, I’m not afraid of you! In another ten days I’ll replace you,” Sa’ar wrote on Facebook, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.
A day later, another New Hope candidate, Ofer Berkovitch, was violently confronted by Likud activists as he campaigned in the capital’s Mahane Yehuda market.
Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard inaugurates a new underground facility designated for missile storage, the country’s state TV reports.
The report quotes Guard commander Gen. Hossein Salami as saying that cruise and ballistic missiles will empower the force’s navy even more.
The TV report shows footage of scores of missiles in an enclosed space resembling an underground corridor. It does not say where the facility is located nor how many missiles are stored there.
Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, the founder of the ZAKA emergency response group, who has been accused of multiple instance of severe sexual abuse, arrives at the police serious crimes headquarters in order to give testimony, but is turned away.
According to Hebrew media reports, officers refused to see Meshi-Zahav because despite there being an investigation into the claims against him, he had yet to be summoned for questioning.
Meshi-Zahav was initially accused Thursday of sexual assault, rape, and abuse of six people in a report by the Haaretz daily. The allegations against Meshi-Zahav were made by both men and women, some of whom were minors at the time of the alleged events.
Over a dozen testimonies have since emerged, TV reports said, though it remains unclear how many are within the statute of limitations.
Meshi-Zahav temporarily stepped down from his position as ZAKA chairman in light of the allegations.
Jared Kushner, Donald Trump’s son-in-law, who had been the former US president’s senior adviser, praises US President Joe Biden’s approach so far in the effort to bring Iran back to the negotiating table.
“The Biden administration called Iran’s bluff,” Kushner writes in an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal, referring to “the Biden team’s opening offer to work with Europe and rejoin the Iran deal,” which he calls “a smart diplomatic move.”
By reaching out to Europe, he writes, Biden capitalized on his administration’s relationship with Iran.
“It revealed to the Europeans that the JCPOA is dead and only a new framework can bring stability for the future,” Kushner says. “When Iran asked for a reward merely for initiating negotiations, President Biden did the right thing and refused.”
He goes on to urge patience in the negotiations in order to ensure that “any [future] deal include real nuclear inspections and an end to Iran’s funding of foreign militias.”
In his WSJ op-ed, Kushner also says Israel and Saudi Arabia are close to sealing a normalization deal and calls on Biden to seize the opportunity.
“The kingdom dipped a toe in the water by granting overflight rights to Israel and, most recently, allowing an Israeli racing team to participate in the Dakar Rally,” she Kushner. “The Saudi people are starting to see that Israel is not their enemy. Relations with Israel are in the Saudi national interest and can be achieved if the Biden administration leads.”
But Saudi Arabia is not the only country closing in on deals with the Jewish state, claims the former adviser to Trump, whose team helped to broker Israel’s normalization pacts with the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain, Qatar and Morocco.
“There are also several more countries on the brink of joining the Abraham Accords, including Oman, Qatar and Mauritania,” he writes. “The table is set. If it is smart, the Biden administration will seize this historic opportunity to unleash the Middle East’s potential, keep America safe, and help the region turn the page on a generation of conflict and instability.”
President Reuven Rivlin decries the political logjam that has sent Israelis to the polls four times in the past two years.
“Even in the face of the coronavirus challenge, our elected officials have failed to form a sustainable government, and they are bringing us voters to vote in the Knesset elections for the fourth time in less than two years,” he laments at a conference at the Interdisciplinary Center in Herzliya.
“The dire consequences of this situation are not just an impairment of the state’s ability to provide budgets and operate the essential services it provides to its citizens in the areas of health, education, employment and welfare,” he continues, according to a translation of his Hebrew remarks released by his office.
“The current situation even erodes in an unprecedented way the people’s trust in democratic institutions — in the Knesset, in the government, and in the political parties. It erodes the people’s trust in the democratic system itself.”
Rivlin goes on to call for unity, asserting, “This current crisis, like any challenge to befall Israeli society, cannot be won if we attempt to battle it on our own, within each community or its closed sector alone. The contagious virus reminded us that for better or for worse we were meant to live here together: Jews, Arabs, secular, religious and ultra-Orthodox; right and left.”
An Israeli film examining the lives of African migrants in the country is nominated for an Oscar in the Best Live Action Short Film category, after being selected from a shortlist of ten films.
“White Eye,” from 33-year-old director Tomer Shushan, tackles an Israeli problem familiar to Americans: open or subliminal prejudice by much of the population and police against nonwhite inhabitants, especially immigrants.
The 93rd Academy Awards ceremony, known as the Oscars and among the most prestigious in the movie industry, will take place at the Dolby Theatre in Hollywood, Los Angeles, California, on April 25.
— with JTA
Britain says it is imposing new sanctions on Bashar Assad’s regime, including asset freezes and travel bans on the Syrian dictator’s close allies.
The announcement comes on the 10th anniversary of the start of the Syrian uprising. The six sanctioned individuals include Syrian Foreign Minister Faisal Mekdad, presidential adviser Luna al-Shibl, and two military generals whom Britain says were responsible for the violent repression of civilians by troops under their command.
The Foreign Office says they also include two prominent businessmen, one of whom, Yassar Ibrahim, allegedly “acts as a front” for the “personal hold on the Syrian economy” wielded by Assad and his wife, Asma, while millions of Syrians go without food.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab condemns the Assad regime for subjecting the Syrian people “to a decade of brutality for the temerity of demanding peaceful reform.”
“Today we are holding six more individuals from the regime to account for their wholesale assault on the very citizens they should be protecting,” Raab says in a statement.
The sanctions are the first against the Syrian leadership under Britain’s new autonomous sanctions regime after Brexit.
The Vatican says the Catholic Church does not have the power to bless same-sex unions despite their “positive elements,” saying it is impossible for God to “bless sin.”
The powerful Vatican office responsible for defending church doctrine, The Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith (CDF), issues a response to the question, “Does the Church have the power to give the blessing to unions of persons of the same sex?”
“Negative,” reads the CDF’s response, signed by Cardinal Luis Ladaria, prefect of the doctrinal office that was first set up in 1542 to hear heresy cases.
Blessings are not allowed, writes the CDF, because what is to be blessed needs to be “objectively and positively ordered to receive and express grace, according to the designs of God inscribed in creation, and fully revealed by Christ the Lord.”
“For this reason, it is not licit to impart a blessing on relationships, or partnerships, even stable, that involve sexual activity outside of marriage (i.e., outside the indissoluble union of a man and a woman open in itself to the transmission of life), as is the case of the unions between persons of the same sex,” it writes.
The CDF wrote that such relationships might have positive elements to be valued, but that does not make them “legitimate objects of an ecclesial blessing, since the positive elements exist within the context of a union not ordered to the creator’s plan.”
Early in his papacy, Pope Francis took an unprecedented welcoming tone toward the LGBT community, making the now-famous “Who am I to judge?” remark about gay people trying to live a Christian life.
In a documentary released last October, Francis expressed support for same-sex civil unions, although the Vatican later qualified that the comments were highly edited and excluded one saying he was opposed to same-sex marriage.
Iran calls on Britain to “avoid politicizing” the case of dual national Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe after London said her appearance in court on new charges was “unacceptable.”
The hearing on Sunday dashed hopes of family and supporters for a swift return home of the 42-year-old, in a case that has sharpened diplomatic tensions between the Islamic republic and the United Kingdom.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case “is transparent and depends on the judiciary,” Iranian foreign ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh tells reporters in Tehran.
“The best way to help find solutions to such cases is to avoid politicizing them,” he adds.
“I advise the British government, which has politicized the case in the past, to allow justice to follow its course,” Khatibzadeh says.
Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s lawyer Hojjat Kermani has said she is now being prosecuted for “propaganda against the system, for having participated in a rally in front of the Iranian embassy in London” in 2009.
The mother-of-one appeared in court on Sunday where she denied all charges, according to the Free Nazanin support campaign.
British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab dismissed the new case as “arbitrary.”
It was “unacceptable that Iran has chosen to continue a second wholly arbitrary case,” he said on Sunday.
Netanyahu, trying to turn the heat up on one of his key rivals, calls on Yamina leader Naftali Bennett to pledge that he will not join a government with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid after the election.
The centrist Lapid is perceived by many hawkish voters as being too far to the left of Netanyahu to be a viable partner in a coalition government, but Bennett has not ruled out a coalition with him, making the potential partnership a weak spot for Bennett that the prime minister has sought to exploit.
“I am making a commitment to establish a broad right-wing coalition without a [premiership] rotation and certainly without Yair Lapid,” Netanyahu says in a video shared by his Twitter account. “Now it’s your turn, Naftali Bennett: Commit to a government without Lapid in any role and without a rotation. Commit.”
Bennett responds by mocking Netanyahu’s own questionable record of keeping election promises as well as his many left-wing political bedfellows over the years.
“So I must say,” he tells a right-wing conference, “that hearing the word commitment from Netanyahu is a bit like making [former Health Ministry director and vocal coronavirus skeptic] Yoram Lass the face of the campaign against the coronavirus.”
Israel’s national rugby team is heading for Dubai tonight for a friendly match against the United Arab Emirates’ national team as well as a joint training camp, according to a Facebook post from Rugby Israel.
The match begins on Friday at 5:30 p.m. local time, or 3:30 p.m. in Israel.
“Both teams are looking forward to an unforgettable event,” the post says.
Rugby Israel about to make history!Tomorrow night we are leaving for Dubai – 1st ever Israeli national team to go for a…
The Knesset Economic Affairs Committee ratifies a cabinet decision to remove the limits on locations that Israelis can fly to and from.
The decision comes into effect tomorrow.
In recent weeks the number of destinations was limited, so as to stick to a daily quota of 3,000 entries. The quota still remains.
Israel’s education system is failing by not preparing students well enough for matriculation examinations, as well as lacking technological infrastructure, the state comptroller says in a report.
The report says that despite five years having passed since the start of a national education reform, at least half of the curricula have yet to be updated.
According to the report, 51 percent of high school curricula that were approved a decade ago have not been updated since.
“International examinations have begun to change by putting their main emphasis on skills assessment and less on knowledge assessment,” Comptroller Matanyahu Englman warns. “Matriculation exams in Israel barely address 21st-century skills, and do not test them.”
The comptroller adds that the large number of matriculation examinations students are required to go through, at least 10-11, prompt schools to invest less in “imparting required skills for students.”
Englman recommended that the Education Ministry “formulate a comprehensive policy and a dedicated strategic plan for the adaptation of 21st-century skills among students.”
Germany becomes the biggest country in Europe to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and European regulators say there is no evidence the shot is to blame.
The country’s health minister says the decision was made on the advice of Germany’s national vaccine regulator, the Paul Ehrlich Institute, which called for further investigation into seven reported cases of clots in the brains of people who had been vaccinated.
“Today’s decision is a purely precautionary measure,” Jens Spahn says.
Several countries, starting with Denmark last week, have temporarily halted use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in recent days to investigate cases of blood clots that occurred after vaccination. They include Ireland, Thailand, the Netherlands, Norway, Iceland, Congo and Bulgaria.
AstraZeneca has said that there is no cause for concern with its vaccine and that there were fewer reported thrombosis cases in those who received the shot than in the general population.
The European Medicines Agency and the World Health Organization have also said that the data does not suggest the vaccine caused the clots and that people should continue to be immunized.
US officials have arrested and charged two men with assaulting US Capitol Police officer Brian Sicknick with bear spray during the January 6 riot, but they do not know yet whether it caused the officer’s death.
George Tanios, 39, of Morgantown, West Virginia, and Julian Khater, 32, of Pennsylvania, were arrested yesterday. They are expected to appear in federal court today.
The idea that Sicknick died after being sprayed by a chemical irritant has emerged in recent weeks as a new theory in the case.
Investigators initially believed that Sicknick was hit in the head with a fire extinguisher, based on statements collected early in the investigation, according to two people familiar with the case. But as they’ve collected more evidence, the theory of the case has evolved and investigators now believe Sicknick may have ingested a chemical substance — possibly bear spray — that may have contributed to his death, officials have said.
Khater is the man in a video obtained by the FBI that showed him spraying Sicknick and others with bear spray, according to court papers. The act hasn’t been directly tied to Sicknick’s death.
“Give me that bear (expletive),” Khater said to Tanios on the video, according to court papers. Sicknick and other officers were standing guard near metal bike racks, the papers say.
Khater then says, “they just (expletive) sprayed me,” as he’s seen holding a white can with a black top that prosecutors said ”appears to be a can of chemical spray.”
Sicknick died after defending the Capitol against the mob that stormed the building as Congress was voting to certify Joe Biden’s electoral win over Donald Trump. It came after Trump urged supporters on the National Mall to “fight like hell” to overturn his defeat.
The circumstances surrounding Sicknick’s death remain unclear, and a final cause of death has not been determined. Capitol Police have said he died after he was injured “while physically engaging with protesters” and the agency’s acting chief said officials consider it a line-of-duty death.
Sicknick collapsed later on and died at a hospital on January 7. The Justice Department opened a federal murder investigation into his death, but prosecutors are still evaluating what specific charges could be brought in the case, the people said.
The medical examiner’s report on Sicknick’s death is incomplete. Capitol police say they are awaiting toxicology results.
The FBI has already released about 250 photos of people being sought for assaulting federal law enforcement officers during the riot. Some have already been arrested, and the Justice Department said about 300 people have been charged with federal offenses related to the riot.
Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the head of public health at the Health Ministry, says that, with the coronavirus outbreak diminishing, Israel’s main concern is the possibility of new variants entering the country that are impervious to the effects of the vaccine.
“The issue that scares us the most is the entry of variants,” she tells reporters in a briefing. “The British strain rules here with 90 percent [of the cases], but the vaccine is effective against it. We also have the South African strain, which constitutes 1% [of case] but against which the vaccine is less effective. We’re afraid that additional strains that are stronger than the vaccine will enter through all [Israel’s] crossings.”
Alroy-Preis says that most concerning is Ben Gurion International Airport.
At the same time, crediting Israel’s successful vaccination campaign, she says that the virus is “constantly diminishing” and notes that only 15% of Israeli locales are considered either “red” or “orange” in the country’s color-coded scheme for determining the severity of a local outbreak.
She also notes that businesses and other venues will have access to rapid virus tests starting Sunday, which will enable them to admit more unvaccinated people.
Hours after Germany makes a similar announcement, France and Italy become the latest countries to suspend use of AstraZeneca’s COVID-19 vaccine over reports of dangerous blood clots in some recipients, though the company and European regulators have said there is no evidence the shot is to blame.
French President Emmanuel Macron says his country will suspend shots at least until Tuesday afternoon, when the European Union’s drug regulatory agency will weigh in on the vaccine. He says France hopes to resume using the formula soon.
Italy’s medicines regulator also announces a precautionary, temporary ban.
— with AP
Jordan condemns Kosovo for opening its embassy to Israel in Jerusalem this week, calling the move contrary to international law.
“Any measures or decisions aimed at changing the holy city’s legal status are null, illegal and have no legal effect,” says Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman Dhaifallah Ali Al-Fayez, according to a report by the official Jordan News Agency.
Palestinian rival factions Fatah and Hamas will hold a new round of talks Tuesday in the Egyptian capital to push on with plans for forthcoming elections.
The meeting, announced today by the Islamist terror group Hamas and the secular Fatah faction, will come more than a month after the two factions agreed in Cairo talks on “mechanisms” for the polls.
The parliamentary and presidential polls are set for May 22 and July 31, respectively, and will be the first Palestinian elections in 15 years.
On Tuesday in Cairo the two sides will discuss “key issues linked to the elections,” Hamas official Khalil al-Khalil says.
“After the legislative elections, we would like to form a national unity government… and we would prefer to reach consensus on just one national candidate for the presidential vote,” he says.
A spokesman for Abbas, meanwhile, stresses that the Palestinian Authority president is determined to see through the elections despite tensions within Fatah.
— with AFP
Prime Minister Netanyahu comments for the first time on the sex abuse allegations against ZAKA co-founder Yehuda Meshi-Zahav, saying, “I hope it isn’t true.”
“Sexual harassments of boys and girls are terrible things,” he tells Army Radio in an interview. “I hope it isn’t true, but justice must be served — this is unthinkable.”
The Palestinians condemn Kosovo for opening an embassy in Jerusalem, after it became the first Muslim-majority territory to recognize the disputed city as Israel’s capital.
Kosovo, which formally opened the embassy on Sunday, made the move in exchange for Israel recognizing the independence it declared in 2008, following a war with Serbia in the 1990s.
The Palestinians, who claim the eastern part of Jerusalem as the capital of their future state, have fiercely criticized Kosovo over the move.
It is “a violation of international law,” Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman for Palestinian president Mahmud Abbas, is quoted as saying by the official WAFA news agency.
The Islamist Hamas terror group that controls the Gaza Strip also blasts Kosovo, accusing it of “appalling bias” toward Israel.
— with AFP
Police suspect ZAKA officials of helping to cover up the suspicions against the organization’s co-founder Meshi-Zahav, according to a report by Channel 13.
The report also says that Meshi-Zahav was the subject of a sex crimes investigation already in the late 1980s. It says two women complained against him, but later retracted their testimony.
“I never committed illegal acts,” Meshi-Zahav is quoted telling his confidants. “There were consenting relations with different women, but nothing was coerced and nothing was against the law.”
The ZAKA founder’s lawyer, Ephraim Dimri, tells Channel 13 that his client is prepared to cooperate with the investigation against him.
“He has nothing to hide,” Dimri says. “He hasn’t seen any testimony. Everything we’ve seen has been in the media. If he is called and confronted with whatever testimony, he will respond.”
The French government announces that it will return a Nazi-looted Gustav Klimt landscape painting to its rightful owners more than 80 years after it was stolen from a Jewish family in Austria in 1938.
The colorful 1905 oil work by the Austrian symbolist painter titled “Rosebushes under the Trees” has been hanging in Paris’ Musee d’Orsay museum for decades.
French Culture Minister Roselyne Bachelot-Narquin tells a Paris news conference that “the decision to return a major work from the public collections illustrates our commitment to the duty of justice and reparation vis-à-vis plundered families.”
The oil work will be returned to the family of Nora Stiasny, a Holocaust victim who was dispossessed during a forced sale in August 1938.
Bachelot-Narquin says that French authorities had not initially identified the painting as being stolen by the Nazis, and its provenance only recently came to light after French government-led investigations on the issue.
“It is in recent years that the true origin of the painting has been established,” she says, adding that it is “the only Gustav Klimt painting owned by France.”
“’Rosebushes under the Trees’” is a testament to the lives that a criminal will has stubbornly sought to eliminate.”
Thousands of artworks looted by the Nazis across Europe wound up in French museums after the Allies defeated Nazi Germany in 1945. Though many have been returned, French authorities have stepped up efforts in recent years to find homes for the scores of hanging heirlooms that remain unclaimed.
In its evening coronavirus roundup, the Health Ministry says that 1,377 new cases were diagnosed yesterday, a marked drop over last week, though Sunday’s numbers tend to be lower, due to reduced testing levels over the weekend.
The new cases bring the total number of diagnosed patients since the start of the outbreak to 820,789.
There were 603 serious cases, 217 of whom were being ventilated.
The death toll stood at 6,029 after surpassing 6,000 a day earlier.
The percentage of positive tests continued its decline — 2.9 percent out of 58,495 tests conducted — as did the basic reproduction number, which stood at 0.76%.
Seven rockets target an Iraqi airbase housing US troops north of Baghdad, a security source says, the latest in a string of attacks that Washington routinely blames on Iran-linked factions.
On March 3, an American sub-contractor was killed in a similar attack against another airbase, Ain Al-Assad, in Iraq’s western desert.
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