ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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Ex-justice minister: Coalition’s rejection of Herzog plan shows leadership failure

Gideon Sa’ar warns ‘full responsibility will be placed on those who miss the opportunity to prevent a severe rift in the people at this fateful hour’

MK Gideon Sa'ar attends a faction meeting of the National Unity party at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Gideon Sa'ar attends a faction meeting of the National Unity party at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Israel Democracy Institute urges ‘all leaders’ to adopt Herzog’s framework, though it has ‘problematic elements’

The Israel Democracy Institute issues a statement congratulating Herzog on his extraordinary efforts, praising him for having “listened to all parts of the Israeli people, exhibited leadership at a time of unprecedented crisis, and produced a serious proposal that gives hope to many that it may still prove possible to bridge the gaps within us.

“The President should be commended for his attempt to turn this terrible crisis into a historic constitutional moment that would entrench basic rights with a large majority, define the constitutional ‘rules of the game,’ preserve the independence of the Supreme Court, and define the scope of judicial review over legislation,” it says.

The IDI, an independent institute dedicated to strengthening the foundations of Israeli democracy, says his framework includes “some problematic elements,” but adds that “if it were to be adopted in its entirety as a package, we would support it because it safeguards our democracy and bolsters key elements of our constitutional foundations. Therefore we call on leaders from across the spectrum to adopt the plan and end the crisis that threatens to tear Israel apart.”

Highlighting elements with which it dissents, the IDI says the president’s proposed change in the makeup of the Judicial Selection Committee “will weaken the influence of the justices and could lead to a reduction in the high professional standards necessary to sit on the bench. Similarly, we dissent from the proposals to weaken the applicability of the ‘standard of extreme unreasonableness’ and from the large majority needed for the Supreme Court to strike down laws that contravene Basic Laws.

Knesset speaker: President’s plan does not solve ills of system

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana delivers a speech at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)
Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana delivers a speech at the Knesset on December 29, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/FLASH90)

Knesset Speaker Amir Ohana expresses appreciation for President Isaac Herzog’s efforts to find a compromise on judicial reform, but says the outline “does not provide an answer to the ills of the relationship between the judiciary, the Knesset and the government.”

“We have a responsibility to the sovereign (the people). We have a responsibility for democracy, and the rule of the people,” he adds.

“The Knesset is the loyal representative of the will of the people, and it decides. If possible, by broad agreement, and if not — by a majority of votes,” Ohana says.

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir tweets a two-word response to Herzog’s offer: “Reform now.”

Kohelet Forum: President’s plan exacerbates current problems

The Kohelet Forum, the right-wing think tank that inspired much of the government’s judicial overhaul, welcomes President Isaac Herzog’s attempt at compromise but slams the proposal itself as avoiding the issues the existing process is trying to resolve.

“The outline presented by the president exacerbates the problems the judicial reform is designed to resolve, does not address others and abandons broad agreements that have already been reached,” the think tank says.

The organization vows to continue to work toward a compromise on the issues.

Sa’ar: Coalition’s rejection shows failure of leadership, historic short-sightedness

MK Gideon Sa'ar attends a faction meeting of the National Unity Party at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Gideon Sa'ar attends a faction meeting of the National Unity Party at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on February 20, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

National Unity’s Gideon Sa’ar, the former justice minister, says the coalition’s rejection of the plan “is evidence of a failure of leadership and historic short-sightedness.

“The president’s plan in its entirety is broad, balanced and fundamentally decent,” he says.

“Full responsibility will be placed on those who miss the opportunity to prevent a severe rift in the people at this fateful hour.”

Coalition faction chiefs slam Herzog’s proposal: ‘One-sided, biased and unacceptable’

Faction leaders in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s right-religious coalition release a joint statement slamming President Isaac Herzog’s proposed judicial reforms as “one-sided, biased and unacceptable.”

“The proposal ignores the root problems,” they say. “All coalition party leaders and members of the national camp are united to bring a good, balanced and responsible framework between the branches of government.”

Smotrich calls for Herzog to retract proposals: If not he ‘made a sharp turn left’

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich at a press conference in Tel Aviv, March 2, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Far-right Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich lashes President Isaac Herzog’s proposals for reforming the judicial system, calling on him to rescind them.

“If no announcement like this is issued, then the president will have made a sharp turn left, surrendering to threats and giving a prize to violence,” Smotrich writes on Twitter.

After delay, Netanyahu departs for Germany

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departs for Germany on March 15 2023 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departs for Germany on March 15 2023 (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu departs for a visit to Germany.

Netanyahu’s departure was delayed as he waited for President Isaac Herzog to unveil his judicial framework, which the prime minister later rejected.

He will also leave Germany earlier than expected, returning Thursday night instead of Friday.

Netanyahu rejects Herzog’s judicial framework, says it doesn’t address current imbalances

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media ahead of his departure to Germany on March 15, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to the media ahead of his departure to Germany on March 15, 2023 (Haim Zach/GPO)

Before boarding his plane to Berlin, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu rejects President Isaac Herzog’s judicial reform framework, saying it doesn’t address the imbalance between the branches of government.

“The things the president proposes were not agreed on by the coalition, and central elements of the proposal he offered just perpetuate the existing situation, and don’t bring the necessary balance between the branches,” he says.

“That is the unfortunate truth.”

Netanyahu adds that the main topic he will discuss in Germany is Iran.

Referring briefly to the infiltration in the north, Netanyahu says that “security issues don’t take a break, even for a second.”

Gantz’s National Unity accepts Herzog framework, urges Netanyahu to come on board

National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks to the media at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, March 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz speaks to the media at the Knesset, in Jerusalem, March 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Benny Gantz’s National Unity party says it “accepts the president’s framework as one piece” and “as a basis for legislation, instead of the existing dangerous legislative outline” that the coalition is advancing.

Gantz has been the most vocal opposition politician calling for compromise. His party further calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to adopt the president’s framework.

“We call on Netanyahu and all the elements in the political system to behave responsibly, at this fateful hour, to adopt the outline, and to start promoting it immediately,” a party statement says.

Herzog plan would nix efforts to turn government legal advisers into political appointees

Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at Haifa University, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara speaks during a conference at Haifa University, December 15, 2022. (Shir Torem/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog’s alternative framework for judicial and legal reform would preserve the status of government legal advisers as professional civil servants under the aegis of the Justice Ministry, unlike the government’s plans to turn them into political appointees.

A ministerial legal adviser could be removed from office if they have substantive and ongoing disagreements with the minister, subject to the approval of a special committee.

The stated positions of the attorney general and the ministerial legal advisers would be binding, as is the case today. A minister would, however, be able to obtain independent counsel in legal proceedings in which his ministry is involved, something currently impossible without the approval of the attorney general.

Herzog framework would end High Court test of reasonableness to restrain government

Shas party leader Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Shas party leader Aryeh Deri leads a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, February 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The “People’s Framework” proposed by President Isaac Herzog would bar the High Court from using the judicial test of reasonableness to reverse government resolutions and policy decisions, and the appointment of ministers.

This has been a key complaint of the right-wing against the judicial system, most notable in the High Court’s recent decision barring Shas leader Aryeh Deri from ministerial office.

The court would still be able to use the reasonableness test regarding ministerial policy decisions, and over the actions of other state institutions and agencies, such as local municipal councils and state authorities.

Herzog’s plan would also enshrine in Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty the right to equality and prohibit discrimination, as well as the rights to freedom of expression, opinion, protest, and assembly which are not explicitly protected in Israel’s Basic Laws.

A process for drafting a constitution would also be initiated and a bill of rights drawn up “through broad consensus.”

Yesh Atid: We respect Herzog framework, will continue to oppose government

Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 13, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)
Head of the Yesh Atid party MK Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 13, 2023. (Erik Marmor/Flash90)

Opposition leader Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid party does not explicitly say that it backs President Isaac Herzog’s judicial framework, but states that it will approach it with “respect” for Herzog’s position and the seriousness of his effort, as well as the “values that underlie it.”

Warning of the deep divisions and forecasted economic and security harm tied to the current judicial overhaul debate, Yesh Atid slams coalition members for dismissing Herzog’s proposal out of hand.

“The coalition’s response to the outline is contempt for the institution of the presidency, complete disdain for the gravity of the moment, and erasure of the idea that we are one nation,” the statement says.

“As long as the coalition continues its gallop towards extreme and predatory legislation, the danger to Israeli democracy has not passed and we will continue to fight for a Jewish, democratic, liberal and strong Israel,” the party’s statement reads.

Right-wing groups, coalition MKs reject Herzog proposals: An insult to intelligence

Transportation Minister Miri Regev speaks during a test ride on the new Light Rail route between Kiryat Yovel and Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, January 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Transportation Minister Miri Regev speaks during a test ride on the new Light Rail route between Kiryat Yovel and Hadassah Ein Kerem in Jerusalem, January 16, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Right-wing organizations, government ministers and MKs reject President Isaac Herzog’s alternative framework for judicial reform.

Transportation Minister Miri Regev, from the Likud,  tweets that the president’s framework is “an insult to the intelligence of the public.”

“This is a framework that takes a clear side, against the people and the sovereign,” she continues, adding that “truthfully, I expected something more serious.”

The Movement for Governance and Democracy (Meshilut) slams President Isaac Herzog’s compromise proposal as “worsen[ing] the existing situation.”

The organization, affiliated with judicial reform leader MK Simcha Rothman, issues a statement saying that “not only does it not offer a real compromise, but it also worsens the existing situation.”

Among the organization’s gripes with the plan, it does not put judicial appointments solely into the coalition’s hands and it supports Supreme Court judicial review over some laws.

“The coalition did well to reject this bad plan. A compromise should recognize the needs and desires of both sides, not just one side of the nation,” the organization adds.

Religious Zionism MK and deputy minister Michal Woldiger says the plan “is certainly not” a compromise proposal, in a tweet shortly after the president’s prime-time presentation to the nation.

“Mr. President, I appreciate you very much and like you, want unity, but this is not a people’s framework and certainly not a framework for compromise.”

Herzog’s judicial proposal would largely scrap plans for High Court override

Judicial review under President Isaac Herzog’s plan would be subject to some new restrictions, but those restrictions would be far less stringent than under the government’s current proposals.

The High Court of Justice would be able to strike down Knesset legislation through a two-thirds majority of an 11-justice panel. The government’s bill calls for an 80 percent majority of all 15 High Court justices.

Herzog’s plan does not include any provision for a High Court override by the Knesset, whereas the government’s current legislation allows the Knesset to make any legislation preemptively immune from judicial review by a vote of just 61 MKs, and to relegislate legislation struck down by the court with the same majority.

The president’s plan proposes, however, to enshrine in a Basic Law that would not be subject to judicial review an arrangement for military and national service. This would essentially allow the Knesset to enshrine in the constitution the right of ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students to gain exemptions from IDF service.

The ultra-Orthodox political parties have been implacably insistent that an override clause be included in the judicial overhaul to guarantee that the community’s young men need not enlist in the IDF, and Herzog’s proposal is designed to address the issue without allowing the Knesset to override the High Court on other issues and rights.

The High Court would continue to exercise judicial review over rights derived from Israel’s Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty, even if not explicitly enumerated in that law.

The government’s current bill would prohibit the court from doing so, leaving unprotected basic rights such as freedom of expression and freedom of religion.

The central tenets of Herzog’s People’s Framework for judicial compromise

President Isaac Herzog presents his proposed alternative framework on the judicial overhaul, on March 15, 2023 (Video screenshot)
President Isaac Herzog presents his proposed alternative framework on the judicial overhaul, on March 15, 2023 (Video screenshot)

The  central tenets of President Isaac Herzog’s compromise plan, as presented in a newly launched website (Hebrew), include:

  • Changes to the Judicial Appointments Committee, as demanded by the shakeup’s architects, with judges on the panel no longer able to veto candidates as they can today. However, the coalition will also not enjoy its desired automatic majority on the committee. The panel would be made up of four coalition members, two opposition members, three judges and two public representatives appointed by the justice minister in agreement with the Supreme Court president. A majority of 7 of 11 members will be required to confirm an appointment.
  • Changes to Israel’s quasi-constiutional Basic Laws will require four readings at the Knesset plenum, with the fourth requiring 80 MKs in favor. Any changes to election laws would require 80 MKs in all four readings. Existing Basic Laws will be reaffirmed. Once approved, the Supreme Court will not be allowed to review Basic Laws.
  • The rights to equality, free speech and protest will be set into Basic Laws.
  • When reviewing legislation (beyond Basic Laws), the High Court will convene with 11 judges, with 8 judges needed to overturn a law.
  • The High Court will not be able to strike down ministerial appointments or governmental policy decisions based on “unreasonableness.” However, the clause can still be used when reviewing the actions of public authorities.
  • Legal advisers to the government will not become personal appointments. However, a minister will have the right to replace his legal counsel based on ongoing, significant disagreements that harm their ability to work together. A legal counsel’s position will continue to obligate the government.

Herzog proposal gives Basic Laws greater constitutional status

President Isaac Herzog’s “People’s Framework” would institute a rigid system for the passage of Basic Laws, giving them greater constitutional status, and they would not be subject to judicial review.

Approving a Basic Law would require four readings in the Knesset. The first three could be approved with by 61 MKs, but the fourth would need the approval of 80 MKs.

Any changes to the election law would require the approval of 80 MKs in every reading.

The existing Basic Laws would be “entrenched,” meaning re-legislated with a sizable majority, although the outline he published on Wednesday night does not specify how that would happen.

Herzog’s plan also calls for the passage of Basic Law: Legislation, but the outline does not provide details on that either.

President: My proposal is a golden path that protects everyone

President Isaac Herzog says that his alternative judicial reform proposal achieves a balance that can protect all segments of Israeli society.

“The outline that I am presenting today is a golden path, which brings together in a proper, decent, balanced and constructive manner the perceptions, beliefs, worries and concerns,” Herzog says.

Herzog says it’s designed so that no one side can declare victory. “I have already said: if only one side wins — the State of Israel will lose.”

Herzog emphasizes that power will still reside in the Knesset, but that his framework will ensure a balance between the different branches of government.

Herzog alternative judicial reform plan denies the coalition absolute control over appointing justices

President of the Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut at a court hearing, December 1, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
President of the Supreme Court Justice Esther Hayut at a court hearing, December 1, 2022. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

President Isaac Herzog sets out his “People’s Framework” proposal, which he says should replace the government’s legislative proposals for the radical judicial and legal overhaul it seeks to enact.

His plan addresses critical aspects of the relationship between Israel’s branches of government, including the selection of judges and judicial review over Knesset legislation, and enshrines fundamental civil rights in Israel’s Basic Laws.

On the selection of judges, no branch of government would be able to appoint judges without the input of another branch.

The Judicial Selection Committee would comprise 11 members, in which the government and coalition would have four representatives (three ministers and one MK); the judiciary would have three members (the Supreme Court president and two other judges); the opposition would have two members; and the justice minister would appoint two legal scholars with the agreement of the Supreme Court president.

Appointments to the Supreme Court would require a majority of seven out of the 11 committee members, including the votes of four women and one Arab member. This means the coalition would not have absolute control of appointing justices, as it would have in the legislation it is preparing to enact.

Appointments to lower courts would also require a majority of seven out of 11 committee members, but without the stipulations regarding women and Arab members. The Supreme Court president would be selected by the seniority system, as is the case today.

Herzog says judicial crisis presents a unique opportunity to write a constitution

Despite his concerns regarding the crisis in Israeli society over the judicial overhaul, President Isaac Herzog says he believes that this presents a real opportunity for Israel to arrive at a real constitution.

“We are in the midst of a deep and worrying crisis. But I really believe with all my heart that today we also face a major, historic opportunity,” Herzog says, calling it “an opportunity for a balanced, smart constitutional arrangement and an agreement on the relations of the authorities in our Jewish and democratic country, in our beloved country.”

“We are at a crossroads: a historical crisis or a defining constitutional moment,” he says.

‘Real, deep hatred’: Presenting his framework for reform, Herzog warns we are on brink of ‘civil war’

President Isaac Herzog presents his framework for reform of the judicial system, on March 15, 2023 (Screencapture)
President Isaac Herzog presents his framework for reform of the judicial system, on March 15, 2023 (Screencapture)

Presenting his alternative framework for judicial overhaul, President Isaac Herzog says the conflict over the issue has brought Israel to the brink of civil war.

Herzog says he was shocked by what he heard from Israelis in recent weeks.

“Those who think that a civil war is something that we could not reach, have no idea,” says Herzog, who says he has spoken to thousands of Israelis on both sides.

“I want to tell you something from the heart, and I very much hope that it will also penetrate your hearts.

“In my life, in the worst nightmares, I never thought I would hear such words, even if it is from a very small minority of people. I heard startling rhetoric. I heard real, deep hatred. I heard people — from all the parties that the idea of blood in the streets no longer shocks them,” he says.

Ahead of announcement, communications minster dismisses Herzog judicial reform framework

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with  Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi during a discussion and a vote in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, right, with Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi during a discussion and a vote in the Knesset, in Jerusalem, on March 1, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi appears to dismiss President Isaac Herzog’s framework proposal for judicial reform before it is even released.

Herzog said he would release his “People’s Framework” for changes in the judicial system at 8:30 p.m.

“Mr. President, the people’s framework was set exactly four months ago. We are on it,” Karhi tweets, referring to the elections.

His tweet comes despite an apparent ban on Likud MKs giving interviews or commenting ahead of the plan’s release.

Karhi is known for his confrontational manner.

Earlier this month he sparked an outcry when he told fighter pilots and reserve officers who were refusing to report for duty in protest over the government’s judicial overhaul push, that they can “go to hell.”

Blinken says China brokering of Iran-Saudi accord ‘good thing’

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a news conference during his visit to Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Tiksa Negeri/Pool Photo via AP)
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken attends a news conference during his visit to Ethiopia, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Tiksa Negeri/Pool Photo via AP)

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken offers guarded praise to US adversary China for brokering a deal between Iran and Saudi Arabia, saying it could benefit the region.

“From our perspective, anything that can help reduce tensions, avoid conflict and deter in any way dangerous and destabilizing actions by Iran is a good thing,” Blinken tells reporters on a visit to Ethiopia.

Israel inflation up 0.5% in February, rises faster than forecast

A shopper at a Rami Levy supermarket in Modi'in on February 1, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90/File)
A shopper at a Rami Levy supermarket in Modi'in on February 1, 2022. (Yossi Aloni/Flash90/File)

Consumer prices in Israel last month quickened faster than forecast amid robust economic growth rising 0.5% from 0.3% in January, led by price increases in food and housing costs.

The consumer price index (CPI), a measure of inflation that tracks the average cost of household goods, rose by 0.5% in February above analysts’ expectations of 0.3%, bringing annual inflation over the past 12 months to 5.2% down from 5.4% in January, according to data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

In February, increases were seen in the cost of fresh vegetables and fruits which rose 3.8%, culture and entertainment costs were up 0.9% and transportation rose 0.5%. Over the past year, rents on new contracts increased 7.5%.

Home prices continued to increase at a slower pace. Between December 2022 and January 2023 prices rose 0.1% compared with the November 2022 to December 2022 period. Over the past year home prices rose at a slower pace of 14.6%.

Herzog’s framework is not endorsed by the coalition – TV report

Channel 12 reports that Herzog’s framework for judicial reform has not been endorsed by the coalition.

It says Netanyahu held protracted consultations on the plan with senior coalition members all afternoon, but major differences emerged.

Simcha Rothman, chairman of the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee, was “the most militant opponent in the room,” it says.

Yariv Levin, the justice minister, was adamant that the coalition must control the appointment of justices, a centerpiece of the coalition’s fast-advancing legislation, and apparently a position that the Herzog framework does not support. Levin was consulting by phone, since he is at home in mourning for his father.

The TV report speculated that Herzog may have decided to unveil his proposals nonetheless, in the hope that they will be widely endorsed by experts and the public, and thus prompt coalition and opposition politicians to compromise.

EU says it’s unaware of any Israel boycott of Borrell

The European Union tells The Times of Israel that is “not aware” on any restrictions on EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell’s visiting Israel.

“Israel has not communicated to us anything official implying that the High Representative/Vice President could not visit Israel,” said the EU spokesman in Israel.

“We are keen to keep open all channels of communication with Israel taking into account our level of cooperation in many fields and its strategic importance in the region,” the spokesman continued.

Israeli officials confirmed to The Times of Israel today that they are not participating in coordinating any official visits.

Herzog set to present his judicial reform framework at 8:30 p.m.

President Isaac Herzog gives a primetime speech pleading for compromise on the judicial overhaul plan, on March 9, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)
President Isaac Herzog gives a primetime speech pleading for compromise on the judicial overhaul plan, on March 9, 2023. (Haim Zach/GPO)

President Isaac Herzog is set to reveal his compromise proposal over the government’s plans to radically overhaul the judicial system at 8:30 p.m.

Herzog says he will unveil his “People’s Framework” for changes in the judicial system.

The expected reveal sparked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to delay his flight to Berlin and hold consultations with coalition leaders, reports said.

Channel 12 news says Netanyahu could also make a statement to the nation.

Ahead of the move, the ruling Likud party has banned its MKs from speaking to the press, the Walla news site reports.

Meanwhile, reports say that Herzog has appointed Ovad Yehezkel, a former cabinet secretary and previous close associate of former prime minister Ehud Olmert, to lead the negotiations.

Herzog has warned the judicial overhaul and opposition to it could lead to imminent conflict and even potential bloodshed.

Israel not cooperating in planned EU foreign policy chief visit

European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks with the media as he arrives a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Jan. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell speaks with the media as he arrives a meeting of EU foreign ministers at the European Council building in Brussels on Jan. 23, 2023. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

After he harshly criticized Israel on several occasions in recent weeks, Israel is refraining from cooperating on any attempts by EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell to make an official visit to Israel.

“He is not banned from coming,” an Israeli official tells The Times of Israel, “but we don’t see the purpose of such a visit right now, and we’re not helping to coordinate such a trip.”

Foreign Minister Eli Cohen blasted Borrell on Tuesday for allegedly drawing a comparison between Palestinian terror attacks and IDF operations in an article he wrote.

The dressing down seems to have had some effect, as Borrell delivered a speech on Israeli democracy last night that seemed designed to smooth things over with Cohen and Israeli leaders in general.

US Jewish federations delegation in Israel to lobby against judicial overhaul

Israelis opposed to the governmnet's judicial overhaul protest outside the Tikvah Fund's offices in New York City, March 8, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)
Israelis opposed to the governmnet's judicial overhaul protest outside the Tikvah Fund's offices in New York City, March 8, 2023. (Luke Tress/Times of Israel)

A delegation of US Jewish federation leaders is lobbying in Israel against the government’s planned overhaul of the judiciary, a rare step that underscores the degree to which the proposed changes have rattled the US Jewish establishment.

The delegation is in Israel for 24 hours, and includes representatives of more than 30 US Jewish communities. The delegation meets with lawmakers from the governing coalition as well as the parliamentary opposition. Their main focus is on a proposal that would allow a simple majority of the Israeli parliament, the Knesset, to override Supreme Court rulings.

A statement from the Jewish Federations of North America, which is organizing the trip, singles out “the threats this proposal could have on Israel’s checks and balances and in safeguarding minority rights.”

The delegation, the statement says, “also voiced concerns over the implications that this reform may have on government support for Israel in North America.”

The trip is notable because the federation system — whose local branches aim to act as representatives of their local Jewish communities — has historically avoided criticism of Israeli government actions. Last month, the federations’ umbrella organization took the extraordinary step of writing to Israeli political leaders to oppose the override legislation and to urge compromise.

Netanyahu meets AIPAC delegation, says small countries like Israel need allies

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses an AIPAC delegation in Jerusalem on March 15, 2023 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu addresses an AIPAC delegation in Jerusalem on March 15, 2023 (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with a delegation from the US pro-Israel lobby AIPAC at his office in Jerusalem.

Netanyahu thanks AIPAC for its work to boost ties between Israel and the US.

“Superpowers need alliances. So a small country like Israel definitely needs alliances,” Netanyahu says, according to a statement from his office.

Netanyahu also briefs the delegation on Iran and efforts to expand the Abraham accords, the statement says.

Among those participating in the meeting were National Security Council Director Tzachi Hanegbi, AIPAC president Michael Tuchin, AIPAC executive director Howard Kohr, AIPAC-Israel director Cameron Brown and members of the AIPAC board of directors.

Senior US official meeting PA officials ahead of Sharm el-Sheikh summit

Palestinian Authority Civil Affairs Minister Hussein al-Sheikh meets with US Special Representative for Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr in Ramallah as the sides ready for a follow-up summit of regional leaders that will take place in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt on Sunday, the senior PA official says.

Al-Sheikh told The Times of Israel earlier this month that the PA would not attend the Sharm el-Sheikh meeting unless it received assurances from fellow attendees Jordan, Egypt and the US that they would hold Israel accountable for the commitments it made at the previous regional gathering in Aqaba last month, where the sides agreed to temporarily hold off on advancing unilateral measures opposed by the other side.

Al-Sheikh said comments by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and other Israeli ministers dismissing the Aqaba summit harmed efforts to de-escalate tensions.

Netanyahu delays takeoff to Berlin amid reports of judicial overhaul compromise

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (R) and MK Almog Cohen in the Knesset on March 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen (R) and MK Almog Cohen in the Knesset on March 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s flight, which was supposed to take off at 5 p.m., is delayed until after 10 p.m., according to sources in The Prime Minister’s Office.

Netanyahu has two pressing matters he has been dealing with in the Knesset in Jerusalem today: signs of progress on negotiations over judicial reform and a security incident in the north.

The trip has already been shortened because of the security incident, with his return to Israel brought forward.

Hebrew media says that Netanyahu is currently in the Knesset huddled with senior figures in the coalition including Knesset Law Justice and Constitution Committee chair Simcha Rothman, Shas leader Aryeh Deri, Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer and Education Minister Yoav Kisch.

The Ynet news site says the discussions relate to “tensions in the coalition” ahead of a possible softening of the overhaul proposal.

Earlier, Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich announces he was cutting short his trip to the Americas to take part in talks on a possible compromise on the judicial overhaul.

The plan has sparked widespread protest and opposition from a range of legal, social, business, and international leaders who fear it will harm Israel’s democracy, economy and security.

Smotrich cutting short America trip to take part in judicial overhaul negotiations

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in the lobby of the Citibank headquarters in New York on March 14, 2023. (Courtesy)
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich in the lobby of the Citibank headquarters in New York on March 14, 2023. (Courtesy)

Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich will be heading home early from his trip abroad in order to join a negotiation process aimed at reaching a compromise regarding the government’s judicial overhaul efforts, his office says.

Smotrich was supposed to travel from New York to Panama today in order to participate in a conference of foreign ministers from South America.

Smotrich has been in the US for the past three days, speaking at the Israel Bonds conference, visiting the Israeli Embassy in Washington, touring the US Holocaust Museum, stopping by a Chabad house in New York and meeting with the CEO of Citibank Israel, the Orthodox Union’s leadership and the right-wing Zionist Organization of America board.

US government officials, representatives from the International Monetary Fund and the US Chamber of Commerce, and dozens of Jewish organizations from across the political spectrum all refused to meet with the far-right finance minister after he called for wiping out a Palestinian town earlier this month. Smotrich has since apologized.

‘Israeli Madoff’ Michael Ben-Ari convicted over $150m Ponzi scheme

Michael Ben-Ari (Greenfield) convicted of running a $150 million Ponzi scheme that defrauded several hundred US and Israeli investors (Courtesy EGFE)
Michael Ben-Ari (Greenfield) convicted of running a $150 million Ponzi scheme that defrauded several hundred US and Israeli investors (Courtesy EGFE)

The Tel Aviv District court convicts Michael Ben-Ari for his role in running a $150 million Ponzi scheme, believed to be the worst such scam ever carried out in the Jewish state.

Under a plea bargain agreement accepted by the court, Ben-Ari will serve between 5 and 9.5 years in prison. The specifics of the sentence will be decided by the court in six months.

Ben-Ari, also known as Michael Greenfield, is an American-Israeli accused of defrauding about a thousand investors in both countries in a 15-year scam. Hebrew media has dubbed Ben-Ari “the Israeli Madoff.”

Under the agreement, Ben-Ari is supposed to cooperate with authorities ahead of the sentencing as they try and recover assets and restore funds to the victims. He will remain in custody during this period.

Israel arrested Ben-Ari in April 2021. But he fled the country on someone else’s passport following his release to house arrest after he posted a NIS 2 million ($625,000) bond. He was later caught in Bosnia and extradited back to Israel.

Coalition defeats bill calling for West Bank annexation

MK Avigdor Liberman seen at the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
MK Avigdor Liberman seen at the assembly hall of the Knesset in Jerusalem, on March 13, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The coalition defeats a bill brought by the opposition Yisrael Beitenu party calling on the government to annex the West Bank.

Party leader Avigdor Liberman tells the Knesset he brought the bill to challenge the government from the right and to show their hypocrisy.

Many of the parties in the coalition had an election platform calling for annexing all or parts of the West Bank, which Israel captured in the 1967 Six Day war. A plan by the previous government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to annex the Jordan Valley was sidelined as part of the normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates.

The bill fell with 66 voting against and only 14 in favor.

“You are a government that just talks,” Liberman says. “Even for Religious Zionism and Otzma Yehudit lawmakers the [Knesset] seat is more important.”

 

 

AG ends police probe into ex-Mossad chief Yossi Cohen over suspected illicit gift

(L) Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a Cyber conference at  Tel Aviv University, on June 24, 2019; (R) James Packer at a news conference of the Studio City project in Macau, on October 27, 2015. (Flash90; AP Photo/Kin Cheung)
(L) Head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen speaks at a Cyber conference at Tel Aviv University, on June 24, 2019; (R) James Packer at a news conference of the Studio City project in Macau, on October 27, 2015. (Flash90; AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

The attorney general ends a police inquiry into former head of the Mossad Yossi Cohen after it was discovered in 2021 that he received a gift of some $20,000 from Australian business tycoon James Packer on the occasion of his daughter’s wedding in 2016.

According to the Attorney General’s Office, the decision comes following recommendations by the State Attorney’s Office and the head of the police’s investigative and intelligence branch to end the probe.

“The inquiry showed that the Mossad’s legal adviser at the time approved receipt of the gift,” the Attorney General’s Office says, adding that the possible criminal violation had been a breach of trust by a public figure.

Former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit initiated the probe in August 2021 when the allegations came to light.

Packer is one of the two wealthy businessmen who gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara large quantities of luxury goods, part of the “illicit gifts affair” for which Netanyahu is currently on trial.

PM’s Office: Shortening of Berlin trip related to security incident

The Prime Minister’s Office confirms to The Times of Israel that the shortening of his trip to Berlin is connected to the security incident in the north, “among other considerations.”

Netanyahu was scheduled to return on Friday morning, but will now come back tomorrow evening, his office says.

US stocks plummet on renewed fears over banks

The New York Stock Exchange is seen in New York, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)
The New York Stock Exchange is seen in New York, Tuesday, June 14, 2022. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File)

Stocks are tumbling on Wall Street as worries about the strength of banks worsen on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean.

The S&P 500 is 1.4% lower in early trading, while markets in Europe slump even further as shares of Switzerland’s Credit Suisse tumble to a record low.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average and the Nasdaq composite also fall sharply at the open.

Credit Suisse shares tanked following reports that its top shareholder won’t pump more money into the bank.

Three recent bank failures in the US have investors on edge, and the Credit Suisse news prompted renewed selling in bank stocks both in the US and Europe.

Gag order on mystery security incident to be partially lifted

The defense establishment is set to release for publication details of a mysterious security incident that occurred in northern Israel, security officials say.

Security officials confirm to Hebrew-language military reporters that some details related to the incident that had been censored will be published in the coming hours.

The incident is thought to be related to the blast which occurred at a highway in northern Israel on Monday, seriously wounding a man.

Man, 63, arrested for inciting violence against Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting on the state budget, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu chairs a cabinet meeting on the state budget, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on March 12, 2023. (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

A 63-year-old Ramat Gan resident is arrested on suspicion of inciting violence against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with a series of tweets, police say.

The man is currently being questioned by the police cybercrimes unit.

“There won’t be a dictatorship here, if that scum tries, he won’t be,” he wrote in one tweet.

“If the government of crooks and criminals passes the dictatorship laws, blood will be spilled here. This is what you want, this is what you will get,” he wrote in another.

Minister to opposition: Stop comparing me to Goebbels, ‘your families burnt there’

Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan reacts in the Knesset on February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan reacts in the Knesset on February 6, 2023. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan causes an uproar when, as she addresses opposition lawmakers in the Knesset and upbraids them for comparing her to Nazi propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels, she says that “it was your families that burned there.”

“They call me the propaganda minister — Goebbels here, Goebbels there,” the Likud minister says in a speech yesterday that was widely shared today.

“For years I have safeguarded the memory of the Holocaust… and it was your families that burned there,” she says, apparently referencing the European origins of many opposition lawmakers.

Following an outcry, Distel Atbaryan writes a lengthy Twitter thread today saying she “stands by her words” and was only trying to say that Jews in Israel should not use Holocaust comparisons.

She says that by doing so they are also likening Goebbels to her, and thus minimizing his crimes.

Undated photo of Joseph Goebbels, Nazi minister of propaganda, delivering a speech. (Bengt von zur Muehlen/Yad Vashem Photo Archive)

“I see how in the last few hours the media (meaning leftists) are going out of their way to turn my words around and I beg them — don’t do it,” she writes. “Not for me, but for the six million members of our people.”

Netanyahu shortens visit to Berlin

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport about to board a plane for Rome on March 9, 2023. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at Ben Gurion Airport about to board a plane for Rome on March 9, 2023. (Lazar Berman/Times of Israel)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visit to Berlin has been shortened.

According to a schedule released by his office, Netanyahu will take off from Berlin to Israel at 7 p.m. Thursday evening, instead of Friday morning.

The time may well change, as the PMO seems eager to keep protesters, who have repeatedly tried to block his travel, in the dark about his schedule.

Hebrew media reports also ties the changes to the briefing he received earlier in the day regarding unspecified “security developments.”

The recent incidents are not detailed due to security concerns and ongoing investigations.

Netanyahu meets Gallant for briefing on unspecified ‘security developments’

From right, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant observe a joint US, Israeli military exercise at the Air Force command center, January 25, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)
From right, IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Yoav Gallant observe a joint US, Israeli military exercise at the Air Force command center, January 25, 2023. (Kobi Gideon/GPO)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held a security assessment with Defense Minister Yoav Gallant a short while ago, his office says in a brief statement.

The statement says Netanyahu is following and is being updated on unspecified “security developments” in recent days.

The recent incidents are not detailed due to security concerns and ongoing investigations.

Yesterday, Gallant held a number of meetings with senior defense officials over the developments.

The meetings come after a mysterious explosion seriously wounded a man on a highway in northern Israel on Monday, which is being investigated as a terror attack.

Videos show scattered anti-government protests during Iran’s fire festival

Iranians have held scattered anti-government protests during an annual fire festival with ancient roots, according to videos circulating online.

The videos appear to show protesters in different cities chanting against the country’s ruling clerics and hurling firecrackers at security forces during celebrations of Chaharshanbe Soori, which took place yesterday. Hardliners have long condemned the festival, which dates back to 1700 BC, as un-Islamic.

Iran has seen waves of anti-government protests since September, when a 22-year-old woman, Mahsa Amini, died after being detained by the morality police for allegedly violating the Islamic Republic’s strict Islamic dress code. At their height, the protests saw thousands of people across the country calling for the overthrow of Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei.

The protests have largely died down in over the past few months following a fierce security crackdown. More than 19,700 people were arrested and at least 530 protesters were killed, according to Human Rights Activists in Iran, a group that has closely monitored the unrest.

IDF arrests 4 unarmed Gazans who entered Israel

View of the barrier along the Israel-Gaza border, on December 8, 2021. (Flash90)
View of the barrier along the Israel-Gaza border, on December 8, 2021. (Flash90)

Four unarmed Palestinians are detained by Israeli troops after infiltrating into Israel from the Gaza Strip this morning, the military says.

The Israel Defense Forces says soldiers operating surveillance cameras spotted the suspects crossing the barrier in the central part of Gaza.

Troops dispatched to the scene arrested the four adjacent to the border fence, and are taking them to the Shin Bet for further questioning, the IDF says.

Ben Gvir nixes local program run by major US-Jewish charity JDC, calling it ‘leftist’ group

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir seen at the entrance to the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv ahead of anti-government demonstrations, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir seen at the entrance to the Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv ahead of anti-government demonstrations, March 9, 2023. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir has reportedly canceled an anti-crime drive in several Arab towns because the project is being run by the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee, which he called “a leftist organization.”

The Joint, or JDC, is the largest Jewish relief agency in the world, which has been funding projects major relief, rescue and welfare projects in Israel and globally for over 100 years.

Far-right nationalist Ben Gvir made the remarks at a recent meeting when it was decided that his ministry would no longer fund or cooperate with the project, dubbed “Stopping the Bleeding,” the Kan public broadcaster reports.

The National Security Ministry says in a statement responding to the report that the project was canceled because the JDC had not provided the required semiannual reports on its activities for a year and a half.

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