The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they unfolded.
Eyeing legislative blitz, Knesset approves 3 more plenum days before Passover break
The Knesset’s House Committee approves three additional plenum days before legislative business goes on hiatus for the month-long Passover recess.
Additional parliamentary sessions will be held tomorrow, Sunday, and the following Sunday.
Italian soccer club hands lifetime ban to fan who wore Hitler shirt to match
A fan wearing a shirt with a reference to Adolf Hitler is banned for life from attending Lazio matches by the Roman club.
Authorities reviewed security camera footage from inside the Stadio Olimpico after pictures of the fan wearing a Lazio shirt with the name “Hitlerson” and the No. 88 — which is a numerical code for “Heil Hitler” — circulated on social media following Lazio’s 1-0 win over Roma in the city derby on Sunday.
Two other fans of the Roman club were also banned for life for performing Roman salutes, which are associated with fascism.
Lazio says the three fans “have nothing to do” with supporting the club and “have shown forms of discrimination and antisemitism.”
Lazio fans have a long history of discriminatory behavior and the club has been hit with numerous sanctions both in Serie A and Europe.
Teachers who made racist comments about Black students will not be fired
A group of teachers who made racist and derogatory remarks about Black students in a WhatsApp chat will not be removed from their roles this year, the Education Ministry says.
The teachers, from a high school in Netivot, were instead handed unspecified “significant reprimands” after expressing remorse for comments made in the group chat. The ministry said their suitability for roles in the school would be re-examined ahead of the next academic year.
The teachers, who had been chaperoning an annual school trip, were found earlier this month to have opened a chat group called “Annual trip Blacks,” in which they made fun of students of Ethiopian heritage, including racist comments.
Netanyahu to meet PM Sunak during London visit this weekend
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet his UK counterpart, Rishi Sunak, during a visit to London this weekend.
It will be the first meeting between Netanyahu and Sunak, who took office in October. The pair are slated to sit down in London on Friday morning, and are expected to devote the bulk of their conversation to Iran’s nuclear ambitions, Netanyahu’s office says.
Netanyahu is then scheduled to meet with UK Home Secretary Suella Braverman. He is expected to depart London on Saturday evening and return to Israel early Sunday morning.
Lawyers for Pittsburgh synagogue shooter say he has schizophrenia, brain impairments
A former truck driver about to face trial for a shooting massacre at a Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania synagogue more than four years ago has schizophrenia and structural and functional brain impairments, his lawyers argue in a public court filing this week.
Lawyers for Robert Bowers tell a federal judge they are concerned that a prosecution proposal to have their own psychiatric experts examine or evaluate him would be a “broad-ranging, invasive, and constitutionally problematic investigation” into his “life, mind, and body.”
The defense says prosecutors should be limited to looking for evidence that would dispute defense assertions, and argued they should not be allowed to investigate every possible aspect of his mental health. A message seeking further comment was left with defense attorneys, and the US attorney’s office in Pittsburgh declines to comment.
Jury selection is scheduled to begin next month in Bowers’ trial for shooting to death 11 people and wounding seven others at the Tree of Life synagogue in the nation’s most deadly attack on Jewish people. Bowers has offered to plead guilty in return for a life sentence, but prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.
Blinken pressed by Senate Democrats on IDF use of US military aid
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken says Israel is not violating the law that prevents the US from providing aid to foreign militaries that violate human rights with impunity.
Blinken is asked the question by Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz during an appearance before the the Senate Appropriations Committee on the State Department’s annual budget. Progressive Democrats have been increasingly raising their concerns over US military aid to Israel, due to IDF activities in the West Bank.
“To the best of my knowledge, they are” in compliance, Blinken tells Schatz, adding that the Biden administration takes compliance with the so-called Leahy Law very seriously and is constantly monitoring how US military assistance is being used around the world.
Also during his testimony, Blinken is pressed by Democratic Sen. Chris Van Hollen to specify what the US will do if either Israel or the Palestinian Authority violates commitments to de-escalate tensions that were made at the Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh regional summit over the past two months.
Van Hollen notes Netanyahu’s remarks after the first gathering that were seen as downplaying Israel’s commitments to halt settlement approvals, in addition to the law passed by the Knesset on Monday that allows for resettlement of northern West Bank areas that were evacuated by Israel in 2005.
Blinken says he will not entertain hypotheticals and instead notes that both sides want the US to be engaged in order to help restore calm.
“If either or both sides is not doing what we believe is necessary to get us there, it will be hard, or maybe even futile, for us to be able to do that,” he says.
Muslims in Israel and around the world begin marking Ramadan
The Muslim holy month of Ramadan begins at sundown today, as the faithful prepare for a month of dawn-to-dusk fasting intended to bring them closer to God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate.
For the next 30 days, observant Muslims will refrain from eating or drinking anything — even the tiniest sip of water — from sunrise to sunset. Many will more strictly observe prayers, donate to charity and devote more time to reading the Quran as they seek to draw closer to God.
More than 1.8 billion Muslims, who account for around a quarter of the world’s population, are expected to observe Ramadan. Islam follows a lunar calendar, so the month begins a week and a half earlier each year, cycling through the seasons, including the long days of hot summers.
The start of the month depends on the sighting of the crescent moon by local religious authorities and astronomers, and can sometimes vary from country to country. But this year, there was broad agreement that it was beginning Wednesday evening, with Thursday declared as the first day of fasting.
IDF: Military drone crashes in Syria in ‘routine operation’
A military drone crashed in Syria during a “routine operation” the Israel Defense Forces says.
The IDF does not elaborate on the model of the drone or what caused the crash.
It says there is no fear of sensitive information leaking from the device.
The crash will be investigated, the IDF says.
Jewish Agency heads warn PM overhaul is leading to ‘serious polarization’ among world Jews
The heads of the Jewish Agency as well as a range of other major US Jewish organizations write a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and opposition leader Yair Lapid warning that the divide over the judicial overhaul is also tearing apart world Jewry, and urging them to meet and compromise.
“We have been witnessing an increase in serious polarization among Israel-loving Jews around the globe,” the letter reads, which is signed by Jewish Agency chief Doron Almog and board of governors chairman Mark Wilf. They are joined by the chairs of the Jewish Agency’s major partners: the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Federations of North America, and Keren Hayesod.
“Too many among us are experiencing real concern as we view the tension coming from all sides,” the letter adds, saying it is “essential that all sides seek dialogue at all cost… to reach the broadest possible consensus.”
The letter warns that any form of judicial reform “cannot trump the risks of a, God forbid, brotherly war,” and says reaching a compromise agreement is “truly Pikuach Nefesh, a life-saving matter.”
PM forced to clarify: We won’t pass bills that harm Christians in Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tweets a promise that Israel will not legislate against Christians after a draft bill from a member of his coalition generates controversy overseas.
“We will not advance any law against the Christian community,” the prime minister tweets in English and Hebrew.
The tweet comes in response to an uproar among some Evangelical Christians — traditionally strong supporters of Israel — after learning of a bill put forward by the United Torah Judaism party that would send anyone who proselytizes to prison for a year.
The bill has been introduced many times over the past two decades and failed to ever advance, but news of its reintroduction gained traction in some conservative media outlets, sparking backlash.
לא נקדם שום חוק נגד הקהילה הנוצרית.
We will not advance any law against the Christian community.
— Benjamin Netanyahu – בנימין נתניהו (@netanyahu) March 22, 2023
MK refuses to donate blood due to ‘parent 1, 2’ on intake form
Far-right anti-LGBTQ MK Avi Maoz refuses to donate blood in the Knesset due to his anger with the Magen David Adom intake form that changed last year from requesting donors list their “mother” and “father” to listing “parent 1” and “parent 2.”
In a video clip circulating on social media, MK Matan Kahana — also a member of the national-religious community — is donating blood, and calls on a passing Maoz to join him.
“If you bring me a form that says ‘mother’ and ‘father,’ I will donate now,” Maoz says in response, decrying the “agenda” of the current policy.
In response, Kahana shrugs but nevertheless high-fives Maoz as he passes. It is unclear why the exchange was being filmed.
ח"כ @MatanKahana תורם דם, מזמין את אבי מעוז, שמסרב: "אם אתה מביא טופס שכתוב עליו אבא ואמא אני תורם עכשיו דם" pic.twitter.com/YogiTZoHEM
— עטרה גרמן Atara German (@ataragerman1) March 22, 2023
UN special envoy ‘deeply disturbed’ by rising violence, hopes for calm Ramadan, Passover
UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process, Tor Wennesland, tells the UN Security Council that he is “deeply disturbed” by rising violence between Israel and the Palestinians and calls for calm ahead of the overlap of Ramadan, Passover and Easter.
“This should be a period for safe and peaceful religious reflection and celebration for all,” says Wennesland during a monthly Security Council meeting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. “I call on all leaders to engage to this end and refrain from provocative actions and messages at this sensitive time.”
Wennesland says that “unfortunately, daily violence increased significantly during” the past few months. He says he is “deeply disturbed by the intensifying cycle of violence that threatens to plunge Palestinians and Israelis deeper into deadly crisis.”
He also laments that IDF operations in the West Bank “and subsequent clashes have led to a staggering number of Palestinians killed and injured.” Wennesland adds that he is “deeply troubled by continued Israeli settlement expansion,” referencing the authorization of nine illegal outposts and the advancement of around 7,000 new settlement housing units, as well as a meeting scheduled to deliberate building in the E1 corridor near Jerusalem.
Nasrallah breaks silence on Megiddo bomb, saying attack ‘confused’ Israel
Hezbollah terror chief Hassan Nasrallah breaks his group’s silence on the blast at Megiddo Junction last week, which was carried out by a man who infiltrated into Israel from Lebanon.
In a speech, Nasrallah says the group won’t comment on the bombing, which is suspected to have been orchestrated by Hezbollah.
Instead, he says the attack “confused” Israel, and that “our silence is part of the battle with the enemy.”
Nasrallah adds that any attack by Israel against Lebanon will be met with a response by Hezbollah.
Israel has threatened to respond to the March 13 bombing that seriously wounded an Israeli man, Shareef ad-Din, but has yet to definitively say which group carried it out.
Israel, Poland sign deal to restart youth trips, mark end to 2-year diplomatic crisis
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen signs an agreement with his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau to immediately allow for the resumption of Israeli youth Holocaust trips to the country after they had been suspended for several years. The two diplomats also agree on the return of a Polish ambassador to Israel, for the first time since July 2021.
The Foreign Ministry puts out a statement declaring “the crisis is over.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu praises the development, saying “I am sure that it will lead to even closer cooperation between the two countries.”
The two erstwhile allies have been in a diplomatic spat since July 2021, when Poland’s legislature passed a law effectively cutting off any future restitution to the heirs of property seized by the Nazis during the Holocaust.
Israel recalled its envoy to Warsaw for consultations the following month. Lapid advised Poland’s ambassador to Israel to remain on vacation in his homeland, and instructed Israel’s new ambassador to Poland, Ya’acov Livne, to remain in Israel.
Speaking in English after their meeting in Warsaw, Cohen says that he “came here to restore the relationship between our countries.”
“I am convinced that Israel and Poland share not only a rich history but also a common future, and it is our responsibility to build it together,” he says.
He turns to the Iranian threat, saying Tehran destabilizes and endangers Europe.
“A clear and firm voice, combining international collaboration with a decisive message to Iran, is essential,” says Cohen.
Satellite images show damage caused by alleged Israeli airstrike in Syria 10 days ago
Satellite images published by an Israeli intelligence and imagery firm show damage caused to a site near the Syrian city of Masyaf in an alleged Israeli airstrike earlier this month.
According to ImageSat International (ISI), the airstrike on March 12 targeted several buildings that served as an entrance to an underground facility.
ISI assesses that the site is linked to the nearby Scientific Studies and Research Center, known as CERS or SSRC, which according to Israel, is used by Iranian forces to manufacture precision surface-to-surface missiles.
The area around Masyaf, which is thought to be used as a base for Iranian forces and pro-Iranian militias, has been repeatedly targeted in recent years in attacks widely attributed to Israel.
World Bank approves $7 billion loan to support reforms in Egypt
The World Bank says it approves a $7 billion loan to support Egypt’s push to empower the private sector and enhance its efforts to combat the impacts of climate change.
In a statement, the World Bank says funds will be delivered over the next five years and would help Egypt generate “more and better” private sector jobs. It will also improve Egypt’s health and education services and social protection programs, it said.
“We are proud to continue our strategic partnership with Egypt and we are committed to supporting ongoing efforts dedicated to improving the quality of life for Egyptians,” says Marina Wes, the bank’s country director for Egypt, Yemen and Djibouti.
UAE newspaper splashes Smotrich’s comments across its front page
Amid serious turbulence in the Israel-UAE relationship, the English-language Abu Dhabi-based The National leads with Smotrich’s comments over the fold.
“Concern at Israeli Minister’s Palestine Insults,” reads the headline.
The newspaper is officially a private outlet, but it is owned by UAE’s deputy prime minister Mansour bin Zayed, brother of President Mohamad bin Zayed, and as such can be seen as a reliable expression of government sentiments.
Ahead of ‘day of paralysis,’ Shabtai stresses that the Israel Police is ‘apolitical’
Following a situation assessment meeting ahead of tomorrow’s protest “day of paralysis,” Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai stresses that the police force is “apolitical” and views protests as a cornerstone of democracy.
“The Israel Police allows legitimate protests within the law, balancing that with freedom of movement and maintaining routine,” Shabtai says in a statement.
Nevertheless, he adds, police will not allow roads to be blocked and will show “zero tolerance” toward any violence or disorder.
The meeting was held without the presence of National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir — who was told by the High Court earlier this week that he was barred from issuing operational orders to police.
Protest activists are planning a full day of rallies and demonstrations across Israel for tomorrow and are fully expected to try and block major thoroughfares, including the Ayalon Highway in Tel Aviv.
Opposition MKs clash with Ben Gvir over bills to electronically track domestic abusers
A fight breaks out in the plenum between opposition MKs and National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir over his opposition to legislation to create an electronic monitoring system to track domestic abusers.
Ben Gvir speaks out against such a bill, accusing opposition MKs of taking advantage of the recent murder of an Israeli woman by her known abusive husband to push the issue.
Opposition MKs chant “shame!” as the national security minister finishes his remarks on the Knesset floor. Ben Gvir has said he wants to re-examine the policy to make sure it does not affect wrongly accused men.
The coalition topples four related opposition bills to create the power for courts to order electronic tracking, to ensure restraining order compliance.
As the plenum session leader throws a number of outraged opposition MKs from the plenum, Yisrael Beytenu MK Evgeny Sova attacks him for “throwing women out of the plenum.”
Retaking the speaker’s podium, Ben Gvir attacks the furious opposition for “only caring about politics” and promises to “do fundamental work on the issue.”
Ben Gvir claims that after the Knesset’s Passover recess, he’ll bring “a much more serious” government bill “to protect women,” dismissing attacks as “cynical.”
FM Cohen meets Polish counterpart in Warsaw to sign deal resuming school trips
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen is greeted by his Polish counterpart Zbigniew Rau ahead of their meeting in Warsaw.
The two diplomats shake hands in front of the Israeli and Polish flags for the cameras, then head to their private sit-down.
Cohen is in Poland to finalize a deal to end disagreements over the content and security protocol for the Holocaust study trips to Poland for Israeli students.
Israel working ‘to send conciliatory messages’ as Jordan seethes over Smotrich’s map
In the face of Jordanian anger over Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s declaration in Paris that the Palestinian people are an invention — made alongside a map showing “Greater Israel” containing modern-day Jordan — an Israeli diplomat tells The Times of Israel that Jerusalem “understands Jordanian sensitivities.”
“We are working to send conciliatory messages,” says the official. “Israel’s connection with Jordan is crucial for regional calm and stability.”
“They have gotten their message across,” the official continues, stressing that the Foreign Ministry is working “based on the government decision to strengthen ties with Jordan because they are important.”
Also today, Jordan’s parliament recommends expelling Israel’s ambassador, a largely symbolic move that Amman is unlikely to approve. Parliamentarians display a map of modern Israel and Jordan emblazoned with a mashup of the Palestinian and Jordanian flags.
התגובה לסמוטריץ': מפת "ארץ ישראל השלמה" נתלתה בפרלמנט הירדני | כל הפרטים >>> https://t.co/8vYieCD6Jn@HaimOmri @gal_sade pic.twitter.com/riyTAM23jQ
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) March 22, 2023
FM Eli Cohen rushes for damage control after Regev says she didn’t like Dubai
After Transportation Minister Miri Regev’s speech earlier today — disastrous timing for Israeli diplomacy — saying she did not like visiting Dubai and would not be going back to the United Arab Emirates, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen rushes to do some damage control.
Cohen releases a video from Warsaw, where he is finalizing an agreement on the return of Israeli youth Holocaust trips to the country, in which he emphasizes that “Dubai is a wonderful place to visit, and it’s no coincidence that more than 1 million Israelis have chosen to visit Dubai as well.”
Cohen stresses that Israel’s relationship with the United Arab Emirates is strategic, and that Israel will continue to working to strengthen it.
וכך גם מיליון ישראלים שביקרו באיחוד האמירויות הערביות בשנת 2022
— אלי כהן | Eli Cohen (@elicoh1) March 22, 2023
Israel’s top diplomat also tweets a photo of himself shaking hands with UAE President Mohamed Bin Zayed, with the text “I <3 Dubai.”
Israeli tourism to the UAE has been one of the successes of the relationship since the 2020 Abraham Accords, providing an influx of badly needed visitors while many countries restricted citizens from flying there during the height of the COVID pandemic.
Israel-UAE relations have hit a rough patch in recent months, as frustration over statements from right-wing ministers and growing violence in the West Bank has pushed Abu Dhabi to tap the brakes on public visits by senior officials and high-profile agreements.
BioNTech to build factory in Jerusalem to develop and produce vaccines
BioNTech, the German biotech company that formulated the COVID vaccine sold by Pfizer, signs a memorandum of understanding to build a new facility in Jerusalem to develop and produce vaccines.
The center, to be located in the Har Hotzvim area of the capital, will focus on mRNA technologies for medications and vaccinations to fight cancer and possible future pandemics. The agreement also gives Israel the ability to be the first to purchase vaccines in the case of a pandemic outbreak.
A representative of BioNTech signs the memorandum in the capital with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion, as well as Health and Finance ministry officials.
IDF troops arrest wanted Palestinian man in Nablus
Undercover Israeli forces arrested a wanted Palestinian in the West Bank city of Nablus this morning, the Israel Defense Forces says.
According to the IDF, troops of the elite Duvdevan unit entered Nablus after receiving intelligence about the suspect’s whereabouts from the Shin Bet security agency.
The wanted man was shot while attempting to flee, the IDF says.
Shortly after, he was detained and taken by the forces for medical treatment, before questioning by the Shin Bet.
Palestinian media outlets publish footage from the incident, naming the suspect as Muhammad Saleh Hamdan.
لحظة اعتقال قوة خاصة إسرائيلية للأسير المحرر محمد صالح حمدان بعد إصابته في شارع المريج بمدينة نابلس. pic.twitter.com/eGsyPYvq9o
— المركز الفلسطيني للإعلام (@PalinfoAr) March 22, 2023
Israeli man hurt by stone throwing in East Jerusalem
An Israeli man is lightly hurt after coming under a stone-throwing attack in East Jerusalem, medics say.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says its medics are taking the 33-year-old to Shaare Zedek hospital in the capital for treatment, after he was wounded on Jericho Road, just outside the Old City.
Knesset fast-tracks bill to block court from ordering PM to recuse himself
The Knesset’s House Committee moves to fast-track a bill that would protect Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from a court order to recuse himself.
The committee — helmed by Likud MK Ofir Katz, the bill’s primary sponsor — grants an exemption to the bill from waiting until next week to be brought for its second and third, final, floor votes.
It is expected to come up for a vote tonight or tomorrow, and the opposition is poised to stage a fiery filibuster against the bill, which many of its members paint as being “tailored” to save Netanyahu from potential legal trouble.
However, Katz says that opposition and coalition representatives already came to an agreement to limit debate on the recusal bill to a maximum of 16 hours, meaning the opposition’s stalling will prove to be largely symbolic. Katz also announces that the opposition will have up to 16 hours to filibuster the bill, making it likely to be passed tomorrow morning or afternoon.
The legislation explicitly blocks the top court from ordering a prime minister to take a leave of absence. According to the bill, only a three-quarters majority vote of government ministers or MKs can push a premier to take a temporary leave, and then, only for mental or physical health reasons.
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