The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they unfolded.
Yesh Atid delegation says it urged Herzog to push for creation of Israeli constitution
Following the first round of talks with President Isaac Herzog to reach a compromise on judicial reform, the Yesh Atid delegation says they pushed for a significant reform — including a constitution.
“We told the president that in the 75th year of the State of Israel, we can make a real change — not just cosmetic fixes, but a widely agreed upon constitution based on the values of the Declaration of Independence,” according to a statement from the delegation.
The delegation says it is seeking to come to a “broad consensus of public representatives to reflect a national consensus of the citizens of Israel.”
It also says that it expects the legislation currently in progress in the Knesset to be removed from the agenda completely in order “to start talks on a fresh page.”
Yesh Atid sent MKs Orna Barbivai and Karin Elharrar, as well as former Prime Minister’s Office director general Naama Schultz and lawyer Oded Gazit, to represent the party at the talks.
Coalition, opposition figures wrap up first meeting with Herzog to discuss overhaul
President Isaac Herzog’s office says that a meeting between coalition and figures to discuss judicial reform compromise ends after about 90 minutes.
The meeting was held “in a good atmosphere,” his office adds, noting that the president will continue negotiations tomorrow.
Tonight’s meeting included delegations from Likud, Yesh Atid and National Unity, although representatives of Labor, Yisrael Beytenu and Ra’am are also expected to meet with the president.
US envoy Nides says claims that US is funding protests in Israel are ‘absurd’
US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides says it is “absurd” to claim that the United States was pushing and funding anti-government protests in Israel.
“That’s absurd, absurd… we’ve had nothing to do with these protests, this is a democracy, people are coming out and speaking both for and against reform,” Nides says in an interview with Channel 12 news filmed earlier today, calling a far-right claim that the CIA has been involved, “absolutely ridiculous.”
Nides says “we applaud” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s decision to halt the overhaul legislation for talks, and “we are anxious to see how President Herzog’s team comes together and negotiates some compromise that we hope we all can embrace.”
He declines to confirm that the US was exerting heavy pressure on Netanyahu to pause the legislation, saying only that “friends talk to each other all the time.”
Nides says that there is “still more work to do” in order to finalize Israel’s entry into the US Visa Waiver Program, but that “we are going to get this done on behalf of the Israeli people… my hope is by September.”
Asked when Netanyahu will be visiting Washington and meeting US President Joe Biden, Nides says “he will obviously be coming at some point, and hopefully somewhat soon.”
Israel’s envoy to US holds ‘great meeting’ with top House Democrat
WASHINGTON — Israeli Ambassador to the US Mike Herzog meets with Democratic Party’s leader in the House Hakeem Jeffries on the Hill, as Israel’s top diplomat in Washington seeks to move on from recent tensions with the Biden administration.
“I had a great meeting today with Democratic Leader Jeffries, a staunch supporter of Israel. We discussed challenges and opportunities in our region and his upcoming visit to Israel. I thanked him for his deep commitment to Israel-US relations,” Herzog tweets.
Herzog was summoned to the State Department last week where Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman expressed the Democratic administration’s ire with the Knesset’s passing of legislation allowing the resettlement of northern West Bank settlements that were evacuated by Israel in 2005.
A senior US official told The Times of Israel last week that the decision to summon Herzog was due to bubbling frustration over a multitude of issues from the government’s judicial overhaul effort to its policies toward the Palestinians.
I had a great meeting today with Democratic Leader @RepJeffries, a staunch supporter of Israel. We discussed challenges and opportunities in our region and his upcoming visit to Israel. I thanked him for his deep commitment to Israel-U.S. relations. 🇮🇱🇺🇸 pic.twitter.com/2OxgSk3xF8
— Ambassador Michael Herzog (@AmbHerzog) March 28, 2023
Gantz says Yesh Atid, National Unity are ‘very coordinated’ in judicial negotiations
National Unity party leader Benny Gantz says that negotiations to reach a compromise over the judicial overhaul should have started three months ago.
“We should have prevented everything this country has experienced over the past three months, we should have sat down three months ago and stopped the legislation and talked,” Gantz says in an interview with Channel 12 news.
Gantz says that despite the fact that National Unity and Yesh Atid are sending separate delegations to talks with President Isaac Herzog, “we’re very coordinated.”
The former defense minister says that “we need to reach an agreement that will serve all of the citizens of Israel, those who are in favor and those who are opposed,” adding: “Nobody should win here, I don’t want to win.”
Asked if he would consider joining Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, Gantz says “no,” adding: “I am not here to save the government, I am here to save the country.”
IDF chief says in debate on overhaul, military picks side of ‘protecting country’
Military chief Herzi Halevi says that amid the controversy in Israel over the government’s judicial overhaul, the Israel Defense Forces has picked the side of “protecting the country.”
“In recent days quite a few people have been telling me: ‘Choose which side of history you want to be on.’ They are, by the way, on both sides of the dispute,” Halevi says at an awards ceremony for outstanding soldiers.
“And this is my answer: ‘I chose,’ because we chose. As soon as we put on a uniform, as conscripts, as career soldiers, and in the reserves, we chose to be on the side that protects the country,” he says. “We chose to be the ones who enable life here, prosperity, and yes, also the right to be divided.”
“This is our courage, to be the defenders of this country on the outside even when it is difficult within us, to stand up and forge a path forward for it, through all the difficulties,” he adds.
Mossad says it helped foil planned Iranian attack on Jewish targets in Greece
The Mossad spy agency says it aided Greek authorities in foiling an attempt by two Pakistanis to carry out an attack against Israeli and Jewish targets in Greece.
In a statement carried by the Prime Minister’s Office, the Mossad says details of the “serious affair” that were released earlier today are part of Iran’s constant attempts to target Israelis and Jews abroad.
“After the investigation of the suspects began in Greece, the Mossad assisted in unraveling intelligence of the infrastructure, the methods of operation, and the connection to Iran,” the spy agency says.
The Mossad says the investigation revealed that the two Pakistanis were part of a “wide Iranian network that operates from Iran and out of many countries.”
The spy agency vows that together with its partners in the intelligence community, it “works by virtue of its role continuously to thwart terror attacks by Iran all over the globe.”
Talks between opposition, coalition figures over judicial reform kick off at President’s Residence
Talks between opposition and coalition figures over the judicial overhaul plan begin at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, President Isaac Herzog’s office says.
Yesh Atid’s delegation is made up of MKs Orna Barbivai and Karin Elharrar, former Prime Minister’s Office director general Naama Schultz and lawyer Oded Gazit, while National Unity has sent MKs Chili Tropper, Gideon Sa’ar, Orit Farkash-Hacohen and attorney Ronen Aviana.
Likud says its team will be made up of Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer, Kohelet Policy Forum legal scholar Aviad Bakshi, Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs and academic Talia Einhorn.
Herzog has been among the most vocal callers in the past few months for dialogue and compromise, although a framework he put forward several weeks ago was immediately rejected by the coalition.
Some of those in favor of the reform and against any compromise have gathered to protest, while others who believe the plan must be thrown out entirely are also continuing to rally amid the talks.
IDF troops clash with Palestinians during demolition of illegal West Bank structure
Israeli troops opened fire into the air during a scuffle with Palestinians during the demolition of an illegal structure near the West Bank town of Deir Ballut.
Video footage of the incident shows troops scuffling with Palestinians and shooting in the air.
A military spokesperson tells The Times of Israel that around 150 Palestinians were hurling stones at the troops who were securing the demolition, and refused calls to disperse.
One Palestinian suspect attempted to grab an officer’s gun amid the incident, the spokesperson says, and in response, the troops used riot dispersal means and live fire in the air.
The vast majority of Deir Ballut is in Area C of the West Bank, where Israel maintains full civil and security control, and as such, Palestinians require Israeli building permits.
جنود الاحتلال يطلقون الرصاص الحي ويعتدون على الأهالي بعد هدم منشأة تجارية في دير بلوط غرب سلفيت. pic.twitter.com/YHq3HKdDO0
— شبكة قدس الإخبارية (@qudsn) March 28, 2023
Thousands march in Tel Aviv against judicial overhaul despite legislative pause
Around 3,000 demonstrators march against the government’s judicial overhaul program, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement last night that he would pause the legislative process.
Protesters say they fear Netanyahu’s suspension of the legislative process is a ruse designed to stifle demonstrations before resuming the “legislative blitz” in the summer Knesset session.
The march departs the military headquarters in Tel Aviv at 4 p.m. before making its way to Independence Hall on Rothschild Boulevard.
Other smaller protests were held in other cities around the country.
2 Pakistanis arrested for planning to attack Jewish, Israeli targets in Greece
Greek police release further details of arrests as part of a bust on a terror network in the city, saying that Israeli and Jewish sites were being targeted.
Greek police sources tell AFP that officers arrested two Pakistanis, aged 27 and 29, who were planning attacks on Israelis in central Athens.
A government official tells AP that one of the targets was a Jewish restaurant in central Athens.
“Their aim was not only to cause the loss of life of innocent citizens, but also to undermine the sense of security in the country, while hurting public institutions and threatening [Greece’s] international relations,” the police statement says.
Many Israelis visit Greece over Passover, which begins next week, since it is a short plane ride away from Tel Aviv.
Police arrest teen for attacking Arab cab driver in Jerusalem last night
Police arrest a teen for his involvement in an attack on an Arab cab driver in Jerusalem last night amid a right-wing protest near the Knesset.
According to police, a 17-year-old resident of Jerusalem was arrested on suspicion of being part of the attack. A family member lied to police about his whereabouts when they arrived at the home, police said, and the suspect attempted to flee via a balcony, but was caught.
Police say further arrests in the incident, which they deemed to be racist in nature, are expected.
White House clarifies: No immediate plans for Netanyahu invite to DC
The White House clarifies that while it expects to host Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the White House, there are no current plans for a visit in place.
“As Ambassador Nides said, there is no plan for PM Netanyahu to visit Washington,” says a spokesman for the National Security Council. “Israeli leaders have a long tradition of visiting Washington, and PM Netanyahu will likely visit at some point.”
The comments came after US Ambassador to Israel Tom Nides said this morning that he was “sure he’ll be coming relatively soon,” hours after Netanyahu announced plans to pause controversial judicial overhaul legislation.
Greece says it busts overseas terror network which was planning mass attacks
Police in Greece say they have arrested two terrorism suspects who had been planning attacks in the country aimed at causing mass casualties.
The suspects were allegedly part of an overseas terrorism network. They are being held at police headquarters in central Athens, authorities say.
Greece’s anti-terrorism police division and National Intelligence Service were involved in the arrest, according to a police statement, and were assisted by a foreign intelligence service that has not been named.
Greece, just an hour away from Israel by plane, is a popular tourist destination for Israelis, in particular over the Passover holiday, which begins next week. Israel has repeatedly accused Iran and its proxies of planning attacks against Israeli targets in Greece in the past.
Breaking silence on overhaul, Republicans lament its security ramifications
WASHINGTON — Breaking their silence on the judicial overhaul being advanced by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, Republican lawmakers are expressing concern over its security ramifications for Israel.
“I’m concerned that this effort to reform the judiciary — which is up to them — has had an effect of weakening the security apparatus,” Sen. Lindsey Graham tells the Jewish Insider news site after Netanyahu announced a temporary suspension of the overhaul amid mass protests against it. “I am glad Bibi [Netanyahu] wanted to try to find a compromise and take the time out… Their security has been affected by all this domestic drama.”
Graham was referencing the growing numbers of IDF reservists who either threatened to refuse to report for duty if the overhaul is passed or already did so, sparking massive panic among the military’s top brass, which has warned that the protests are harming its operational capacity.
Sen. Marco Rubio tells Jewish Insider he was also concerned about the overhaul’s impact on the security situation, but avoided commenting on the specific proposals being pushed by Netanyahu’s government.
“The military people are refusing to show up to work — that’s concerning. I think it encourages Israel’s adversaries to potentially strike against them,” he says.
Sen. Todd Young tells reporters the fallout over the overhaul has produced a “really concerning situation” due to its “national security implications.”
Another Republican senator, Mitt Romney, signed on to a joint bipartisan statement yesterday with Sen. Chris Murphy that welcomed Netanyahu’s decision to pause the overhaul effort.
“Shared democratic values have long underpinned the US-Israel relationship, and we hope this delay provides an opportunity to work towards a compromise and de-escalation of the current crisis,” the two senators wrote.
Ben Gvir meets with police chief to discuss plan to establish National Guard
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Israel Police chief Kobi Shabtai meet to discuss the plan to establish a National Guard, their offices say in a joint statement.
According to the statement, the pair have agreed to establish a framework deal for creating such a body.
Ben Gvir circulated a letter last night signed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promising to bring the issue up for approval in the next cabinet meeting on Sunday. The move was widely seen as coming in exchange for Ben Gvir backing down from his threat to quit the coalition if Netanyahu announced a pause on the judicial overhaul legislation.
Israel, UAE sign deal to recognize each other’s driver’s licenses
Days after a free trade agreement was signed between the UAE and Israel, the two countries finalize a deal granting mutual recognition to their citizens’ driver’s licenses.
The agreement, which the Foreign and Transportation ministries have been working on for the past year, will allow Israeli tourists and temporary residents to drive in the UAE on their Israeli licenses, and will allow Emiratis to do the same in Israel.
Longer-term residents will be able to swap their licenses for local ones as well.
The agreement has no expiration date, and enters into effect immediately.
“Especially ahead of the Passover holiday, this move of mutual recognition of licenses will greatly ease the burden on the Israeli tourist, will avoid bureaucracy, and is another testament to the warm relations between the countries,” says Foreign Minister Eli Cohen.
Likud names four-person delegation to judicial overhaul talks
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party names its four-person team to negotiate the contours of changing the judiciary, ahead of a meeting this evening at the President’s Residence.
Kohelet Policy Forum legal scholar Aviad Bakshi, who was influential in drafting the coalition’s plan; Strategic Affairs Minister Ron Dermer; Cabinet Secretary Yossi Fuchs; and academic Talia Einhorn will represent Likud’s positions.
Teams from opposition parties Yesh Atid and National Unity will also attend the meeting.
3 arrested for planning to harm anti-government protesters last night
Three people were arrested after posting a video on social media about their plans to harm anti-government protesters in Jerusalem last night, police say.
Police say they worked together with the Shin Bet to foil the plot after the individuals posted a video of themselves driving in a car to Jerusalem with eggs, knives and a gun announcing their plans to attack demonstrators.
Police captured the suspects and seized the gun, which was legally licensed. The three people arrested were ages 25, 26 and 17, residents of Yavne and the surrounding area.
Herzog says he will host first overhaul dialogue meeting this evening
President Isaac Herzog’s office says that he will host the first meeting this evening of opposition and government officials to discuss coming to a compromise on the judicial overhaul legislation.
Herzog’s office says the meeting will be held at 7:30 p.m. with delegations from Yesh Atid, National Unity and the coalition. Delegations from other opposition parties will meet with the president later this week, his office says.
According to a report, the Islamist Ra’am party will also be taking part in the talks.
UK’s Labour votes to bar Jeremy Corbyn from running as candidate with party
The British Labour party’s executive leadership votes to bar former party head Jeremy Corbyn from running as a candidate with the party in the next election.
The move, backed by current party chief Keir Starmer, means Corbyn — who was ousted after an extensive antisemitism scandal — would not receive the party’s backing in a future election.
Corbyn could still run as an independent candidate.
Last night, Corbyn said Starmer had “denigrated the democratic foundations of our party” with his planned move.
Indonesia could be barred from World Cup over refusal to host Israelis
Indonesia could lose its chance to host a global youth soccer tournament, and its chance to qualify for the 2026 World Cup, after refusing to welcome a team from Israel.
FIFA cancels an important preparatory step after regional governors and protesters demanded Israel’s team be excluded, and the tournament, planned for May 20-June 11, appears to be on hold.
The official draw for group assignments in the Under-20 World Cup, was supposed to take place in Bali Friday, but FIFA canceled the event after the island’s governor, Wayan Koster, called for a ban on the Israeli team playing there.
The Israeli team, which will participate in the Under-20 world tournament for the first time, had been expected to be based in Bali, home to one of the six stadiums scheduled to be used for the tournament.
Knesset passes bill allowing police to search for illegal weapons without a warrant
The Knesset passes in its final vote, 20-6, legislation that will expand police powers in an effort to crack down on illegal weapons.
The legislation enables police to conduct a search for illegal weapons without needing a search warrant.
It also raises the severity of punishments for those caught with illegal weapons, allowing fines as well as up to 10 years’ imprisonment.
Aiming for US visa waiver, Knesset passes bill giving US access to fingerprint data
The Knesset passes another key piece of legislation aimed at paving Israel’s way to joining the US Visa Waiver Program.
The legislation, which passes its second and third readings and now becomes law, allows the Israel Police to share identifying data about Israelis — including fingerprints — with relevant US security bodies.
The explanatory text of the legislation says that it is written in as narrow a way as possible “in order to minimize the harm to the privacy of Israeli citizens.”
Prosecutors: East Jerusalem man charged with planning terrorist attack
A 21-year-old Palestinian from East Jerusalem has been charged with allegedly planning to carry out a bombing or shooting attack in Israel, prosecutors say.
According to an indictment filed at the Jerusalem District Court, the man was in contact with two people over the Telegram messaging service and TikTok video-sharing site, with whom he allegedly planned the attacks.
The suspect is not named due to a gag order issued by the court.
The two people he was in contact with are unidentified and unknown to the prosecution. However, one told the suspect that he was a Palestinian formerly jailed in Israel who was deported to Gaza.
The indictment charges the suspect with terror offenses, conspiracy to purchase illegal weaponry and contact with a foreign agent.
Russia says it downed a US-supplied rocket-propelled bomb fired by Ukraine
Russia says it has downed in Ukraine a long-distance rocket-propelled bomb recently supplied to Kyiv by the United States — a weapon seen as vital for a planned Ukrainian counter-offensive.
“Air defense downed… a GLSDB guided rocket” in the conflict zone, the ministry says in a statement, referring to a ground launched small diameter bomb which has a range of up to 150 kilometers (90 miles).
Amnesty International accuses West of double standard on Ukraine vs Mideast
A leading international rights group decries what it says are double standards by Western countries that have rallied behind a “robust response” to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine but remain “lukewarm” on issues of human rights violations in the Middle East.
According to Amnesty International, such double standards only fuel further repression for millions in the region.
The sharp rebuke comes as the London-based watchdog launches its annual report at a news conference at its office in Beirut.
In the report, Amnesty urges the international community to hold perpetrators of human rights abuses in the Middle East and North Africa to account, and to address the issue of migration without discrimination.
Amid condemnations of Syria, Libya, Lebanon, Iran and Saudi Arabia, Amnesty also criticizes Israel for its ongoing raids on Palestinians in the West Bank, with the past months being among the deadliest in years.
Netanyahu at Passover toast: Our goal is ‘to reach agreements’
Speaking at a holiday toast with his office staffers before Passover, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reiterates that his goal is to reach a wide consensus on the controversial judicial overhaul.
A day after his dramatic speech announcing a halt to the contentious legislation, Netanyahu says “we are in the middle of an important debate, and we will overcome it.”
The prime minister says that during the holiday, “you can fight a little bit, not too much” with your families at the dinner table and “come to an agreement.”
“This is our goal — to reach agreements,” he adds.
Police say two dead, several wounded in attack on Islamic center in Portugal
Two people are dead following a knife attack at an Islamic center in the Portuguese capital Lisbon that wounded several others, police say.
“The attack left several people wounded and, for the moment, two dead,” say police, adding that the suspected assailant has been arrested.
Fired but yet-to-be-ousted Gallant holds security meeting with Netanyahu
Despite being ousted from his position, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant is currently holding a security meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Netanyahu on Sunday said Gallant would be fired as defense minister, although he has yet to deliver him a formal letter notifying him of the dismissal.
Political correspondents for Hebrew-language media outlets say Gallant has now begun a scheduled meeting with Netanyahu in Jerusalem to discuss security matters.
Prosecutors accept appeal, say indictments coming in Gilboa prison ‘pimping’ scandal
State prosecutors announce that they are reopening the case of female prison guards who claimed they’d been “pimped out” to inmates at Gilboa Prison in the north, and intend to file indictments related to the scandal.
A statement from prosecutors say they have accepted an appeal over the decision to close the case without charges, and now plan to file indictments against the former Gilboa Prison commander, Bassem Kashkosh, and the prison’s former intelligence officer, Rani Basha, on charges of fraud, breach of trust and failure to fulfill their duties.
Prosecutors also say that charges will be filed against imprisoned Palestinian terror convict Mahmoud Atallah, who is suspected of raping female prison guards while other officials looked the other way.
IDF reservist group says it will pause protests after PM calls for overhaul halt
A protest group representing reservist soldiers announces it is pausing its activities following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge to delay the judicial overhaul, but vows to resume if the government moves ahead with the legislation.
“According to [Netanyahu], this halt was made with the intention of giving time for negotiations. We — like the majority of the people — do not believe the words, do not believe that there is a real intention to reach a broad agreement. We only believe in actions,” the Brothers in Arms group says in a statement.
“At the same time, as principled reserve volunteers who led the country every time the country called us, and after deep thought and [a sense of] national responsibility for the unity of the people… we decided to give the negotiation process a chance,” the group says.
But the protesters say: “We are ready and organized to renew the protest in a short time.”
“Brothers in Arms will resume active protest actions with full force immediately if it turns out that the time allowed for talks is being cynically used to further damage democracy,” the group adds.
Belgium arrests eight people in ‘terror attack’ probe
Police detain eight people during investigations into an alleged plot to commit “terrorist attacks” in Belgium, the federal prosecutor’s office says.
Raids were conducted late last night on homes in the capital Brussels, the port city of Antwerp and the border town of Eupen, the statement says.
A judicial source tells AFP those arrested “were very young radicalized people” suspected of belonging to a jihadist movement.
The statement says at least five of those detained were suspected of planning to “commit a terrorist attack in Belgium.”
Knesset passes ‘Hametz Law’ allowing hospitals to ban leavened products during Passover
The Knesset enacts legislation that enables hospitals to ban the entry of leavened food, or hametz, ahead of next week’s Passover holiday, during which observant Jews eschew such products.
A softened version of an earlier proposal, the bill enables hospital administrators to set a policy and post it on their website or with signage, but does not explicitly allow security guards to search patients’ or visitors’ bags to enforce the policy.
Ultra-Orthodox party United Torah Judaism sponsored the bill, outraged after a 2020 High Court of Justice ruling blocked hospitals from searching bags to check for hametz, in response to petitions decrying the searches as invasive and religiously intrusive. The court extended its ruling to army bases last year.
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