The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they occurred.
Hundreds of people are protesting in Tel Aviv against the proposed establishment of a new National Guard that would answer directly to far-right National Police Minister Itamar Ben Gvir.
A number of central roads in the coastal city have been closed off due to the protest, which is being held under the banner “No to Ben Gvir’s militia.”
Similar rallies were taking place in several other major cities, according to Walla news.
WASHINGTON — The White House says there’s “a lot to like about” the statement Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu put out responding to US President Joe Biden’s concerns over the judicial overhaul being advanced.
“There’s a lot to like about it. He talked about searching for a compromise. He talked about working towards building consensus with respect to these potential judicial reforms,” White House National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby says
“He talked about how unshakable he knows the relationship is between the United States and Israel. And he talked about his great respect for President Biden — That’s a respect that president Biden shares as well. These two gentlemen have known each other for 40-some-odd years,” Kirby adds
“The great thing about friends — I’m sure you all have friends. You don’t always agree with everything your friend does or says, and the great thing about a deep friendship is that you can do that,” Kirby says.
Before boarding Air Force One in North Carolina on Tuesday, Biden told reporters he hoped Netanyahu would “walk away” from his current judicial overhaul legislation, saying he was “very concerned” about the health of Israeli democracy.
Netanyahu responded by saying he appreciates Biden’s friendship and longstanding commitment to Israel and stressed that the US-Israel alliance is “unbreakable” and can overcome disagreements.
The premier said his government is committed to correcting what he believes is an imbalance in Israel’s three branches of government but is trying to do so with as broad a consensus as possible.
However, Netanyahu closed by saying that “Israel is a sovereign country which makes its decisions by the will of its people and not based on pressures from abroad, including from the best of friends.”
Israel is indeed “a sovereign state and sovereign states make sovereign decisions,” Kirby responds, while stressing the importance of Netanyahu’s government securing the “broadest base of public support” possible for its overhaul proposals.
That’s a key point of democracy, and Israel is a democracy.” Kirby says, adding that consensus is crucial when making reforms to systems that effect checks and balances.”
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reluctant to name Agriculture Minister Avi Dichter as defense minister after he fired Yoav Gallant from the post and is looking for another solution, Channel 12 reports.
Dichter, a former Shin Bet chief, was seen as the favorite to be appointed in place of Gallant, having the most security experience among current Likud MKs.
But the report says Netanyahu is concerned that Dichter would not be on board with his plans for an Iran strike and was looking for alternatives.
Dichter also seemed to rule himself out of the running earlier in the day with a statement calling to find a way to reinstate Gallant.
Netanyahu fired Gallant after he called for a halt to the judicial overhaul legislative process. However, Netanyahu has not yet handed him his letter of dismissal, leaving Gallant in limbo.
The report says Netanyahu and Gallant’s offices were looking for ways to reconcile the two and possibly compromise to leave Gallant in place if he makes an apology. Netanyahu has since ordered a pause to the legislation to allow for dialogue.
One suggestion included having Gallant remain as defense minister but resign as a Likud MK in the Knesset.
Netanyahu was also meeting with other prospects for the job, including Economy Minister Nir Barkat.
A White House National Security Council spokesperson tells The Times of Israel that a recent private message US President Joe Biden sent to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was “the same message you’ve been hearing from us all along.”
The spokesperson did not elaborate on what that message was, but a different US official tells The Times of Israel that Biden urged Netanyahu to halt his government’s effort to overhaul the judiciary.
“We strongly urge Israeli leaders to find a compromise as soon as possible,” the NSC spokesperson says.
“As you heard from the President yesterday and as he’s said consistently both privately and publicly over the past six weeks, we are concerned about recent developments in Israel and have called for a compromise before moving forward on these reforms,” the spokesperson continues.
“The President has long said that fundamental reforms like this require a broad basis of support to be durable and sustained. That’s why he has called for a genuine compromise and urged the Prime Minister during his recent phone call to help forge one as soon as possible.”
“We have welcomed the decision taken on Monday to pull back the legislation and engage in a national dialogue. As the President said, he’s hopeful they’ll be able to find a genuine compromise. We believe that is the best path forward for Israel and all of its citizens,” the spokesperson says.
“US support for Israel’s security and democracy remains ironclad.”
National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir intends to establish a National Guard gendarmerie force under his own authority as minister, with a government resolution to enact the measure set to be brought before the cabinet on Sunday.
According to the text of the resolution published this evening, the role of the National Guard will be to tackle “nationalist crime,” terrorism and “restore governance where needed.”
Ben Gvir, who heads the far-right, ultranationalist Otzma Yehudit party, has talked repeatedly about “restoring governance” to the Negev which suffers from high levels of crime and has a prominent Arab Bedouin community, while sources close to him have said the National Guard will also seek to “restore governance” in mixed Jewish-Arab cities such as Lod and Ramle.
“A National Guard is a basic critical need for the State of Israel, without which we will not be able to protect the security of our citizens in order to fight terrorism, the phenomenon of protection, nationalist crime and restore governance to the cities of Israel,” says Ben Gvir in a statement announcing the decision.
Civil rights groups, as well as opposition politicians, have denounced the notion of having any police force, including the National Guard, come under the direct authority of the minister, saying it could undermine the principle of equality in law enforcement and effectively be a private militia.
Following approval of the government resolution, Ben Gvir will establish a committee comprising numerous officials from the police and defense networks, which will present its recommendations for the implementation of the resolution within 60 days.
The National Guard will have an initial budget of over NIS 1 billion and has openings for 2,000 recruits.
The Senate votes to repeal the resolution that gave a green light for the 2003 invasion of Iraq, an effort to return a basic war power to Congress from the White House 20 years after an authorization many now say was a mistake.
Iraqi deaths are estimated in the hundreds of thousands, and nearly 5,000 US troops were killed in the war after President George W. Bush’s administration falsely claimed that Saddam Hussein was stockpiling weapons of mass destruction.
“This body rushed into a war,” says Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine, a Democrat who has pushed for years to repeal the powers. The war has had “massive consequences,” Kaine said.
Senators vote 66-30 to repeal the 2002 measure and also the 1991 authorization that sanctioned the US-led Gulf War. If passed by the House, the repeal would not be expected to affect any current military deployments. But lawmakers in both parties are increasingly seeking to claw back congressional powers over US military strikes and deployments, and some lawmakers who voted for the Iraq War two decades ago now say that was a mistake.
“Americans want to see an end to endless Middle East wars,” said Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, adding that passing the repeal “is a necessary step to putting these bitter conflicts squarely behind us.”
Diplomatic sources tell Chanel 12 that Israel is hoping for a conciliatory message from the White House after US President Joe Biden’s strong statement against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu’s judicial overhaul.
The sources say Israel is trying to get an explanation for the discrepancy between the positive messages received from Ambassador Tom Nides and Biden, particularly as the comments came after Netanyahu paused the legislation.
White House sources tell Channel 12 that the firing of Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and the agreement to allow far-right police minister Itamar Ben Gvir to set up a national guard, which is being seen as a private militia, particularly irked the Biden administration, which has been working to bring calm to the region, particularly vis-à-vis the Palestinians.
Gas prices will drop in the month of April as Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich decides to temporarily increase the tax relief per liter of gasoline.
Smotrich has continued the policy of the previous government which cut taxes in a bid to help with the rising cost of living, but increased the tax cut for April when the country celebrates Passover.
Current gas prices of NIS 6.84 ($1.94) per liter will likely drop by 10 Agarot. More than half the gas price is made up of taxes.
Freshman Likud MK Dan Ilouz sends a letter to the US Congress to complain about President Biden’s criticism of the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul plan.
Ilouz writes: “I feel that the statement given yesterday crosses a red line in the relationship between our two great countries.”
“Friends do not act like this towards each other,” he adds. “Please use all the tools at your disposal to make sure these types of problematic statements don’t happen again.”
He also offers the US legislators a briefing on events occurring in Israel. Ilouz has been an MK since January.
ניסים ואטורי: אני ח"כ חדש אז אני אגיד את הדבר הכי מטופש שאפשר על ביידן, בשביל לנסות לגרד קולות בפריימריז הבאים
דן אילוז: עלי אף אחד לא שמע, אז תחזיק לי את כוס המילשייק pic.twitter.com/FxIlK1jMdw
— odedkramer – عودد كرمر (@odedkramer) March 29, 2023
Likud MK Osher Shekalim says US President Joe Biden needs to understand that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is “not spineless.”
“I respect the US president,” says Shekalim, a first-time MK. “But on the other hand he needs to know that Netanyahu will not display the spinelessness we saw from [former prime ministers Yair] Lapid and [Naftali] Bennett.”
“Netanyahu understands the strategic issues and is connected, also on a personal level. He is the best — because he does not give in and does not show spinelessness,” Shekalim tells the Ynet news site.
His comments come despite a demand from Netanyahu that coalition MKs and ministers stop criticizing Biden in the media amid a fallout between the White House and the Netanyahu government.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is holding meetings with ministers aimed at choosing a new defense minister to replace Yoav Gallant, who he fired over the weekend.
Economy Minister Nir Barkat is currently meeting with Netanyahu.
A spokesman for Barkat says that the minister will accept whatever role the prime minister decides to hand him, amid reports that Barkat is positioning himself for the defense portfolio.
Netanyahu has previously sought to sideline Barkat, a former mayor of Jerusalem and tech tycoon, relegating him to relatively minor roles in the past.
Gallant was fired for calling for a halt to the government’s judicial overhaul legislation.
He has continued to work since then, having not received his official letter of dismissal.
Speaking to troops today, Gallant vows that when it comes to sending soldiers on missions “there was and will be no consideration that is not strictly operational and necessary to the success of the mission.”
Indonesia is stripped of hosting the men’s soccer Under-20 World Cup amid political turmoil regarding Israel’s participation.
FIFA says Indonesia was removed from staging the 24-team tournament scheduled to start on May 20 “due to the current circumstances” without specifying details.
The decision comes after a meeting in Doha between FIFA president Gianni Infantino and Indonesian soccer federation president Erick Thohir.
Israel qualified for its first Under-20 World Cup in June. The country’s participation in Friday’s scheduled draw in Bali provoked political opposition this month.
Indonesia is the world’s most populous Muslim-majority nation and does not have formal diplomatic relations with Israel, while publicly supporting the Palestinian cause.
Indonesia’s hosting was cast into doubt on Sunday when FIFA postponed the draw.
It is unclear who could now host the tournament, which was scheduled to be played in six stadiums in Indonesia.
Argentina, which did not qualify for the tournament, is reportedly interested in hosting.
“A new host will be announced as soon as possible, with the dates of the tournament currently remaining unchanged,” FIFA says.
The Indonesian soccer federation could be further disciplined by FIFA. A suspension could remove Indonesia from Asian qualifying for the 2026 World Cup, which starts in October.
Soccer and public authorities in Indonesia agreed to FIFA’s hosting requirements in 2019 before being selected to stage the 2021 edition of the Under-20 World Cup. The coronavirus pandemic forced the tournament to be postponed for two years.
Israel qualified for its first Under-20 World Cup when it reached the semifinals of the Under-19 European Championship. The team went on to lose to England in that final.
Israel plays in Europe as a member of UEFA after leaving the Asian Football Confederation in the 1970s for political and security reasons.
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen will fly tomorrow for a two-day visit to Cyprus, the Foreign Ministry announces. He will meet Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides, and will hold a trilateral meeting with Cyprus’s Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos and their Greek counterpart Nikos Dendias.
Cohen points at the importance of energy security in his statement, saying that “the war in Ukraine and the energy crisis in Europe taught all of us that we must strengthen our energy market and build diverse energy sources.”
US Vice President Kamala Harris joins President Joe Biden in expressing concern about the events in Israel.
Speaking to reports during a visit to Africa, Harris is asked if she has confidence in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ability to safeguard democracy in Israel.
Harris does not answer the question directly but notes the close ties between the US and Israel that “also relate to shared principles in terms of the importance of democracy.”
She is then asked if she is concerned about the situation in Israel.
“I am,” she replies. “We are all watching it.”
Pope Francis went to a Rome hospital on Wednesday for some scheduled tests, the Vatican said.
It provided no details, including how long the 86-year-old pope would remain at Gemelli hospital, other than to say the tests were “previously scheduled.”
“The Holy Father has been at Gemelli since this afternoon for some previously scheduled checkups,” read the one-line statement from the Vatican spokesman.
The pope spent 10 days at Gemelli hospital in July 2021 following surgery for an intestinal narrowing. He had 33 centimeters (13 inches) of his colon removed.
He said soon after that he had recovered fully and could eat normally. But in a Jan. 24 interview with The Associated Press, Francis said the diverticulosis, or bulges in his intestinal wall, had “returned.”
An Israeli soldier is moderately hurt in an apparent training accident in southern Israel, the IDF says.
The incident occurred last night during an armored personnel carrier drivers course, at the Combat Engineering Corps training base.
The female soldier was taken to a hospital for treatment.
The head of the training base will investigate the incident.
The chief of the UN atomic watchdog says he is working on a security plan for the Moscow-controlled Zaporizhzhia nuclear plant and warns of increased military activity around it.
During a rare visit to Europe’s largest nuclear plant currently controlled by Russian forces, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, says he is working to find a compromise that would suit both Moscow and Kyiv.
“The idea is to agree on certain principles, certain commitments, including not to attack the plant,” Grossi tells AFP during a press tour organized by Moscow.
But he also warns of “increasing” military activity around the nuclear plant and hopes Russia and Ukraine will agree on safety principles.
“The idea is to agree on certain principles, certain commitments, including not to attack the plant,” he adds.
Kyiv and Moscow have accused each other of shelling the plant, increasing fears of a disaster.
The head of the main doctors’ union sends a letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, calling on him to publicly condemn the remarks of Public Diplomacy Minister Galit Distel Atbaryan, who called for disbarring medics who took part in an anti-government strike.
“I demand from you to clearly and publicly condemn the words of the minister of public diplomacy and strongly demand that the members of your party and the members of the coalition refrain from offensive and inciting statements in the future,” writes Dr. Zion Hagai.
In a tweet yesterday, Distel Atbaryan called to “cancel the medical licenses” of all doctors who took part in the strike called by the county’s largest labor union, part of mass protests against the government’s plan to overhaul the judiciary.
“Vicious people like this should not be allowed access to the sick,” she wrote.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid also condemns Distel Atbaryan.
“A minister in the government that for political reasons calls to cancel the licenses of doctors who are saving lives every day… is a poisonous madness and truly dangerous,” he says.
Justice Minister Yariv Levin tells a supporter that he will try to pass the contentious judicial overhaul in the next Knesset session.
“I will make a supreme effort to endure justice is done and pass the legislation in the next session,” Levin says in the message published by Channel 12.
“We will organize demonstrations across the country so that they know what the majority want and hope that those who harmed us from within will stop it,” he writes.
His comments come after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu ordered a pause to the legislation to try and reach an agreement with the opposition.
Opposition leader Yair Lapid reacts on Twitter saying: “For all those who were wondering why I am completely skeptical.”
“Netanyahu needs to make it clear that this is not his opinion, with his justice minister saying that the negotiations at the President’s Residence are a scam,” he says.
Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari takes over as military spokesperson, replacing Brig. Gen. Ran Kochav.
The switch takes place at the Israel Defense Forces Spokesperson’s Unit headquarters in north Tel Aviv, at a ceremony overseen by the head of IDF Operations, Maj. Gen. Oded Basiuk.
Kochav has served as the head of the IDF’s Spokesperson Unit for around two years.
In the ceremony, Kochav speaks about the importance of public trust in the IDF. “Without public trust, we cannot attain our goal,” he says.
Kochav’s future in the IDF is not immediately known.
Hagari, who is married and has four children, has served in the military since 1995, mostly in the Navy’s elite Shayetet 13 naval commando unit.
In his remarks, Hagari also emphasizes public trust. He says the spokesperson unit must have credibility for Israeli journalists and foreign press alike.
Greek authorities say police were continuing searches in Athens and other parts of the country today following the arrest of two suspects accused of planning an attack at a Jewish center in a busy downtown area of the Greek capital.
The two men, described of being of Pakistani origin but not further identified, were charged yesterday with terrorism offenses, while a third man believed to be in Iran was charged in absentia.
Public Order Minister Takis Theodorikakos says it was likely the two suspects had been offered money to carry out the attack.
“From the evidence we have obtained, the motivation appears to be financial. The organizer they consulted with was a fellow countryman in Iran,” Theodorikakos tells private Antenna television.
Rabbi Mendel Hendel, who runs the Chabad Jewish center, says he learned about the planned attack on the news. “Thank God we are safe. We’re grateful that this act of terrorism was prevented,” Hendel says in a statement with his wife Nechama emailed to the Associated Press. “We would like to publicly thank the Greek authorities.”
Azerbaijan, a key Israeli ally on Iran’s northern border, is set to open its first-ever embassy in Israel tonight.
Ahead of the opening, Azerbaijani Foreign Minister Jeyhun Bayramov meets with his counterpart Eli Cohen at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem.
“Azerbaijan is a strategic partner of Israel,” says Cohen, noting the close cooperation on “issues of regional security.”
Not surprisingly, Cohen speaks about the Iranian threat — which Azerbaijan would rather downplay publicly — while Bayramov brings up Baku’s war against Armenia.
Israel stepped up its weapons shipments to Azerbaijan during the 2020 Nagorno-Karabakh conflict, but Jerusalem prefers to avoid the topic.
“Israel and Azerbaijan share the same perception of the Iranian threats,” says Cohen. “The Iranian ayatollah regime threatens both our regions, finances terrorism, and destabilizes the entire Middle East.”
After stressing Azerbaijan’s support for “peace and dialogue in the Middle East, ” Bayramov says that his country is “grateful to Israel for the support for Azerbaijan’s sovereignty and territorial integrity during almost thirty years of illegitimate occupation of Azerbaijan’s territories by Armenia.”
“We appreciate the support extended to Azerbaijan both before and during the patriotic war in 2020,” he continues.
Cohen will visit Baku next month.
Israel was one of the first countries to recognize Azeri independence in 1991.
Israel is one of Azerbaijan’s leading arms suppliers. According to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, Israel provided 69 percent of Baku’s major arms imports from 2016-2020, accounting for 17% of Jerusalem’s arms exports over that period.
The Shi’ite-majority country has, in turn, supplied Israel with significant amounts of oil in addition to reported cooperation against Iran.
Israel opens Sussita National Park, home to important Christian archaeological sites, to the public today.
The park, also known as Hippos, is on the eastern banks of the Sea of Galilee on the Golan Heights and has been the site of intensive archaeological excavations over the last 20 years.
“Especially in these [troubled] days, this is the time to intensify the love of the Land [of Israel] and the country by touring around,” says Environment Minister Idit Silman as she inaugurates the park.
“I invite all the people of Israel to go out on Passover and come to the Golan Heights parks sites in general and to the new one at Sussita in particular,” she says.
Among the sights now open to the public are a mosaic depicting fish, birds and baskets of what may be bread that some archaeologists believe may commemorate the historic location of the miracle recorded in the New Testament in which Jesus feeds a multitude.
A Swedish court finds a 35-year-old woman guilty of war crimes for posting photos of herself with severed heads that were on display in a Syrian city in 2014.
Fatosh Ibrahim, who pleaded not guilty, is sentenced to three months in prison.
The Goteborg District Court says Fatosh Ibrahim “on two occasions published photographs of severed heads impaled on the fence” of a Raqqa roundabout, placed there by Islamic State group militants.
Ibrahim used her cellphone to take photos of herself in Raqqa’s Naim Square – meaning “Paradise” – where Islamic State group militants had displayed hanged bodies or heads.
The court says in its ruling that Ibrahim posted on Facebook “disparaging comments about the people in the photos and expressed that they deserved what they were subjected to.”
“The woman had clearly expressed her sympathy with the actions of the Islamic State group, and her actions have been considered to be in connection with the armed conflict that was going on in the area at the time.”
A senior Russian diplomat says that Moscow has suspended sharing information about its nuclear forces with the United States, including notices about missile tests.
Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says in remarks carried by Russian news agencies that Moscow has halted all information exchanges with Washington after previously suspending its participation in the last remaining nuclear arms pact with the US.
Last month, Russian President Vladimir Putin suspended the New START treaty, charging that Russia can’t accept US inspections of its nuclear sites under the agreement at a time when Washington and its NATO allies have openly declared Russia’s defeat in Ukraine as their goal.
Moscow emphasized that it wasn’t withdrawing from the pact altogether and would continue to respect the caps on nuclear weapons.
The Srugim news website quotes an unnamed senior Likud official as saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is unconcerned by criticism from US President Joe Biden, because he’s looking ahead to the next American election and is confident a Republican will win.
The official tells the site, affiliated with the national religious community, that Netanyahu “is looking ahead to the next election in two years.”
“Luckily for us Biden is so weak that even [Likud MK] Nissim Vaturi can speak out against him,” he says referring to the backbencher who said earlier that Israel is “probably a bit more democratic” than the US, and added that Israel had no problem defending itself without American assistance.
“The Democrats won’t win even if a toaster and an iron run against them. The Democrats are finished in the US,” the official confidently predicts. “Those who understand US politics know this, and thank God Netanyahu understands America — contrary to what [opposition leader Yair] Lapid thinks.”
“Netanyahu is smiling politely at Biden but he knows that very soon there will be a Republican president,” he says.
He also reiterates claims that the Biden administration is behind the anti-government protests. “Everyone understands that the Americans are involved here up to their necks.”
Speaking to the US Democracy summit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses concerns that his judicial overhaul will undermine democracy in Israel and says he is determined to find an agreement by consensus.
Netanyahu ordered a pause to legislation to allow talks with the opposition amid widespread protest across the country and from international leaders, including US President Joe Biden.
“You may have noticed Israel is undergoing, in its robust democracy, a very intensive public debate. And the debate is how do we ensure a proper democracy,” Netanyahu says.
“Democracy means the will of the people as expressed by a majority and it also means protection of civil rights, individual rights. It’s the balance between the two,” he says.
“I think that balance can be achieved. And that’s why I’ve promoted a pause that now enables both the opposition and the coalition to sit down and try to achieve a broad national consensus to achieve both goals,” he says. “And I believe this is possible. We’re now engaged in exactly this conversation.”
He adds: “We have to move from protest to agreement, and that’s where I want to get.”
Speaking to the US Democracy summit, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks to assure his audience that ties between Israel and the US are strong despite the crisis in relations with the Biden administration.
“I want to thank the world leaders and President [Joe] Biden who has been a friend for 40 years,” Netanyahu says.
“Israel and the United States have had their occasional differences, but I want to assure you that the alliance between the world’s greatest democracy and a strong, proud and independent democracy, Israel, in the heart of the Middle East, is unshakable,” Netanyahu says. “Nothing can change that.”
He refers to the Abraham Accords that saw Israel sign normalization agreements with four Arab states, and says that “we are now working together to expand these peace accords further and bring increased prosperity to our peoples.”
A day after being sworn in as a minister, Likud MK David Amsalem resigns from the Knesset under the so-called Norwegian Law.
Amsalem, who will serve as a second minister in the Justice Ministry, as well as regional cooperation minister and liaison between the government and Knesset, has long wielded influence in the Knesset, at times confounding Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
He will be replaced in Knesset by Likud member Avichai Boaron.
Speaking to the US-hosted Democracy conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu compares the public opposition to his past economic reforms to current protests against his judicial overhaul.
Netanyahu says his critics were wrong then, and are wrong now.
But he tries to reassure concerned international critics that “Israel was, is, and always will remain a proud democracy at the heart of the Middle East.”
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