The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they occurred.
Judge in Netanyahu trial said to ask the sides to consider non-binding mediation
One of the three judges in the trial of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly asked the state prosecution and the defense teams to consider a non-binding “mediation” process, in part because the proceedings are proving so protracted.
The trial began three years ago and, as things stand, the proceedings, including potential appeals, are seen as unlikely to end before 2028-2029.
According to a Channel 12 report, Jacques Chen, a lawyer for one of Netanyahu’s fellow defendants, the former Bezeq controlling shareholder Shaul Elovitz, suggested mediation last week during a discussion before Judge Oded Shaham.
Lawyers for Netanyahu, who is on trial in three cases — facing one count of bribery and three counts of fraud and breach of trust — “did not rule out the idea,” the report said, and Judge Shaham asked the state to weigh the idea.
Attorney General Gali Baharav-Miara will therefore have to decide if she wants to pursue this option, and will need to make a decision “in the next few days,” according to the report by leading journalist Ilana Dayan.
Chen raised the “surprising suggestion” of mediation when Shaham was holding behind-closed-doors discussions with the sides on trying to reduce the lengthy witness lists in the trial.
Mediation is generally held before a serving judge (not one of the judges in the trial), who does not hear witnesses, and does not restart the trial, the report stressed. Rather, the judge tries to work toward what amounts to a potential plea bargain.
For instance, the report said, the judge could cancel the bribery charge against Netanyahu and convict him on fraud and breach of trust — a potential resolution reportedly considered when former attorney general Avichai Mandelblit held plea bargain contacts with Netanyahu’s lawyers in late 2021 to early 2022.
The mediator can also come up with “creative suggestions,” the report said, including on the matter of “moral turpitude” attached to a conviction, which could potentially bar Netanyahu from public office.
Boaz Ben Zur, Netanyahu’s lawyer in the most serious of the cases, Case 4000 which carries the bribery charge, told Shaham he was not ruling out the idea, and would give his response when the state does, the report said.
So, if the state agrees in principle to the process, without pre-conditions, said Dayan, “it is reasonable to believe that Netanyahu will come.”
Lawyers representing another defendant, Arnon Moses, are also in the picture and presumed ready to agree to mediation, according to the report.
It said the attorney general’s main problem would be “entering a process without clarifying the nature and extent of the gaps between the sides. It’s not a simple process. It would mean the process is not held in public.”
At the same time, resolving the case via mediation might constitute a means to “neutralize the detonator that is to some extent causing the storm around us in recent months,” the report said, referring to the Netanyahu government’s campaign to weaken the judiciary.
Even those who favor mediation, the report said, consider the chances of the sides agreeing to it, and it ending quickly and successfully, to be “not high,” especially given the bad blood and mistrust between the sides.
Furthermore, “each side can stop the process at any moment, and they do not have to accept the result,” the report said.
Still, it concluded, “the defense attorneys think it is worth the effort.” And thus the question, the report said, is whether the attorney-general agrees.
US embassies of Israel, Bahrain and Azerbaijan co-host Iftar meal
WASHINGTON — The embassies of Israel, Bahrain and Azerbaijan in Washington co-hosted an Iftar meal last night at the Watergate Hotel attended by senior government officials and diplomats from around the world.
“In fulfilling this blessed tradition, our event sent the message of building interfaith, inter-communal & interregional bridges & advancing a brighter future together,” Israel’s Ambassador to the US Michael Herzog tweets afterward.
“As I looked up at the crowd, I couldn’t help but realize that I was looking at the new Middle East: peace, prosperity and hope for a brighter future for all!” tweets Bahrain’s Ambassador Abdulla R. Al-Khalifa.
“The message is clear: peace, friendship, interfaith dialogue, regional bonds & shared values will trump the challenges we face!” writes Azerbaijan’s envoy Khazar Ibrahim.
Food for the meal was cooked by world-renowned Israeli chef Michael Solomonov, whose Zahav restaurant received the James Beard Award in 2019 for best US restaurant.
Among those in attendance were UAE Ambassador to the US Yousef al-Otaiba, US antisemitism envoy Deborah Lipstadt and Republican Representative Victoria Spartz of Indiana.
McCarthy issues statement of support for Netanyahu amid overhaul friction with Biden
US Speaker of the House Kevin McCarthy issues a statement in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as the Biden administration over the Israeli government’s effort to overhaul the judiciary.
“Prime Minister Netanyahu is an Israeli patriot, statesman, and most importantly, a great friend of the United States of America. Free societies have vigorous and open debate. Israel is no exception. I support Prime Minister Netanyahu, and America’s support for Israel’s strong, vibrant democracy is unwavering. Now is an important time for Americans to stand together in support of our long, mutually respectful, and important friendship with Israel,” McCarthy says.
Right-wing demonstrators block Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway
Demonstrators at the pro-overhaul rally run onto Tel Aviv’s Ayalon Highway, blocking traffic.
Police say a large number of officers are on the scene.
National religious teens at Tel Aviv rally: Bedouin ‘will take over’ Negev without overhaul
A group of national religious teenagers from the southern town of Aluma say they joined the Tel Aviv demonstration because they see a direct line between curbing the Supreme Court’s power and maintaining Jewish control over the Negev.
“If they don’t pass the judicial reform, we won’t hold onto the Negev, the Bedouin will take it over,” one of the teenagers says.
ADL opens Brooklyn office to combat rising antisemitism
The Anti-Defamation League announces the opening of a satellite office in Brooklyn to combat rising antisemitism in the borough.
There were 147 recorded antisemitic incidents in Brooklyn last year out of a total of 395 in New York City, according to a recent ADL report.
The report found that reported antisemitic incidents in the US hit a record high in 2022.
Some of the incidents in Brooklyn last year included an assailant shooting a Hasidic bus driver with a BB gun, a vandal spraying “Hitler” on a synagogue and a woman slapping a Jewish teenager in front of Chabad headquarters.
“We came to the conclusion that Brooklyn requires a stronger ADL presence on the ground so that we can better address the needs of a community that unfortunately is one of the epicenters for antisemitism in this country,” said ADL chief Jonathan Greenblatt. “The new office will be tasked to respond directly to antisemitic incidents in Brooklyn, and to work directly with law enforcement and community leaders in responding to acts of hate.”
There are around 600,000 Jews in Brooklyn.
The new office will serve as a satellite of the ADL New York/New Jersey regional office.
Judicial shakeup backers march in Tel Aviv; TV puts turnout at 30,000
Demonstrators march from the Tel Aviv Museum to Kaplan Street as part of a rally in support of the government’s judicial overhaul.
Channel 12 news estimates turnout at 30,000.
Demonstrators carry ‘I’m a second class citizen’ banners at Tel Aviv protest
Echoing politicians who use similar language, many right-wing protesters at the Tel Aviv rally carry signs declaring “I’m a second-class citizen.”
Uri, a 33-year-old from Tel Aviv, says he wrote the slogan on his banner because he feels that his vote is stymied by a left-wing court.
“Democratic results don’t matter, because the judicial system overrules the democratic process, they have too much power,” he charges. “The results of the elections literally don’t matter.”
Uri claims a link between judicial activism and the prime minister’s ongoing corruption trial, saying: “There have been cases against Benjamin Netanyahu that are totally fake, they charge him with allegations to overrule the elections.”
“You cannot overrule democracy with fake accusations,” Uri adds.
An English teacher, Uri declines to share his last name because he is “afraid to be fired because it’s not acceptable to have the point of view that I have.”
US hails top UN court for ruling on Iranian assets: ‘A major victory’
THE HAGUE, The Netherlands — The United States welcomes an International Court of Justice ruling today that rejected a bid by Tehran to unblock Iranian central bank funds frozen by Washington.
“The court’s decision today rejected the vast majority of Iran’s case, including notably Iran’s claims on behalf of Bank Markazi,” says acting legal adviser Rich Visek of the US State Department.
“This is a major victory for the United States and victims of Iran’s state-sponsored terrorism,” adds Visek, who was at the reading of the verdict in The Hague.
Thousands of judicial overhaul supporters demonstrate in Tel Aviv
Waving Israel and Likud flags, thousands of right-wing protesters gather in Tel Aviv in support of the coalition’s judicial overhaul, the second such protest since Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paused the judicial legislation earlier this week amid growing public pressure.
Supporters plan to march from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to Kaplan Street, where anti-government protesters have regularly demonstrated over the past three months.
The protesters surround reporter Moti Kastel of Now 14, a channel considered favorable to Netanyahu’s Likud party, with some cheering his name.
Others hold signs emblazoned with slogans such as “I believe Rothman and Levin,” two of the overhaul’s political architects.
Several start chanting “the people demand judicial reform” and “Bibi king of Israel,” using the prime minister’s nickname, for Kastel’s broadcast.
Using a megaphone, one protester says, “we are Golani, we are Paratroopers, are we not as valuable as pilots?”
“I’ll tell you Tel Avivians, you’ll have even more to lose,” he says.
Several protesters in the crowd hold signs with the slogan “they’re stealing the election.”
“On the first of November, the people decided!” a woman shouts in agreement.
IDF wraps up joint naval and aerial exercises with Greece, France, Cyprus, Italy and US
The Israeli Navy and Air Force wrap up an annual joint drill with Greece, France, Cyprus, Italy, and the US, the military says.
The two-week-long exercise, dubbed “Noble Dina,” was held in the Mediterranean Sea, between the Israeli coast and the Greek island of Crete.
“The forces performed a series of different exercises, including complex underwater combat against submarines, joint naval combat, dealing with air and sea threats, search and rescue exercises, handling a mass casualty incident, joint refueling, and more,” the military says in a statement.
The Israeli delegation included a Dolphin-class submarine, two Sa’ar 4.5-class missile boats, a Sa’ar 5-class corvette, and for the first time in an international exercise, a Sa’ar 6-class corvette.
Israeli Air Force fighter jets and helicopters also participated in the drill, the military adds.
The Israeli Navy and Air Force wrap up an annual joint drill with Greece, France, Cyprus, Italy and the US, dubbed Noble Dina. For the first time Sa'ar 6-class corvettes participated in an international exercise. pic.twitter.com/TNFtlZQsJi
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) March 30, 2023
Top UN court rejects Iranian bid to unfreeze $2 billion held by US
THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The United Nations’ top court has rejected Tehran’s legal bid to free up some $2 billion in Iranian central bank assets frozen by US authorities to be paid in compensation to victims of a 1983 bombing in Lebanon and other attacks linked to Iran.
In a 10-5 majority ruling, the International Court of Justice says it doesn’t have jurisdiction to rule on the Iranian claim linked to the central Markazi Bank.
In a complex, 67-page judgment, the world court finds that some other US moves to seize assets of Iran and Iranians in the United States breached a 1955 treaty between the countries and say they should negotiate compensation. If they fail to reach a number, they will have to return to the Hague-based court for a ruling.
But the largest part of the case focused on Bank Markazi, and its frozen assets of $1.75 billion in bonds, plus accumulated interest, that are held in a Citibank account in New York. The court says that it doesn’t have jurisdiction based on the 1955 Treaty of Amity.
Senior US official says Israeli overhaul fight distracting from West Bank tensions
Israel’s domestic fight over judicial reform has distracted it from dealing with rising tensions in the West Banks, says a senior US foreign policy official.
“The complete distraction that was inevitable during these last weeks and last three months would also mean there was a distraction away from urgent issues that need addressing in terms of Palestinians in the West Bank,” says Barbara Leaf, Assistant Secretary of State for Near Eastern Affairs, during a briefing about her recent trip to the region.
“Leaders across the region have expressed their concerns to me regularly about the insecurity and instability in the West Bank,” Leaf says in response to a question.
Israel’s “ability to deal with that has been compromised somewhat by the issues related to public protest and public disagreement over the judicial restructuring plan.”
Leaf, who attended the two regional summits in Aqaba and Sharm el-Sheikh to find ways to calm tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, says there is “very slowly, painstakingly” movement in the right direction.
She says she is encouraged by a quiet start to the month of Ramadan, and that “both parties have shown a real seriousness of intent.”
“But facts on the ground and activities often get in the way of the best intentions,” she says.
Leaf does not mention US President Joe Biden’s recent criticism of Benjamin Netanyahu, nor does she mention any Israeli leaders by name.
Minor clashes on Gaza border as Palestinians mark Land Day
Around 100 Palestinians held a protest on the border with the Gaza Strip earlier as part of Land Day commemorations, which marks the Israeli government’s expropriation of Arab-owned land in the Galilee on March 30, 1976, and the ensuing demonstrations in which six Arab Israelis were killed.
According to a military spokesperson, several Palestinian suspects hurled grenades toward Israeli troops stationed on the border, who responded with tear gas and low-caliber rounds from a Ruger rifle.
No soldiers are hurt by the grenades, the spokesperson tells The Times of Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces says the gathering has been dispersed.
Several Palestinians are reported hurt by tear gas inhalation.
Ukrainian military chief meets with chief rabbi ahead of Passover
Ukraine’s military chief Valerii Zaluzhnyi stops by the office of top Ukrainian Rabbi Moshe Azman in Kyiv ahead of next week’s Passover holiday.
Azman gifts Zaluzhnyi a box of shmurah matzah.
Justice minister urges supporters to attend Tel Aviv demonstration
Justice Minister Yariv Levin, a key figure in the government’s judicial overhaul plans, urges supporters to attend a right-wing rally in Tel Aviv this evening.
“Don’t be dragged into provocations and refrain from violence,” he says. “Our justice and truth are stronger than anything.”
Right-wing calls for violence reported ahead of pro-overhaul rally in Tel Aviv
Ahead of a planned pro-overhaul rally in Tel Aviv this evening, some right-wing activists are calling for violence against left-wing demonstrations and journalists, according to a watchdog group.
FakeReporter shares screenshots from internal chats on messaging apps that include comments such as “we are going to Sarona [Market] to fuck them up” and “tomorrow at this strike is going to be GTA San Andreas,” referring to a video game known for its violence.
‘Fairy tale’: Histadrut chief denies coordination with PM’s office on general strike
Histadrut chief Arnon Bar-David denies claims that he said a daylong general strike earlier this week had been coordinated with the Prime Minister’s Office.
“The fairy tale that’s been spun about the strike being planned or coordinated with the Prime Minister’s Office is a baseless claim, a media fabrication that has nothing to do with the truth,” Bar-David says in a statement.
He also defends the decision to call Monday’s strike, which came amid mounting opposition to the government’s judicial revamp plans after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he was giving Defense Minister Yoav Gallant the boot after Gallant urged a legislative pause.
“What always guides me in my decisions is the wellbeing of the country,” Bar-David adds.
The union chief’s comments came after several Hebrew media outlets interviewed Pinchas Idan, the head of the airport workers union, who declared a halt to departures as part of the strike. Some of the stories cited Idan saying Bar-David told him the strike had been coordinated, but included no direct quotes explicitly mentioning the Prime Minister’s Office.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party also denies either the premier or his wife Sara were involved with the strike, saying a telephone call they had with Bar-David and his wife was to stress their opposition to the strike.
NASA scientist forced to cancel appearance at Israeli meeting amid tensions with US
An astrophysicist with the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration has been forced to pull out of a conference in Israel amid tensions with the Biden administration over the judicial overhaul being pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.
“A little sad today…was supposed to be traveling to Israel for some technical and public talks. But my travel authorization was revoked yesterday,” Amber Straugh wrote on Twitter, without elaborating.
According to a report today in the Haaretz daily, Straughn told organizers of the Israel Physical Society’s annual meeting that she was instructed by the State Department to cancel her appearance. Straughn had been set to be a keynote speaker.
Moscow orders US reporter’s detention for two months over spying claims
MOSCOW — A Moscow court orders US journalist Evan Gershkovich to be detained for two months on suspicion of spying.
Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, has been placed in detention “for a period of one month 29 days, that is until May 29, 2023,” the Moscow Lefortovsky district court says in a statement.
IDF troop held for alleged violence against Palestinian detainee
An Israeli soldier has been detained for allegedly “acting violently” toward a Palestinian detainee in the West Bank, the military says.
The Israel Defense Forces says the soldier was arrested by Military Police forces near a base close to the settlement of Kedumim, after a report by the soldier’s commanders.
“The IDF condemns any use of violence and demands its soldiers and commanders act in accordance with IDF values,” the military adds.
Worker killed at Jezreel Valley kibbutz after being struck by backhoe
A worker on a kibbutz in the Jezreel Valley has been killed after being fatally struck by a backhoe.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service says paramedics pronounced the 50-year-old’s death after finding him without any vital signs.
Ben Gvir meets with parents of 2 settlers held over Huwara rampage
Far-right National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir meets with the parents of three settlers being held in administration detention, including two who were detained over a deadly rampage in Huwara last month after two Israeli brothers were killed in a terror shooting there.
Ben Gvir, who before entering the Knesset was an attorney representing defendants accused of nationalist crimes and terror, vows “to fix the injustice” done to them.
According to a statement from his office, Ben Gvir said he was in touch with “the relevant officials” and was trying to convince them to release the suspects.
“To me, it’s undemocratic to arrest a person and then throw him in jail without evidence or a trial,” he says, referring to the controversial practice of administrative detention.
Coalition rails at National Unity MK for insisting government mustn’t choose justices
The coalition blasts a negotiator for an opposition party in fledgling compromise talks on the government’s judicial overhaul plan, accusing him of seeking to “blow up the talks and set the country on fire.”
The backlash against National Unity MK Chili Tropper, a member of his party’s negotiation team, comes after he said the opposition would insist in the talks that no agreed formula for legal reform will grant the coalition the exclusive right to appoint judges to the country’s top court.
In additional remarks, Tropper threatened to bolt the negotiations if the coalition “scams” him and continues the legislative process, while saying coalition MKs had “made every possible mistake, headed full speed into this issue and collided with a wall.”
Members of the coalition react furiously.
“The remarks deserve every condemnation,” says Justice Minister Yariv Levin in a statement. “It turns out that under the conciliatory facade hides something completely different. MK Tropper, with blunt language, declares ahead of time that for National Unity, these aren’t substantive negotiations, but rather the presentation of a demand aimed at blowing up the talks and setting the country on fire.
“I urge all opposition representatives to come to the negotiation table with a sense of responsibility and a genuine will to reach agreements that respect the huge portion of the public that yearns for a meaningful reform in the justice system,” Levin adds.
Religious Zionism MK Zvi Sukkot tweets that Tropper is “trying to blow up the negotiations” and “forgetting that he’s in the opposition.” His party colleague MK Ohad Tal says “the oppositional minority thinks it is running the country,” adding: “Prove your seriousness, stop issuing ultimatums or casting blame ahead of time.”
Judicial overhaul backers to rally in Tel Aviv this evening; several roads to be closed
Police will close a number of roads in Tel Aviv tonight for a demonstration by backers of the government’s judicial overhaul.
The protesters plan to march from the Tel Aviv Museum of Art to the government complex around 6 p.m., when a number of streets in the area will be shuttered.
Police warn of potential traffic jams and urge drivers to find alternative routes.
Proponents of the bills to radically remake the judiciary have been increasingly calling for rallies as a show of support, to counter the mass anti-government demonstrations over the past three months.
Pope ‘improving’ after night in hospital with breathing issues, Vatican says
VATICAN CITY — Pope Francis’s health is improving after spending a night in hospital with a respiratory infection, the Vatican announces, saying the 86-year-old had eaten breakfast, read the newspapers and even done some work.
The pope “rested well during the night. His clinical picture is gradually improving and he is continuing his planned treatment,” spokesman Matteo Bruni says in a statement.
“This morning after breakfast, he read some newspapers and resumed work. Before lunch, he went to the little chapel of the private (hospital) apartment where he prayed and he received the Eucharist.”
Pope Francis was admitted to Rome’s Gemelli hospital on Wednesday for what the Vatican said were pre-planned checks.
It later revealed he had complained of breathing difficulties and was diagnosed with a respiratory infection, but not Covid, and required “a few days” of hospital treatment.
Former Brazil president Bolsonaro arrives back in Brazil after 3-month Florida stay
BRASILIA, Brazil — Former president Jair Bolsonaro arrives back in Brazil after a three-month stay in Florida, seeking a new role on the political scene as authorities in the capital braced for the far-right populist’s return.
Hundreds of supporters dressed in yellow and green chant for him as they wait in the capital city of Brasilia, where the far-right leader is the subject of several investigations. The Federal District’s security secretariat mobilized hundreds of police officers and the Esplanade of Ministries was closed to prevent gatherings.
Bolsonaro left Brazil just before the end of his presidential term. In so doing, he broke with tradition by declining to hand the presidential sash to his successor, Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who won the October election with the narrowest finish since Brazil’s return to democracy over three decades earlier.
While in the US, Bolsonaro mostly kept a low profile, although he delivered several speeches to Brazilian expats and conservatives, including at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland.
For the first time in 30 years, the lawmaker-turned-president does not hold elected office.
Crisis hotline reports major spike in calls amid judicial overhaul turmoil
ERAN, Israel’s emotional first aid service, reports that it has seen a major spike in calls in response to the national crisis resulting from the government’s judicial overhaul plans.
In recent weeks, a full 25 percent of calls (200 per day) relate to the situation, and 70% of the calls are from people over the age of 50.
On the night between March 26 and 27, following Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement that he was firing Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, prompting hundreds of thousands of protesters to pour into the streets, ERAN received 344 calls, a 25% increase over the same period the prior week.
The recent dramatic escalation in requests for help prompted ERAN to add “political/social situation” as an official intake category.
Founded in Jerusalem in 1971, ERAN — the name is derived from the Hebrew acronym for emotional first aid — is Israel’s only crisis intervention hotline, serving people of all ages and backgrounds. It describes its work as a humanitarian service as opposed to professional advice.
Apparently still defense minister, Gallant warns Israel in ‘complex security period’
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, who was ostensibly ousted from his position, warns that Israel is in a “complex security period.”
Speaking at a pre-Passover holiday celebration at the Shin Bet security agency’s headquarters, Gallant says: “Iran is waging a war of attrition against Israel and at the same time advancing its plans to obtain military nuclear weapons.”
He says the potential for an escalation exists in each of the “arenas,” which could spread “and ignite other arenas along with it.”
Prime Minister Benjamin 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.
Reports yesterday suggested Gallant is considering apologizing for the timing of his statement urging a halt to the government’s push to overhaul the judiciary, as part of a compromise aimed at keeping him in his post.
Two settlers charged with terror for attacking Palestinians in Huwara with axe, stones
Two Israeli settlers are charged with terror offenses for attacking Palestinians in the West Bank town of Huwara with an axe and stones, law enforcement officials say.
According to the Shin Bet security agency, Hanoch Rabin, from the illegal Givat Ronen outpost, and Raz Giron, from the hardline settlement of Yitzhar, were detained by police on March 13 over the attack a week earlier on March 6.
During the incident, which was captured by surveillance cameras, a number of masked settlers are seen hurling stones at Palestinians in Huwara.
At one point, one settler is seen attacking a car with Palestinians using an axe.
The indictment against the pair includes various terror charges.
The Shin Bet accuses Rabin and Giron of being part of a “violent group that aims to harm Palestinians as well as to disrupt the activities of the security forces in dealing with foiling Palestinian terror and maintaining public peace in the area.”
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