The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they happened.
United Torah Judaism party chief Moshe Gafni says his party will not enter a coalition that does not find a way to nullify a High Court ruling recognizing conversions to Judaism in Israel through the Reform and Conservative movements.
“We will not enter a coalition that does not have a legal solution for the High Court’s ruling on conversion,” Gafni tells Army Radio.
The court’s ruling has enraged Haredi leaders, who wish to maintain their grip on conversion policy.
Gafni also defends a party campaign clip that compared people who convert to Judaism through non-Orthodox denominations to dogs wearing kippot.
“I would have made much worse clips,” he says. “For instance, take a huge group of immigrants in south Tel Aviv and show what happens if their Reform conversion is recognized.”
European nations will not go ahead with a planned resolution criticizing Iran at this week’s meeting of the UN nuclear watchdog, diplomatic sources say.
France, Britain and Germany had planned to introduce a resolution at a meeting of the International Atomic Energy Agency’s board of governors criticizing Iran’s suspension of some IAEA inspections.
However, diplomats say the resolution, which had not yet been formally submitted, will now not be put forward.
The decision to hold off was made “to give time to diplomacy,” one diplomatic source says, pointing to “initiatives undertaken by [IAEA Director General Rafael] Grossi” and signs of “good faith” on the Iranian side.
France criticizes a push by Austria and Denmark to coordinate with Israel on developing new COVID-19 vaccines, as EU unity frays even further over its troubled vaccine rollout.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz announced the Israeli partnership on Monday, saying the European Medicines Agency (EMA) was “too slow in approving vaccines” leaving the bloc vulnerable to supply bottlenecks at pharmaceutical companies.
But France’s foreign ministry defends the agency and insists that “the most effective solution for meeting our vaccination needs must remain within a European framework.”
“This is what guarantees the solidarity among member states that is more essential than ever,” it says in a statement.
Iran has accepted holding a series of meetings with the UN nuclear watchdog in order to “clarify a number of outstanding issues,” the body’s Director General Rafael Grossi says.
“We are going to be starting this process… with a technical meeting which will take place in Iran at the beginning of April, which I hope will be followed by other technical or political meetings,” Grossi, the head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, tells reporters at a press conference.
The new process will be aimed at clarifying queries the IAEA has raised about the possible previous presence of nuclear material at undeclared sites.
The European Medicines Agency has started a rolling review of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine, many months after it was first approved for use in Russia and after dozens of countries around the world have authorized it.
In a statement, the European regulator says the review is based on results from lab studies and research in adults, which suggests the vaccine may help protect against the coronavirus.
Despite skepticism about Russia’s hasty introduction of the vaccine, which was rolled out before it had completed late-stage trials, the vaccine appears to be safe and effective. According to a study published last month in the journal Lancet, Sputnik V is 91% effective and appears to prevent inoculated individuals from becoming severely ill with COVID-19, although it’s still unclear if the vaccine can prevent the spread of the disease.
With a global shortage of COVID-19 vaccines, some experts say boosting the use of vaccines made by China and Russia — which have not been as in demand as those made by Western companies — could offer a quicker way to increase the global supply. The pandemic has already infected over 115 million people, killing over 2.5 million of them, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.
The director-general of the Environmental Protection Ministry says Israel’s security forces must take part in an investigation into a major oil spill off Israel’s coast that inundated the country’s beaches with tar, and insists the spill was a form of terrorism.
Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel has blamed a Libyan “pirate ship” that sailed from Iran for the spill, calling it “environmental terrorism” by Tehran.
Defense figures have pushed back at this claim and are skeptical the spill was deliberate.
“It doesn’t matter if it was deliberate or not,” David Yahalomi tells Kan Bet Radio. “An enemy state that transfers 45 million oil barrels illegally and improperly through Israel’s economic waters — is harmful.”
Yahalomi said it is believed some 1,000 tons of oil leaked from the ship, but that this was a mere 1 percent of the total oil it can carry. The disaster, he therefore said, could have been “100 times worse.”
He says the potential harm under such circumstances “is a ticking bomb, and so it is correct to call it environmental terrorism.”
European Union antitrust authorities will formally probe Israeli drugmaker Teva, Reuters reports, over suspicions it took illegal steps to thwart rivals on its Copaxone drug, used to treat multiple sclerosis.
A preliminary probe was opened late last year, leading to the latest decision.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit tells the government it must quickly appoint six permanent ministers for posts currently manned by temporary appointments.
The appointments are all set to expire within the next month or so, and cannot be extended further.
Defense Minister and Justice Minister Benny Gantz is serving as interim communications minister until March 16. In response to Mandelblit’s warning, Gantz calls on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to approve Blue and White’s Eitan Ginzburg as minister in the coming cabinet meeting in order to avoid a vacuum at the ministry.
Other ministries set to lose their ministers are the ministries of water resources, higher education, justice, social equality and science.
After US Secretary of State Antony Blinken condemns the International Criminal Court’s decision to probe potential war crimes committed by Israel and the Palestinians, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib, of Palestinian descent, tweets: “No one is above the law.”
The ICC “has the authority and duty to independently & impartially investigate and deliver justice to victims of human rights violations and war crimes in Palestine and Israel,” he says. “The US should not interfere with its ability to do so.”
No one is above the law.
The @IntlCrimCourt has the authority and duty to independently & impartially investigate and deliver justice to victims of human rights violations and war crimes in Palestine and Israel. The U.S. should not interfere with its ability to do so. https://t.co/HgTvbDA9u5
— Rashida Tlaib (@RashidaTlaib) March 4, 2021
Disgraced rabbi Mordechai “Moti” Elon will give up his rabbinic certification after a panel of High Court justices recommended he do so.
A petition to the High Court to force the convicted child sex offender to do so had been filed by three organizations: Kol v’Oz, The Association of Rape Crisis Centers in Israel and Jewish Community Watch.
Last April, the Rabbinate disciplinary committee, which had threatened to strip Elon of his title, decided that he could keep it after he committed to not serve as a rabbi in any community role for a period of 10 years from the date of his conviction.
Elon was convicted in 2013 of committing an indecent act against a minor on two occasions. He was sentenced to six months of community service, as well as a 15-month suspended jail term.
Lebanon’s parliament wants to submit a complaint to the United Nations against Israel over the oil spill that has polluted Israel’s coast as well as some of Lebanon’s.
Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry has been investigating the spill and has now blamed a Libyan ship carrying Iranian oil.
According to the Al Markazia news agency, the Lebanese parliament’s Environment Committee has recommended an “urgent” complaint against Jerusalem to the UN.
The report said MPs accused Israel of “environmental aggression” against Lebanon.
Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla’s planned visit to Israel next week has been postponed, Channel 12 News reports.
No reason is immediately given for the cancelation.
There had been some criticism ahead of the planned visit that its timing shortly before the March 23 election could be seen as illegal campaign propaganda by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly touted his good relations with Bourla as a major reason Israel was able to secure large quantities of coronavirus vaccines so quickly.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas praises the International Criminal Court’s decision to open an investigation into possible war crimes committed by Israelis and Palestinians since 2014 in the West Bank and Gaza.
Abbas’s office waited almost a whole day to respond to the ruling, well after many other officials in Fatah and the Palestinian Authority.
“The Palestinian Presidency expresses its great appreciation for the [ICC] prosecutor’s decision regarding the opening of a criminal investigation into the situation in Palestine, which includes the Gaza war, settlements, and the issue of prisoners in the Israeli occupation’s jails,” Abbas’s office says.
Abbas praises what he calls “the independence and courage of the Prosecutor in defending truth and freedom.”
In an interview with Fox News, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls the move by the ICC to launch a probe into possible war crimes by Israel and the Palestinians “an outrageous decision.”
He says the decision targets “the one democracy in the Middle East” while ignoring countries such as Iran snd Syria, which he contends are serial rights abusers.
“This is pure anti-Semitism,” he says, and “an affront for all democracies.”
He vows to “fight for the truth, fight against this perversion of justice until it is null and void.”
The government has submitted the text of a bill that will allow it electronically monitor returning Israelis who are required to quarantine after arriving from abroad.
Those refusing the use of electronic bracelets or other tracking means for the duration of their quarantine period will be forced to isolate in government-run hotels, the bill says.
It further says the tracking information on an individual will be deleted in real-time, so long as the person does not break quarantine.
The Knesset is set to debate the bill on Monday.
This past Monday saw the beginning of a pilot program for electronic bracelets. Around 100 people are participating in the program. The bracelets will monitor their location to ensure they are adhering to Health Ministry guidelines through their two-week quarantine period.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is hosting Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen as the countries discuss joint work to produce second-generation vaccines against the coronavirus.
Netanyahu takes the two European leaders to a gym in Modiin to show off Israel’s Green Pass, which now allows fully vaccinated or recovered individuals to take part in various activities including going to the gym.
“In some four-five weeks we’ll finish vaccinating all of the over-50s,” Netanyahu says. “In eight weeks we’ll finish vaccinating everyone in Israel over 16, except for those people who refuse to vaccinate under any circumstances.”
However, Netanyahu adds it is likely that “we will need to continue wearing masks for a while” due to the various virus variants. “It’s better to be careful,” he says. “It’s a small price to pay.”
More from Netanyahu’s Fox News interview:
The prime minister told Fox and Friends that Israel is the first country to emerge from the pandemic due to its quick and efficient vaccination campaign, and says the country is largely done with the pandemic.
Israel is “the first country in the world to emerge from corona. With this green passport you can go to restaurants, you can go to theaters, you can go to sports events. This is it. We’re coming out,” he said.
“Israel used to be known, and is known, as the startup nation. From today it’ll also be known as the vaccination nation,” he said. “We’re setting the model for the world, we’re very proud of it.”
He adds: “Look, I don’t think we’re coming out completely. We’re going to have to wear a mask for some time. But we’re behind it.”
Next PM Netanyahu was asked about Israels remarkable vaccination program and what the U.S could learn from it pic.twitter.com/teYTiUiw77
— SussexFriendsofIsrael (@SussexFriends) March 4, 2021
The prime minister’s confidence is not necessarily shared by the country’s top health officials, who have warned that new variants of the virus could yet throw a wrench into Israel’s plans to quickly return to normal life.
The leaders of Israel, Austria and Denmark hold a joint press conference in Jerusalem announcing plans for joint research and development on pandemic-beating drugs, as well as joint investment on vaccine production.
Danish Prime Minister Mette Frederiksen says the three countries “have been working very closely together” since the start of the pandemic.
The countries share a vision for the future that “timely access to vaccines will be critical for our societies in the years to come… We cannot allow us to be caught off guard once again. We have new mutations, maybe new pandemics and maybe new health crises will endanger our societies again.”
She says Denmark and Austria are “very inspired by Israel’s ability to roll out the vaccines” for the coronavirus so efficiently.
Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz hails Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who he says was one of the first to identify the great danger of the pandemic in early 2020 and was “maybe the main reason why we reacted quite early in Austria.”
Israel is also now “the first country in the world that shows that it is possible to defeat the virus,” he says. “The world is looking to Israel with admiration.”
Now, “we have to prepare… for the next stages of the pandemic.”
Kurz says vaccine production is a complex process, and as part of the partnership on production each country will focus on specific elements of the process.
Netanyahu says that “together we’re starting here something that I think will galvanize the imagination of the world.”
And he adds, “other countries have already called me and they’ve said ‘We want to be part of this effort.'”
Israel’s security establishment is investigating the oil spill off Israel’s coast, Channel 12 reports.
The network says The Environmental Protection Ministry has handed over its report on the matter to intelligence and security bodies which are now reviewing its findings.
Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel insisted earlier today that a huge oil spill that polluted most of the country’s beaches was an Iranian terror attack on Israel, despite having said in an interview yesterday that she didn’t believe the spill was deliberate.
Gamliel contended that the spill, which forced the closure of beaches along Israel’s Mediterranean coast, was directly caused by Iran, even as defense officials have said it was not deliberate but rather a malfunction.
The ministry has blamed a Libyan-owned ship, the Emerald, for the spill, saying it was smuggling crude oil from Iran to Syria at the time of the spill.
Swedish authorities are investigating whether a knife attack by an Afghan man who stabbed seven men and left three of them in critical but stable condition in the small town of Vetlanda had any links to terrorism.
The suspect, who was not named under Swedish policy rules, now faces several counts of attempted murder.
“There also was initial information in the investigation that led police to believe that they should look at terrorism as being the motive,” Home Affairs Minister Mikael Damberg tells reporters. “It is not strange that when there is such a type of atrocity in Sweden that a connection to terrorism is also being investigated.”
Neither Damberg nor police would elaborate what that “initial information” was to prompt investigators to probe possible terrorism links.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has informed Defense Minister Benny Gantz that he will not currently examine whether the prime minister can fire his party members from the transition government should they fail to pass the electoral threshold in the March 23 vote.
Gantz fears that Netanyahu may fire him and his ministers before a new government is established and take far-reaching steps regarding the justice system and other matters.
His Blue and White party is currently polling at some 4-5 seats for the next Knesset, with 4 being the minimum to enter the parliament.
Mandelblit says any position on his part at the moment could be seen as interference in the political process.
“In the event that the question becomes relevant, I will address it,” he says.
Greenpeace blasts Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel for her claims that the oil spill that polluted most of the country’s beaches was an Iranian terror attack on Israel.
The group says Gamliel’s assertion of a terror attack “is outrageous and factually baseless at this stage.”
It says that in making the claim, the minister “is minimizing the well-known and widespread phenomenon of marine pollution by ship oil spills. The minister’s conduct on the matter smells of electioneering and an attempt to score political points over an ecological disaster.”
The Islamic State group and other terror organizations are recruiting young people in the UK in “worrying numbers,” British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab warns.
Speaking in the UK parliament, Raab says the country’s counter-terrorism referral unit saw a seven percent rise in the volume of terrorist content found online in the year up to December 2020.
He adds that British police are seeing “a worrying rise in the proportion of children and teenagers that are now being arrested for terrorism offenses.”
Britain has grappled to contain the threat posed by IS after hundreds of UK nationals traveled to the Middle East and joined the terror group after 2014.
He calls the “accessibility of terrorist content online” during lockdown “a perfect storm” because it gives terrorists “digital access to those who are probably the most susceptible to extremist narratives.”
The new US envoy to the United Nations accuses Russia of seeking to stymie efforts to hold the government of Syrian leader Bashar Assad accountable for its use of chemical weapons during its long civil war.
“We all know the Assad regime has repeatedly used chemical weapons. So why hasn’t the Syrian government been held accountable?” the ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, tells a Security Council meeting via videoconference.
“The answer is sadly simple: The Assad regime has tried to avoid accountability by obstructing independent investigations and undermining the role and work” of the Organization for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW), she says.
“And the regime’s allies, in particular Russia, have also sought to block all efforts to pursue accountability,” adds the US diplomat, who is participating in her first Security Council meeting since taking over as President Joe Biden’s envoy.
“Russia has defended the Assad regime despite its chemical weapons attacks, it has attacked the professional work of the OPCW, and it has undermined efforts to hold the Assad regime accountable for its use of chemical weapons and numerous other atrocities.”
Some 700 Palestinian workers were vaccinated today as part of a pilot program at the Sha’ar Efraim checkpoint between the West Bank and Israel, the Health Ministry says.
The ministry says the full vaccination program for some 120,000 Palestinians who are legally employed in Israel and in West Bank settlements will start Sunday, at Sha’ar Efraim and seven other checkpoints, as well as four settlement industrial zones.
The Yesh Atid party says an activist was “violently attacked today while campaigning for the party in central Israel.
“He was taken to the hospital and a complaint will be filed with the police,” a spokesman says.
He adds: “Have no doubt — this is a direct result of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu’s constant incitement against Lapid and Yesh Atid.”
Twelve elderly residents of a nursing home in Beersheba were recently found to be positive for coronavirus despite having been fully vaccinated against the virus, Channel 12 News reports.
The residents were tested after a worker at the facility was infected.
None of them are currently exhibiting any symptoms.
Health officials are now doing genetic sequencing for the 12 individuals to check what version of the virus they have, and whether it is one of the more infectious variants.
Starting Sunday, the Health Ministry will allow unvaccinated Israelis to enter locations that require a Green Pass when presenting valid negative coronavirus tests, Channel 12 reports.
The tests will have to be from the past 48 hours, and will allow children under 16 and those who choose not to vaccinate to enter culture and sporting events, hotels, gyms and other venues currently available only to those with a Green Pass, the report says.
Walla News gives a slightly different version of things, saying the option will only be available to minors, and not to adults who choose not to vaccinate. It also says that initially, only 5% of people at any venue can be unvaccinated.
The ministry is also looking at launching quick tests at the entrance to venues in two weeks’ time, Channel 12 says. The network says five companies will provide quick testing services to non-vaccinated individuals.
It is not yet clear whether businesses will be required to fully fund the tests or whether the government will partially subsidize them.
A senior health official tells Channel 13 the prime minister’s declaration earlier today during an interview with Fox News that the coronavirus pandemic is virtually over is “dangerous.”
The unnamed official says the premier’s statements could create public complacency and lead to less adherence to health regulations, thereby contributing to further sickness.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says the 2015 nuclear deal “cannot be renegotiated — period.”
“Let’s stop posturing,” he tweets, “which we both did 2003-2012 to no avail — and get down to implementing [the deal] which we both actually signed on to.”
Iran has demanded an immediate removal of US sanctions as a precondition to its return to compliance with the deal, while Washington has said Iran must first end its violations of the accord.
The latest poll from Kan News once again shows the left-wing Meretz party failing to pass the electoral threshold in the next election, while it is not clear whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can form a coalition.
The poll gives Likud 29 seats; Yesh Atid 20; New Hope 12; Yamina 11; Joint List 8; Shas 7; United Torah Judaism 7; Yisrael Beytenu 7; Labor 6; Blue and White 5; Religious Zionism 4; and Ra’am 4.
Netanyahu and his religious allies have 47 seats, while Yamina and Ra’am, parties that have not ruled out backing Netanyahu but which haven’t pledged to do so, have 15 more. If they do back Netanyahu, that would clinch the premier a majority with 62 seats.
Merav Michaeli, the leader of the left-wing Labor party, tells Channel 12’s “Meet the Press” that she doesn’t rule out joining a coalition that includes the right-wing New Hope headed by Gideon Sa’ar or even Naftali Bennett’s hard-right Yamina, hoping to form a government without Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
She calls on Defense Minister Benny Gantz to quit the Knesset race with his centrist Blue and White, which has been polling dangerously close to the electoral threshold.
“This is a party that doesn’t represent anything and is still sitting under Netanyahu,” Michaeli says.
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