Knesset approves law banning BDS activists from Israel
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Knesset approves law banning BDS activists from Israel

Controversial measure passes final readings; Iran said to test fire ballistic missiles; Trump asks Congress to investigate leaks of classified info

Elie Leshem is deputy editor of The Times of Israel.

  • Illustrative photo of an Iranian warship (Alex Hicks, Wikimedia Commons)
    Illustrative photo of an Iranian warship (Alex Hicks, Wikimedia Commons)
  • US President Donald Trump waves as he steps off Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, on March 5, 2017 (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)
    US President Donald Trump waves as he steps off Air Force One at Andrews Air Force Base in Maryland, on March 5, 2017 (AFP Photo/Nicholas Kamm)
  • Police investigators arrive at the entrance to the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem on March 6, 2017, to interrogate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Police investigators arrive at the entrance to the prime minister's residence in Jerusalem on March 6, 2017, to interrogate Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Jerusalem on March 6, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman attends a meeting of the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee in Jerusalem on March 6, 2017 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Illustrative: Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Jerusalem, February 12, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
    Illustrative: Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely in Jerusalem, February 12, 2017. (Gershon Elinson/Flash90)
  • Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel attends the 14th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Minister of Agriculture Uri Ariel attends the 14th annual Jerusalem Conference of the 'Besheva' group, on February 12, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Demonstrators at Chicago’s O’Hare airport protesting Donald Trump’s executive order which imposes a freeze on admitting refugees from certain countries into the United States, Jan. 29, 2017. (Scott Olson/Getty Images via JTA)
    Demonstrators at Chicago’s O’Hare airport protesting Donald Trump’s executive order which imposes a freeze on admitting refugees from certain countries into the United States, Jan. 29, 2017. (Scott Olson/Getty Images via JTA)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s news as it unfolded.

Deputy FM denies Trump put kibosh on annexation

Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely denies Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman’s assertion that the Trump administration warned against annexing the West Bank.

“The American administration has yet to formulate its new policy for the Middle East, which means Liberman’s words limit Israel’s freedom of action,” she tweets.

Minister apologizes to Bedouin over Umm al-Hiran incident

Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel apologizes — the first such gesture from an Israeli official — over a January incident in the Beduin village of Umm al-Hiran in the Negev that killed a local man and a police officer.

For weeks, police maintained that the man, Yaqoub Abu Al-Qia’an, was shot by police in the act of carrying out a deliberate car-ramming attack against police who came to evacuate the unofficial village. However, leaked findings from an internal investigation indicated that Abu Al-Qia’an was not a terrorist and that officers at the scene fired at him without sufficient justification, before his vehicle struck and killed police officer Erez Levi.

“I apologize deeply for that,” Ariel says during a tour of the Bedouin city of Rahat. “We will wait for the results of the Police Internal Investigations Department probe, but there are voices attesting to grievous mistakes that were made.”

He goes on to request that his hosts convey his message to the Abu Al-Qia’an family and adds, “Perhaps we can arrange a visit to tell them personally.”

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, who initially sided with police in maintaining that Abu Al-Qia’an was a terrorist, has since partially walked back the claim, stopping short of an apology.

Iraq to be struck from new US travel directive – report

US President Donald Trump later today is set to strike Iraq from a list of countries whose citizens are banned from entering the US, a White House source confirms to Reuters.

The source is quoted as saying that the other Middle Eastern and Muslim-majority countries on the original list — Yemen, Syria, Iran, Sudan, and Libya — will remain under a 90-day travel ban.

The new guidelines are being issued after the courts blocked the original ones.

According to the official, Iraq was removed because Baghdad had begun imposing its own procedures for vetting travelers, and because of Iraq’s efforts, alongside the US, to target the Islamic State group.

The report also says the new ban — as opposed to the old one — will not affect the tens of thousands of green card-holders from those countries.

The new order will also erase the distinction between refugees from Syria, who were originally banned indefinitely, and other countries, banning them all for 120 days, the official tells Reuters.

Trump said to reject FBI’s denial of wiretapping claims

A spokeswoman for Donald Trump indicates the president doesn’t believe FBI Director James Comey’s denial of the claim Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower during the presidential campaign.

“No, I don’t think he does,” Sarah Huckabee Sanders says on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” when she’s asked if Trump accepted Comey’s denial.

The president “wants the truth to come out to the American people and he is asking that it be done through the House Intelligence Committee and that that be the process that we go through.”

Kremlin: Trump’s wiretap claim purely ‘domestic issue’

MOSCOW — Claims by Trump that his phones were wiretapped by his predecessor, Barack Obama, during the 2016 election campaign are a purely domestic matter for the United States, the spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin says.

When asked about Trump’s allegations, made without evidence on Twitter, Putin spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters that the Kremlin “should not be in any way linked to US domestic issues” and “doesn’t have the slightest inclination or intention to be associated with these affairs.”

In the past, Russian officials have come to Trump’s defense, decrying his opponents for resisting efforts to improve relations between Washington and Moscow.

— AP

Ahmadinejad: ‘Let’s all love each other’

Former Iranian president Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, an uncompromising hardliner who at one time symbolized Iranian defiance of the West, has been showing a gentler side on Twitter.

Today, sounding more like a ’60s counterculture icon than the once-leader of a despotic fundamentalist regime, he tweets about humanity’s common source, “the essence of love.”

Liberman heads to Washington tonight

Defense Minister Liberman will be flying to Washington tonight for meetings with senior officials including Vice President Mike Pence; his counterpart, James Mattis; and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Liberman’s office says in a statement.

“Minister Liberman says that during a meeting with Mattis that took place in Munich two weeks ago, he was happy to encounter a true friend who is committed to Israel’s security,” the statement says.

It said that Liberman is looking forward to discussing with Tillerson “the security challenges that Israel and the US share in the Middle East, including Iran, Syria, and Lebanon.”

Israeli national baseball team beats South Korea

Israel beats South Korea 2-1 in 10 innings in an away game in its first-ever appearance in the World Baseball Classic.

It was the opening game in the 16-nation tournament.

Israel will face Taiwan next in Seoul.

— Joshua Davidovich

Chief rabbi urges Netanyahu to act against US anti-Semitism

An Israeli chief rabbi is imploring Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to speak up about a recent wave of anti-Semitism and Jewish cemetery vandalism in the United States.

Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef calls on Netanyahu and Israeli diplomats “not to be silent about the phenomenon of Jewish cemetery desecration.”

He adds: “We have to raise a very clear voice to work as much as possible to stop these anti-Semitic acts.”

Yosef speaks at a ceremony marking a deadly 1992 bombing at the Israeli Embassy in Buenos Aires.

Netanyahu is usually vocal against global anti-Semitism but issued a muted response to recent acts targeting US Jewish institutions. Critics in Israel say Netanyahu may be looking to protect his ally, US President Donald Trump, who is accused of stirring up xenophobia.

— AP

Hamas blasts security coordination after IDF kills man once arrested by PA

After Israeli forces on Monday killed a Palestinian operative in Ramallah, Palestinian groups seize the opportunity to attack the unpopular security coordination between Israel and the PA.

Basel al-A’araj, 31, was killed in his hideout in Ramallah after he opened fire at Israeli forces who came to arrest him, the army said. He was suspected of planning a terror attack against Israeli civilians.

A’araj and two others had been arrested by the PA in April while camping out in a mountainous area near Ramallah. He was then released.

At the time, Abbas bragged to the German daily Der Spiegel about his arrest.

Today, just a few hours after his death, Hamas not only praises A’araj’s violent actions, but also makes a point of claiming his death was the result of security coordination.

“There must be a joint national effort by all Palestinian factions and the various national institutions in order to put an end to the security coordination of the Palestinian Authority with the occupation. It ultimately leads to the delivery of [fighters to the IDF] and makes it easier for the occupation army to target them,” Hamas spokesperson Husam Badran says in a statement posted to the terror group’s official website.

— Dov Lieber

UN atomic chief expects US cooperation on Iran nuke pact

VIENNA — The head of the UN agency monitoring the Iran nuclear deal says he emphasized the benefits of the pact in a meeting with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and says he is confident his message was heard.

The issue is important because US President Donald Trump promised to “tear up” the pact during campaigning, saying it fell short of the aim of sufficiently crimping Tehran’s nuclear programs.

Yukiya Amano of the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency says he told Tillerson last week that because of the deal the IAEA now has the “strongest verification” tools to monitor Tehran’s atomic activities. As well, he says, “the nuclear activities of Iran are reduced.”

He tells reporters that he is confident of “very good cooperation” with the United States on Iran.

— AP

Conway defends Trump’s wiretapping claim

White House counselor Kellyanne Conway doubles down on President Trump’s wiretapping claims, saying that “credible news sources” suggested there was politically motivated activity during the campaign.

She also says said Trump might have access to other information she and others don’t.

“He is the president of the United States,” Conway tells Fox News’ “Fox & Friends. “He has information and intelligence that the rest of us do not.”

— AP

Police set to interrogate Netanyahu

Prime Minister Netanyahu is about to be grilled by police at his official Jerusalem residence over his involvement in two cases involving suspected corruption.

It will be his fourth such interrogation session.

One investigation, dubbed Case 1000, has the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit probing whether Netanyahu’s accepting of expensive gifts from businessmen, and then taking actions on their behalf, amounts to an illegal conflict of interest.

The prime minister is also being investigated in Case 2000, which involves alleged negotiations with the publisher of the Yedioth Aharonoth daily, Arnon Mozes, and focuses on the prime minister’s supposed promise to advance legislation to hobble the rival Sheldon Adelson-controlled Israel Hayom paper in exchange for more favorable coverage from Yedioth.

— Times of Israel staff contributed

US yet to decide on Iran nuclear deal, IAEA says

The new US administration has not yet decided what to do about the 2015 Iran nuclear deal, the head of the UN atomic watchdog says following talks in Washington.

“The new administration of the United States just started and they are looking at this issue,” International Atomic Energy Agency chief Yukiya Amano says.

They are looking “not only at that issue but also at many other issues. So it is very early for them to give their assessment,” he tells a news conference.

— AFP

Police release video of shootout with Palestinian

The Israel Police releases footage of a shootout between officers and a suspected terrorist in a Ramallah home early this morning.

The 37-second, edited video shows an officer from the police counterterrorism unit inspect an overhead crawlspace, where Basel al-A’araj was hiding.

Smoke and apparent gunshots can be seen coming from the crawlspace, prompting return fire by police.

At one point, an officer can be seen tossing what is presumably a stun grenade into the crawlspace.

According to police, the 31-year-old al-A’araj had been part of a terrorist group planning to carry out attacks on Israeli civilians.

In addition to the Carlo-style improvised submachine gun used by al-A’araj during the gunfire exchange, the police and IDF also located an M-16 assault rifle in the home, officials said.

— Judah Ari Gross

Germany’s Merkel rejects Erdogan’s Nazi remarks

BERLIN — German Chancellor Angela Merkel rejects remarks by Turkey’s president accusing officials of “Nazi practices,” days after a local authority in Germany prevented a Turkish minister from addressing a rally.

“One cannot seriously comment on such misplaced statements,” Merkel says at an event in Berlin, according to the dpa news agency.

Diplomatic tensions have been rising in recent days amid Turkish plans to have government ministers address rallies in Germany and the Netherlands in support of a national referendum on constitutional reform that would give Erdogan more powers.

Last week, local authorities in southwestern Germany withdrew permission for Turkey’s justice minister to use a venue to hold a “yes” rally aimed at Turks living in Germany. Responding to that, Erdogan on Sunday said that “Germany, you don’t have anything to do with democracy. These current practices of yours are no different than the Nazi practices of the past.”

Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert says that the German government “strongly rejected” that, adding that such comparisons downplay the crimes of the Nazis.

Seibert notes that there are strong social, economic and military ties between Germany and Turkey, but acknowledges that there are “far-reaching differences of opinion” between Berlin and Ankara at the moment.

Seibert dismisses any notion that the federal government was involved in the decision to cancel events with Turkish officials, saying it was up to local officials to decide whether they could guarantee the necessary security.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel waiting for the start of the Federal Board meeting of her Christian Democrats at Konrad Adenauer House in Berlin, Germany, Monday, March 6, 2017. ( Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel waiting for the start of the Federal Board meeting of her Christian Democrats at Konrad Adenauer House in Berlin, Germany, Monday, March 6, 2017. ( Michael Kappeler/dpa via AP)

— AP

Police chief: Netanyahu investigations in ‘final stages’

Israel Police Chief Roni Alsheich says both of the ongoing corruption investigations into Netanyahu are nearing completion.

“We will be finished soon,” Alsheich tells reporters at a swearing-in ceremony for the new fire chief. “There have been some constraints, but we are in the final stages.

“After we complete our obligations, we will update the public when we make our official recommendations,” he says.

Alsheich does not elaborate on the “constraints” the investigations have faced, but police in recent weeks have reportedly said their work has been repeatedly delayed by Netanyahu’s busy schedule and their difficulty reaching persons of interest.

His remarks came as police questioned Netanyahu for a fourth time.

— Tamar Pileggi

Knesset panel to discuss US anti-Semitism

Tomorrow the Knesset’s Immigration, Absorption and Diaspora Committee will address the uptick in anti-Semitic incidents in the US, the committee’s chairman, MK Avraham Neguise, announces.

He says the discussion will include officials in the Israeli government alongside representatives from the US embassy.

“The Israeli Knesset cannot sit silent when Jewish lives are in danger,” Neguise says in a statement. “The Jews of the United States need to know that the Knesset is at their side, closely and anxiously observing these incidents.”

He also praises President Trump for his “harsh condemnation” of anti-Semitism, and says he hopes law enforcement in the US will “swiftly” apprehend and prosecute any who “persecute the Jews.”

Trump signs new travel ban targeting six mostly-Muslim nations

President Trump signs a revised ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority nations — one with a reduced scope so Iraqis and permanent US residents are exempt.

The White House says Trump signed the order — which temporarily freezes new visas for Syrians, Iranians, Libyans, Somalis, Yemenis and Sudanese citizens — behind closed doors “this morning.”

The order places a 120-day freeze on all refugee arrivals.

The revised ban, which comes into effect on March 16, says the six countries are targeted because their screening and information capabilities don’t meet US security requirements.

Officials say that, unlike in the initial January 27 executive order, all pre-existing, valid visas from the six countries will be honored.

“The motivating factor here is a desire for greater security,” says a senior State Department official.

— AFP

Iranian attack boats force US ship off course in Persian Gulf

Iranian attack boats forced a US Navy ship to change course in the Persian Gulf’s Strait of Hormuz on Saturday, Reuters reports, quoting a US official.

The official says multiple boats approached the USNS Invincible, coming within 600 yards of it.

According to the official, three British ships that were accompanying the Invincible were also forced to change course.

Attempts to communicate with the Iranian vessels over radio did not garner any responses, the official says.

After lifting ban, Israel lets Human Rights Watch staffer into country

Omar Shakir, Human Rights Watch’s Israel and Palestine director, who was denied a work visa last month over his alleged anti-Israel bias, enters Ben Gurion Airport on a tourist visa.

Trump calls Netanyahu to talk about Iran — PMO

US President Trump calls Prime Minister Netanyahu to discuss the Iranian nuclear deal and the regime’s recent belligerent acts, according to a readout from the Prime Minister’s Office.

The two leaders talked “at length” about the “dangers emanating from Iran and Iranian aggression in the region and the need to work together to deal with these threats,” the PMO says.

Netanyahu thanks Trump for the warm welcome he received last month in the White House. He also expresses his gratitude for his “forceful statement against anti-Semitism” during his speech last week to a joint meeting of the US Congress.

— Raphael Ahren

Liberal Jews decry Trump’s new immigration order

Jewish groups condemn an executive order issued by President Trump banning new visas for citizens from six Muslim-majority countries.

The Reform movement slams the order, calling it “discriminatory and unjust.”

“The Jewish community — like all Americans whose ancestors arrived as refugees and immigrants — was given opportunities to access education, join the workforce, and contribute to their communities and their country. Let us not now allow fear to overwhelm our nation’s capacity for compassion,” Rabbi Jonah Pesner, director of the Religion Action Center, says on behalf of the movement in a statement.

HIAS, a refugee resettlement agency formerly known as the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society, urges Jews to fight back against the order.

“We will resist all attempts to vilify refugees,” the group writes on Twitter. “The US Jewish community owes its very existence to a tradition of welcoming refugees.”

The social justice group Bend the Arc Jewish Action says it will “fight for our Muslim brothers and sisters.”

“This is not about national security — he is targeting Muslims, immigrants and refugees purely out of spite and fear, but national security experts agree that his action today will not keep us safer,” the group’s CEO, Stosh Cotler, says in a statement.

T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights also condemns the measure.

The executive order “continues to effectively close our borders to Muslims, and flagrantly violates America’s longstanding, values-driven commitment to serving as a safe haven for refugees,” says a statement by the rabbinic group. “Masked as an effort to ensure national security, this new executive order is more of the same Islamophobia that targets Muslims by reinstating the discredited vetting procedures, established after September 11, 2001, aimed at men from Muslim-majority countries.”

— JTA

Tillerson: Travel ban vital for US national security

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson declares that President Trump’s renewed ban on travelers from six Muslim-majority countries is “a vital measure for strengthening our national security.”

“With this order, President Trump is exercising his rightful authority to keep our people safe,” Tillerson says, after Trump signs a revised version of an order that had previously been thrown out by US courts.

Tillerson says his department has worked with Iraq to identify “multiple new security measures” that will be imposed to ensure that extremists are weeded out during the US visa process.

“Iraq is an important ally in the fight to defeat ISIS, with their brave soldiers fighting in close coordination with America’s men and women in uniform,” Tillerson says.

— AFP

Iran test-fired 2 missiles over the weekend – US officials

Iran over the weekend test fired two Fateh-110 short-range ballistic missiles, US officials tell Fox News.

The two officials say one of the missiles was tested successfully, hitting and destroying a barge that was floating offshore about 155 miles away.

The second missed its target, one official is quoted as saying, but hit “in the vicinity.”

The test, conducted Friday and Saturday, was reportedly the first test of Fateh-110 missiles in two years.

One of the officials is quoted as saying it is a matter of “concern” that the latest version of the missile has been outfitted with a new “active seeker.”

“It’s a concern based on the range and that one of the missiles worked,” the anonymous official says.

Trump wants Congress to probe leaks of classified info

The White House says President Trump wants Congress to investigate the leaking of classified information, as well as unsubstantiated allegations that former president Barack Obama tapped his phone.

Spokesman Sean Spicer says he has spoken to Trump about the issue and the president has indicated he would like to see Congress broaden the scope of ongoing investigations into Russia’s influence over the US election to include both elements.

The White House has already called for Congress to follow up on Trump’s explosive and unsupported allegation, made over the weekend, that former president Obama ordered a wiretap of his phone during last year’s campaign.

— AFP

3 ex-IDF officers charged in case of drowned soldier

The IDF chief prosecutor charges three former officers in a case involving the accidental drowning death of a soldier.

The charges stem from an incident last July in which Ilan Yankilevich, 19, drowned in a water reservoir near Kibbutz Kissufim in southern Israel. Yankilevich was a corporal in the IDF’s elite 8200 intelligence unit.

Two of the officers indicted Monday, a major and a second lieutenant, are charged with causing death by negligence, as well as negligence. The third officer, a second lieutenant, is charged with negligence.

The three officers were dismissed from their positions in September, as recommended by an IDF investigation into the incident.

— Times of Israel staff

Knesset passes law banning BDS activists from country

The Knesset has passed on its final readings a controversial law that bans activists who call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel from being able to visit the country.

The law applies to anyone who calls publicly for a boycott of the State of Israel or works for an organization that support a boycott on Israel, aside from citizens of permanent residents. It also allows the interior minister to make exceptions.

According to the bill, the BDS movement represents the “new front in the war against the State of Israel, which has stopped Israel from preparing against it as necessary. The proposed law will prevent people or representatives of companies, foundations or groups calling for a boycott of Israel from operating within the lands of the State of Israel to advance their ideas.”

The law, which has received support from both right-wing and centrist parties, passes by a vote of 46-28 on its third and final reading.

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