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Netanyahu says reports about his plan to override Supreme Court are ‘distorted’

PM claims media is featuring ‘tendentious leaks that include false proposals’ in bid to prevent any judicial reform; backs death penalty for terrorists, expelling their families

Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on April 14, 2019. (RONEN ZVULUN /AFP)
Illustrative: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem, on April 14, 2019. (RONEN ZVULUN /AFP)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.

Opposition decries PM’s reported legal reforms as ‘undermining democracy’

Opposition politicians slam a reported plan by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his potential coalition partners to severely hinder the Supreme Court’s oversight of Knesset legislation and government decisions and promote a law shielding the premier from prosecution.

Chairmen of the Blue and White party, Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, hold a press conference presenting the party’s campaign for the last 10 days before elections, in Tel Aviv, on March 31, 2019. (Photo by Flash90)

Benny Gantz, head of the Blue and White party likely to be the main opposition faction in the upcoming Knesset, says “such cheapening of the rule of law crosses a red line and we will not let this pass. It is unacceptable for deals to be created that aim to harm the rule of law and undermine the pillars of democracy for the benefit of a prime minister who has three pending indictments against him.”

Blue and White’s No. 2, Yair Lapid, says at a press conference that “people have to go out to the streets before our democracy is destroyed.”

He mocks Netanyahu’s Likud party, saying it has “turned into a ‘get out of jail’ party for Netanyahu.” He criticizes the latest efforts as an attempt to “turn the State of Israel into Turkey,” alluding to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s law changes that have granted him the option to remain leader for decades.

Meretz leader Tamar Zandberg says the reported coalition agreement pushed by Netanyahu is a “clear violation of the law. A bribery agreement in broad daylight.” She threatens to take the matter to the High Court of Justice.

Rivlin grants Netanyahu 14 more days to form government

As expected, President Reuven Rivlin accepts Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for a two-week extension in forming the next government.

“After you presented the need for additional time to complete forming a government, and according to clause 8 of Basic Law: The Government, I hereby extend the time allocated to form a government by 14 days,” Rivlin tells Netanyahu, according to a statement by his office.

Netanyahu will now have until May 29 to form the government, with no further extension permitted by law.

UN envoy to Mideast warns of war between Israel, Hamas

The UN envoy to the Mideast says it’s the “last chance” to prevent an all-out conflict between Israel and Gaza terror groups.

Nikolay Mladenov says the “risk of war remains imminent,” a week after a ceasefire between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers ended the worst fighting since a 2014 war.

The spate of violence killed four Israeli civilians and 25 Palestinians, including at least 10 terror group members.

Mladenov, inaugurating a solar power plant for a Gaza hospital, says parties must “consolidate the understandings” of the ceasefire.

The deal, mediated by Egypt, Qatar and the UN, promises to let in fuel and humanitarian aid and ease the movement of people from the blockaded territory.

A Qatari cash infusion, meant for thousands of needy families as part of the ceasefire understandings, arrived today.

— Agencies

Palestinian-born activist in Norway details his Saudi-related work before threat

An Palestinian-born activist living in Norway says he’s been given protection by two Norwegian entities after the CIA informed officials of an unspecified threat against him.

Iyad el-Baghdadi in 2016. (Screenshot: YouTube)

Iyad el-Baghdadi, an outspoken commentator on Arab affairs on Twitter, tells reporters in Norway about Saudi-related projects he’d been working on that might have made him a target of Saudi Arabia.

He says he worked without pay or contract with a team of investigators hired by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos looking into a blackmail case against the US billionaire, who also owns The Washington Post.

El-Baghdadi says he’s also helming a project to document Saudi attempts to influence Arabic political commentary on Twitter. The project was originally spearheaded by Jamal Khashoggi before he was slain by Saudi agents last year.

— AP

Liberman says ‘significant gaps’ with Likud, threatens again to go to opposition

Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman says there are “significant gaps” with Likud in coalition negotiations, mainly on security-related issues, but adds that Netanyahu’s party has agreed to pass a law within six months making the death penalty for terror convicts possible.

He also says Likud has agreed to give the party the defense and immigrant absorption portfolios.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on April 30, 2019. (Noam Revkin Fenton/Flash90)

Liberman criticizes last week’s ceasefire with Gaza terror groups after a two-day flareup, saying he can be a partner for “defeating” Hamas but not “reaching agreements” with it.

He says he won’t agree to be defense minister if Netanyahu will be able to override him every time he wants to dismantle the West Bank Palestinian hamlet Khan al-Ahmar, which European countries have warned Israel not to destroy.

Regarding his dispute with the ultra-Orthodox parties over a law regulating how many Haredi seminary are drafted to the army and how, Liberman repeats his stance that he won’t agree to any change in the current bill that has passed its first reading in the Knesset. Ultra-Orthodox parties have said they won’t join the coalition if the bill isn’t changed.

He threatens to go to the opposition if his demands aren’t met — a move that would deprive Netanyahu of the 61-seat majority needed to form a government.

Syrian troops capture 2 villages in last rebel stronghold

Syrian pro-government media say their troops have captured two villages and a nearby hill in the last rebel stronghold in the country’s northwest — Idlib province.

The development is part of the latest push by government forces against the enclave that was launched last month. So far, dozens have been killed and more than 150,000 have been displaced.

The pro-government Syrian Central Military Media says government forces today captured the villages of Hawash and Jabrieh and Hawash hill on the southern edges of Idlib.

The area is near the strategic village of Kfar Nabuda that Syrian troops entered last week. Opposition activists reported government airstrikes and shelling of different areas in Idlib.

Much of Idlib is controlled by the al-Qaeda-linked Hayat Tahrir al-Sham insurgent group.

— AP

Pompeo skips Moscow to meet with European officials on Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has changed the schedule for his latest trip to Europe, substituting a stop in Brussels for one in Moscow to discuss Iran and other issues with European officials.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a press conference at the US Department of State in Washington, DC, on April 22, 2019. (AFP/Andrew Caballero-Reynolds)

State Department spokesman Morgan Ortagus says Pompeo, who departed last night, is still expected to meet tomorrow in Sochi with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

The visit to Sochi will be Pompeo’s first to Russia as secretary of state.

Twice last week Pompeo changed his travel schedule at the last minute, also citing matters dealing with Iran. He canceled a stop in Berlin to fly to Iraq, then canceled a stop in Greenland to fly home from London.

— AP

China says it will impose tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods from June 1

China says it will impose tariffs on $60 billion worth of US goods from June 1, after Washington announced plans to tax almost all Chinese imports to the United States.

Beijing will impose tariffs ranging from 5 percent to 25 percent on a number of American goods, according to a statement by the Tariff Policy Commission of the State Council — China’s cabinet.

The latest round of trade negotiations between the world’s top two economies ended Friday without a deal, with US President Donald Trump increasing tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods to 25 percent and ordering the start of a process to impose new duties on another $300 billion worth of items.


Temple Mount activists angry as police say site closed to Jews on Jerusalem Day

Temple Mount activists express outrage after the Israel Police confirms the Jerusalem Old City holy site will be closed to Jews on Jerusalem Day, the anniversary of Israel taking control over the compound during the Six Day War in 1967, for the first time in 30 years.

An aeriel photograph of the Temple Mount, part of ‘The Mount’ exhibit at the Tower of David Museum (Courtesy Gali Tibbon)

The contested site — the holiest to Jews and third-holiest to Muslims, who refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary or the Al-Aqsa Mosque Compound — is closed to non-Muslims on the last few days of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. That coincides this year with Jerusalem Day, which will be marked on June 1.

Police’s Jerusalem district says the site will be closed to Jews and tourists “for reasons of public safety and public order.”

The right-wing Students for the Temple Mount group says “we won’t stand idly by any more in the face of discrimination against Jews at their holy site, definitely not on the day of this precious site’s liberation.”

The group calls on politicians “dedicated to values of democracy, freedom of worship and freedom of access” to come to Jerusalem and demand access to the Temple Mount, a flashpoint that has been the reason cited for many Palestinian terror attacks.

Jews are allowed to access the site for short visits at certain hours during weekdays, but are closely monitored to prevent them from praying or publicly displaying Jewish or Israeli symbols.

Last year, more than 2,000 Jews visited the site on Jerusalem Day.

Iranian students protest mandatory headscarf rule

Iran’s semi-official ISNA news agency says university students have held a campus protest against authorities’ increasing pressure on women to wear mandatory headscarves in public.

The report says the students — both men and women — briefly scuffled with another group of Tehran University students who support the country’s conservative dress code.

The headscarf, or hijab, is required in public for all women in Iran. Those who violate the rules are usually sentenced to two months in prison or less and fined around $25.

ISNA reported in May that a prominent human rights lawyer, Nasrin Sotoudeh, was sentenced to seven years in prison after defending anti-hijab protesters.

Iranian authorities have adopted a tougher approach toward such protests since 2017, after dozens of women publicly took off their headscarves.

— AP

Turkish electoral body rejects opposition demand in Istanbul

Turkey’s electoral board has rejected a demand by opposition parties to annul local election results in Istanbul’s 39 districts, following the board’s decision to strip the opposition of its victory in the mayoral race.

The Supreme Electoral Board also turns down the opposition’s request to annul the results of last year’s presidential and parliamentary elections, which further solidified President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s grip on power.

The board ruled in favor of Erdogan’s party last week, ordering a re-run of the mayoral race on June 23, saying some officials overseeing the election weren’t civil servants as required by law.

The opposition had argued that the board’s decision on ballot box committees should apply to all results in Istanbul, where Erdogan’s party won a majority of districts.

— AP

Left-wing army veterans’ group under fire for Eurovision billboard

Israeli dovish group Breaking the Silence has come under fire for using this year’s Eurovision Song Contest in Tel Aviv to offer foreign visitors tours a chance to see “the reality” of military rule over Palestinians in the West Bank.

The billboard put up yesterday along Tel Aviv’s busiest main road says in English “Dare to Dream of Freedom,” a play on the 2019 Eurovision slogan “Dare to Dream.” It came just a day before the popular annual songfest kicks off in Israel.

Behind the slogan, the billboard shows a picture of Tel Aviv’s Mediterranean beachfront alongside a view of Israel’s West Bank security fence with a military watchtower.

It also invites visitors to “See the Full Picture” with daily free tours to Hebron in the West Bank, starting tomorrow.

Breaking the Silence, which Israel’s right wing has accused of treason, collects and publishes testimony from current and former Israeli soldiers of abuses they say they carried out or witnessed during their service in the West Bank.

The initiative has outraged Israeli political leaders and the local media.

“The despicable hate organization Breaking the Silence again finds time to spread lies against the state of Israel,” Public Security Minster Gilad Erdan tweeted.

A counteroffensive came from Los Angeles-based Israel advocacy group StandWithUs, which is set to put up its own billboard on May 15. It shows pictures of doves, the beach, small children and a Jew and Palestinian walking arm-in-arm, according to the group’s website.

It too offers free tours “to see our open society and how Israel is a beacon of light to the world.” Its itinerary covers the mixed Arab-Jewish city of Haifa in northern Israel, settlements in the West Bank, and the flashpoint Israel-Gaza border.

— with AFP

IDF says terrorists freed in Shalit deal have since killed at least 10 people

The Israeli military says at least ten people have been killed over the last eight years by Palestinian terror convicts who were released as part of the 2011 deal that saw more than a thousand security prisoners walk free in exchange for IDF soldier Gilad Shalit who had been in Hamas captivity since 2006.

The IDF Spokesperson’s Unit releases the details in a response to a freedom of information request by right-wing organization Betzalmo.

According to the data, some 100 of the released terrorists have been rearrested after committing security-related offenses.

US measles cases still climbing, topping 800 for year

US health officials say this year’s count of measles cases has surpassed 800, a growing tally that is already the nation’s highest in 25 years.

A total of 839 cases were reported as of last week, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That’s the most since 1994, when 963 were reported for the entire year.

In all, 23 US states have reported cases this year. The vast majority of illnesses have been in New York — most of them among unvaccinated people in Orthodox Jewish communities.

That pattern continued last week, with most of the 75 new cases coming from New York.

Measles was once common in the US but gradually became rare after a vaccination campaigns that started in the 1960s.

— AP

In tweet, Trump condemns Tlaib’s ‘horrible’ remarks on Holocaust

US President Donald Trump condemns Democratic Rep. Rashida Tlaib for saying her Palestinian ancestors created a “safe haven for Jews” after the Holocaust, in remarks that have been widely criticized as historical revisionism.

In maiden Knesset speech, Gantz charges Netanyahu doesn’t care about rule of law

In a relatively tame maiden Knesset plenum speech, Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz says after fighting against Israel’s enemies as IDF chief, “I come today to battle against the new threat we face: a threat to the functioning of the democratic system and its legal and constitutional institutions.”

That is a reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s reported plans to promote a bill that would allow the government to overrule the High Court of Justice on administrative matters. If passed, the bill could safeguard the prime minister’s immunity from prosecution by permitting the annulment of any judicial decision that could rescind it.

“Every day we are losing a part of the Israel we knew, and getting farther away from the exemplary society we wanted to be,” Gantz tells the parliament members. “The number of suspicions attempted to be repressed with political agreements is evidence that the rule of law doesn’t at all interest the leader of the former government and the likely next government.

“Israel deserves more than a part-time prime minister and leadership that wants to be above the law.”

Sudan’s Bashir charged over killing of protesters

Sudan’s ousted president Omar al-Bashir has been charged over the killings of protesters during the anti-regime demonstrations that led to the end of his rule, the prosecutor general announces.

“Omar al-Bashir and others have been charged for inciting and participating in the killing of demonstrators,” the office of Sudan’s acting prosecutor general says.


PLO official Hanan Ashrawi says she has been denied US visa

Veteran Palestinian Liberation Organization member Hanan Ashrawi posts a series of tweets saying US authorities have refused her request for a visa, charging it is for political reasons.

Netanyahu slams ‘distorted’ reports on his planned judicial reforms

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu dismisses as “false” media reports about his alleged plans to severely hinder the Supreme Court’s oversight of Knesset legislation and government decisions, and promote a law shielding the premier from prosecution.

“My policy has always been to keep the court independent and strong, but that doesn’t mean an omnipotent court,” Netanyahu tweets.

“The media is publishing tendentious leaks and distorted analyses that include proposals that are false,” he says. “All this is done to sow fear and prevent any change, aiming to hinder the return of the necessary balance between state branches in Israel.

“That balance is needed to pass laws that in the past were blocked or hindered in the past,” he adds. “These are laws the public expects us to pass: deportation of terrorists’ families, death penalty for terrorists and a law to expel infiltrators.”

The last law is a reference to African asylum-seekers, tens of thousands of whom are currently in Israel and whom right-wing activists and politicians are seeking to deport.

Netanyahu lawyers may resign within days if no solution to payment dispute — TV

Some or all of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s legal team may resign in the coming days or weeks if no solution is found for a dispute with the premier over their payment, Israel TV channels report.

Both Channel 13 and public broadcaster Kan report the possible move.

The attorneys have failed to pick up or accept the legal documents, for more than a month, in the pre-indictment hearing in three corruption cases against the premier, in one of which he is accused of bribery.

If PM skips hearing charges will be filed the next day, official said to warn

Channel 13 quotes an unnamed source in the State Prosecutor’s Office as warning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that if he or his lawyers do not pick up the legal document for his pre-indictment hearing by May 20, a date will be set for the hearing that will not be changed.

“If he wants — he’ll take the material. If he doesn’t — he won’t. That’s his problem,” the source says. “If he doesn’t show up for the hearing, we will file an indictment a day later.”

The official blasts Netanyahu’s behavior as “odd and embarrassing,” adding that he’s “making a mockery of the system.”

Tel Aviv University condemns Nakba Day posters attached to Holocaust memorial

Tel Aviv University condemns a poster advertising Nakba Day events that was put up today on the university’s memorial for Holocaust victims, saying it views the act as “very grave” and that the poster was removed immediately when discovered.

The poster — advertising May 14-15 events marking the Palestinian “catastrophe” of the creation of Israel in 1948 — drew outrage from right-wing group Im Tirtzu earlier in the day, when it was discovered on the memorial for Jews killed in the Nazi genocide during World War II.

Montana Gov. Bullock joins 2020 Democratic presidential race

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock announces he is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, distinguishing himself among nearly two dozen candidates as the field’s only statewide elected official to win a state that President Donald Trump carried in 2016.

The 53-year-old governor is running as a centrist Democrat who has advanced party values while navigating a Republican legislature and a GOP-leaning electorate.

“What we need to do is get the country back on track, make sure everybody has a fair shot at success,” he tells The Associated Press in an interview before launching his campaign via online video. “I’ve been able to get meaningful things done that impact the people of my state. I believe they’ll be a strong reception for that.”

— AP

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