The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.
Netanyahu hands Ben Gvir NIS 250m from budget surplus, removing last budget hurdle
After a meeting that lasted over three hours, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reaches an agreement with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir that removes the final major hurdle before approving the crucial 2023-2024 state budget.
The budget must be passed in the next seven days or the government will automatically fall, with snap elections called. Ben Gvir said he would not back the budget if his demand for an extra hundreds of millions of shekels for the Negev and Galilee Ministry, held by Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party, was not met. However, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich reportedly threatened to quit if the overall budget is expanded even by another shekel.
According to the deal reached tonight, the Negev and Galilee Ministry will get an additional NIS 250 million ($68.3 million) next year from budget surpluses at the end of 2023, if there are any.
If there are insufficient surpluses, the budget for all other ministries will be retroactively cut to hand the ministry the necessary amount for 2024.
All Otzma Yehudit members will support the state budget, the deal stipulates.
Meeting for 3 hours, Netanyahu, Ben Gvir yet to agree on solution for budget crisis
Hebrew media reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been sitting down with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir at the Prime Minister’s Office for more than three hours, without achieving a solution for the latter’s demand for an extra hundreds of millions of shekels for the Negev and Galilee Ministry, held by Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party.
The dispute is the last major hurdle remaining before the approval of the 2023-2024 state budget, which must be passed in the next seven days or the government will automatically fall, with snap elections called. Ben Gvir says he will not back the budget if his demand is not met. However, Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich has reportedly threatened to quit if the budget is expanded even by another shekel.
Netanyahu, who reportedly supports Smotrich’s stance, has suggested taking the money from Ben Gvir’s own ministry, and the latter has rejected this, the reports say.
The Kan public broadcaster says there is a disagreement within Otzma Yehudit, where some members oppose supporting the budget if less than NIS 700-800 million is added to the party’s ministry.
Baby in serious condition after drinking kerosene in Beit Shemesh
A one-year-old baby is in serious condition after drinking kerosene, Jerusalem’s Hadassah Ein Kerem hospital says.
The hospital says the baby is sedated and intubated.
The Magen David Adom ambulance service earlier took the infant to the hospital from his home in Beit Shemesh.
Israeli study reveals potential future method for reducing symptoms of autism
Researchers from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem publish a first-of-its-kind study revealing a potential future method for reducing the symptoms of autism among those diagnosed with the common developmental disorder.
Dr. Haitham Amal and his team from the School of Pharmacy in the Faculty of Medicine have discovered a direct connection between levels of nitric oxide (NO) in the brain and autism, the university says in a statement.
The study, conducted on mice and published today in the peer-reviewed Advanced Science journal, demonstrates that autism indicators increases as NO increases in the brain, and that autism indicators and behavior decrease as the levels of NO in the brains of murine models of autism are lowered “in a proactive and controlled manner.”
“Our research showed – in an extraordinary way – that inhibiting the production of NO, specifically in brain neuron cells in mouse models of autism, causes a decrease in autism-like symptoms,” says Dr. Amal. “By inhibiting the production of NO on laboratory animals, they became more ‘social’ and less repetitiveness was observed in their behavior. Additionally, the animals showed interest in new objects and were less anxious. Finally, the decrease in NO levels led to a significant improvement in neuronal indices.”
The study results are also based on tests conducted using human stem cells and clinical blood samples from children with low-functioning autism, the statement says.
“This research is a significant breakthrough in autism research, with the first direct connection made between an increase in the concentration of NO in the brain and autistic behavior,” says Amal. “This discovery can have implications on the relationship of NO with other neurological diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, or psychiatric diseases, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
“I am hopeful that with our new understanding of the NO mechanism, we can begin to develop therapeutic drugs and help millions of children and adults living with autism around the world.”
IDF intel chief: Nasrallah close to ‘mistake that could plunge region into big war’
The Israel Defense Forces Military Intelligence Directorate chief says that the head of the Hezbollah terror group is “close to making a mistake that could plunge the region into a big war.”
Speaking at at a conference hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Reichman University in Herzliya, Aharon Haliva says that “the chances of an escalation that could deteriorate into war is not low,” and that, as far as Hassan Nasrallah is concerned, the flareup of recent weeks on the Israel-Lebanon border may not be over.
The remarks come a day after Hezbollah invited media outlets to cover a major drill simulating war with the Jewish state.
In his remarks, Haliva says the way to deal with this threat is “measured, calculated appliance of force, while strengthening alliances in the region.”
Haliva also says Iran is “a real threat to Israel” and that “the confrontation has become direct.”
He estimates that Iran has not made a decision to make nuclear weapons, “but there is preparation for the day in which the supreme leader or his successor makes such a decision.”
Iran converting merchant ships into ‘floating terror bases,’ defense minister reveals
Iran is converting merchant ships to military vessels armed with drones, missile systems and advanced tools for intelligence gathering, Defense Minister Yoav Gallant reveals at the Herzliya Conference.
Gallant argues that the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps are trying to build “floating terror bases.”
This is a “worrying, pirate-like policy,” he says at a conference hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Reichman University in Herzliya.
“Iran is conducting itself like a collection of criminal organizations and not like a modern state,” he adds. “The floating terror bases are an extension of Iran’s ongoing maritime terrorism, as seen in its actions in the Persian Gulf and Arabian Sea. Iran aims to expand its reach to the Indian Ocean, the Red Sea and even the shores of the Mediterranean.
“This is a structured plan designed to threaten trade and flight routes – both military and civilian – and to create a permanent threat in the maritime arena,” Gallant charges.
“The way to confront Iranian terrorism in the air, at sea, and on land is through international cooperation and the creation of coalitions.”
‘Lack of trust’: Economy Minister Barkat asks Competition Authority chief to quit
Economy Minister Nir Barkat asks the director of the Israel Competition Authority in his ministry, Michal Cohen, to quit, citing “deep lack of trust,” Hebrew media reports.
Barkat reportedly says the lack of trust has caused “a lack of ability to continue working like this, when the professional differences are many and the Authority head refuses to adopt and implement the minister’s policy.”
Even though it belongs to the Economy Ministry, the Competition Authority is independent and is not subordinate to the minister.
Health Ministry summons top Assuta officials, weighs closing its IVF department
The Health Ministry summons senior officials at Assuta Medical Center for a hearing, saying in a statement that following a series of mix-ups, it is considering shuttering the in vitro fertilization (IVF) department at Assuta’s branch in Tel Aviv’s Ramat HaHayal neighborhood.
The news comes after a case published in recent days in which a child born through in vitro fertility treatment in 2018 is suspected to not be genetically linked to his father.
The Health Ministry says the summons has also been prompted by an incident in which 13 fertilized eggs dried up. The ministry says neither incident was reported to authorities in a timely manner.
“These events and their close proximity, as well as the fact that they weren’t reported to the Health Ministry, raise concerns of harm to the public’s health,” the ministry says. “Therefore, the option of ordering the full or partial closure of the department is being considered.”
The ministry has also appointed a committee that will examine the series of incidents and the circumstances that led to the errors, as well as the hospital department’s general rules and practices.
Last September, a woman discovered that her embryo had been mixed up at the hospital’s Rishon Lezion branch. She and her husband waged a months-long legal battle to keep the baby, Sophia, who was born in October.
Report: Netanyahu speaking with MBS about Israel-Saudi flights; Riyadh demands major concessions
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Foreign Minister Eli Cohen have over the past 24 hours spoken on the phone with Saudi Crown Price Mohamed bin Salman (MBS) as part of “very complex” negotiations on launching direct flights between Israel and Jeddah next month for the Hajj annual Muslim pilgrimage, Channel 12 news reports.
MBS is holding the talks from Bahrain, with the mediation of that country’s foreign minister, Abdullatif al-Zayani, even though Israel prefers the United States as mediator, the report says, citing Saudi and Israeli sources.
Israel is under pressure from US President Joe Biden’s administration to agree to make significant concessions to the Palestinians in return, the report says.
These steps would include handing certain powers in the West Bank from the Israeli military to the Palestinian Authority forces, and giving the PA forces security-related authority in the Temple Mount and the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem’s Old City — far-reaching steps that are highly unlikely to be approved by Israel’s hard-right government.
Netanyahu to soon get invitation to Washington, claims Likud minister
Intelligence Minister Gila Gamliel says that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will receive an invitation by US President Joe Biden’s administration to Washington in the near future.
Speaking at the Herzliya Conference, the Likud member says that during her trip to Washington earlier this month, she received an unequivocal indication that the invite will be forthcoming.
Netanyahu, Ben Gvir said set to meet today over budget ultimatum
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet this evening with National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir, Hebrew media reports.
The two are expected to discuss the demand by Ben Gvir’s Otzma Yehudit party for more funds for his party’s Negev and Galilee Ministry. Ben Gvir has threatened repeatedly not to support the crucial state budget if this demand isn’t met.
The government will automatically collapse and snap elections will be triggered if the budget doesn’t pass in the next seven days.
Fire rages near Kibbutz Kalia near Dead Sea, 2 beaches evacuated
A fire is raging in groves near Kibbutz Kalia near the Dead Sea in the West Bank, causing a portion of Route 90 — Israel’s main north-south highway — to be closed to traffic.
The blaze — which has now renewed after a fire overnight that was suspected as arson by Palestinians — is expanding toward Neve Midbar Beach and the nearby Biankini Beach, which have both been evacuated.
Many firefighting teams are on their way, according to the Israel Fire and Rescue Service.
שריפה מכיון קליה לנווה מדבר🔥
שמונה מטוסי כיבוי פועלים במקום ומבצעים הטלות של חומר מעכב בערה. pic.twitter.com/ZA5cPstGXv
— 🌏News (@kisis_007) May 22, 2023
Second Negev Summit likely to be held in Morocco in late June — Israeli diplomat
The second Negev Summit is likely to take place in Morocco at the end of June, an Israeli diplomatic official tells The Times of Israel, adding that nothing has been finalized.
Countries that were not at the 2022 summit will also be invited, says the official.
The capital city of Rabat is a possible venue.
The name of the confab is also up in the air. The Foreign Ministry is weighing names that would reflect a broader regional focus than Israel.
FM Cohen set to visit Hungary during European tour next week
Foreign Minister Eli Cohen will be heading to Europe next week, stopping in Hungary, Austria, Croatia and Slovakia.
Though the details remain up in the air, there is a possibility that he will meet with Hungary’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban. He will meet his Hungarian counterpart Peter Szijjarto.
Orban’s right-wing government has warm ties with Israel’s right and has supported the current government’s bid to overhaul the justice system, which resembles steps Budapest took several years ago.
Cohen will also participate in the a meeting of the Austerlitz format, a regional forum of Austria, Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
Madonna said set to visit Israel this weekend for Shavuot, but won’t perform
Singer Madonna is set to visit Israel this weekend for the Jewish festival of Shavuot, though she will not perform during the private trip, according to Hebrew media.
The singer, who unofficially added “Esther” to her name in 2005 and marks some Jewish festivals though she isn’t Jewish, will visit graves of rabbis affiliated with Jewish mystic movement Kabbalah — those of 16th century rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi (known in Hebrew as Ha’ARI Hakadosh), and Madonna’s former spiritual leader, Rabbi Philip S. Berg.
Bank of Israel raises interest rate for 10th straight time, to 4.75%
The Bank of Israel raises its benchmark interest rate for a tenth consecutive meeting, lifting borrowing costs by 0.25 percentage points to 4.75% as it struggles to tamp down inflation growth in recent months.
“Economic activity in Israel is at a high level, and is accompanied by a tight labor market, although there is some moderation in a number of indicators. Inflation is broad and remains high,” the central bank says in a statement citing the reasons for the rate hike. “The tighter monetary policy and moderation of activity abroad are expected to lead to a slowing in the pace of inflation alongside some slowdown of economic activity in Israel.”
The central bank’s move comes after the consumer price index (CPI) for April, a measure of inflation that tracks the average cost of household goods, rose at almost double the rate than was forecast. The April CPI increased by 0.8% — above analysts’ expectations of 0.4% to 0.5% — taking annual inflation over the past 12 months to 5%, according to data released by the Central Bureau of Statistics on May 15. The April CPI monthly reading is the highest since July 2022.
Over the past year, the Bank of Israel has steadily raised its benchmark interest rate from a record low of 0.1%. Despite the moves, inflation has been hovering above 5% in annual terms for more than six months, exceeding the government’s target range of 1% to 3%.
Following April’s high inflation figure, economists at Bank Leumi, Bank Hapoalim and Psagot Investment house strengthened their expectations for borrowing costs to go up to 4.75%. Earlier this month, the US Federal Reserve lifted interest rates by 0.25 percentage points to a benchmark rate of between 5% and 5.25%, up from near zero in March 2022.
Israel raps reported planned switch in White House antisemitism strategy
A senior Foreign Ministry official has retweeted a post by World Jewish Congress president Ron Lauder in which he came out against a reported plan by US President Joe Biden’s administration to recognize a definition for antisemitism backed by progressives — in addition to the primary International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA) working definition — as part of the White House strategy, slated to be released this week.
“The international Jewish community would be gravely disappointed if the IHRA definition were not exclusively included in any action plan and would see it as not representative of their experiences and the true manifestations of modern antisemitism,” Lauder writes in the post, retweeted by Foreign Ministry deputy director for public diplomacy Emmanuel Nahshon.
The IHRA definition of antisemitism is the definition preferred by mainstream Jewish groups as well as the Israeli government. But US progressives argue that Israel has used the definition’s accompanying examples to brand large amounts of legitimate criticism of the Jewish state as antisemitic.
Last Friday, Jewish Insider reported that the latest draft of the White House antisemitism strategy highlights the IHRA definition while also referencing the alternative Nexus definition.
The Nexus definition was crafted by academic scholars in response to the IHRA definition, pushing back on the latter’s assertion that it is inherently antisemitic to apply double standards to Israel.
“Paying disproportionate attention to Israel and treating Israel differently than other countries is not prima facie proof of antisemitism,” the Nexus definition states, adding that “there are numerous reasons for devoting special attention to Israel and treating Israel differently.”
IDF set to focus on Iran, become ‘AI powerhouse,’ says Defense Ministry chief
Defense Ministry Director-General Eyal Zamir hints that the primary focus of Israel’s military development plans in the coming years is Iran, announcing that the ministry is embarking on the “Depth Multi-year Plan.”
A multi-year plan is the guiding framework for investment and procurement, and reflects the primary threats Israel expects to face in the coming years.
The Depth plan refers to the “range of operations,” explains Zamir at the Herzliya Conference, a not-so-subtle reference to Iran.
The plan is designed “to widen, broaden and deepen our capabilities regarding the ranges of what is called ‘the third circle,'” says Zamir, a former IDF deputy chief of staff.
The “third circle” refers to the most distant of the direct threats facing Israel, the first circle being small terror groups within Israel and on the country’s borders, like Hamas; the second being larger threats, like the Syrian army and Hezbollah; and the third being countries that do not share a border with Israel, like Iran and Iraq.
A focus on the third circle points to a heavier investment in the Air Force and intelligence.
Named multi-year plans are used by the IDF, not the Defense Ministry, and it may be an indication that the ministry intends to play a more active role in determining the direction of IDF force design. Zamir says that the Defense Ministry and IDF multi-year plans that begin this year are fully coordinated.
Artificial intelligence will be major part of this investment, Zamir says.
“Our mission is to transform Israel into an AI powerhouse, similar to our role in cybertech,” he says. “Israel is a cyberpower.”
“Some define AI as the next revolution on the battlefield. AI technologies will create many additional capabilities including the operation of platforms in groups and swarms and independently operated combat systems,” he continues, explaining the relevance to the IDF ground forces, which have taken a back seat in Israeli operations in recent decades. “These technologies will integrate into the battlefield and provide an advantage to those who know how to develop them and use them operationally.”
“We are working to establish a dedicated organization focused on AI and robotics. Both are related to each other, and together they are key to solving the emerging challenges around us.”
US envoy says peaceful struggle over overhaul shows Israeli democracy is ‘working’
In a change of tone from previous statements from some senior White House officials, US Ambassador Tom Nides says that the public struggle over the government’s judicial overhaul plan is a testament to the strength of Israeli democracy.
“Think about this for a minute,” he says at the Herzliya Conference. “Every weekend for 20 weeks, between 150,000 and 250,000 Israelis have gone to the streets. And guess what’s happened? Virtually no one’s been arrested. There’s been no damage of property. God knows no one’s been killed. That’s a democracy, and some would say it’s actually working, really working.”
“I think it is a remarkable testament to this place,” he says in a conversation with retired Israeli general Amos Yadlin.
“Israel is going through a complicated period,” Nides continues. “But make no mistake, Israel is a thriving democracy with people that care deeply about the future of the country, and that’s something we should all be proud of.”
“This alliance is very healthy,” says Nides, who is stepping down from his position in six weeks. “This relationship is unbreakable, it’s worthy of both the United States and Israel, and we continue to expand it and grow it every day.”
Turning to the Iran threat, Nides says that the bilateral “coordination and conversation around Iran are completely without any lack of transparency.”
“There isn’t a day that goes by, and arguably not an hour that goes by, that we’re not talking to Israel about what they believe,” he says.
Nides also offers rare praise for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who has repeatedly blasted the 2015 nuclear agreement that continues to be a priority for US President Joe Biden’s administration.
“He’s been consistent for almost twenty years on the issue of Iran,” says Nides.
Cornerstone laid for new main IDF induction center near Ramle, to open in 2027
The Defense Ministry says a cornerstone was laid today for a new main IDF induction center near the city of Ramle, which will replace the current one at the Tel HaShomer base in Ramat Gan.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Ramle Mayor Michael Vidal and other senior defense officials participated in the ceremony. The new base, dubbed Ofek Rachav (Wide Horizon), was estimated last year to be ready to open in 2027, though that could change.
The move is meant to free up land in the high-demand area of Tel HaShomer, and to strengthen the poorer area of Ramle, southeast of Tel Aviv.
The new, 360-dunam (89-acre) base is where new IDF recruits will be inducted and sent to basic training, and will house the headquarters of many military divisions and departments, a medical center, shopping and sports centers and parking lots. It is planned to house some 9,000 service people and receive 5,000 visitors every day, according to the ministry.
Bus crashes into wall in Haifa; 12 injured
Twelve people are injured after a bus loses control and collides with a wall on Hahagana Avenue in Haifa, according to the Magen David Adom ambulance service.
Two of the injured — the driver and a female passenger — are moderately injured, and the rest are lightly hurt, MDA says. They are all taken to hospitals in the area.
תיעוד דרמטי מחיפה: האוטובוס סטה בגלל רכב אחר, ריסק עמודי תאורה ונסע עשרות מטרים על המדרכה pic.twitter.com/DwUvERIwPm
— ynet עדכוני (@ynetalerts) May 22, 2023
Navy saves 6 Israelis from sinking boat
The Israeli Navy has rescued six Israelis from a sinking vessel off the coast, the Israel Defense Forces announces.
The statement says the boat was around 50 kilometers (approximately 30 miles) from Israel’s coast when it sent out a distress signal.
No further details are given.
Liberman says he’ll petition against ‘illegal’ Likud-UTJ budget agreement
Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman says his opposition party will petition the Knesset’s legal counsel to contest the coalition’s latest state budget deal, which enables handing over budget surpluses to Haredi party priorities.
“It’s blatantly illegal,” the former finance minister charges, speaking at the outset of his faction meeting at the Knesset.
Hours after the Knesset began plenum discussions on the budget earlier today, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich quelled a rebellion on part of some ultra-Orthodox politicians by promising they can use existing budgetary allocations to pay out a retroactive stipend to yeshiva students, as well as using Haredi school budgetary surpluses to further pump up assistance to religious scholars.
Liberman, who over the past few years has been fiercely critical of the ultra-Orthodox community’s under-participation in the workforce and the military, slams the budget for providing “negative incentives” to join or prepare for the workforce.
The budget in general, he says, is “a giant black mark that pollutes all of the professional economic decision-making in Israel.”
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