The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they happened.
Several opposition lawmakers are ejected from the Knesset plenum as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu presents the two-year state budget.
Cries of “dictator” ring out in the parliament as Netanyahu taunts the opposition.
“I recently heard from members of the opposition that we will not be able to pass a budget, and not for the first time your predictions were wrong. There is a budget,” he says.
Despite the tensions, the budget is expected to pass without difficulties as Netanyahu secures agreements with his 64-member coalition.
Opposition Leader Yair Lapid slams the state budget as “reckless” and setting up the next generation to be “poorer than their parents,” shortly before the coalition is set to begin voting to approve the two-year, trillion shekel plan.
“This budget is reckless, it’s a disaster for the Israeli economy and for Israeli society, and it violates the social contract with the State of Israel that we, our children, and our children’s children will pay for,” Lapid says in remarks at the Knesset.
The opposition leader has routinely attacked the government’s allocation of NIS 13.7 billion in discretionary funding, largely to sectoral interests. Among them is NIS 4.9 billion in funding to yeshiva students and religious schools, whose studies often do not enable them to succeed in the workforce.
“Think about what could have been possible with that money, instead of condemning a full generation to poverty. What they’re doing now says not just Haredi children will be condemned to poverty, also our children, this will be the first generation in Israeli history where children will be poorer than their parents,” Lapid says.
“They won’t be able to support themselves, someone will have to support them,” the Yesh Atid party leader, who has long been critical of ultra-Orthodox under-participation in the workforce and military, adds.
Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Ziyad al-Nakhalah says that Israel managed to kill several top commanders in the terror group because they became “complacent” and carried their cell phones with them.
“Our brothers failed in assessing the situation and the abilities of the enemy to track their communication devices. All our brothers who were martyred had cellular telephones,” al-Nakhalah says in an interview with a Palestinian-American newspaper.
Israeli killed 18 Islamic Jihad operatives, including 6 top leaders, in a series of strikes during the recent “Shield and Arrow” operation in response to the terror group launching hundreds of rockets at Israel.
Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich says that the budget survived “enormous pressure from interested parties, irresponsible strikes and media campaigns,” but the government “did not capitulate.”
Specifically, he hails the government’s controversial plan to transfer a portion of municipal taxes from more economically active cities to less commercial ones.
This so-called Arnona Fund kicked off multi-day strikes across major municipalities, including Tel Aviv and Haifa.
The finance minister also says the budget will “provide stability and certainty to the economy,” at a time when Israel is facing a potential credit rating downgrade and reduced tax revenue, as a result of the government’s ambition to curtail judicial checks on its power.
Despite reduced state income, the budget is packed with bonuses for coalition party interests, and on Monday, Smotrich and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised half a billion shekels in budget surpluses to additional sectoral interests, in order to shore up the 61 votes necessary to pass the financial plan.
“We proved in the budget that we do not capitulate and do not surrender,” the finance minister says, sitting alongside Netanyahu.
Police say elite officers arrested a wanted Palestinian man on the outskirts of Ramallah earlier today.
According to police, the man is suspected of weapons sales.
Officers of Unit 33, also known as Gideonim, detain the man at a car showroom.
The unit is part of the police’s Lahav 433 serious crimes department.
The suspect is handed over to the Shin Bet security agency for further questioning.
Police publish footage of Gideonim (Unit 33) officers arresting a wanted Palestinian man, suspected of weapon sales, on the outskirts of Ramallah today. He has been handed over to the Shin Bet for further questioning. pic.twitter.com/uazwpB8SSi
— Emanuel (Mannie) Fabian (@manniefabian) May 23, 2023
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanks his coalition partners for their “unity, and in the end, on the friendship,” in coming together to pass the 2023-2024 state budget, which is expected to sail through its final two votes in the Knesset this evening.
“I think our ability to do this comes from our collaboration between friends,” Netanyahu stresses, calling out his five fellow party heads by name despite days of wrangling over the budget.
On Monday, Netanyahu finally secured the 61 votes necessary to pass the budget, after promising to transfer budget surpluses to priorities for United Torah Judaism and Otzma Yehudit, after their party heads threatened to boycott the budget vote without more funding.
MK Avi Maoz, the Noam party’s sole lawmaker, has similarly threatened to not vote for the budget if his Jewish national identity office is not funded to the tune of hundreds of millions of shekels.
Once the budget hurdle is cleared, Netanyahu’s government will have an 18-month runway before again facing a deadline to pass a state budget, or risk triggering snap elections.
Plagued by infighting predating the budget, the coalition can still voluntarily pull itself apart. “This government will last all four of its years,” the premier vows in remarks directed to opposition politicians.
Amid reports that the US is mediating a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, Channel 12 reports on apparent Saudi and US demands for the deal to go ahead.
The report says that Saudi Arabia is demanding the Biden administration unfreeze several major arms deals, a military alliance with the US and a full nuclear program.
Riyadh is also demanding that Israel begin a peace process with the Palestinians that will lead to a two-state solution, the report says.
The US is also demanding a peace process from Israel and an end to the controversial judicial overhaul plan, which critics say undermines Israel’s democracy.
The report says that US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan are leading the negotiations for the US and the head of the Mossad chief David Barnea is representing Israel in “intensive” talks with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman.
Several thousand people are gathered outside the Knesset demonstrating against the state budget that they say “loots the state coffers.”
Demonstrators are blowing horns, waving Israeli flags and chanting against the government.
Hundreds are also protesting at other sites around the country.
אלפים מפגינים כעת מחוץ לכנסת במחאת "ליל הביזה" pic.twitter.com/XUxCDfwAUw
— Yael Freidson יעל פרידסון (@YaelFreidson) May 23, 2023
An Israeli soldier is being questioned by the Shin Bet security agency over his alleged involvement in a suspected racially motivated attack on Arab minors in Israel, his lawyers say.
According to the right-wing legal aid group Honenu, the conscripted serviceman is being accused of beating two Arab minors along with others in the city of Hadera last month.
The soldier has been denied access to a lawyer for 48 hours already, Honenu says.
He will remain held by the Shin Bet until Sunday at least, following a remand hearing yesterday.
A gag order has been placed on the investigation.
Defense Minister Yoav Gallant tours the Gaza Strip border area meeting with military commanders and local council leaders in the wake of the recent military operation in the Gaza Strip against the Islamic Jihad.
“The missions in ‘Shield and Arrow’ were carried out with great success, but the main goal we are preparing for is much more complex, difficult and significant. We need to be ready at any moment,” Gallant says at the Gaza Division headquarters.
Later, meeting municipal heads, Gallant praises them for their behaviors during the operation when hundreds of rockets were fired at their communities.
Gallant also visits the Hatzor Air Force Base meeting with drone operators and the David’s Sling missile defense team after the system was successfully used for the first time during the conflict.
Several thousand people gather at Jerusalem’s Chords Bridge ahead of a protest march to the Knesset to demonstrate against the budget.
The protesters are waving Israeli flags and chanting against the government “looting” the state coffers.
The Knesset is voting tonight on approving the budget that critics say is funneling billions in grants to the ultra-Orthodox community while allowing men in that community to avoid employment.
— Margalit shmueli (@Margalitshmuel2) May 23, 2023
A Russian court has extended the arrest of Wall Street Journal reporter Evan Gershkovich by three months, Russian news agencies report.
Gershkovich, an American citizen, was ordered held until August 30. He had been arrested in March on espionage charges on a reporting trip in Russia. He, his employer and the US government have denied the charges.
Russia’s security service has asked a Moscow court to extend the detention of Wall Street Journal journalist Evan Gershkovich, held on espionage charges, Russian media says.
Citing spokespeople for Moscow’s Lefortovo district court, Russian news agencies said that FSB investigators had asked for an extension of his arrest until August 30. A court hearing was expected to take place today
The Finance Ministry’s legal adviser Asi Messing throws a wrench in the government’s plans to pass the budget tonight, ruling that grants to yeshiva students cannot start until October.
The retroactive grants to cover the full calendar year 2023 were a key demand of the United Torah Judaism party in order to support the budget.
Yesterday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich promised to boost funding for ultra-Orthodox yeshiva students and their families by up to NIS 250 million to win their support and said that the funding would come from any surplus in NIS 1.2 billion in discretionary funds already allocated for ultra-Orthodox schools.
But Messing says that the payments can only start in October, once it has been established that there actually is a surplus, and not earlier just based on the assumption that there will be extra cash.
It is not immediately clear how this will affect the ultra-Orthodox party’s votes.
Israeli officials have told their American counterparts that they have no plans to establish a new settlement where the illegal Homesh outpost currently sits, amid US anger over the IDF revoking an order barring Israelis from entering the northern West Bank hilltop, an Israeli official tells The Times of Israel.
But the assertion did not entirely convince the Biden administration, which has pointed out that the outpost sits on private Palestinian land, the Israeli official says.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s aides have sought to explain that the reason for the military order is to commence the process of moving the outpost off of Palestinian land to a different location nearby, says the Walla news site, which broke the story.
The justification is unlikely to sway the Biden administration, which opposes all outpost legalizations, regardless of whether the land in question is considered public or private.
Walla also says that Netanyahu’s office sought to explain to the Biden administration that the military order was necessary due to political pressure the premier is facing from his far-right coalition partners — another point unlikely to move the US.
The Walla article also says that Israel assured the US that Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s plan to add 500,000 settlers to the West Bank, was not Israeli policy and does not represent the thinking of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Smotrich is also a junior minister in the Defence Ministry with responsibility for parts of West Bank policy.
CNN’s international anchor Christiane Amanpour apologizes to Leo Dee, the Israeli-British rabbi whose wife and two daughters were killed last month in a terror shooting on a West Bank road.
Amanpour apologizes on air for saying that Dee’s family members were killed in a shootout, instead of in a shooting attack.
“On April 10, I mentioned the murders of an Israeli family: Lucy, Maia, and Rina Dee, Rabbi Leo Dee’s wife and daughters,” says Amanpour.
“I erred when I mentioned that they were slain in a ‘shootout’ rather than a ‘shooting.’ I have written to him to express our regret and let Rabbi Leo Dee know that we are sorry for any additional suffering we may have given him.”
Speaking to Channel 12, Dee says he does not accept Amanpour’s apology.
SUCCESS: Following our campaign for a public apology, @CNN’s @amanpour says live on air: “I have written to Rabbi Leo Dee to apologize and make sure that he knows that we apologize for any further pain that may have caused him.”
— HonestReporting (@HonestReporting) May 22, 2023
Dee had reportedly threatened to sue CNN for creating a “moral equivalence between the victim and the terrorist.”
Police say they have arrested three men trying to smuggle millions of shekels’ worth of heroin into Israel from Jordan.
The three suspects are residents of the southern Bedouin town of Segev Shalom.
They were stopped by security forces who saw them acting suspiciously near the border.
Police say the 35-kilogram (77 lbs) haul is worth some NIS 18 million ($4.8 million) on Israel’s streets.
A study of Saudi school textbooks that will be released today finds some progress on the kingdom’s portrayal of Israel and Zionism, including the removal of some problematic passages in a new social studies textbook.
Israel is hoping to reach a normalization agreement with Riyadh by the end of the year with US help.
However, “continued non-recognition of Israel, its omission from maps, and its frequent depiction as an occupying enemy state” remain in textbooks, according to the latest study on the Saudi school curriculum from the IMPACT-se organization, which has been following the topic in the wake of the 2001 9/11 attacks.
There has also been some backsliding in Saudi Arabia’s treatment of Israel in recent years.
Textbooks for 2017 refer to Israel by name, but since 2019, Israel is usually called “the Zionist entity.”
Zionism is described in a Grade 10-12 textbook as a colonial and racist European movement aimed at expelling Palestinians from their homes, which is far more hostile than the 2017 description of a movement aimed at “unifying the Jews of the Diaspora and settling them in Palestine.”
At the same time, there are plenty of encouraging examples. A lesson on “patriotic poetry” removes “opposing the Jewish settlement of Palestine.” In past editions, students were asked to disprove “one of the Zionist claims regarding their right to the Arab land of Palestine,” but that was removed in the 2022 edition.
Moreover, there is a high school social studies textbook that replaced references to the “the Zionist enemy” with “the Israeli occupation army,” and moved to “the Israeli occupation” instead of “the Israeli enemy.”
In addition, a high textbook first introduced in 2022-23 removes entirely a chapter on the Palestinian Cause.
Saudi textbooks also include greater criticisms of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hezbollah, ISIS, al-Qaeda, and Houthi militias, accusing them of promoting terrorism and extreme religious thought.
In religion textbooks, lessons promoting negative stereotypes of Jews and Christians have been noticeably toned down.
Police announce they are closing several roads in central Jerusalem tonight ahead of a planned protest against the state budget that is being debated in the Knesset.
Opposition groups are holding a demonstration against what they call the “looting” of the state coffers.
Voting on the budget will begin in the Knesset tonight, and it is likely to be approved late in the night or tomorrow.
Protesters are upset at the allocation of nearly NIS 14 billion in discretionary funds alongside the budget, with much of it going to subsidies for the ultra-Orthodox community.
US Police have arrested a man they believe intentionally crashed a U-Haul truck into a security barrier at a park across from the White House.
The box truck’s driver smashed into the barrier near the north side of Lafayette Square on Monday at around 10 p.m., Secret Service spokesman Anthony Guglielmi says in a statement. No one was injured.
Officers from the Secret Service and the Metropolitan Police Department searched the truck after the crash. Video posted by WUSA-TV shows a police officer at the scene picking up and inventorying several pieces of evidence from the truck, including a Nazi flag.
Based on a preliminary investigation, investigators believe the driver “may have intentionally struck the security barriers at Lafayette Square,” Guglielmi says. Authorities offer no additional details about the possible motive and had not released the driver’s identity.
— Breaking 4 News (@Breaking_4_News) May 23, 2023
The US Park Police say the man was arrested on multiple charges, including threatening to kill, kidnap or inflict harm on a president, vice president or member of their family; assault with a dangerous weapon; reckless driving; destruction of federal property; and trespassing.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits an IDF intelligence base and says Israel’s enemies should know that “we are way ahead of you.”
“I have just completed a visit to one of our intelligence bases and I left very encouraged. Israel is opening a gap over its enemies and is doing so through a combination of human intelligence and artificial intelligence,” Netanyahu says.
“What I saw is that the future is already here. All our enemies should know, we are way ahead of you.”
The European Union’s foreign policy chief says that the US green light to allow Ukrainian pilots to get training to fly F-16s has created an inexorable momentum that will inevitably bring the fighter jets to the Ukrainian battlefield.
“You know, it’s always the same thing: we discuss, at the beginning everybody is reluctant,” says Josep Borrell, giving the example of the long debate and initial opposition to the dispatch of advanced Leopard battle tanks to Ukraine.
“And at the end — with the Leopards, with the F-16 at the end — the decision comes to provide this military support because it is absolutely needed.”
Borrell adds that training for Ukrainian pilots had already begun in Poland and some other countries, though authorities in Warsaw couldn’t immediately confirm the news. The Netherlands and Denmark, among others, are also making plans for such training.
Russia says that its armed forces have beaten back and then wiped out a group of fighters and military hardware that were dispatched to its southern Belgorod region from Ukraine.
The incursion was the most serious attack on Russian soil since the beginning of Moscow’s offensive in Ukraine, prompting Russian authorities to declare an “anti-terror regime” and evacuate nine border villages.
“In the course of the counter-terrorist operation, the nationalist formations were blocked and destroyed by airstrikes and artillery fire,” the Russian defense ministry says.
“The remaining (fighters) were driven back to the territory of Ukraine, where they continued to be hit by fire until they were completely eliminated,” the ministry says in a statement.
— Ukraine Front Lines (@EuromaidanPR) May 23, 2023
The statement says Russian forces killed more than 70 Ukrainian fighters and destroyed four armored vehicles.
AFP was unable to independently verify those claims.
The defense ministry blamed Ukrainian authorities for the incursion, saying that “having suffered a defeat in Artemovsk, the Kyiv regime switched to implementing terror attacks against the civilian population.”
Moscow used the Soviet-era name for the city of Bakhmut, which Russian forces claimed to have seized over the weekend.
Ukraine has denied involvement in the attack, but members of the anti-Kremlin Freedom of Russia Legion have claimed responsibility for the incursion.
The Israeli military drops flyers in southern Lebanon warning locals against crossing the border.
Ali Shoeib, who works for the Al-Manar Hezbollah mouthpiece, publishes images of the pamphlets that were distributed near the southern Lebanese village of Kfarchouba.
“Think before you act. Your breaches of the border and your actions make the situation dangerous, and have already resulted in your injury,” the flyers read.
The Israel Defense Forces does not comment on the flyers. Yesterday, the chief of the IDF Military Intelligence warned that the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah was “close to making a mistake” that could spark a regional war.
بعد استنفاذ كل وسائل الوعيد والتهديد والرهبة من التنفيذ بفعل معادلة الردع ، العدو يلقي مناشير تحذيرية تهديدية لرعاة الماشية و لسكان المزارع المحررة في تلال #كفرشوبا و #مزارع_شبعا . pic.twitter.com/YSPhhamfA7
— علي شعيب || Ali Shoeib 🇱🇧 (@alishoeib1970) May 23, 2023
Israeli officials have in the past accused Hezbollah of sending Lebanese shepherds or other locals in the southern part of the country to observe Israeli military activity on the border.
National Security Adviser Tzachi Hanegbi says that Israel was not surprised by yesterday’s reports on a new underground Iranian nuclear facility that is likely impervious to US bunker-buster bombs.
Speaking at the 2023 Herzliya Conference, the veteran politician acknowledges that “of course, it limits the ability to attack,” but adds that “there is no place that can’t be reached.”
He declines to clarify whether Israel could reach such a site, or whether only the US has the capability of bombing tunnels dug deep into mountains.
Hanegbi stresses that Israel prefers that Iran be stopped through an agreement, and not by military action — but says Jerusalem would take action if it needed to.
If we reach the conclusion “that there is no avoiding military action against the nuclear facilities in Iran,” he says, “I think that any Israeli leader will have full backing from Israel’s society and the state to do what Menachem Begin did in 1981, what Olmert did in 2007. To act when all the other options aren’t effective anymore.”
Israeli jets destroyed Iraq’s Osirak nuclear reactor in 1981, and Syria’s suspected nuclear facility in Deir ez-Zor 26 years later.
Despite fundamental disagreements over the wisdom of returning to the JCPOA nuclear deal with Iran, Hanegbi says Israel and the US are in accord regarding their determination to stop Iran from attaining a nuclear weapon.
“We are sending the message, so is the US, that if you cross the red line, the price you will pay as a regime and as a country is one you wouldn’t want to pay, so be careful.”
He explains that the “red line” is when Israel determines that Iran is “coming close to the moment of no return.”
He adds that Israel and America agree on the red line, but have different approaches on how to keep Iran from getting there.
After heading to Europe next week, Foreign Minister Eli Cohen will fly to the Far East from June 3-8, visiting the Philippines and South Korea.
The five-day trip will have Cohen meeting senior officials from the two nations, the Foreign Ministry announces.
As he often does, Cohen will bring a business delegation with him.
Turkish intelligence has uncovered a cell of 15 people allegedly working for Israel’s Mossad against Iranian targets in the country, local media reports.
According to the Daily Sabah website, Turkey’s national intelligence agency, MIT, uncovered the 15-person cell after an 18-month operation. It includes at least one person who had received training in Israel, the report says.
The report says at least 11 people have been detained and searches are ongoing for other members.
The report identified the leader of the cell as Selçuk Küçükkaya, a local businessman, and released pictures of him.
Last year Turkey also claimed to have broken up a Mossad ring and put 15 people on trial for espionage.
Military chief Lt. Gen. Herzi Halevi warns that there may be “negative developments” with regard to Iran’s nuclear program that would prompt Israel to react.
“Iran has made more progress in uranium enrichment than ever before. We are also closely examining other aspects of the way to nuclear capability,” he says at a conference hosted by the Institute for Policy and Strategy of Reichman University in Herzliya.
“Without going into details, there are possible negative developments on the horizon that could prompt action,” Halevi says.
“We have abilities and others have abilities. We have the ability to hit Iran. We are not indifferent to what Iran is trying to build around us, and it is difficult for Iran to be indifferent to the line we are taking,” he adds.
Halevi also says “Hezbollah is very deterred from an all-out war against Israel. It thinks it understands how we think. This thought brings it to dare and challenge us where it is sure it will not lead to war. I see this as a good way to create surprises if necessary.”
“We have good preparedness in the northern arena. A campaign in the northern arena will be difficult on the home front. We will know how to deal with it, but it will be difficult. It will be seven times harder for Lebanon, and even more so for Hezbollah,” he adds.
A 13-year-old girl in a serious condition after falling from a climbing wall at Kibbutz Kiryat Anavim in Jerusalem, medics say.
The girl fell from a height of some 10 meters (32 feet) and has been taken to Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem in Jerusalem suffering from multiple injuries, Magen David Adom medics say.
Police say an initial investigation shows that the girl was visiting the site on a school trip and for an unknown reason climbed the wall without ropes in violation of the adventure park’s rules.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will make an address to the media ahead of the Knesset vote on the budget tonight, his office says.
The address will take place at 7:45 p.m.
Netanyahu and his coalition partners have reached an agreement on the budget after days of wrangling, with several parties having threatened to not support the budget unless their priorities were met.
The budget has been heavily criticized for allocating billions in subsidies to the ultra-Orthodox community.
Israel Police Deputy Commissioner Danny Kribo announces he will be retiring from the force, reportedly due to frustration at having been pushed aside over the management of the police budget.
According to a report by Channel 12, Kribo, who served as the head of the police planning department, was frustrated by the fact that Police Commissioner Kobi Shabtai transferred authority over the budget from Kribo to Deputy Inspector General Avishai Peled, despite the fact that responsibility for the budget has been with the planning department for many years.
“After a term of two and a half years in a demanding position full of meaningful work, and 32 years in the Civil Service, I have reached a sense of accomplishment, along with a deep sense of satisfaction,” says Kribo.
Kribo’s resignation comes as efforts are being made by National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir and Shabtai to replace another senior officer, Tel Aviv Commander Ami Eshed, over what Ben Gvir sees as his overly moderate approach to the anti-judicial overhaul protests.
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