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Likud blames Bennett after Netanyahu fails to assemble coalition

PM’s party confirms he has returned mandate to president, slams Yamina chief for his ‘refusal to commit to a right-wing government’

Left: Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021; Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press coneference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Left: Head of the Yamina party Naftali Bennett gives a press conference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021; Right: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks during a press coneference at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on April 21, 2021 (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they happened.

Netanyahu’s Likud moves to advance direction elections for PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party moves to advance legislation to hold direct elections for premier without further parliamentary elections, hours before his mandate to form a government expires.

The proposal, which could allow Netanyahu to retain the premiership despite his right-wing religious bloc again falling short of a majority in the March 23 elections, is one of a number of bills that Likud is seeking to get approval to fast-track during a meeting of the Knesset Arrangements Committee later today.

There does not currently appear to be a majority to approve the bill.

The other proposals that Likud wants to be able to hold a plenum vote on tomorrow are: a bill to cancel the 2005 “disengagement” from the Gaza Strip and several West Bank settlements; a bill to introduce the death penalty for terrorists; a bill to bar migrant “infiltrators” from entering the country; a bill to limit parties’ ability to claim standing in lawsuits; a bill to change the way Supreme Court justices are selected; “the attorney general bill”; a bill to “regulate” illegal settlement outposts; a bill allowing the Knesset to overrule Supreme Court rulings; a bill on disqualifying evidence; and a bill to cancel Netanyahu’s power-sharing agreement with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, which is anchored in law.

Many of the proposals appear designed to split right-wing parties that have not committed to Netanyahu — such as Naftali Bennett’s Yamina — or that oppose the Likud chief — Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope and Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu — as they have voiced support for some of these proposals.

Likud said hinting it may recommend Bennett form gov’t

Alongside the legislative push, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is also reportedly signaling it may recommend someone besides him form a government when his mandate to put together a coalition expires this evening.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin, a Likud member, told ultra-Orthodox MKs that Likud will likely recommend Yamina leader Naftali Bennett be given the next crack at assembling a coalition.

The report further said Bennett was pressing New Hope chief Gideon Sa’ar to recommend him, with the latter’s faction set to convene in the afternoon to discuss the matter.

Likud was also seeking to get Ra’am leader Mansour Abbas to back Bennett, with the Yamina chief himself involved in the effort, the Walla news site reported.

If Yamina, Ra’am and every lawmaker in Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc were to recommend Bennett, it would mean a majority of MKs are backing him to form a government. However, with the far-right Religious Zionism party opposed to any government backed by Ra’am, Bennett — just like Netanyahu currently — would not have a majority.

Having Bennett get the mandate, though, would prevent it from going to Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, and Walla said it was part of Netanyahu’s efforts at pressuring the Yamina chief not to form a government with the premier’s political rivals.

It is by no means clear that President Reuven Rivlin would task Bennett with forming a government even if he had substantial support, however. Reports last night indicated that Rivlin might incline to conclude that tasking the Yamina chief with building a coalition might be tantamount to giving Netanyahu an unwarranted second chance, and that “change bloc” leader Yair Lapid, of Yesh Atid, should now be given the opportunity to muster a majority.

Lapid got 45 recommendations to Netanyahu’s 52 on April 5, when Rivlin consulted with party representatives after the March 23 elections. In those consultations, the president asked the various MKs if they had a second choice for PM were their first choice to fail, and the Likud representatives were adamant that Netanyahu was their first and only prime ministerial candidate.

German police arrest suspect over neo-Nazi threats

FRANKFURT, Germany — German police have arrested a man they suspect of sending threatening letters inspired by a shadowy neo-Nazi cell that committed a string of racist murders in the 2000s, prosecutors say.

The 53-year-old unemployed German national had been convicted in the past of crimes linked to the far right, the prosecutor’s office for the western city of Frankfurt says.

He is “strongly suspected” of having sent, since August 2018, a series “of threatening letters with hateful, insulting and threatening content” under the pseudonym “NSU 2.0,” the prosecutor says.

The name refers to the National Socialist Underground, a neo-Nazi extremist group uncovered in 2011 that murdered 10 people and planted three bombs.

The letters were mainly addressed to public officials, notably members of the federal parliament and that of the Hesse region.

Investigators had initially suspected that the man was linked to the police themselves, as information on the people threatened had been collected from police stations.

But prosecutors say the person detained is not a police officer. The suspect was taken into custody at his Berlin apartment during a search.

The assassination in June 2019 of pro-migration politician Walter Luebcke shocked the country and highlighted the growing threat of right-wing extremism.

Previously, the NSU was able to carry out the murders of eight Turkish immigrants, a Greek and a German policewoman as investigators focused their probe in error on members of Germany’s immigrant communities.

Likud MK: Vote on right-wing bills will show ‘where the left wants to lead Bennett and Sa’ar’

Ahead of the Knesset committee vote on fast-tracking a number of right-wing legislative proposals, Likud MK Miki Zohar suggests the move is aimed at dividing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s political rivals, who may get a shot at forming a unity government when the premier’s mandate to do so expires at midnight.

“With the help of God, at 17:30 all Israeli citizens will know where the left wants to lead Bennett and Sa’ar,” Zohar tweets, referring respectively to the heads of the right-wing Yamina and New Hope parties.

He adds: “The vote in the Arrangements [Committee] on all these laws will clarify the meaning of a left-wing government with a tiny right-wing fig leaf on top.”

Swiss diplomat in Iran reportedly dies in fall from high rise

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian police star investigating the death of a Swiss diplomat who died after reportedly falling from a high rise in the capital of Tehran.

The Swiss woman, in her 50s, fell from the upper floors of a 20-story building in which she lived in northern Tehran, the state-run IRNA news agency reports. A worker discovered her missing this morning and called authorities.

The Swiss Foreign Ministry in Bern acknowledges in a statement that an employee “died in a fatal incident on Tuesday.” The ministry declines to identify the woman, but says diplomats have been in touch with local police.

The Swiss Embassy has represented American interests in Tehran since the 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Religious Zionism said refusing to declare it will recommend Bennett if Ra’am does

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich is refusing to commit to recommending that Yamina chief Naftali Bennett form the next government if the Islamist Ra’am party backs Bennett, the Walla news site reports.

Sources in the far-right party are quoted saying they’ll consider discussing the matter “when it’s relevant.”

Smotrich and Religious Zionism — part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc — have ruled out a government backed by Ra’am, a refusal that has contributed to the premier’s failure to assemble a ruling coalition since the March 23 elections.

Religious Zionism leader Bezalel Smotrich leads a faction meeting at the Knesset on May 3, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Environment Ministry to purchase 220 pollution-free buses

The Environmental Protection Ministry announces an investment of NIS 59 million ($18 million) in the purchase of 220 new pollution-free, electric buses.

The buses are set to run in Haifa, Rishon Lezion, Eilat, Yavne, Ashdod, Petah Tikva, Bnei Brak, Tel Aviv-Jaffa and Ramat Gan.

Environmental Protection Minister Gila Gamliel says her goal is to have all city buses go electric by 2025.

German soccer association to probe chief over Nazi judge comparison

BERLIN — Embattled German Football Association president Fritz Keller has been ordered to explain to the governing body’s disciplinary committee the comparison he made of his own deputy to a notorious Nazi-era judge.

Keller sparked outrage and calls for his resignation after likening DFB vice-president Rainer Koch to Roland Freisler, the infamous head of the Nazi party’s court in the 1940s, during a meeting last month.

Yesterday, the DFB’s ethics committee brought the case before their sports court, who will hear Keller’s explanation behind closed doors, either in person or a written statement.

“I will, of course, take responsibility for my statement before the (DFB) sports court,” Keller, 64, tells German daily Bild.

Hans E. Lorenz, chairman of the three-man DFB sports court, telld AFP subsidiary SID that he expects a judgement “in the second half of May.”

On Sunday, the presidents of the DFB’s regional associations, which run Germany’s semi-professional and amateur leagues, said Keller had lost a vote of confidence and been “asked to step down from his position.”

DFB general secretary Friedrich Curtius was likewise asked to vacate his role after losing a confidence vote.

Keller has apologized to Koch, acknowledging that his words were “totally inappropriate, notably towards the victims of Nazism,” but ruled out stepping down over the incident.

German football federation president Fritz Keller ahead of a soccer match between Germany and Belarus in Moenchengladbach, Germany, November 16, 2019. (AP Photo/Martin Meissner)

Gantz vows to ‘settle the score’ with Tapuah terrorists

Defense Minister Benny Gantz vows Israel will capture the terrorists behind a drive-by shooting attack in the northern West Bank in which three Israelis were wounded, after security forces arrested a number of alleged accomplices.

“I have ordered a continued state of high alert in the area given the recent incidents,” Gantz says while touring the area.

Commenting on the overnight arrests, Gantz says, “We’ll get the terrorists and settle the score with them.”

He adds: “I continue to pray for the recovery of the injured still hospitalized in serious condition. Our security forces are prepared for any scenario and will continue to use any means necessary, wherever necessary, to protect our citizens’ safety.”

In this handout photo from his office, Defense Minister Benny Gantz tours the West Bank on May 4, 2021. (Elad Malka)

Iranian police arrest 16 at party for mixed dancing, drinking alcohol

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian police arrested 16 men and women at a mixed-gender party in the northeastern province of Khorasan Razavi, the semi-official Tasnim news agency reports.

Such parties are illegal under Iranian law. Drinking alcohol is also illegal and Muslim men and women who are not related cannot mingle or dance together in public.

The Tasnim report quotes a local prosecutor, Khalilollah Barzanuni, as saying that the 16 were detained while they were dancing at a party in a villa in Golbahar, a neighborhood in the city of Golmakan.

Barzanuni also says they drank alcohol and disrespected a Muslim commemoration during the holy month of Ramadan. Shiites in Iran today mark the death of the first Shiite, Imam Ali, cousin and son-in-law of the Prophet Muhammad.

Far-right crime in Germany jumped to post-war high in 2020

BERLIN — The number of crimes committed by right-wing extremists in post-war Germany jumped to its highest level ever recorded in 2020, according to official figures released today.

Police recorded 23,604 crimes of a far-right nature last year, a jump of over five percent on the previous year, and the highest figure since records began in 2001.

“Right-wing extremism remains the biggest threat to our country,” says Interior Minister Horst Seehofer as he presents the figures at a press conference.

He adds that right-wing violence had left a “trail of blood” through Germany in recent years, citing deadly far-right crimes such as the murder of pro-refugee politician Walter Luebcke in 2019 and the 2020 racist attack in Hanau which killed nine people.

The 2020 figure just exceeds the previous high of 23,555, recorded at the height of the refugee crisis in 2016, while the total number of politically motivated crimes also reached a new all-time high of 44,692.

Noting that there had also been a sharp rise in the numbers of left-wing extremist and Islamist crimes, Seehofer says the figures show a “brutalization of our society.”

“They are unsettling, above all because they show that the trend of recent years is continuing,” he says.

The number of politically motivated crimes was a “yardstick for the mood in society,” and especially so in a year in which “the pandemic has caused further polarization, he adds.

German police have recorded “politically motivated crimes” since 2001. Those categorized as right-wing extremist range from giving a forbidden Nazi salute to murderous attacks.

6 Haredi protesters arrested for obstructing Jerusalem light rail work

Police arrest six ultra-Orthodox protesters trying to obstruct the construction of the new light rail line on Jerusalem’s Bar Ilan Street.

The six are suspected of disturbing the peace.

UN experts demand immediate release of dissident Iranian filmmaker

GENEVA — UN rights experts voice alarm at reports that imprisoned dissident Iranian filmmaker Mohammad Nourizad is so ill he risks “serious complications and possible death,” demanding he be released immediately.

Nourizad, who has written and directed several films, has since 2019 been serving a prison sentence totaling over 17 years on charges of insulting Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, according to the human rights group Amnesty International.

“We are seriously concerned at the mistreatment of Mohammad Nourizad and his continued imprisonment for expressing his opinion,” six independent UN experts, including those on the human rights situation in Iran, on torture, and on the right to freedom of expression, say in a statement.

The experts, who are appointed by the United Nations but do not speak on its behalf, warn against “his continued detention despite medical professionals finding he cannot stay in prison given his serious health condition.”

“The resulting denial of adequate medical care may amount to torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment,” they say.

The experts, who also include the UN special rapporteurs on the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, on the right to physical and mental health and on extrajudicial executions, point out that Nourizad had carried out hunger strikes in detention and refused to take medications to protest his imprisonment and his family’s mistreatment by the authorities.

“He has also reportedly attempted suicide in prison, and began to self-harm as a form of protest on February 19, 2021,” their statement said.

This was particularly worrying, it says, since he has been diagnosed with a heart condition and has frequently lost consciousness while in detention.

He also suffers from diabetes, according to Amnesty, which last month warned that Iranian authorities were “cruelly toying with the life” of Nourizad.

Officials say Rivlin won’t task Bennett with forming government — TV

Channel 12 news quotes unnamed “senior officials” who recently spoke with President Reuven Rivlin, who say he won’t task Yamina leader Naftali Bennett with forming a government.

According to the network, Rivlin is expected to quickly decide what to do when Prime Minister Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires at midnight, possibly as soon as tomorrow. The chief of the President’s Residence is expected to make a round of calls to party representatives, the network adds.

Ra’am leader said to tell Likud he won’t announce in advance whom he backs as PM

Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas has told Likud he won’t announce whom his Islamist party backs to form a government, the Walla news site reports, ahead of consultations with President Reuven Rivlin on which lawmaker should next be tasked with assembling a coalition.

“At the end of the round [of consultations] we’ll go with whoever has the most recommendations,” Abbas is quoted as saying.

The news site earlier reported that Likud was pressing Ra’am to back Bennett, as part of efforts to prevent Netanyahu’s rivals from forming a government without him. The reports come as Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government is set to expire at midnight.

Mansour Abbas, head of the Ra’am party, leads a faction meeting, in the Israeli parliament on April 19, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

US base in Iraq targeted with rockets, for 3rd time in 3 days

BAGHDAD — The Iraqi army says two rockets were fired today at a base hosting Americans, in the third such attack in three days and as a US government delegation is visiting the country.

The two rockets fell on an unoccupied segment of the Ain-al-Assad airbase, “without causing damage or casualties,” the army says.

The latest attack follows similar ones on Sunday and last night against two other bases.

Yamina to back fast-tracking direction elections bill

The Yamina party will vote to fast-track a Likud-backed bill to hold a direct vote for prime minister after last month’s inconclusive elections, and a proposal to “regulate” illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank.

Regarding the bill for direct elections, a party source is quoted by Hebrew media as saying that today’s vote is only to lift a requirement for legislative proposals to be put on hold for 45 days before coming up Knesset approval, not on the bill itself.

“Later, in accordance with the situation, we’ll make a decision concerning the continued advance of the bill. We can advance or hold it up at any stage,” source says.

Yamina will vote against canceling Likud leader Benjamin Netanyahu’s power-sharing deal with Blue and White chief Benny Gantz, which is anchored in law.

Other reports, meanwhile, say the right-wing New Hope party — which is seeking to replace Netanyahu as premier — will vote in favor of the West Bank regulation bill but against direct elections.

French far-right leader Le Pen acquitted over Islamic State tweets

NANTERRE, France — A French court acquitts far-right leader and presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen on charges she broke hate speech laws by tweeting pictures of Islamic State atrocities.

Le Pen shared the gruesome images in December 2015, a few weeks after Islamic State jihadists killed 130 people in attacks in Paris, in response to a journalist who she accused of drawing a comparison between IS and her party.

One of the pictures showed the body of James Foley, an American journalist beheaded by the Islamist terrorists.

Another showed a man in an orange jumpsuit being run over by a tank, and the third a Jordanian pilot being burned alive in a cage.

“Daesh is this!” Le Pen wrote in a caption, using an Arabic acronym for IS.

In 2018 a judge charged her, as well as her National Rally party colleague Gilbert Collard who also tweeted the pictures, with circulating “violent messages that incite terrorism or pornography or seriously harm human dignity” and that can be viewed by a minor.

The crime is punishable by up to three years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros ($90,000), but the prosecution sought only a 5,000 euro ($6,000) fine.

The court acquits both Le Pen and Collard, citing the right to freedom of expression.

The court recognizes Le Pen’s intention to inform by sharing the images and says doing so can contribute to public debate, as long as violence is not normalized.

The verdict comes as opinion polls show Le Pen will likely face off again against President Emmanuel Macron in next year’s presidential contest, in a repeat of the run-off seen in the last presidential elections in 2017.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen looks on after laying a wreath of flowers in front of a statue of Jeanne d’Arc (Joan of Arc) in Paris on May 1, 2021. (Bertrand Guay/AFP)

To block rivals, Netanyahu said considering claiming he can form gov’t

In a bid to buy more time and prevent one of his rivals from being tasked with forming a government, Prime Minister Netanyahu is considering telling President Reuven Rivlin that he is able to assemble a coalition when his mandate to do so expires at midnight, according to the Walla news site.

Quoting unnamed sources, the report says Netanyahu has been holding talks on the matter despite lacking a coalition agreement with any of his prospective partners, and despite the far-right Religious Zionism party ruling out joining a government backed by the Islamist Ra’am faction.

Netanyahu’s office denies the report.

Under Israel’s Basic Law: The Government, once a candidate is able to form a government and informs the president and Knesset of it, he has a week to finalize his coalition before bringing before the parliament for a vote of confidence. However, the president can ask how Netanyahu those who back him are able to form a government — something they currently have no clear route to doing.

President Reuven Rivlin, right tasks Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu with forming a new government, during a press conference at the President’s Residence, in Jerusalem on September 25, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

EU leader: Quarter of bloc’s residents have received 1st COVID shot

BRUSSELS — The president of the European Union’s executive arm says a quarter of all EU residents have now received a first dose of coronavirus vaccine.

After a slow start to its vaccination campaign, the European Union has sped up the pace of immunization as vaccine supplies in the 27-nation region increased in recent weeks.

“Vaccination is gaining speed across the EU: we have just passed 150 million vaccinations,” Ursula von der Leyen says in a message posted on Twitter. “A quarter of all Europeans have had their first dose. We’ll have enough doses for vaccinating 70% of EU adults in July.”

Ministers okay lifting crowd limits at ‘Green Pass’ sports, cultural events

The high-level coronavirus cabinet approves lifting restrictions on crowd size at sports and culture events held under the “Green Pass” system for those vaccinated or recovered from COVID-19.

Knesset panel approves fast-track process for bill to ‘regulate’ settlement outposts

The Knesset Arrangements Committee votes to fast-track a bill to “regulate” illegal settlement outposts in the West Bank, allowing it to begin being advanced at the next plenum session.

The motion to waive the requirement that 45 days must pass before the bill can be voted on is passed with the support of the right-wing Yamina and New Hope parties, which are not part of Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc.

Lebanon seeks satellite images for site of Beirut port blast

BEIRUT — The judge investigating last year’s massive explosion at Beirut’s port has requested that countries with satellites stationed over Lebanon provide authorities with images that could help their investigation, the state news agency reports.

National News Agency doesn’t name the countries that Judge Tarek Bitar asked for images of the port before, during and after the blast.

Nearly 3,000 tons of ammonium nitrate — a highly explosive material used in fertilizers — had been improperly stored in the port for years. The catastrophic blast on August 4 killed 211 people and injured more than 6,000, devastating nearby neighborhoods.

Days after the explosion, President Michel Aoun said he had asked France, which has close ties to its former colony, for satellite images from the time to see if they showed any planes or missiles. In the immediate aftermath of the blast, authorities did not rule out an attack, though no evidence emerged to suggest it.

Outgoing Prime Minister Hassan Diab had also said after the explosion that he asked French President Emmanuel Macron for satellite images of the port before and after the blast.

Youssef Diab, a Lebanese journalist who closely follows the investigation, says the request by Bitar is a formal legal memorandum for which a response is obligatory, and it indicates that he has not ruled out the possibility of an attack.

Diab, no relation to the outgoing prime minister, says the countries include United Arab Emirates, France, the US, China, Japan, Canada and Turkey. The move comes after Lebanon asked France for satellite images. Diab says France has maintained its investigation in the port explosion is not yet complete.

“The idea is to figure out from the images if there were flights over the port or if the port was targeted,” he says. The judge “has expanded the realm of possibilities” of what might have caused the explosion.

Nine months later, it remains unknown what triggered an initial fire at the warehouse that then caused the explosion or who was responsible for storing the rotting fertilizer at the port warehouse for years.

In this August 5, 2020 photo, smoke rises after an explosion the day before at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Ra’am to oppose fast-tracking right-wing bills, no decision yet on backing direct elections

The conservative Islamist Ra’am party says it will vote against the bills being proposed today in the Arrangements Committee, including a bill that would legalize West Bank outposts.

“It opposes our values and principles,” Ra’am says.

But Ra’am, led by maverick Arab Israeli politician Mansour Abbas, says it has yet to decide whether it will vote in favor of a law sending Israel to a direct vote for prime minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has advanced the plan in recent days in the hopes of remaining in power, given that the Likud leader does not appear to have a plausible path to a coalition.

“The negotiations on the matter are ongoing,” Ra’am says.

Panel okays fast-tracking bill to let Knesset override Supreme Court rulings

The Knesset Arrangements Committee approves fast-tracking a bill that would allow a majority of lawmakers to override Supreme Court rulings.

The vote means the bill is exempt from a parliamentary procedure requiring 45 days to pass before it can begin to be advanced in the Knesset.

Knesset panel takes break before vote on fast-tracking bill for direct elections of PM

Before voting to fast-track a bill to hold direct elections for prime minister, the Knesset Arrangements Committee adjourns for an hour.

“I’m not sure there will be a vote now on the direct elections bill,” Likud MK and committee chairman Miki Zohar says, citing the need for Muslim lawmakers to break the Ramadan fast “and because I want to make sure I can get a majority.”

The Islamist Ra’am party, whose support is needed for the motion to pass, said it hasn’t yet decided how it will vote.

IDF says troops continuing manhunt for suspects in drive-by shooting attack

The Israel Defense Forces says troops are continuing to search for the terrorists who shot and wounded three Israelis in a drive-by attack in the northern West Bank, as it releases further images from the manhunt, including of troops confiscating the vehicle used in the shooting.

The soldiers have continued to operate in the West Bank since a number of suspects were arrested overnight.

Ra’am to vote against fast-tracking bill to hold direct elections for PM

The Islamist Ra’am party says it will vote against fast-tracking Likud-backed bills to hold direct elections for premier and to scrap Prime Minister Netanyahu’s power-sharing deal with Blue and White leader Benny Gantz.

Without Ra’am’s support, the direct elections bill appears doomed.

Son of suspect in West Bank shooting attack said among those arrested

Palestinian media reports that Muntasir Shalabi, a resident of the West Bank town of Turmusayya, is one of the suspects sought by the Israeli military for involvement in Sunday’s terror attack at Tapuah Junction.

Shalabi’s son Ahmad was arrested by Israeli forces early this morning. According to Palestinian media reports, Israeli forces are still pursuing his father Muntasir.

According to Ahmad’s mother, Palestinian Authority security forces entered the Shibli family’s home hours before Israeli soldiers arrived to arrest him.

“Instead of working for the Palestinian people, they’re against us. They’re failures. All they want are jobs and money,” she tells official Hamas Al-Aqsa TV.

Dutch party equates COVID restrictions to Nazism on national Holocaust remembrance day

AMSTERDAM — A Dutch conservative party has suggested on the country’s Holocaust memorial day that COVID-19 measures have undone the liberation from the Nazis.

The message by the Forum for Democracy, which draws a sharp rebuke from Dutch Jews, comes in a banner disseminated online ahead of May 4 and 5, the national remembrance day for Holocaust and World War II casualties and the day celebrating liberation from Nazi Germany.

In what amounts to an epitaph, the Forum for Democracy banner reads: “On May 5 we will remember 75 years of freedom. 1945-2020.”

The banner was designed to resemble the official logo and font of the national 4 and 5 May Committee, which organizes commemoration events.

“This analogy by Forum for Democracy is unacceptable,” the Central Jewish Board of the Netherlands, CJO, writes in a statement. “It is deeply offensive and inexcusable to make political statements on the backs of victims and their relatives on the week of the national commemorations.”

Anti-vaccination and conspiracy theorists in Europe and the United States increasingly have been drawing parallels between the Holocaust and COVID-19 measures they oppose, like the lockdowns in Holland and around the world.

Today, an art installation featuring a large mirror is placed in Amsterdam’s popular Vondel Park as part of the May 4 commemorations. It is installed where a sign reading “forbidden for Jews” was put up during the Nazi occupation.

The Nazis and their local collaborators killed at least 75% of the some 140,000 Jews who lived in the Netherlands before the Holocaust — the highest death rate in occupied Western Europe.

Former NY assembly speaker Sheldon Silver released from prison on furlough

NEW YORK — Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has been released from a federal prison on furlough while he awaits potential placement to home confinement, a person familiar with the matter tells The Associated Press.

Silver, 77, began serving his more than six-year sentence at a prison in Otisville, New York, in August, after years of fending off going behind bars in a corruption case.

He has been released to his home while awaiting a final decision on whether he can serve the rest of his sentence there in home confinement, the person says. The person isn’t authorized to discuss the matter publicly and speaks to the AP on the condition of anonymity.

The federal Bureau of Prisons doesn’t provide details or a reason for the transfer, but Congress gave the Justice Department expanded powers during the coronavirus pandemic to release inmates on furlough and home confinement to prevent them from catching the virus behind bars.

Several other prisoners at Otisville, including former US president Donald Trump’s onetime lawyer Michael Cohen, have been serving their sentences at home because of the pandemic.

In a statement, the Bureau of Prisons notes it can transfer inmates to their home on furlough for periods of time while they are being considered for home confinement or placement in a halfway house.

Silver, a Jewish Democrat from Manhattan, was once one of the three most powerful state officials in New York. He was the Assembly’s leader for more than two decades before his abrupt ouster in 2015 after the corruption allegations emerged.

He was ultimately convicted in a scheme that involved a type of illegal back-scratching that has long plagued Albany. He supported legislation that benefited real estate developers he knew. In return, they referred tax business to a law firm that employed Silver, which then paid him fees.

Former New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver leaves US District Court after he was sentenced to 6 1/2 years in prison, in New York, July 20, 2020. (AP Photo/John Minchillo, File)

Ministers vote to end capacity limits in cabs, need to pre-purchase train ticket

Along with the easing of COVID-19 restrictions on gatherings and mass events, the high-level coronavirus cabinet votes to end capacity limits in cabs and scrap the requirement to purchase a ticket in advance before riding the train.

The changes will take effect on Thursday, May 6, at 7 a.m.

Top national religious rabbi to Bennett: Say you won’t join left-wing government

A leading national-religious rabbi calls on Yamina leader Naftali Bennett not to form a unity government with parties opposed to Prime Minister Netanyahu, hours before the premier’s mandate to form a government expires.

“I really appreciate and admire Naftali Bennett. He needs to say unequivocally, ‘I won’t form a left-wing government’ that will destroy a lot,” Rabbi Chaim Druckman tells Channel 12 news.

Netanyahu, who has been pressuring Bennett not to form a government with his rivals, shares a clip of the video on his Twitter account.

“Naftali, [Yamina No. 2 Ayelet] Shaked, listen to Rabbi Druckman,” Netanyahu tweets.

Rabbi: I had a ‘positive’ impression of Abbas, but gov’t ‘must be built by people of Israel’

In a Channel 12 interview, Rabbi Chaim Druckman, who is the spiritual head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, recalls a recent meeting he held with Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas, whose support Prime Minister Netanyahu needs to form a government. However, Religious Zionism opposes joining a government propped up by the Islamist Ra’am party.

Druckman claims he doesn’t remember who set up the meeting with Abbas, but says when the idea of a sit-down was proposed, he had no problem meeting the Ra’am leader.

“We talked a little about his views, what he wants in the Knesset, general things. I tried a little to get into the details but the answers were general,” he says.

Concerning Abbas himself, Druckman says he had a “positive impression” of the Ra’am head, but says his opposition remains the same.

“The government of Israel must be built by the people of Israel. This isn’t a Knesset of all citizens that have representatives and looks out for their affairs, but whoever rules the government, this is the people of Israel,” he says.

Druckman also comments on his conversations with Netanyahu.

“I can’t say how many times he called, but they called… not just him. I told him no to a government like this,” he says, referring to a potential coalition backed by Ra’am.

With no options of forming gov’t, Netanyahu won’t seek extension of mandate — TV

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s options for forming a government have run out and he will therefore not request an extension of his mandate to assemble a coalition, the Kan public broadcaster quotes associates of the premier as saying.

The report also says Netanyahu’s Likud party is putting heavy pressure on Ra’am chief Mansour Abbas as he seeks to build support for recommending Yamina chief Naftali Bennett as the best candidate to form a government, to block another of the prime minister’s rivals from being tasked with putting together a coalition.

In blow to Netanyahu, vote to fast-track bill on direct elections for PM delayed

Likud MK Miki Zohar says he won’t currently move forward with a vote to fast-track a bill to hold direct elections for prime minister, after failing to get a majority for the measure.

The delay is a setback for Netanyahu, hours before his midnight deadline to form a government. The premier has pushed holding direct elections for premier without another parliamentary vote after again failing to secure a majority for his right-wing religious bloc in the March 23 elections.

Zohar’s announcement that he won’t hold the vote came after the Islamist Ra’am party, whose support was needed to approve the fast-track process, came out against doing so.

Gantz urges Bennett to recommend Lapid get mandate: ‘Don’t fall into the trap’

Hours before Prime Minister Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz urges Yamina leader Naftali Bennett to recommend that Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid be tasked with assembling a coalition.

“I know you’re a moral person, that the State of Israel is important to you and that the promise of the continued existence of the Jewish people burns in your bones. Exactly for these reasons, you must announce today that you’re joining the change government and support granting the mandate to MK Yair Lapid,” Gantz says in a video statement addressed to Bennett.

He adds: “Listen to me, don’t fall into the trap they’re trying to set for you. You’re a moral man, don’t let Netanyahu trample you.”

TV: Likud now not expected to recommend Bennett form government

In an apparent reversal, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Likud party is now not expected to recommend Yamina chief Naftali Bennett be tasked with forming a government, Channel 12 news reports.

The reported change of heart is due to Bennett not ruling out forming a government with Netanyahu’s political rivals, according to the network.

The report comes before Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government expires at midnight.

While Netanyahu’s party never declared it would recommend Bennett, numerous reports suggested Likud was weighing doing so as a way of preventing the Yamina leader from assembling a coalition with anti-Netanyahu parties.

Poll: 43% of Israelis back Bennett-Lapid coalition, Netanyahu’s bloc would shrink in new elections

Hours before Prime Minister Netanyahu’s mandate to form a new government expires, Channel 13 news publishes a poll on Israelis’ preferences for who will head the next coalition, as well as who they will vote for if fifth elections are held.

The network says 43 percent of respondents back a government that will see Yamina chief Naftali Bennett and Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid switch off as prime minister, while a third back a Bennett-Netanyahu coalition. About a quarter of remaining respondents didn’t have an opinion.

Yamina voters, however, are not enthused about the prospect of teaming up with Lapid, with only 24% of the party’s voters backing joining a “change” government.” Over half say they prefer Bennett join with Netanyahu, while a quarter opposes both options.

Among supporters of Gideon Sa’ar’s New Hope party, which opposes joining a Netanyahu-led government, two-thirds back a government of anti-Netanyahu parties, according to the survey.

In the case of direct elections for prime minister — a proposal Netanyahu has been pushing, but which currently lacks majority support — 41% of respondents say they’ll vote for the prime minister, versus 36% for Lapid.

If new elections were held today, the poll says Likud would remain the largest party, but further shrink from 30 to 28 seats. Yesh Atid would grow to 21 seats, while Yamina would become the third-largest party with 11 seats.

The survey says Shas would drop to seven seats, and that United Torah Judaism and Labor would also each get seven. Blue and White would remain at eight, while both New Hope and Joint List would retain their current strength of six seats apiece.

The right-wing secularist Yisrael Beytenu party would slip to five seats, the same number the poll gave to the left-wing Meretz and far-right Religious Zionism. The Islamist Ra’am party was forecast to again win four seats.

Overall, the “change bloc” of anti-Netanyahu parties would have 58 seats, while Netanyahu’s right-wing religious bloc would have 47 — down from its current 52 — both short of a majority. Such an outcome would again position Yamina and Ra’am as potential kingmakers or in Bennett’s case, even king.

Asked what they believe the chances are of a fifth round of elections since April 2019, 60% of respondents believe that is the most likely outcome.

The internet poll, conducted by the “Midgam Project,” included 669 respondents and had a 3.8% margin of error, according to the network.

As deadline nears, Netanyahu appeals to Bennett: ‘Prove you’re still a man of the right’

With no apparent options for forming a government and with his mandate to put together a ruling majority due to expire at midnight, Prime Minister Netanyahu makes yet another appeal to Yamina chief Naftali Bennett not to assemble a unity government with the premier’s rivals.

“Naftali, prove you’re still a man of the right,” Netanyahu writes on Twitter.

The tweet is accompanied by a short video clip of Bennett saying he won’t agree to a government in which Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid would be prime minister, “because I’m a right-winger, this goes against my values and to me, values have meaning.”

Bennett has been holding talks with Lapid on forming a unity government in which the Yamina leader would first be prime minister, followed by the Yesh Atid chief.

Holocaust survivor who testified at Eichmann trial dies at 91

Joseph Zalman Kleinman, a Holocaust survivor who survived the Auschwitz death camp and testified against Adolf Eichmann in the Nazi commander’s trial in Jerusalem, died today, Israeli media report. He was 91.

The cause of death is not immediately released. Kleinman was one of fewer than 180,000 remaining Holocaust survivors in Israel.

Kleinman was born in Slovakia in January 1930 and was deported by Nazi Germany to the camp at Auschwitz-Birkenau at the age of 14. His father, mother and sister were killed at Auschwitz, one of the most notorious Nazi death camps in occupied Poland.

“In the summer of 1944, 3,000 young men aged 14 to 16 were gathered at Auschwitz … in tough conditions, acute starvation. We were there the whole summer and then at the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur and Simchat Torah (Jewish high holidays), nearly everyone was exterminated,” he said.

Eichmann, one of Nazi Germany’s main organizers of the Holocaust, was captured by Israeli Mossad agents outside Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1960. He was put on trial in Jerusalem in 1961 and found guilty of crimes against humanity, crimes against the Jewish people and war crimes. He was executed the following year.

In testimony during the trial, Kleinman told the court about the conditions in Auschwitz, and how he avoided being executed as ordered by Josef Mengele, the Nazi officer and physician known as the “Angel of Death.”

Kleinman immigrated to Israel after the war.

Holocaust survivor Joseph Zalman Kleinman gestures to the arm he prefers to receive the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine for COVID-19, in Jerusalem, January 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Maya Alleruzzo, File)

Biden: : US ready ‘immediately’ to vaccinate adolescents after health authorities give OK

WASHINGTON — US President Joe Biden pledges that the United States will be ready to launch a vaccination campaign for 12 to 15-year-olds as soon as Pfizer’s COVID shot is approved for the age group.

Biden says in an address from the White House that “if that announcement comes, we are ready to move immediately.”

US, Britain, France among countries where tourists to Israel likely to be allowed — TV

Tourism Minister Orit Farkash-Hacohen has agreed with the “relevant officials” on a list of 14 destinations she says foreign tourists can begin traveling from later on May 23, according to Channel 12 news.

The list includes the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Italy, Malta, Iceland, Denmark, Ireland, Portugal, New Zealand, Australia, Singapore and Hong Kong.

Farkash-Hacohen is quoted saying Israel is a “safe country” and allowing tourists will serve as a “contribution to Israel’s economy and not other countries.”

If the tourists are indeed allowed, they are expected to be required to take a serological test proving they have COVID antibodies, as well as a regular coronavirus test, the report says.

Biden to Abu Dhabi crown prince: Israel-UAE normalization has ‘strategic importance’

US President Joe Biden speaks by phone with Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed al Nahyan, in first call with the de facto ruler of the United Arab Emirates since taking office.

Biden hailed the Trump-era peace agreement between Israel and the UAE, according to a White House statement,

“They discussed regional and global challenges, including Afghanistan, the nuclear and regional dimensions of the threat posed by Iran, as well as the common quest for de-escalation and peace in the Middle Peace. In that regard, the president underlined the strategic importance of the normalization of relations between the United Arab Emirates and Israel. He expressed his full support for strengthening and expanding these arrangements,” the statement says.

Suspect in West Bank shooting attack said to have US citzenship

Muntasir Shalabi, who Palestinian reports have named as the main suspect in Sunday’s drive-by shooting attack in which three Israelis were wounded, has American citizenship, residents of the West Bank town where he is from tell the Haaretz daily.

The Turmusayya residents say several of Shalabi’s relatives were arrested, as were a number of his wife’s family members in the town and in the nearby village of Aqraba, where the car used in the terror attack was found.

The newspaper says that according to some residents, Shalabi recently returned from the US and was in financial straits after losing money gambling.

Netanyahu fails to muster majority coalition as midnight deadline passes

As the clock strikes midnight, Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deadline to form a government passes, with the Likud leader having failed to assemble a ruling coalition during the 28-day period he was given by President Reuven Rivlin.

The “mandate” to form a government returns now to Rivlin, who has three days to decide how to proceed. He can either task another lawmaker — mostly likely Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid or Yamina chief Naftali Bennett — with forming a government, or give the Knesset 21 days to get a majority of lawmakers to rally around a candidate. If those routes fail, a fifth round of elections since April 2019 will automatically be called.

Along with his political woes, Netanyahu is also fighting for his legal survival, with the cross-examination of the first witness in his corruption trial beginning today. Netanyahu, who faces charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, denies wrongdoing.

Likud says Netanyahu has returned mandate to form government, lashes out at Bennett

After Prime Minister Netanyahu’s deadline to form a government expires, the premier’s Likud party says he has formally returned the mandate to form a government to President Reuven Rivlin, after failing to put together a ruling majority following last month’s elections.

Likud lashes out at Yamina leader Naftali Bennett, blaming him for Netanyahu’s inability to secure a right-wing majority after four elections since April 2019.

“Due to Bennett’s refusal to commit to a right-wing government, which definitely would have led to the formation of a government with the addition of other Knesset members, Prime Minister Netanyahu returned the mandate to the president,” Likud says in a statement.

Rivlin: Netanyahu told me before midnight deadline he can’t form coalition

President Reuven Rivlin says Prime Minister Netanyahu’s mandate to form a government has expired, with the premier informing him shortly before the midnight deadline that he could not assemble a ruling a majority.

In the morning, Rivlin says his office will reach out to parties “regarding the process of forming a government.”

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