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

EU recommends member states lift restrictions on travel from Israel

The European Council adds Israel to a list of countries for which it recommends EU member states gradually lift COVID-19 travel restrictions on nonessential travel.

A statement from the European Council says the criteria for including Israel on the list include the “epidemiological situation and overall response to COVID-19, as well as the reliability of the available information and data sources.”

“Reciprocity should also be taken into account on a case by case basis,” it adds.

Ahead of Quds Day, Iranian FM brands Israel ‘an apartheid regime’

Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif brands Israel “an apartheid regime” in a tweet ahead of Quds Day, which Iran and its proxies have marked since the 1979 Islamic Revolution to protest the Jewish state’s existence.

“Palestine is a yardstick for justice. Few measure up. But Iran has proudly stood with Palestinian people — who resist the brutality of an apartheid regime #QudsDay is yearly reminder of moral imperative of global solidarity for Palestine,” Zarif writes on Twitter.

Yamina MK claims he was offered ministry, spot in Likud if he defects

Yamina MK Abir Kara is claiming Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party offered him a ministerial post and guaranteed spot on the Likud election slate if he bolts Yamina, according to Hebrew media reports.

In WhatsApp messages sent to fellow Yamina members, Kara says an envoy for Netanyahu invited him to meet secretly this afternoon with the Likud leader and he was told to enter via the back door so no one would see him, according to the Ynet news site.

Kara, who led a protest group representing independent business owners, also says he was promised whatever he wants for these businesspeople. But he turned down Netanyahu’s offer.

The Yamina lawmaker also sends a letter to Netanyahu in which he notes the Likud leader’s failure to form a government after the March 23 elections and calls on the prime minister to join a government led by Bennett.

“The Yamina party announced in advance that it will enter a right-wing government and unfortunately instead of dealing with assembling a right-wing government, you dealt with personal insults toward Naftali Bennett. Too bad,” Kara writes.

Likud subsequently denies Netanyahu or anyone on his behalf made any offer to Kara.

“This is Bennett’s ridiculous spin that is meant to distract from him galloping toward a left-wing government with Meretz and Labor in contrast to all his promises to the voter,” a Likud statement says.

The report comes after Yamina MK Amichai Chikli said he wouldn’t back the prospective unity government that Bennett is negotiating with Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid if it includes the left-wing Meretz or predominantly Arab Joint List.

Though Netanyahu has no clear path to forming a government and failed to assemble one in the 28 days he was given to do so before Tuesday night’s deadline, he has been calling on Yamina not to team up with Lapid in a bid to prevent his rivals from forming a coalition.

Yamina’s Abir Kara at the Knesset on April 5, 2021. (Olivier Fitousi/Flash90)

After outcry, government reaches funding compromise for wounded veteran care

The government announces that it reached a compromise on a Defense Ministry plan to reform the treatment for wounded veterans, after a quarrel over funding halted the proposal earlier this week.

According to the Defense Ministry, the new plan will shortly be brought before the cabinet, where it is expected to receive the necessary approvals.

Following the announcement that the plan, dubbed One Soul, was being held up due to a budgetary fight between Defense Minister Benny Gantz and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Israel Katz earlier this week, veterans groups held a series of protests against the delay.

“I have approved thousands of operations, attack plans and reforms in the IDF and defense establishment and yet this is one of the most important and most moral efforts I have led, and I will continue to lead the implementation of this reform and provide the proper care for IDF veterans,” Gantz says in a statement.

As part of the compromise between the Defense and Finance ministries, the funding for the plan was scaled back significantly — from NIS 350 million to NIS 300 million.

According to the Defense Ministry, the funding will go toward the immediate hire of 60 people for the Rehabilitation Department and toward additional support for veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Netanyahu vows to get wounded vet reform plan approved ASAP

Prime Minister Netanyahu cheers the compromise reached between government ministries to fund a plan for improving care for wounded IDF veterans.

“After many efforts, we reached an agreement between the Prime Minister’s Office and defense and finance ministries, together with the IDF Disabled Veterans Organization, on a budget [for] reforming the Rehabilitation Department. Wounded IDF veterans are important and dear us and an immediate and fundamental reform is needed to ensure the help that they deserve,” Netanyahu says in a statement from his office.

He also vows to convene the government “as soon as possible” to approve the reform, but doesn’t specify when.

Netanyahu, Haredi political leaders reiterate opposition to unity government

Prime Minister Netanyahu meets with the leaders of the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties in his right-wing religious bloc.

A Likud statement says they agreed to continue to oppose the “change government” being negotiated by the right-wing Yamina and centrist Yesh Atid parties. They also call on Yamina MKs Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked “to keep their promises to the public and avoid a government with Yair Lapid, Merav Michaeli and Nitzan Horowitz.”

Absent from the meeting is MK Bezalel Smotrich, head of the far-right Religious Zionism party, who is sick.

Clockwise from top: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Likud, Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin of Likud, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri oh Shas, Housing Minister Yaakov Litzman of United Torah Judaism and UTJ MK Moshe Gafni meet on May 6, 2021. (Likud)

Man killed, 4 hurt in car crash on Jerusalem-Tel Aviv highway

A man is killed and four other people are hurt to varying degrees in a car crash on Route 1 outside Jerusalem.

Russia registers one-dose version of Sputnik COVID vaccine

MOSCOW — The developers of Russia’s Sputnik V coronavirus vaccine say a single-dose version of the shot has received approval for use by health officials in Moscow.

The Russian Direct Investment Fund (RDIF), which helped finance the vaccine, says in a statement that Sputnik Light “demonstrated 79.4 percent efficacy” compared to 91.6 percent for the two-shot Sputnik V.

Qatar arrests finance minister in corruption probe

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Qatar’s public prosecutor has ordered the arrest of the finance minister, state-run media reports today, to question him over alleged abuse of power and misuse of public funds in the energy-rich state.

The Qatar News Agency doesn’t provide other details about the investigation, and the nature of the case against Ali Sharif al-Emadi, who has served finance minister since 2013, isn’t immediately clear. Al-Emadi rose to prominence in the Gulf Arab emirate of Qatar after overseeing the growth of Qatar National Bank for years.

The statement says authorities are investigating reported crimes related to his public role. Arrests of such high-ranking officials on suspicion of corruption are rare in Qatar.

Corruption remains rampant in Gulf Arab sheikhdoms flush with petrodollars and in the wider Middle East. In its 2020 corruption perceptions index, which surveys economic experts about the perceived level of public sector corruption, corruption watchdog Transparency International listed Qatar among the least corrupt in the region, with a score of 63 out of 100. The scale ranks countries between zero, which is “highly corrupt,” and 100, for “very clean.”

Qatar’s Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al Emadi listens during the third annual US-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Department, September 14, 2020 in Washington. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP)

Another Yamina MK claims Netanyahu tried to entice her to defect with jobs, spot in Likud

Another Yamina lawmaker claims she was offered official posts and a reserved spot in the ruling Likud party by numerous envoys dispatched by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

“Thanks, but no,” MK Idit Silman writes on Facebook. “I’m not interested in that but in preventing fifth elections and stopping the chaos that you [Netanyahu] led the country to.”

She also says she is sticking with Yamina leader Naftali Bennett and backs his efforts to form a “good government in Israel” as soon as possible.

“I believe in Bennett’s path, the Yamina party and the ability of our wonderful nation to cooperate at this time,” Silman says.

Yamina’s Idit Silman arrives to attend the swearing-in ceremony of the 24th Knesset in Jerusalem, April 6, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

IDF drops leaflets in Syrian Golan after reportedly bombing area

The Israel Defense Forces drops leaflets in the Syrian Golan Heights, accusing the Syrian military of working on behalf of the Hezbollah terror group, hours after Israeli helicopters reportedly bombed targets in the area controlled by the Iran-backed militia.

“Stop cooperating with the Syrian and Lebanese personnel of Hezbollah. Otherwise you will have no peace of mind,” the IDF warns.

The leaflets, marked with the symbol of the IDF’s Golan Division, explicitly name Syrian Brig. Gen. Hussein Hamoush of the Syrian First Division’s 90th Brigade as working on behalf of Hezbollah and the head of the terror group’s operations on the Golan, al-Hajj Hashim.

“We note in particular the Brig. Gen. Hussein Hamoush, commander of Brigade 90. And he is among those who have sold their consciences and their homeland at the cheapest of prices in return for aid for Hezbollah to camouflage their image among their masters, ignoring the general interest and your safety,” the leaflet reads.

Nuclear talks said to stall over Iran’s advanced centrifuges

Talks on restoring the 2015 accord limiting Iran’s nuclear program have hit a roadblock over the issue of centrifuges, the Axios news site reports.

Citing unnamed European diplomats and former US officials, the report says the Biden administration’s call for Iran to return to compliance with the deal is complicated by the advances in the Iran nuclear program since then.

While the US and EU agree that the “breakout time” for Iran to have enough material to produce a bomb must be a year, Tehran sees the matter differently, with a key disagreement over the fate of the more advanced centrifuges the Iranians have installed, according to the report.

The news site further says that while there has been progress on what sanctions the US will lift to restore the deal, there has been almost no progress on the nuclear side.

The talks are set to resume tomorrow in Vienna.

“If you’re hearing that we and our partners have resolved not to cut any corners when it comes to Iran’s nuclear commitments, that’s absolutely true,” a US official is quoted saying in response.

Shin Bet accuses PFLP of defrauding European aid groups

The Shin Bet security services accuses the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine terror group of conducting an illicit financing scheme to pilfer money from European aid organizations to fund its terrorist activities.

The Shin Bet has arrested a number of those suspected of being involved in recent weeks and says that indictments against them will be filed shortly, including against a woman with Spanish citizenship, Juani Rishmawi.

According to the security service, the PFLP used its health organization, the Health Work Committee, to defraud various European organizations and countries of millions of euros over the course of several years.

“PFLP institutions deceived aid organizations in Europe through a number of methods – reporting on fictitious projects, transferring false documents, forging and inflating invoices, diverting tenders, forging documents and bank signatures, reporting inflated salaries, and more,” the Shin Bet says.

According to the security service, the money was used to pay families of slain members of the terror group, to recruit new operatives, and to spread the group’s messaging throughout the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem.

Israeli consul general in NY holds Iftar meal for counterparts from UAE, Morocco, Kosovo

Israel’s acting consul general in New York hosts an Iftar dinner for his counterparts from the United Arab Emirates, Morocco and Kosovo, all of whose countries have normalized relations with the Jewish state in the past year.

UAE Consul General Abdalla Shaheen, Morocco Consul General Abdelkader Jamoussi and Kosovo Consul General Frymëzim Isufaj joined Israeli Consul General Israel Nitzan for the dinner, along with several other prominent community leaders.

“This year’s event is even more historic and joyous because of our distinguished guests,” says Nitzan. “Thanks to the Abraham Accords forged by our nations and with the help of the United States, we are now officially at peace. More importantly, our friendship is opening new opportunities in not only the Middle East, but in New York as well.”

(L-R) Consul General of Kosovo in New York, Frymëzim Isufaj; Consul General of UAE in New York, Abdalla Shaheen; Acting Consul General of Israel in New York, Israel Nitzan; and Consul General of the Kingdom of Morocco in New York, Abdelkader Jamoussi (Consulate General of Israel in NY)

Netanyahus sue ex-PM Olmert for calling them mentally ill

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s family files a defamation suit against his predecessor Ehud Olmert for calling the premier, his wife Sara and eldest son Yair mentally ill in interviews.

The suit seeks NIS 837,000 (some $257,000) in damages for Olmert’s “obsessive efforts to harm their good name in public, out of jealously and deep frustration.”

There is no immediate response from Olmert, who last month showed no signs of backing down when the Netanyahus threatened to sue him if he didn’t apologize within a week and pony up NIS 1 million.

Iran sets out conditions for presidential hopefuls, potentially barring some candidates

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s election-vetting body has spelt out conditions for running in next month’s presidential election, potentially barring several high-profile candidates, local media reports today.

The conservative-dominated Guardian Council complained earlier this week of the “unpleasant situation” that allowed would-be candidates lacking basic requirements to register to run in the election held every four years.

Under the Islamic Republic’s constitution, candidates for the presidency require vague qualifications such as being among “political and religious” figures.

The Guardian Council is tasked with interpreting the constitution, validating parliamentary legislation and monitoring elections.

The council has specified that “all nominees must be between 40 and 70 years of age, hold at least a master’s degree or its equivalent, have work experience of at least four years in managerial posts… and have no criminal record,” according to Iran’s state-run Press TV.

It says top military commanders with the rank of major general or higher are also qualified to run.

The terms in effect implement a 2016 directive from Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei for the council to clarify and “determine” the requirements.

According to the council, the amendment has been passed on to the interior ministry, which will receive nominations from May 11-15 before submitting them to the vetting body.

Iran will vote on June 18 for a successor to President Hassan Rouhani, considered a relative moderate in Iran’s political system.

The updated requirements would potentially rule out some well-known names, such as Rouhani’s telecom minister, Mohammad Javad Azari Jahromi, who is 39, or the elite Revolutionary Guards’ Saeed Mohammad, whose rank is below major general.

Former candidate Mohammad Gharazi, a 79-year-old ex-minister, would also be ruled out, as well as senior reformist figure Mostafa Tajzadeh, who was jailed during Iran’s 2009 protests, because of a conviction the following year.

Netanyahu to Shaked, other Yamina MKs: ‘Do the right thing,’ oppose unity gov’t

Prime Minister Netanyahu is once again lashing out at his right-wing rival Naftali Bennett, as he tries to prevent the Yamina leader from forming a unity government with Yesh Atid chief Yair Lapid after failing in his own effort to assemble a coalition.

“Naftali Bennett is trying to hide the truth. This will be a left-wing government, a weak government that lowers its head in the face on international pressure,” Netanyahu tells a faction meeting of Likud lawmakers.

He goes on to praise Yamina MK Amichai Chikli, who has come out against the prospective government that Bennett and Lapid are seeking to form, calling him “brave” and a “man with values.”

“Just as MK Chikli did the right thing, Ayelet Shaked and other Yamina members can and need to do the right thing and not join this dangerous left-wing government,” Netanyahu says.

The speech comes after several Yamina MKs said they turned down offers from Likud to defect, claims denied by Netanyahu’s party.

Supreme Court to discuss appeal against pending evictions of Palestinians in Sheikh Jarrah

The Supreme Court decides to hold a discussion on Monday regarding the appeal of several East Jerusalem Palestinian families threatened with eviction in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.

Four East Jerusalem Palestinian families — over 70 people — are currently facing eviction in the neighborhood. They are likely to be displaced by right-wing Jewish nationalists, who reclaimed the land on which the Palestinian homes were built after 1948.

Supreme Court Justice Daphne Barak-Erez had asked the two sides to reach a compromise by today. But the Palestinians refused to accept any deal which would involve recognizing the Jewish claim to their homes.

The timing of the session is somewhat unfortunate, as Monday is Jerusalem Day. The holiday, which commemorates Israel’s conquest of the city’s eastern half in 1967, regularly sees heightened tensions between Israeli Jews and Palestinian residents. Religious-nationalist Jews hold a march through the Old City, including Palestinian areas, and often seek to enter the flashpoint Temple Mount in large numbers.

Jerusalem has seen heightened tensions in recent weeks, with both Palestinian demonstrators and Jewish extremists clashing violently with police in the city’s downtown.

Yamina MK to Netanyahu: Loyalty and friendship are still important to me in politics

Yet another Yamina MK says thanks, but no thanks, to Prime Minister Netanyahu, as he aims to build pressure on the right-wing party’s lawmakers not to form a unity government with Yesh Atid.

“There is no need to call to us in speeches to the nation and to send envoys with offers. Also in politics, loyalty and friendship are important values to me,” MK Nir Orbach writes on Facebook.

He adds: “As a religious Zionist who believes in the people of Israel, the Land of Israel and the Torah of Israel, I believe with all my heart that the path of fifth elections which you are seeking to lead to is a slippery slope for Israel.”

Orbach says he backs Bennett in forming a unity government, calling it “the right way.”

Gaza fire balloons spark 6 blazes in southern Israel

Balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Gaza Strip sparked six fires in southern Israel today, according to the fire service.

UN envoy warns rising West Bank, East Jerusalem tensions ‘could spiral out of control’

The UN envoy for Middle East peace process says he is “deeply concerned” by the rising tensions in the West Bank and East Jerusalem in recent weeks.

Tor Wennesland notes the death of a Palestinian teenager in clashes with the Israel Defense Forces and a woman shot dead while trying to carry out a suspected stabbing attack on Israeli troops, as well as a drive-by shooting attack in the West Bank in which an Israeli was killed and two others injured. The IDF captured the suspected terrorist last night.

“I reiterate that [Israeli security forces] must exercise maximum restraint and use lethal force only when strictly unavoidable in order to protect life. Perpetrators of violence on all sides must be held accountable and swiftly brought to justice,” Wennesland says.

He also says a number of pending evictions of Palestinian families in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah is “also very worrying.” The evictions are partially based on a 1970 Israeli law allowing Jews to reclaim East Jerusalem land owned by Jews before 1948.

“I urge Israel to cease demolitions and evictions, in line with its obligations under international humanitarian law,” the UN envoy says.

Wennesland concludes: “I call on political, religious and community leaders on all sides to stand firmly against violence, incitement and inflammatory rhetoric. If unaddressed, the situation could spiral out of control.”

Screen capture from video of United Nations Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland. (YouTube)

AG says joint team from police, internal affairs will probe Meron disaster

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit says a joint investigative team from the Israel Police and the Justice Ministry’s Police Internal Investigations Department will lead the probe into the deadly crush at Lag B’Omer celebrations at Mount Meron, in which 45 people were killed.

In a statement, Mandelblit says the team will also be assisted by the State Attorney’s Office.

“It is difficult to overstate the severity of the disaster that occurred on Mount Meron and therefore everything must be done to strive to discover the truth through an effective and efficient investigation,” Mandelblit says

Morocco recalls envoy to Germany amid tensions over Western Sahara

RABAT, Morocco — Morocco says it is recalling its ambassador to Berlin for consultations, accusing Germany of “hostile acts” two months after tensions over the disputed Western Sahara.

“The Federal Republic of Germany has stepped up hostile acts and actions that undermine the supreme interests of the kingdom,” the Moroccan foreign ministry says in a statement.

It specifically accuses Berlin of “antagonism,” following German criticism of the recognition by former US president Donald Trump of Moroccan sovereignty over the Western Sahara.

Morocco insists its claim to sovereignty over the former Spanish colony of Western Sahara is non-negotiable, despite the rival claims of the pro-independence Polisario Front, with which it fought a 1975-91 war.

On March 2, Rabat said it was suspending contacts with the German embassy in the North African kingdom over “deep misunderstandings” on “issues fundamental for Morocco.” Germany then said it had summoned the Moroccan ambassador for clarification.

Last year, Morocco joined the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Sudan in agreeing to normalize ties with Israel under US-brokered deals. In return, Trump recognized Rabat’s sovereignty over Western Sahara, a region rich in phosphates which lies near key Atlantic fishing zones.

Today, the Moroccan foreign ministry doesn’t specify what were the “hostile acts” allegedly carried out. But it also accuses German authorities of “complicity” with a “former convict.”

The foreign ministry’s statement doesn’t name the individual, but it is widely believed to be Mohamed Hajib, a German-Moroccan who was sentenced in Morocco to 10 years in prison on terror charges in 2010.He  was released after having served half his sentence, and upon his return to Germany he has been a vocal critic of Morocco on social media.

Morocco has had generally good relations with Germany, which provides it with a substantial amount of financial aid, and Germany is one of Morocco’s main trade partners.

Netanyahu insists he’s in it to win it after failing to form goverment

Prime Minister Netanyahu insists he’s not going anywhere after again failing to form a narrow right-wing coalition, as his rivals hold talks on potentially putting together a unity government that could send Israel’s longest-serving premier packing.

“I want to reassure you, I’m not going anywhere. I’m staying here, fighting together with you until we win,” Netanyahu tells Likud lawmakers during a faction meeting, according to a party statement.

He adds: “I tell you this, we won’t descend into elections because no one wants to elections. Bennett prevented the formation of a right-wing government. We wanted one thing from him — to join a bloc of 59. The 59 would bring 61.”

Netanyahu doesn’t explain, however, how he would procure the two more seats needed for a majority if Yamina were to rejoin his right-wing religious bloc. While Yamina said it would join a right-wing government if Netanyahu could form one, the premier’s allies in the far-right Religious Zionism party ruled out joining a coalition backed by the Islamist Ra’am, blocking the Likud chief’s path to a ruling majority.

Pfizer CEO says ‘not at all’ in favor of US patent waiver

BRUSSELS — Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla says he is against a US-backed proposal to waive patents on COVID-19 vaccines, saying production should be ramped up in existing facilities instead.

In an interview with AFP, Bourla says his company, which developed its vaccine with German firm BioNTech, is “not at all” in favor of the call from the United States to waive patent protections for coronavirus jabs.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla speaks during a press conference at Pfizer’s factory in Puurs, Belgium. (John Thys/Pool/AFP)

Israel said upping security readiness ahead of possible Jerusalem tensions

Israeli security forces are upping their level of readiness ahead of what could be a particularly tense weekend in Jerusalem, according to Hebrew media reports.

Besides tomorrow being the last Friday of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, the reports also cite tensions over the pending evictions of Palestinian families in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood, which Hamas has warned Israel over.

Additionally, Monday is Jerusalem Day, a day that usually sees a right-wing march through the Old City’s Muslim Quarter ending at the Western Wall, which has in the past been blamed for increased tensions between Jews and Arabs.

Yamina MK who opposes potential unity government vows not to resign

Yamina MK Amichai Chikli vows not to resign after coming out against the formation of a potential unity government led partly by the chief of his own party, Naftali Bennett.

“Bennett’s move is twisted. I won’t resign,” Chikli tells Channel 12 news.

Lapid in first speech after getting mandate: Unity government isn’t a compromise, ‘it’s a goal’

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid gives his first speech since being tasked yesterday by President Reuven Rivlin with forming a new government.

“I told the president, an Israeli unity government isn’t a compromise, it’s a goal,” he says.

Referring to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s speech yesterday lashing out at his political rivals, Lapid says, “that’s exactly what we want to change.”

“We’ve had enough of anger and of hate. We’ve argued enough. Israel is hurting and it needs quiet, it needs unity, and it really needs a functioning government,” he says. “Israel is tired of fighting. Israeli society is looking to its politicians and asking when will they stop arguing and start working? Our answer is, now.”

While acknowledging the difficulties in forming a unity government, Lapid says “it will have a simple goal: to take the country out of this crisis. The coronavirus crisis, the economic crisis, the political crisis and mostly the crisis within us, within the people of Israel.”

He says “internal arguments” are making it more difficult to address security challenges and to improve the economy and education system.

“If we manage to form a government then it will also treat the opposition differently. We won’t attack or belittle. We’ll respect them and we will deal with the challenges faced by those who didn’t vote for us,” he says.

Noting his prospective ruling partner Naftali Bennett’s remark yesterday that a unity government will prevent fifth elections, Lapid says that is only part of it.

“The main aim, the main challenge, is to start something different – cleaner, decent and which actually works,” he says.

Referring to the mix of parties that would be part of the unity government, Lapid acknowledges they are “different people with different views but the fact that someone doesn’t agree with us doesn’t make them an enemy.”

He also says he isn’t looking to focus on the past.

“We’re not here to fight about the past but for the future. Whoever wants to fight and be angry can do that. We prefer to get to work for the Israeli public,” he says.

Lapid says ‘situation is under control’ regarding possible Yamina defectors

Asked if he is worried about any further lawmakers in Yamina deciding to oppose a prospective unity government, Yesh Atid head Yair Lapid says during a press conference that “it appears to me the situation is under control.”

Harvey Weinstein sues lawyer, seeks return of $1 million in fees

NEW YORK — Harvey Weinstein wants his money back.

The convicted rapist is suing his one-time lawyer Jose Baez for breach of contract and is seeking a refund on $1 million in legal fees he says he paid the high-profile attorney for a short stint on his legal team.

Weinstein alleges Baez was regularly preoccupied with other matters, pawned off important work on other lawyers, was often unavailable to speak with him about his New York City rape case and later provided fraudulent billing records.

Baez, a Florida-based lawyer best known for representing Casey Anthony, joined Weinstein’s defense in January 2019 and left six months later, saying the former movie mogul had tarnished their relationship by communicating only through other lawyers and by failing to abide by a fee agreement.

Weinstein, in the lawsuit, claims he agreed to pay Baez and another lawyer $2 million in $200,000 monthly payments for their defense work on the landmark #MeToo case but that Baez violated New York law by stating in his agreement that his retainer was non-refundable and non-negotiable.

Messages seeking comment were left for Baez.

Weinstein, 69, was convicted in February 2020 of raping an aspiring actress in 2013 and forcibly performing oral sex on a production assistant in 2006. He is serving a 23-year sentence in state prison. Last month, his lawyers filed appeal paperwork demanding a new trial.

Weinstein also faces a likely extradition to California, where he is charged with assaulting five women in Los Angeles and Beverly Hills from 2004 to 2013.

Details of Weinstein’s lawsuit against Baez were reported by Law 360.

Leading yeshiva said torn on whether to invite Bennett for Jerusalem Day

The Mercaz Harav yeshiva in Jerusalem, one of the most prominent national-religious seminaries, is deliberating whether to invite Yamina chief Naftali Bennett to its Jerusalem Day celebrations in light of his efforts to form a unity government with Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid, Channel 13 news reports.

The network notes Bennett has previously been a guest there when he was a minister in governments led by Prime Minister Netanyahu.

Mossad chief visits Bahrain for talks with security officials

Mossad chief visited Bahrain today for talks with top Bahraini security officials, the Gulf kingdom’s official news agency reports.

“Both sides discussed ways of boosting cooperation and coordination, security issues, regional developments and issues of common interest. They expressed hope coexistence will prevail among peoples in the region within the framework of security, stability and tolerance so as to build for an upcoming phase of peace, progress and prosperity for all,” a statement carried by the Bahrain News Agency says.

NY Jewish federation sending $200,000 in COVID relief to India

The UJA-Federation of New York announced $200,000 in grants to four organizations working on COVID relief efforts in India.

The grants are focused on providing equipment and relief in hard to reach and especially vulnerable communities in the country, where a second wave of infections has overwhelmed hospitals and crematoria.

The funding will include a $60,000 grant to the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee for a partnership with the Israeli government to provide Israeli-made ventilators to hospitals, UJA said in a statement.

The remainder will enable the NGOs Afya, IsraAID and Gabriel Project Mumbai to procure medical equipment and food packages and help establish a new vaccination center in Mumbai’s Kalwa slum.

“It’s heartbreaking to see the scenes from India today, and we hope our aid will spur others to join the relief effort,” Eric Goldstein, CEO of UJA-Federation of New York, says in a statement.

US ready to ‘do everything that it can’ to prevent a nuclear Iran if talks fail

The United States is prepared to “do everything that it can to make sure that Iran does not acquire a nuclear weapon” if indirect talks in Vienna on a return to the JCPOA fail to bare fruit, a senior State Department official tells reporters in a background briefing.

“We’re prepared for that scenario as well, but the scenario that we prefer, that’s in our interest and that is in Iran’s interest is to come back into mutual compliance and that’s what we’re… in Vienna to try and achieve,” the official says.

The official says that the US will only ease Trump-era sanctions against Iran that it believes are in violation with the JCPOA, while suggesting that additional sanctions that aren’t in violation with the agreement could remain in place and be used as leverage for subsequent negotiations to reach a “longer and stronger deal” that addresses Tehran’s ballistic missiles program and its “aggressive” activity in the region.

The official says US President Biden views a return to the JCPOA as “just a first step” that will hopefully be used as a platform for a broader deal that would be negotiated immediately after the sides return to compliance with the JCPOA.

However, the official clarifies that the US is “not waiting for a return to the JCPOA to try and help out our allies and partners in the region,” referring to the concerns of Iran’s neighbors regarding its regional hegemony.

Asked if a deal to return to the JCPOA could be reached before Iran’s parliamentary elections in June, the official was non-committal. “Is it possible that we’ll see a mutual return to compliance in the next few weeks, or an understanding of a mutual compliance? It’s possible yes. Is it likely? Only time will tell because as I said, this is ultimately a matter of a political decision that needs to be made in Iran.”

For the vast majority of the briefing, the official relied on previously stated American talking points.

read more: