Live updates (closed)Latest: 2 preemies contract virulent bacteria in Tel Aviv hospital

Bill barring BDS activists from Israel passes first reading in Knesset

High Court strikes down government’s bid to postpone Amona evacuation; politicians spar over controversial law to recognize illegal settlements

Judah Ari Gross is The Times of Israel's military correspondent.

  • Chairpeople of the Zionist Union party, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, seen during a faction meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Chairpeople of the Zionist Union party, Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni, seen during a faction meeting in the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on November 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seen during a Likud party faction meeting at the Knesset on November 14, 2016. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 7, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Jewish Home party chairman Naftali Bennett speaks during a party faction meeting at the Knesset, on November 7, 2016. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • A jet plane flies across the supermoon,  brightest moon in almost 69 years, above Beijing, China, on November 14, 2016. (Ng Han Guan/AP Photo)
    A jet plane flies across the supermoon, brightest moon in almost 69 years, above Beijing, China, on November 14, 2016. (Ng Han Guan/AP Photo)
  • An Israeli man takes a picture of the 'supermoon' on Jerusalem's promenade on November 14, 2016. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)
    An Israeli man takes a picture of the 'supermoon' on Jerusalem's promenade on November 14, 2016. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)
  • The supermoon rises over Tel Aviv, on November 14, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)
    The supermoon rises over Tel Aviv, on November 14, 2016. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

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

Netanyahu tells Herzog to ‘apologize immediately’ for virus comparison

Responding to opposition leader MK Isaac Herzog’s comment, in which he called illegal outposts, or potentially the entire settlement movement, a “virus,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expresses shock at the terminology and calls for the Labor leader to apologize, in a statement posted to Twitter.

“I can’t believe Herzog used the term ‘virus’ in connection with settlers. They are flesh of our flesh, serve in the army, contribute to the country. Bouji, apologize immediately,” Netanyahu writes, using Herzog’s nickname.

This morning, Herzog spoke on Army Radio, joining the chorus of politicians voicing opposition to a bill that aims to stave off a demolition order against the Amona outpost, which was slated to be evacuated two years ago, along with other illegal settlements.

“I understand the pain of the families [but] you were given two years to evacuate. Look what this virus is doing to Israel and how dangerous it is to our democracy,” said Herzog, who heads the Zionist Union Knesset faction.

Herzog clarifies: The Amona bill’s the virus, not the settlers

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog says his “virus” comparison was directed not towards settlers — as many had claimed — but to the Amona bill, a piece of legislation green-lighted by a ministerial committee Sunday that would recognize illegal settlements.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had called for Herzog to apologize, saying he “can’t believe” the opposition head had made the comparison.

“No Bibi, this time it won’t work,” Herzog writes on Twitter, using Netanyahu’s nickname.

“The Amona bill is the virus. A dangerous virus for the court and democracy. The settlers are our brothers and I will care for them more than you lie to them,” Herzog says.

‘Chained women’ to have legal recourse against divorce-refusing husbands

The state will now be able to punish men who refuse to give their wives a religious divorce, also known as a get, in accordance with a new order by State’s Attorney Shai Nitzan, Channel 2 news reports.

In Jewish law, women denied a get, who are sometimes referred to as “chained women,” are unable to remarry, putting them in a difficult limbo state.

Religious courts and some more modern marriage contracts have sought to address this issue, freeing these women, even if their husbands refuse to offer the divorce. However, these women had no recourse in the legal system — until now.

“In the cases where rabbinic courts give an order demanding a get, we can now consider opening an investigation against the divorce-refuser and bringing him to trial for ignoring a legal order, under section 287 of the penal code,” Nitzan says in his new order.

“When a man is found guilty of the crime of ignoring a legal order by refusing to grant the get, the prosecution will sentence him to imprisonment for a real period of time,” he writes.

Lapid says right-wing lawmakers bluffing with Amona bill

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid says the right-wing lawmakers backing the legislation to prevent the Amona outpost’s evacuation know it has no chance of clearing the Knesset.

“It’s not a real law. Those who voted for it know that it won’t prevent the evacuation. Those who voted for this law know it will be shot down [by the High Court]. That’s what they want. They want it to be rejected. Because then they can whine about the Supreme Court instead of doing their jobs,” Lapid says.

— Marissa Newman

Canaanite gold, silver uncovered in Tel Gezer

A hoard of gold and silver treasure from approximately 3,600 years ago has been uncovered in Tel Gezer, in central Israel, Army Radio reports.

Archaeologist found a silver pendant with an eight-pointed star embossed on it, along with a gold-covered Egyptian scarab, which were wrapped in well-preserved linen, according to the report.

The find is expected to shed additional light on the culture of the Canaanite people.

Left-wing MKs blast Netanyahu, Bennett for disingenuous Amona bill

Zionist Union MKs accuse Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Education Minister Naftali Bennett of duplicity in allowing the Amona bill, also known as the regulation bill, to go to a vote when they know it won’t ultimately be upheld.

The government “expects the High Court to do its job and save it from itself,” and will subsequently blame the court for torpedoing the legislation, MK Merav Michaeli charges, during a Zionist Union faction meeting.

She says she predicts increased “incitement” against the Supreme Court and its justices.

Opposition leader Isaac Herzog, however, says he — not the judiciary — has become “Bibi’s new target for incitement and hatred.”

He says he “feels the pain” of the Amona residents, but the court order must stand.

His partner, MK Tzipi Livni, says Netanyahu and Bennett are leading Israel, with their “childish decision, to the [UN] Security Council.”

She says that if the regulation bill is presaging an effort to annex the West Bank, “then the government, with all of its parties, should muster up the courage and say so.”

— Marissa Newman

Aerosmith to kick off European tour with Tel Aviv concert

The rock band Aerosmith, the so-called “Bad Boys from Boston,” are scheduled to perform in Israel on May 17, the band reports.

The band will kick off its farewell European tour with a concert in Tel Aviv’s Hayarkon Park, according to Aerosmith’s website.

Tickets for the rock show will cost between NIS 290 ($75) and NIS 870 ($225), Army Radio reports.

Court denies state’s request to put off Amona evacuation

The High Court of Justice denies a request by the government to postpone the evacuation of the Amona settlement, which was ordered some two years ago.

“In this case, as with previous ones, we have been asked ‘at the last minute’ to extend the date of an evacuation that was set by a judgment,” the court says in a statement.

If the court continues to issue these extensions, the statement says, the dates set will “turn into recommendations,” instead of orders.

With that in mind, the court strikes down the government’s request, leaving December 25 as the last possible the date for evacuation of the illegal Amona settlement.

Bennett accuses ‘radical’ NGOs of using court to force policy changes

Jewish Home party leader and Education Minister Naftali Bennett slams the “radical left-wing” NGOs who, he argues, are attempting to achieve through legal means what they cannot do in government, due to their dwindling public backing. Attempts by groups such as Peace Now to force policy changes through the court system “is not legitimate,” he says.

The regulation bill, which will recognize some unauthorized West Bank construction, is the “only realistic law” to combat this trend, he says.

Bennett hails the ministerial approval of the bill to legalize some West Bank outposts, while thanking the prime minister — who opposed it — and other Likud ministers who voted for the it last night.

“We sent them there, and we won’t forsake them,” he says of the residents of the Amona outpost, who under a court order, must be evacuated from the West Bank hilltop by late December. The regulation bill, deemed indefensible by the attorney general, is being presented by Bennett’s party as the only way to avert the demolition.

— Marissa Newman

Israel to open bids for gas exploration blocks

Israel will on Tuesday launch a bidding process for oil-and-gas exploration licences off its coast in the Mediterranean, the first such offers in four years.

The government has high hopes for the new blocks being offered following the discoveries of the Tamar and Leviathan natural gas fields off the coast since 2009.

Israel hopes the Leviathan field will eventually allow it to become a gas exporter, which could provide it with additional leverage in the turbulent Middle East.

According to the energy ministry, 24 offshore blocks will be offered for exploration in the first round starting Tuesday and ending around March 2017, each up to 400 square kilometers (155 square miles).

The recent approval of a long-delayed natural gas industry framework by the government has cleared the path for Israel to move forward.


Bibi doubles down on Herzog rebuke, support for anti-muezzin law

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu refuses to address the ministerial committee approval of a bill to legalize West Bank outposts, which was passed Sunday night despite his objections.

At the start of the weekly Likud faction meeting, the prime minister also makes no mention of the High Court of Justice’s rejection of the state’s request for an extension in demolishing the West Bank outpost of Amona, which is slated for late December.

Though he wouldn’t discuss specifics of the developments in the plans for the illegal settlement, Netanyahu says the government is “aware of the suffering of Amona residents, and we are working in a variety of ways to solve the problem.”

Instead, Netanyahu reiterates his call to opposition leader Isaac Herzog to apologize for calling settlers a “virus.” (Though Herzog has claimed his disease comparison was directed at the outpost legalization bill, and not settlers.)

The prime minister also explains his support for a bill, also passed by the ministerial committee on Sunday, which would prevent mosques from using loudspeakers to announce the muezzin, or call to prayer. The new law would “end the suffering of hundreds of thousands of Israelis,” he says, including Muslims.

He says Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked had asked him last night if he would rather delay the ministerial vote on the mosque bill, and “I told her, no, we cannot postpone.”

— Marissa Newman

IS-supporting Israeli cousins get sentences of 30 and 36 months

Two Arab Israeli cousins are sentenced to approximately three years of prison time for supporting the Islamic State terrorist group and planning attacks in a Nazareth court.

The cousins, Ahmad Talal Ahmad Saidah, 20, and Muhammad Omar Bader Hassan, 23, were picked up by law enforcement on November 22 and indicted in late December.

During their interrogations, the cousins told investigators they had planned to join the Islamic State group in Syria, but upon hearing the stories of refugees fleeing the area decided to instead return to Israel and carry out attacks here.

The court finds them guilty of “supporting the Islamic State, contact with a foreign agent, conspiracy to commit a terror attack,” along with some lesser charges.

Hassan, a resident of Reineh, outside Nazareth, receives a sentence of 30 months in prison, while his cousin, from nearby Umm al-Ghanam, gets a 36-month sentence.

EU sanctions 17 Syria ministers, central bank governor

The European Union places 17 Syrian ministers plus the central bank governor on a sanctions blacklist targeting the regime of President Bashar Assad over attacks on civilians.

They face travel bans and asset freezes for “being responsible for the violent repression against the civilian population in Syria, benefiting from or supporting the regime, and/or being associated with such persons,” an EU statement says.

EU leaders agreed at a summit in October to increase sanctions against the Assad regime, citing devastating attacks on Syria’s second city of Aleppo, and added 10 top military and government officials to the list.

But suggestions they might also sanction Russia, which has backed long-time ally Assad’s offensives against rebel forces and flown many of the missions against Aleppo, were dropped after sharp differences emerged.

The decision brings to more than 230 the number of Syrian individuals hit with travel bans or asset freezes, it says.

Another 69 entities are affected by asset freezes while the EU also has in place other sanctions against Syria as a whole, including arms and oil embargoes plus investment restrictions.


Germany: Syrian’s business daubed with swastika, set on fire

German police say a Syrian man’s business was daubed with a Nazi swastika and set on fire in the eastern city of Magdeburg.

The arson attack took place in the early hours of Monday.

Police say in a statement that a witness reported seeing three men smash the glass front of a tanning studio, followed by an explosion and a fire. Officers found a freshly painted swastika and the word “Out” painted on a wall.

There has been a rise in attacks against foreigners in Germany in recent years, particularly targeting asylum-seekers.

More than 1.1 million people applied for asylum in German since the start of 2015. It isn’t immediately clear whether the business owner was an asylum-seeker.

Magdeburg Police said they are investigating the attack as suspected political extremism.

— AP

Dutch warn IS collapse could see rise of terror threat back home

More jihadist fighters could return home to The Netherlands increasing the risk of terror attacks if the Islamic State group is defeated in battle, the Dutch counterterrorism agency warns.

“The number of returning jihadist fighters will pick up should the ‘caliphate’ be militarily defeated or collapse,” the agency says in its latest “Terrorism Threat Assessment”.

“An increased number of returnees will most likely strengthen the jihadist movement within The Netherlands and therefore increase the threat posed by this group,” it says.

About 270 Dutch people left to join the jihadists, and about 40 former fighters are known to have returned from combat in Syria and Iraq, where most have been fighting against Syrian President Bashar Assad’s regime.

Another 190 Dutch citizens including women and children older than nine are still in Syria and Iraq, the report says, while 44 fighters have been killed.

The current status of a “substantial threat” of a terror attack in The Netherlands is being maintained, the report says.

Top Dutch anti-terror czar Dick Schoof tells the NOS public broadcaster that any jihadists now returning to The Netherlands were “hardened fighters.”

“They have deliberately chosen to join a terror organisation. Upon return they are arrested at once,” Schoof adds.

“They say they regret their actions. But we subject them to thorough investigation,” he says.

The report also warns of increased violence by both left and right-wing extremists in the run-up to next year’s parliamentary polls in March.


Turkish warplanes attack IS stronghold in northern Syria

Turkish state media and a Syrian activist group say Turkey’s warplanes have struck Islamic State positions in and near the northern Syrian town of al-Bab.

Turkey’s Anadolu news agency reports 15 airstrikes against IS in al-Bab on Monday, saying they destroyed two command centers, an arms depot and two buildings used as headquarters, as well as 10 defensive positions.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says the airstrikes and shelling killed three people and wounded 30 others.

Turkish troops crossed into northern Syria earlier this year, vowing to clear the border area of IS as well as US-backed Syrian Kurdish forces, which Ankara views as an extension of the Kurdish insurgency in Turkey.

— AP

IDF spokesperson defends initial denouncement of Hebron shooter

In an Army Radio interview, IDF Spokesperson Brig. Gen. Moti Almoz defends his decision to immediately denounce the so-called Hebron shooting, in which a soldier shot and killed an incapacitated Palestinian assailant.

In March, Sgt. Elor Azaria was caught on film shooting a disarmed, supine Palestinian man in the head nearly 15 minutes after he was shot while carrying out a stabbing attack in the flashpoint West Bank city.

Almoz immediately spoke out against the action, saying, “This is not the IDF, these are not the values of the IDF and these are not the values of the Jewish people.”

In the months since, the story has dominated Israeli media, with minute-to-minute updates coming out of Azaria’s manslaughter trial. Almoz has also caught flak from Azaria’s supports for “abandoning” the soldier.

However, the army spokesperson says he does not regret his remarks.

“I didn’t know it would get to here, but even that afternoon we understand that this was a very serious incident,” he says.

“Tomorrow morning, I would do the exact same thing,” Almoz says.

Nazareth mayor again insists he taught Trump ‘everything’

The mayor of Nazareth tells those criticizing him for taking credit for US President-elect Donald Trump’s election victory that he doesn’t see the problem.

Ali Salam, the Muslim mayor of the largely Arab-Israeli city of Nazareth in northern Israel, said on Thursday he had taught Donald Trump “everything” about how to win an election despite never having met him, prompting a wave of local criticism.

“What’s the problem? I don’t understand. He is the president of the largest country in the world and I’m the head of the most important city in the world,” Salam tells the Arab news outlet al Sonnara.

At one point in the interview on Monday, Salam calls Trump the “mayor of America.”

“What I did, Trump did. He is a businessman just like me. I just don’t see what the problem is,” Salam says.

“Enough with the hate. We need to work together,” Salam stresses.

The Israeli mayor’s claims on Thursday were reportedly partly based on the fact that, after his victory, Trump told supporters “I love you, I love you, I love you,” a phrase Salam says he used when he won the Nazareth election.

“That’s what I did when I won,” he says.

Salam did not claim to have ever met Trump, nor did he provide evidence that the president-elect knows he exists, but said that the 2014 battle for the Nazareth municipality had been ferocious like the US election.

— Dov Lieber

Zionist Union expresses half-hearted support for egalitarian section at Western Wall

The Zionist Union dedicates its no-confidence motion in the plenum to the government’s failure to implement a plan to build a non-denominational prayer section at the Western Wall.

However, in light of recent events, the lawmaker presenting the motion — Zionist Union MK Nachman Shai — mostly condemns the government efforts to save the Amona outpost through controversial legislation.

When he does address the stalemate surrounding the non-Orthodox prayer section, Shai acknowledges that “for most Israelis, it really is not important,” but adds: “for most of American Jewry, it is.”

“They expect to receive, not just to give,” he says.

Representing the government, Minister-without-portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi expresses hope the plan will go ahead, despite the objections by the ultra-Orthodox.

But he also urges everyone involved not to “fan the flames” or clash with other worshipers at the Western Wall. And he faults the non-Orthodox streams, in part, for the stalemate, linking the freeze and controversy to the excited response by Reform and Conservative Jews to the initial government decision.

“Sometimes when you win — don’t celebrate,” rebukes Hanegbi.

— Marissa Newman

Benny Begin vows to vote against Amona bill

Likud MK Benny Begin says he will not vote in favor of a law to officially recognize illegal West Bank settlements, which was passed by a ministerial committee yesterday.

During a Likud faction meeting, Begin, the son of former prime minister Menachem Begin, says he will also look to convince other Knesset members to vote against the so-called regulation bill, according to the Walla news site.

“You are putting the prime minister under siege. Why did you sign a petition that supports the regulation bill?” he asks.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has said publicly that he is against the proposed law; however, the chairman of the coalition, David Bitan, counters Begin’s claim, saying the prime minister in fact supports the measure.

Jerusalemites gather to watch supermoon, despite cloud cover

Dozens of Israelis gather on Jerusalem’s Haas Promenade to take photographs of the “supermoon,” a phenomenon in which the moon appears significantly larger than usual.

Some of the nearly 40 people express disappointment as the moon, which has not been this close since 1948, is mostly covered by clouds.

An Israeli man takes a picture of the 'supermoon' on Jerusalem's promenade on November 14, 2016. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

An Israeli man takes a picture of the ‘supermoon’ on Jerusalem’s promenade on November 14, 2016. (Joshua Davidovich/Times of Israel)

— Joshua Davidovich

Report: Russian fighter jet crashes off Syria’s coast

A Russian fighter plane crashed into the waters off the coast from Syria soon after taking off from its aircraft carrier on Sunday, US officials tell Fox News.

Three MiG-29 jets had taken off from the Admiral Kuznetsov, a Soviet-era carrier. Soon after getting airborne, one of the planes apparently experienced mechanical difficulties and hit the water.

The pilot bailed out of the plane and was later picked up by a Russian rescue helicopter. It’s not clear what condition he is in, the US officials say.

Head of Jewish human rights group denounces Bannon appointment

Rabbi Jill Jacobs, head of the left-wing T’ruah human rights organization, denounces President-elect Donald Trump’s decision to name Steve Bannon, an accused anti-Semite, as the White House chief strategist.

“Bannon’s open promotion of white supremacists who propagate racist and anti-Semitic rhetoric disqualifies him for a position of power in the United States, whose strength lies in its diversity,” Jacobs says in a statement.

“At a moment in which supporters of the president-elect feel emboldened to carry out daily hate crimes against people of color, Jews, Muslims, immigrants, LGBTQ people, women and other minorities, Bannon must not be permitted to assume a position as a public servant,” she says, referring to the over 200 cases of election-related harassment documented by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Amona residents threaten to block evacuation

Residents of the Amona settlement, which is slated for evacuation, tell Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to save their outpost from destruction, or they will act “as a wall” to stop the removal.

“We turn to Netanyahu, 40 families and 200 children, we have lived in your hands,” Avichai Boaron says, “by your hands, save Amona from destruction.”

The residents, in their press conference, are responding to a High Court of Justice decision to refuse the state’s request for a postponement of the evacuation.

“If you fulfill your mission, we will all stand up and salute you. If you betray it, we will stand as a wall, together with our supporters from across the country who will come here to protest the evacuation,” Boaron says.

Deputy minister exposes censored scandal

Israel’s military censor clears for publication that the country is involved in a new security-related scandal. All details of the case, however, remain under a heavy gag order, except for the fact that it has to do with a threat to life.

The scandal was exposed late Sunday night by Deputy Minister of Regional Cooperation Ayoob Kara, who posted about it on his Facebook page.

The post was quickly taken down, as it violated the censor, but not before journalists and others saw the information.

Trump considering woman, openly gay man for leadership posts

WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump is considering a woman and an openly gay man to fill major positions in his administration, history-making moves that would inject diversity into a Trump team.

The incoming president is considering Richard Grenell as United States ambassador to the United Nations. If picked and ultimately confirmed by the Senate, he would be the first openly gay person to fill a Cabinet-level foreign policy post. Grenell previously served as US spokesman at the UN under former President George W. Bush’s administration.

At the same time, Trump is weighing whether to select the first woman to serve as chairman of the Republican National Committee. On his short list of prospective chairs: Michigan GOP chairwoman Ronna Romney McDaniel, the former sister-in-law of Trump critic and 2012 presidential nominee Mitt Romney.

“I’ll be interested in whatever Mr. Trump wants,” McDaniel tells The Associated Press, adding that she was planning to seek the Michigan GOP chairmanship again.

Appointing a woman to the top tier of his team — and the first female GOP chief — would appear to be an effort to begin to mend ties with women, whom he antagonized frequently during the campaign. The appointment of Grenell could begin to ease concerns by the gay community about Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s positions on same-sex marriage during his time as Indiana governor.

The personnel moves under consideration have been confirmed by people with direct knowledge of Trump’s thinking who are not authorized to publicly disclose private discussions. They stress that the decisions are not final.

— AP

Russians confirm fighter jet crashed in Mediterranean

Russia’s defense ministry confirms reports that a MiG-29K fighter crashed while attempting to land back on the Admiral Kuznetsov aircraft carrier in the Mediterranean off Syria, and the pilot has survived.

In a statement to Russian news agencies, the ministry says the fighter jet crashed due to a “technical fault,” a few kilometers from the carrier, but the pilot ejected and was recovered and taken aboard the ship.

Zionist Union heads split over anti-BDS activist law

Chairpeople of the Zionist Union faction Isaac Herzog and Tzipi Livni split over a proposed bill to prevent Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists from entering Israel, with Herzog coming out in favor and Livni opposing, Haaretz reports.

During the faction meeting, Herzog, the current head of the opposition, encourages the party to take a “central line” and support the bill.

“That’s why our voters are going to Yesh Atid,” Herzog says, referring to the rival centrist party led by Yair Lapid.

Livni, however, describes the bill as effectively useless at preventing BDS activities, but potentially damaging to Israel’s status as a democracy.

“Next week, I am going to Rome to defend the State of Israel, and my argument is Israeli democracy,” Livni says.

“What am I supposed to say in Europe? BDS activists don’t care if they’re attacking Israel from here or from abroad,” she adds.

Attorney general blasts Amona bill, laws that harm judiciary

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks out at a ministerial committee meeting against a proposed law to recognize illegal West Bank settlements, which he has previously denounced as legally indefensible.

“We can’t accept solutions that don’t stand within the bounds of the law, and we can’t accept legislation that harms the decisions of the High Court of Justice,” he says.

“The rulings of the Supreme Court represent a defense of human rights,” he adds.

FBI: Hate crimes against Muslims up by 67% in 2015

ATLANTA — Reported hate crimes against Muslims rose in 2015 to their highest levels since those seen in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, FBI says in newly released statistics.

Civil rights groups had been raising concerns about an anti-Muslim backlash in the US even before the terror attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, California, late in the year. The reporting period covers calendar year 2015, but comes at a time of heightened tensions following last week’s presidential election.

There have been reports of racist and anti-religious instances since Tuesday that have sparked outrage, including students at one school who chanted “white power” and a videotaped assault in Chicago that showed black men beating a white man as onlookers screamed, “You voted Trump!” In 2008, after Barack Obama was elected as the nation’s first black president, there were also suspected cases of alleged hate crimes tied to the election.

In 2015, there were 257 incidents of anti-Muslim bias compared to 154 incidents the prior year, an increase of 67 percent. The total is second only to the surge in hate crimes following the 9/11 terror attacks, when 481 incidents against Muslims were reported in 2001.

The increase could be due, in part, to increased reporting by victims as well as better reporting and tracking by law enforcement agencies, although the number of all law enforcement agencies sending their data to the FBI decreased about 3% between 2014 and 2015.

Overall, the number of reported hate crimes increased from 5,479 in 2014 to 5,850 last year, and religious-based hate crimes increased by 23%. Jews and Jewish institutions remain the most frequent target of religious-based hate crimes, representing 53% of all those reported. Crimes against Jews increased about 9%.

— AP

UN envoy warns West Bank camp could ‘explode’

The UN’s top official on the Israeli-Palestinian peace process says he is concerned the West Bank’s largest refugee camp could “explode” if intra-Palestinian clashes worsen, during a rare visit to the Balata camp.

In what his officials say was the first visit in “years” by a top UN official to the camp near Nablus in the northern West Bank, Middle East peace envoy Nikolay Mladenov met with civil society figures and politicians including those believed to be opposed to Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

Balata has seen an uptick of violence in recent weeks, with Palestinian security officials attempting a series of raids to capture alleged criminals in the camp — leading to gunbattles.

Analysts say Abbas sees the camp as a base for support for his political rival Mohammed Dahlan, who is currently in exile in the United Arab Emirates.

Mladenov says he visited the camp to send a message that the “international community is watching” the situation on the ground.

“If you forget about these communities they will explode,” he says in an interview with AFP.


Second Temple era archaeological site damaged by alleged arson

An archaeological site from the Second Temple era in Jerusalem is seriously damaged in a suspected arson attack.

The fire at the site on the eastern side of the Old City is believed to have been started late Friday afternoon. It caused extensive damage to the artifacts, which are believed to be 2,000 years old.

The Kidron Valley site, near the Mount of Olives, includes the Tomb of Absalom and the Cave of Jehoshaphat, according to reports citing the Israel Police and the Israel Nature and Parks Authority.

An investigation is underway; there are no suspects.


Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes her opera debut

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg appeared on stage in an opera performed at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, DC.

Ginsburg, 83, performed Saturday night with the Washington National Opera in “The Daughter of the Regiment” by Italian composer Gaetano Donizetti. She played the role of the Duchess of Krakenthorp.

Some of her lines were rewritten to reflect the current political climate, according to reports. The Los Angeles Times reported that Ginsburg did the rewriting. The new lines referenced among other issues the “birther” campaign against President Barack Obama and her 2013 dissent against weakening the Voting Rights Act.

Ginsburg, who reportedly is an opera fan, did not sing, and delivered her lines in English rather than French.

She wore a floor-length green gown and sat in a huge chair that did not allow her feet to reach the floor, according to reports.


Arab MKs sing Muslim call to prayer in protest of anti-muezzin law

Responding to the government’s proposed bill to bar mosques from using loudspeakers for the Muslim call to prayer, two Arab MKs sing the muezzin, as it is known in Arabic, on the podium of the Knesset.

MK Ahmad Tibi and MK Taleb Abu Arar, both from the Joint List, sing out in Arabic: “Allah is most great. I testify there is no God but Allah. I testify that Muhammad is the prophet of Allah. Come to prayer. Come to salvation. Allah is most great. There is no God but Allah.”

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi sings the Muslim call to prayer on the podium of the Knesset on November 14, 2016. (Joint List)

Joint List MK Ahmad Tibi sings the Muslim call to prayer on the podium of the Knesset on November 14, 2016. (Joint List)

Abu Arar’s call to prayer prompts backlash in the Knesset, with Likud MK Oren Hazan accusing him of “degrading” the prayer.

This was not the Bedouin MK’s first time singing the muezzin at the Knesset; in 2014, he also took to the microphone to sing the call to prayer.

Jewish outreach director for Clinton campaign moving to Israel

Sarah Bard, the Jewish outreach director for the campaign of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, is moving to Israel.

Bard, 36, was scheduled to move by next week, she told JTA last month. Her aliyah, to be with her Israeli fiance, had been planned before the presidential election campaign.

She reportedly does not have a job waiting for her in Israel.

Bard visited Israel in May to participate in a Clinton fundraiser in Tel Aviv.

She also worked on Clinton’s 2008 Democratic primary campaign, losing to Barack Obama. Bard then worked on Obama’s winning presidential campaign.


Racist post about Michelle Obama causes backlash

CHARLESTON, WV — The director of a West Virginia development group and a mayor are under scrutiny after a racist post about First Lady Michelle Obama caused a backlash and prompted calls on social media for both women to be fired.

Clay County Development Corp. director Pamela Ramsey Taylor made the post following Donald Trump’s election as president, saying: “It will be refreshing to have a classy, beautiful, dignified First Lady in the White House. I’m tired of seeing a Ape in heels.”

Clay Mayor Beverly Whaling responded: “Just made my day Pam.”

The post, first reported by WSAZ-TV, was shared hundreds of times on social media before it was deleted.

An online petition seeks to remove Whaling and Taylor.

The Facebook pages of Taylor and Whaling couldn’t be found Monday. A call to the Clay County Development Corp. went unanswered and Whaling didn’t immediately return a telephone message.

— AP

Anti-BDS activist bill passes first read in Knesset

A proposed law to prevent activists who call for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel from being able to visit the country passes its first reading in the Knesset.

The law, if passed, will apply to anyone if “he, the organization or the body he represents calls for a boycott of the State of Israel or pledges to take part in such a boycott,” the Knesset says in a statement.

According to the bill, the BDS movement represents the “new front in the war against the State of Israel, which has stopped Israel from preparing against it as necessary. The proposed law will prevent people or representatives of companies, foundations or groups calling for a boycott of Israel from operating within the lands of the State of Israel to advance their ideas.”

The bill has received support from both right-wing and centrist parties, while left-wing parties have decried it was anti-democratic and ultimately ineffective at addressing the BDS issue.

2 preemies contract virulent bacteria in Tel Aviv hospital

Two premature infants contracted a virulent bacteria in Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital, Channel 2 news reports, though they are currently only carriers of the disease and have not been made sick by the bug.

This comes a month after four other infants were infected with the same bacteria.

The antibiotic resistant strain is considered particularly virulent.

The families of the infants and the Health Ministry have been informed of the incident, and the hospital is working to prevent further infections.

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