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Iran, EU announce nuclear talks to resume on November 29 in Vienna

Long-stalled talks to finally move forward; US says a deal is possible quickly if Tehran is ‘serious’

The 'Grand Hotel Wien' where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran were taking place in Vienna, Austria, April 27, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)
The 'Grand Hotel Wien' where closed-door nuclear talks with Iran were taking place in Vienna, Austria, April 27, 2021. (Lisa Leutner/AP)

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

Iran, EU announce nuclear talks to resume on November 29 in Vienna

TV cameras in front of the 'Grand Hotel Vienna' where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)
TV cameras in front of the 'Grand Hotel Vienna' where closed-door nuclear talks take place in Vienna, Austria, June 20, 2021. (Florian Schroetter/AP)

The nuclear talks between Iran and world powers will resume on November 29 in Vienna, the European Union and Tehran say.

Talks have been stalled for long months following the election of a hardline new Iranian president, Ebrahim Raisi.

“The Joint Commission of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) will convene in a physical format on 29 November in Vienna,” the EU’s European External Action Service says in a statement, adding that it will be chaired by Enrique Mora on behalf of EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell.

In reaction, the US says a deal is possible quickly if Iran is “serious” in the Vienna talks.

Washington is believed to be increasingly skeptical that a return to the 2015 accord is in fact possible.

Pentagon probe: Drone strike that killed 10 Afghan civilians did not violate law

The August 29 US drone strike in Kabul that killed 10 Afghan civilians was a tragic mistake but did not violate any laws, the Pentagon’s inspector general says after an investigation.

“The investigation found no violation of law, including the Law of War. Execution errors combined with confirmation bias and communication breakdowns led to regrettable civilian casualties,” Lieutenant General Sami Said, the inspector general, says in a report.

Dutch TV channel boss quits over alleged antisemitism

A top official at a new right-wing Dutch public television channel resigns after reports linking him to antisemitic propaganda.

Taco Dankers, head of the supervisory board at Ongehoord Nederland (Unheard Netherlands), quits after the NRC daily said he runs a think-tank that promotes conspiracies about Jews and has made antisemitic comments in interviews.

The populist channel, described as a Dutch version of Fox News, is due to join the Netherlands’ public TV system in January 2022.

Dankers says he is leaving as “controversy has arisen around my person,” and “my staying on would harm the important mission” of the broadcaster.

“I do not recognize myself in the image that the press paints of me and I distance myself in the strongest terms from antisemitism, racism and statements that lead to polarization, discrimination and hate speech,” he adds.

Sa’ar to Netanyahu: Why didn’t you pass budget last year when you had chance?

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar tweets a reaction to Benjamin Netanyahu’s Knesset speech against the government and the new state budget.

“In a toxic speech filled with incitement and falsehoods, Netanyahu avoided answering one question,” Sa’ar writes. “Why exactly did he not pass a budget when he had the chance to do so for the country a year ago?”

Justice Minister Gideon Sa’ar attends the Golan Heights Conference on Economics and Regional Development, on October 11, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

Netanyahu is widely believed to have torpedoed the budget under his power-sharing government with Benny Gantz, in order to bring down that coalition and avoid passing the premiership on to him as had been agreed between the two as part of their deal.

That fight led directly to the collapse of the last government and the most recent election, the results of which saw Netanyahu ousted from office.

In catty move, Shas MK meows repeatedly at PM during his speech

In one of the evening’s weird incidents, Shas MK Moshe Abutbul made meowing noises throughout the prime minister’s speech, in reference to the much-discussed allocation of millions of shekels to neuter street cats in the new budget, a clause that has been ridiculed by the opposition.

At one point Abutbul also pulled out a cat doll to drive home the point. He was escorted out of the plenum for the stunt.

Moment of truth for coalition as Knesset begins pivotal vote on state budget

View of the Knesset in Jerusalem on August 13, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
View of the Knesset in Jerusalem on August 13, 2020 (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

It’s a milestone moment for the coalition, as the Knesset begins to vote on the hundreds of clauses that make up the 2021-2022 state budget, after two budget-less years.

The opposition has submitted dozens of objections which will also be voted on.

The entire process is expected to take until tomorrow evening at the earliest.

The budget vote is seen as a litmus test for the nascent government of a diverse group of parties. Failure to pass the bill could see the government collapse and new elections called. Passage of the economic plan is expected to stabilize the coalition for the near future at least.

The coalition can muster at best 61 votes in the 120-seat Knesset, but Bennett said Wednesday he was certain the budget will pass.

Likud MK Amsalem holds up vote on budget as he screams insults at speaker

Likud MK David Amsalem holds up the start of the vote on the budget as he screams insults at Knesset Speaker Mickey Levy for earlier ordering him out of the plenum — for screaming then as well.

Levy says he is “ashamed” of Amsalem’s behavior.

Then-communications minister David Amsalem speaks during a ceremony at the Communications Ministry in Jerusalem, July 10, 2019 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Court fines 7 for anti-Semitic abuse of Miss France runner-up

A French court fines seven people for a torrent of antisemitic abuse on social media aimed at the runner-up of the latest Miss France contest.

April Benayoum, who competed for the Miss France title in December, became the subject of hate messages after saying at the event that her father is of Israeli origin.

The insults — such as “Hitler forgot about this one” and “Don’t vote for a Jew” — were posted mainly on Twitter and drew condemnation from politicians and associations.

A Paris court orders seven defendants, four women and three men, to each pay fines ranging from 300 to 800 euros ($350-$930).

An eighth suspect is acquitted, with the court finding that his tweet did not target Benayoum directly.

During the trial, the suspects all admitted to publishing the messages, but denied they were antisemitic, with some arguing they were making a political statement defending the cause of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu: Palestinians know they’ll get whatever they want from Bennett, Lapid

“This government must fall,” Netanyahu says, noting reports that Palestinian leaders have urged Arab MKs to help the budget pass to ensure Bennett remains PM.

“The Palestinians know that from Bennett and Lapid they’ll get whatever they want, and what they want is bad for Israel,” he says.

Netanyahu: Government of lies’ budget benefits the rich

Opposition leader Netanyahu is now speaking.

He lauds anti-government protesters who gathered in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square yesterday, saying they came to “drive out the darkness “of the current government.

He says the new budget is filled with new taxes and economic edicts that will hurt the country, referring to new taxes on soft drinks and plastic cutlery, which he claims will hurt lower-income individuals while benefitting the rich.

He denounces the “government of lies” which he asserts will raise the costs of living for Israelis.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu at the Knesset ahead of the vote on the state budget, November 3, 2021 (screenshot)

Bennett: Chaos is Netanyahu’s business model; with unity, there is no Bibi

Bennett says there is a relentless “machine” working to delegitimize the coalition, particularly through its inclusion of the Arab party Ra’am.

He rages at what he sees as Likud’s hypocrisy, as it too courted Ra’am after the election to try to get it to support its own proposed coalition.

“I was there in the closed rooms” where a Netanyahu government-backed by Ra’am was discussed, he says. “That was the only deal [on the table].”

Bennett says “chaos is [Netanyahu’s] business model… without the people being divided, Bibi doesn’t exist. When there’s unity, there’s no Bibi.”

PM: New budget comes after 3.5 years of chaos, failed management and paralysis

Speaking now, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says this is “the most important moment since the government was formed.”

He says the new budget being introduced comes “after three and a half years of chaos, failed management and paralysis, years in which the country was a tool in a personal game, years of four election campaigns one after another at a dead end.

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett at the Knesset ahead of the vote on the state budget, November 3, 2021 (screenshot)

Liberman: Budget was held up by personal interests of one man

With the vote on the state budget about to start, the Knesset is seeing speeches by the heads of the government.

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman says it will be the first budget passed in 3.5 years “because of the personal interests of one man, who was willing to sacrifice Israel’s economy” for that interest — a reference to Benjamin Netanyahu.

Likud MK David Amsalem was escorted out of the plenum after interrupting Liberman several times, calling the coalition “Bolsheviks.”

Illustrative: Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman during a first reading of the state budget at the assembly hall in the Knesset, September 2, 2021. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

Report: US asks Israel to use ties with Sudan’s top general to help end coup

The US has asked Israel to take advantage of its good relations with the leader of Sudan’s coup, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, to press the country’s military to restore civilian control of the nation, Axios’s Barak Ravid reports.

Citing American and Israeli officials, Ravid notes that Burhan has good ties with the Mossad and other top security apparatuses in Israel and has been a central figure in the normalization process.

He says the Biden administration has told Jerusalem normalization cannot continue until Sudan has been stabilized.

Sudan’s head of the military, Gen. Abdel-Fattah Burhan, speaks during a press conference at the General Command of the Armed Forces in Khartoum, Sudan, on October 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Marwan Ali)

This is a drill: Sirens sound throughout country as part of systems test

A screen shot of a siren. (screen capture: YouTube)
A screen shot of a siren. (screen capture: YouTube)

Sirens are now sounding in multiple locations throughout the country as part of a test of new systems and of home front preparedness.

The alarms do not represent a rocket attack. In case of an actual emergency, the air raid sirens will sound twice.

More details are available here.

NSO Group ‘dismayed’ by US blacklisting: ‘Our tech prevents terrorism and crime’

The Israeli cybersecurity firm NSO Group responds to the US decision to blacklist the company over its alleged malicious activities.

“NSO Group is dismayed by the decision given that our technologies support US national security interests and policies by preventing terrorism and crime, and thus we will advocate for this decision to be reversed,” the group says in a statement.

“We look forward to presenting the full information regarding how we have the world’s most rigorous compliance and human rights programs that are based the American values we deeply share, which already resulted in multiple terminations of contacts with government agencies that misused our products.”

This studio photographic illustration shows a smartphone with the website of Israel’s NSO Group which features ‘Pegasus’ spyware, on display in Paris on July 21, 2021. (Joel Saget/AFP)

US says not taking action against Israeli government as 2 firms blacklisted

The US State Department says it will not take action against the governments of the countries of four companies, including two Israeli firms, that it blacklisted today for engaging in malicious cyber activities.

“We are not taking action against countries or governments where these entities are located,” the State Department says in a statement shortly after the initial announcement by the US Department of Commerce.

The Israeli firms “NSO Group and Candiru were added to the Entity List based on a determination that they developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used this tool to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers,” the State Department says.

“As part of its commitment to put human rights at the center of US foreign policy, the Biden-Harris Administration is working to stop the proliferation and misuse of digital tools used for repression.”

The State Department says the entity list that the Israeli firms have been added to is used as a tool to “restrict the export, re-export, and in-country transfer of items” to those involved in activities contrary to US national security interests.

Viral video showing Erdogan walking with difficulty leads to ill health rumors

Footage has gone viral in the past 24 hours of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan walking with difficulty, leading to intense speculation on the state of his health.

The clip was shot on Friday, amid commemorations of 98 years since the founding of the Turkish Republic.

His office has denied any health issues.

Iran seized Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker in Gulf of Oman: US officials

Iran seized a Vietnamese-flagged oil tanker in the Gulf of Oman last month and stills hold the vessel off Bandar Abbas, two US officials tell The Associated Press.

One of the officials says Iranian Revolutionary Guard troops took control of the MV Southys on Oct. 24 at gunpoint.

A motive for the seizure remains unclear. Officials in Vietnam could not be immediately reached for comment. Ship-tracking data shows the vessel still off Bandar Abbas.

The two US officials spoke on condition of anonymity as the information had yet to be made public amid ongoing attempts to restart talks in Vienna with Iran over its tattered nuclear deal.

The Shahid Rajaee port facility near the Iranian coastal city of Bandar Abbas. (Iran Ports and Maritime Organization)

Bennett to Yamina: The opposition will weaken once the budget is passed

At a meeting of the Yamina faction, Prime Minister Naftali Bennett says an opposition disinformation campaign is attempting to depict the proposed state budget as one that provides money to Gaza or Hamas.

“I’m stating the obvious here — there is not a penny from the state budget that is going to Gaza or Hamas… It’s a straight-out lie.”

He says opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu is attempting to divide the coalition ahead of the vote on the budget and “he will use all tools at his disposal.”

But, Bennett says, “We don’t need to prove that we’re right-wing, we don’t need to prove that we won — we need to pass a budget. That will be winning.”

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett during a cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on November 3, 2021 (Marc Israel Sellem/POOL)

He says the opposition will “weaken considerably” once the state budget is passed.

Economy ministers of Israel, Jordan meet for first time in decade to boost ties

Israel’s Economy Minister Orna Barbivai and her Jordanian counterpart Yousef Alshamali meet in Jordan, the first such meeting in a decade.

The two discuss “a variety of ways to strengthen economic ties between the two countries,” including renewing the countries’ trade agreement, tourism and more.

They also sign a deal to allow greater numbers of exports to the Palestinian Authority including construction materials, fabrics, electronics and more.

“The trade benefits agreed upon today between the Israeli government and Jordan are an important dimension in the strengthening of diplomatic relations between the two countries,” Barbivai says. “Deepening civilian and economic ties contributes to bilateral relations, national security, and the protection of Israel’s longest and most quiet border.”

Economy Minister Orna Barbivai and Jordan’s Minister of Industry, Trade and Supply Yousef Alshamali meet in Jordan, November 3, 2021 (Yossi Ipregan, GPO)

US ‘absolutely’ has ability to defend Taiwan, US military chief says

The United States military “absolutely” has the ability to defend Taiwan from an attack by China if called on to do so, US Joint Chiefs Chairman Mark Milley says.

Milley says he does not expect China will take military action against the island in the next 24 months.

But, when asked if the Pentagon could defend Taiwan, he replies that there is no question about it.

He tells the Aspen Security Forum that the United States maintains a policy of “strategic ambiguity” about its stance on protecting Taiwan, and that it would be a presidential decision on whether to step in if China sought to seize control of the island.

“We absolutely have the capability to do all kinds of things around the world, to include that if required,” Milley says. “We absolutely have the capability. There’s no question about that.”

Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff Gen. Mark Milley speaks during a Senate Armed Services Committee hearing on the conclusion of military operations in Afghanistan and plans for future counterterrorism operations on Sept. 28, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky, Pool)

At Rabin commemoration event, Labor chief vows to continue his ‘way of truth’

At a commemoration event held by the Labor party in Tel Aviv yesterday evening to mark 26 years since the assassination of prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, current party leader Merav Michaeli said the party was committed to “Rabin’s way,” which she asserted was “truth. Simply the truth. To tell the people the truth. To tell the society and the State of Israel what is required [for peace], what must be done, even if it is difficult. Not to blur or to lie. To tell the truth.”

Former minister Avraham Shochat, who served as finance minister in Rabin’s government at the time of the murder, said Israeli society had not learned from the assassination.

“Is Israeli society more tolerant today than it was then? Of course not,” he said. “Is there still the danger of a political assassination in Israel today? Of course there is. Is there still the danger that an Israeli public servant will be killed for doing their job? Of course there is. Is the public discourse in the Knesset, in the media, on the streets and at demonstrations more tolerant and less violent? Of course not.

Labor party leader Merav Michaeli speaks at a party commemoration event in Tel Aviv for Yitzhak Rabin, 26 years after his assassination (Courtesy)

“On the memorial day of Yitzhak Rabin’s assassination and throughout the year, we must fight for those very things that were the headlines of [the rally at which Rabin was killed] 26 years ago. That fight must carry on.”

The 1995 demonstration was held under the banner “Yes to peace, no to violence.”

US blacklists Israel’s NSO for actions ‘contrary to national security interests’

A branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, August 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)
A branch of the Israeli NSO Group company, near the southern Israeli town of Sapir, August 24, 2021. (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner, File)

The US has blacklisted Israel’s NSO Group for “activities that are contrary to the national security or foreign policy interests of the United States.”

The Israeli firm Candiru has also been added to the US Commerce Department’s “Entity List.”

The department says its actions are “based on evidence that these entities developed and supplied spyware to foreign governments that used these tools to maliciously target government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and embassy workers.

“These tools have also enabled foreign governments to conduct transnational repression, which is the practice of authoritarian governments targeting dissidents, journalists and activists outside of their sovereign borders to silence dissent. Such practices threaten the rules-based international order.”

NSO Group has repeatedly made headlines around the world in recent years over claims its powerful phone hacking software has been used to abuse human rights.

Candiru is another firm that allegedly developed tools used to snoop on rights activists and others around the world.

 

IDF takes punitive steps against soldiers implicated in colleague’s gunshot death

IDF Chief Aviv Kohavi has decided on several punitive measures against soldiers and officers in the case of the death of a soldier killed by accidental gunfire in February.

Several commanders, including the battalion commander and his deputy, will be reprimanded for the death of Staff Sgt. Yonatan Granot, 22. Granot’s company commander and platoon commanders at the time, both now released from service, will be removed from leadership positions in the reserves forces.

Meanwhile four combat soldiers will be removed from combat positions for failing to take actions that could have prevented Granot’s death.

Staff Sgt. Yonatan Granot, killed by an apparent accidental discharge from another serviceman’s weapon on a base in the Jordan Valley (Courtesy)

Granot was struck by a .22-caliber round for a Ruger rifle, a type of munition normally used for riot dispersal as it is considered less lethal than the larger caliber rounds typically used by the military.

The bullet was discharged when a soldier picked up a still-loaded weapon that had earlier been used at a firing range and pulled the trigger. The bullet struck Granot in the head, critically injuring him. The soldier is currently on trial on charges of manslaughter.

Poll: Most Jewish Israelis say nation’s global status unhurt by Netanyahu ouster

A majority of Jewish Israelis believe Israel’s international standing has not suffered since the departure of Benjamin Netanyahu from the prime minister’s chair, according to a new poll by the Israel Democracy Institute, despite Netanyahu’s reputation in Israel as a shrewd diplomat.

In the periodic “Voice of Israel” survey, 37% of respondents said they felt Israel’s standing had stayed the same, while 28% believed it had improved. Only 29% said it had deteriorated.

Opposition leader MK Benjamin Netanyahu in the Knesset on October 11, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The assessment that Israel’s standing had not declined also enjoyed a slim majority among voters who defined themselves as right-wing: 17% said it had improved and 34% said it was the same (for a total of 51%), while 44% said it had taken a hit.

Meanwhile, a majority of all Israelis (61%) believe the current government will manage to pass the state budget, thus ensuring its continued existence.

Israeli court freezes sale of Auschwitz tattoo stamps

An Israeli court issues an injunction halting the auction of tattoo stamps used by Nazis on Jewish and other inmates of Auschwitz, following an appeal from a Holocaust survivor group.

Tzolman’s Auctions, a Jerusalem seller, had listed eight original tattoo stamps of digits used to brand inmates at the notorious Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration and extermination camp.

Auschwitz and Belsen concentration camp survivor Eva Behar shows her number tattoo in her home in London, United Kingdom, December 1, 2014. (Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

A million Jews died at Auschwitz-Birkenau, which was set up by Nazi Germany in what is now Poland during World War II, along with tens of thousands of others including Catholic Poles, Roma and Soviet prisoners of war, between 1940 and 1945.

“The original stamps used to tattoo the numbers on Auschwitz prisoners,” Tzolman’s website bragged. “The most shocking Holocaust item.”

Finance minister announces minimum wages to rise to NIS 6,000 a month by 2026

Finance Minister Avigdor Liberman announces plans to raise the minimum wage in Israel to NIS 6,000 ($1,910) a month by 2026, or some NIS 33 ($10.5) an hour.

The current minimum wage stands at NIS 5,300 ($1,670) or NIS 29 ($9.2) an hour.

Wages will gradually rise starting next year, as part of an agreement with major labor unions.

Israel takes part in Cypriot rig security drills amid tensions with Turkey

Ships and aircraft from eight nations take part in annual drills to boost safety and security procedures on vessels and oil rigs off Cyprus’s southern coastline amid ongoing tensions with neighboring Turkey over competing claims to hydrocarbon reserves.

The “Nemesis” exercise involves search and rescue, medical evacuation and anti-pollution operations with one fictional scenario tasking Cypriot forces with liberating an oil rig and support ship that fell into the hands of terrorists.

The exercise, in which the US, France, Italy, Britain, Israel and Egypt are taking part, is being carried out in waters where the Cyprus government has licensed a consortium made up of energy companies Total of France and Eni of Italy to drill for oil and gas. The consortium plans to resume drilling in the first half of next year. ExxonMobil and Chevron also hold licenses to drill off the east Mediterranean island nation.

“We recognize that the utilization of our exclusive economic zone comes not only with benefits, but also with responsibilities and I would like to assure you that the Republic of Cyprus is committed to adhere to them,” Cypriot Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides says.

People take photos of the ‘Tungsten Explored’ drilling ship, in the southern coastal city of Larnaca, Cyprus, Wednesday, Nov. 3, 2021 (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

Police search for remains of boy missing since 80s, in case tied to Hasidic cult

Police have begun searching for the remains of a teenage boy who disappeared in the 1980s, saying at a remand hearing for suspects in the case that investigators believe they know who killed Nissim Shitrit.

The developments provide confirmation that Shitrit’s disappearance, which is tied to Hasidic cult leader Rabbi Eliezer Berland, a convicted sex offender and fraudster who has also been arrested, is a murder case.

The searches for Shitrit’s remains are reportedly being carried out in a Jerusalem area.

At a remand hearing for two suspects in the case, a police representative told the court that investigators know who participated in the abduction of Shitrit and who committed the homicide on February 2, 1986, three days before he was eventually reported as missing.

In this handout image released by the police, a suspect reportedly a member of the Shuvu Bonim sect is arrested in Jerusalem, October 17, 2021. Insert: Nissim Shitrin in an undated photo. (Israel Police; Courtesy)

A number of people have been detained recently over the murder of Shitrit and the unsolved murder of a man. The investigation into the disappearance and murder of 17-year-old Shitrit and the murder of 41-year-old Avi Edri is tied to the Shuvu Bonim sect, run by Berland.

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