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After 5-hour hearing, Health Ministry promises ruling next week on kids’ shots

Health Ministry official tells public, live-streamed hearing that parents will not be coerced or pressured into giving the COVID vaccine to their 5- 11-year olds

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel.

Pedro Montano holds his daughter Roxana Montano, 3, while she is being vaccinated against COVID-19 with Cuban vaccine Soberana Plus, on August 24, 2021 at Juan Manuel Marquez hospital in Havana, as part of a vaccine study in children and adolescents. (ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP)
Pedro Montano holds his daughter Roxana Montano, 3, while she is being vaccinated against COVID-19 with Cuban vaccine Soberana Plus, on August 24, 2021 at Juan Manuel Marquez hospital in Havana, as part of a vaccine study in children and adolescents. (ADALBERTO ROQUE / AFP)

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

Police gearing up for clashes expected at Friday prayer service at Western Wall

Physical clashes are expected to occur at the Western Wall tomorrow between the Women of the Wall progressive prayer group and a group of ultra-Orthodox MKs and activists.

The Western Wall Heritage Foundation says it is not taking responsibility for the expected protest and scuffles, and calls on police to intensify its presence at the scene. Dozens of additional police officers are expected to be on patrol at the area early tomorrow morning.

The Women of the Wall group holds prayers at the Western Wall each Rosh Hodesh, which marks the beginning of the Hebrew month. Ultra-Orthodox activists often attempt to disrupt the proceedings and clashes regularly break out.

Shas leader Arye Deri called on his followers to join him and other MKs there tomorrow morning to stop the “desecration” — a message that former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu retweeted.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, the Prime Minister’s Office has asked Labor MK and Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv not to attend the services tomorrow in order to avoid further clashes.

In recent months, Kariv, who entered the Knesset in April, has used his parliamentary immunity to smuggle a Torah scroll to the Women of the Wall, something not allowed according to the current Kotel regulations.

Jewish groups urge Congress to move forward with confirming antisemitism envoy

A range of American Jewish groups write a letter urging members of Congress to move forward with confirming Deborah Lipstadt as the State Department’s special envoy on antisemitism.

“Even for those of our organizations that generally have a policy to neither endorse nor oppose nominees pending before the Senate for confirmation, we are compelled to urge you to hold the Committee’s hearing on Prof. Lipstadt’s nomination without further delay,” reads the letter, signed by representatives of the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish Federations of North American and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

“The global Jewish community needs the United States to be a leader in the fight against antisemitism and we must not waste more time leaving our lead official in this fight off the field.”

“Prof. Lipstadt has a long and well-documented history of fighting antisemitism and all forms of racism,” reads the letter to the chairman and the ranking member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “She has a record of calling out antisemitism in all its forms, from both the left and the right.”

A number of the Biden administration’s nominees have been held up among Republican opposition in Congress. The White House’s pick for ambassador to Israel, Tom Nides, was finally confirmed yesterday.

Bennett planning tripartite meeting with leaders of Greece, Cyprus – report

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett is planning a host of overseas diplomatic visits, reports the Kan public broadcaster.

According to the report, Bennett is expected to soon hold a tripartite meeting with the leaders of Cyprus and Greece — and each of the three leaders has offered to host such a meeting. He is also planning future trips to the United Arab Emirates and India.

Bennett met with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi earlier this week at the COP26 climate change conference in Glasgow, and Modi invited him to visit.

With the 2021 state budget already passed and the 2022 budget expected to pass later this evening, Bennett will be less tied to being in the country for key Knesset votes.

WHO says Europe is the current epicenter of the COVID pandemic

Top officials at the World Health Organization say that Europe has seen a more than 50 percent jump in coronavirus cases in the last month, making it the epicenter of the pandemic despite an ample supply of vaccines.

“There may be plenty of vaccine available, but uptake of vaccine has not been equal,” WHO emergencies chief Dr. Michael Ryan says during a press briefing. He calls for European authorities to “close the gap” in vaccinations.

The director of WHO’s 53-country Europe region, Dr. Hans Kluge, says the rising COVID-19 case counts are of “grave concern.”

“Europe is back at the epicenter of the pandemic, where we were one year ago,” says Kluge from WHO’s Copenhagen offices. He warns that coronavirus hospitalization rates more than doubled in the last week and predicts that, on that trajectory, the region could see another 500,000 pandemic deaths by February.

WHO Europe says the region, which stretches as far east as the former Soviet republics in Central Asia, tallied nearly 1.8 million new weekly cases, an increase of about 6% from the previous week, and 24,000 COVID-19 weekly deaths — a 12% gain.

Health Ministry says final decision on COVID shots for kids to come next week

The Health Ministry’s panel of experts concludes its five-hour live-streamed hearing over the approval of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11.

The final decision in the matter is expected early next week, says Dr. Boaz Lev, the Health Ministry’s ombudsman. Lev says the decision over whether to make that final hearing public or not will be made in the coming days.

The Health Ministry is widely expected to follow the US Federal Drug Administration’s lead and approve the vaccine for children under 12. But the ministry is going through every step necessary in the most transparent way possible to ease the fears among many parents and convince them to bring their children to get the shot.

IDF foils drug-smuggling attempt along border with Egypt

Israeli troops shot a suspected Israeli smuggler and lightly injured him during an apparent attempt to bring drugs across the border from Egypt into Israel earlier today, the military says.

According to the Israel Defense Forces, soldiers monitoring surveillance cameras spotted the alleged drug smuggling attempt and dispatched troops to the scene.

“During the effort to thwart the smuggling, one of the smugglers who was driving his car accelerated toward them and endangered their lives,” the military says. “The troops began a process of arresting the suspect, including firing into the air and at the vehicle’s wheels. As a result of the gunfire, one of the suspects was injured in his leg and taken for medical treatment in mild condition.”

Though the IDF is tasked with preventing smuggling along the Israeli-Egyptian border, the military typically strives to avoid direct confrontation with Israeli drug smugglers, leaving that to the police.

The military says it is investigating today’s incident.

Bennett: The 2022 budget will pass and the country will enter a new era

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett promises that the 2022 budget will pass in the Knesset soon after a short delay.

“I know you’re tired, stay strong, the budget will pass,” Bennett says in a short statement from the Knesset.

MKs are voting now on the 2022 budget, only hours after the 2021 budget passed in a narrow vote in the early hours of this morning. An accidental vote on one of the 2022 budget’s hundreds of sections will likely delay the full proceedings by several hours.

“The moment that the budget passes, the State of Israel will enter a different era,” says Bennett. “The government is stable, and we know exactly where to lead the country.”

Hungarian official admits its government bought NSO Group’s Pegasus spyware

A senior official in Hungary’s governing party acknowledges for the first time that the government purchased a powerful spyware tool, which was allegedly used to target journalists, businesspeople and an opposition politician.

Lajos Kosa, chairman of parliament’s Committee on Defense and Law Enforcement, confirms to journalists following a closed committee session that Hungary’s Interior Ministry had bought the military-grade spyware Pegasus, produced by the Israel-based NSO Group.

It is the first time a Hungarian official openly acknowledges the government’s use of the malware, which infiltrates phones to collect personal and location data and can surreptitiously control the phone’s microphones and cameras.

Kosa, a vice-president of Hungary’s governing Fidesz party, insists that Hungary’s security services and Interior Ministry had acted legally in every case of surveillance, receiving permission either from courts or the Ministry of Justice.

Yesterday, the Biden administration announced it would place new export limits on Israel’s NSO Group, the maker of Pegasus, saying its tools have been used to “conduct transnational repression.”

IMF says it begins financial aid talks after request from Lebanon

The International Monetary Fund has begun “preparatory” talks with Lebanon on a new aid package after receiving an official request from Beirut, says an IMF spokesman.

That will be a welcome relief to the new government that is trying to stem an economic crisis the World Bank brands as one of the worst since the mid-19th century, and which has caused Lebanon’s currency to collapse.

“The IMF has received a letter from Prime Minister [Najib] Mikati of Lebanon expressing the authorities’ interest in a fund program,” says IMF spokesman Gerry Rice. “And I can tell you that preparatory technical discussions have started.”

Lebanon hopes the talks with the Washington-based crisis lender will help unlock billions of dollars in financial aid.

Lebanon’s currency, the pound, has lost almost 90 percent of its value against the dollar on the black market since 2019, and people’s savings are trapped in banks. Inflation has soared, and 78% of all Lebanese now live in poverty, according to the UN.

Herzog: The word ‘traitor’ should be removed from political discourse

President Isaac Herzog condemns the incendiary language used lately in politics and says the word “traitor” should be erased from the political discourse.

“I am shocked by the thought that today, November 4 — a date on which we learned where words can lead — I need to stand here and say again: the word ‘traitor’ must be struck out of political discourse, and everywhere!” Herzog says at a conference at the University of Haifa. “Coalition and opposition, left and right. Accusations of treason imperil our democracy.”

November 4 marks the anniversary of the assassination of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin.

United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni said earlier this week that Prime Minister Naftali Bennett has betrayed the State of Israel.

Gafni called Bennett “an opportunist who wants it to be written down that he was prime minister,” and said the prime minister “betrayed his voters and betrayed the State of Israel.”

Israel’s military to build Cyprus surveillance system to monitor border

Cyprus signs a deal for Israel’s military to build an electronic surveillance system, monitoring activity along the UN-patrolled Green Line across the divided Mediterranean island.

“It is an electronic surveillance system that will provide us with images 24 hours a day,” says Cypriot Defense Ministry spokesperson Christos Pieris. “It will be installed at various points on the Green Line.”

The 180-kilometer (112-mile) Green Line has split the island from east to west since 1974. It divides the Republic of Cyprus, the European Union’s most easterly member, from the self-proclaimed Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, recognized only by Ankara.

The surveillance system will monitor activity such as smuggling and illegal migration, as well as provide military intelligence, officials say. The security system, costing 27.5 million euros ($32 million), is expected to take three years to complete.

Sally Rooney’s books pulled from major Israeli bookstores after her boycott

Two major bookstore chains in Israel announce that they will no longer sell books by Sally Rooney after the Irish author said last month that she would not allow her latest work to be translated by an Israeli into Hebrew.

Bookstores Steimatzky and Tzomet Sefarim — which together have more than 200 shops nationwide — say they will pull her books from their shelves after her comments. The chains say that her books will be removed from their websites and stores by the end of today.

Rooney, a vocal critic of Israel and author of “Normal People,” said that she would not allow “Beautiful World, Where Are You?” to be published by an Israeli because she supports a cultural boycott of Israel.

Knesset vote on 2022 budget delayed by accidental vote

The full Knesset vote on the 2022 budget is delayed due to a member of the coalition accidentally voting against one of the budget’s hundreds of sections.

Labor MK Emilie Moatti accidentally votes against a section of the budget related to education. Because of that vote, the coalition will return the budget to discussion in the Knesset Finance Committee before bringing it back to the plenum for a fresh vote. Moatti apologizes for the error, blaming it on “only getting two hours of sleep.”

The vote was the first of hundreds of votes in the past more than 24 hours relating to the budget that did not pass. The mistake is expected to delay the final vote on the full budget by several hours.

Opposition leader Benjamin Netanyahu has accidentally voted with the coalition on six votes.

The Knesset passed the 2021 budget in the early hours of this morning, establishing the first national budget in Israel since 2018 and staving off the immediate threat to the coalition.

Beirut blast investigator forced to suspend probe for third time

BEIRUT — The Lebanese judge leading investigations into last year’s Beirut port blast is forced to stop work over a lawsuit filed by an ex-minister he had summoned for interrogation.

Tarek Bitar was informed of a “lawsuit submitted by former public works minister Youssef Fenianos… which forced him to pause the probe until a ruling is issued,” a court official tells AFP on condition of anonymity.

It is the third time that Bitar has had to suspend his probe in the face of lawsuits filed by former ministers suspected of negligence over the August 2020 explosion. The total number of lawsuits filed against Bitar now stands at 15, according to judicial sources.

The latest comes amid a campaign led by Hezbollah demanding Bitar’s replacement over allegations of “bias” that have been widely dismissed by rights groups and families of blast victims.

The Shi’ite group’s representatives in government have said they will boycott cabinet meetings until it takes a clear stand on demands to replace Bitar. The cabinet, as a result, has failed to hold a single session in three weeks.

Prime Minister Najib Mikati offers a thinly veiled criticism of Hezbollah and condemns attempts to force his government to intervene in judicial affairs.

“We have tried as much as possible to keep the Beirut blast probe under the purview of the judiciary and we have rejected any kind of [political] interference,” Mikati tells a news conference.

In meeting with Abbas, pope urges resumption of Israeli-Palestinian peace talks

VATICAN CITY — Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas holds a private audience with Pope Francis and with top Vatican officials, who emphasized the importance of resuming peace talks with Israel.

The Vatican says that “it was stressed that it is absolutely necessary to reactivate direct dialogue in order to achieve a two-state solution, also with the help of more vigorous effort on the part of the international community.”

It also “reiterated that Jerusalem must be recognized by all as a place of encounter and not of conflict, and that its status must preserve its identity and universal value as a Holy City for all three Abrahamic religions.”

Abbas and the pope also exchange gifts and then hold hands as Abbas wishes the pope good health and strength going forward, according to footage released by the Vatican.

During his trip, Abbas also met with Italian Prime Minister Draghi and the country’s head of state, President Sergio Mattarella.

US mandates COVID vaccines or tests for big companies by January 4

Tens of millions of Americans who work at companies with 100 or more employees will need to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 by January 4 or be tested for the virus weekly under new government rules issued today.

The new requirements will apply to about 84 million workers at medium and large businesses, although it is not clear how many of those employees are unvaccinated. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulations will force the companies to require that unvaccinated workers test negative for COVID-19 at least once a week and wear a mask while in the workplace.

Tougher rules will apply to another 17 million people who work in nursing homes, hospitals and other facilities that receive money from Medicare and Medicaid. Those workers will not have an option for testing — they will need to be vaccinated.

Workers will be able to ask for exemptions on medical or religious grounds.

OSHA said companies that fail to comply with the regulations could face penalties of nearly $14,000 per violation.

Supermarket chain to shutter site that offered cheaper products to ultra-Orthodox

The CEO of a popular supermarket chain vows to immediately shut down a site that offered cheaper products to ultra-Orthodox consumers after a public outcry.

A Channel 12 news report this week found that goods offered on Shufersal Online, an online delivery grocery service run by the Shufersal grocery chain, were more expensive than the same products found on a second website it runs aimed at ultra-Orthodox consumers, which carries only products that have strict “mehadrin” kosher certification.

“I decided to shut down the activities on the ‘mehadrin’ website,” says Shufersal CEO Itzhak Aberkohen in a video statement. Aberkohen vows to “freeze the site for a period of time, study the issue in depth and afterward come out with a new model of operations.” The CEO adds that issues of “transparency and fairness” are very important to Shufersal and to him personally.

Sudan’s army says government formation ‘imminent’ after military takeover

KHARTOUM, Sudan — Sudan’s army says that the formation of a new government is now “imminent,” following last week’s military takeover which triggered international condemnation and mass anti-coup protests.

General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan — Sudan’s de facto leader since the 2019 ouster of autocratic president Omar al-Bashir — last week dissolved the government, detained the civilian leadership and declared a state of emergency.

“We are considering all internal and external initiatives to serve the national interest,” Sudan TV quoted Burhan’s media adviser Taher Abouhaga as saying. “The government formation is imminent.”

Last week’s coup triggered nationwide mass protests against the military — demonstrations met by a deadly crackdown by security forces, resulting in at least a dozen people killed and scores wounded.

Burhan, a veteran general who served under Bashir’s three-decades-long rule, insists that the army takeover is “not a coup” but a move “to rectify the course of the transition.”

Top health official: Every parent to decide for themselves on kids’ COVID shots

A senior Health Ministry official says that all parents in Israel should decide for themselves whether to give their young children the COVID vaccine.

Dr. Sharon Alroy-Preis, the ministry’s head of public health, makes her comments during a livestreamed hearing over approving the Pfizer COVID vaccine for 5- to 11-year-olds.

“What is important is that every parent will make the decision for their child, relying on the statistics that we provide,” says Alroy-Preis. “As we have said all along, there is no attempt to force or to compel — rather to provide all of the data so that every parent can made the right decision for their child.”

The Health Ministry’s panel of experts is widely expected to follow the recent recommendation of the US Federal and Drug Administration and approve the vaccine for younger children.

Mandelblit takes veiled swipe at Netanyahu and warns of threats to rule of law

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit takes a veiled swipe at his former boss, Benjamin Netanyahu, during comments at a conference at the University of Haifa.

“Over the past few years the threat against the ability of the attorney-general’s office to maintain the rule of law has been tangible and real,” says Mandelblit.

The outgoing attorney general was appointed by the former prime minister, but later became a target of his attacks after he signed off on the indictment of Netanyahu on corruption charges.

Mandelblit also says that the situation in Israel is “dangerously close” to transitioning from “a discourse of governance to a discourse of personal loyalty on the political level, in a way that stands in complete contradiction to the principle of public loyalty.”

Health Ministry opens live-streamed hearing over vaccines for 5- to 11-year-olds

The Health Ministry’s panel of vaccination experts is meeting now in a special live-streamed hearing to weigh approving the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11.

The hearing, which is being aired live on public television as well as on social media platforms, will include questions from a pre-vetted group of 20 people. The final decision is expected to take place behind closed doors at a later date.

“The Israel Center for Disease Control [ICDC] decided to broadcast the debate live, and invite the public to both voice their position to the committee members and to present questions to the experts, as part of a transparent process on the subject,” the ministry said in a statement last week.

Netanyahu shares call to block Women of the Wall’s prayers at the Western Wall

Opposition leader and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu shares a post from Shas leader Arye Deri calling on people to come to the Western Wall tomorrow to block the monthly prayer service held by Women of the Wall.

Netanyahu retweets a post by Deri, which reads: “Tomorrow, Friday, Rosh Hodesh Kislev, at 7 a.m., I and dozens of members of Knesset will arrive to pray at the Western Wall… I call on anyone who believes in the sanctity of the wall to come and pray with us, so that God forbid this holy place will not be desecrated.”

Women of the Wall, a progressive prayer group which believes that women should be allowed to pray with a Torah scroll at the Western Wall, holds prayers there each Rosh Hodesh, which marks the beginning of the Hebrew month. The group’s activities have long been opposed by ultra-Orthodox politicians, and their prayers are regularly disrupted by protesters.

In 2016, Netanyahu’s government approved a compromise deal to create a permanent pluralistic prayer pavilion at the Western Wall after years of negotiations between Israel and Diaspora leaders. But a year later, the then-prime minister capitulated to pressure from his ultra-Orthodox coalition partners and indefinitely froze the deal.

Members of the current government led by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett have indicated that they are looking to revive the deal.

UK grants authorization to first pill said to treat COVID

Britain grants conditional authorization to the only pill shown to successfully treat COVID-19 so far. It is the first country to okay the treatment from drugmaker Merck, although it wasn’t immediately clear how quickly the pill will be available.

The pill is licensed for adults 18 and older who have tested positive for COVID-19 and have at least one risk factor for developing severe disease, such as obesity or heart disease. Patients with mild-to-moderate COVID-19 would take four pills of the drug, known molnupiravir, twice a day for five days.

Molnupiravir is also pending review with regulators in the US, the European Union and elsewhere. The US Food and Drug Administration announced last month it would convene a panel of independent experts to scrutinize the pill’s safety and effectiveness in late November.

Initial supplies will be limited. Merck has said it can produce 10 million treatment courses through the end of the year, but much of that supply has already been purchased by governments worldwide.

Ahead of 2022 budget vote, Knesset passes Arrangements Law

The Knesset votes 61-57 to pass the annual Arrangements Law after 3.5 hours of arguments over the legislation, hours after it passed the 2021 budget bill.

The Arrangements Law — which determines how funds will be implemented — is usually the final precursor toward passing the budget. The Knesset will vote this afternoon on the 2022 state budget, which is expected to pass by the same margin.

94-year-old playwright arrested for wife’s alleged murder in Tel Aviv

A well-known 94-year-old author and playwright is arrested in connection with the death of his wife, police say.

The man, whose name has not been made public, was brought in for questioning over the death of his wife in Tel Aviv more than a year ago. According to police, the woman, 87, was found dead in her bathtub last August by paramedics after her husband called for an ambulance.

The woman was found covered in bruises, and an autopsy was therefore ordered, after which it was ruled that her death was not accidental. Police opened an undercover investigation into the incident, leading to today’s arrest.

Iranian President Raisi warns West against ‘excessive’ nuclear demands

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi warns Western governments that he will not accept “excessive demands” in nuclear talks set to resume later this month after a five-month gap.

“We will not walk away from the negotiating table but we will also oppose any excessive demands that would end up harming the interests of the Iranian people,” Raisi says. “We will not retreat in any way when it comes to interests of the Iranian people but will continue our efforts to neutralize the oppressive sanctions and are taking action to have them lifted.”

Raisi speaks at a ceremony in the city of Semnam, east of the capital, marking the anniversary of the 1979 seizure of the US embassy in Tehran by radical students, an episode that still clouds relations.

Diplomats on Wednesday finally announced the November 29 start date for renewed negotiations after a protracted delay since the June election of Raisi, an ultraconservative.

Herzog calls to bring waiting Ethiopian Jews to Israel ‘quickly’

President Isaac Herzog calls to bring to Israel without delay the remaining Ethiopian Jews waiting to make aliyah.

“The longings of the past are in large part the foundation of this holy day, but it is important that we not neglect for a moment our longings for the future,” Herzog says at a ceremony in Jerusalem marking the Ethiopian Jewish holiday of Sigd. “Thousands are still waiting to make aliyah to Israel, and some of them are threatened and in a worrying situation. We must continue to act bring them over to Israel quickly.”

The president also says that Israel’s “national mission, for the best possible integration of Ethiopian Jews in their land, has not ended. This is not just a duty — it is a tremendous privilege, because we all see the immense contribution of immigrants from Ethiopia wherever we look.”

Bringing to Israel the thousands of Ethiopian Jews still waiting in Addis Ababa has long been mired in controversy and multiple delays. Immigration Minister Pnina Tamano-Shata, herself a native of Ethiopia, has vowed to do so quickly.

Ethiopia declared a state of emergency earlier this week as the civil war that has killed thousands of people and displaced millions since November 2020 threatens to engulf the capital.

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