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Lapid to Biden aide: Israel worried Iran is becoming a ‘nuclear threshold’ state

In Washington, foreign minister discusses alternatives to 2015 nuclear agreement with US national security adviser

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington, DC, on October 12, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/Courtesy)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington, DC, on October 12, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/Courtesy)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s developments as they unfolded.

Edelstein: Poll shows I can form government, Netanyahu cannot

Then-health minister Yuli Edelstein seen during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on April 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Then-health minister Yuli Edelstein seen during a press conference at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, on April 20, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

In a tweet, Likud’s Yuli Edelstein says a Channel 12 poll that aired tonight shows that he could potentially form a right-wing government “by tomorrow morning,” while party leader Benjamin Netanyahu cannot.

“It’s either Lapid or me,” he says, referring to the Yesh Atid leader who is set to become prime minister in 2023 as part of a rotation deal with Naftali Bennett.

Edelstein, who announced on Monday that he would challenge Netanyahu for the party leadership, glosses over the figures in the poll indicating Likud voters would overwhelmingly support Netanyahu over him in Likud primaries.

The survey also suggested Likud would win 20 seats under his leadership and 34 under Netanyahu, though the former Knesset speaker would be better positioned to cobble together a coalition.

Caregiver arrested on suspicion of murdering 90-year-old charge

A caregiver has been arrested on suspicion of murdering the 90-year-old woman under her care.

The woman, a foreign worker from Moldova, is accused of killing the elderly woman in her home in the northern coastal city of Hadera.

Police are investigating.

Bennett meets with FIFA president in Jerusalem

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, on October 12, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with FIFA President Gianni Infantino, on October 12, 2021. (Haim Zach/GPO)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett meets with FIFA President Gianni Infantino in his office in Jerusalem.

Infantino raised the possibility of Israel hosting some matches of the 2030 World Cup, along with other regional states such as the United Arab Emirates, according to the Ynet news site.

Couple accused of selling US nuclear secrets appears in court

A US nuclear-powered submarine, is docked before South Korea and US joint military exercises, at Jinhae naval base, South Korea, on February 1. (AP/Yonhap)
A US nuclear-powered submarine, is docked before South Korea and US joint military exercises, at Jinhae naval base, South Korea, on February 1. (AP/Yonhap)

A US nuclear engineer and his wife appear in court days after their arrest for trying to sell submarine secrets for $5 million, as speculation persists on which country was the targeted buyer.

Jonathan Toebbe and his wife Diana Toebbe appear separately in federal court in West Virginia dressed in orange prison garb. A judge orders them to be assigned public defenders, indicating that they do not have enough money to hire their own.

Both are charged with conspiracy to hand over highly classified technology on the navy’s most advanced nuclear-powered, cruise missile-launching submarines to an unnamed foreign power.

A criminal complaint unveiled on Sunday does not say which country they sought to sell the information to, but suggests that it could be a US ally, disclosing that the country informed the US Federal Bureau of Investigation of the Toebbes’ overture last December.

It also does not provide any motive for the couple.

Jonathan Toebbe, 42, was a former officer in the navy with expertise in nuclear propulsion of submarines.

After leaving the navy, he worked as a civilian contractor assigned to a research laboratory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania that designs and develops nuclear power for the navy.

Diane Toebbe, 45, meanwhile was a teacher at a well-regarded private school, the Key School, in Annapolis, Maryland, where the couple owned a home.

The complaint gave tantalizing, spy-novel like details of the case, involving dead-drops, cryptocurrency payments, and signals from an embassy building in Washington.

After an initial good-faith payment, the FBI lured them over encrypted communications to deliver an SD card loaded with secret information on submarine technology.

The card was tucked into a peanut butter sandwich and left at a location in West Virginia about 100 miles from Annapolis.

The second dead drop, in July, involved hiding an SD card inside a wrapper containing a Band-Aid and left in a plastic baggie at a site in south-central Pennsylvania.

In a message to the “buyers” — undercover FBI agents — Toebbe indicated that he had been considering his actions for several years, and was now happy to work with “a reliable professional partner.”

He also wrote that he had divided all the data he had collected into 51 “packages” of information. He wanted $100,000 for each, to be delivered in batches over an undetermined time period.

In a third drop, in August, Toebbe left more submarine data and a note saying that if he ran into trouble he hoped the foreign country would help “extract” him and his family.

“We have passports and cash set aside for this purpose,” Toebbe wrote.

He added his gratitude for the “partnership.”

“One day, when it is safe, perhaps two old friends will have a chance to stumble into each other at a cafe, share a bottle of wine and laugh over stories of their shared exploits,” he wrote.

The couple was arrested on Saturday and face possible imprisonment for life on each of the charges.

Experts speculated on the identity of the country which alerted the FBI of the data offer in December, nearly nine months after the Toebbes first mailed their offer to the country’s military intelligence.

One of their communications indicated that English might not be the country’s native tongue, and others suggest that the country’s navy is familiar with nuclear propulsion technology.

Besides the US, Russia, China, Britain, France and India operate nuclear-powered naval vessels.

Poll: 86% of Likud voters back Netanyahu over Edelstein as party leader

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, seen during a visit at the COVID-19 vaccination center in Zarzir, northern Israel, on February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (left) and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein, seen during a visit at the COVID-19 vaccination center in Zarzir, northern Israel, on February 9, 2021. (David Cohen/Flash90)

A Channel 12 poll finds that if elections were held today, Likud would emerge the largest party, but a bloc led by Benjamin Netanyahu would not be able to form a majority government, holding only 56 of the 120 Knesset seats.

The results read as such:

Likud: 34
Yesh Atid: 18
Shas: 9
Blue and White: 8
Yamina: 7
United Torah Judaism: 7
Labor: 7
Joint List: 6
Religious Zionism: 6
Meretz: 5
Yisrael Beytenu: 5
New Hope: 4
Ra’am: 4

The survey also tests the projected outcome if Likud was led by Yuli Edelstein, who announced yesterday he would challenge Netanyahu for the Likud leadership.

In such a scenario, the seat distribution would look wildly different: Likud would win 20 seats; Yesh Atid 20; Religious Zionism 11; Shas 11; and Blue and White 11, hypothetically giving Edelstein enough leeway to form a diverse government despite winning fewer seats.

Among Likud members polled by the network, 68 percent say they disagree with Edelstein’s statement that a Netanyahu-led Likud won’t return to power, 17% agree, and 15% say they don’t know.

A whopping 86% of the Likud voters say they would back Netanyahu in party primaries, while 6% back Edelstein, and the rest were undecided, according to the survey. Likud primaries are not currently scheduled to be held in the near future.

Lapid to Biden aide: Israel worried Iran becoming a ‘nuclear threshold’ state

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington, DC, on October 12, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/Courtesy)
Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington, DC, on October 12, 2021. (Shlomi Amsalem/Courtesy)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid meets with US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan in Washington, with talks centered on the Iran nuclear program and the reconstruction of the Gaza Strip.

“The foreign minister shared with the national security adviser Israel’s concerns about Iran’s race toward nuclear capabilities, as well as that Iran is becoming a nuclear threshold state,” Lapid’s office says. “Lapid also discussed with the national security adviser the need for an alternative plan to the nuclear agreement.”

Lapid and Sullivan also discussed the rehabilitation of the Gaza Strip, following the May conflict between Israel and terror groups in the enclave.

Volcano forces hundreds more to flee on Spanish island

The Cumbre Vieja volcano, pictured at night from El Paso, spews lava, ash and smoke, in the Canary Island of La Palma, on October 11, 2021. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP)
The Cumbre Vieja volcano, pictured at night from El Paso, spews lava, ash and smoke, in the Canary Island of La Palma, on October 11, 2021. (Jorge Guerrero/AFP)

Spanish officials order hundreds more residents to leave their homes on La Palma in the Canary Islands, as lava continues to ooze from its volcano.

La Cumbre Vieja began erupting on September 19, and has already forced more than 6,000 people from their homes, with lava wrecking 1,200 buildings and scorching 600 hectares (1,400 acres) on the Atlantic island off Morocco’s coast.

Emergency services write on Twitter that a new evacuation order had been issued “owing to the forecast of the advance of the lava flow.”

“The 700 to 800 people affected by this evacuation order should leave their homes, with their belongings and pets,” the services tweet, telling the residents to go to a meeting point in the western town of Los Llanos de Aridane.

On Monday, about 3,000 people were ordered to stay indoors after lava destroyed a cement works and raised fears that toxic gases might be released.

Despite the massive damage caused by the eruption on La Palma, home to 85,000 people, nobody has been killed or injured.

Libya mass graves reveal 25 more bodies

Another 25 unidentified bodies have been found in mass graves in the Libyan town of Tarhuna, Libyan authorities say, following years of brutal militia rule.

The farming town was controlled for years by the Kaniyat militia, run by six brothers who imposed their dominance by slaughtering opponents and their entire families.

Around 200 bodies have been found so far, according to the department which uncovered the remains, which said another “five graves were discovered” containing another 25 corpses.

The latest grim findings come after another 10 bodies were uncovered on October 4.

Police investigating death of 2-year-old girl in Rahat

Medics in the southern city of Rahat pronounce the death of a two-year-old girl, who was brought to a local clinic with a serious head injury, in addition to other unspecified injuries.

Police are opening an investigation into the death.

IDF chief says record number of recruits drafted to combat units

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi during a graduation ceremony at the National Security College in Glilot, central Israel, on July 14, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)
IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi during a graduation ceremony at the National Security College in Glilot, central Israel, on July 14, 2021. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi says a record number of recruits were drafted to combat units over the past summer.

“Motivation for service in combat units has improved, and in the last two years there has been a continuous increase in willingness to serve in combat units,” Kohavi says at a ceremony marking a changing of commander of the military’s Ground Forces.

He says the rise in recruitment was particularly distinct during the most recent draft cycle in August, saying that “these are the highest figures seen in the last seven years.”

Serious COVID cases at lowest rate since mid-August

The number of serious coronavirus cases continues to drop, hitting 413 on Tuesday evening, the lowest figure since mid-August.

Another 1,179 COVID cases have been diagnosed since midnight, according to Health Ministry figures. The death toll stands at 7,947.

Police rescue woman kidnapped from domestic violence shelter; 4 arrested

A woman was abducted from a domestic violence shelter in northern Israel.

After a chase, police arrest her two brothers and two other suspects who were carrying firearms.

Police have rescued the woman.

France’s last surviving WWII French Resistance hero dies aged 101

In this file photo taken on June 18, 2021, Hubert Germain, a WWII Resistance fighter and the last "Compagnon de la Liberation" attends a ceremony to mark the 81st anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's resistance call from London at the Mont Valerien, in Suresnes, near Paris. (Michel Euler/Pool/AFP)
In this file photo taken on June 18, 2021, Hubert Germain, a WWII Resistance fighter and the last "Compagnon de la Liberation" attends a ceremony to mark the 81st anniversary of Charles de Gaulle's resistance call from London at the Mont Valerien, in Suresnes, near Paris. (Michel Euler/Pool/AFP)

The last survivor out of the over 1,000 people who were awarded the highest order of bravery by Charles de Gaulle for their role in French Resistance forces during World War II has died at the age of 101, France’s defense minister announces.

“I want to inform you that Hubert Germain, the last surviving member of the Order of Liberation, has died,” Defense Minister Florence Parly tells French lawmakers.

“It’s an important moment in our history,” she adds.

EU pledges 1 billion euros for Afghan people at virtual G20

A Taliban fighter (left) stands guard as Afghan medical staff members wait at the entrance of a hospital to receive the victims of an explosion in Kabul, on October 3, 2021. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP)
A Taliban fighter (left) stands guard as Afghan medical staff members wait at the entrance of a hospital to receive the victims of an explosion in Kabul, on October 3, 2021. (Hoshang Hashimi/AFP)

The European Union warns that humanitarian aid for Afghans won’t suffice in itself to keep hunger at bay as winter approaches after the bloc announces a support package worth 1 billion euros ($1.15 billion) on Tuesday.

The 27-nation bloc makes the pledge during a virtual summit of the Group of 20 dedicated to Afghanistan. The Italian government, which holds the G-20 presidency, says the aim of the meeting was to address “urgent” humanitarian support for Afghans, the fight against terrorism and freedom of movement for Afghans inside the country and out.

The EU support package, which includes 300 million euros ($346 million) that had been committed earlier, will be targeted at the Afghan population only and neighboring countries, which have been the first to provide immediate aid.

Beyond such humanitarian aid, EU development aid to the country remains frozen since the Taliban took power in the wake of the US withdrawal from Afghanistan. The EU remains careful not to legitimize the Taliban interim government.

“But the Afghan people should not pay the price of the Taliban’s actions,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen says. “This is why the Afghan support package is for the Afghan people and the country´s neighbors who have been the first in providing them with help.”

The aid comes as the United Nations is warning that the Afghan economy is on the verge of collapse and urging countries to inject cash.

Afghanistan, which before the Taliban takeover was dependent on international aid that accounted for 75 percent of state spending, is grappling with a liquidity crisis as assets remain frozen in the US and other countries, and disbursements from international organizations have been put on hold.

Gantz condemns settler violence against Israeli security forces

A Border Police vehicle is seen after it was attacked with stones and buckets of paint, near Yitzhar in the West Bank, October 11, 2021. (Israel Police)
A Border Police vehicle is seen after it was attacked with stones and buckets of paint, near Yitzhar in the West Bank, October 11, 2021. (Israel Police)

Defense Minister Benny Gantz says he will not accept any settler violence against security forces in the West Bank, after a Border Police soldier was hurt during a stone attack near the settlement of Yitzhar last night.

“This is a serious incident… and I would like to express my full backing to the soldiers on the ground who are carrying out their mission to maintain security and order for Jews and Palestinians alike,” Gantz says during a visit to the Israel Defense Forces’ 98th Paratroopers Division.

“Unfortunately, there were also isolated cases of IDF soldiers deviating from protocols. Any such deviation is addressed and investigated in depth. I trust the soldiers and commanders and all the forces to continue to fulfill their operational mission according to the IDF’s values ​​and in accordance with the guidelines,” Gantz adds.

At least 134 Yemen rebels dead in Saudi-led strikes south of Marib

More than 130 Yemen rebels have been killed in airstrikes south of Marib, a flashpoint of the civil war, the Saudi-led coalition says.

Dozens of strikes were carried out in the Abdiya district of Marib province. Marib city is the internationally recognized government’s last outpost in northern Yemen.

“We targeted nine military vehicles of the Houthi militia in Abdiya, and their losses exceeded 134 members,” says a coalition statement carried by official Saudi media.

Hundreds of Iran-backed Houthi rebels and military have died since fighting for the strategically vital city flared anew last month.

The Houthis warn they are “on the edges of the city,” in a video statement.

Rebel forces “today are on the edges of the city of Marib from several sides after defeating traitors and mercenaries… from several districts in Marib and liberating them completely,” spokesman Yahya Saree says.

Stern said to complain to associates of ‘witch hunt’

Knesset Member Elazar Stern. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Knesset Member Elazar Stern. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern tells his associates the controversy surrounding his comments about “shredding” complaints during his stint as head of the IDF Manpower Directorate was a “witch hunt,” according to Hebrew media reports.

“This was a witch hunt that was disproportionate,” he is quoted as saying, shortly after announcing he was dropping his candidacy to be elected head of the Jewish Agency.

Stern also complained that he was the victim of a “great injustice,” the reports say.

Lapid cheers water deal between Israel and Jordan

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, October 4, 2021. (Oliiver Fitoussi/Flash90)
Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem, October 4, 2021. (Oliiver Fitoussi/Flash90)

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid applauds a new deal between Israel and Jordan that will see the Jewish state double its water supply to the Hashemite kingdom.

“I congratulate Israeli Minister of Energy Karine Elharrar and Jordanian Minister of Water Mohammad al-Najjar on signing an important agreement to double the amount of water shared annually by Israel with Jordan,” says Lapid in a statement.

“This is what good neighbors do, in line with Israel’s policy of connections with other countries. It’s another step forward in the cooperation between Israel and Jordan in tackling our joint challenges.”

Sally Rooney says she objects to Israeli publisher, not Hebrew translation

Sally Rooney speaks onstage during the Hulu Panel at Winter TCA 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 17, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu via JTA)
Sally Rooney speaks onstage during the Hulu Panel at Winter TCA 2020 at The Langham Huntington, Pasadena on January 17, 2020 in Pasadena, California. (Photo by Erik Voake/Getty Images for Hulu via JTA)

The bestselling author Sally Rooney says she decided not to publish her latest novel with an Israeli publishing house because she supports a boycott of Israel, but added that a non-Israeli press could still publish the book in Hebrew.

Rooney’s statement confirms a report by the Israeli newspaper Haaretz last month that Rooney declined to sell Hebrew publishing rights for her new book, “Beautiful World, Where Are You,” to Modan Publishing House, an Israeli press that published her first two novels in Hebrew.

The Jewish Telegraphic Agency and others this week characterized Rooney’s decision not to work Modan as a decision not to allow her critically acclaimed book to be translated into Hebrew at all. Rooney says that is not true.

“It would be an honour for me to have my latest novel translated into Hebrew and available to Hebrew-language readers,” the statement says. “But for the moment, I have chosen not to sell these translation rights to an Israeli-based publishing house.”

Whether that’s possible is unclear: The Hebrew-language publishing industry is centered in Israel, the only country where Hebrew is an official language.

Rooney, 30, the Irish author of the acclaimed 2018 novel “Normal People,” has been called one of the world’s premier millennial authors. Her books have topped bestseller charts, gotten television deals and been praised for their depiction of urbane millennial life and romance.

She had expressed her support for the movement to boycott, divest from and sanction Israel, known as BDS, in July, when she was one of thousands of artists to sign a letter urging an end to international aid to Israel as well as “trade, economic and cultural relations.” That came shortly after Israel’s May conflict with Hamas in Gaza prompted renewed international criticism of Israel, including a wave of boycott calls.

Citing recent reports by Human Rights Watch and the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, Rooney says in her statement that “Israel’s system of racial domination and segregation against Palestinians meets the definition of apartheid under international law.” (Human Rights Watch said that “Israeli authorities systematically discriminate” against Palestinians in a way that “amounts to the systematic oppression required for apartheid.” B’tselem said that Israel maintains an apartheid regime” that “uses laws, practices and organized violence to cement the supremacy of one group over another.“)

Anticipating questions about whether she is permitting translations in China or other countries with records of human rights abuses, Rooney acknowledges that many countries “are guilty of grievous human rights abuses,” but compares Israel to apartheid-era South Africa and says that she’s chosen to boycott in response to a call from Palestinian civil society.

“I understand that not everyone will agree with my decision, but I simply do not feel it would be right for me under the present circumstances to accept a new contract with an Israeli company that does not publicly distance itself from apartheid and support the UN-stipulated rights of the Palestinian people,” she says.

Creator of Chabad’s famous menorah sexually abused girl, lawsuit claims

A new lawsuit claims that the man who crafted what might be the most famous menorah in the world sexually abused a young girl dozens of times in the 1990s and that a rabbinical court failed to hold him accountable.

The survivor of this alleged abuse, now a 36-year-old woman living in Israel, is trying to get possession of her abuser’s brass menorah, which is normally displayed during Hanukkah at the headquarters of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement in Brooklyn.

Her lawyer says that if she succeeds, she’d consider melting it down in a symbolic act against taboos that have kept cases like hers from being known.

The craftsman behind the 6-foot-tall menorah was Hirschel Pekkar. After he died in July, an obituary on a Chabad community news site described him as “a renowned Crown Heights silversmith who created the famous Menorah which stands each Chanukah in 770 Eastern Parkway,” referring to the address of the Hasidic movement’s headquarters.

Pekkar was commissioned to forge a special Hanukkah lamp in 1982, after Chabad’s leader, the late Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, said in a speech that the arms of the menorah were originally diagonal rather than curved, citing the medieval Jewish scholar Maimonides. The lawsuit says that the impact of Pekkar’s menorah—thousands of similar pieces have been fashioned over the decades—makes it “one of the most important pieces of Jewish artwork of the 20th century.”

“We’re pursuing the menorah, because it’s so symbolic and because we want to play an active role in shaping that symbolism,” Susan Crumiller, the attorney who is representing the woman, tells the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. “We hope it’s a transformative moment. We are doing this out of love for the community.”

Crumiller had initially planned to sue Pekkar under New York’s Child Victims Act, which created a two-year window to revive old abuse cases previously barred by the statute of limitations. But, then, on Aug. 5, just days ahead of the deadline, Pekkar died. Crumiller shifted her target and named Pekkar’s estate in a lawsuit filed Oct. 5. She tells JTA that the death extended the legal window to sue, meaning that the Aug. 14 deadline no longer applied.

No formal estate has been established for Pekkar by his heirs, and the responsibility for the estate is being addressed in a separate court case, according to Crumiller.

It’s also unclear who formally owns the menorah, though it has been treated as the communal property of the Chabad movement since it was commissioned. For now, Crumiller has asserted a lien on the menorah on behalf of her client, meaning that she has filed a public notice that her client is claiming it.

IMF foresees a slight drop in global growth from pandemic

The International Monetary Fund is slightly downgrading its outlook for the global recovery from the pandemic recession, reflecting the persistence of supply chain disruptions in industrialized countries and deadly disparities in vaccination rates between rich and poor nations.

In its latest World Economic Outlook, the IMF foresees global growth this year of 5.9%, compared with its projection in July of 6%.

For the United Sates, the world’s largest economy, the IMF predicts growth of 6% for 2021, below its July forecast of 7%. The downward revision reflects a slowdown in economic activity resulting from a rise in COVID-19 cases and delayed production caused by supply shortages and a resulting acceleration of inflation.

The IMF predicts that for the world’s advanced economies as a whole, growth will amount to 5.2% this year, compared with a meager predicted gain of 3% for low-income developing countries.

“The dangerous divergence in economic prospects across countries,” the IMF says, “remains a major concern.”

The monetary fund expects the total output from advanced economies to recoup the losses they suffered during the pandemic by 2022 and to exceed their pre-pandemic growth path by 2024.

But in emerging and developing countries outside of China, the IMF warns, output will remain an estimated 5.5% below the output growth path that the IMF had been forecasting before the pandemic struck in March of last year. That downgrade poses a serious threat to living standards in those countries, the monetary fund said.

Elazar Stern drops Jewish Agency candidacy amid controversy

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (R) with MK Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on January 18, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)
Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid (R) with MK Elazar Stern at a press conference in Tel Aviv, on January 18, 2015. (Ben Kelmer/FLASH90)

Intelligence Minister Elazar Stern withdraws his candidacy for Jewish Agency chairman, following a controversy over comments he made earlier this week.

Stern said during a radio interview on Sunday that he had “shredded many anonymous complaints” during his time as head of the IDF’s Manpower Directorate. He was responding to a question about an anonymous complaint lodged recently against the incoming head of the Shin Bet, with the conversation clearly focusing on claims of sexual assault.

In a damage control bid, Stern toured the major networks on Sunday evening, apologizing if his remarks had caused offense, and said that while he had shredded anonymous complaints, they were never over sexual assault.

But two ex-soldiers later told Hebrew media he ignored their sexual assault claims.

Stern announces he’s dropping his Jewish Agency bid in a Facebook post.

“I apologize to anyone who has been hurt or offended by what I said and the interpretation given [to my words], and apologize to my family, who is standing firmly by me despite the difficulty. I will continue to do my best, wherever I may be, to ensure a better future for the State of Israel and the Jewish people,” he writes.

Next on FDA’s agenda: Booster shots of Moderna, J&J vaccines

A health official prepares a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine prior to administering it during a mass Covid-19 vaccination drive in Nairobi on September 17, 2021. (Simon MAINA / AFP)
A health official prepares a syringe with the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine prior to administering it during a mass Covid-19 vaccination drive in Nairobi on September 17, 2021. (Simon MAINA / AFP)

With many Americans who got Pfizer vaccinations already rolling up their sleeves for a booster shot, millions of others who received the Moderna or Johnson & Johnson vaccine wait anxiously to learn when it’s their turn.

Federal regulators begin tackling that question this week.

On Thursday and Friday, the Food and Drug Administration convenes its independent advisers for the first stage in the process of deciding whether extra doses of the two vaccines should be dispensed and, if so, who should get them and when. The final go-ahead is not expected for at least another week.

After the FDA advisers give their recommendation, the agency itself will make an official decision on whether to authorize boosters. Then next week, a panel convened by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will offer more specifics on who should get them. Its decision is subject to approval by the CDC director.

Poll: Antisemitism is highest in European countries with fewest attacks on Jews

Hungarian Jews celebrate the opening of a new synagogue in Budapest on Aug. 27, 2021. (Cnaan Liphshiz via JTA)
Hungarian Jews celebrate the opening of a new synagogue in Budapest on Aug. 27, 2021. (Cnaan Liphshiz via JTA)

In an opinion poll on antisemitism in 16 European Union countries, respondents from Poland, Hungary and Greece displayed the highest prevalence of hostile attitudes toward Jews. But despite a high level of antisemitic attitudes, those countries rarely see violent attacks on Jews while countries that experience more frequent attacks on Jews are often those showing the lowest rates of antisemitic sentiments.

The survey, published by Ipsos, a polling company, together with the Europe Action and Protection League, a watchdog group based in Hungary, found little correlation between antisemitic attitudes and violent attacks on Jews in the 16 European countries surveyed.

The assertion that it ”would be best if Jews left this country” received affirmation from 24%, 23% and 21% of participants in Poland, Greece and Hungary, respectively. It was rejected by 15%, 26% and 33% in those countries, where only a few dozen antisemitic incidents are recorded annually. A high prevalence of antisemitic sentiments was also observed in other countries with low levels of antisemitic incidents, including Latvia, Croatia and Romania.

In countries where more antisemitic incidents were recorded, the assertion about Jews being unwanted was overwhelmingly rejected and received little support.

In Germany, where a record-high number of 2,351 incidents were recorded last year, 62% of respondents rejected that assertion, and only 7% agreed. Similar trends were observed in France, where 687 incidents of antisemitic attacks were recorded in 2019. In the United Kingdom, where 1,668 incidents were documented last year, 9.2% agreed and 72% disagreed.

Other countries with a low prevalence of antisemitic sentiment but a relatively high number of recorded attacks included the Netherlands, Sweden and Italy.

Some of the countries with a low number of antisemitic assaults have a relatively small number of Jews, as is the case in Latvia and Greece. But others — including Hungary, where about 100,000 Jews live — have Jewish communities comparable to those in countries with a high number of assaults.

Authors of the study, titled “Antisemitic Prejudices in Europe,” said the data challenged the idea that countering antisemitic sentiment, long a goal of Jewish communal leaders and politicians in Europe, would solve the problem of antisemitic violence. “The number of violent acts and the degree of anti-Jewish sentiment are essentially unrelated,” the study states.

Former Mossad chief says Iran not close to obtaining nukes

Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in an interview with Channel 12 broadcast on June 10, 2021 (Screencapture)
Former Mossad chief Yossi Cohen in an interview with Channel 12 broadcast on June 10, 2021 (Screencapture)

Former Mossad intelligence chief Yossi Cohen says Iran is not close to obtaining nuclear weapons.

“I think that Iran, to this day, is not even close to acquiring a nuclear weapon… This is due to longstanding efforts by some forces in the world,” he says at the Jerusalem Post conference.

Bennett’s call to limit ultra-Orthodox political influence angers Haredim

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, speaking at the Jerusalem Post conference earlier today, called for curbs on ultra-Orthodox political influence. The comment angers Haredi lawmakers.

“I wouldn’t want an Israel without Haredim, but we must limit political sway,” says Bennett.

In response, the opposition United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman says: “When he needed ‘Haredi influence,’ he knew how to beg for it.”

Shas leader Aryeh Deri tweets: “An illegitimate prime minister with six seats, who is barely scratching the electoral threshold in all the polls and represents only himself, wants to limit the influence of Haredim who represent a million people.”

He’s referring to Bennett being appointed prime minister of the diverse coalition, despite his Yamina party only winning 7, one of which defected, of the 120 Knesset seats.

“Bennett, every fraud has an end. The day will come in which a government that represents the will of the people will rise, including the Haredi community that received 16 seats in the last election,” says Deri.

— with Lazar Berman

Lapid lands in Washington for talks with top US officials

Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on October 4, 2021. Photo by Oliiver Fitoussi/Flash90
Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid speaks during a faction meeting at the Knesset, the Israeli parliament in Jerusalem, on October 4, 2021. Photo by Oliiver Fitoussi/Flash90

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid lands in Washington, DC, for a three-day visit to meet with senior Biden administration officials, Jewish leaders, and the UAE foreign minister.

Highlights of the trip include a meeting Tuesday with US Vice President Kamala Harris and a trilateral meeting Wednesday with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and UAE Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed.

Lebanon judge issues arrest warrant for MP over port blast

In this August 5, 2020 file photo, a drone picture shows the destruction after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)
In this August 5, 2020 file photo, a drone picture shows the destruction after an explosion at the seaport of Beirut, Lebanon. (AP/Hussein Malla)

The Lebanese judge leading the investigation into last year’s massive explosion at Beirut’s port issues an arrest warrant for a former Cabinet minister after he did not show up for questioning, the state-run National News Agency says.

Shortly afterward, the judge is notified that the former minister and another former government member had formally asked a court to replace the judge, who now has to suspend the investigation until a ruling on him comes out.

The developments are the latest twists in the saga of the troubled probe into the massive August 2020 blast at Beirut’s port that killed 215 people, injured thousands and devastated entire neighborhoods of the Lebanese capital.

Judge Tarek Bitar, who is leading the investigation, issues an arrest warrant for Ali Hassan Khalil, Lebanon’s former finance minister and current member of parliament. It isn’t immediately clear if Khalil would be arrested.

The decision comes hours after the head of Lebanon’s Hezbollah terror group escalated his attack on the judge, calling on authorities on Monday to replace Bitar with a “truthful and transparent” investigator.

Khalil, a close Hezbollah ally, was among officials who challenged Bitar in the courts, saying the judge was biased and calling for him to be replaced. He had previously declined to appear for questioning.

UK’s slow virus lockdown cost thousands of lives, parliamentary report says

A sign is displayed outside Waterloo train station to remind people thy are required to wear face coverings inside the station and whilst travelling on trains during England's second coronavirus lockdown, in London, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020.  Britain yesterday registered 501 daily COVID-19 deaths within 28 days of a positive test and is the fifth country in the world to record more than 50,000 coronavirus-related deaths. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)
A sign is displayed outside Waterloo train station to remind people thy are required to wear face coverings inside the station and whilst travelling on trains during England's second coronavirus lockdown, in London, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020. Britain yesterday registered 501 daily COVID-19 deaths within 28 days of a positive test and is the fifth country in the world to record more than 50,000 coronavirus-related deaths. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

The British government waited too long to impose a lockdown in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, missing a chance to contain the disease and leading to thousands of unnecessary deaths, lawmakers conclude in a hard-hitting report.

The deadly delay resulted from ministers’ failure to question the recommendations of scientific advisers, resulting in a dangerous level of “groupthink” that caused them to dismiss the more aggressive strategies adopted in East and Southeast Asia, according to the joint report from the House of Commons’ science and health committees.

It was only when Britain’s National Health Service risked being overwhelmed by rapidly rising infections that Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative government finally ordered a lockdown in late March 2020.

“There was a desire to avoid a lockdown because of the immense harm it would entail to the economy, normal health services and society,’’ the report says. “In the absence of other strategies such as rigorous case isolation, a meaningful test-and-trace operation, and robust border controls, a full lockdown was inevitable and should have come sooner.’’

Cabinet minister Stephen Barclay defends the government’s response, saying “decisions were taken on the evidence and the scientific advice at the time.”

“It was an unprecedented pandemic. We were learning about it as we went through, and of course with hindsight, there’s things we know about it now that we didn’t know at the time,” Barclay tells British broadcaster Sky News.

Israel signs deal to double water supply to Jordan

An aerial picture taken on July 15, 2021, shows a section of the Jordan River flowing along the border with Jordan (background), south of the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Tiberias, one of the main water sources in Israel. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)
An aerial picture taken on July 15, 2021, shows a section of the Jordan River flowing along the border with Jordan (background), south of the Sea of Galilee, or Lake Tiberias, one of the main water sources in Israel. (MENAHEM KAHANA / AFP)

Israel formally agrees to double the amount of freshwater it provides to neighbor Jordan, one of the world’s most water-deficient countries.

The agreement is proof that “we want good neighborly relations,” says Karine Elharrar, Israel’s minister of infrastructure, energy and water resources.

Elharrar traveled to Jordan for a signing ceremony between representatives to the Joint Water Committee that manages bilateral water relations. This capped an arrangement first announced in July.

The two countries agreed then that Israel would sell 50 million cubic meters of water a year to Jordan, doubling what it already supplies.

“This represents the largest water sale in the history of the two countries,” says Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of the regional environmental group EcoPeace Middle East.

He says that the deal “reflects the growing understanding that the climate crisis already heavily impacting the region must lead to increased cooperation.”

Jordan’s cooperation with Israel on water predates their 1994 peace treaty. Israel is also a hot, dry country, but desalination technology has opened opportunities for selling freshwater.

The additional water Israel will provide will come from the Sea of Galilee, says Shaked Eliahu, a spokeswoman for Elharrar.

The water deal comes after bilateral relations had cooled under Israel’s former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Naftali Bennett, who took over in June, has made strengthening ties with Amman a priority.

Pollster arrested in Austria corruption scandal

Austrian authorities make a first arrest in a corruption probe that toppled chancellor Sebastian Kurz, local media reported, holding a woman for allegedly destroying evidence.

One of a series of scandals that dogged Kurz’s two successive governments, the latest affair revolves around partially faked opinion polls paid for with taxpayer money and fed to a tabloid to paint Kurz in a favorable light.

The woman arrested Tuesday is a pollster who authorities said last week was under investigation for corruption.

She is suspected of having deleted data from the hard disk of her computer just before a raid, daily Der Standard reports.

Prosecutors decline comment to AFP, citing “ongoing investigations.”

Kfar Saba ex-mayor convicted of making personal use of funds meant for the poor

Kfar Saba Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo appears at a remand hearing at Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on February 13, 2017, after he was arrested for suspected corruption. (Flash90)
Kfar Saba Mayor Yehuda Ben-Hamo appears at a remand hearing at Rishon Lezion Magistrate's Court on February 13, 2017, after he was arrested for suspected corruption. (Flash90)

The former mayor of Kfar Saba is convicted of using funds raised for the central Israeli city’s needy for his own personal and political gain.

The Central District Court convicts Yehuda Ben-Hamo of fraud, breach of trust, aggravated receiving of something under false circumstances, and theft by a public servant.

Judge Ami Kobo rules that Ben-Hamo had created a “fraud mechanism” by using some NIS 607,500 ($171,000) worth of gift cards and cash — ostensibly raised for the city’s poor — for his own personal needs, while giving others to his associates, subordinates, household workers and neighborhood activists, both for their own use and to distribute to city residents.

6.3-magnitude quake strikes off Greek island of Crete

Illustrative. The bay of Vai in Crete, Greece. (CC BY, Wikimedia)
Illustrative. The bay of Vai in Crete, Greece. (CC BY, Wikimedia)

A powerful 6.3-magnitude earthquake strikes off the Greek island of Crete, the Athens Observatory says, with initial media reports suggesting no one was hurt.

The quake struck at 0924 GMT with an epicenter in the sea 405 kilometers (250 miles) southeast of Athens and 24 kilometers from the village of Zakros, the Observatory says in a statement.

Local media says it was felt on Crete and on the Dodecanese islands in the Aegean Sea.

“The epicenter is in the sea, far from inhabited places,” Greek seismologist Gerassimos Papadopoulos tells Skai radio.

It comes two weeks after a strong 5.8-magnitude quake killed one person, injured 10 and damaged buildings on Crete.

Greece is located on a number of fault lines, and is sporadically hit by earthquakes.

Bennett to travel to Russia next Friday to meet Putin

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Jerusalem Post Conference, held in Jerusalem, October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Prime Minister Naftali Bennett speaks at the Jerusalem Post Conference, held in Jerusalem, October 12, 2021. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Prime Minister Naftali Bennett will travel to Russia next Friday for a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin, his office says.

“The two will discuss a series of diplomatic, security and economic issues involving both countries, as well as important regional matters, primarily Iran’s nuclear program,” Bennett’s office says, adding that Putin extended the invitation to Sochi.

It will be Bennett’s first meeting with the Russian leader since entering office.

Russian President Vladimir Putin attends a meeting of heads of member states at the Shanghai Cooperation Organization (SCO) summit, held in Dushanbe, via video link at the Novo-Ogaryovo state residence outside Moscow on September 17, 2021. (Alexey DRUZHININ / SPUTNIK / AFP)

 

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