The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s events as they unfolded.
The coronavirus cabinet, a forum of ministers dealing with the pandemic, has begun a key meeting at which they are expected to hash out plans for the country to begin exiting the lockdown.
At issue is a Health Ministry plan for a gradual, several-month exit based on epidemiological benchmarks, as well as plans to reopen preschools and some businesses, lift a restriction on travel and plan for what to do with high-infection zones. Some ministers are pushing for a swifter opening than the Health Ministry recommends, noting the economic damage and other ill effects of the nationwide closure.
Barak Ravid of Walla news tweets that according to sources, the meeting got off to a less than stellar start, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz fighting over whether to start with the Health Ministry plan or the possible opening of preschools and small businesses that don’t have in-person customers.
Knesset members are continuing the long slog of speeches ahead of expected approval of the peace deal with the United Arab Emirates.
Thus far 29 MKs have spoken, out of 103 who are signed up to deliver 4-minute speeches ahead of a final address by minister Ofir Akunis and a vote, which is widely expected to pass. If everyone uses their full time, the session will only take around five more hours.
Most lawmakers have abandoned the plenum for committee meetings or other goings-on.
“This agreement is a harsh blow to the delegitimization of Israel,” says Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar to a mostly empty room, though he does earn some heckles from Joint List MKs who have stuck around.
Reports indicate that Finance Minister Israel Katz and the Blue and White party are demanding that small businesses that do not have contact with the public be okayed to open Sunday, along with allowing restaurants to resume takeout service.
The arguments are taking place as the coronavirus cabinet meets on the possible lifting of lockdown restrictions.
Channel 13 reports that Katz is pushing for localized restrictions in high infection areas and wants to budget extra money to help businesses in those places.
Small business owners and others are holding an angry protest in Tel Aviv, throwing their merchandise into the street and setting fires to protest their financial situation under lockdown.
The protest takes place on Jaffa Street, home to many textile and clothing shops.
מחאה מוצדקת מאין כמוה של אנשי הטקסטיל בדרום תל אביב. הם נחנקים. לגמרי. מכירה את הענף היטב מילדות, מהעסק של הורי. כל יום של סגר מקטין את מרחב כנשימה, שגם בימים רגילים מצומצם מאד. pic.twitter.com/tHUKYuK4t4
— אריאנה מלמד (@ariana_melamed) October 15, 2020
“We have a collection of dresses that’s just going in the trash. Now the winter collection is coming, the money is gone, the workers are home, we have small kids at home, we have workers. The bank is calling for answers, what are we supposed to tell them. There’s nothing we can do with the merchandise,” one business owner tells Channel 12 news.
تظاهرة في "تل أبيب" لأصحاب المحال التجارية أضرموا خلالها النار في العديد بضائعهم وأغلقوا الشوارع احتجاجا على الأزمة الاقتصادية بسبب الإغلاق المفروض لمنع تفشي كورونا pic.twitter.com/TpwnqSUcM4
— المركز الفلسطيني للإعلام (@PalinfoAr) October 15, 2020
The protest comes days after a Tel Aviv shoe store owner threw his merchandise onto the street for people to take. A video of the incident went viral, seen as a sign of the desperation of business owners.
The soaring number of COVID-19 cases in Europe is of “great concern,” but the situation is still better than the peaks in April, the World Health Organization’s regional office said Thursday.
“Daily numbers of cases are up, hospital admissions are up,” the WHO’s regional director for Europe Hans Kluge tells a press conference.
“COVID is now the fifth leading cause of deaths and the bar of a 1,000 deaths per day has now been reached.”
But he adds that “we are not” in the situation experienced in March and April.
“Although we record two to three times more cases per day compared to the April peak, we still observe five times less deaths, and the doubling time in hospital admissions is still two to three times longer,” Kluge says.
In a video released as he meets with ministers over lockdown plans, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urges a “gradual, responsible, cautious and controlled” exit from the closure.
According to reports, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein told the meeting that he will back the opening of preschools and lifting of other restrictions on Sunday, on condition that infection numbers don’t rise before then.
The Ynet news website reports that ministers think Netanyahu wants to push off lifting any restrictions, in line with advice from some experts presenting to the committee.
The site says ministers think Netanyahu wants to delay making any decision by at least a few days.
Arab League Secretary General Ahmad Aboul Gheit has condemned a move by Israeli authorities to advance settlement units in the West Bank, saying the construction “contradicts the claims of the current government to seek peace and stability in the region.”
Aboul Gheit has been under fire by Palestinians since the Arab League voted down a resolution condemning the United Arab Emirates’ decision to normalize ties with Israel.
Senior Palestinian officials subsequently called for his resignation.
Following the vote, Aboul Gheit denied that the resolution impacted the Arab states’ commitment to a Palestinian state, and emphasized that the normalization agreements stopped Israeli intentions to annex parts of the West Bank.
Israel authorities advanced over 2,000 settlement homes on Wednesday and are slated to okay around 2,000 more later today.
— Aaron Boxerman
The Civil Administration has approved or advanced over 2,700 more settlement homes, a day after okaying a similar number, the Peace Now watchdog group says.
In total, 4,948 units were approved in settlements across the West Bank. The watchdog says 2,688 were okayed for final or near-final approval, while the rest were okayed for an advanced planning stage.
On Wednesday, the Civil Administration okayed 2,166 units.
Several hundred of the approvals are for homes already constructed illegally, which will be retroactively authorized, Peace Now says.
Among the approvals Thursday are 629 units in Eli, 357 in Geva Binyamin, 354 in Nili, 286 in Bracha, 211 in Yizhar (known as among the most extreme settlements, where police, troops and others are regularly attacked) and 178 in Einav. Most of the settlements are in outlying parts of the West Bank that Israel would likely not hold onto as part of land swaps in any realistic peace deal.
Health Ministry Deputy Director Itamar Grotto is getting into it with Education Minister Yoav Gallant at the coronavirus cabinet meeting, according to several reports.
“All the experts say that the outbreak was due to schools. So you keeping on saying that there’s no link between infections and the opening of schools won’t make it true,” Grotto tells Galant.
Gallant shoots back that “I’ve never seen a turkey that wants Thanksgiving to come closer,” which maybe means that Grotto should be more flexible, and quit seeing the resumption of school like a turkey sees Turkey Day.
Or maybe not.
“Anybody who can figure out what Gallant wants with the turkey wins a shirt and cassette,” jokes reporter Barak Ravid on Twitter.
Walla news reports on a verbal spat between ministers and Shas head Aryeh Deri in the coronavirus cabinet, as he tries to push approval for weddings with up to 200 guests.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that it will bring about “another large outbreak among Arabs,” Deri, who is interior minister for Israel’s Jewish and non-Jewish citizens, responds that “I represent the Jewish people.”
He also gets into it with Itzik Shmuli.
“You don’t understand Jewish heritage and the importance of a wedding to a couple,” the ultra-Orthodox Deri tells Shmuli.
Shmuli responds, “Don’t belittle my Judaism and I won’t belittle yours.”
Deri then asks, “What do you want. It’s a Jewish state,” to which Shmuli responds that he should focus on epidemiology, “not anything else.”
United Nations Special Envoy Nickolay Mladenov has blasted Israel’s approval of almost 5,000 settlement units, saying that the locations of the approvals in outlying areas of the West Bank are particularly troubling.
“Settlement construction is illegal under international law and is one of the major obstacles to peace,” he says. “This significant number and location of advancements is of great concern to all those who remain committed to advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace,”
He warns that such moves undermine the possibility of a two-state solution, and urges Israel to “cease immediately all settlement-related activities.”
Yamina leader Naftali Bennett is throwing shade at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for claiming that Europe is looking to Israel as a success story.
“The second lockdown is not a ‘success,’ but the result of the government’s terrible management failure,” he says in a video he tweets out. “The lockdown has caused enormous suffering and the loss of livelihood for millions of Israelis.”
“The first lockdown in April bought us time. I presented a plan to prevent a second wave — but you didn’t muster the forces, didn’t expand the tests and contact tracing,” adds Bennett, who has become a formidable challenger to Netanyahu.
According to a statement from Netanyahu’s office, at the start of the coronavirus cabinet meeting, he said, “There is no doubt that as of now there is a success here which they are already beginning to talk about and look at in many countries, mainly in Europe, where the morbidity in several countries has already passed us.”
Settler leaders are celebrating the approval of nearly 5,000 Israeli homes in the West Bank.
“We are happy our efforts have borne fruit and the approvals were advanced,” a statement from the Yesha umbrella settler group reads.
“Building in the area cannot be used as a bargaining chip in other matters or peace deals,” it adds, referring to the fact that Israel suspended plans to annex parts of the West Bank to reach a normalization deal with the UAE.
It calls for unfettered Israeli building across the West Bank to reach its goal of 1 million Israelis living in settlements.
Yisrael Gantz, head of the expansive Binyamin Regional Council in the central West Bank, says most of the approvals were for his area, and thanks the prime minister.
“We demand the full freeing of building in Judea and Samaria in line with the development needs we have here,” he says, using a biblical term for the West Bank. “Building in Judea, Samaria and Binyamin need to be like everywhere else in the country and not bound by diplomatic shackles.”
Joe Biden’s presidential campaign says vice presidential nominee Kamala Harris will suspend in-person events until Monday after two people associated with the campaign tested positive for coronavirus. The campaign said Biden had no exposure, though he and Harris spent several hours campaigning together in Arizona on October 8.
Harris had been scheduled to travel Thursday to North Carolina for events encouraging voters to cast early ballots.
The campaign tells reporters Thursday morning that Harris’ communications director and a flight crew member tested positive after a recent campaign trip.
Campaign manager Jen O’Malley Dillon says “neither of these individuals had any contact with Vice President Biden, with Sen. Harris or any other staff member since testing positive or in the 48-hour period prior to their positive test results.” But O’Malley Dillon said Harris would suspend travel for several days “out of an abundance of caution.”
Biden is scheduled to attend an ABC News town hall airing live at 8 p.m. EDT.
Army Radio reports that ministers have approved lifting the restriction on movement further than a kilometer from home, and opening businesses that do not have in-person customers, starting Sunday.
A vote on opening preschools Sunday will only take place later today, the station says.
Some Hebrew language outlets are reporting that ministers approved the whole raft of rolled-back restriction starting Sunday, including opening preschools and allowing restaurants to resume takeout service.
Kan reports that the decision includes reopening beaches — just in time for the weather to cool — and the Western Wall.
There is no official statement from the government.
Aryeh Deri did the Zoom equivalent of storming out of the coronavirus cabinet meeting — disconnecting from the teleconference — in anger over fellow ministers refusing to okay his plan for weddings with up to 200 guests, just a tad more than the current 20 allowed, according to reports.
Deri also voted against lifting any lockdown restrictions in anger, Kan reports.
According to Walla, Ayman Seiff, who coordinates the coronavirus response in the Arab community, pleaded for the government to not okay the plan.
“One of our achievements in the Arab community was that we managed to stop the weddings — you’ll kill us with this. What’s a pod of 20 people? My family alone has 150 people,” he’s quoted saying.
Channel 12 news reports that organizations that run day cares are warning that they will not be able to open before Monday because of the lack of heads up from the government.
According to the report, they claim they warned the government they needed more runway time to prepare, but were ignored.
Mike Pompeo says he is continuing to urge more countries to normalize relations with Israel, a day after publicly urging Saudis to do so while visiting the Kingdom.
“We may well end up with a number of more countries who do precisely what the Emiratis and the Bahrainis did,” he tells WFLA Orlando.
“We’re working every day to try and convince an additional set of countries that the right thing to do is not to hate Israel, not to be against the Jewish homeland, but whether to work alongside them and benefit from the enormous economy that’s there, the technology that’s there, and the security relationships which will benefit their country and the United States and our citizens,” the US secretary of state adds.
The Prime Minister’s Office confirms that there will be several restrictions rolled back on Sunday.
The eased rules:
- Businesses with no in-person customers may open.
- Takeout from restaurants is allowed.
- Daycares and preschools may open for children up to age 6.
- National parks and beaches will open.
- The Western Wall and Church of the Holy Sepulcher will open for prayer via a capsule system. The Temple Mount will also open.
- No restrictions on leaving home.
- No restrictions on hosting other people in your home, so long as it does not go over the allowed amount of people.
- 10 people allowed inside; 20 allowed outside.
The decision must still be approved by the government before Friday, the statement notes.
The statement also warns that all of the decisions are based on the condition that the infection rate continues to trend downward, and that the easements will be rolled back if infections rise again, though no details are given on benchmarks.
A separate discussion on rules for high-infection areas will be held sometime before Saturday night, according to the statement.
Checking in, a Knesset debate on the treaty with the UAE is still going, entering its eighth hour, after around 100 MKs and ministers have had a chance to have their say.
The debate will mercifully soon draw to a close with an actual vote, which is widely expected to pass.
Merav Michaeli of the Labor Party says that she will vote for the agreement, but like many others, says what is really needed is a peace agreement with the Palestinians.
“Oslo may have been an interim agreement, but it was a peace agreement,” she says.
It’s Thursday night, which means protesters are gathering around the country to protest Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The Black Flag group says protesters are at 1,000 intersections and bridges around the country.
Coalition Whip Miki Zohar, who has been raked over the coals for accusing coalition partners of being “dangerous to Israel” and threatening the attorney general, says that the country needs to do better at not allowing polarizing speech to get out of hand.
“There’s another way,” he says in the Knesset.
After him, Minister Ofir Akunis, the last scheduled to speak before the actual vote on a treaty with the UAE, gets up to speak.
The number of coronavirus cases since the start of the pandemic has passed 300,000, according to the Health Ministry, with the tally reaching 300,011.
Thus far Thursday, there have been just over 800 new infections.
Another 12 deaths are added to the tally, bringing the number to 2,121.
The number of people in serious condition drops to 730, with 248 patients on ventilators.
Lawmakers are streaming back into the Knesset plenum for a vote on the treaty with the UAE.
The final speaker, Minister Ofir Akunis, sparks a bit of a rhubarb after quoting Abba Eban’s quip that “the Palestinians never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity.”
He also says he will never allow a Palestinian state “to rise on Judea and Samaria,” using the biblical name for the West Bank. He also says that Israel will push ahead with annexing the land, which Israel promised to suspend for the UAE deal.
Several MKs from the Joint List and Meretz heckle Akunis as he speaks.
A number of demonstrators in Holon calling for Benjamin Netanyahu’s resignation were sprayed with “some kind of gas” by opponents who showed up to confront them.
“During a protest in Kugel Square in Holon, a number of people came and clashed with the protesters. During [the clashes], some kind of gas was sprayed at the protesters,” police say in a statement.
According to police, none of the demonstrators need medical treatment; officers are searching for the perpetrators.
A Haaretz photographer tweets a picture of far-right activists in Holon, some of whom are holding a sign that reads “a good leftist is a dead leftist.”
להפגנה בחולון הגיעו כמה עשרות פעילים ( ככל הנראה לה פמיליה)
זה אחד השלטים שאחזו pic.twitter.com/SnLlUV2si6
— Tomer Appelbaum (@tomerappelbaum) October 15, 2020
— Aaron Boxerman
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, getting up for a second time to speak about the normalization deal with the UAE, but starts by talking about the lockdown.
“The lockdown works!” he says over heckles. “It is saving lives.”
He says that “Israel took the step that [Europe] is afraid to. It’s not easy.”
And he warns that Israel may soon find itself in a third lockdown if people don’t keep to the rules.
Referring to the gradiated Health Ministry plan, he urges lawmakers to keep to the schedule of benchmarks.
Yisrael Beytenu’s Eli Avidar, yelling at Netanyahu that the lockdown is killing people and Netanyahu should be ashamed, is removed from the hall.
Speaker Yariv Levin threatens to boot Ofer Cassif of the Joint List as well.
Netanyahu transitions to the UAE deal, repeating his talking points about peace through strength and Israel’s great diplomatic wins under his stewardship.
“The new order says you don’t wait for the Palestinians to make peace,” he says, referring to those who insist that peace with the Palestinians must precede deals with regional countries.
“[The deal] is bringing Arab and Muslim countries closer to us, who have formed a united front against Iran,” he says.
He says that there was a country that essentially froze contacts with Israel for years, but due to his speech to Congress against the Iran deal, said they would thaw relations.
It’s unclear what country he is speaking of.
Joint List MK Ofer Cassif is booted from the Knesset plenum for heckling.
With an overwhelming majority, the Knesset approves Israel’s normalization deal with the United Arab Emirates.
Eighty lawmakers vote in favor of the agreement, including many from the opposition.
Only 13 vote against the agreement, which will now return to the cabinet for final ratification.
Deputy Health Minister Yoav Kisch celebrates the Knesset vote on normalization with the UAE by posting a tweet picture of him voting.
“History,” he writes.
— יואב קיש Yoav Kisch (@YoavKisch) October 15, 2020
There are not a ton of other reactions, since everyone spent the last 8 hours saying their piece.
The Knesset releases an unconfirmed list of how MKs voted, showing that all 13 no votes came from the Joint List.
Twenty-seven MKs did not vote on the measure.
A video shows Haaretz photographer Tomer Appelbaum being attacked by far-right activists in Holon.
— החדשות – N12 (@N12News) October 15, 2020
This comes a day another reporter from the paper was assaulted verbally, and the electricity in the newspaper’s office disrupted by an attacker.
Police say two minors have been detained in connection with an earlier attack on protesters in Holon.
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit announces that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be investigated over suspicious business transactions related to his stake in a US company that has been linked to the submarine bribery scandal.
While expressing concerns over Netanyahu’s actions, Mandelblit says in an opinion to the Supreme Court there is not enough evidence to look at, especially given the passage of time.
Mandelblit’s decision comes in response to Supreme Court petitions demanding that Netanyahu be investigated over the affair.
Suspicions surround Netanyahu’s purchase of shares in Texas-based SeaDrift Coke in 2007 for $400,000, before selling them in 2010 for $4.3 million — an over sevenfold increase, Channel 12 news reported.
SeaDrift, which produces needle coke used for manufacturing graphite electrodes, was later acquired by a conglomerate in the same field, GrafTech International, a longtime supplier of Germany’s ThyssenKrupp, which is accused of paying bribes to Israelis officials to win the submarine contract.
Here are some key points from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit’s decision not to probe Netanyahu.
Noting the large difference between the price Netanyahu paid for the shares and how much he sold them to his cousin Nathan Milikovsky for, Mandelblit writes that it “raises the possibility that Netanyahu bought the rights from the Milikowsky family for a price drastically lower than its true value, and thus received highly significant benefits.”
“However, given the passage of time, there is a difficulty in collecting a comprehensive evidentiary basis that will allow findings about the existence and scope of benefits, which are tied to the value of the businesses they dealt in.”
Mandelblit notes that they could have still proceeded if Milikowsky had benefitted materially from Netanyahu’s actions in buying the sea vessels and that Netanyahu had known that Milikowsky would benefit from the deal with Thyssenkrupp. “However, as presented to me, there is not justifiable evidence showing the existence of reasonable suspicion on this matter.”
Mandelblit also notes that GrafTech was not a major supplier to Thyssenkrupp, which may have changed the case.
He concludes his 13-page decision by noting that “should new material arise justifying a new check in the future, the appropriate action will be taken.”
A municipal official in Beitar Illit has been detained after hitting a man with his vehicle and leaving the scene.
A video shows a city security car ramming into an ultra-Orthodox man, who had apparently been taking part in a protest against virus restrictions, and speeding off.
המשטרה עיכבה לחקירה את נהג רכב הביטחון שתועד פוגע בהולך רגל בביתר עילית. ראש העיר: "אין שום הצדקה לאירוע חמור כזה. איש הביטחון יובא מיידית לבירור ואם יימצא שנהג לא כדין – יפוטר לאלתר"
(צילום: שלומי כהן, מחאות החרדים הקיצוניים)@glick_sh pic.twitter.com/nHRoOKNPLd
— גלצ (@GLZRadio) October 15, 2020
The condition of the man, who gets up in the video, is not immediately known.
The mayor of the ultra-Orthodox settlement says the driver will be fired immediately if it turns out he is guilty of wrongdoing.
Hundreds of protesters in Tel Aviv are marching from Habima Square through the city.
Police are blocking protesters from entering certain roads, but are reportedly not expected to intervene except in exceptional circumstances.
המחאה נגד ראש הממשלה | מאות מפגינים יצאו מכיכר הבימה בתל אביב לצעדה ברחבי העיר. שוטרים חסמו את היציאה לשדרות שאול המלך והמפגינים המשיכו לצעוד על רחוב אבן גבירול@daniel_elazar pic.twitter.com/rBPnI5yoht
— כאן חדשות (@kann_news) October 15, 2020
In marches over the past weeks, police have hemmed in marching protesters to keep them from blocking roads all over the city. This is the first major protest since a rule limiting travel to demonstrations to within one kilometer of one’s home was lifted.
US officials are celebrating after the Knesset okayed a treaty with the UAE.
“We are so gratified by the warm reception that both nations have given to this diplomatic breakthrough,” tweets US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman.
After unanimous approval in the cabinet, Israel – UAE peace now approved by an overwhelming margin in the Knesset. We are so gratified by the warm reception that both nations have given to this diplomatic breakthrough. #AbrahamAccords
— David M. Friedman (@USAmbIsrael) October 15, 2020
Special envoy Avi Berkowitz congratulates US President Donald Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner.
One month ago the Abraham Accords were signed at the @WhiteHouse. Today, Israel’s Knesset voted and approved it! Congrats to @realDonaldTrump, Jared Kushner and the whole team. (???? by Shealah Craighead of the WH) pic.twitter.com/QR89wJFC6h
— Avi Berkowitz (@aviberkow45) October 15, 2020
A video of an apparent hit and run in Beitar Ilit from another angle appears to show that the man seemingly hit by a city security vehicle had actually climbed atop it as it was mobbed by protesters.
תיעוד מזוית אחרת של האירוע בביתר: הבחור לא עמד על הכביש ונדרס, אלא טיפס על הרכב שהמשיך בנסיעה והוא נפל ממנו pic.twitter.com/1Bb7Kq4Kfz
— יאיר שרקי (@yaircherki) October 15, 2020
The man falls off the car as it speeds away from danger. An initial video publicized of the incident made it look as if the man was hit by the vehicle.
The man had reportedly suffered only light injuries.
The commander of the elite Duvdevan Unit’s training company is dismissed from his position after he violated his mandated quarantine, causing an outbreak of the coronavirus in his unit this month, and then lied about it, according to the military.
Following the outbreak, the head of the Commando Brigade, Col. Kobi Heller, launched an investigation into the incident, which he presented to the head of the IDF’s 98th Division this week.
“From the investigation, it was determined that the company commander did not speak truthfully during his epidemiological survey to the unit’s doctor and knowingly endangered the soldiers by staying with them when he was meant to be in quarantine,” the Israel Defense Forces says in a statement.
In light of these findings, the division commander decided to dismiss the officer from his position, the military says.
— Judah Ari Gross
Israeli soccer star Eran Zahavi has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Dutch squad he plays for announces.
Due to Zahavi’s diagnosis, PSV Eindhoven says he will not play in the team’s upcoming match against PEC Zwolle.
Zahavi jouned PSV Eindhoven last month after playing for several years in China.
Eran Zahavi en Jordan Teze missen de uitwedstrijd tegen PEC Zwolle vanwege een positieve Coronatest.#PECPSV
— PSV (@PSV) October 17, 2020