The Times of Israel liveblogged Friday’s events as they unfolded.
After PM’s criticism of protesters, Sara Netanyahu asks Reform leader to condemn attacks on her family
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife Sara engaged in a heated exchange with Union for Reform Judaism President Rabbi Rick Jacobs during the premier’s meeting with US Jewish community leaders earlier today in New York.
Jacobs tells The Times of Israel that during the Q&A portion of the meeting, he raised how rabbis at just about all Reform synagogues across the US gave sermons during the High Holidays in which they expressed how much they love Israel but also how distraught they are by their belief that its democratic pillars are under threat due to the government’s effort to overhaul the judiciary.
“We feel very concerned about those who might become more vulnerable such as women, the LGBTQ community, non-Orthodox Jews, Palestinian citizens of Israel,” Jacobs says he told Netanyahu, explaining that those minorities are less safe when democracies are weakened.
Jacobs says he went on to hail Netanyahu’s effort to reach a normalization agreement with Saudi Arabia but asked him if he could also comment on the internal Jewish divisions because “we’re coming apart at the seams.”
Netanyahu gave a lengthy response about what his government was trying to accomplish with the judicial overhaul, insisting that he was seeking as broad a consensus as possible for the revamp, even though he has the votes to pass them unilaterally.
Jacobs says he asked a follow-up question in which he recalled how Netanyahu has accused the anti-overhaul protest movement of being violent and aggressive “when the protests have been largely peaceful” and have featured speakers who speak about their love for Israel and their commitment to Israeli democracy.
The Reform leader asked Netanyahu whether he wanted to say something to those protesters ahead of Yom Kippur.
Upon hearing the question, Sara Netanyahu interjected and asked if she could ask Jacobs a question as well. The premier’s wife went on to speak emotionally about how she, her family and senior members of the government have been threatened with physical violence in recent months amid the judicial overhaul protests. Sara Netanyahu asked Jacobs whether he would condemn such actions.
“Absolutely,” Jacobs says he responded while clarifying that what Sara Netanyahu described has not been the dominant narrative that he’s heard and recalled how the prime minister accused the anti-overhaul protesters have aligning with Iran and the PLO against the government.
Jacobs clarifies that he was grateful to have been included in the meeting along with several other progressive Jewish community leaders and appreciated that Netanyahu opened the floor to Q&A and took the time to answer everyone’s questions.
Jacobs says that after he wished Netanyahu good health, the premier joked that he now has a pacemaker in addition to being a peacemaker, which garnered a few chuckles from the crowd.
In another tense portion of the meeting recalled by Jacobs, a prominent Jewish community leader in the room stood and told Netanyahu, that US Jews defend Israel every day but are having a harder time doing so as of late “when senior members of your government speak out in racist voices,” the individual said, asking Netanyahu why he has tolerated such rhetoric from his coalition partners.
Netanyahu responded that he cannot control everyone and that there are many other countries that have a bigger problem with this phenomenon, Jacobs recalls, admitting that the premier cut his answer short to get to as many questions as possible.
National Council of Jewish Women CEO Sheila Katz tells The Times of Israel that she also appreciated being included in the hour-long conversation and that it was far more open than she expected.
However, she admitted to feeling a vast disconnect between the more theoretical conversation in the room about the judicial overhaul and the fears she is hearing from activists on the ground about the ramifications the reforms could have for women and other minorities.
“I’m very very afraid of the results of the overhaul and what it would mean for women and other marginalized groups,” she says.
Katz recalls how the pro-choice movement in the US was told not to worry about losing abortion access before Roe v. Wade was overturned last summer and says a similar dynamic seems to be taking place in Israel where anti-overhaul activists are told by the government that their rights are not at risk.
“We’re debating legal concepts, and those are important, but what matters to me is whether people will be okay,” Katz says.
A senior Palestinian Authority official tore into Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech earlier today at the United Nations General Assembly.
“The prime minister of the occupation government, Benjamin Netanyahu, did not surprise us with his speech at the United Nations, which was, as usual, an arrogant and racist speech to a disgusting degree — full of lies and contradictions all the facts,” Mahmoud al-Habash tells The Times of Israel.
Habash serves as the supreme Sharia judge of the PA and as an adviser to PA President Mahmoud Abbas for religious affairs and Islamic relations.
“The prime minister of the occupation government has used the method of lying over and over until people believe you; then continue lying until you believe yourself,” Habash says.
“This method has become shamefully exposed before the international community and there is no longer anyone who believes these lies and distortions of facts, to the point that the United Nations hall was completely empty during his speech because the world is no longer able to hear the torrent of lies, arrogance, and disconnection from reality that Netanyahu lives in,” he continues.
“The clear truth is what [PA] President Mahmoud Abbas said in his speech yesterday that whoever thinks that peace can be achieved in the Middle East without the Palestinian people obtaining their legitimate national rights… is delusional.”
Habash adds that there can be no regional stability as long as the rights of the Palestinians are violated.
A young man from the southern Bedouin town of Hura dies after being struck in a hit-and-run.
The 18-year-old resident was seriously hurt and taken to a hospital in Beersheba, where he was pronounced dead.
Police were searching for the driver who fled the scene and were investigating the incident as a potentially intentional ramming.
UAE President Mohammed bin Zayed hails Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s Fox News interview earlier this week during which the de-facto Saudi leader said a US-brokered Israel-Saudi normalization deal is getting closer “every day.”
“The broadcast interview with my brother Mohammed bin Salman was a testament to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s remarkable transformation and long record of achievement,” tweets MBZ. “United by our shared success story, the UAE and Saudi Arabia stand together in empowering generations to come.”
The State Department condemns far-right coalition MK Limor Son Har-Melech after she defended the Jewish terrorist responsible for the 2015 murders of three members of a Palestinian family as a “holy righteous man.”
“It is critical for Israel and the Palestinian Authority to refrain from unilateral steps that exacerbate tensions and undercut efforts to advance a negotiated two-state solution. This certainly includes inflammatory rhetoric and actions,” reads a statement from a State Department spokesperson. “We would refer to the Knesset member to discuss those comments.”
The Israel Defense Forces says it carried out drone strikes against two Hamas posts in the Gaza Strip in response to renewed rioting on the border and incendiary balloons that sparked three fires in southern Israel.
A third Hamas post was shelled by a tank after a Palestinian gunman opened fire at troops on the border, the IDF adds.
No Israeli soldiers were hurt amid the violence on the border.
At least 28 Palestinians have been injured, according to the Gaza health ministry.
A woman in her 50s who was sitting in her yard in the central West Bank settlement of Kochav Ya’akov was lightly injured after being struck in the leg by the ricochet of an apparent errant bullet from a nearby village, the Magen David Adom emergency service says.
Medics say the woman did not require hospitalization.
Wells Fargo Bank announces today that former US ambassador to Israel Tom Nides will join the company in October as its vice chairman.
Nides stepped down in July as ambassador after roughly 20 months in order to spend more time with his family.
Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani lambasted Israel in his UN General Assembly address earlier this week.
He claimed that Israel “responds to Arab peace and normalization initiatives with more nationalist and ultra-Orthodox intransigence and extremism… [as] reflected in government coalitions and further settlement expansion, in addition to the Judaization of Jerusalem, attacks on the holy sites and heavy-handed and draconian measures against the people in Gaza.”
Al Thani blasted the “intransigence of the Israeli occupation and the rejection by consecutive Israeli governments of any just political solution according to international legitimacy.”
Fox News’ anchor Bret Baier tweets that he will be airing an interview with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu this evening.
He says the premier will be responding to Baier’s Wednesday interview with Saudi Crown Prince Mohamed Bin Salman, in which MBS said that “every day we get closer” to Saudi Arabia normalizing ties with Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces says it is carrying out strikes in the Gaza Strip.
The strikes come in response to renewed rioting on the border and balloon-borne incendiary devices launched from the Palestinian enclave which sparked at least two fires in southern Israel.
The IDF does not immediately provide further details on the strikes.
Palestinian Ambassador to Germany Laith Arafeh calls out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for brandishing a map of the Middle East in his UNGA speech that showed the West Bank and Gaza as part of Israel.
“No greater insult to every foundational principle of the United Nations than seeing Netanyahu display before the UNGA a ‘map of Israel’ that straddles the entire land from the river to the sea, negating Palestine and its people, then attempting to spin the audience with rhetoric about ‘peace’ in the region, all the while entrenching the longest ongoing belligerent occupation in today’s world,” Arafeh tweets.
The pro-Israel community has long treated Palestinian maps not showing Israel as a form of incitement.@IsraeliPM today used a map at the UN showing Israel as comprising all of Mandatory Palestine.
This should also be condemned by the US and all in our community as incitement. pic.twitter.com/Fy2On2K4lc
— Dylan Williams (@dylanotes) September 22, 2023
The Hamas-run health ministry in the Gaza Strip reports 14 wounded by Israeli fire amid the latest rioting on the border with Israel.
The Israel Defense Forces has been responding to the near-daily riots with crowd dispersal means and live fire in some cases.
Palestinians have been detonating explosive devices and setting tires on fire along the border for six days in a row. There have been several other riots in recent weeks.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan is pressed during a Kan public broadcaster interview on how the current hardline government will be able to make the concessions to the Palestinians necessary to secure a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia.
Erdan recalls that in 2020 Netanyahu agreed to delay plans to annex large parts of the West Bank until 2024 in exchange for normalization with the UAE.
“All the more so [is the same kind of concession] possible when talking about a peace deal that ends the Arab-Israeli conflict, except for the Palestinians. [This] will isolate the Palestinians and leave them alone by themselves. Under these circumstances, I’m confident that the ministers of the government will know how to make the right consideration,” Erdan says.
Israel’s Ambassador to the UN Gilad Erdan says Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu misspoke when he said in his UNGA address that “Iran must face a credible nuclear threat.”
He meant to say, “credible military threat,” which has been Israel’s long-held position, Erdan tells the Kan public broadcaster.
US Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey and his wife have been indicted on charges that they took bribes of cash, gold bars and a luxury car for a range of corrupt acts, including having the Democrat use his influence over foreign affairs to benefit the authoritarian government of Egypt.
A search of the couple’s home turned up $100,000 in gold bars and $480,000 in hidden cash, say prosecutors, who announced the charges against the 69-year-old Democrat nearly six years after an earlier criminal case against him ended with a deadlocked jury.
The latest indictment is unrelated to the earlier charges that alleged Menendez accepted lavish gifts to pressure government officials on behalf of a Florida doctor.
A lawyer for Menendez’s wife didn’t immediately respond to a message seeking comment. Messages were left for Menendez’s Senate spokesperson and his political consultant.
The Senate Historical Office says Menendez appears to be the first sitting senator in US history to have been indicted on two unrelated criminal allegations. Menendez faces reelection next year in a bid to extend his three-decade career in Washington as Democrats hold a narrow majority in the Senate.
While in the United Nations headquarters for his father’s speech, Yair Netanyahu retweeted a post on X, which defended the Jewish terrorist convicted of murdering three members of the Dawabshe family by firebombing their home in the Palestinian village of Duma in 2015.
“It’s so very simple. A principle that differentiates between monsters and humans. You don’t put a human being in prison based on a confession obtained through torture. What’s so complicated?” the post reads, referencing the enhanced interrogation that Amiram Ben Uliel endured before he confessed to the crime.
Ben Uliel is believed to be one of the first Israeli Jews to undergo torture at the hands of the Shin Bet interrogators, though the same tactics are widely believed to have been long used against Palestinians.
In the original tweet, the pro-Netanyahu X also cast doubt on Ben Uliel’s guilt, seeming to dismiss his recollection of accurate details from the firebombing that the prosecutors had not been aware of until his confession.
“After two minutes of torture you too would sing whatever they’ve ask you to,” the user who goes by Tsahi writes in the post shared by the prime minister’s son.
The governments of India, Israel, the United Arab Emirates and the United States announce a new joint space venture on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly in New York, the US State Department says.
“Primarily using the space-based observation data and capabilities of the four I2U2 partner countries, this project aims to create a unique space-based tool for policymakers, institutions and entrepreneurs, enabling their work on environmental and climate change challenges and furthering our cooperation in the applications of space data for the greater good of humanity,” the State Department says.
US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan downplays Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s declaration to Fox News this week that Saudi Arabia will have to acquire a nuclear weapon if Iran does.
Sullivan is asked during a press briefing whether the remark was an attempt to up the pressure on the US as it tries to negotiate a normalization agreement between Israel and Saudi Arabia through which Riyadh is hoping to establish a civilian nuclear program.
“No, I don’t think so,” Sullivan responds. “This has been a longstanding position of Saudi Arabia.”
“Frankly, one of the major reasons that we are working overtime with partners and allies to ensure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, is that if they did, not only would they be a direct threat to the region and beyond, but it likely would trigger a regional arms race.”
“So, it has been core to the American principle and policy with respect to ensuring Iran does not get a nuclear weapon, this risk that potentially other countries in the region would seek nuclear weapons. That’s not something that emerged yesterday in an interview. That has been a feature of the landscape going back many years.”
“Now, from our perspective, we will do all that is necessary… to ensure that Iran never gets a nuclear weapon, so this hypothetical never comes to pass. That’s the stance that we take, and nothing about the comments made yesterday change or alter that.”
Opposition chairman Yair Lapid calls out Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for skipping over Saudi Arabia’s demand for a civilian nuclear program in his UN speech in which he hailed the potential normalization agreement.
Lapid also says he ignored the US demand to stop his government’s judicial overhaul and “the fact that the State of Israel is being torn apart because of his government.”
“He does not even try to heal the rifts and unite the people. Sad,” Lapid tweets.
The Prime Minister’s Office issues a photo of a Saudi diplomat it spotted in the UNGA hall for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech, which centered around the prospects of peace with the kingdom.
Republican Senator Ted Cruz is making do on a threat to block the confirmation of US President Joe Biden’s nominees over the latter’s Middle East policy.
“Sen. Cruz has been clear that it was becoming impossible to advance the Biden administration’s Middle East nominees because they kept lying about their policies to Congress and the American people,” Cruz’s spokesperson says in a statement to Jewish Insider.
Cruz accuses the Biden administration of reaching a “sealed secret nuclear deal with Iran,” without providing proof and of taking “steps to rescind United States recognition of Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights” — a reference to a United Nations agreement to extend the mandate of its peacekeeping force in Lebanon, which referred to the Golan Heights’s Shebaa Farms as “occupied territory.”
The administration says it opposed this language, and that the Trump decision to recognize the Golan Heights as sovereign Israeli territory remains in place
The Cruz spokesperson nonetheless says the senator “has imposed holds on Biden administration nominees who are linked to these decisions until they clarify their roles and policies.”
The statement doesn’t specify which nominees would be impacted, but Cruz has previously indicated that he will place a hold on Biden’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Israel, Jack Lew, once his confirmation process advances.
Below is a video of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s full speech.
Palestinians in the Gaza Strip sparked at least two fires in southern Israel today with balloon-borne incendiary devices, Fire and Rescue Services investigators say.
These arson attacks come as Palestinians have been holding near-daily riots on the Gaza border in recent weeks.
The Fire and Rescue Services says one fire was put out immediately, while the second is still not under control.
Firefighters from Fire and Rescue Services and the Jewish National Fund are battling the blaze in the Eshkol Regional Council.
The fires mark the first blazes caused by incendiary balloons in two years.
After taking a pause to cough, Netanyahu moves to the promise of artificial intelligence, a topic he focused on earlier this week in a sit-down with Elon Musk.
Framing it in biblical terms “as a blessing and a curse,” he calls on the world to address the risks to make sure “the promise of an AI utopia does not turn into an AI dystopia.”
He cites the threat it could pose to democracy and the “potential eruption of AI-driven wars.”
Striking a visionary tone, he imagines the benefits in health care, aging, transportation, education and a range of other fields.
“I know this all sounds like a John Lennon song,” he says, but it is possible.
“Imagine we can achieve the end of scarcity,” he says. “It’s all within our reach.”
So, too, he says, is the possibility to “extend humanity beyond our blue planet.”
He says Israel is among the AI trailblazers.
“Just as Israel’s technological revolution provided the world with breathtaking innovation, I am confident that AI developed by Israel will benefit all of humanity.”
“Our goal must be to ensure that AI brings more freedom and not less; prevents wars, instead of starting them; and ensures that people live longer, healthier, more productive, and peaceful lives. It’s within our reach.”
Netanyahu calls on the world to preserve the human capacity for empathy, “which no machine can replace.”
He ends with an exhortation to “choose wisely between the curse and the blessing that stand before us this day. Let us harness our resolve and our courage to stop the curse of a nuclear Iran and roll back its fanaticism and aggression.
“Let us bring forth the blessings of a new Middle East that will transform lands once riven with conflict and chaos into fields of prosperity and peace. And may we avoid the perils of AI by combining the forces of human and machine intelligence to usher in a brilliant future for our world, in our time and for all time.”
With that, he concludes his speech.
Notably, Netanyahu did not address the judicial overhaul fight or Israel’s democratic values.
Prime Minister Netanyahu moves to discuss the Iranian nuclear threat, saying “the fanatics ruling Iran will do everything they can to thwart this historic peace.”
Iran is spending billions to arm its terror proxies and extend its terror tentacles worldwide. “They even tried to assassinate the secretary of state… [and] the national security adviser of the United States of America,” he says.
And its “murderous goons” have killed hundreds of its own people in the past year. “Iran’s drones have… brought death and destruction” to Ukraine.
“Yet the regime’s aggression is largely met by indifference in the international community.”
“Eight years ago, the Western powers promised that if Iran violated the nuclear deal, the sanctions would be snapped back,” he says. “Well, Iran is violating the deal, but the sanctions have not been snapped back. To stop Iran’s nuclear ambitions, this policy must change. Sanctions must be snapped back.”
He adds: “And above all, Iran must face a credible nuclear threat.”
NOTE: The PMO swiftly clarified that he meant to say a “credible military threat.”
“As long as I’m prime minister of Israel, I will do everything in my power to prevent Iran from getting nuclear weapons,” says Netanyahu.
He urges support for the brave people of Iran “who despise” the regime and who are “our real partners for the future.”
Netanyahu tears into Abbas over Holocaust comments; says Palestinians must reconcile to Jewish rights
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu proceeds to lay into the Palestinian Authority and its president Mahmoud Abbas.
As the circle of peace expands, a real path to “genuine peace with our Palestinian neighbors can finally be achieved.”
“But there is a caveat,” he says. “Peace can only be achieved if it is based on truth,” he says. “It cannot be based on lies. It cannot be based on endless vilification of the Jewish people.”
He blasts Abbas for “spreading the horrible antisemitic conspiracies against the Jewish people and the Jewish state.” Noting Abbas’s antisemitic speech last month, he says, “I mean, he recently said that Hitler wasn’t an antisemite. You can’t make this up. But he did. He said that.”
And he says the PA must stop glorifying terrorists and stop the ghoulish practice of giving money to Palestinian terrorists for killing Jews. “It must stop, for peace to prevail.”
Antisemitism must stop everywhere, including university campuses and “the halls of the United Nations.”
“For peace to prevail, the Palestinians must stop spewing Jew-hatred and finally reconcile themselves to the Jewish state … to the right of the Jewish people to have a state of their own in their historic homeland, the Land of Israel.”
“The people of Israel learn for such a peace. I yearn for such peace,” he says.
Netanyahu also refers to his military service. “These experiences taught me the cost of war,” he says. “I buried my older brother…
“There are many hurdles on the extraordinary path to peace that I’ve just described. But I’m committed to doing everything I can to overcome these hurdles, to forge a better future for Israel and all of our peoples — all the peoples in our region.”
Netanyahu says he “deeply appreciates” US President Joe Biden’s commitment to peace. “We share the same optimism for what can be achieved… The United States of America is indispensable in this effort.
“And just as we achieved the Abraham Accords with the leadership of President Trump, I believe we can achieve peace with Saudi Arabia with the leadership of President Biden,” he says.
PM hails new corridor of peace Biden announced at G20, as opening the potential blessing of a new Middle East
As he often does, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu brings out visual aids, showing the potential benefits of peace with Saudi Arabia and other Arab countries.
To show “the magnitude of the transformation we seek to advance,” he first shows a map of Israel in 1948 — “a tiny country, isolated, surrounded by a hostile Arab world.”
Then came peace with Egypt and Jordan, and in 2020 the Abraham accords.
“Now look at what happens when we make peace between Saudi Arabia and Israel: The whole Middle East changes.”
He recalls pulling out a red marker a few years ago to show the “curse” of a nuclear Iran.
He again pulls out a red marker, to show the connectivity between India, the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Europe on a placard called “The New Middle East.”
“Today I bring this marker to show a great blessing — the blessing of a new Middle East: between Israel, Saudi Arabia and our other neighbors. We will not only bring down barriers between Israel and our neighbors. We will build a new corridor of peace and prosperity that connects Asia through the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel, to Europe.”
He calls this “an extraordinary change, a monumental change, another pivot of history.”
“The Abraham Accords ushered in another dramatic change. It brought Arabs and Jews closer together,” Netanyahu says.
“We see it in the frequent Jewish weddings in Dubai, in the dedication of a Torah school in a synagogue in Bahrain, in the visitors flocking to the Museum of Moroccan Judaism in Casablanca. We see it in lessons that are given to Arab students about the Holocaust in the UAE.”
“There is no question: The Abraham Accords heralded the dawn of a new age of peace.”
“But I believe that we are at the cusp of an even more dramatic breakthrough: An historic peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia,” Netanyahu says. “Such a peace will go a long way toward ending the Arab-Israeli conflict. It will encourage other Arab states to normalize their relations with Israel. It will enhance the prospects of peace with the Palestinians. It will encourage a broader reconciliation between Judaism and Islami, between Jerusalem and Mecca, between the descendants of Isaac and the descendants of Ishmael. All these are tremendous blessings.”
He then lauds the prospects of the economic corridor announced at the G20 conference earlier this month — “a visionary corridor that will stretch across the Arabian Peninsula and Israel. It will connect India to Europe” for the benefit of over two billion people. “What a historic change for my people.”
“My country,” he says, was for centuries repeatedly invaded by other empires passing through. “But today, as we tear down the walls of enmity, Israel can become a bridge of prosperity between these continents.
“Peace between Israel and Saudi Arabia will truly create a new Middle East,” he says to applause.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu opens his speech at the United Nations by talking about the Iranian threat driving Arab states and Israel closer together.
He says that five years ago during his last address, his optimism about the chances of peace with more Arab states was dismissed as naïve. He was told then, he says, that first Israel must make peace with the Palestinians.
He recalls that he spoke about “the common threat of Iran” having “brought Israel and many Arab states closer than ever before,” and that he predicted the possibility of widening peace.
“I made the case that Israel and Arab states shared many common interests” and that this could facilitate a breakthrough.”
But his optimism was dismissed as wishful thinking, even though those with “good intentions” had tried and failed to achieve wider peace because of “one false idea” — that peace with the Palestinians must be first.
“I’ve long sought to make peace with the Palestinians,” he says, and stresses he believes in peace with the Palestinians, but they “must not have a veto” over peace with Arab states. Netanyahu argues that making peace with more Arab countries will push the Palestinians to make peace with Israel.
The Palestinians long hoped that the Arab world, “being in a warlike state with Israel,” would eventually “choke” Israel.
“When the Palestinians see that most of the Arab world has reconciled itself to the Jewish state, they too will be more likely to abandon the fantasy of destroying Israel and finally embrace the path of genuine peace with it,” says Netanyahu.
But his approach was rejected, and no new peace treaties forget for a quarter century — until 2020, when his approach, “working with the United States, Israel forged four peace treaties, in four months, with four Arab countries.”
“The Abraham Accords were a pivot of history,” he says, “and today we all see the blessings of these accords” in innumerable areas of cooperation.
Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is addressing the UN General Assembly.
His speech is expected to cover the Iranian nuclear and terror threat, regional peace prospects — notably including the accelerating effort at Israeli-Saudi normalization — and the fight over democracy at home sparked by his coalition’s judicial overhaul legislation.
This is his 12th address to the forum, and his first since 2018. (He sent his Foreign Minister Israel Katz in his stead in 2019, stayed home at the height of the COVID restrictions in 2020, and was in opposition the past two General Assemblies.)
Around 2,000 people protest outside UN Headquarters in New York ahead of Netanyahu’s speech to the General Assembly.
Filling a plaza across from the General Assembly, the Israeli-led crowd includes many non-Israeli US Jews, with Israeli flags bearing the slogan “free in our land” — a line from Israel’s national anthem.
The gathering appears to be the largest protest focused on the judicial overhaul held outside Israel since the government unveiled the legislation early this year.
Drummer from the Pink Front Israeli protest group leads the chants of, “We’re not afraid,” using the feminine form in Hebrew, and “This is what democracy looks like”, in English, and “We won’t give up” in both languages.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s entourage is in the hall ahead of his UN General Assembly speech.
A handful of Jews and Israelis supportive of Netanyahu fill the rows in the upper balcony at the UN Assembly Hall.
An internal Likud tribunal decides not to oust three party members accused of verbal and physical violence, including a man the prime minister had instructed to oust from the party after he told protesters against the judicial overhaul that he hoped “another six million” Ashkenazi Jews “will be burned.”
The panel overturns Netanyahu’s decision and brings Itzik Zarka back into the party registry while ruling that he will carry a suspension on probation for one year.
In a widely shared video in July, Zarka shouted at protesters, “Ashkenazim, whores, may you burn in hell,” referring to Jews of Eastern European origin. “I am proud of the six million that were burned, I wish that another six million will be burned,” he said, referencing the Holocaust. “Leftists are traitors, you are the cancer of the country.”
Zarka later apologized, saying he had been speaking in the heat of the moment. Nevertheless, Netanyahu ordered party director-general Zuri Siso to formally remove Zarka from the party.
“We will not accept such shameful behavior in the Likud movement,” the statement read.
On Friday the Likud court described Zarka as “devoted and committed” to the party and said he “crossed red lines in a manner that cannot be accepted,” before restoring him.
איציק זרקא חבר מרכז ליכוד בולט ששרי הליכוד מהללים אותו, איחל הערב את המפגינים נגד ההפיכה המשטרית בצומת עין הנצי"ב שבכניסה הדרומית לבית שאן: "אשכנזים שרמוטות שתישרפו בגיהנום, טפו עליכם. אני גאה על 6 מיליון שנשרפו, גאה!". pic.twitter.com/vAjl8dj7QD
— עדי חשמונאי (@adi_hashmonai) July 15, 2023
The tribunal rejected separate petitions against activists Rami Ben Yehuda and Moshe Meron over their contentious statements and actions, saying they “are lovers of their people and country” and lauding their commitment to the party in the face of “incited zombies.”
The Yesh Atid party responds: “Likud is spitting in the face of hundreds of thousands of Holocaust survivors and embracing back one of the leaders of the ‘poison machine’… Shame on you.”
Repression in Russia has soared since Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine last year, reaching levels not seen since Stalinist times, a top United Nations expert warns.
“The level of repression against the civil society independent media, and generally anybody with a dissenting voice…is unprecedented in recent history,” Mariana Katzarova tells reporters in Geneva.
Presenting the findings of her first report, the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights situation in Russia laments Moscow’s “enormous crackdown” on critics since launching its war in February 2022.
“Civic society in Russia has been closed by the authorities,” she tells reporters, adding that the “repression is very sophisticated,” with new laws presented virtually every week “to stifle” any form of criticism or dissent.
“It’s extremely serious.”
Katzarova says the situation is not yet comparable to the level of repression seen during the Soviet Union’s Stalinist era, when millions perished in gulags. “But now is the opportunity… to not let the situation in Russia itself deteriorate to the level of the previous historical Stalinist repressions in this country.”
As morning dawns in New York, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to deliver his address to the UN General Assembly, while Israeli and Jewish protests against him in the city — due to his government’s judicial overhaul plan — are expected to reach a crescendo.
Netanyahu is expected to start speaking at 9:15 a.m. local time, or 4:15 p.m. in Israel.
Commentators expect his speech to touch on the Iranian threat, regional peace prospects and the fight over democracy at home.
We will be covering his speech, protests, fallout and more here on the liveblog.
In the meantime, read diplomatic correspondent Lazar Berman’s preview of the speech here.
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