2 Jewish women pledge $122 million toward restoring Notre Dame
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Redacted Mueller report released by US Justice Department

In press conference before findings released, US attorney general says investigation details 10 times president may have obstructed justice but doesn’t provide sufficient evidence

US Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)
US Attorney General William Barr speaks about the release of the Mueller Report at the Department of Justice April 18, 2019, in Washington, DC. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

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

IDF general says Hezbollah still planning major attack despite tunnel operation

The new commander of the IDF’s Ground Forces says that the Lebanese terrorist group Hezbollah is still planning on carrying out a surprise invasion of Israel, despite its extensive network of cross-border tunnels having been destroyed by an Israeli operation late last year.

“Hezbollah still has plans to that effect,” he tells the Ynet news site. “Of course we won’t allow that to happen, we will thwart these plans.”

Maj. Gen. Yoel Strick was tapped to lead the military’s Ground Forces in February, amid increased criticism that Israeli troops were not prepared for war.

“In the next war, it would be a mistake for us to distinguish between the state of Lebanon and Hezbollah, since Hezbollah is a political actor and part of the government,” Strick says.

“I have no doubt what the outcome will be… It will be a decisive victory,” he adds.

Activists, journalists arrested trying to take sacrificial goat onto Temple Mount

Police arrest two right-wing activists and two journalists who were accompanying them to the Temple Mount along with two goats that they were allegedly planning to sacrifice at the holy site ahead of the Passover festival which starts tomorrow.

According to police, the four “intended to cause a provocation” by sacrificing the animals.

The two journalists were released while the two activists, one a minor, are being held for questioning and will face a remand hearing later today. The two goats are also being held by police.

“The Israel Police will not allow anyone to incite and provoke provocations in any way and contrary to the law on the Temple Mount, and will act resolutely against any suspect causing deliberate provocations ahead of the festival,” the force said.

Prosecutors charge 27 suspects in Telegram cannabis scheme

Prosecutors on file indictments against 27 suspects involved in a mass cannabis distribution network known as Telegrass.

Police last month effectively shut down the virtual marijuana marketplace, which operated on the Telegram messaging application, with the arrest of 42 suspected members in Israel, the United States, Ukraine and Germany, including founder Amos Dov Silver.

Legal proceedings are still underway to extradite Silver, who was arrested in Ukraine.

The suspects are being charged with various crimes including drug trafficking, “dangerous” drug trafficking, contributing to the delinquency  of a minor, possession of drugs other than for personal consumption, obstruction of justice, money laundering and tax evasion.

The prosecution requested that 22 of the 27 suspects remain behind bars until the end of proceedings against them.


Swastika and anti-Semitic comments scrawled on desk in Vanderbilt U library

A swastika and anti-Semitic comments have been found scrawled on a study carrel in the main library at Vanderbilt University, according to the university.

The campus police have opened and investigation and said it will share information with the Metro Nashville Police Department, as well as the Tennessee Bureau of Investigation and the FBI, the university says.

“We wholeheartedly reject anti-Semitism and its symbols, and the abhorrent ideology associated with this act of vandalism has no place on our campus. Vanderbilt does not tolerate language or actions that are bigoted or intended to intimidate anyone in our community. We remain deeply committed to fostering a welcoming and inclusive environment for all,” the university says in a statement.

No suspects have so far been identified in the incident, police tell the daily newspaper The Tennessean.


2 Jewish women pledge $122 million toward restoring Notre Dame

Two Jewish women pledge between them $122 million toward the restoration of Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral, which was ravaged in a fire earlier this week.

Lily Safra, a Brazilian Jewish philanthropist, says she will donate $22 million to fund the restoration efforts of the iconic church, Correio 24 Horas reports. And Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, the French billionaire owner of L’Oreal, is pledging another $100 million, according to CBS.

The two women’s donations account for about 17 percent of the $700 million collected so far for the restoration.

Bettencourt Meyers, the world’s richest woman, is married to Jean-Pierre Meyers, a French Jewish businessman descended from a family of rabbis, and has converted to Judaism.

— with JTA

New survey finds US synagogue membership stable as number of church goers plummets

While the percentage of US adults who belong to a church has plunged by 20 percentage points over the past two decades, hitting a low of 50% last year, synagogue membership in the country has remained stable, a new Gallup poll finds.

Gallup says church membership was 70% in 1999 — and close to or higher than that figure for most of the 20th century. Since 1999, the figure has fallen steadily, while the percentage of US adults with no religious affiliation has jumped from 8% to 19%.

Among Americans identifying with a particular religion, there was a sharp drop in church membership among Catholics — dropping from 76% to 63% over the past two decades as the church was buffeted by clergy sex-abuse scandals. Membership among Protestants dropped from 73% to 67% percent over the same period.

At the same time, the data shows that synagogue membership has remained in the mid- to low 50% range over the past two decades.

— with AP

92-year-old ex-SS guard charged with 5,230 counts of accessory to murder

German prosecutors say they have charged a former Nazi concentration camp guard with 5,230 counts of accessory to murder.

The 92-year-old suspect, whose name wasn’t released, is accused of assisting in the “malicious and cruel” killing of mainly Jewish inmates through his work as a guard at the Stutthof concentration camp between August 1944 and April 1945.

Prosecutors say the man, who was aged 17-18 at the time, was “a little wheel in the machinery of murder” which saw thousands of people shot dead, poisoned or starved toward the end of World War II.

German daily Die Welt reports that the man acknowledged to investigators he was aware of the camp’s gas chambers and saw bodies taken to the crematoriums.

— AP

US attorney general says Trump didn’t try to thwart Mueller probe

US Attorney General Bill Barr says that the White House fully cooperated with Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of Russian election meddling and that US President Donald Trump took no action to thwart the probe.

“There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,” Barr says is a special press conference ahead of the release of the Mueller report.

William Barr, US President Donald Trump’s then-nominee for attorney general, testifies during his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee, on Capitol Hil in Washington, DC, on January 15, 2019. (Saul Loeb/AFP)

“Nonetheless, the White House fully cooperated with the special counsel’s investigation, providing unfettered access to campaign and White House documents, directing senior aides to testify freely, and asserting no privilege claims,” he says.

“And at the same time, the president took no act that in fact deprived the special counsel of the documents and witnesses necessary to complete his investigation,” Barr adds.


Mueller report details 10 times Trump may have obstructed justice — US attorney general

US Attorney General William Barr says special counsel Robert Mueller’s report recounts 10 episodes involving US President Donald Trump that were investigated as potential acts of criminal obstruction of justice.

Barr says Mueller did not reach a “prosecutorial judgment” and that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein concluded the evidence was not sufficient to establish the president committed an offense.

— AP

Trump tweets that it’s ‘Game Over’

In an apparent reference the the Mueller report, which is set to be released within the hour, US president posts an image saying that its “game over” for “the haters and the radical left democrats.”

Redacted Mueller report released by US Justice Department

The US Department of Justice releases a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

The report by the former FBI director was handed over to the House and Senate judiciary committees and released to the public on the Justice Department’s website.

Some sections of the 400-page report were blacked out by Attorney General Bill Barr to protect ongoing investigations and for other reasons.

The report focuses on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, whether the Trump campaign helped in that effort and whether Trump tried to obstruct justice.

At a press conference ahead of the release of the report, Barr said Mueller had found no evidence of collusion between members of the Trump campaign and Russia.


Trump celebrates Mueller report release: ‘I’m having a good day’

US President Donald Trump celebrates the release of the report into Russian election meddling, saying he’s having a “good day.”

“I’m having a good day,” he says, declaring that the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller found “no collusion, no obstruction.”

Trump called the two-year-long probe into whether his campaign colluded with Russian agents interfering in the 2016 presidential election a “hoax” that “should never happen to another president again.”


Trump tried to seize control of Mueller probe, report says

Robert Mueller’s report reveals that US President Donald Trump had tried to seize control of the Russia probe and force Mueller’s removal to stop him from investigating potential obstruction of justice by the president.

In a previously unreported episode, the report says that in June 2017, Trump directed White House Counsel Don McGahn to call the acting attorney general and say that Mueller must be ousted because he had conflicts of interest.

McGahn refused — deciding he would rather resign than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre of Watergate firings fame.

For all of that, Mueller says in his report that he could not conclusively determine that Trump had committed criminal obstruction of justice.

— AP

Litzman digs in over refusal to OK Liberman’s conscription law demand

United Torah Judaism leader Yaakov Litzman reiterates that his party will not join Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government if legislation on drafting Haredi yeshiva students to the army isn’t changed, heralding tough coalition-building for the premier.

“The conscription law will not pass along the lines of the current bill, and the prime minister will have to solve the coalition’s problems,” Litzman tells Army Radio.

Avigdor Liberman, head of the secular right-wing Yisrael Beytenu party, has been insisting that “not one letter” of the current law bill be changed, and earlier this week said he would rather opt for new elections than give up on the law.

Litzman, the current deputy health minister, said all his party’s demands were coordinated with fellow ultra-Orthodox party Shas, creating a united front that is also likely to be joined by the religious Zionist Union of Right-Wing Parties.

Measles-infected El Al flight attendant in ICU

The condition of the El Al flight attendant who contracted measles has deteriorated and she is now in an isolated intensive care unit with suspected brain damage, Hebrew media reports.

The unidentified woman, 43, was admitted to a hospital in March, two weeks ago after contracting measles on a flight from New York. Her conditioned has worsened and she is suffering from meningoencephalitis, a condition that simultaneously resembles both meningitis, which is an infection or inflammation of the meninges, and encephalitis, which is an infection or inflammation of the brain.

The flight attendant was on El AL flight 002 from John F. Kennedy Airport to Tel Aviv on March 26 and landed in Israel a day later.

Senior justice officials said to warn Levin and Smotrich will ‘destroy’ Supreme Court

Senior justice ministry officials say that if there is truth in reports that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is leaning toward appointing either Tourism Minister Yariv Levin from his Likud party or Union of Right-Wing Parties MK Bezalel Smotrich as justice minister, it would be considered “a declaration of war against the Supreme Court,” Channel 10 reports.

“These are two people who want to destroy the existing system and have said as such for several years,” unnamed sources told the channel, according to the report.

“If in the past Prime Minister Netanyahu prevented legislative initiatives against the court and even promised presidents to stand by it, it seems that this time, if one of them is appointed, he will have a backing from Netanyahu to destroy the court and the justice system,” the sources reportedly say. “They see us as the enemy.”

Both Levin and Smotrich have expressed support for clamping down on the Supreme Court and removing its ability to act as a check on the legislature — by denying it the right to strike down Knesset laws. Smotrich has also explicitly said he will seek to enact legislation to protect Netanyahu from indictment.

French police: Short-circuit likely caused Notre Dame fire

Paris police investigators think an electrical short-circuit most likely caused the fire at Notre Dame Cathedral, French police officials say.

A French judicial police official tells The Associated Press that investigators made an initial assessment of the cathedral Wednesday but don’t have a green light to search Notre Dame’s charred interior because of ongoing safety hazards.

Fire damage to Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, April 16, 2019. (Gigarama.ru via AP)

The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak by name about an ongoing investigation, says the cathedral’s fragile walls were being shored up with wooden planks.

— AP

PMO officials deny Russia found body of Israeli spy Eli Cohen

Officials in the Prime Minister’s Office deny reports that Russia has found the body of legendary Israeli spy Eli Cohen in Syria.

Hebrew media reported earlier this week that a Russian delegation took Cohen’s remains out of Syria, where he was executed more than five decades ago. Israel had previously appealed to Russia for help finding Cohen. Israeli officials had been silent after the unconfirmed reports by Syrian opposition groups emerged last weekend that a Russian team had exhumed the remains of the Mossad spy.

Official Israeli government ceremony marking 40 years since the death of Israeli spy Eli Cohen who was hanged in Syria. The title reads: “Our man in Damascus.” (Moshe Milner, GPO)

Russia’s foreign ministry on Wednesday strongly rejected the reports.

Cohen infiltrated the top echelons of Syria’s leadership in the early 1960s and obtained top-secret intelligence before he was caught and publicly executed in 1965.

Police sources said to warn against Smotrich, Regev as public security minister

Police sources reportedly cautioning Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu against appointing Union of Right-Wing Parties No. 2 Bezalel Smotrich or current culture minister Miri Regev (Likud) as the next public security minister, due to their views on the Temple Mount.

Anonymous police sources are quoted by Channel 12 news as saying that if Regev or Smotrich are appointed, “within a year Jews will be allowed to perform ritual animal sacrifices” on the Jewish festival of Passover.

Both candidates have supported increased religious freedom for Jews on the contested site in Jerusalem’s Old City, the holiest spot in Judaism and the third holiest for Muslims, who refer to it as the Noble Sanctuary or the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound.

Jews are allowed to visit the site at limited times and under close supervision, but not pray there. Jewish and Israeli police presence is opposed by Muslim authorities and the Palestinian public, and has led to numerous flare-ups.

Charity distributes kosher-for-Passover food for 181,000 needy New Yorkers

The Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty, known as Met Council, will distribute kosher-for-Passover food for the needy at 129 locations across New York.

More than 181,000 New Yorkers will receive food before Passover from Met Council, which calls itself “America’s largest free kosher for Pesach food distribution.”

Some 82,000 pounds of chicken, 77,000 pounds of eggs, 79,000 cans of tuna and 54,000 pounds of matza are among the items that will be distributed, Met Council said in a statement.

“This year we gave out more food to more people at more locations than ever before,” David G. Greenfield, CEO of Met Council, says in a statement. “As importantly, we gave out higher quality food.”

Met Council also distributed more than 2,100 Visa credit cards each loaded with up to $500 for families who need extra assistance to buy food for the holiday.
In Israel, the Colel Chabad charity is distributing seder meals for over 22,000 people. The meals include more than 11,000 salmon filets, 7,000 chicken thighs and 9,800 almond cakes, and are made from some 30,000 eggs and 10 tons of potatoes.

The meals will be served at communal holiday meals and are also provided to homebound people.


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Live updates

2 Jewish women pledge $122 million toward restoring Notre Dame

Two Jewish women pledge between them $122 million toward the restoration of Paris’ Notre Dame cathedral, which was ravaged in a fire earlier this week.

Lily Safra, a Brazilian Jewish philanthropist, says she will donate $22 million to fund the restoration efforts of the iconic church, Correio 24 Horas reports. And Françoise Bettencourt Meyers, the French billionaire owner of L’Oreal, is pledging another $100 million, according to CBS.

The two women’s donations account for about 17 percent of the $700 million collected so far for the restoration.

Bettencourt Meyers, the world’s richest woman, is married to Jean-Pierre Meyers, a French Jewish businessman descended from a family of rabbis, and has converted to Judaism.

— with JTA