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Finance minister: Even if virus soars, we won’t again impose nationwide lockdown

Ministers ease pandemic restrictions further, despite a steady rise in virus cases; three hotspots — Rahat, Arara, parts of Jaffa — face new limitations

People shop for food at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on June 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
People shop for food at the Mahane Yehuda Market in Jerusalem on June 17, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

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

Rivlin meets Greek PM in Jerusalem, hopes tourism resumes soon

President Reuven Rivlin meets with Greek Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis in Jerusalem, in his first in-person diplomatic meeting in three months due to the pandemic, his office says.

Says Rivlin: “Today, our energy cooperation is a cornerstone of stability in the wider Mediterranean region. The EastMed project will deepen this cooperation even further. We also have vast connections in the field of tourism, and I hope we can resume flights between Tel Aviv and Athens soon.”

On Tuesday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said flights between Israel and Greece will resume on August 1.

Over the weekend, a worker in the President’s Residence contracted COVID-19. But the president, 80, was not ordered to self-isolate after it was determined he had not been exposed.

Iran sees highest daily virus death toll since April 11

Iran reports more than 100 deaths from the novel coronavirus for a fourth straight day, saying that gatherings in high-risk provinces have led to a spike in infections.

“Holding gatherings such as weddings and funerals is one of the main causes of increased coronavirus infections in red provinces,” the highest level on Iran’s colour-coded risk scale, says deputy health minister Iraj Harirchi.

“In one province, 120 people were infected at a single wedding,” the ISNA news agency quotes him as saying.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says 120 new deaths in the past 24 hours takes Iran’s overall toll to 9,158.

This is Iran’s highest single-day death toll since April 11.

Lari adds that another 2,612 tested positive for COVID-19, bringing total confirmed cases to 195,051.

AFP

India virus death toll tops 11,000

India adds more than 2,000 COVID-19 deaths to its tally, after Delhi and Maharashtra states include 1,672 unreported fatalities, increasing the total number to 11,903.

The Health Ministry reports 10,974 new coronavirus cases for a total of 354,065. Of the 2,003 newly added fatalities, 331 were reported in the last 24 hours.

India has been reporting some 10,000 new infections and more than 300 deaths each day over the last two weeks. The previously unreported deaths have driven India’s fatality rate from 2.9% to 3.4%.

Earlier, health experts had warned that India was undercounting fatalities as some states used different criteria. Like elsewhere, the actual numbers are thought to be higher as testing remains limited.

India is the fourth hardest-hit country by the pandemic after the US, Russia and Brazil.

AP

Legislation advances for electronic bracelet tracking of domestic abusers

The Knesset approves the preliminary reading of a bill that would impose electronic tracking on violent men with restraining orders against them.

The electronic bracelet system would alert its carrier and police if the man approaches his spouse or home in contravention of a court order.

The bill — which requires three more Knesset votes to become law — was raised after a series of killings of women by their spouses or significant others in recent months that sparked calls for action by lawmakers and law enforcement authorities.

Top German court: American Jewish woman wrongly denied citizenship

Germany’s highest court says it has ruled that an American woman whose Jewish father fled Nazi Germany was wrongly denied German citizenship because she was born out of wedlock.

The German constitution provides for people whose citizenship was revoked by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945, and their descendants, to have German citizenship restored on application. It doesn’t give a specific definition of “descendants.”

In the case that went to the Federal Constitutional Court, the woman — who was born in the US in 1967 and not identified by name — applied for citizenship in 2013. Her father, born in 1921, fled to the United States and his German citizenship was revoked in 1938. Her parents weren’t married, but her father recognized her as his child.

Authorities rejected her application on the grounds that she was born out of wedlock and could not have inherited German citizenship from her father even if his citizenship hadn’t been revoked.

But the supreme court points to a clause in the constitution that calls for children born outside marriage to be given the same opportunities as those whose parents are married. It also finds that previous decisions in the case clashed with a constitutional provision that men and women have equal rights by suggesting that citizenship could only be recognized as stemming from a child’s mother.

The court finds that the law’s intention of undoing Nazi injustice speaks against an overly narrow interpretation of the term “descendants” to exclude children born out of wedlock.

AP

Syria devalues currency as new US sanctions hit

Syria’s central bank devalues the Syrian pound giving in to weeks of depreciation on the black market as new US sanctions take effect.

The central bank raises the official exchange rate from 704 to 1,256 Syrian pounds to the dollar, in a statement published on its social media pages.

The previous rate has been in force since March.

Earlier this month, the war-torn country’s currency hit a record low on the black market of around 3,000 pounds to the dollar, sparking rare protests, before appreciating slightly after an apparent injection of dollars.

On Wednesday, the rate on the parallel market stood at around 2,600 to 2,800 pounds to the dollar, traders tell AFP.

The devaluation comes as the United States prepares to implement new sanctions this week under the Caesar Act, targeting foreigners doing business with the Damascus government, as well as reconstruction of the country.

AFP

5 Blue and White ministers to resign Knesset for new MKs

Five Blue and White ministers are set to resign from their parliamentary duties under the new so-called Norwegian Law, making way for the entry of five additional lawmakers from the centrist list.

The four ministers, who will stick to their offices but retire their lawmaker role, are Culture Minister Chili Tropper, Science Minister Izhar Shay, Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster, Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir and Michael Biton, who is a minister in the Defense Ministry.

The four confirmed incoming lawmakers, all women, are Michal Cotler-Wunsch, Einav Kabala, Hila Shay, and Tehila Friedman.

The fifth lawmaker has not yet been confirmed after the next candidate on the list, Yorai Lahav-Hertzano, has declined to enter the Knesset, aligning instead with Yesh Atid — Blue and White’s former partner — in the opposition.

Germany’s CureVac starts human trials for COVID-19 vaccine

German biotech firm CureVac has won permission to start human trials of a promising coronavirus vaccine, regulators announce, as the global race to stop the pandemic gathers pace.

The Paul Ehrlich Institute (PEI), the German body responsible for assessing clinical trials and approving vaccines, calls the approval “an important milestone.”

In a statement, it said it had given CureVac the green light based on “a careful assessment of the risk/benefit profile of the vaccine candidate.”

Globally, there are now 11 coronavirus vaccines being tested on humans, according to the World Health Organization.

AFP

Trump administration sues to delay release of Bolton book

The Trump administration has sued former national security adviser John Bolton to delay the publication of a book that the White House says contains classified information and that is expected to paint an unfavorable portrait of the US president’s foreign policy decision-making.

The civil lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington’s federal court follows warnings from US President Donald Trump that Bolton could face a “criminal problem” if he doesn’t halt plans to publish the book, which is scheduled for release next week.

The complaint is the latest salvo in a contentious relationship between Trump and the hawkish Bolton, who was abruptly forced from the White House last September after repeated disagreements on national security matters. It moves their rift into court, where a judge will be asked to decide whether Bolton short-circuited proper procedures to get his book on the market — something his lawyer and publisher have strongly denied.

His publisher, Simon & Schuster, calls the lawsuit “nothing more than the latest in a long running series of efforts by the administration to quash publication of a book it deems unflattering to the president.” It says in a statement Tuesday evening that Bolton had worked with White House officials to address their concerns, and that it “fully supports his First Amendment right” to tell his story.

Chuck Cooper, Bolton’s attorney, says Wednesday his team was “reviewing the Government’s complaint and will respond in due course.”

Cooper has said Bolton worked for months with classification specialists to avoid releasing classified material. He has accused the White House of using national security information as a pretext to censor Bolton.

AP

Another IDF major general to enter quarantine over COVID-19 exposure

The Israel Defense Forces says the head of the Southern Command, Maj. Gen. Herzi Halevi, is entering quarantine, along with the heads of the Gaza and 80th Divisions and a number of other officers from the military and Shin Bet security service after they took part in a meeting with a member of the internal security agency who later tasted positive for the coronavirus.

Halevi is the second IDF major general to be put into self-isolation today, the first being Central Command chief Maj. Gen. Tamir Yadai, who attended an event with a career soldier who also later tested positive for the disease.

In addition to Halevi, Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano of the Gaza Division and Brig. Gen. Gur Schreibman of the 80th Division entered quarantine, after attending a meeting with the infected Shin Bet officer.

“The major general and division commanders will be in quarantine and will continue to maintain their normal schedules, as much as possible,” the military says. “The commanders feel good, with no symptoms, and will be tested soon.”

Several members of the security service are also entering quarantine “in accordance with Health Ministry directives,” a Shin Bet spokesperson says.

Judah Ari Gross

Putin has ‘disinfection tunnel’ to protect him from coronavirus

Visitors meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin at his country residence must first pass through a walk-through device that sprays them with disinfectant to protect him from the coronavirus, officials say.

The measures have provoked anger from some observers, given the authorities have ruled it is safe enough to hold a nationwide referendum on July 1.

Putin has been self-isolating at his Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow under lockdown although he made a public appearance without a mask at an outdoor event on the June 12 Russia Day holiday.

As part of precautions to protect the president, visitors walk through the device and get sprayed from above and the side, a video posted Tuesday evening on Twitter by Kremlin pool journalists from RIA Novosti state news agency shows.

Presidential spokesman Dmitry Peskov tells reporters that two of the disinfection machines had also been installed in the Kremlin.

“They were installed during the height of the pandemic,” he says, adding that anti-virus measures still in place at the Kremlin were “justified and understandable where the president is concerned.”

The authorities in Penza region east of Moscow where the device was made boasted that it “ensured the safety of the head of government and all those who visit him.”

The Penza regional government said the president’s staff got in touch with the manufacturing company, which until the virus outbreak specialized in automatic cleaning equipment for industrial use.

The device includes facial recognition technology and can take people’s temperatures, according to the manufacturers.

The Kremlin has imposed a range of measures to protect Putin, including regular virus testing of the leader and all those who come into contact with him.

AFP

5 groups, including ADL, urge companies to pause Facebook ads to combat hate

A group of five US civil rights organizations are appealing to companies to stop using Facebook advertisements in July, to pressure the social media giant to remove hate content.

“ADL (the Anti-Defamation League) and the NAACP, two of the nation’s most storied civil rights organizations, have joined with Sleeping Giants, Color of Change, Free Press and Common Sense in calling for some of the world’s largest corporations to pause advertising on Facebook during the month of July 2020,” the organization says in a statement.

ADL’s CEO Jonathan Greenblatt says: “We have long seen how Facebook has allowed some of the worst elements of society into our homes and our lives. When this hate spreads online it causes tremendous harm and also becomes permissible offline. Our organizations have tried individually and collectively to push Facebook to make their platforms safer, but they have repeatedly failed to take meaningful action. We hope this campaign finally shows Facebook how much their users and their advertisers want them to make serious changes for the better.”

According to the statement, NAACP is accusing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg of “complacency” in fighting disinformation.

 “Facebook remains unwilling to take significant steps to remove political propaganda from its platform,” said Derrick Johnson, President and CEO of the NAACP. “It is clear that Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, are no longer simply negligent, but in fact, complacent in the spread of misinformation, despite the irreversible damage to our democracy. Such actions will upend the integrity of our elections as we head into 2020. We will not stand for this. While we recognize the value that Facebook provides in connecting people of color with one another, we call into question a platform that profits from the suppression of Black votes or Black voices.”

US sanctions Assad’s wife, dozens of others

The United States imposes sanctions on Syrian President Bashar Assad’s wife and dozens of others as it vows a vast pressure campaign under a new law.

“We anticipate many more sanctions and we will not stop until Assad and his regime stop their needless, brutal war against the Syrian people,” US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says in a statement.

AFP

Sweden’s coronavirus death toll surpasses 5,000

Sweden, which has gained international attention for its softer approach to curbing the spread of the new coronavirus, says its death toll has passed the 5,000 mark.

According to figures released by the country’s Public Health Agency, a total of 5,041 deaths linked to COVID-19 have been reported from 54,562 confirmed cases.

AFP

Honduras president and first lady test positive for coronavirus

Honduras President Juan Orlando Hernández and his wife have tested positive for COVID-19, the Central American leader says late Tuesday in a television message.

Hernández says that over the weekend he began feeling some discomfort and on Tuesday received the test results.

He says it was part of the risk that comes with the job. With his responsibilities, he says, he could not stay at home constantly.

Hernández says his symptoms are light and that he’s already starting to feel better. He says he had started what he called the “MAIZ treatment,” which stands for microdacyn, azithromycin, ivermectin and zinc.

He says his wife is asymptomatic and two other people who work with them are also infected.

AP

EU cancels grant to Palestinian organization that refuses to sign anti-terror clause

The European Union cancels a grant to a Palestinian nonprofit that refused to sign a so-called anti-terrorism clause that would obligate it to ensure that none of the funding goes to members of terrorist organizations.

The Badil Resource Center for Palestinian Residency and Refugee Rights had secured 1.7 million euros for a project called “Mobilizing for Justice in Jerusalem,” which was meant to expose alleged Israeli human rights violations and “international crimes in Jerusalem.”

But the organization refused to sign the article 1.5 of Annex II of the “General conditions applicable to European Union-financed grant contracts for external actions,” because it “criminalizes the Palestinian struggle against oppression and requires the recipient organization to perform ‘screening’ procedures which amounts to policing its own people,” the group says in a press release.

The article stipulates that grant beneficiaries must ensure that no members of EU-listed terrorist groups benefit from any of the funded programs.

“The inclusion of this article to contracts with Palestinian organizations contradicts the national role of Palestinian civil society institutions in the struggle for freedom from Israeli colonialism and apartheid,” Badil’s statement reads.

“Further, the article violates both Palestinian and international law, as well as the declared obligations of the EU itself.”

An Israeli watchdog monitoring EU funding of Palestinians groups welcomes the EU’s decision to cancel funding for Badil’s project.

“We applaud the EU for standing strong in the face of pressure and enforcing its anti-terror clause,” says Olga Deutsch, vice president of Jerusalem-based NGO Monitor.

“There is no question that radical groups like Badil, who not only have a history of promoting anti-Semitism and rejection of Israel, but who will not commit to not working with terror, have no business receiving funding from the EU or any other government.”

Raphael Ahren

Netanyahu, Gantz to meet again on annexation — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Benny Gantz will meet again this evening to try to reach an agreement on West Bank annexation, reports Channel 13.

Also joining their talks on the US peace plan are Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin (Likud) and Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi (Blue and White), the report says.

Now in coalition, Blue and White rejects bill disqualifying PM under indictment

Three months after it was first introduced, a bill that would make it illegal for a prime minister under criminal indictment to serve in Israel’s highest office is rejected by the Knesset.

The bill — which targets Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust — was originally proposed by Blue and White.

Now in the government, Blue and White votes against the bill, which is knocked down 60-23.

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz, who is now defense minister and alternate prime minister, is mocked by his former ally, opposition leader Yair Lapid.

“This is the original document of this bill that was signed and submitted in March. The first signature is Benny Gantz, and the second is Avi Nissenkorn, who is now the justice minister of Israel,” says Lapid.

 

Israeli forces thwart Hamas weapon smuggling attempt from Sinai — IDF

Israeli security forces thwarted an attempt to smuggle weapons to the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip from the northern Sinai Peninsula through the Mediterranean Sea several weeks ago, the military says.

Details on the operation, which occurred “a number of weeks ago,” were barred from publication until now.

The Israel Defense Forces says the operation was a “joint intelligence and operational effort by Israeli Navy forces and the Shin Bet security service, along with Military Intelligence.”

According to the military, the Shin Bet learned who was involved in the smuggling operation and passed the information along to the navy. On an unspecified date, Israeli Navy soldiers monitoring the Mediterranean Sea “identified the suspected vessel and directed naval forces to it. Following a chase, the vessel was detained and two terrorist operatives on board were taken in for questioning by the Shin Bet,” the IDF says.

One of the two operatives was Mahmoud Bachar, whom the military identified as a senior Hamas smuggler. “His capture represents a significant operational achievement,” the IDF said.

The IDF says during the Shin Bet’s interrogation of Bachar and the other, unnamed suspect, the two men said the weapons they were smuggling were going to the Gaza-ruling Hamas terror group. The military did not comment on what types of weapons were seized.

“In addition, during the interrogation, [they provided] information on Hamas naval smuggling efforts, and information on smugglers, rearmaments and Hamas’s contacts,” the IDF says.

Judah Ari Gross

Nurse at Petah Tikva hospital diagnosed with virus

A nurse at the Rabin Medical Center in Petah Tikva is diagnosed with COVID-19.

Twenty-five medical staff have been quarantined.

UTJ deputy minister resigns from Knesset, making way for new MK

Deputy Education Minister Meir Porush hands in his resignation from the Knesset under the so-called Norwegian Law.

Porush retains his ministerial position, and the lawmaker job will go to the next candidate on the United Torah Judaism list, Yitzhak Pindrus.

George Floyd’s brother asks UN to set up commission to probe killings by US police

The brother of George Floyd calls on the United Nations to set up an independent commission to investigate the killings of African Americans by police.

“I am my brother’s keeper,” says Philonise Floyd, whose brother was killed by a white police officer in Minneapolis on May 25.

“That could have been me,” Floyd tells an urgent debate on racism and police brutality called at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

“I’m asking you to help me,” he says. “I hope that you will consider establishing an independent commission of inquiry to investigate police killings of black people in America, and the violence against peaceful protesters.”

AFP

18 new virus cases found in West Bank

Eighteen new cases of the novel coronavirus were confirmed in the West Bank this afternoon, Palestinian government spokesman Ibrahim Milhim says.

The spike in infections, mostly in Hebron governorate, is the highest single-day increase since restrictions were relaxed in late May. The West Bank is seeing rising rates of infection in recent days, registering 11 new cases yesterday.

The PA is “preparing for an anticipated second wave of coronavirus in the event of a continued rise in cases,” Palestinian Authority Health minister Mai al-Kaila announced on Tuesday.

Aaron Boxerman

Ministers to convene to discuss rising virus cases

The high-level coronavirus cabinet, led by Netanyahu, is set to convene shortly to discuss the rise in COVID-19 cases.

The senior ministers will debate whether to allow train lines to resume and permit cultural venues to reopen, or, by contrast, reintroduce restrictions.

According to Channel 12, even if trains are given the green light, they will not resume routes before next Monday.

Both Channel 12 and 13 report that ministers are expected to ease the rules further and permit cultural events, even as the number of new daily cases hit 299, the highest since late April.

Rahat, Arara, parts of Jaffa declared virus hotspots

As ministers begin the coronavirus meeting, a statement reported by Hebrew media says the government is declaring three new virus hotspots.

These are: Rahat, in the south; Arara, in northern Israel; and the Ajami neighborhood in Jaffa.

According to Channel 12, schools will be closed in these areas and gatherings of over 10 people will be banned.

This is not immediately confirmed by the Health Ministry.

Body of man, woman found in West Bank settlement

The bodies of a man and a woman are found in an apartment in the West Bank settlement of Givon.

Police are investigating.

Reports say a murder-suicide is suspected, rather than terrorism.

Netanyahu meets with artists, vows to help them

Ahead of the coronavirus cabinet meeting, Netanyahu met with figures from the arts and culture world, who are protesting the government’s ongoing closure of venues to stem the pandemic, his office says.

“I very much want to hear you and I very much want to help you,” says Netanyahu. “I know there’s a crisis, we want to deal with the crisis, and that’s why I also asked the finance minister to join us. We’ll hear from you and we will help, to the best of our ability.”

Earlier this week, thousands protested outside the Prime Minister’s Office and Finance Ministry against the government rules keeping theaters and performance venues shut for over three months, in a blow to their livelihoods.

Auschwitz memorial and museum will reopen to visitors on July 1

The Auschwitz Memorial and the site of the former Nazi camp will reopen to visitors on July 1.

The museum says it will open for guided tours and individual entry beginning on that date. Reservations must be made online.

It closed to visitors in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic, including canceling the annual March of the Living onsite.

The museum has reorganized exhibitions to minimize the risk of spreading the coronavirus and the number of visitors will be limited to allow for appropriate social distancing.

Last year, the site of the former Nazi death camp had more than 2.3 million visitors. This year, it drew some 300,000 visitors before it was shut on March 12, its first closure since its first exhibit opened in 1947.

Earlier this month, the memorial called on the public for donations due to its loss of income during the pandemic.

“The period of the pandemic shows that in every difficult and crisis situation, fears, tensions, reluctance and ghosts of the past awaken,” the museum’s director, Piotr Cywinski, said in a statement. “Right now, we all need to listen wisely to the warnings from the past so that the economic difficulties we are experiencing and forecasting will not lead to a moral crisis, a crisis of humanity.”

JTA

Holocaust compensation for Jews at heart of Polish election rhetoric

Poland’s ruling nationalists are ramping up rhetoric against gay people and Jewish compensation claims in an attempt to boost President Andrzej Duda’s flagging campaign before this month’s election, say experts.

Duda has equated “LGBT ideology” with communism, while public television has attacked his main rival Rafal Trzaskowki for being open to discussing Jewish compensation claims from the Holocaust — a subject the governing Law and Justice (PiS) party considers closed.

The election was originally scheduled for May but had to be postponed due to the pandemic crisis. The first round is now scheduled for June 28.

While a win for Duda would mean five more years of political clout for Law and Justice, Warsaw’s centrist mayor Trzaskowski is catching up in the polls.

This is why the right is using homophobic and anti-Semitic rhetoric, say analysts.

The issue of compensating Jews for assets seized during the Holocaust and the communist era is a particularly sensitive one for Poland, where there are multiple legal claims relating to Jews and non-Jews who were dispossessed.

Poland’s public television channel TVP on Sunday accused Trzaskowki of acting against the national interest by failing to rule out any discussion on this issue with Jewish international organizations. The channel is widely regarded as following the PiS government’s political line.

Trzaskowski has since launched legal action against TVP for the attack, which used terms such as “foreign lobby” and “rich groups” interpreted by some analysts as a clear reference to Jewish people.

“Such sensitive subjects need to be discussed and of course we have to take into account above all the interest of the Polish state but this has to be done in such a way as not to create problems,” Trzaskowski told journalists on Tuesday.

Poland is the only country in the region not to have compensated its citizens, including Jews, for assets seized by the Nazis and the communists.

Poland’s right says the issue of compensation is closed and any claims should be addressed to Germany.

AFP

UN holds elections with COVID-19 social distancing

The UN General Assembly president banged his gavel to open elections Wednesday under dramatically different voting procedures because of the COVID-19 pandemic, including for two hotly contested seats on the UN Security Council.

The UN headquarters complex remains open for essential workers, but Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has ordered staff to work from home until July 31 because of the pandemic. So instead of having ambassadors from the 193 UN member nations in the General Assembly chamber together for elections, a new procedure was adopted.

On Wednesday morning it went into operation — a few ambassadors arriving at the assembly during spaced-out time slots starting at 9 a.m. to avoid a large gathering and ensure social distancing.

And instead of voting separately for the next General Assembly president, five new members of the Security Council, and 18 new members of the Economic and Social Council, the three elections are being held at the same time by secret ballot.

Each arriving ambassador wore a mask, presented a voting card to a UN staff member, received three different colored paper ballots in an envelope, and went up an escalator into the nearly empty chamber where Assembly President Tijjani Muhammad-Bande sat in the presiding seat, overlooking the cavernous space.

Among the early voters were US Ambassador Kelly Craft and the ambassadors of Poland and Turkey. Each sat in a spaced-out seat behind the nameplate of their country, marked their ballots, and then walked to the front of the chamber to deposit them in three color-coded, separate boxes.

The most-watched election is for seats in the Security Council, the UN’s most powerful body which has 15 members. There are five permanent members — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France — and 10 members elected by the General Assembly for two-year terms, with seats allocated to regional groups.

Five new members are elected every year and this year Canada, Ireland and Norway are battling for two Western seats and Kenya and Djibouti are competing for one African seat. India is running unopposed for the Asia-Pacific seat and Mexico is running unopposed for the seat for Latin America and the Caribbean.

Winning a seat on the Security Council is considered a pinnacle of achievement for many countries because it gives them a strong voice on issues of international peace and security ranging from conflicts in Syria, Yemen and Ukraine to the nuclear threat posed by North Korea and Iran, and attacks by extremist groups such as the Islamic State and al-Qaida.

AP

Amid anti-racism protests, US brands Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s to change

Amid nationwide protests against racism, major US food companies say they will change the Aunt Jemima and Uncle Ben’s brands, both of which feature African American mascots.

PepsiCo says it would end entirely the Aunt Jemima line of pancake syrup and batter adorned with the face of a black woman, while Mars plans to “evolve” the Uncle Ben’s brand of rice dishes that uses a black man as its logo.

“We recognize Aunt Jemima’s origins are based on a racial stereotype,” Kristin Kroepfl, vice president and chief marketing officer of Quaker Foods North America, the PepsiCo subsidiary that produces Aunt Jemima, says in a statement.

“While work has been done over the years to update the brand in a manner intended to be appropriate and respectful, we realize those changes are not enough.”

The Aunt Jemima brand has existed for more than 130 years, and “has evolved over time with the goal of representing loving moms from diverse backgrounds who want the best for their families,” according to PepsiCo.

The brand’s image will be removed starting in the fourth quarter, while the company said a new name will be announced.

Mars is less clear what would happen with Uncle Ben’s, saying in a statement, “We don’t yet know what the exact changes or timing will be, but we are evaluating all possibilities.”

AFP

Ministers approve resumption of train lines from Monday — reports

Senior ministers approve the resumption of train operations beginning Monday, according to Hebrew reports.

There is no immediate confirmation of the decision. Train operations have been halted for three months, and the date for resuming its lines has been postponed multiple times.

The high-level coronavirus cabinet is also expected to authorize the reopening of cultural venues.

Netanyahu, in a tweet, says he hopes to formulate a plan for the cultural venues’ reopening within 24 hours, with Health Ministry restrictions.

The shows and performances, however, may be capped at 250 participants, Hebrew reports say.

The decisions come as the number of virus cases continues to rise.

Health Ministry: 288 new coronavirus cases diagnosed in 24 hours

The Health Ministry records 288 new virus cases in the past 24 hours, as the number of active infections nears 4,000.

It says 36 people are in serious condition, 29 of them on ventilators. Another 45 are in moderate condition and the rest are displaying mild symptoms.

There are currently 3,993 active cases. In late May, the number of cases had dipped under 2,000.

The ministry says 15,970 tests were conducted yesterday for the virus.

Earlier, in its morning data report, the ministry recorded 299 cases between Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.

No additional fatalities are reported, keeping the death toll at 303.

Hilltop youth filmed torching construction site in Palestinian village

Hilltop youth set fire to a construction site at the northern West Bank Palestinian village of Burin, in footage released by the Yesh Din rights group.

Ten young, far-right, Israeli activists who came from the direction of the extremist Givat Ronen outpost are seen hurling stones at the partially finished brick walls of a home as an adjacent field goes up in flames.

Residents of Burin tell Yesh Din that the masked settlers, several of them donning tzitzit knotted ritual fringes fled toward the Har Bracha settlement after setting the fire. The rights group said another blaze was reported in the eastern part of Burin an hour later.

Jacob Magid

El Al cancels July flights

The El Al airline announces it’s canceling all of its flights through July.

The ailing Israeli carrier had previously suspended all passenger flights until the end of June.

Palestinian teen enters Israel from Gaza, is sent back

A Palestinian teenager is detained after crossing into Israel from Gaza and quickly sent back into the Strip, the military says.

The Israel Defense Forces say the teenager was caught as he crossed the security fence into Israel.

“[No weapons] were found in the youth’s possession, and he was sent back into the Strip after questioning,” the army says.

Judah Ari Gross

657 infected with COVID-19 at German meatpacking plant

Regional officials in western Germany say the number of new COVID-19 cases linked to a large meatpacking plant has risen to 657, a higher figure than many recent daily increases for the entire country.

Health officials in Guetersloh says they have received a total of 983 test results have so far been received from workers at the Toennies slaughterhouse in Rheda-Wiedenbrueck. Of those, 326 tests were negative.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel praised regional officials for swiftly closing schools in the region.

Company officials at Toennies say the outbreak at the slaughterhouse may have been linked to workers taking the opportunity to visit their families in eastern European countries as border controls were relaxed.

Officials order the closure of the slaughterhouse, as well as isolation and tests for everyone else who had worked at the Toennies site — putting about 7,000 people under quarantine.

AP

Netanyahu confirms vaccine deal inked with Moderna

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu confirms Israel has signed a deal with US biotech firm Moderna to supply it with a vaccine against COVID-19 if the company’s development is successful.

The prime minister says the company is claiming it could have a vaccine ready by the middle of next year. “We hope they are successful, there is no guarantee, but we are interested in receiving these vaccines quickly if and when they are developed. It puts us in a good place, globally.”

He says local Israeli efforts to develop a vaccine continue.

Trains to limit passengers, ban food and drink — TV

Under the new health regulations, train operators will limit the number of passengers considerably, Channel 12 reports.

Passengers will also have to order tickets online, within 48 hours of the ride and won’t be allowed into the stations without a voucher.

Eating and drinking will be banned on the trains, the network says.

NYC set for further reopening as daily virus deaths plummet

New York City’s restaurants and bars — closed for three months due to the coronavirus pandemic — will be allowed to open outside areas next week, Governor Andrew Cuomo says.

America’s financial capital, the epicenter of the country’s coronavirus outbreak, is on track to enter the second phase of a staggered reopening plan on Monday, Cuomo tells reporters.

“It’s up to all of us to ensure a successful reopening. Be smart & be responsible,” he tweets.

Under phase two of the four-stage plan, restaurants and bars can sit customers outside at a socially safe distance but their indoor areas must remain closed, until phase three.

Hair salons and barbershops will also be allowed to open from Monday as well as offices offering professional services in some sectors such as real estate, nonprofit and IT support.

Cuomo reports that 17 state residents had succumbed to COVID-19 in the past 24 hours — a new record low since the pandemic took hold in New York.

The final phase of Cuomo’s plan, expected in late July, will permit entertainment venues, including theaters and museums, to restart limited operations.

AFP

Health minister warns public to keep rules, or train, culture to be banned again

Health Minister Yuli Edelstein says his office backs reopening the trains and cultural venues — but warns the public they will shut both down if rules are not kept.

“If there is no public discipline in accordance with the Health Ministry rules… we will close the train and cultural centers on the very same day,” he tweets.

His statement confirms the government plan to reopen both train routes and arts and culture, both have which have been shuttered for three months amid the pandemic.

High Court justices to disclose conflicts of interest

Beginning in September, High Court justices will publicize their conflict of interest disclosures in a bid to increase public trust in the judiciary, the court says.

Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn, in a tweet, praises the initiative as “an important step to advance transparency.”

In suicide note, couple in 80s said they wanted to die like ‘Romeo and Juliet’

The couple in their 80s found dead in a West Bank settlement planned the double suicide to avoid becoming a burden on their family members, Channel 12 reports, citing a note left at the scene.

“We wanted to die like Romeo and Juliet,” the note added, according to the report.

They also left individual gifts for their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren, labeling them all with the name of the recipients.

The man then took his personal handgun and fatally shot his wife before turning the weapon on himself.

Facebook removes another 900 accounts linked to white supremacists

Facebook has removed another 900 social media accounts linked to white supremacy groups after members discussed plans to bring weapons to protests over police killings of black people.

The accounts on Facebook and Instagram were tied to the Proud Boys and the American Guard, two hate groups already banned on those platforms.

The company announced Tuesday that it recently took down 470 accounts belonging to people affiliated with the Proud Boys and another 430 linked to members of the American Guard.

Nearly 200 other accounts linked to the groups were removed late last month.

Facebook officials have said they were already monitoring the groups’ social media presence and were led to act when they spotted posts attempting to exploit the ongoing protests prompted by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis.

Some of the accounts belonged to men reported to have participated in a brawl with protesters in Seattle, Facebook says. The company does not divulge details of the account users — such as their specific plans for protests or where in the US they live.

“In both cases, we saw accounts from both organizations discussing attending protests in various US states with plans to carry weapons,” the company says in a statement. “But we did not find indications in their on-platform content they planned to actively commit violence.”

Both the Proud Boys and American Guard had been banned from Facebook for violating rules prohibiting hate speech. Facebook says it will continue to remove new pages, groups or accounts created by users trying to circumvent the ban.

AP

Finance minister: Even if virus soars, we won’t impose nationwide lockdown

Finance Minister Israel Katz says Israel won’t again impose a country-wide lockdown to stem the virus, citing the ailing economy.

“We won’t close anything across the board. We can deal with it in a pinpoint manner with enforcement and quarantine. We won’t close any industry across the board. Even if we experience what happened here at the beginning [a sharp rise in virus cases], there is no room for a general closure,” Katz tells Channel 13.

He says the “situation of the economy and Israeli society is likely the most dire in the history of the state, or at least in past decades.”

WHO says more evidence needed on steroid treatment for virus

The emergencies chief of the World Health Organization welcomes the news this week that dexamethasone, a cheap steroid, was shown in a British trial to reduce deaths among patients critically ill with the coronavirus, but says it is too soon to change how patients are treated.

“It’s one of the breakthroughs we’re going to need to effectively deal with COVID-19, but it’s still preliminary data,” says Dr. Michael Ryan at a press briefing on Wednesday. “We will pull together the necessary expert group… and come to a decision around our clinical advice to countries.”

Ryan says that “this is not the time to rush to change clinical practice” and that it was crucial to understand issues like what dose should be used on patients, how patients would be assessed and if there were adequate supplies of the drug.

On Tuesday, when the British researchers announced their findings, the department of health said the dexamethasone had been approved to treat all hospitalized COVID-19 patients, effectively immediately.

WHO director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus notes that in the last two months, more than 6 million coronavirus cases have been logged and says cases are still accelerating globally. In the first two months, only 85,000 cases were reported, mostly from China.

AP

Knesset worker diagnosed with coronavirus

A Knesset employee has been diagnosed with coronavirus, officials at parliament say.

The woman’s contacts during the past two weeks are now being retraced, and any who came into contact with her since June 4 are instructed to act according to Health Ministry guidelines.

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5 Blue and White ministers to resign Knesset for new MKs

Five Blue and White ministers are set to resign from their parliamentary duties under the new so-called Norwegian Law, making way for the entry of five additional lawmakers from the centrist list.

The four ministers, who will stick to their offices but retire their lawmaker role, are Culture Minister Chili Tropper, Science Minister Izhar Shay, Agriculture Minister Alon Schuster, Tourism Minister Asaf Zamir and Michael Biton, who is a minister in the Defense Ministry.

The four confirmed incoming lawmakers, all women, are Michal Cotler-Wunsch, Einav Kabala, Hila Shay, and Tehila Friedman.

The fifth lawmaker has not yet been confirmed after the next candidate on the list, Yorai Lahav-Hertzano, has declined to enter the Knesset, aligning instead with Yesh Atid — Blue and White’s former partner — in the opposition.