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US to let citizens born in Jerusalem list Israel on their passports — report

Politico says policy change, which pro-Israel groups have long pushed for, could be announced as soon as Thursday

Illustrative: Man holding a US passport. (Shutterstock)
Illustrative: Man holding a US passport. (Shutterstock)

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

Knesset votes down proposal to make state documents more LGBT friendly

The Knesset votes down an opposition proposal to change official state documents to make them more inclusive of same-sex couples.

The bill, which was sponsored by Yorai Lahav-Hertzano, is rejected 48-25 during its initial reading in the plenum.

The proposal called for changing the parental information section on all government forms and documents, including identity cards and passports, to read “parent 1” and “parent 2,” as opposed to the current “mother” and “father.”

Members of the coalition’s Blue and White party skip the vote except for MK Eitan Ginzburg, who votes in favor.

Three lawmakers from the right-wing Yamina party also don’t take part in the vote, though MKs Bezalel Smotrich and Ofer Sofir vote against it.

Iran reports 415 virus deaths in single-day record

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran reports 415 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, the second daily record toll in a row in the Middle East’s worst-hit country.

Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says the new fatalities, 69 above yesterday’s record toll, bring Iran’s total virus deaths to 33,714.


Iran’s Rouhani warns insulting Mohammed may encourage ‘violence’ after Macron defends cartoons

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warns that insulting the Prophet Mohammed may encourage “violence and bloodshed” following Paris’ defense of the publication of cartoons depicting the Islamic prophet.

“Insulting the prophet is no achievement. It’s immoral. It’s encouraging violence,” Rouhani says in a televised speech during the weekly cabinet meeting.

“It’s a surprise that this would come from those claiming culture and democracy, that they would somehow, even if unintentionally, encourage violence and bloodshed,” he adds.

French President Emmanuel Macron has strongly defended secular values and the right to mock religion following the murder of a French schoolteacher who had shown his class cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed.

Macron’s comments triggered protests and a call to boycott French goods in some Muslim-majority countries.

Rouhani says that “the West should understand that… insulting the prophet is insulting all Muslims, all prophets, all human values, and trampling ethics.”

He adds that “every single European is in debt to the prophet, as he was the teacher of humanity.”

Rouhani also calls on the West to “stop interfering in Muslims’ internal affairs” if it “truly seeks to achieve peace, equality, calm and security in today’s societies.”

Iran yesterday summoned a senior French envoy, the charge d’affaires, to protest the “unacceptable behavior of the French authorities,” after a chorus of criticism aimed at Macron by top Iranian officials in recent days.


Rivlin lays wreath at Rabin’s grave to mark 25 years since assassination

President Reuven Rivlin lays a wreath at the grave of former prime minister Yitzhak Rabin to mark 25 years since his assassination by a Jewish extremist.

“This year, too, we are marking the day of remembrance despite the state of emergency in which we find ourselves, despite the restrictions the coronavirus imposes on us. We are determined to mark this important day because these memorial ceremonies are links in the chain that binds us to our people, that connect us to ourselves, to our history and to our roots,” Rivlin is quoted saying in a statement from his office.

He adds: “Insisting on holding this day of remembrance is our way of declaring that the memory of Yitzhak Rabin belongs to us, to us all.”

President Reuven Rivlin lays a wreath at the grave of former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin at Mount Herzl national cemetery in Jerusalem, October 28, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

NSC said weighing changing travel policies due to rise in COVID carriers from abroad

The National Security Council is considering changing the current rules on travel to and from Israel due to a growing number of confirmed COVID-19 carriers coming from abroad and the rise in the number of “red” countries with high infection rates, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Over 500,000 new COVID cases confirmed worldwide in new daily record

PARIS — More than 500,000 new coronavirus cases were reported worldwide yesterday in a new record, according to a tally from health authorities compiled by AFP.

In total, 516,898 new infections and 7,723 deaths were announced, according to the tally compiled today.


Abbas denounces US-Israel agreement allowing scientific co-op in West Bank

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the US-Israel agreement to extend scientific cooperation to areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, which some see as as a first step toward American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.

“This is a dangerous and unacceptable precedent, regard which we cannot stay silent,” Abbas’s official spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh says.

“We reject this American policy which attempts to help Israel consolidate its occupation of Palestinian lands. None of these policies will give any legitimacy to anyone. The settlements will one day disappear,” Abu Rudeineh adds.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the bilateral deal “a victory over all the organizations and countries that boycott Judea and Samaria,” using the Biblical term for the West Bank.

— Aaron Boxerman

File: Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 5, 2017. (Flash90)

Netanyahu warns Hezbollah as IDF drills for war against Lebanese terror group

Prime Minister Netanyahu warns Hezbollah against attacking Israel, as he visits a major military drill in the north simulating a war against the Lebanese terror group.

Netanyahu says he observed a “huge improvement in the IDF’s offensive capabilities” while attending the exercise.

“Hezbollah and the state of Lebanon should take this into account,” Netanyahu says in a video statement. “Whoever attacks us will encounter firepower and a steel fist that will destroy any enemy.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) visits a military drill in northern Israel on October 28, 2020. (Amos Ben Gershom/GPO)

Virus czar warns of ‘hidden morbidity’ amid drop in testing

Outgoing coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu says there’s a “green light” from the government to further ease lockdown measures as infection rates continue to decline.

According to Gamzu, there have been an average of some 800 new COVID-19 cases a day over the past week, allowing the government to move to the next stage of a multi-phase plan to roll back a national lockdown imposed last month to contain a surge in infections.

He notes that the decline in new infections has coincided with a drop in testing and warns there is “hidden morbidity.”

Gamzu, who is speaking during a video briefing, calls on Arab Israelis in particular to get tested, amid rising infection rates in the community.

He also says the mandatory quarantine requirement will be shortened from 14 to 10 days, on the condition a person required to isolate twice tests negative.

Coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu speaks during a video briefing on October 28, 2020. (Screen capture: GPO)

Education minister revises plan for reopening schools next week

Education Minister Yoav Gallant announces a revised plan for grades 1-4 to return to classes next week, following criticism of its initial proposal for reopening schools that was approved by the coronavirus cabinet.

Under the plan, students in grades 1-2 will go to school four days a week, up from three under the initial proposal. Grades 3-4 will also attend classes four days a week, down from five.

The Education Ministry says schools able to do so can open for five days a week, but aren’t required to.

It also says the plan would be in effect for two weeks.

France vows not to give in to Turkey’s ‘intimidation attempts’

PARIS — France will continue its fight against Islamic extremism despite criticism from Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and will not give in to “destabilization and intimidation attempts,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal says.

France “will never renounce its principles and values,” Attal says after a cabinet meeting, underscoring “a strong European unity” behind its stance against Islamic violence after the beheading of a French teacher on October 16.

The history teacher, Samuel Paty, was killed while walking home from his school in a Paris suburb by an 18-year-old after a social media campaign criticized him for showing students cartoons of the Prophet Mohammed during a lesson on free speech.

His killing prompted an outpouring of anger in France, which has faced a wave of jihadist attacks since the January 2015 massacre of 12 people at the offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo.

The paper, which had drawn the ire of Muslims worldwide after publishing cartoons mocking the Prophet Mohammed, republished the images last month to mark the opening of a trial for suspected accomplices in the Charlie Hebdo attack.

French President Emmanuel Macron mounted a staunch defense of France’s secular tradition after Paty’s killing, and vowed to crack down on Islamic radicalism, in particular by closing mosques suspected of fomenting extremist ideas.

That prompted Erdogan to accuse Macron of unfairly targeting France’s Muslim community, and fueled the latest diplomatic spat between the two NATO allies in recent months.

Charlie Hebdo further inflamed Turkish critics today after it ran a front-page cartoon of Erdogan that portrayed him drinking a beer in his underwear, while lifting the skirt of a woman wearing a hijab to reveal her naked bottom.

“Ooh, the prophet!” the character says in a speech bubble, while the title proclaims “Erdogan: in private, he’s very funny.”


Microsoft accuses Iranian hackers of targeting conference attendees

REDMOND, Washington — Microsoft says Iranian hackers have posed as conference organizers in Germany and Saudi Arabia in an attempt to break into the email accounts of “high-profile” people with spoofed invitations.

The tech company says it detected attempts by the hacking group it calls Phosphorus to trick former government officials, policy experts and academics.

The targets included more than 100 prominent people invited by the hackers to the Munich Security Conference, which is attended by world leaders each February, and the upcoming Think 20 Summit, which begins later this week in Saudi Arabia but is online-only this year.

“We believe Phosphorus is engaging in these attacks for intelligence collection purposes,” says Tom Burt, Microsoft’s security chief, in a prepared statement. “The attacks were successful in compromising several victims, including former ambassadors and other senior policy experts who help shape global agendas and foreign policies in their respective countries.”

Microsoft doesn’t identify the nationalities of the people targeted. It says the activity is unrelated to the upcoming US elections.

Today’s announcement refers to the hacking group as an “Iranian actor” but doesn’t explicitly tie it to the Iranian government. Microsoft calls it Phosphorus, while others call it APT35 or Charming Kitten.

The Redmond, Washington, tech company has been tracking the group since 2013 and has previously accused it of trying to snoop on activists, journalists, political dissidents, defense industry workers and others in the Middle East.

Cybersecurity researchers have said the group typically tries to infiltrate a target’s personal online accounts and computer networks by luring them into clicking on a link to a compromised website or opening a malicious attachment.

— AP

Prominent Haredi rabbi has recovered from COVID — doctor

The physician for prominent ultra-Orthodox Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky says the 92-year-old has recovered from the coronavirus.

Following Dr. Ori Rogowski’s diagnosis, Kanievsky’s HMO says he is no longer required to quarantine, according to the Ynet news site.

Kanievsky, a leader of the non-Hasidic Lithuanian branch of Haredi Judaism, was confirmed to have the virus earlier this month. His condition briefly worsened a week after he contracted COVID-19.

Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky at his home in the city of Bnei Brak, on September 22, 2020. (Aharon Krohn/Flash90)

Moody’s keeps outlook on Israeli debt unchanged

Moody’s leaves Israel’s credit rating unchanged at A1, while keeping the outlook on Israeli government debt at stable.

“The current rating reflects Israel’s robust medium-term growth potential, strong external position and highly credible institutions, which are balanced against a combination of longer-term demographic challenges and persistent geopolitical risks. These strengths will help the credit profile to withstand the severe but temporary crisis arising from the coronavirus outbreak,” the credit rating agency says in a statement.

In April, Moody’s lowered its outlook on Israeli debt, citing a “deterioration” in the budget deficit that has been made worse by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Finance, health ministers fail to reach agreement on reopening of shops

A meeting between Finance Minister Israel Katz and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein ends without an agreement on allowing shops to reopen, according to Hebrew media reports.

Katz is pushing for stores to be allowed to reopen next week, but Edelstein opposes doing so at this stage.

The so-called coronavirus cabinet is expected to make a decision on the matter when it convenes tomorrow morning.

UK-Iranian ‘hostage’ Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be returned to Tehran jail

LONDON — British-Iranian woman Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe faces a new court appearance next week in Tehran and will be hauled back to jail, her husband says, expressing fear her case could drag on “for years.”

Iran last month abruptly postponed a new trial of Zaghari-Ratcliffe but she has now been told to report to a court on Monday, Richard Ratcliffe says in a statement.

“She was told to pack a bag for prison and bring it with her when the IRGC (Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps) pick her up, since that is where she will be going after court,” he says.

Ratcliffe linked the development to the postponement of a hearing that was due to take place on Tuesday in London, to address Iran’s longstanding demand for the repayment by Britain of hundreds of millions from an old military order.

After speaking with British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday, he said in the statement that the UK government’s diplomatic approach “seems disastrous.”

“It is imperative that the UK protects Nazanin. I told the foreign secretary that I felt the UK is dancing to Iran’s tune, and exposing Nazanin to abuse because of it,” Ratcliffe says.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe (L) and her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, in 2011. (CC BY-SA, Wikimedia)

“As Nazanin’s husband, I do think that if she’s not home for Christmas, there’s every chance this could run for years,” he adds, accusing Iran of “hostage diplomacy.”

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who will turn 42 on Boxing Day, has been on temporary release from Tehran’s Evin prison and under house arrest since earlier this year because of the coronavirus pandemic.

She has spent more than four years in jail or under house arrest since being arrested in the Iranian capital in April 2016 while visiting relatives with her young daughter.

Zaghari-Ratcliffe, who worked for the Thomson Reuters Foundation — the media organisation’s philanthropic arm — denied charges of sedition but was convicted and jailed for five years.


France urges EU to take action Turkey over Erdogan’s ‘provocations’

PARIS — France wants its EU partners to take action, including potential sanctions, against Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan over a series of “provocations,” the country’s Europe minister says.

“We need to go further… We will push for strong European responses, which could include sanctions,” Clement Beaune tells parliament.


Positive COVID test rate falls below 2%

The Health Ministry says 398 new coronavirus cases have been confirmed so far today, bringing the number of infections since the pandemic began to 312,417.

It also confirms two more deaths since midnight, raising the national toll to 2,484.

Of the 12,049 active cases, there are 471 people in serious condition, with 199 on ventilators. Another 109 are in moderate condition and the rest have mild or no symptoms.

The ministry says 20,533 tests have been performed so far today, 1.9 percent of which came back positive.

Germany orders new shutdowns to curb surging infections

BERLIN — Germany orders a new round of shutdowns for the cultural, leisure as well as food and drink sectors, in a bid to halt a surge in new coronavirus infections.

The tough restrictions, which will kick in from Monday and last to the end of November, will also limit the number of people gathering to a maximum of 10 individuals from two households.

Citizens are asked to avoid all unnecessary travel, with overnight stays to be open only for “non-tourism purposes,” says Chancellor Angela Merkel after talks with regional leaders of Germany’s 16 states.

Restaurants, cafes and bars will be closed along with theaters and cinemas.

Swimming pools, gyms and other sporting facilities will also be shut and professional sports ordered behind closed doors.

Schools and shops will however be allowed to stay open, says the German leader.

To cushion the economic blow, Germany will offer up to 10 billion euros ($12 billion) in aid to sectors hit by the latest measures.

Merkel acknowledges that the measures were “strict” and “arduous” but she noted that at the current rate of new infections, “we will reach the limits of the health system.”

The number of new cases has doubled from a week earlier, while the number of people in intensive care has also doubled in the last 10 days, she noted.

Germany had coped relatively well with the first coronavirus wave earlier this year, but numbers have soared in recent weeks.


Albania hosts online Balkan forum against anti-Semitism

TIRANA, Albania — Albania holds an online forum against anti-Semitism, the first time such a meeting has been staged in the Balkans, with Prime Minister Edi Rama calling anti-Semitism “a threat to our own civilization.”

The Balkans Forum Against Anti-Semitism was organized by Albania’s Parliament in partnership with the New York-based Combat Anti-Semitism Movement (CAM) and the Jewish Agency for Israel. It was held online due to the virus pandemic.

“We need to continue and fight any form of anti-Semitism, which is a threat to our own civilization … upon which our common future is being built,” Rama says.

Last week Albania’s parliament unanimously approved the definition of anti-Semitism from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA), which describes hate speech and other acts that discriminate against the Jewish people or the state, their properties or religious objects.

The CAM calls the approval a “landmark decision” and urged other countries to join it.

Today’s forum aims at creating “a united front among the Balkans to act collectively against anti-Semitism, including the removal of hatred and bigotry from our discourse, creating a more tolerant Europe,” organizers said in their invitation.

Regional top leaders, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and other officials from the Balkans, Europe and the US took part.

“Let’s continue to make sure that people of all faiths can live and flourish side by side in peace,” Pompeo says in his speech.

— AP

Denmark backs France in new row over Muhammad cartoon

COPENHAGEN, Denmark — Denmark, where cartoons of the Prophet Muhammad that triggered a global backlash among Muslims were first published in 2005, says it stands in solidarity with France over a new surge in outrage.

“Freedom of expression is a fundamental value in a democracy,” Danish Foreign Minister Jeppe Kofod tells TV2 television.

“Denmark stands in solidarity with France.”

Kofod complains of “questionable” behavior by Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who suggested French President Emmanuel Macron needed “mental checks” when he said the country would not stop producing cartoons following the beheading by a suspected Islamist of a teacher who had shown them in class.

Erdogan has also accused Macron of “Islamophobia.”


Iran’s Khamenei calls Macron’s support for Muhammad cartoons a ‘stupid act’

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei calls the French president’s support for cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad a “stupid act” and an “insult” to those who voted for him.

“Ask your president why he supports insulting God’s messenger in the name of freedom of expression. Does freedom of expression mean insulting, especially a sacred personage?” Khamenei says, referring to French President Emmanuel Macron, in a message addressed to “French youth” on his official website.

“Isn’t this stupid act an insult to the reason of the people who elected him?” he adds.


Iran’s Khamenei likens Holocaust denial to Muhammad cartoons

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei appears to liken Holocaust denial to cartoons deemed insulting to the Muslim Prophet Muhammad.

“The next question to ask is: why is it a crime to raise doubts about the Holocaust? Why should anyone who writes about such doubts be imprisoned while insulting the Prophet (pbuh) is allowed?” he writes on Twitter.

The comment comes as Khamenei and other Muslim leaders rage against French President Emmanuel Macron for defending cartoons that depict Muhammad, after a teacher in France was beheaded for showing one to students.

US to let citizens born in Jerusalem list Israel on their passports — report

The Trump administration is expected to announce it will allow US citizens born in Jerusalem to list Israel as their country of birth on their passports, Politico reports.

According to the news site, which cites an unnamed US official, the policy change could be announced as soon as tomorrow.

Current US policy is that American citizens born in Jerusalem identify only the city as their birthplace in their passports, unless they were born before Israel’s creation in 1948. In those cases, they can list “Palestine” as their birthplace.

The reported change will follow a series of other recent moves by Trump seen as pro-Israel, ahead of next week’s US presidential elections.

Ministers may allow synagogues to reopen next week — report

Synagogues may be allowed to reopen as soon as Sunday as part of a rollback of lockdown measures, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

According to the report, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has dropped his opposition to allowing synagogues to reopen, on the condition that attendance indoors be capped at 10 and outdoors at 20.

A separate report from Channel 12 news says outgoing coronavirus czar Ronni Gamzu won’t oppose the reopening of synagogues.

Under the current virus restrictions, gatherings of up 10 people are allowed indoors and up to 20 outdoors, though synagogues and other houses of worship are barred from opening.

The reopening of houses of worship is expected to be deliberated by ministers when the so-called coronavirus cabinet convenes tomorrow morning.

Senior Hamas official warns Gaza border violence could resume

Senior Hamas official Khalil al-Hayya warns there could be a resumption of violence on the border between the Gaza Strip and Israel in the near future.

“The period of the latest ceasefire with the occupation is approaching its end,” al-Hayya says. “The occupation insists on maintaining Gaza under siege, and we shall not accept that.”

Al-Hayya doesn’t specify which conditions of the past summer’s ceasefire Israel haven’t been fulfilled. But the Hamas terror group has often escalated tensions on Israel’s border in order to pressure Israel into mediating with Qatar to bring humanitarian aid into the embattled coastal enclave.

Gaza has been under a crippling 13-year blockade by both Israel and Egypt since 2007. Israel says that the blockade is necessary to protect its security from Hamas, the Strip’s de facto rulers. But the economic and humanitarian cost to ordinary Gazans has been enormous, with rampant power cuts and over 50% unemployment.

— Aaron Boxerman

Hamas senior political leader Khalil al-Hayya in Cairo, Egypt on November 22, 2017. (AFP Photo/Mohamed El-Shahed)

Riga Holocaust museum to stay open after city government waives rent

JTA — The city government of Latvia’s capital Riga has waived its demand for rent from a Holocaust museum whose director said it couldn’t afford to pay.

The Riga City Council withdrew its intention to collect $12,000 in rent per month from the Riga Ghetto Museum, one of the city’s three Holocaust museums, Rabbi Menachem Barkahan, who heads the Shamir Association that runs the museum, tells the Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

The city also revised its plan to rezone most of the area it had leased to the museum for 10 years, agreeing to take away only half of its allocated 6,500 square feet. “This will allow the museum to keep its main exhibition, Ghetto Street, as is,” Shamir Association says in a statement.

The museum’s previous 10-year lease, which expired this year, did not charge any rent.

Shamir “welcomed the decision, and thanked the council for choosing to maintain the agreement,” the statement says.

The Nazis and their collaborators murdered about 70,000 Jews in Latvia during the Holocaust. The Riga Ghetto refers to areas of the city where Jews were forced to live during the Holocaust.


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Abbas denounces US-Israel agreement allowing scientific co-op in West Bank

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas condemns the US-Israel agreement to extend scientific cooperation to areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Six Day War, which some see as as a first step toward American recognition of Israeli sovereignty in the West Bank.

“This is a dangerous and unacceptable precedent, regard which we cannot stay silent,” Abbas’s official spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh says.

“We reject this American policy which attempts to help Israel consolidate its occupation of Palestinian lands. None of these policies will give any legitimacy to anyone. The settlements will one day disappear,” Abu Rudeineh adds.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the bilateral deal “a victory over all the organizations and countries that boycott Judea and Samaria,” using the Biblical term for the West Bank.

— Aaron Boxerman

File: Nabil Abu Rudeineh, spokesman of PA President Mahmoud Abbas, speaks at a press conference in the West Bank city of Ramallah on December 5, 2017. (Flash90)