The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.
After Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says a journalist who published an investigative report about him should be jailed, his partner in the unity government, Defense Minister Benny Gantz, tweets: “”Journalists’ job is to critique us. So it has been, so it is now and so it will continue.”
Gantz is joined by other Blue and White officials including Communications Minister Yoaz Handel and Social Equality Minister Merav Cohen, who defend the freedom of the press.
In response to a Channel 13 investigative report detailing Netanyahu’s alleged pressuring of the owner of the Walla news site Shaul Elovitch to provide positive coverage in exchange for regulatory benefits — an issue for which the prime minister is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000 — Likud and Netanyahu issued a statement claiming veteran journalist Raviv Drucker was “running wild with leaks and extortion of witnesses.” It claimed “the game is rigged” against Netanyahu. “In a proper world Raviv Drucker would be going to jail today for airing criminal leaks and obstructing justice.”
Drucker aired recording transcriptions of conversations in which Elovitch said Netanyahu was doing many things for him, things “I wouldn’t believe…I feel I owe [him] all the time… and I’m not delivering.”
In another transcript, then-Walla CEO Ilan Yeshua complains to Elovitch of being “a string puppet” for Netanyahu and warns news reports benefiting the Netanyahu family must be done “carefully” or management could face a revolt from the newsroom.
The prime minister is set to hold a situation assessment at 3 p.m. with top officials to discuss the possibility of reintroducing restrictions on the public due to the growing rate of coronavirus infections.
The European Union announces plans to ease a ban on nonessential travel to the continent, with foreign students, non-EU nationals who normally live in Europe and certain highly skilled workers likely to be exempt from the coronavirus restrictions from July 1.
After the virus began spreading throughout Europe in March, the EU gradually extended a ban on all nonessential travel into the 27 member countries plus Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and Switzerland until June 15.
With borders inside Europe’s ID check-free travel area likely to be fully functional again by the end of June, the EU’s executive arm, the European Commission, is recommending that outside borders be opened to give a much-needed boost to virus-ravaged economies and in particular the tourism sector.
“While we will all have to remain careful, the time has come to make concrete preparations for lifting restrictions with countries whose health situation is similar to the EU’s and for resuming visa operations,” EU Home Affairs Commissioner Ylva Johansson said.
China reacts angrily to a US military transport jet’s flight over the self-ruled island of Taiwan, calling it an “illegal act” and “serious provocation.”
The overflight adds to rising tensions between Washington and Beijing over a slew of issues, and the US relationship with the island claimed by China is high on the list of disagreements.
Taiwan’s defense ministry said a Boeing C-40A Clipper transport jet flew over the island on Tuesday, the same day Taiwan intercepted several Chinese fighter jets that flew into the island’s southwest airspace.
A spokeswoman for Beijing’s Taiwan Affairs Office says the US flight “harms our sovereignty, security and development interests, and violates basic principles of international law and international relations.”
Defense Minister Benny Gantz spoke this morning with European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, his office says.
Gantz told Borrell he is “committed to advance the peace process” and stated his desire to keep an open dialogue with the EU and regional partners.
The statement makes no explicit mention of Israel’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, saying the sides discussed “strengthening Israeli-EU relations” and Iran’s regional threat.
More than 180,000 people have been infected in Iran’s coronavirus outbreak since it first emerged nearly four months ago, an official says.
As the figures are announced, President Hassan Rouhani calls on Iranians to stick to guidelines aimed at stopping the spread of COVID-19.
“If everyone follows the health instructions exactly, then all jobs can be reopened,” he says in remarks broadcast on state television.
“We are progressing slowly and step by step [because we don’t want] our people to think that the coronavirus era has passed. This would pose a major health problem for us.”
Health ministry spokeswoman Sima Sadat Lari says 2,238 new infections in the past 24 hours took the total to 180,156.
A Norwegian court sentenceד a right-wing extremist to a minimum of 21 years in prison for a 2019 mosque attack near Oslo and for murdering his step-sister in a racially-motivated act.
He is found guilty of trying to “kill as many Muslims as possible,” though no one was seriously injured in the mosque attack.
“Philip Manshaus… is sentenced to 21 years of ‘forvaring,'” a court west of Oslo rules, using the Norwegian term for a custodial sentence that can be extended indefinitely.
A self-proclaimed neo-Nazi, 22-year-old Manshaus was arrested on August 10, 2019, after opening fire in the Al-Noor mosque in the affluent Oslo suburb of Baerum while wearing a bulletproof vest and a helmet with a camera strapped to it.
Just three worshipers were in the mosque at the time. One of them, a 65-year-old man, overpowered Manshaus.
“Manshaus has said that his plan was not only to kill as many Muslims as possible but that he wanted to destabilize society and accelerate the race war,” the court says in its verdict.
The body of his 17-year-old stepsister, Johanne Zhangjia Ihle-Hansen, was later found in their home.
Border Police say they’ve arrested four residents of Abu Dis, near Jerusalem, suspected of attacking a Border Police post near the town on May 15 with bombs and Molotov cocktails.
Three of the suspects were shot and injured during the incident and remain injured, officials say.
There are “gaps” between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the American position on Jerusalem’s plans to annex parts of the West Bank, Settlement Affairs Minister Tzipi Hotovely of Likud told Army Radio earlier, as well as with Likud’s partner in the government, Blue and White.
The remarks appear to confirm widely circulated reports that Washington is less eager than Netanyahu to swiftly approve the annexation push.
A crisis has emerged in the relations between Iran and Hamas after the latter discovered that Tehran operated spies to follow the movements of deputy leader Moussa Abu Marzouk, Channel 12 reports.
The network’s report by senior Arab affairs correspondent Ehud Yaari does not cite any sources.
The report says a staffer in Abu Marzouk’s office was an agent for Iranian intelligence, and reported his movements and conversations during his various trips abroad. Other agents are believed to have been involved as well.
It further said Abu Marzouk is known to be averse to the close ties between Iran and Hamas.
Police have opened an investigation into reports two players in the Maccabi Tel Aviv soccer group had sexual relations with minors, Haaretz reports.
Channel 13 reported yesterday night that according to suspicions, two senior players met the two high school students, aged less than 16, at a party where they exchanged phone numbers. They later met at the house of one of the players, where they had sex.
Associates of the players tell Haaretz the girls presented themselves as 17, and say they have text messages proving so.
No complaint has been filed with police so far.
Iran insists it is ready to resolve any issues with the UN nuclear watchdog, expressing “disappointment” in a note circulated today over the International Atomic Energy Agency’s latest report complaining of blocked access.
Iran argues that the requests for access are based on “fabricated information,” accusing the US and Israel of trying to “exert pressure on the agency.”
The IAEA said in a report seen by AFP last Friday that Iran has for months blocked inspections at two sites where nuclear activity may have occurred in the past.
In a note to the IAEA dated June 8, Iran said it had held meetings with agency representatives in Tehran on April 29 and May 16 to discuss the access issues, followed by written correspondence and a fresh proposal to meet with IAEA representatives.
In the note circulated by Tehran’s mission to the UN in Vienna today, Iran insists it “continued its constructive engagement with the agency during the past two months, with a view to reach a common understanding… which would pave the way for the resolution of concerned issues.”
US President Donald Trump orders sanctions against any official at the International Criminal Court who prosecutes US troops as the tribunal studies alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.
“The International Criminal Court’s actions are an attack on the rights of the American people and threaten to infringe upon our national sovereignty,” a White House statement says.
A senior administration official not authorized to publicly discuss the order says the ICC investigation violates US national sovereignty and alleges that Russia may be encouraging accusations against US personnel.
The executive order signed by the president marks his administration’s latest attack against international organizations, treaties and agreements that do not hew to its policies.
— with AP and AFP
The outgoing director-general of the Health Ministry, Moshe Bar Siman-Tov, says an inquiry into the actions of his deputy Itamar Grotto will be conducted “in an orderly manner.”
He tells Channel 12 that public trust in health officials is “our most important tool.”
Grotto’s job is believed to be on the line after it emerged that he granted Israeli-Cypriot billionaire Teddy Sagi’s request to be exempt from having to quarantine for 14 days upon arriving in Israel during a recent visit.
Sources in Health Ministry told Channel 12 yesterday that Grotto had handed out other such approvals.
Health Minister Yuli Edelstein has instructed Bar Siman-Tov to probe the matter, but has said he “won’t act forgivingly” if it emerges Grotto acted out of line.
Syrian President Bashar Assad has fired his prime minister a month ahead of elections as the economic crisis worsens and public anger rises in the territory under his control.
Assad appoints the current water resources minister to replace Imad Khamis, who has been the premier since 2016. The Syrian president asked Hussein Arnous to replace Khamis until parliament elections are held next month and a new government comes in.
The surprise move comes amid a deepening economic crisis that Assad’s government has been facing. Syria’s national currency is tumbling to the dollar, reaching unprecedented lows while food prices have skyrocketed.
At a government meeting on rising coronavirus infections led by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, officials decided to designate new “red zones” of high illness rates, Hebrew media reports.
In the red zones, authorities will introduce more stringent limitations and enforcement than in the rest of the country.
The first red zones will be declared in sothern Tel Aviv neighborhood populated by foreign workers, as well as on several Bedouin villages in the Negev, Channel 12 reports.
MK Ayelet Shaked of Yamina, the former justice minister, welcomes US President Donald Trump’s decision to sanction any members of the International Criminal Court who are involved in investigating American troops and intelligence officials for possible war crimes in Afghanistan.
“The International Criminal Court is being misused by the Palestinians and others to pursue political campaigns against democracies, while distorting international law,” she says.
The International Criminal Court is being misused by the Palestinians and others to pursue political campaigns against democracies, while distorting international law.
— איילת שקד ayelet shaked (@Ayelet__Shaked) June 11, 2020
Two journalistic associations and a good governance group have issued rebukes of Likud and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for asserting that a top journalist should be jailed over an investigative report into one of the premier’s criminal cases.
The Israel Press Association says that “In a proper democracy neither a prime minister nor anyone on his behalf issues threats of incarceration, explicit or implicit, against reporters, even if they dare to investigate suspicions relating to him personally.
“It is still the judicial system, and it alone, that decides on jail sentences.”
The Union of Journalists in Israel says it condemns “the call to throw a reporter in jail just for doing his job. This response is the crossing of a red line, and could… encourage harm to the journalist, the media outlet he works for and the freedom of the press.”
The Movement for Quality Government is also appalled, saying “In a normal country a prime minister doesn’t threaten to put a journalist in jail… We stand by the brave reporter Raviv Drucker and hope journalists continue to stand up for their principles and seek truth.”
In response to a Channel 13 investigative report detailing Netanyahu’s alleged pressuring of the owner of the Walla news site Shaul Elovitch to provide positive coverage in exchange for regulatory benefits — an issue for which the prime minister is on trial for bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000 — Likud and Netanyahu issued a statement claiming veteran journalist Drucker was “running wild with leaks and extortion of witnesses.”
Likud further claimed that “the game is rigged” against Netanyahu, and that “in a proper world, Raviv Drucker would be going to jail today for airing criminal leaks and obstructing justice.”
Drucker, meanwhile, notes in an interview with 103FM Radio that as a journalist, he is doing nothing wrong by reporting on information leaked to him.
He claims Netanyahu is taking a page from Trump’s playbook of delegitimizing the media. “Netanyahu has forsaken any attempt at subtlety or ambiguity,” he adds.
Yamina MK Bezalel Smotrich, known for his less-than-wholesome rhetoric on Arabs, says during a tour in the Negev that the birthrate among the Bedouin population there is “a type of bomb, and if we don’t defuse it, it’ll blow up in our face,” Haaretz reports.
He says the Bedouin “double their numbers every 12 years, so it’s something that needs to be taken care of,” adding “the more Western you make them, the more birthrate will come down.”
Smotrich says he wants “to maintain the Jewish majority, not just in Israel but in the Negev. That’s the vision of [David] Ben-Gurion, not of Yamina.”
He adds that the nomad Bedouin population should be encouraged to live in towns, get formal education and join the workforce.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is set to make a statement to the media at 7:30 p.m. alongside the health and finance ministers on the ongoing efforts to curb the spread of coronavirus.
Defense Minister Benny Gantz speaks with his American counterpart Defense Secretary Mark Esper, discussing Iran’s activities in the Middle East and other “regional security concerns,” Gantz’s office says.
This is his first such conversation with Esper since Gantz entered his position last month.
“The two discussed both governments’ efforts to address the novel coronavirus and the need to deter adversaries that may seek to exploit global attention to the pandemic,” Gantz’s office says in a statement.
“They reviewed shared interests on regional security concerns, with an emphasis on the necessity to halt the Iranian threat, as well as opportunities to build a more stable and prosperous Middle East,” the defense minister’s office says.
Gantz’s spokesperson refuses to comment on whether the two discussed Israel’s reported plans to annex portions of the West Bank.
During the call, Gantz and Esper also discussed plans to streamline Israel’s arms purchases from the United States in the coming weeks. “Secretary Esper and Minister Gantz committed to meeting in person at the earliest opportunity,” Gantz’s office says.
— Judah Ari Gross
The EU’s diplomatic chief voices “serious concern” at moves by President Donald Trump to sanction any International Criminal Court officials who investigate US troops.
Ramping up pressure for the Hague-based court to stop its probe of alleged war crimes in Afghanistan, Trump issued an executive order to block all US property and assets of anyone involved in probing or prosecuting American forces.
“For sure this is a matter of serious concern because we as the European Union are steadfast supporters of the International Criminal Court,” EU foreign affairs high representative Josep Borrell tells reporters.
“The court has been playing a key role in providing international justice and addressing the gravest international crimes — it is a key factor in bringing justice and peace. It must be respected and supported by all nations.”
Borrell says he will study Trump’s order further to assess its implications, and the matter may be discussed by EU foreign ministers when they hold video talks on Monday.
A 10-day-old Syrian baby was flown into Israel from Cyprus earlier today for an emergency procedure to correct a congenital heart defect, according to the Sheba Medical Center.
The infant received the surgery earlier today and is now in recovery, on a respirator, a spokesman for the Ramat Gan hospital says.
This is the first time that the Sheba Medical Center — often ranked as one of the world’s top hospitals — has received an emergency case from abroad like this since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the spokesman. Such situations were regularly common before the outbreak, including with countries with which Israel does not have diplomatic ties, like Syria and Iraq.
The baby’s father is staying at the hospital as well, until doctors determine that the child is well enough for them to travel, which will likely take several weeks.
— Judah Ari Gross
In a press briefing on rising infection numbers, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu entreats Israelis to go back to maintaining stringent hygienic precautions, warning that if the country cannot bring the coronavirus under control, there will be no choice but to bring back sweeping restrictions on the public.
He said the daily infection numbers — at around 150-170 new cases a day — are similar to those before the country’s steep rise began in late March, forcing a complete closure of the country.
“It’s climbing quickly,” Netanyahu says. “We cannot allow a situation of a return to exponential growth… We must stop this growth in time. If it continues we will be forced to bring back restrictions.”
He says the virus “doesn’t care about our desires, about our wishes, about our economy. It cares only about whether we keep to the rules.”
He calls on the public to closely watch the three points he abbreviates as MAMI (in Hebrew, also “sweetie”): distance, masks, and hands.
“The virus only respects those who respect the rules,” he says. “Go back to keeping the rules.”
Prime Minister Netanyahu welcomes the US decision to sanction members of the International Criminal Court investigating US troops in Afghanistan, saying the ICC has unfairly targeted both the US and Israel.
“This kangaroo court is a politicized court,” he says at a briefing largely focused on the coronavirus crisis. “It’s obsessed with conducting witch hunts against Israel, the United States and other democracies that respect human rights, while turning a blind eye to the world’s greatest abusers of human rights, including the terrorist regime in Iran.”
He adds that “The ICC fabricates outlandish charges against Israel, outrageously claiming that Jews living in their historic homeland constitutes a war crime. Ridiculous! Shame on them.”
In December the ICC’s top prosecutor announced there was a “basis” to probe Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank, the 2014 Gaza war, the Israeli response to violent protests on the Gaza border, and the targeting of civilians by Hamas and other Palestinian terror groups. The decision elicited a scathing Israeli response.
“And once again America, thank you for standing up for justice, and for standing up for truth,” Netanyahu finishes.
Haaretz reports that Donald Trump’s decision to announce sanctions against ICC figures was coordinated with Israel through conversations between Prime Minister Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
The Health Ministry’s latest data shows 214 new coronavirus cases were diagnosed in the past 24 hours, continuing rising trend.
There are currently 3,019 active cases out of a total of 18,569 diagnoses. Thirty-four of the patients are in serious condition, with 24 of them on ventilators. Another 39 are in moderate condition and the rest are suffering light symptoms only.
The death toll remains at 300.
The ministry further says 17,212 tests were conducted yesterday, as Israel seriously ramps up its figures on that front.
Prime Minister Netanyahu was asked at the coronavirus press conference if he would like to take back his retweet calling to jail a journalist, Channel 13’s Raviv Drucker, without trial, for doing his job. He was reminded that he once said of Turkey that a state that jails journalists is not a democratic state.
“I am not a believer in putting journalists in jail, yes. That’s absurd. And if that was said, it was very unfortunate phrasing by the spokesperson. That happens from time to time,” he said.
Netanyahu, who had retweeted a statement issued by his Likud party, did not directly acknowledge his retweet.
The premier also added that “It cannot be that journalists obstruct legal proceedings. It cannot be that journalists manipulate witnesses in legal proceedings. This cannot be. These things must be checked and probed. Nobody is above the law — and that includes journalists.”
There is no evidence that Drucker has done any of these things — having reported on leaked transcripts of conversations between suspects and witnesses in the prime minister’s criminal cases.
Tel Aviv’s only Arab city council member says he will withdraw from the city’s ruling coalition following a plan to demolish a Muslim cemetery and replace it with a homeless shelter.
Abed Gazaabou Shehadeh (Jaffa List) says that the city’s insensitivity to the feelings of Jaffa residents and disregard for the Islamic heritage of the site violate the coalition agreements which his party entered.
The site, known in Arabic as Maqbarat al-Is’aaf, is Tel Aviv’s only known Muslim graveyard.
Demonstrations against the planned demolition have taken place for three consecutive days in Jaffa, with some protesters clashing with police. Five have been arrested so far.
About 17,000 Arab Israelis live in Tel-Aviv Jaffa. They constitute around 4% of the city’s population.
— Aaron Boxerman
Hamas political committee member Mousa Abu Marzouk denies reports in Israeli media that Iranian intelligence was tracking his movements from within his own office.
“There is no truth to the claims being circulated in the occupation’s media,” Marzouk, a high-ranking member of the Gaza-based terror group, writes on Twitter. He says the claims are a “fabrication whose sole purpose is to stir up trouble.”
The report, first published by Channel 12, claims a staffer in Abu Marzouk’s office was an agent for Iranian intelligence, and reported his movements and conversations during his various trips abroad. Other agents are believed to have been involved as well.
The World Council of Churches is asking European diplomats to punish Israel with sanctions if it annexes West Bank lands. The request has triggered a heated debate in Christian circles.
The call to punish Israel came last month in a letter to EU foreign ministers from the Geneva headquarters of the council, an umbrella body established in 1948 that now has 350 member churches with about 500,000 followers among them. The Catholic Church is not a member.
If Israel annexes land, the letter says, “the EU must surely suspend the EU-Israel Association Agreement,” a reference to a 1995 contract that promotes trade between the bloc and the Jewish state. In addition, the EU should apply sanctions on Israel “at least commensurate with those adopted by the EU in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea.”
The EU has blacklisted hundreds of Russian individuals and firms over alleged involvement in the Crimea annexation from 2014, subjecting them to entry bans and freezing of EU properties.
“The unilateral annexation of yet more of the territory that remains to Palestinians cannot lead to justice or to peace, but only to greater injustice,” the church body wrote.
US biotech firm Regeneron Pharmaceuticals is the latest company to start clinical trials on a potential treatment for coronavirus, using antibodies produced by those who have recovered from COVID-19.
The treatment uses a combination of two antibodies to treat those sick with the virus and as a preventive measure to help inoculate those still healthy.
“We have created a unique anti-viral antibody cocktail with the potential both to prevent and treat infection,” the company’s chief scientific officer George Yancopoulos says in a statement.
Regeneron does not give a timetable for when it believes tests will be completed.
As infections in Israel rise, Cyprus is no longer enthusiastic about Israeli tourists returning to the island, Channel 12 reports.
The report says Cyprus has downgraded Israel from A to B in its three risk categories.
It says Israelis flying to Cyprus will need to provide results from a coronavirus tests carried out 72 hours before the flight, showing a negative result.