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AG heard cursing out state attorney for failing to close case against him

‘Do you understand that that maniac isn’t making a decision on my case?’ Mandelblit recorded saying of affair in which he was cleared by the Supreme Court

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s news as it unfolded.

Cabinet debate on easing lockdown could be postponed to Thursday – ministers

Cabinet ministers tell the Ynet news site that a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet that is set to take place today may be pushed off to Thursday amid disagreements over a strategy to reopen the economy as Israel’s second lockdown winds down.

The report says the differences between various ministries have to do, among other things, with when preschools and kindergartens will reopen, along with the reopening of Haredi yeshivas and the lifting of the one-kilometer limit on travel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, responding to news that the meeting could be postponed, says, “The debate over an exit strategy cannot be postponed any further. Small businesses are continuing to collapse, and we must deliberate returning children to [school and preschool].”

Ronni Gamzu, the government coronavirus czar, seems to side with the move to postpone the meeting.

“I’ve only just now heard about it,” he says before delivering a briefing in the Jerusalem municipality. “In any event, today there would not have been final decisions regarding easing [the terms of the lockdown] but rather only general outlines.”

Israeli official cautiously optimistic ahead of Lebanon border talks

A senior official in the Energy Ministry expresses cautious optimism about the maritime border talks with Lebanon that are set to start tomorrow morning.

“If the other side comes to the talks with an pragmatic approach, I hope that we can solve the dispute and move forward within a short period of time — weeks, months,” the senior official tells diplomatic reporters in a briefing, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“Of course, if the other sides comes with the intention to reach another victory over the ‘Zionist enemy,’ then they can continue to celebrate victories like they did for the last 10 years,” he adds ironically, adding that the current Israeli-Lebanese argument about the exact delineation of the maritime borders has been going on for a decade.

The official stresses that the talks, starting tomorrow at 10 a.m. in a tent on a United Nations base north of the border, are not to be mistaken as the beginning of a normalization process similar to those with the UAE or Bahrain. Rather, they are focused exclusively on settling the maritime border dispute to enable both countries to start looking for natural gas on their side of the border.

Raphael Ahren

Europe hits record of over 700,000 new weekly cases

The World Health Organization says European nations reported more than 700,000 new coronavirus cases last week — the highest-ever figure since the start of the pandemic.

In a weekly briefing published today, WHO says weekly virus cases and deaths across Europe jumped by 34% and 16%, respectively. Britain, France, Russia and Spain accounted for more than half of the new cases seen in the region.

WHO notes that the number of new cases reported in Spain showed a “noticeable decline” in comparison to recent weeks. But in Poland, WHO says virus cases and deaths spiked by 93% and 104%, respectively, and the government has tightened restrictions to try avoiding another lockdown.

WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said this week that the agency understood the frustration people were feeling as the pandemic drags on but warned “there are no shortcuts and no silver bullets.”

WHO described lockdowns a “last resort” when countries have no other options and urged officials to use more targeted methods to stop the virus.


Journalist, Rabin aide Haber remembered as model of unity in polarized times

Eitan Haber, a former journalist and the closest political aide to slain prime minister Yitzhak Rabin, is buried in Tel Aviv.

Haber died Wednesday at the age of 80 after battling a serious illness for three years. He was the official who famously issued a tearful announcement of Rabin’s death by assassination on the night of November 4, 1995.

The funeral, held in accordance with coronavirus restrictions, is attended by a small number of relatives and friends including former prime minister Ehud Barak and former chief rabbi Yisrael Meir Lau, as well as the daughter of Haber’s former boss, Dalia Rabin-Pelossof.

“We are saying goodbye to Eitan, a man who left a mark on everyone he happened upon,” said Barak, who served under Rabin. “Those who were worldly and those who were not, families hit by terror and the heartbroken whose loved ones were taken abruptly.”

“A humble man, without sharp elbows, with a calm tone that was never raised,” Barak said, according to the Ynet news site. “In these days of incitement and polarization, we should have adhered to the example of Eitan’s actions.”

Lau also touches on the need for national unity and to take the relationship of Rabin and Haber as an example.

“A few days since the bad news came and we are engrossed in memories,” Lau says.

“Twenty five years have passed [since Rabin’s assassination],” he adds. “We need to learn today, especially at a time when the divisions are deep and the lava is bubbling; we need to learn from this incredible pairing. Despite the division, despite the different education, when there is a goal, the Jewish people and the Land of Israel will find the golden path to eternity.”

Lebanese president meets with members of delegation to talks with Israel

Lebanese President Michel Aoun meets with the delegation of Lebanese officials set to begin maritime border talks with Israel tomorrow morning, according to the official Lebanese National News Agency.

Aoun seemingly rules out any chance that the talks could lead to further normalization with the Jewish state. Partially due to memories of a 1982 Israeli invasion and the subsequent 18-year occupation of southern Lebanon, Beirut has long taken a harsh stance on ties with Israel and has banned its citizens from communicating with Israelis.

“President Aoun stressed that these negotiations are technical and specific to the demarcation of maritime borders, and that discussions should be limited to this specific issue,” LNNA says.

“President Aoun expressed his hope that an equitable solution safeguarding the sovereign rights of the Lebanese people will be reached,” Aoun’s press office says in a statement.

— Aaron Boxerman

Gamzu: If cabinet meeting pushed off, lockdown will have to be extended

Gamzu, the coronavirus czar, says that if the cabinet meeting is postponed to Thursday, the lockdown will have to be extended by a few days at least.

“Since everything is very fresh, I suppose I will have a conversation in the coming hours with the health minister and the prime minister, and decisions will be made,” he tells journalists in Jerusalem.

“I have to hear what they have to say,” he adds. “I haven’t yet been updated about the postponement of the cabinet meeting.

“I have a conversation scheduled with the prime minister and, obviously, if the cabinet meeting is pushed off to Thursday, we will have to extend the lockdown regulations by a few days.”

Israel-UAE flights ‘delayed to January’

Direct flights between Israel and the UAE, slated to begin in October after a landmark normalization deal, are to be postponed until January because of the coronavirus, an Israeli official says.

The air link announced after the two states signed the deal at the White House last month aims to open up tourism and new business ventures despite the COVID-19 slowdown.

But a second lockdown in Israel, which now has one of the world’s highest infection rates per capita, has put plans on hold, denting hopes for quick gains.

“I feel with the COVID that we’re kind of running with our hands behind our backs,” Jerusalem Deputy Mayor Fleur Hassan-Nahoum tells AFP during a visit to Dubai, a member of the United Arab Emirates.

“There were supposed to be direct flights in October, then Israel went into shutdown. Now, when I speak to officials here and there, we’re looking at the first of January,” says Hassan-Nahoum, who is also co-founder of the UAE-Israel Business Council.

Despite the delay, Hassan-Nahoum said the tourism sector will be among the first to benefit from the normalization agreement.

With the accord having taken everyone by surprise, there are few firm projections, but she says industry experts estimate 100,000-250,000 visitors a year from each side.


Coronavirus cabinet meeting delayed

The cabinet secretary says a meeting of the so-called coronavirus cabinet on steps to reopen the economy has been delayed pending the completion of a series of consultations.

He does not say when the meeting, which was slated to convene today at 3 p.m., is expected to take place, but Netanyahu and Health Minister Yuli Edelstein have sought to push it off till Thursday.

The health minister is saying that the daily infection rate is still too high to merit discussions on lifting the lockdown.

UK says company that sold bulldozers used to raze Palestinian homes may be in breach of rules

The sale of heavy machinery made by the British JCB company that was used to demolish Palestinian structures in the West Bank may have been in breach of OECD guidelines, a UK government body says.

A complaint was lodged against JCB by the Lawyers for Palestinian Human Rights organization in December 2019, using a UK government complaints system that was created to allow individuals and groups to challenge multinationals seen not to be keeping to the standards set by the OECD, according to The Guardian.

Israel demolishes a house built without a permit in Yatta, in the West Bank on August 11, 2020 (Wisam Hashlamoun/Flash90)

According to those guidelines, multinationals must “seek ways to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their business operations, products or services by a business relationship, even if they do not contribute to those impacts.”

The National Contact Point, part of the British Foreign Office, announced on Monday that it believed JCB had a case to answer for, adding that the claims were “material and substantiated.”

According to The Guardian, JCB says it sold the equipment to Comasco, a third-party distributor in Israel, and has no responsibility over what was later done with the machinery.

IMF: Israeli GDP to contract 5.9% this year – above average for advanced economy

A new report by the International Monetary Fund projects that Israel’s GDP will contract this year by 5.9 percent, compared to an average of 5.8% among all so-called advanced economies.

Last month, before Israel imposed its second full coronavirus lockdown, Netanyahu downplayed the spiraling recession and claimed the contraction in Israel’s economy was “almost the lowest in the world.”

Palestinian premier: ‘God help us’ if Trump wins reelection

The Palestinian Authority prime minister says it will be disastrous for his people and the world at large if US President Donald Trump wins reelection next month.

Speaking remotely to European lawmakers, Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh says the last four years of the Trump administration have greatly harmed the Palestinians.

“If we are going to live another four years with President Trump, God help us and the whole world,” Shtayyeh says in comments posted on his Facebook page.

Shtayyeh expresses hope that a victory by the Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden would raise prospects for a peace deal.

“If things are going to change in the United States I think this will reflect itself directly on the Palestinian-Israeli relationship,” he says. “And it will reflect itself also on the bilateral Palestinian-American relationship.”

Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh removes his protective mask during a press conference at the Foreign Press Association in the West Bank city of Ramallah, on June 9, 2020. (Abbas Momani/Pool Photo via AP)


HBO scoops up Israeli TV show on Yom Kippur War

An Israeli TV drama series about the 1973 Yom Kippur War has been scooped up by HBO to air on its international streaming platform HBO Max, the Kan public broadcaster, which produced the show, announces.

The show, “Valley of Tears,” is the most expensive to ever be produced in the country.

It stars Lior Ashkenazi, Aviv Alush, Shahar Taboch, Lee Biran, Maor Schwitzer, Joy Rieger, Imri Biton and Ofer Hayoun.

“Valley of Tears” is set to begin airing in Israel on Kan on October 19.

Valley of Tears (Kan)

The series was written by Amit Cohen, Daniel Amsel, Yaron Zilberman, who also directed, and Ron Leshem, whose previous show, “Euphoria,” was also sold to HBO.

Israeli productions have seen rising international success in recent years.

Last summer, HBO aired the controversial miniseries “Our Boys,” coproduced with Israel’s Keshet, about the murder of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy after the abduction and killing of three Israeli teenagers by Hamas.

Earlier this year, Apple TV+ picked up “Tehran,” an Israeli thriller set in the Iranian capital co-created by Moshe Zonder, a writer for the hit Netflix show “Fauda.”

— With agencies

Coronavirus cabinet set to meet in coming minutes

The coronavirus cabinet is set to convene in the coming minutes despite efforts to push the meeting to Thursday, according to Hebrew media.

The decision to hold the meeting today, as initially planned, comes amid pressure from Gantz and Finance Minister Israel Katz.

Pushing opening, Education Ministry says most schools have seen few virus cases

Ahead of the meeting of the coronavirus cabinet on a strategy for lifting the lockdown, the Education Ministry, which is pushing for a swift reopening of schools and preschools. releases data supporting its position.

It says that in the vast majority of children’s educational institutions there have been few cases of coronavirus detected, and 94 percent of preschools and 53% of schools have seen no cases at all.

An empty classroom at an elementary school in Tel Aviv, April 30, 2020 (AP Photo/Sebastian Scheiner)

Soccer superstar Cristiano Ronaldo tests positive for COVID-19

Cristiano Ronaldo has tested positive for the coronavirus, the Portuguese soccer federation says.

The federation says Ronaldo is doing well and has no symptoms.

Ronaldo was dropped from the country’s Nations League match against Sweden on Wednesday.


No decisions on easing lockdown before Thursday, Netanyahu and Gantz agree

While the coronavirus cabinet is meeting today to discuss the government’s strategy for lifting the lockdown, there will be no decisions until Thursday, the Prime Minister’s Office says.

The announcement is a compromise of sorts between Netanyahu, who wanted to postpone today’s meeting, and Gantz, who insisted it be held.

The PMO says that during a consultation on the matter earlier today, Ronni Gamzu “expressed grave concern over the fact that despite the lockdown conditions, 3,000 people were [confirmed to have been] infected in a single day [yesterday].”

It is a reference to the Health Ministry’s insistence that the lockdown remain fully in place until the number of daily confirmed cases dips below 2,000.

“Thus, in a consultation between the prime minister, the defense minister, the health minister and the science minister, it was decided to convene the coronavirus cabinet today to discuss the morbidity data and a systematic exit strategy defined by stages and criteria,” the PMO statement adds.

“In keeping with the data and the infection trends, on Thursday the cabinet will discuss whether to carry out a pilot move next week that will open small businesses that do not receive customers, along with [restaurant] pickups and preschools.”

WWII bomb explodes as it is made safe in Poland, no injuries

A British World War II giant Tallboy bomb explodes while being made safe underwater by Navy sappers in northwestern Poland. No one is injured.

The 5.4-ton bomb was found in September 2019 beneath a waterway leading to the port of Szczecin during work to deepen the passage. Over 750 people were evacuated for the sappers’ operation, as it was located on the southern edge of the popular Baltic Sea resort of Swinoujscie, which, like Szczecin, was a busy Nazi Germany military port during the war.

Polish Navy sappers try to neutralize it underwater through burning out its explosives, but it goes off in the process.

A spokesman for the sappers, Grzegorz Lewandowski, tells The Associated Press that no one is injured as all the sappers are at a safe distance from the blast, which is felt by local residents in the town of Swinoujscie.

“The operation was carried out perfectly and safely and the bomb is safe now,” Lewandowski says.

He notes it was the biggest ever such operation by sappers in Poland, where unexploded wartime bombs, missiles and grenades are still found often.

The Tallboy bomb was designed by British aeronautical engineer Barnes Wallis and was used by the Royal Air Force to destroy large Nazi-controlled objects though underground shocks.

The one in Swinoujscie was probably used in April 1945 on the Nazi German battleship Luetzow. Experts do not know why it failed to explode at the time.


Gamzu wants lockdown to remain fully in place in ‘red’ cities — reports

During the coronavirus cabinet meeting, virus czar Ronni Gamzu recommends that the current terms of the lockdown remain in effect in cities with high infection rates, even after the closure is eased in the rest of the country, according to leaks from the meeting carried by Hebrew media.

He lists a series of towns that would qualify as “red” under Health Ministry criteria, most of which have a sizeable ultra-Orthodox population.

Netanyahu adviser recommends extending lockdown to Monday

Netanyahu’s national security adviser, Meir Ben-Shabbat, reportedly recommends at the coronavirus cabinet meeting that ministers extend the lockdown until Monday, because morbidity rates are not expected to dip to a level meriting reopening the economy before then.

According to Ynet, Gantz proposes extending the current lockdown terms only until Friday.

Health Ministry counts more than 3,000 new coronavirus cases yesterday

The Health Ministry says that 3,112 new coronavirus cases were confirmed yesterday — a figure that is expected to rise further. The number is still far from the 2,000 daily cases that the ministry is demanding as a condition for easing the nationwide lockdown.

Magen David Adom workers wearing protective clothing seen outside the coronavirus unit at Shaare Zedek Hospital in Jerusalem on October 11, 2020. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

In its evening roundup, the ministry also says there have been 1,424 new cases diagnosed so far today, bringing the total number of confirmed cases since the start of the pandemic to 296,215.

The number of serious cases stands at 802, with 254 on ventilators.

The death toll was 2,040, a rise of 24 since yesterday evening.

Rights groups oppose China, Russia, Saudis on UN rights body

Human rights groups are urging the UN’s 193 member nations to oppose seats on the organization’s premiere rights body for China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and others because of their dismal rights records — but they are all likely to win anyway.

That is because Russia and Cuba are running unopposed in today’s General Assembly election, and China and Saudi Arabia are in a five-way race with Pakistan, Uzbekistan and Nepal for four seats from the Asia-Pacific countries and are tipped to win because of their economic and political clout.

Last week, a coalition of human rights groups from Europe, the United States and Canada called on UN member states to oppose the election of China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, Pakistan and Uzbekistan, saying their human rights records make them “unqualified.”

“Electing these dictatorships as UN judges on human rights is like making a gang of arsonists into the fire brigade,” said Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch.

“We need for states to have a choice,” said Louis Charbonneau, the UN director for Human Rights Watch. “They don’t want competition. … Essentially these are backroom deals that are worked out among the regional groups.”

“When states don’t have a choice, the worst candidates easily find their way on to the council,” he said in a briefing last week. “This is an unfortunate political reality, but we keep hammering the message that we need competition and a real election, not a fake election.”

— AP

Johnson & Johnson pauses virus vaccine study

Johnson & Johnson executives say it will be a few days before they know more about an unexplained illness in one participant that caused a temporary pause in its late-stage COVID-19 vaccine study.

“It may have nothing to do with the vaccine,” Mathai Mammen, head of research and development for Janssen, Johnson & Johnson’s medicine development business, says.

Mammen says they don’t yet know whether the ill study participant received their experimental vaccine or a dummy shot. He says Johnson & Johnson gave information on the case to the independent monitoring board overseeing the safety of patients in the study, as the research protocol requires. It will recommend next steps.

The study of the one-dose vaccine called ENSEMBLE will include up to 60,000 people from multiple countries. The company expects to complete enrollment in the study in two or three months.

Johnson & Johnson isn’t disclosing the nature of the illness, which it learned of Sunday and disclosed Monday night. Such pauses are not uncommon in long clinical studies, as some participants come down with an unrelated illness.

Unlike a study hold imposed by government regulators, a pause is initiated by the sponsor of the drug trial and often can be quickly resolved.


70% of Jews plan to vote Biden, Pew study finds

The Jewish vote in the upcoming presidential election should be very close to the way it has been split since 2012, a new study by the Pew Research Center found.

The survey, conducted earlier this month and published today, found that 70 percent of American Jews plan to vote for former vice president Joe Biden, while 27% plan to vote for President Donald Trump.

If those numbers bear out, they will be nearly identical to the Jewish result in 2016, when Pew found that Hillary Clinton won 71% of the Jewish vote to Trump’s 25%. In 2012, the numbers were slightly higher for the Republican candidate: Barack Obama won 69% of the Jewish vote while Mitt Romney won 30%.

The margin of error for Jewish respondents on the Pew survey is quite large, at 9.6%, which means that the result is statistically similar to the Jewish vote in previous elections.

Joe Biden talks to reporters before departing Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport in Hebron, Kentucky on October 12, 2020. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images via JTA)

The poll is a blow to Jewish Republican hopes that Trump’s record in office — including recognizing Israeli territorial claims, brokering peace between Israel and two Arab states and pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement — could shift the vote in his favor.

The Pew poll also found that 35% of Jewish Americans approve of the job Trump has done in office, similar to his 38% approval rating among Americans overall.

Overall, Pew found that 52% of Americans overall prefer Biden while 42% prefer Trump. Large majorities of Jews, Hispanic Catholics, Black Protestants and religiously unaffiliated voters support Biden. Most white Christians, including the vast majority of white evangelicals, support Trump.


AG heard cursing out state attorney for failing to close case against him

In taped phone conversations from 2016, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit can be heard tearing into Shai Nitzan, the state attorney at the time, exposing a deep rift at the top of the state prosecution as it seeks to litigate the corruption cases against Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In the conversations, which took place between Mandelblit and the then-head of the Israel Bar Association, Efi Naveh and were aired by Channel 12 this evening, the attorney general railed at Nitzan for failing to clear him of wrongdoing in a case known as the Harpaz affair.

The attorney general was cleared by the Supreme Court over his involvement in the affair for lack of evidence, but it was up to Nitzan and law enforcement to declare him innocent and close the case against him.

“Do you understand that that maniac isn’t making a decision on my case?” Mandelblit can be heart telling Naveh of Nitzan, who has since retired. “He… I don’t know what to do with him.”

(In Hebrew, the word “maniac” has similar connotations to “asshole” in English.)

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, left, and then-State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan. (Tomer Neuberg/ Flash90)

Mandelblit adds, “He’s doing it to me on purpose. I don’t know what to do.”

He then says, “It’s possible he wants to have me by the throat. I don’t know. I don’t know what he’s thinking. In the end I’ll lose it and make a big stink over this.”

In July a state prosecution ombudsman criticized Nitzan for his failure to clear Mandelblit, saying police and prosecutors had displayed “improper conduct” in their failure to declare that the case was closed due to an absence of guilt.

Justice David Rozen said Nitzan had not acted with the required transparency in the case, despite Mandelblit’s request to officially mark the reason for the closing of the probe into the affair a decade ago.

The open case against Mandelblit has been used as ammunition against him by associates of Netanyahu who have sought to discredit the state prosecution.

Israeli news crew attacked by extremist settlers

An Israeli news crew was attacked by settlers today during clashes with Palestinian olive harvesters in the West Bank, video from the scene shows.

Ohad Hemo of Channel 12 news and his cameraman were reporting on residents of Burka, a village near Ramallah, as they were accompanied by Palestinian volunteers to protect them while picking olives.

As the group walk toward the olive trees, they are confronted by several Israelis from the Oz Zion outpost, who try to stop them from approaching.

After one of the volunteers pushes a settler, fighting breaks out between the two sides.

During the clashes, some of the settlers throw stones at Hemo and his cameraman, and one of them hits the reporter in the arm with a cudgel.

Greek farmer gets life for rape, killing of US scientist

A Greek farmer who claimed he was “possessed by demons” when he raped and killed an American scientist last year in Crete is sentenced to life in prison.

A court in Rethymno sentences Yiannis Paraskakis, a 28-year-old married father of two, to life for the murder of Suzanne Eaton, and 13 years for her rape. His defense lawyer will appeal the verdict.

The body of Eaton, a molecular biologist at the Max Planck Institute at Dresden University, was found near the city of Chania on the Greek island in July 2019.

A police officer who interrogated Paraskakis told the court he confessed after six hours of questioning.

“He said he was possessed by demons giving him orders,” he said.

American 59-year-old molecular biologist Suzanne Eaton in an undated photo provided by her family. (AP Photo)

The scientist’s sister, Julie Eaton Broaddus, was present at the start of the trial, telling reporters: “It was really, really difficult to come here. But I felt that I needed to be here, to speak up for what an amazing and accomplished woman she was.”

Eaton Broaddus, who later left court because she did not want to be in the same room as the suspect, described her sister as a “loving, doting mother” and said her death was “a horrible, tragic thing.”

Eaton, 59, was in Chania for a scientific conference and had gone out jogging without her mobile phone on the day of her murder, police said.


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Cabinet debate on easing lockdown could be postponed to Thursday – ministers

Cabinet ministers tell the Ynet news site that a meeting of the coronavirus cabinet that is set to take place today may be pushed off to Thursday amid disagreements over a strategy to reopen the economy as Israel’s second lockdown winds down.

The report says the differences between various ministries have to do, among other things, with when preschools and kindergartens will reopen, along with the reopening of Haredi yeshivas and the lifting of the one-kilometer limit on travel.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz, responding to news that the meeting could be postponed, says, “The debate over an exit strategy cannot be postponed any further. Small businesses are continuing to collapse, and we must deliberate returning children to [school and preschool].”

Ronni Gamzu, the government coronavirus czar, seems to side with the move to postpone the meeting.

“I’ve only just now heard about it,” he says before delivering a briefing in the Jerusalem municipality. “In any event, today there would not have been final decisions regarding easing [the terms of the lockdown] but rather only general outlines.”