Cash-strapped Kiryat Gat to fire 320 city employees as part of recovery plan
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Israel said bracing for Temple Mount visit by US lawmakers Omar, Tlaib

‘Secret’ meeting prepares for possibility that boycott-supporting members of Congress will be accompanied by PA officials at holy site; Fatah denies Abbas snubbed Republicans

This combination of 2018 photos shows Representatives Ilhan Omar (Democrat-Minnesota), left, and Rashida Tlaib (Democrat-Michigan), in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster,)
This combination of 2018 photos shows Representatives Ilhan Omar (Democrat-Minnesota), left, and Rashida Tlaib (Democrat-Michigan), in Washington. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster,)

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

Debate over disqualifying extremist candidates devolves into shouting match

A debate over calls to disqualify extremist right-wing political candidates from running in the September 17 election devolves into a shouting match in the Central Elections Committee, with the committee’s chairman ordering that one left-wing lawmaker’s microphone be cut off after she refused to yield the floor.

The Democratic Camp, Blue and White, Labor-Gesher, MK Issawi Frej, and the Reform movement all petitioned the committee to disqualify all or part of the racist Otzma Yehudit party, which is composed of followers of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane.

During the debate, Democratic Camp lawmaker Stav Shaffir calls the far-right party “anti-Zionist,” causing Otzma Yehudit’s Baruch Marzel to shout, “She won’t call me anti-Zionist!”

She retorts, “Sue me,” a reference to Otzma Yehudit leader Itamar Ben Gvir’s penchant for threatening to sue critics, including a recent slander lawsuit he filed against Shaffir.

Itamar Ben Gvir, right, Baruch Marzel, center, and Bentzi Gopstein, right, of the Otzma Yehudit party at the Central Elections Committee meeting debating petitions to disqualify them from standing in the September 2019 election, at the Knesset in Jerusalem, on August 14, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Shaffir warns that Otzma Yehudit’s “terrible racism” would destroy Israel’s “delicate social fabric,” and accuses the party of “frightening and threatening as it crawls its way into the Knesset.”

Committee chairman and Supreme Court justice Hanan Melcer orders Shaffir’s microphone cut off after she ignored several attempts to get her to finish her comments.

Czechs to become third country to celebrate independence day in Jerusalem

After Russia and the US, the Czech Republic is slated to become the third country to celebrate its annual National Day celebration in Jerusalem, the country’s Tel Aviv embassy announces.

The September 24 event will take place at the “Czech House” in the capital’s Cinematheque, which was opened in November 2018 and billed by Israeli officials as the first step of Prague’s declared intention to open an embassy in the city.

The Czech Republic recognizes West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but has said it won’t move the embassy there until a comprehensive peace deal with the Palestinians has been signed.

— Raphael Ahren

Otzma Yehudit head to sue left-wing lawmaker for purported Hitler comparison

Itamar Ben Gvir, head of the extremist Otzma Yehudit party, says he plans to sue left-wing lawmaker Stav Shaffir for, in his words, comparing him to Nazi leader Adolf Hitler.

Shaffir and Ben Gvir are already in the middle of a libel suit filed by Ben Gvir over her comments in the last election campaign earlier this year comparing Otzma Yehudit to the Nazis.

In an interview this morning on Army Radio, Shaffir criticized the station for including Ben Gvir among the politicians it interviews. The talk show host, Rino Tzror, lashed Shaffir for the comment, saying his job was to encourage free speech from all sides, not to stifle it.

When a reporter, Ynet’s Ran Boker, posts about the exchange on Twitter this morning, Shaffir replies in a tweet: “Dear Ran, not to compare, God forbid — but would you let Hitler come on your broadcast? Free speech, yes — incitement to racism, no. Free speech yes, damaging our democracy — no. No fear.”

Though she prefaced her question with “not to compare,” Ben Gvir decides to take umbrage anyway — it’s campaign season, after all — and says he will file a second slander suit against Shaffir demanding NIS 500,000 ($143,000) in damages.

He accuses Shaffir of “incitement and cheapening the Holocaust out of atrocious ignorance.”

Democratic Camp says in response: “The days of being afraid are over. We’re not afraid to fight the inciting, backward, racist Kahanists.”

Ahead of Tu B’Av, Israel releases data showing Israelis are marrying older

The Central Bureau of Statistics dishes all the data on Israeli romance ahead of the Tu B’Av holiday, which begins Thursday evening.

The figures are for 2017, the last year for which comprehensive data exists.

Among the 50,029 Israeli couples who married that year in official Israeli religious bodies, the bride’s average age was 25, and the groom’s 27.4. Brides are 3.5 years older and grooms 2.5 years older than they were in 1970, the bureau says.

Jewish weddings made up 71.6 percent (or 35,810) of those weddings, Muslim weddings 24.6% (12,324), Druze weddings 2% (1,002), and Christian weddings 1.7% (855).

In 87% of the weddings in 2017, both partners were marrying for the first time. Among 5.3%, both were divorcees.

With Israelis marrying later, more and more men and women are staying single through the end of their twenties. The percentage of single men ages 25-29 has risen from 28% in 1970 to 62% in 2017; among women it rose from 13% to 46%.

Figures are also rising for bachelorhood in the late forties, with unmarried men aged 45-49 rising from 3% in 1970 to 12% in 2017, and of women from 2% to 10%.

Israelis don’t just marry in Israel, of course. At least 15% of the weddings registered with the Interior Ministry in 2017 were not conducted in Israel and don’t count in the figures above, the CBS says. In all, 8,849 couple reported marrying overseas, most in a bid to sidestep the official state rabbinate. Of those, 1,935 of those weddings (or 22%) were between two Jews, mostly from families that immigrated to Israel from the former Soviet Union.

When they marry abroad, Israelis prefer Cyprus, which is one hour away by plane, where 38% of overseas weddings took place. The US comes second with 26%, followed by the Czech Republic with 14%.

Regime forces advance towards key town in northwest Syria

Regime fighters push further into a jihadist-run bastion in northwest Syria, inching towards a key town after months of deadly bombardment, a monitor says.

Eight years into Syria’s civil war, the jihadist-run region of Idlib is the last major stronghold of opposition to President Bashar Assad’s regime. Airstrikes and rocket fire by the regime and its ally Russia have pounded Idlib for more than three months, killing hundreds and displacing tens of thousands. In the south of the stronghold, almost all residents of Khan Sheikhun — which lies on a key highway coveted by the regime — have left the town.

The road in question runs through Idlib, connecting government-held Damascus with the northern city of Aleppo, which was retaken by loyalists from rebels in December 2016.

After a week of ground advances, Assad’s fighters are just a few kilometers away from the town on Wednesday, the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights says.

“Regime forces are now four kilometers (2.5 miles) from Khan Sheikhun to the west, with nothing between them and it but fields,” Observatory chief Rami Abdel Rahman says. To the east, pro-Assad fighters are battling to control a hill just six kilometers (less than four miles) from the town, he adds. Clashes on Wednesday kill 14 regime forces, as well as 20 jihadists and seven allied rebels, he says.

— AFP

Cash-strapped Kiryat Gat to fire 320 city employees as part of recovery plan

The southern town of Kiryat Gat is firing 320 employees as part of a financial recovery plan.

The municipality has the highest annual deficit of any local government, slated to reach NIS 135 million ($39 million) in 2019.

Mayor Aviram Dahari has pushed for a recovery plan based on letting go a large number of municipal employees, but the employees’ labor union has resisted the move.

In announcing the firings, the city says they will take place on a last-in-first-out basis, with the newest employees being the first to be let go. It also says it is in talks with the Histadrut labor federation over the move.

Notre Dame cathedral ‘still at risk of collapse’ after fire

PARIS, France — Notre Dame cathedral in Paris is still at risk of collapse after being gutted by a fire in April, with more stonework falling during the recent heatwave in the French capital, the government says.

France’s culture ministry insists the urgent need to make the cathedral safe had dictated the pace of the works, following criticism that it had ignored the risks of lead poisoning. Work to secure the cathedral was suspended on July 25 to allow for decontamination of the lead that had spread during the fire. The work should resume next week. Hundreds of tons of lead in the roof and steeple melted during the April 15 blaze that nearly destroyed the gothic masterpiece, with winds spreading the particles well beyond the church’s grounds.

The culture ministry says that in the aftermath of the fire all work on the cathedral had been aimed at avoiding its collapse, and had not yet involved any kind of restoration.

“There were recently new falls of stones from the nave vaults due to the heatwave,” it says. “It is only the urgency linked to the persistent risk of a collapse that justifies the rhythm of work undertaken” since the fire.

President Emmanuel Macron has set an ambitious target of five years for the restoration to be finished. But the ministry said restoration work would not even begin until next year.

— AFP

Attorney general to indict Minister Haim Katz on breach of trust charges

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit plans to indict Welfare Minister Haim Katz, of Likud, on breach of trust charges for allegedly advancing decisions benefiting a financial consultant to major Israeli firms.

The indictment won’t include the most serious charge for which Katz was investigated: allegedly receiving bribes in his dealings with friend and businessman Mordechai Ben Ari while Katz served as chairman of the Knesset Labor and Welfare Committee from 2005 to 2006 and again from 2009 to 2013.

The indictment centers on allegations that Katz advanced Amendment 44 to the Securities Law at Ben Ari’s request, which stipulates that companies must repay bond debt to small bond holders before it repays controlling owners. Ben Ari’s business represents groups of bond holders in multiple companies.

Katz has denied wrongdoing, defended his work on Amendment 44 as key to protecting small investors. In a statement today, his attorneys say that once no quid pro quo could be established — that is, no bribery was found in connection with his legislative work — it is a “fundamental error” in legal judgment to use the “generic crime of ‘breach of trust'” to indict a lawmaker for their legislation.

Once the indictment is filed in the coming weeks, Katz will have to resign from his ministerial post.

Nazareth court overturns ban on separate-sex seating at Afula concert

The Nazareth District Court overturns a controversial decision by a lower court barring the holding of a concert in the northern city of Afula that had separate-gender seating.

The concert was the only one of over 300 events put on by the city over the summer to have segregated seating as it was aimed at the local ultra-Orthodox population.

The initial ruling earlier this week came after a women’s rights group sued the city over the separation of genders, noting that Israeli law prohibits discrimination in public services based on sex.

But proponents of the concert, including the Afula municipality, have pointed to past court decisions that affirmed that religious sensitivities of minority populations can be taken into account in services provided to those populations.

The appeal was brought to the district court by the ultra-Orthodox Shas party.

Girl, 5, in critical condition after near-drowning at Tel Aviv beach

A 5-year-old girl is in critical condition after nearly drowning off Charles Clore Beach in Tel Aviv.

She is being rushed to Wolfson Hospital in Holon.

Elections committee rejects calls to disqualify extremist Otzma Yehudit

The Central Elections Committee rejects several left-wing petitions to disqualify the extremist Otzma Yehudit party from running in the September elections.

In its decision, the committee, led by a Supreme Court justice and made up of representatives of the outgoing Knesset’s political factions, agreed with Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who recommended against disqualifying the party as a whole.

The committee now turns to debating petitions urging it to disqualify three of the party’s leaders, Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein.

Mandelblit earlier this week recommended disqualifying Marzel and Gopstein for what he characterized as longstanding records of incitement to racism.

The committee’s decisions are not final, and still require the approval of the High Court of Justice.

Otzma Yehudit is made up of followers of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane. Its members have called for the forced expulsion of Israel’s Arabs from the country and have held violent protests outside interfaith weddings.

NYT demotes Jewish editor over racially insensitive tweets

The New York Times demotes Jonathan Weisman, the paper’s deputy Washington editor, after social media users complain that the Jewish journalist posted multiple racist tweets.

“Jonathan Weisman met with [Executive Editor Dean Baquet] today and apologized for his recent serious lapses in judgement,” the Times says in a statement. “As a consequence of his actions, he has been demoted and will no longer be overseeing the team that covers Congress or be active on social media.”

In one tweet, since deleted, Weisman implied that several lawmakers of color were not representative of the Midwest and the South. In another, he appeared to tell an African-American politician that she wasn’t black.

“I accept Dean’s judgment,” Weisman tells the Times. “I think he’s right to do what he’s doing. I embarrassed the newspaper, and he had to act.”

New York Times staffer Jonathan Weisman. (YouTube screenshot/via JTA)

Weisman is the author of a book on racism entitled “(((Semitism))): Being Jewish in America in the Age of Trump.” In an op-ed for JTA published last year, he wrote about how he had “traversed the country to warn of the dangers of rising nationalism, organized bigotry and anti-Semitic hate.”

— JTA

California Board of Education leaders pan proposed ethnic studies curriculum

Senior education officials in California express disapproval of a proposed ethnic studies curriculum for the state’s schools.

The Jewish community is among several minority groups that have protested the draft.

As written, the curriculum failed to meet the standard of being “accurate, free of bias, appropriate for all learners in our diverse state, and align with Governor Newsom’s vision of a California for all,” Board of Education President Linda Darling-Hammond and two other officials said in a statement Tuesday quoted by The Los Angeles Times.

A 2016 law ordered the Board of Education to create a curriculum that would highlight the contributions of minorities in the development of California and the United States. The board has put the model curriculum up for public comment and will vote on it next year.

Illustrative: A pro-Israel rally in Los Angeles. (Edmon J. Rodman/via JTA)

The draft provides sample courses in four main areas: African-American Studies, Hispanic Studies, Native American Studies and Asian American Studies. Supporters say the goal is to create inclusive and supportive environments for children of color.

State Sen. Ben Allen told the Times that while he supported having an ethnic studies curriculum, he was “amazed that in a curriculum that has so much about bigotry and hatred of all sorts of different forms that there was not a single mention of anti-Semitism in the glossary.” He also pointed out that a number of other ethnic groups were excluded, including Irish Americans and Italian Americans.

On Tuesday, a coalition of Armenian, Hellenic, Hindu, Jewish and Korean civic groups issued a joint statement calling for the curriculum to be scrapped. “The draft lacks cultural competency, does not reflect California’s diverse population, and advances a political agenda that should not be taught as unchallenged truth in our state’s public schools,” the statement said.

— JTA

California Jewish lawmakers hang mezuzahs on office doors

Jewish state legislators in California hung mezuzahs on their office doors after returning from summer recess.

During the recess, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill that bars landlords and homeowners associations from prohibiting their tenants from affixing mezuzahs to their doors and door frames. The Legislature’s Jewish Caucus, which has 16 members, had lobbied hard for the measure.

The bill was introduced following complaints from Jewish renters and condo owners who were told to remove their mezuzahs because of a building or apartment complex policy.

Known to some as the “mezuzah bill,” it also had the support of secular organizations, as well as Catholic and Hindu groups.

California State Sen. Ben Allen, chair of the Jewish Caucus, puts a mezuzah on his office door with Rabbi Mendy Cohen, August 2019. (Courtesy of the Jewish Caucus/via JTA)

The Jewish Caucus in a statement Monday made the announcement about the mezuzahs hung in Sacramento.

— JTA

Hamas’s Gaza chief says terror group coordinating with Islamic Jihad

The head of Hamas in the Gaza Strip, Yahya Sinwar, says a six-hour long meeting that included Hamas’s and Islamic Jihad’s political and military leaderships took place a few days ago.

“We were discussing the details of the resistance project and arrangements and preparations for liberation and return and responding to aggression,” he says, speaking to members of the Dahdouh family in Gaza.

The comments come amid a Hamas outreach campaign that has seen Hamas leaders visiting families throughout the territory in recent days.

— Adam Rasgon

Palestinian youth arrested near Nablus on suspicion of raping girl in Tel Aviv

Police announce the arrest of a Palestinian minor suspected of serial sexual assault, including the rape of a minor in Tel Aviv.

The suspect is arrested in the West Bank village of Kabalan, near Nablus, where he has been in hiding to avoid Israeli authorities.

Undercover Border Police officers raid a compound of several homes in the village after a lengthy and “complex” undercover investigation, police say in a statement.

The youth stands accused of raping a girl he came across on a Tel Aviv street, as well as multiple “indecent acts” toward women and girls.

The Tel Aviv Youth Court extends his remand by five days.

Gilad Erdan says he’s turned down UN envoy job to help Likud win the election

Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan says he has declined the offer by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to be appointed Israel’s next ambassador to the United Nations.

“After considering the offer,” he writes in a post on Twitter, “I’ve decided it is my duty to continue to serve as minister for public security and strategic affairs, and to remain in Israel at this vital time in order to do everything in my power to ensure the [election] victory of Likud, led by Netanyahu.”

Israel’s current envoy, Danny Danon, is also a former Likud cabinet minister.

Israel preparing for likely Omar, Tlaib visit to Temple Mount – report

Israeli officials are preparing for the likelihood that two Muslim members of the US Congress who have backed the anti-Israel boycott movement, representatives Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib, may attempt to visit the Temple Mount in Jerusalem during their upcoming visit to the country, Channel 13 reports.

The report claims that a “secret meeting” was held on the subject in Israel’s National Security Council led by Deputy National Security Adviser Reuven Azar.

According to leaks from the reported meeting, Azar said there was a high probability that both Omar and Tlaib will seek to visit the Al-Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock shrine at the holy site.

When they do, the participants at the meeting agreed, it is vital that the Israel Police not permit their visit to be accompanied by officials of the Palestinian Authority, which would serve as symbolic backing by the US lawmakers to Palestinian claims of sovereignty at the site, the holiest place in Judaism and the third holiest in Islam.

Israeli officials were unanimous, the report claimed, in their view that the two lawmakers should be allowed to visit Israel and the Temple Mount, as preventing the visits could hurt relations with the United States.

Fatah denies claim Abbas snubbed Republican lawmakers

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas did not snub a visiting delegation of Republican members of the US Congress, Fatah spokesman Osama Qawasma says.

Qawasma makes the comment after the Jewish Insider reported yesterday that Abbas did not show up to a scheduled meeting with the Republican lawmakers, instead dispatching PA Prime Minister Moahmmad Shtayyeh and senior Palestine Liberation Organization official Saeb Erekat to meet with the group.

“The Republican congressional delegation was informed five days ago that the president would not be able to meet due to personal and family matters related to the Eid al-Adha holiday,” Qawasma, who attended the meeting with the Republicans, tells The Times of Israel.

“President Abbas will meet the Republicans next time and he is just as interested in meeting with them as he is meeting with the Democrats. I repeat that he was not able to meet for personal, not political, reasons,” he adds, noting that the PA president ordered Shtayyeh and Erekat to meet with the Republicans on his behalf.

Asked how Abbas was able to meet members of the Democratic Camp party on Tuesday but not the Republicans, Qawasma insists that “the two are not connected. He would have met them, if his schedule permitted him to do so. Unfortunately, with his holiday engagements, it did not work out this time,” he says.

Abbas met with Democratic Camp candidates Issawi Frej and Noa Rothman on Tuesday at his office in Ramallah.

A source familiar with the details of the Republican delegation’s trip confirms that trip organizers were informed several days ago that Abbas would not be able to meet.

The 31 Republican lawmakers, including House minority leader Kevin McCarthy, arrived in Israel late last week as part of a trip organized by the American Israel Education Foundation, a group connected to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), a Washington-based, non-governmental organization that works to strengthen ties between the US and Israel.

Last week, 41 Democratic lawmakers arrived in Israel as a part of a largely separate trip put together by the American Israel Education Foundation. On August 7, they met Abbas and several other high-ranking Palestinian officials.

— Adam Rasgon

Elections committee approves candidacy of extremist Otzma Yehudit leaders

The Central Elections Committee rejected petitions to disqualify candidates from the extremist Otzma Yehudit party from running in the September elections.

The decision comes hours after the committee okays the far-right party’s run.

But multiple petitions against its top leaders, Itamar Ben Gvir, Baruch Marzel and Bentzi Gopstein, were debated for hours more.

In an opinion sent to the committee earlier this week, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit backed letting the party run but urged that Marzel and Gopstein be disqualified.

The committee’s decisions are not final. Under law, they must be approved by the Supreme Court.

The court usually accepts the committee’s decision, but not always. Ahead of the April race, it overturned the committee’s decision and disqualified Otzma Yehudit’s then-leader Michael Ben Ari. The court has also in the past refused to disqualify Marzel after the committee voted to do so.

The petitions against the party and its leaders were based on a law that disqualifies any party or candidate from running if it openly incites to racism. Otzma Yehudit’s leaders are supporters of the extremist rabbi Meir Kahane, and have called in the past for Israel’s Arabs to be forcibly removed from the country and for interfaith weddings to be outlawed.

Preschool opens at former Serbia concentration camp

A preschool in Serbia opens at a building that once was part of a Nazi concentration camp.

The building at Staro Sajmiste has housed a number of businesses over the years and government promises to build a Holocaust memorial there have gone unfulfilled for decades, according to The Guardian.

“The kindergarten is inappropriate when you consider what took place there,” Federation of Jewish Communities of Serbia President Robert Sabadoš tells the British newspaper. “But what’s an even bigger scandal is that pubs have been located down there for years, decades even. There even used to be a nightclub. That site was a place of misery and suffering, and that can’t be allowed to be forgotten.”

The current owner of the building denies that he has profaned the site, saying he has “been battling for 20 years, investing in this building, caring for it, nurturing it.”

“I bought it in a terrible state, totally ruined,” he tells The Guardian. “It didn’t even have a roof, it was completely rotten.’”

Jews rounded up by the Germans in Yugoslavia. (Bundesarchiv, Bild/via JTA)

Sabadoš says that many of those who operated businesses at Staro Sajmiste were likely unaware of its history. “That’s a symptom of a failure of our collective memory,” he says.

Other former concentration camps in Serbia have also been slated for development, including one at Topovske Šupe, the paper reports.

— JTA

Labor chief Peretz sorry for party’s failure to vote to disqualify Otzma Yehudit

Labor Party leader Amir Peretz blames “human error” for the fact that his party’s representative on the Central Elections Committee was absent from the vote earlier today that approved the extremist Otzma Yehudit party’s run in the September elections.

“The human error of my party’s representatives led unfortunately to approval for a racist party to run in the coming elections,” Peretz says on Twitter.

“Responsible leadership takes responsibility for mistakes and works quickly to fix them. That will be done.”

He promises: “Tomorrow we will act to correct the unfortunate incident by appealing to the Supreme Court” to disqualify Otzma Yehudit.

The promise is unnecessary, as the law requires the committee’s decision to receive the court’s approval in any case.

Labor-Gesher’s representative held the deciding vote in an evenly-split committee when he stepped out of the meeting shortly before the vote.

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Cash-strapped Kiryat Gat to fire 320 city employees as part of recovery plan

The southern town of Kiryat Gat is firing 320 employees as part of a financial recovery plan.

The municipality has the highest annual deficit of any local government, slated to reach NIS 135 million ($39 million) in 2019.

Mayor Aviram Dahari has pushed for a recovery plan based on letting go a large number of municipal employees, but the employees’ labor union has resisted the move.

In announcing the firings, the city says they will take place on a last-in-first-out basis, with the newest employees being the first to be let go. It also says it is in talks with the Histadrut labor federation over the move.