Coalition heads call early elections in April
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TV host quits, indicating her husband Gideon Sa’ar will rejoin politics

Geula Even announces her resignation as Kan broadcaster’s main news anchor; former Likud minister expected to run in ruling party’s primaries

  • Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar (left) and television news anchor Geula Even. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Moshe Shai/Flash90)
    Former interior minister Gideon Sa'ar (left) and television news anchor Geula Even. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Moshe Shai/Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting in the Kneeset in Jerusalem on December 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu leads a Likud faction meeting in the Kneeset in Jerusalem on December 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
  • Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid speaks to the media in the Knesset, on December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Yesh Atid leader MK Yair Lapid speaks to the media in the Knesset, on December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
  • Labor chair Avi Gabbay, right, and Hatnua chair MK Tzipi Livni attend a Zionist Union faction meeting at the Knesset on July 24, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
    Labor chair Avi Gabbay, right, and Hatnua chair MK Tzipi Livni attend a Zionist Union faction meeting at the Knesset on July 24, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)
  • Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)
    Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (L) and then-cabinet secretary Avichai Mandelblit at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem on July 5, 2015. (Emil Salman/Pool/Flash90)
  • Opposition MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) addresses the Knesset during a plenum session on January 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
    Opposition MK Tamar Zandberg (Meretz) addresses the Knesset during a plenum session on January 25, 2017. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s events as they unfolded.

Top Turkish diplomat says Netanyahu, PKK similar since both are ‘child killers’

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu continues his country’s latest verbal clash with Israel by again calling Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu a “child killer.”

“Netanyahu is very uneasy these days since he understands that he can’t divide Syria anymore,” Cavusoglu says during a meeting with his Tunisian counterpart in Tunis.

He claims Netanyahu has “long supported” the Kurdish party PKK, which Ankara brands a terror organization. He also likens the two, saying their “common feature” is that “they are both child killers.”

Yesterday Netanyahu called Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan an “anti-Semitic dictator,” after Turkish leaders slammed him in the latest round of a years-long war of words between the countries.

Christmas festivities begin in West Bank town of Bethlehem

Palestinians are preparing to host pilgrims from around the world in celebrating Christmas in the West Bank city of Bethlehem.

Archbishop Pierbattista Pizzaballa, the top Roman Catholic cleric in the Holy Land, crosses an Israeli military checkpoint from Jerusalem ahead of midnight Mass at the Church of the Nativity, the traditional birthplace of Jesus.

A Christian worshiper prays at the Grotto, under the Church of the Nativity, traditionally recognized by Christians to be the birthplace of Jesus Christ, in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, December 23, 2018. (AP Photo/Nasser Nasser)

Hundreds of locals and foreign visitors gather in Manger Square as bagpipe-playing Palestinian Scouts parade past a giant Christmas tree.

Palestinian Authority Tourism Minister Rula Maaya says “the whole world is looking toward Bethlehem” and the Palestinians are ready to host them.

The Christmas festivities traditionally bring a boost of holiday cheer to Christians in the Holy Land, who make up just a small percentage of the local population.

— AP

Zionist Union praises Yesh Atid for opposing ultra-Orthodox draft law

Zionist Union chairman Avi Gabbay welcomes Yesh Atid’s “zigzag” decision to oppose the the ultra-Orthodox conscription bill, calling the proposal a “bluff that will not bring about equal sharing of the [military] burden.”

Speaking at his party’s Knesset faction meeting, Gabbay claims it was the Zionist Union’s “steadfast opposition” to the bill that caused Yesh Atid to reconsider its own support.

Speaking earlier, Lapid said that the coalition had agreed on an “under the table” deal to give the ultra-Orthodox funds that would match losses from financial sanctions for draft dodgers in the bill.

“IDF soldiers risk their lives for our security and receive a political deal at their expense in return, one that means we will not recruit any more ultra-Orthodox, and will not give a proper reward to those who serve,” Gabbay adds.

He says that if elected, “within a year” of becoming prime minister he will pass a law to give significant financial benefits to soldiers.

— Raoul Wootliff

Coalition heads call early elections in April

Coalition party heads announce that they have agreed to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections.

“Out of national and budgetary responsibility, the leaders of the coalition parties decided, unanimously and unanimously, to dissolve the Knesset and go to new elections at the beginning of April after a four-year term,” the heads of the five coalition parties say in a joint statement.

They stress that none of the parties will leave the government and that “the partnership in the Knesset and in the government will continue during the elections.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Liberman praises coalition for calling early elections

Yisrael Beytenu party chief Avigdor Liberman is the first to issue a response to early elections being called for April.

“I congratulate the coalition heads for their decision to go to early elections,” the former defense minister, who resigned last month, says in a statement.

“For the Israeli nation, the most important thing is a new, stable government,” he adds.

Liberman expresses hope that the government will pass the contested ultra-Orthodox draft law before the elections.

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman heads a faction meeting at the Knesset on December 10, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

‘Good riddance’: Opposition welcomes coalition decision to dissolve

Meretz party chief Tamar Zandberg reacts to early national polls being called by saying that “it is time for this coalition to dissolve, and it is time for Israel to get a better future.”

“Good riddance,” adds the leader of the left-wing opposition party.

Meretz chairwoman Tamar Zandberg leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on May 7, 2018. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Zionist Union MK Yoel Hasson also welcomes the announcement, saying that “the countdown to the end of Benjamin Netanyahu’s tenure [as prime minister] has begun. The public will judge what government it wants — a government of hope or of stagnation.”

Fellow Zionist Union lawmaker Merav Michaeli reacts by saying that “the worst government we have seen is going home. Israel needs to recover quickly from the disasters of this government. A corrupt government that ruined democracy, sold our security and led us to diplomatic isolation and financial deficit.”

Palestinian official urges Israelis to ‘think about peace’ in upcoming elections

Azzam al-Ahmad, a senior Fatah and Palestinian Liberation Organization official, tells The Times of Israel that “we hope the Israeli voters will think about peace when they go to the polls” after early elections are called for April 9.

“We realize they have other concerns, but we hope they will think about peace and coexistence when they vote,” he says.

“We also hope the Israeli politicians will not take advantage of the elections to carry out an escalation against the Palestinian people.”

— Adam Rasgon

AG won’t publish decision on Netanyahu probes close to election date — report

Senior legal officials are quoted by the Ynet news site as saying Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit won’t publish his decision whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the various corruption cases against him near the time Israelis will go to national Knesset elections.

The officials say Mandelblit, who today began reviewing the evidence in three probes in which police have recommended bribery indictments, doesn’t want to be perceived as trying to influence the outcome of the vote.

He has insisted the legal system is treating the probes “professionally,” as Netanyahu and his loyalists have attacked for conducting a “witch hunt” with predetermined conclusions.

Knesset speaker summons party heads to agree on dissolution of parliament

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein says he has summoned the heads of the coalition parties to his office following their announcement calling to dissolve the Knesset and hold new elections.

He says he will also later invite the heads of the opposition parties in order to set a date for the dissolution of the Knesset “as early as possible.”

— Raoul Wootliff

PM hails ‘outstanding achievements,’ says current coalition the core of the next

Confirming that Israel will be holding elections in April, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says this is a unanimous decision of coalition parties.

At a meeting of his ruling Likud party, Netanyahu hails the current government’s “outstanding achievements” over its four years in office.

He praises Israel’s ties with the US, and notes the moving of the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.

He vows that Israel will continue to prevent Iran establishing itself in Syria, will tackle Hezbollah’s attack tunnels, and will deal with Hamas. The IDF is “ready for all scenarios,” he says.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivers a statement at the Knesset in Jerusalem, ahead of a UN Security Council discussion on Hezbollah’s tunnels into Israel, on December 19, 2018. (Menahem KAHANA / AFP)

He hails the country’s economic growth, and notes that the minimum wage is “higher than ever.”

He also cites the nation-state law, which enshrines Israel as the national homeland of the Jewish people, in the list of accomplishments.

“We’ll complete our work,” he vows.

His Likud, he predicts, “will win” the elections. He also says the current coalition is the “core” of the next coalition.

With God’s help, he says, he and the Likud aim to keep leading Israel in the direction it has followed these past years.

Likud primaries likely to be held in late January — reports

Senior Likud sources quoted by Hebrew-language media estimate that party primaries will be held in late January or early February, after the coalition agreed to hold early elections in April.

By law, political parties must submit their lists of candidates 45 days before the vote.

Indonesia tsunami death toll rises to 373: disaster agency

The death toll from a volcano-triggered tsunami in Indonesia has risen to 373, with more than 1,400 people injured, the national disaster agency says.

Some 128 are still missing following Saturday’s volcano-triggered tsunami that hit southern Sumatra and western Java.

— AFP

PM says Lapid will have to show ‘Houdini-like abilities’ after flip-flop

Netanyahu derides Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid, saying he will have to show “Houdini-like abilities” to escape his current situation after he flip-flopped on the ultra-Orthodox draft law.

After saying he would support the contested law opposed by the Haredi parties, Lapid said earlier today that he will oppose it, citing what he said was a secret deal to compensate the ultra-Orthodox for financial sanctions on those who don’t enlist in the IDF.

Suicide bomber, gunmen attack Afghan government building — official

A suicide bomber explodes his car outside an Afghan government department for martyrs and disabled persons as gunmen enter the building where they are battling local police, Kabul police chief spokesman Basir Mujahid says.

Four people have been reported injured in the attack that occurred as workers were preparing to leave for the day, says Mujahid, adding that police are still battling the gunmen. More casualties seem likely, he says.

Police have cordoned off the area in the east of the capital Kabul to gain control of the situation. Mujahid offers little information about the incident saying police are still at the scene.

Flames rise from a government building after an explosion and attack by gunmen, in Kabul, Afghanistan, December 24, 2018. (AP Photo/Rahmat Gul)

Several apartment buildings as well as a government public works department building are located in the same area of the eastern Kabul neighborhood where the attack is underway. Eyewitnesses report that a portion of the government building is in flames and several smaller explosions are heard amid the ongoing gunbattle.

No one claims responsibility but both the Taliban and the local Islamic State affiliate have carried out brazen daytime attacks in the capital.

— AP

PM says ultra-Orthodox draft, ‘Gideon Sa’ar’ bills won’t pass before elections

Netanyahu says the ultra-Orthodox conscription bill will not pass before the April elections as it needs support of the opposition and Lapid “has acted like a contortionist” in changing his position on the law from support to opposition.

He also says the so-called Gideon Sa’ar bill, which would force the president to entrust forming a coalition only to the head of a party, does not need to be advanced anymore as the president has indicated he does not plan to break tradition.

— Raoul Wootliff

Justice Ministry says work on criminal cases against PM ‘continuing normally’

Following reports that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit will refrain from publishing his conclusion on corruption cases against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu near the date of elections in April, the Justice Ministry says its work on the probes is “continuing normally.”

“This is an organized and professional work procedure that doesn’t depend on political events,” the ministry says in a statement.

It pointed to the ministry’s protocol for such cases, which says:

As a rule, there is no room to delay dealing with cases against public officials or candidates, who have previously been subject to investigation or police complaint, for the purpose of deciding on whether to lodge an indictment.

However, the treatment [of the cases] will take into consideration the necessary caution, and, as needed, the matter will be brought to the attorney general or state prosecutor [for a decision.]

The ministry concludes by saying that “any other report is mere speculation, since the end date for work on the cases is still unknown.”

Kahlon says he is proud of having blocked ‘anti-democratic initiatives’

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon says the coalition has called early elections because “it is difficult to function right now,” adding it is the right decision to “keep financial stability.”

“We wanted elections to be held as early as possible since the faster the process is the cheaper it is for Israel,” Kahlon says.

He adds that his Kulanu party maintained its “statesmanship” which he says was “hard in this government.” He says he is “proud” that his party blocked “anti-democratic initiatives” proposed by members of other coalition parties over the last four years.

Kahlon claims Israel’s economy is in a good condition, and lists what he touts as achievements that saved money for all citizens, “from Dan [in the north] to Eilat [in the south].”

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon leads a faction meeting of his Kulanu party at the Knesset on December 17, 2018. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Meretz chief urges Mandelblit to publish conclusion on PM probes before election

Tamar Zandberg, head of the left-wing Meretz opposition party, calls on Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit to publish his conclusions on whether to indict in corruption probes against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before the April elections.

“It is the basic right of the citizens of Israel to receive information from authorities about their actions, before they choose a leader,” she writes in a letter to Mandelblit.

“It is unthinkable that Israel would go to elections while there are three recommendations for bribery indictments against the prime minister,” she adds.

Moscow says it’s open to having a Putin-Trump summit

A senior Russian diplomat says Moscow is open to having a summit between Russian President Vladimir Putin and US President Donald Trump.

In this file photo from July 16, 2018, US President Donald Trump, left, and Russian President Vladimir Putin arrive for a meeting in Helsinki, Finland. (Brendan Smialowski/AFP)

Deputy Foreign Minister Sergei Ryabkov says in remarks carried by the Interfax news agency that it’s important to have a meeting between the two world leaders.

They were going to hold talks when they attended a G-20 summit in Argentina a few weeks ago, but Trump abruptly canceled the meeting over a Russia-Ukraine naval standoff.

Ryabkov warns it would be a “deep mistake” to think Russia has a bigger interest than Washington in repairing bilateral ties.

Russia-US ties have sunk to their lowest levels since the Cold War due to Russian interference in Ukraine, the war in Syria and reports of Russian meddling in the 2016 US presidential vote.

— AP

Netanyahu ‘only interested’ in graft probes against him — coalition official

As parties enter election mode, an unnamed senior coalition source slams Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Speaking to the Walla news site, the official says that “nothing interests Netanyahu except the corruption probes against him,” a possible hint that the decision to call early elections may have been made to delay the decision whether to indict him until after the April vote.

Coalition sets April 9 as official date for Knesset elections

Knesset elections are formally set for Tuesday, April 9, 2019, coalition party heads decide in a meeting.

That date was widely believed to be the agreed day for the next polls, with the government now making it official.

Pakistan’s former PM sentenced to 7 years for corruption

A Pakistani anti-graft tribunal sentences former prime minister Nawaz Sharif to seven years in prison for corruption, drawing criticism from his party, which says the decision is a “black stain” on the justice system.

In this photograph taken on June 15, 2017, Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif speaks to media after appearing before an anti-corruption commission at the Federal Judicial Academy in Islamabad. (AFP PHOTO / AAMIR QURESHI)

The verdict comes after Sharif was removed from power last year over corruption allegations. Sharif, who was serving his third stint as prime minister, has denied any wrongdoing.

He is accused of possessing assets beyond his known sources of income, and was arrested after the ruling was announced.

He can appeal the verdict, under which he is also fined $25 million for not disclosing how his family set up the Al-Azizia Steel Mills when he was exiled to Saudi Arabia by Pervez Musharraf, a former dictator who toppled Sharif’s government in 1999.

— AP

Electricity prices to only rise by 2.9%, less than half of planned hike

The Electricity Authority announces that electricity prices will only be raised by 2.9 percent, Hadashot TV reports, rather than the originally planned 8%.

The decision comes after Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon announced last week that he was canceling a tax hike on coal, which would’ve cost the Israel Electric Corporation hundreds of millions of shekels.

It also comes after the Electric Corporation won a lawsuit against the Germany company Siemens, winning some NIS 400 million ($106 million).

Confirming election date, parliament speaker says Passover to delay start of next Knesset

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein officially announces April 9 as the date for the next elections, saying that due to the week-long Passover festival that begin ten days later, the next Knesset’s first meeting will be three weeks after the vote rather than the normal two weeks.

Edelstein adds that he’s disappointed there has been no agreement on the ultra-Orthodox draft law, which is opposed by the Haredi parties and which Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid said today he will also oppose.

High security in Barcelona following US terror warning

Security is high in Barcelona following a US warning of the risk of a terror attack during the Christmas and New Year’s holidays.

The security alert, posted online and sent to US citizens in Spain’s second-largest city, recommends exercising “heightened caution” around buses and public transport in the Las Ramblas area. Barcelona’s downtown boulevard, beloved by tourists and residents, was targeted last year during an attack claimed by Islamic State jihadists that killed 14 people.

The regional Mossos d’Esquadra police declines to comment directly on the alleged threat, saying only that security has been heightened “as part of a previously arranged anti-terrorist vigilance for the Christmas period.”

Spain’s Interior Ministry says the level of anti-terror alert in the country remained at the second-highest level, unchanged since 2015.

— AP

Famous Turkish actor accused of ‘insulting Erdogan’

A famous Turkish actor is accused of insulting President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and inciting an armed uprising over comments made during a television program last week, local media reports.

Turkish Theater and film Actor Mujdat Gezen (C) answers journalists’ questions as he leaves Anatolian courthouse in Istanbul, on December 24, 2018 (Yasin AKGUL / AFP)

Metin Akpinar — who is also a well-known comedian in Turkey — is taken in by police for questioning, along with another Turkish actor, Mujdat Gezen.

“If we don’t become a (democracy)… the leader might be hung from his feet or maybe poisoned in the cellars or meet the same end as other leaders in the past,” Akpinar, 77, reportedly said on television on Friday.

An Istanbul court says the two men will be released on conditional bail after they were summoned to give statements to prosecutors. But they will have to report to a police station once a week and are banned from leaving Turkey.

Both men are suspected of “insulting the president.” Akpinar also is suspected of “inciting an armed uprising against the government,” the Istanbul public prosecutor says, quoted by Hurriyet daily.

— AFP

Palestinians say 14 injured by Israeli fire during riot in northern Gaza

Fourteen Palestinians are injured by Israeli fire in a weekly protest on the border region between Israel and the northern Gaza Strip, the Hamas-run Health Ministry says.

The ministry does not specify the severity of the injuries during the protest, which was held near the coast.

According to the IDF, the demonstrators were throwing rocks at the Israeli troops across the border. In one case, a small explosive device was thrown at the fence, but failed to clear it and landed inside Gazan territory, the army says.

In response, the Israeli troops launched tear gas canisters across the border and, in some cases, used live fire against the demonstrators who present a threat to soldiers or the security fence, the army says.

Last week, the ministry only reported on two wounded people by IDF fire during a similar protest, and 11 were said to be injured the week before that.

— with Judah Ari Gross and Adam Rasgon

Iraq says it could deploy military into Syria following US withdrawal

Iraq’s prime minister says his government could deploy troops inside Syria, in the latest fallout from the US decision to withdraw from the war-torn country.

At a press conference, Adel Abdul-Mahdi says his government is “considering all the options” to protect Iraq from threats across its borders.

The US stunned the international community last Thursday when it announced it would pull its forces out of Syria, leaving its allies, the Kurdish-led Syrian Democratic Forces, to fight the the Islamic State group alone.

IS jihadists hold a pocket of territory along the Syrian-Iraqi border. Iraq is keeping reinforcements at the frontier.

— AP

Zionist Union chief Gabbay says ‘elections are between me and Netanyahu’

Avi Gabbay, the leader of the current largest opposition party Zionist Union, says the next Knesset elections are “between me and [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu,” despite all recent polls seeing it lose a significant portion of its current 24 seats in parliament.

“All the political players have announced they will sit in a government headed by Netanyahu, and therefore these elections are between me and Netanyahu,” Gabbay says in a statement.

Head of the Zionist Union party Avi Gabbay leads a faction meeting in the Knesset on November 19, 2018. (Miriam Alster/FLASH90)

“I am aware of the weight of responsibility on the prime minister of Israel, and as prime minister I’ll lead the State of Israel to a better future. A future of change, unity and hope and belief that we can bring about change,” he adds.

“In April we will win,” he concludes. “In April we will bring change to Israel.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni, also of the Zionist Union, says that “Israel is preparing to bid farewell to Netanyahu. This is an opportunity for spring cleaning.”

Opposition leader Tzipi Livni addresses the Public Forum Conference on November 15, 2018. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

US to factor in Israeli election date in deciding when to publish peace plan

A senior White House official says the US administration will consider the date set for Knesset elections in deciding when to release the US administration’s long-awaited Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, dubbed the “deal of the century.”

“The upcoming election in Israel on April 9 is one of many factors we are considering in evaluating the timing of the release of the peace plan,” the official tells The Times of Israel.

— Raphael Ahren

Ex-PM Barak says he could rejoin politics, but ‘I alone am not enough’

Former prime minister and defense minister Ehud Barak says he is considering rejoining politics ahead of the next Knesset elections in April.

Speaking to Hadashot TV, Barak says he could join an anti-Netanyahu bloc, but adds that “I alone am not enough,” hinting that he could seek to join an existing party.

Turkey says US team coming to discuss Syria troops withdrawal

A US military delegation will visit Turkey this week to discuss the withdrawal of American ground forces from Syria, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s spokesman says.

“They will discuss how to coordinate (the withdrawal) with their counterparts,” Ibrahim Kalin tells a news conference in Ankara after US President Donald Trump’s shock decision last week to order the pullout of 2,000 troops.

— AFP

Trump: Federal Reserve is the ‘only problem our economy has’

US President Donald Trump says the only problem facing the US economy is the Federal Reserve, which has raised its key short-term rate four times this year given the low unemployment rate and brisk pace of economic growth.

The president is tweeting that Fed officials “don’t have a feel for the Market, they don’t understand necessary Trade Wars or Strong Dollars or even Democrat Shutdowns over Borders.”

He adds, “The Fed is like a powerful golfer who can’t score because he has no touch — he can’t putt!”

Trump has argued that the Fed is hindering the economy through its rate increases, which are intended to prevent inflation from rising too high. His major target for criticism has been Jerome Powell, whom the president elevated to chairman early this year.

— AP

Turkey says US missile deal does not affect S-400 purchase from Russia

Ankara’s purchase of US missiles worth $3.5 billion will not affect a deal to acquire rival S-400 missiles from Russia, the Turkish presidential spokesman says.

“The US Patriot sale process does not affect the S-400 process. We don’t see one as an alternative for the other,” Ibrahim Kalin says. Turkey’s plans to buy the Russian S-400s has drawn rebuke from its NATO allies.

— AFP

Likud slams Barak, says he’ll ‘watch the next elections on television’

The Likud party responds to former prime minister Ehud Barak’s announcement that he could rejoin politics ahead of the upcoming April elections, saying “the Israeli public rightly kicked him out.”

“The worst prime minister in Israel’s history will watch the next elections on television,” the ruling party says in a statement.

‘All good things come to an end,’ Bennett says of outgoing government

Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett issues his first statement since early elections were called earlier today, saying of the current government that “all good things come to an end.”

“We are completing four good years and going to elections,” the education minister says. “I think it’s right to go to a nation that wants a strong nationalist government to choose again, so that Israel can win again.”

Bennett had participated in the funeral for Simcha Rotem, the last surviving Warsaw Ghetto uprising fighter who died last week, aged 94, which prevented him from issuing a response until now.

People attend the funeral of Simcha Rotem (Kazik) at Kibbutz Harel on December 24, 2018. (Ben Dori/Flash90)

United Torah Judaism leaders meet in attempt to prevent split

Senior members of the two factions that make up the United Torah Judaism coalition party meet in an attempt to bridge recent differences and prevent a potential split before the upcoming Knesset elections.

Party chief Yaakov Litzman, who leads the Lithuanian ultra-Orthodox Agudath Yisrael faction, meets MK Moshe Gafni, head of the Hasidic Degel Hatorah faction, and both agree to hold more meetings in the coming days, Degel Hatorah says.

Both factions have sparred recently, supporting rival candidates in the Jerusalem municipal elections as well as in other local races. There has been fear of a split that would significantly harm the factions’ chances of passing the election threshold of four Knesset seats and entering the next parliament.

File: MK Moshe Gafni, right, and then-health minister Yaakov Litzman in the Knesset, September 6, 2016. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Roseanne Barr to speak at Knesset against ‘insidious’ BDS

Roseanne Barr will speak at the Knesset in January, saying she has “important work to do as a voice against the insidious and anti-Semitic BDS movement.”

The American comedian’s address will come during a tour organized by celebrity Rabbi Shmuley Boteach’s World Values Network, the organization announces.

In a news release, Barr says that she is looking forward to the trip as “a lover of Israel,” and says the country is an “oasis of openness, freedom, democracy and tolerance amidst a desert of brutality from an age gone by.”

Earlier this year, Barr’s rebooted sitcom “Roseanne” was canceled after she retweeted a statement that accused a former adviser of US ex-president Barack Obama, Valerie Jarrett, of having evil intent toward Jews and Israelis. Barr had previously come under fire for a racist tweet that mocked Jarrett, who is African-American, saying that “muslim brotherhood & planet of the apes had a baby=vj.”

She later released a video in which she ranted about the tweet, yelling “I thought the b*tch was white!”

Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and Roseanne Barr attend live podcast at Stand Up NY on July 26, 2018 in New York City. (James Devaney/Getty Images via JTA)

— JTA

IfNotNow activists kicked off Birthright trip for asking about West Bank policies

A Birthright participant has said she and two others were kicked off the program recently after confronting their guides with questions about Israel’s control of the West Bank and its treatment of Palestinians.

Emily Bloch of Boston writes in the Forward that questions about Israel’s West Bank security barrier while driving by it quickly escalated into an argument over the trip’s openness to alternative perspectives.

Bloch says, “Two hours later, I stood on a street corner in Tel Aviv with two other participants, watching our trip’s bus drive away without us.”

The trip’s leader told them that “we were no longer welcome on Birthright because our questions about the Occupation were making other participants uncomfortable.”

Emily and Ben Were Kicked Off Birthright for Asking Questions

We've been in touch with Emily Dora, Shira Leah, and Ben who were just kicked off their Birthright trip for asking questions about the Occupation. They asked to share this video explaining what happened. This is the first time Birthright has enforced its code of conduct which punishes participants for trying to learn about the Occupation. We're asking people to support these brave young Jews by calling 760-548-3542 right now to demand Birthright change their code of silence. Birthright needs to know that we will not accept their bribe and stay silent about the Occupation.

Posted by IfNotNow on Sunday, 23 December 2018

Bloch says she belongs to IfNotNow, a group of young American Jews who oppose Israel’s control over the West Bank which has been staging protests on Birthright tours.

In light of the growing phenomenon, Birthright recently updated its contract to say participants are banned from efforts to “hijack a discussion or create an unwarranted provocation.”

Birthright in a statement says: “When activists aggressively disrupt the experience of the other participants then, like in any organized group experience, we have to ask them to leave regardless of their agenda. Birthright Israel always welcomes participants’ views and questions, which are essential to the success of the experience, so long as they are shared in a constructive and respectful manner. We will not condone any coordinated plans to ruin the experience for others in order to promote a specific agenda.”

Lapid assails Netanyahu govt for ‘failing’ in security, cost of living

Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid issues a statement on the upcoming Knesset elections, attacking the current government and saying it has been failing for a long time and did not fall only today.

The government has “failed in security, the cost of living and in bringing about equal sharing of the burden [of serving in the IDF],” Lapid charges, referring to the ultra-Orthodox draft law, which this morning, he said he would oppose, after previously supporting it. That move has been regarded as the trigger for the dissolution of the coalition.

“Look where Netanyahu is taking us,” Lapid adds. “He tried to tell us there’s a war in the north — and there isn’t. He tried to tell us there’s no war in the south — and there is. Due to his criminal cases, everything for him is currently about political survival.”

“A government headed by me will safeguard security and work hard for the benefit of the citizens of the State of Israel.”

Head of the Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid gives a statement to the media, in the Knesset, on December 24, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

US stocks dive in worst ever Christmas Eve session

Wall Street stocks plunge for a fourth straight session, amid rising doubts over the US economy, after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s efforts to reassure investors fell flat.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average slumps more than 650 points, or 2.9 percent, to 21,792.20.

The broad-based S&P 500 falls 2.7%, to 2,351.11, while the tech-rich Nasdaq Composite Index slides 2.2%, to 6,192.92.

CNBC reports the losses are the worst ever for Wall Street on Christmas Eve, a holiday shortened session ahead of tomorrow’s holiday, when markets will be closed.

— AFP

Decision on Netanyahu indictment can be made by mid-February — report

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit could make a decision whether to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the three graft probes against him by mid-February, Channel 10 TV reports citing senior legal officials.

The sources reportedly say that, in such a case, there would be no reason to delay the announcement, despite earlier reports that the process would likely be postponed until after the April elections.

That could pave the way for a Knesset vote in which Netanyahu will have to battle not only his political rivals, but also a bribery indictment.

Ex-IDF chief Gantz said to not have time to form new party, will join existing one

Former IDF chief Benny Gantz will not have time to form a new political party to run in the upcoming April Knesset elections, and will have to join an existing party, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Gantz has been widely expected to join politics and form a new center-left party.

Citing a source close to Gantz, the report says he has been in contact with Adina Bar Shalom, the daughter of former chief rabbi, Ovadia Yosef, who has broken away from the Shas ultra-Orthodox party to form a new political entity called “Hachi Yisraeli” (“the most Israel”).

Gantz is reportedly seeking to first join Bar Shalom’s party, and then possibly join forces with other, bigger parties.

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz speaks at the annual World Zionist Conference in Jerusalem on November 2, 2017. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Jihadist attack in Kabul kills 25: official

A suicide bombing and shooting attack today on a Kabul government compound killed at least 25 people, an official says, in the latest violence to rock the Afghan capital.

Another 20 people were wounded in the hours-long assault that ended with four attackers killed, Interior Ministry spokesman Najib Danish says.

— AFP

US court rules North Korea should pay $500 million to Otto Warmbier’s family

A US federal judge rules that the North Korean government must pay $500 million in damages, in the case of Jewish student Otto Warmbier, who died after being held in Pyongyang’s custody for a year.

North Korea has not cooperated with the court case, and is not likely to comply with the Washington ruling and hand Warmbier’s family the money.

Warmbier was released back to the US earlier this year with severe brain damage, and died less than a week later.

TV host quits, indicating her husband Gideon Sa’ar could rejoin politics

Long-time television host Geula Even announces she is quitting her position as the host of the Kan broadcaster’s main evening news program, indicating that her husband, Gideon Sa’ar, is preparing to rejoin politics ahead of the upcoming elections.

At the end of today’s news, Even says it was her last broadcast and that it was a “great pleasure” to have hosted the program for the past years.

Sa’ar, a former minister for the ruling Likud party who quit politics several years ago and is widely regarded as a potential rival of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has previously announced his intention to return to national politics.

Education Minister Gideon Sa'ar and television news anchor Geula Even (photo credit: Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Moshe Shai/Flash90)
Former Interior Minister Gideon Sa’ar (left) and television news anchor Geula Even. (Yoav Ari Dudkevitch/Moshe Shai/Flash90)

Madoff’s former secretary seeks early release from prison

A lawyer for the former secretary for imprisoned US financier Bernard Madoff is asking that she be released from prison in March.

Attorney Roland Riopelle says 70-year-old Annette Bongiorno will have served two-thirds of her six-year prison term by March 19, and should be released then.

Annette Bongiorno leaves federal court in New York, February 24, 2014. (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

He cites a law signed by US President Donald Trump last week permitting judges to order some prisoners released to home confinement after serving two-thirds of a sentence.

He says her advanced age makes her eligible.

Bongiorno was among five Madoff employees convicted for their roles in a scheme that cost thousands of investors about $20 billion. She was sentenced in 2014.

Bongiorno maintained she was unaware of history’s biggest Ponzi scheme.

Madoff is serving 150 years in prison.

— AP

Ex-Disney actor charged with 6 counts in underage sex case

Former Disney Channel actor Stoney Westmoreland has been charged with six felony counts after US authorities said he tried to have sex with a 13-year-old boy.

Prosecutors say the 48-year-old Westmoreland was on the dating app Grindr when he found a profile operated by a police detective in Salt Lake City, near the location of the show “Andi Mack.”

This undated photo provided by the Disney Channel on December 15, 2018, shows Stoney Westmoreland as Henry “Ham” Mack in Salt Lake City. (Craig Sjodin/Disney Channel via AP)

A message left with Westmoreland’s agent, Mitchell Stubbs, is not immediately returned.

Charging documents say Westmoreland was arrested December 13, after he took a car to meet the boy so they could go back to his hotel room.

Charges filed Friday include attempted exploitation of a minor and enticing a minor.

Westmoreland has been dropped from his role as the grandfather of the teenage title character in the Disney show.

Westmoreland’s other acting credits include “Scandal” and “Breaking Bad.”

— AP

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Coalition heads call early elections in April

Coalition party heads announce that they have agreed to dissolve the Knesset and call new elections.

“Out of national and budgetary responsibility, the leaders of the coalition parties decided, unanimously and unanimously, to dissolve the Knesset and go to new elections at the beginning of April after a four-year term,” the heads of the five coalition parties say in a joint statement.

They stress that none of the parties will leave the government and that “the partnership in the Knesset and in the government will continue during the elections.”

— Raoul Wootliff