Dermer to PM: African migrant deportation plan damaging Israel’s image — report
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German sources deny PM’s claim Merkel ‘understands concerns’ over Iran nuke deal

Rebuffing PM who said chancellor expressed sympathy for Israeli opposition, diplomats say she was talking about Tehran’s threat to region, not P5+1 agreement

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Davos, Switzerland, on January 24, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershon/ GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in Davos, Switzerland, on January 24, 2018. (Amos Ben Gershon/ GPO)

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

Singer Gidi Gov under fire for calling Liberman a ‘new immigrant’

The Yisrael Beytenu party is demanding police investigate rock star and actor Gidi Gov for incitement and racism after he blasted Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman amid a fight over blackballing another singer, Hadashot news reports..

On Tuesday, Liberman demanded Army Radio boycott singer Yehonatan Gefen, after he compared Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi to Anne Frank, Hannah Szenesh, King David and Joan of Arc. Liberman was quickly rebuffed.

On Wednesday, Gov made fun of Liberman, who heads the Yisrael Beytenu party, for his thick Russian accent, calling him a “new immigrant.”

Liberman is originally from Moldova. Many of Yisrael Beytenu’s members come from the former USSR.

Gov is best known as a member of Kaveret, often called Israel’s Beatles, though he’s also had a successful solo career.

 

House Speaker Ryan in Riyadh for security talks

US House Speaker Paul Ryan is leading a Congressional delegation to the Middle East, meeting on Wednesday with Saudi King Salman in the first regional stop for talks centered on security.

A statement by Ryan’s office says his meetings in the Middle East “will focus on regional stability, the campaign against ISIS and terrorism, and Iranian aggression.”

Saudi King Salman (right) meets with the US House Speaker Paul Ryan (left), in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, January 24, 2018. (Saudi Press Agency via AP)

Saudi Arabia is a member of the US-led coalition fighting the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The kingdom and the US also cooperate on intelligence sharing related to extremist groups like al-Qaeda.

Saudi-US ties have since improved under President Donald Trump, whose first overseas visit as president was to Saudi Arabia in May.

State-run Saudi media showed Ryan meeting with King Salman after he was received at the airport in Riyadh by the head of Saudi Arabia’s Shura Council, a consultative body that is appointed by the monarch.

Ryan, a Republican from Wisconsin, is traveling with five Republican members of Congress and one Democrat. The delegation includes Armed Services Committee Chairman Mac Thornberry (Republican, Texas), Intel Committee Chairman Devin Nunes (Republican, California), Reps. Vern Buchanan (Republican, Florida), Liz Cheney (Republican, Wyoming), Scott Taylor (Republican, Virginia) and Stephanie Murphy (Democrat, Florida).

Ryan is scheduled to visit the United Arab Emirates on Thursday.

— AP

Netanyahu meets Belgian, Canadian leaders at Davos

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has started holding meetings with heads of states, a day after landing in Davos, Switzerland, for the World Economic Forum.

He meets with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel and apologizes for not meeting with him while he was in Brussels late last year.

He also meets with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Both meetings are behind closed doors.

Netanyahu said before leaving he would push European leaders to fix the Iran nuclear deal during his talks in the Swiss ski resort city.

He is scheduled to meet several world leaders while there, including US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

— Jacob Magid

Elton John set to announce retirement — reports

Piano maestro Elton John is set to announce his retirement after some 50 years of touring, British media is reporting.

John, 70, is set to soon end his six-year residency in Las Vegas.

British singer and musician Sir Elton John performs at the Yarkon park in Tel Aviv on May 26, 2016. (AFP PHOTO / Gil Cohen-Magen)

He is slated to make an official announcement regarding his future plans in the next hour.

John, a megastar known for his large catalog of hits and flamboyant outfits, has battled health problems in recent years.

His last show in Israel was in 2016.

Doctor who sexually abused Olympic gymnasts to be sentenced

A judge is set to sentence a Michigan doctor who parlayed his reputation and personal charm into years of sexual abuse by molesting Olympic gymnasts and other young female athletes instead of solving their sports injuries.

Former sports medicine doctor Larry Nassar during his sexual abuse trial at the Circuit Court Rosemarie Aquilina’s courtroom in Lansing, Michigan. (Matthew Dae Smith/Lansing State Journal via AP)

Judge Rosemarie Aquilina will hear from a few more victims and then send Larry Nassar to prison Wednesday, the seventh day of a remarkable hearing that has given the girls, young women and their parents a chance to confront him in court. He faces a minimum prison term of 25 to 40 years but it could go higher.

Among those expected to speak on the last day: Rachael Denhollander, a Kentucky woman who contacted Michigan State University police in 2016 after reading reports about how USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians, mishandled complaints of sexual misconduct. Nassar worked at Michigan State and also was the national gymnastics squad’s doctor.

Nassar, 54, eventually pleaded guilty to assaulting seven people in the Lansing area, including Denhollander, but the sentencing hearing has been open to anyone who said they were a victim. His accusers said he would use his ungloved hands to penetrate them, often without explanation, while they were on a table seeking help for various injuries.

US gymnast Aly Raisman confronts Larry Nassar in court, Janury 19, 2018 (YouTube screenshot)

The judge is likely to be unsparing in her treatment of Nassar. Aquilina has praised the victims who have appeared in her court since January 16, calling them “sister survivors,” while also assuring them that their perpetrator will pay. The women have included Olympians Aly Raisman, Jordyn Wieber and McKayla Maroney.

— AP

Children hit by car in Arara, airlifted to hospital

Two girls, ages 10 and 5, have been airlifted to a Haifa hospital after being hit by a car in the Lower Galilee city of Arara.

One of the girls is listed in serious condition and the other suffered moderate injuries, according to initial reports.

The cause of the crash is not immediately known.

 

Hungary Jews slam senior politician over Holocaust day memorial for Nazi ally

Hungary’s main Jewish organization lashed out Wednesday against a senior member of the ruling Fidesz party for participating in a memorial for a Nazi-allied wartime leader to be held on a Holocaust remembrance day.

Sandor Lezsak, also a deputy speaker of the Hungarian parliament, is scheduled to give a speech after a mass in Budapest Saturday in honor of the 150th anniversary of the birth of Miklos Horthy.

Horthy, an autocrat who ruled Hungary from 1920 to 1944, passed anti-Jewish laws and oversaw the deportations of several hundred thousand Hungarian Jews to Nazi German death camps.

Since 2005 the event’s date, January 27, is a UN-designated Holocaust memorial day marking the 1945 liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, the largest of the camps.

Regent of Hungary Miklós Horthy de Nagybánya with Adolf Hitler, year unspecified (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)

In an open letter addressed to Lezsak published on the group’s website, Mazsihisz head Andras Heisler said the official’s participation in the Horthy event on the UN Holocaust day “tramples on the memory of all the Hungarian victims.”

“It can only amount to the falsification of history,… no state representative should contribute to the building the cult of Horthy,” said Heisler.

Last year Prime Minister Viktor Orban called Horthy an “exceptional statesman” in the period after World War I.

— AFP

Bill to allow Israel to hold terrorists’ bodies clears first hurdle

The Knesset plenum gives preliminary approval to a bill allowing Israel to hold the bodies of terrorists rather than return them to their families, after the High Court of Justice had ruled that the practice cannot continue without a law explicitly permitting it.

The proposal by Jewish Home MK Bezalel Smotrich and Likud MK Anat Berko passes its preliminary reading in the Knesset with 62 lawmakers voting for it, 21 opposing it and 3 abstaining.

The bill would grant a police district commander authority to set conditions for returning the body of a terrorist to their family, if the commander determines that there is reason to fear a terror attack might be committed, lives might be at risk or the funeral will be used as a platform to praise terror attacks.

Edelstein: European leaders embrace Jews, then accuse Israel of ‘war crimes’

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein accuses European leaders of duplicity in embracing their local Jewish communities in the aftermath of anti-Semitic attacks and hate crimes even as they accuse Israel of “fabricated war crimes.”

“The efforts to combat anti-Semitism and protect the Jews of Europe are sincerely appreciated,” Edelstein says at an International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Brussels.

Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein speaking International Holocaust Remembrance Day ceremony in Brussels, January 23, 2018. (Courtesy)

“But what is the message when elected officials march with the Jewish community one day, and against Israel the next? When leaders embrace the local rabbi in solidarity after a hate crime and then treat Hamas as a legitimate voice? When an attack is anti-Semitic, and then Israel is denounced for fabricated war crimes?” Edelstein adds.

“These contradictory messages do not build trust. Instead they prevent us from meeting our joint obligations,” he says.

— Marissa Newman

Netanyahu tells world leaders Israel will continue to push back against Iran

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that during meetings with heads of states at the World Economic Forum in Davos, he told the leaders of Canada, Belgium and Switzerland that Israel will not allow Iran to establish military bases in Syria.

Netanyahu called on each of the heads of state to “take advantage of the opportunity created” by US President Donald Trump’s announcement earlier this month that he would no longer sign the certification of Iranian compliance, which waives sanctions on Iran and extends the nuclear deal, a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office says.

In addition to bilaterals with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, and President of the Swiss Confederation Alain Berset, Netanyahu also sat down with Azerbaijan President Ilham Aliyev.

All four meetings were behind closed doors.

He is scheduled to meet several other world leaders while there, including US President Donald Trump, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

— Jacob Magid

 

Yisrael Beytenu mounts challenge against ‘racism’ toward Russian immigrants

Yisrael Beytenu’s MK Yulia Melanovsky is demanding that police investigate rock star and actor Gidi Gov for incitement and racism after he blasted Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman amid a fight over blackballing another singer.

On Tuesday, Liberman demanded Army Radio boycott singer Yehonatan Gefen, after he compared Palestinian activist Ahed Tamimi to Anne Frank, Hannah Szenesh, King David and Joan of Arc. Liberman was widely criticized for the move and was quickly rebuffed by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit, who said he had overstepped his bounds.

In an interview with Radio Tel Aviv later on Tuesday, Gov said “it’s hard to hear someone with a Russian accent, a new immigrant, call Yehonatan Geffen an enemy of Israel.” Liberman is originally from Moldova. Many of Yisrael Beytenu’s members come from the former USSR.

In a letter to Mandelblit,  Melanovsky demands that police open a criminal investigation into the entertainer “for incitement to racism and making racist statements publicly,”

In a separate letter, fellow party member MK Robert Ilyatov insists Gov be banned from the Radio Tel Aviv station until he issues a public apology.

Helmsley Trust awards $18 million to Rambam and University of Haifa

The US-based Helmsley Charitable Trust awards an $18 million grant for the construction of the Helmsley Health Discovery Tower on the Rambam Health Care Campus in Haifa.

The planned 20-story tower, which will house medical research and innovation projects, is a joint project of Rambam and the University of Haifa. The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology will also collaborate on the project, using facilities in the tower for medical engineering activities.

Entrance to the Rambam Medical Center in Haifa, January 30, 2011. (Moshe Shai/Flash90/File)

The tower will house the clinical institutes of Rambam Health Care Campus in Ophthalmology and Gastroenterology, and the School of Graduate Dentistry, as well as The Clinical Research Institute at Rambam for research in the fields of brain and neuroscience, cancer, cardiology, diabetes, nephrology, human genomic medicine, medical devices, and minimally invasive surgical advances.

It is the largest grant ever committed to Israeli institutions by the Helmsley Charitable Trust, according to the trust.

— JTA

Egypt’s president submits nomination after rival’s arrest

Egyptian president Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi submits his nomination documents for relection, a day after a potentially serious challenger in the March vote was arrested by the military.

El-Sissi is virtually certain to win a second four-year term in the March 26-28 vote, as two would-be challengers have withdrawn from the race and another two have been arrested.

On Tuesday, the military arrested former chief of staff Sami Annan over a slate of serious allegations, all but ending his hopes of running in the election and ensuring that el-Sissi, a former general, will not face off against another member of the country’s powerful military establishment.

— AFP

Qatar economy weathers Saudi-led blockade — report

Qatar’s economy has weathered the impact of a months-long blockade by neighboring countries, although its tourism and real estate sectors have taken a hit, according to a new economic report.

The tiny Gulf state’s economy has maintained positive growth in the seven months since Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt imposed an air and land siege, says the report by Capital Economics.

“Recently released national accounts data confirmed that Qatar avoided the worst fears that the diplomatic crisis would plunge its economy into recession,” the independent London-based research firm says.

The economy of the gas-rich state grew by 1.9 percent in the third quarter of last year, up from 0.3 percent in the previous quarter, it adds.

The Saudi-led bloc of countries accuses Qatar of supporting extremist groups and of being too close to Iran, charges Doha denies.

— AFP

Death toll in car bombings in Libya’s Benghazi rises to 33

Libyan authorities raise the death toll from a nighttime twin car bombing near a mosque in a residential area of Benghazi to 33.

The Tuesday night attack, which struck the city’s Salmani neighborhood, also left 47 people wounded, local health official Hani Belras Ali says.

The site of an explosion in Benghazi, Libya, January 23, 2018. (Al-Hadath Channel via AP)

No group has yet claimed responsibility for the bombing, but many assumed it was the work of remnants of an Islamic State group faction largely driven out of Libya.

Benghazi police said the attackers timed the second bomb to go off as residents and medics gathered to evacuate the wounded from the first blast, aiming to cause a maximum of casualties.

— AP

Petition asks Supreme Court to stop planned deportation of African migrants

Human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman files a petition with the Supreme Court calling on it to stop planned forced deportations of African migrants to third-party countries said to be Uganda and Rwanda.

The petition calls on the plan to be blocked until it is confirmed that the deportations will be done, as the government has said will be the case, with the agreement of each asylum seeker.

The petition cites Israel’s Declaration of Independence, which promises “the principle of freedom, justice, righteousness and peace based on the Jewish tradition.”

“We ask that the court order [the government] to stop hunting, searching and arresting refugees slated for expulsion — until there is a ruling on the petition.” Feldman wrote.

Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Infiltrators Law mandating the closure of the Holot detention facility and the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers starting in March.

There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20 percent are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012. Many live in south Tel Aviv, and some residents and activists blame them for rising crime rates and have lobbied the government for deportation.

Defense minister okays IDF meeting with chief rabbi on women’s enlistment row

Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman gives his blessing for the army’s top cleric to meet with Sephardi Chief Rabbi Yitzhak Yosef amid tensions caused by top rabbis who have spoken out against the integration of women into the armed forces.

The development comes after a previous planned meeting between Yosef and IDF Chief Rabbi Eyal Karim was canceled Sunday, reportedly at the orders of IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot.

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, left, and head of the IDF Military Rabbinate Eyal Karim at a ceremony in Jerusalem, November 1, 2017. (Marc Israel Sellem/Flash90)

Liberman approved Karim to sit with Yosef so that the army rabbi could express the “displeasure of the minister and the IDF” at Yosef’s support for the chief rabbi of Safed, Shmuel Eliyahu, the ministry says in a statement.

Eliyahu had angered Liberamn by saying last week that army commander Eisenkot should be dismissed because he allows female soldiers to serve in combat units.

Leading member of Germany’s far-right AfD converts to Islam, resigns

A long-time leading member of the nationalist Alternative for Germany party resigns his post on its regional leadership after converting to Islam.

The party, known by its German acronym AfD, has campaigned against what it considers the “Islamization” of Germany because of immigration and higher birth rates among the country’s Muslim population.

A spokesman for AfD’s chapter in the eastern state of Brandenburg confirms that Arthur Wagner left the party’s regional board two weeks ago for “personal reasons.”

In an email, spokesman Daniel Friese says it was only after Wagner’s resignation that the party learned of his conversion.

One dead in Turkey in rocket attack from Syria

One person was killed and 13 were wounded in the Turkish border province of Kilis on Wednesday in rockets launched from Syria, Governor Mehmet Tekinarslan says.

One of the two rockets hit a local mosque, witnesses say. The attack comes on the fifth day of Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria against Kurdish militia viewed as “terrorists” by Ankara.

— AFP

French lawmakers banned from wearing religious symbols in parliament

French lawmakers have been banned from wearing religious symbols in parliament, under a proposal submitted by a member of President Emmanuel Macron’s party.

The National Assembly’s administrative office is adopting the proposal of En Marche’s François de Rugy, which states that, in an effort to “maintain an atmosphere of neutrality,” the parliament does not permit the wearing of “ostensible” religious symbols.

Also forbidden are any kind of uniform, logos, commercial messages, or political slogans.

In 2004, parliament passed a law forbidding the wearing of religious symbols in public schools. It is only partially enforced, with many pupils wearing Muslim head coverings and kippahs.

— JTA

2 Torah scrolls stolen from Hawaiian synagogue

Torah scrolls valued at about $50,000 each were stolen from a synagogue on the Hawaiian island of Oahu.

The scrolls were taken over the weekend from the sanctuary of the Chabad of Hawaii, located in the Ala Moana Hotel, according to local reports. One was written in the 1850s, in Lithuania, and survived the Holocaust.

Other valuable items, such as silver ritual objects, were left in the sanctuary.

In the fall, the Jewish center was targeted with anti-Semitic epithets spray-painted on the sidewalk outside the building.

Chabad is offering a $5,000 reward for the return of the Torah scrolls.

“We’re horrified and shocked and saddened that someone would steal something as sacred,” Chabad director Rabbi Itchel Krasnjansky tells a local TV station. “That someone would steal in itself is a terrible thing, but to steal a Torah scroll is really shocking.”

— JTA

Rights lawyer latest to withdraw from Egypt presidential race

Human rights lawyer Khaled Ali says he is quitting the race to become Egypt’s president, citing reasons that include the arrest of some of his election campaign activists and a tight timetable.

“Today, we announce our decision that we will not run in this race,” Ali says at a news conference in Cairo.

Ali, a leftist who was a presidential candidate in 2012, had yet to submit his candidacy for the March 26 – 28 election.

From the start, he said, “our announcement was met with an angry and irresponsible reaction, manifesting in the arrest of a large number of the campaign’s youth,” says Ali.

The arrests had started a few months “before we officially announced our intent to run… with some referred to urgent trials,” the rights lawyer adds.

The majority of those hoping to challenge incumbent President Abdel Fattah al-SisSi in the election have either ruled themselves out or been sentenced to prison in the past few weeks.

— AFP

German sources deny Netanyahu claim Merkel ‘understands concerns’ over Iran deal

German diplomatic sources deny Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed understanding for Israel’s opposition to the nuclear deal during a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“She understands Israel’s general concerns regarding Iran,” the sources tell The Times of Israel, referring to Iran’s ballistic missiles program and its problematic activities in the region. However, Germany stands fully behind the nuclear deal, which it reached together with the five permanent members of the UN Security Council.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Davos, Switzerland on January 24, 2018 (Amos Ben Gershon/ GPO)

After his meeting with the chancellor on the sidelines of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Netanyahu said that Merkel had “said that she understands our concerns regarding the nuclear agreement even though she does not necessarily agree with the way in which we want to deal with it.”

— Raphael Ahren

Pope rails against ‘fake news’

Pope Francis warns against the temptation of “fake news,” drawing a parallel between ethically compromised journalism and the biblical tale of Adam, Eve, the snake, and the forbidden fruit.

In his annual World Communication Day message, held on the feast day of Francis de Sales, the patron saint of journalists, the pope refers to Eve being fooled by the snake as “the first fake news.”

“We need to unmask what could be called the ‘snake-tactics’ used by those who disguise themselves in order to strike,” he says.

Pope Francis greets journalists aboard the papal flight to Amman, Jordan, on May 24, 2014. (AP/Vatican newspaper L’Osservatore Romano)

“Fake news” was popularized as a phrase by Donald Trump during his victorious 2016 US presidential election campaign and first year in the White House.

Pope Francis used the story of Adam and Eve, from the Bible’s Book of Genesis, to highlight that “there is no such thing as harmless disinformation; on the contrary, trusting in falsehood can have dire consequences. Even a seemingly slight distortion of the truth can have dangerous effects.”

— AFP

Sports doctor gets 40 to 175 years in prison for sexual assault

The sports doctor Larry Nassar is sentenced to 40 to 175 years in prison for sexually assaulting gymnasts and other young women and girls, capping a remarkable seven-day hearing that brought more than 150 victims or their families to court, including Olympians.

He worked at Michigan State University and USA Gymnastics, which trains Olympians.

Larry Nassar wipes a tear as he listens to Carrie Hogan deliver a victim impact statement at his sentencing hearing on January 17, 2018, in Lansing, Michigan. (Scott Olson/Getty Images/AFP)

Nassar had pleaded guilty to sexually assaulting seven females in the Lansing area between 1998 and 2015, but the hearing was open to all of his accusers.

His accusers said he would molest them while they were on the table, seeking help for various injuries. Nassar also has a 60-year prison sentence for child pornography crimes.

— AP

Save the Children suspends operations in Afghanistan after IS attack

Save the Children suspends operations across Afghanistan as Islamic State militants terrorized staff trapped inside one of its offices, in a deadly hours-long attack, the latest assault on a foreign charity.

Gunmen blasted their way into the British aid group’s compound in the eastern city of Jalalabad, killing three employees and wounding four others, Save the Children said in a statement.

An Afghan official had earlier confirmed the death toll, but had put the number of wounded at 27.

“It is with profound sadness that we can confirm three Save the Children staff members were killed earlier today in an attack on our office in Jalalabad, Afghanistan. All other staff have been safely rescued from the office,” Save the Children International chief executive Helle Thorning-Schmidt says, condemning the attack “in the strongest possible terms”.

“We have temporarily suspended our operations across the country following today’s events, however, we remain fully committed to helping the most deprived children of Afghanistan.”

— AFP

First monkeys cloned by process that made Dolly the sheep

Scientists in China have created the first monkeys cloned by the same process that produced Dolly the sheep more than 20 years ago, a breakthrough that could boost medical research into human diseases.

The two long-tailed macaques (Macaca fascicularis) named Hua Hua and Zhong Zhong were born at the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) Institute of Neuroscience in Shanghai, and are the fruits of years of research into a cloning technique called, “somatic cell nuclear transfer.”

Macaque monkeys looking at a man’s camera during snowfall at Wulongkou Nature Reserve in Jiyuan in China’s central Henan province, January 6, 2018. (AFP Photo/China OUT)

“The barrier has been broken by this work,” co-author Muming Poo, director of the Institute of Neuroscience of CAS Center for Excellence in Brain Science and Intelligence Technology, says.

Until now, the technique has been used to clone more than 20 different animal species, including dogs, pigs and cats, but primates have proven particularly difficult.

— AFP

Dermer to PM: African migrant deportation plan damaging Israel’s image — report

Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer has reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that press coverage of planned forced deportations of African migrants to third-party countries, said to be Uganda and Rwanda, is damaging Israel’s reputation abroad.

Media reports on the plan are causing Israel “great reputational damage,” Dermer told the prime minister and other senior cabinet ministers, Channel 10 news reports.

Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Infiltrators Law, mandating the closure of the Holot detention facility and the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers, starting in March.

There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012. Many live in south Tel Aviv, and some residents and activists blame them for rising crime rates, and have lobbied the government for deportation.

Washington is reportedly weighing ‘real steps’ against Abbas

Washington is reportedly weighing “real steps” against Abbas, following his strong opposition to Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, with a recent massive cut to the UNRWA budget possibly “only the start.”

Last week, the US State Department announced it would withhold $65 million of the $120 million it had planned to contribute to UNRWA this month, one of several payments to the agency slated for 2018.

Now: “The US State Department is reexamining the entire (US) aid budget to the Palestinians,” Hadashot news reports.

US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley is among those who are pushing for Abbas and the PA to “continue to pay for their attitude to the United States,” the report says, noting that other US officials disagree.

The TV stations says it has been told, “This is not a sanction.”

But if the Palestinians come back to the peace table, and end their boycott of the Trump administration, the cuts will disappear from the agenda, it said it has been told.

Abbas purchases $50 million private plane

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has just purchased a new high-end private plane totaling $50 million, Hadashot news reports.

The plane is funded with $30 million coming from the Palestinian National Fund, and $20 million from the PA budget.

The plane is set to be delivered within weeks to Amman.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu does not have a private plane.

Rabbi Sacks defends role writing VP Pence’s Knesset speech

Former British chief rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks defends his role in helping US Vice President Mike Pence write the speech he delivered in the Knesset this week, as first reported by The Times of Israel.

US Vice President Mike Pence gives a speech at the Knesset in Jerusalem on January 22, 2018. (AFP Photo/Pool/Ariel Schalit)

Sacks told the UK’s Jewish Chronicle that it was “a great tribute to the Jewish people” that Pence had sought his guidance for the speech.

White House officials told The Times of Israel on Tuesday that Sacks played a major role in drafting the speech, which was laden with passages bearing a clear resemblance to his own public speeches and published works.

“Rabbi Sacks was an instrumental part of crafting the vice president’s speech,” a source with knowledge of the speech-writing process said, adding that the vice president had met with Sacks in New York for 90 minutes, in November. “Rabbi Sacks provided input and editorial suggestions on various drafts throughout the writing process.”

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks speaks on the power of religious texts to shape lives, at The Center for Jewish History in New York, April 5, 2016. (Cathryn J. Prince/The Times of Israel)

Dan Sacker, Sacks’s spokesman, said the New York meeting “centered around how best to frame elements of the speech — in particular the biblical and historic connection between the Jewish people and the land of Israel, and the American and Jewish stories.”

“It was these, and only these, elements of the speech that Rabbi Sacks assisted with. He considered it a great tribute to the Jewish people that someone like Vice President Pence would turn to a Jewish source for guidance on such matters.”

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Dermer to PM: African migrant deportation plan damaging Israel’s image — report

Israel’s Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer has reportedly told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that press coverage of planned forced deportations of African migrants to third-party countries, said to be Uganda and Rwanda, is damaging Israel’s reputation abroad.

Media reports on the plan are causing Israel “great reputational damage,” Dermer told the prime minister and other senior cabinet ministers, Channel 10 news reports.

Last month, the Knesset approved an amendment to the Infiltrators Law, mandating the closure of the Holot detention facility and the forced deportations of Eritrean and Sudanese migrants and asylum seekers, starting in March.

There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese, and the vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012. Many live in south Tel Aviv, and some residents and activists blame them for rising crime rates, and have lobbied the government for deportation.