Gantz to give statement to press on Netanyahu trial
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Gantz after PM’s trial date announced: How will he be able to focus on Israel?

Blue and White leader says corruption trial will prevent Netanyahu from being able to fulfill his role: ‘He must be free, focused and unburdened by any other interests’

Blue and White head Benny Gantz at an election event in Tel Aviv, Feb 17, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)
Blue and White head Benny Gantz at an election event in Tel Aviv, Feb 17, 2020. (Gili Yaari/Flash90)

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

Former PM Olmert asks Rivlin for criminal record to be wiped

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert has presented a formal request to President Reuven Rivlin asking for his criminal record to be cleared, two years and a half years after he was released from prison, where he served 16 months on corruption charges.

The request notes Olmert’s “work for the state during his time as prime minister,” according to Haaretz.

Wiping Olmert’s criminal record clean would also remove the “moral turpitude” ruling that prevents him from running for public office for seven years after his release.

Last week, Olmert met with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in New York City to discuss US President Donald Trump’s peace plan.

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, left, and former Israeli prime minister Ehud Olmert hold a press briefing on February 11, 2020 in New York. (Bryan R. Smith/AFP)

Around 500 to leave quarantined Japan ship Wednesday — official

Around 500 passengers will leave a cruise ship quarantined off Japan on Wednesday after testing negative for the new coronavirus that has infected hundreds on board, according to a Japanese health ministry official.

“The number [who will leave Wednesday] is changing, largely because it is up to passengers [if they get off],” the official tells reporters. “But it will be around 500 people.”

— AFP

Iran sentences alleged US spies to up to 10 years in prison

Iran has sentenced eight environmental activists, including an Iranian who reportedly also has British and American citizenship, to prison sentences ranging from four to 10 years on charges of spying for the United States and acting against Iran’s national security, the countries judiciary says.

According to the judiciary spokesman, Gholamhossein Esmaili, an appeals court issued the final verdicts.

Two of the activists, Morad Tahbaz and Niloufar Bayani, got 10 years each and were ordered to return the money they allegedly received from the US government for their services.

Tahbaz is an Iranian who also holds US and British citizenship.

— AP

UN chief: Coronavirus outbreak is ‘a very dangerous situation’

The UN secretary general says that the coronavirus outbreak that began in China poses “a very dangerous situation” for the world, but “is not out of control.”

United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres on December 1, 2019. (CRISTINA QUICLER/AFP)

Speaking in an interview with The Associated Press, Antonio Guterres says that “the risks are enormous and we need to be prepared worldwide for that.”

Guterres says a spread of the virus to countries with “less capacity in their health service” would require a great deal of international solidarity.

The outbreak has infected more than 73,000 people globally. The World Health Organization has named the illness COVID-19, referring to its origin late last year and the coronavirus that causes it.

— AP

Rivlin takes off for first Australia trip

President Reuven Rivlin takes off from Ben Gurion Airport on his way to Australia, where he will make his first official visit to the country this week at the invitation of Governor-General David Hurley,

The trip Down Under will also include stopovers in the Fiji Islands and Los Angeles. Rivlin is expected to arrive in Australia on Friday.

“I am excited to be visiting Australia for the first time as president,” Rivlin says ahead of the trip. “The relations between Israel and Australia are well-established and strong. They are based on shared values and true friendship that bridge the huge distance between us – not only countries, oceans and time zones, but also different cultures and traditions.”

 

Netanyahu: Israel ‘perhaps better prepared than any other country’ for coronovirus

“We are as well prepared or perhaps better prepared than any other country,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says of Israel’s response to the global outbreak of the coronavirus.

Speaking on Army Radio, Netanyahu says, “So far we have succeeded in preventing the entry of the virus… I will do everything to prevent it from happening or to postpone it for as long as possible.”

The prime minister says that Israelis quarantined on the cruise ship Diamond Princess due to the spread of the coronavirus should have been released earlier.

They will arrive back in Israel on Thursday after Japanese authorities agreed for them to be taken straight to a plane that will fly them home.

The Health Ministry on Sunday said Israelis returning from four destinations in East Asia will now be required to self-quarantine for two weeks amid concerns over the spread of the novel coronavirus.

Travelers to Thailand, Singapore and the semi-autonomous Chinese cities of Hong Kong and Macau must remain in isolation, the ministry said. Previously, only travelers coming from China were subject to such a self-quarantine.

On Monday, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri, on the advice of the Health Ministry, ordered that non-Israeli nationals from Thailand, Singapore, Hong Kong, and Macau be denied entry to Israel, as a further precaution.

Netanyahu corruption trial set to open on March 17, two weeks after election

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial will open just two weeks after Israelis are set to go to the polls for the third time in a year.

The Justice Ministry announces that the trial will open on March 17 at 3 p.m.

On January 28, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit filed indictments against Netanyahu with the Jerusalem District Court. It marked the first time in Israel’s history that a serving prime minister will face criminal charges.

According to the text of the indictments released by the Justice Ministry in November, Netanyahu is charged with fraud and breach of trust in Cases 1000 and 2000, and bribery, fraud and breach of trust in Case 4000.

Iranian supreme leader says US controlled by rich Jews

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei posts on Twitter:

Health Ministry warns against ‘fake news’ on coronavirus in Israel

The Health Ministry releases a statement warning the public not to pay attention to “fake news” disseminated on social media about the spread of the coranavirus in Israel.

The ministry says such news “causes deliberate deception.”

“Official announcements and updates can only be received through the authorized bodies in the Ministry of Health,” the statement says.

Gantz to give statement to press on Netanyahu trial

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will deliver a statement to the press at 8 p.m. Israel time.

Party officials say that the statement will be in response to the Justice Ministry’s announcement earlier today that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial will begin on March 17, just two weeks after elections.

University of Illinois student government president vetoes divestment resolution

The president of the University of Illinois student government vetoes a resolution passed by the body last week that supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel.

At a cabinet meeting on Sunday, Connor Josellis said the remarks made Wednesday evening during discussion of the resolution and in the aftermath of its passage “have made students feel unsafe and have fostered a climate of hate on this campus,” the Daily Illini student newspaper reports.

The university released a statement following the vote noting that the resolution was nonbinding and had no plans to act on it.

The resolution, which had 22 sponsors, calls on the university to divest from “companies that profit from human-rights violations in Palestine and other communities globally.” It names three companies that do business in Israel: Raytheon, Elbit Systems Ltd. and Northrup Grumman.

— JTA

Israel to loosen recent restrictions on Gaza

Israel will extend the Gaza fishing zone back to 15 nautical miles and increase the number of travel permits from the Strip to 2,000, following a period of relative calm in the coastal enclave, Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians says.

The military had restricted the permitted fishing zone down to 10 nautical miles and cut some 500 travel permits after weeks of regular rocket fire and the launching of balloon-borne explosive devices into Israel from Gaza.

Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Kamil Abu Rukun says in a statement that these sanctions will end only if calm remains.

“So long as the quiet is preserved, Israel will act accordingly,” he says.

Though the rocket attacks have waned in recent days, airborne bombs have continued to cross the border, including the warhead of a rocket-propelled grenade that was found in the Gaza-adjacent community of Alumim earlier today.

— Judah Ari Gross

Trains to airport stopped after man jumps on tracks

Trains to and from Ben Gurion Airport train station have been temporarily suspended after a man “for some unknown reason, jumped from one of the upper floors of the Ben Gurion Airport and fell into the railway station area,” according to the Airports Authority.

The man was not hit by a passing train, a statement says. His condition was not immediately known.

“Israel Railways staff, the airport paramedic team and police are on the scene,” it adds.

Deputy defense minister Dichter: Netanyahu able to manage trial and premiership

Likud MK deputy defense minister Avi Dichter tells Radio 103FM that Benjamin Netanyahu has the ability to manage being prime minister while sitting trial for corruption.

“Prime Minister Netanyahu is experienced enough and strong enough. He comes with 14 years of experience as prime minister and with the skills he has gained in multitasking,” Dichter says, adding that he believes Likud will win the upcoming election, which is set to take place two weeks before the trial begins.

“I see the resurgence in our base and I believe we will win the election.”

Cellcom said set to buy Golan Telecom for NIS 600 million

Israeli mobile giant Cellcom is set to buy phone company Golan Telecom for some NIS 600 million ($175 million), according to Hebrew media reports.

Cellcom will additionally waive a debt from Golan Telecom of NIS 130 million ($38 million).

The deal with Golan, which has some 900,000 subscribers, will secure Cellcom’s place as Israel’s largest mobile phone company with some 3.4 million total customers.

Some reports said Cellcom would pay NIS 620 million for Golan.

The boards of the companies are reportedly meeting today to approve the deal.

Court extends remand of Rabbi Eliezer Berland, associates on extortion charges

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court extends the detention of convicted sex offender Rabbi Eliezer Berland, who is accused of fraud, extortion, money laundering and other offenses, as well as that of five of his associates.

The remand of five of the suspects was extended until Thursday while one will be kept under arrest until next Sunday. Further details were placed under gag order.

Rabbi Eliezer Berland arrives for a court hearing at the Jerusalem Magistrate Court, on February 13, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Berland, his wife and other senior members of his ultra-Orthodox Shuvu Bonim sect were arrested last Sunday for allegedly fleecing millions of shekels from terminally ill patients by promising miraculous recoveries.

The arrest came after hundreds of people complained to police against Berland for selling prayers and “wonder drugs” to desperate members of his community, and for promising families of handicapped individuals that their loved ones would be able to walk and families of convicted felons that their loved ones would be freed from prison.

Jury begins deliberating at Weinstein’s New York rape trial

Jurors begin considering the fate of ex-Hollywood titan Harvey Weinstein following his high-profile sex crimes trial that marked a watershed moment in the #MeToo movement.

The disgraced movie mogul, 67, faces life in prison if the jury of seven men and five women convict him of predatory sexual assault charges in New York.

Movie producer Harvey Weinstein departs his sexual assault trial at New York Criminal Court with his lawyer Donna Rotunno, left, in New York City, on February 14, 2020.
(Stephanie Keith/Getty Images/AFP)

More than 80 women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct since allegations against him ignited the #MeToo global reckoning against men abusing positions of power in October 2017.

But the jury is considering charges related to just two: ex-actress Jessica Mann and former production assistant Mimi Haleyi, with many claims too old to prosecute.

Mann, 34, says Weinstein raped her in March 2013, while Haleyi alleges he forcibly performed oral sex on her in July 2006.

— AFP

Jordan condemns plans for train to Western Wall

Jordan condemns yesterday’s announcement by Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich’s office that authorities have given approval to move forward with a controversial plan to place a train station in the heart of Jerusalem’s Old City.

Jordan called the move a “flagrant violation of international law,” according to the BBC.

Illustrative: Passengers at Yitzhak Navon train station in Jerusalem, December 18, 2019. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Jordanian foreign ministry spokesman Daifallah al-Fayez urged the international community to “assume its responsibilities to resist the illegitimate and illegal Israeli steps,” the report said.

The plan involves extending the high-speed Jerusalem-Tel Aviv train line to the Old City. The plan would involve constructing two underground stations and excavating over two miles (three kilometers) of tunnel beneath downtown Jerusalem and under the politically and historically sensitive Old City.

Stars of David graffiti spray-painted on 2 Boston apartment buildings

Stars of David graffiti were spray-painted on two apartment buildings in a Boston neighborhood.

Police are investigating the incidents in the South End that occurred overnight Saturday as acts of vandalism.

It’s too early in that process to call the incidents anti-Semitic, Robert Trestan, executive director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New England office, tells JTA.

“Irrespective of motive, there is still an impact when religious symbols are painted on someone’s home,” he says.

Trestan credits the police with responding quickly and taking the incidents seriously.

Two large six-pointed gold stars were spray-painted on the exterior doors at 437 Shawmut Ave. and on the front of another nearby building.

— JTA

Netanyahu: First plane of Ethiopian Jews to arrive next week

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells a Likud event targeting the Ethiopian Israeli community in Rishon Lezion that a plan approved last week to bring almost 400 Ethiopian Jews to Israel is likely to get underway next week.

“I believe that the first plane will be on its way already next week,” the prime minister says of the measure that will allow Ethiopian Jews to reunite with family members already living in Israel.

The cabinet approved the measure despite opposition over the timing from Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit who argued in a legal opinion that the move could be interpreted as a campaign ploy directed at Ethiopian-Israelis just weeks before the March 2 election.

Likud is seeking to woo Ethiopian Jews ahead of the national vote. Many members of the community turned their backs on the ruling party in last year’s elections, following a series of high-profile incidents of police violence and amid ongoing concerns over government neglect and discrimination toward the community.

— Raoul Wootliff

Gantz responds to PM’s trial date: He won’t be able to care for Israel

“This is a sad evening for the State of Israel and the citizens of Israel,” Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz tells a party campaign event in Rehovot in response to an announcement earlier today that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial will begin on March 17, just two weeks after the election.

“March 17: The mandate ends and trial begins,” Gantz says, claiming that the prime minister will be unable to fully focus on issues of state during the trial.

“Netanyahu will only deal with himself. He will not be able to care for the citizens of Israel.” Gantz says. “He must be free, focused and unburdened by any other interests.”

Netanyahu is going to trial, and we will continue from here. We will take care of security, health, education and other state affairs, after three election campaigns… We will win and take Israel on a new path. “

AG to tell High Court Netanyahu can form a government despite corruption charges — report

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is expected to deliver an opinion to the High Court of Justice saying that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu should be allowed to form a government after the March election, despite corruption charges against him, Channel 12 news reports.

In January, the High Court threw out a petition urging it to bar Netanyahu from forming a government due to the charges against him in three criminal cases.

The court said it would not make a decision on the matter, because the timing was “premature.”

Before the ruling, Mandelblit has refused to present the court with an opinion on the matter.

Earlier today, the Justice Ministry announced that Netanyahu’s trial will begin on March 17, just two weeks after the election and likely during coalition negotiations to form the next government.

US lawmaker defends meeting with Iran FM in Munich

US Senator Chris Murphy defends a weekend meeting he held with Iran’s foreign minister in Europe, after his actions were questioned in conservative media.

The Connecticut Democrat says his Saturday meeting with Mohammad Javad Zarif was important because it is “dangerous not to talk to one’s enemies.” Murphy says he wanted to see Zarif because there has been no US diplomatic channel with Iran since US President Donald Trump withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal two years ago.

“I have no delusions about Iran — they are our adversary, responsible for the killing of thousands of Americans and unacceptable levels of support for terrorist organizations throughout the Middle East,” he writes in a Medium post.

Murphy’s meeting with Zarif was first reported in the conservative publication The Federalist. Asked about that report, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo told reporters Tuesday during a trip to Ethiopia that he hoped anyone who meets with Zarif would be reflecting the US position with Iran.

— AP

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Gantz to give statement to press on Netanyahu trial

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz will deliver a statement to the press at 8 p.m. Israel time.

Party officials say that the statement will be in response to the Justice Ministry’s announcement earlier today that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s corruption trial will begin on March 17, just two weeks after elections.