Hilik Bar is Labor’s third MK today to say he won’t seek reelection
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Latest poll shows shakeup on the right, Likud pulls ahead, Jewish Home erased

Ruling party wins 32 seats, followed by centrists Yesh Atid at 14 and Benny Gantz at 13; Arab lists split; storied Jewish Home party falls below threshold

View of the main building of the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 26, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
View of the main building of the Knesset in Jerusalem on December 26, 2018 (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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

US military looks to buy two Iron Dome batteries to protect deployed troops

The US Army has asked Congress for some $373 million for the purchase of two Iron Dome batteries from Israel.

According to the Yedioth Ahronoth daily, if the deal goes through, it will be the first time Israel has ever sold an entire weapons system to the US.

The report on the sale, which cites an American website called Inside Defense, says it will include 12 launchers, two radar systems and battlefield management computers, and 240 missiles.

The batteries will be supplied by 2020, and will be deployed with US forces in sensitive parts of the world to help protect them from the threat of rocket attacks.

The army’s request leaves open the possibility that it will spend up to $1.6 billion on further integrating the Iron Dome system into US radar and command-and-control systems by 2024, suggesting the American military’s interest in the system is only beginning.

Then-US president Barack Obama and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu alongside an Iron Dome missile defense battery during Obama’s visit to Israel in March 2013. (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Newsweek reporter calls Mossad, Chabad American journalism’s ‘third rail’

A national politics correspondent for Newsweek, Nina Burleigh, tweets that Israeli- and Jewish-linked organizations — along with Israel itself — are on “the third rail of American journalism.”

The tweet is in response to a thread by author Sarah Kendzior listing several stories she said were “undercovered.” A few of the stories involved US President Donald Trump and Chabad, the Hasidic outreach movement; Black Cube, a private intelligence firm that employs former agents of Israel’s Mossad spy agency; and Jeffrey Epstein, a Jewish financier and registered sex offender.

Kendzior asked why “officials also seem reluctant to investigate or prosecute obvious crimes.”

“Interesting thread,” Burleigh replies. “To answer your final question, Israel, mossad, Chabad and black cube … you’re hitting the third rail of American journalism, Sarah.”

The phrase “third rail” refers to the untouchable rail on mass transit systems that electrocutes upon contact. Burleigh did not respond to an inquiry from JTA asking her to elaborate on the tweet.

Yair Rosenberg, a Tablet magazine writer who tweets about anti-Semitism, wrote that Burleigh was suggesting that “the Jews are behind Trump.”

“A person who works for Newsweek just said the Jews are behind Trump. That is all,” he tweeted.

— JTA

Labor MK says she won’t run again, laments her party ‘no longer the same home’

Labor MK Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin announces she won’t run in the party’s primaries for another term in the Knesset.

“I’ll remain in the political arena,” she says in a statement, lamenting the Labor party’s troubles. “Despite the great support I am receiving, my home is no longer the same home.”

She thanks her “beloved colleagues.”

Labor is sinking in the polls to single-digit support and has seen vociferous opposition forming in the party’s activist ranks to its controversial chairman Avi Gabbay after Gabbay’s decision last month to break up the political alliance with Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua party.

Iran state TV’s English channel says anchorwoman held in US

TEHRAN, Iran — The English-language arm of Iran’s state television broadcaster is reporting that its prominent American-born news anchor was arrested after flying into the United States.

Press TV breaks into its broadcast today to report that Marzieh Hashemi, born Melanie Franklin of New Orleans, was arrested on Sunday after arriving at St. Louis Lambert International Airport.

The broadcaster, citing her family, says Hashemi was taken into FBI custody and brought to the Washington area.

A call to the FBI rang unanswered early on Wednesday morning. The bureau did not immediately respond to a written request for comment. Several local jails around Washington that house federal inmates also said they did not have her in custody.

Hashemi’s reported arrest comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the US.

— AP

21-year-old Israeli woman found dead in train station in Australia

A 21-year-old Israeli woman was found dead at a train station in Melbourne, Australia, Israel’s Foreign Ministry says.

Local authorities are investigating the cause of death, which is either not known or has not been made public by officials.

Israel’s diplomats in Canberra and the ministry’s Department for Israelis Abroad are working to bring the woman’s body home to Israel for burial.

Wolf Prize winners announced in five fields

President Reuven Rivlin hosts the Wolf Foundation at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem for the announcement of this year’s Wolf Prize winners.

The prize celebrates laureates’ contributions to “science and arts in the service of humanity” and is awarded, together with $100,000 for the winner, in the fields of medicine, agriculture, mathematics, chemistry and physics, as well as in the arts, including drawing and sculpture, music, and architecture. The prizes will be handed out in a ceremony in the Knesset in May this year.

The announcement today was presided over by the Wolf Foundation’s acting chairman, Prof. Dan Shechtman, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett. Shechtman won the Wolf Prize in physics in 1999, then went on to win the Nobel in chemistry in 2011.

The 2019 Wolf Prize winners are:
• Wolf Prize in Medicine – Prof. Jeffrey Friedman
• Wolf Prize in Mathematics – Prof. Gregory Lawler and Prof. Jean-Francois Le Galle
• Wolf Prize in Agriculture – Prof. David Zilberman
• Wolf Prize in Architecture – Moshe Safdie
• Wolf Prize in Chemistry – Prof. Stephen L Buchwald and Prof. John F Hartwig

At the event, Rivlin notes that none of the winners this year are women. “The foundation would do well to make sure that each year they find a groundbreaking woman scientist and artist, who certainly exist, and award her a prize,” he says.

President Reuven Rivlin, left, Professor Dan Schechtman, center, and Education Minister Naftali Bennett, right, at the announcing of the 2019 Wolf Prize winners in five fields, at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem, January 16, 2019. (Mark Neiman/GPO)

No bones found in Danube riverbed sweep for Holocaust victims’ remains

A sonar scan of the bottom of the Danube River in Budapest reveals no human remains, a local rabbi who initiated the search for the bodies of Holocaust victims says.

Volunteers for ZAKA, an Orthodox Jewish group that is based in Israel and provides emergency services as well as collection of human remains for burial, operated the sonar from the river banks yesterday, Slomo Koves, the head of the Chabad-affiliated EMIH Jewish federation of Hungary, tells JTA.

The team operating the sonar will be back next month for another scan, he says.

In 2011, human remains were discovered during construction work on a bridge overlooking the Danube. DNA tests run on the bones in August 2015 found that at least nine of the 15 samples were Ashkenazi Jews from Europe and that the six others could also be.

In 1944-1945, Hungarian Nazi-collaborators from the Arrow Cross shot thousands of Jews on the banks of the Danube. These murders are at the heart of an ongoing and polarizing debate in Hungary about how government-led and other commemoration efforts should address the issue of complicity. The Mazsihisz Jewish federation has accused the government of whitewashing this complicity, though EMIH has disputed this.

— JTA

Iran’s Rouhani vows to continue space launches despite Western criticism

Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani vows to try again after his country tried but failed to place a satellite in orbit yesterday.

The launch was panned by the US and European governments, who said Tehran’s continued development of missiles capable of reaching space amounted to ignoring UN resolutions exhorting Iran not to expand its offensive missile capabilities.

“We have achieved great success in building satellites and launching them. That means we are on the right track,” Rouhani says, according to quotes from state media translated by Reuters. “The remaining problems are minor, will be resolved in a few months, and we will soon be ready for a new launch,” he adds.

Iran plans three more rocket launches as part of its space program. Washington has noted that the technology is nearly identical to that found in ballistic missiles.

Despite recent feuds, Ashkenazi Haredi parties to run together for Knesset

The two major Ashkenazi Haredi political factions, Degel Hatorah and Agudat Israel, sign an agreement to run together for Knesset once again, preserving a longstanding political alliance, dubbed United Torah Judaism, between the two sometimes-bickering parties.

Agudat Israel represents the Hasidic sects in Israel’s Haredi community, while Degel Hatorah represents the Lithuanian branch.

The two run separately in local elections, and October’s municipal races in Jerusalem and other towns saw bitter feuding between the factions.

According to the agreement signed a short time ago, Agudat Israel will take all odd-numbered seats on the Knesset slate and Degel Hatorah the even-numbered ones. The parties also agreed to try and ensure that Agudat Israel head Yaakov Litzman returns to the Health Ministry, where he currently serves as deputy minister, and Degel Hatorah chief Moshe Gafni chairs the Knesset Finance Committee in the next Knesset.

Starting tomorrow, motorcyclists must wear full-head helmets

The Transportation Ministry reminds Israelis in a statement a short time ago that, starting tomorrow, all riders on motorcycles, scooters and ATVs must wear full-head helmets.

The new regulations prohibit helmets that only cover the scalp, like bicycle helmets, for riders of motorized vehicles. From tomorrow, helmets must reach at least to the rider’s ears.

Vast dust cloud covers Negev as stormy weather moves in

The Environmental Protection Ministry warns Israelis living in the south that the stormy weather moving in over the past few hours is pushing a vast dust cloud over southern Israel, causing unusually dense dust pollution in the Negev and Arava regions, and over the southern city of Eilat.

The dust will settle as rains begin to clear the air in the evening.

People with health conditions that could be adversely affected by the dust are urged to stay indoors, including the elderly, young children, pregnant mothers, and those with lung or heart problems.

Several beaches on the Sea of Galilee are closed over storm-related safety concerns. Roads in Rosh Ha’ayin and elsewhere are closed due to fallen trees or electricity poles.

On Route 90 in the Jordan Valley, there are areas with extremely poor visibility. Authorities are urging drivers to use fog lights and drive slowly.

Italians leave Gaza Strip after Hamas standoff

Three Italian security officers leave the Gaza Strip after an incident that saw them flee to a UN building as Hamas security pursued them, an official and a diplomatic source say.

The three were in Gaza to prepare for an upcoming visit by the Italian consul general based in Jerusalem, the diplomatic source says, and were stuck in the UN building for around a day after the incident.

They were allowed to leave after their identities were confirmed, a Gazan security source says.

Hamas apparently confused them for Israeli agents. The group has been on high alert for infiltrations following a November Israeli special forces operation inside Gaza.

— AFP

Steve King condemns white supremacy in vote over his comments on white supremacy

WASHINGTON — Steve King, the pariah Iowa Republican congressman, joins 423 other members of the House in condemning white supremacy, in a resolution responding to his musings on white supremacy.

The US House of Representatives voted Tuesday 424-1 to condemn white supremacy, with members taking to the floor to make clear that they were voting against King, who last week wondered in an interview with The New York Times why the terms “white supremacist” and “white nationalist” were offensive.

“Well, I will tell him, and anyone else who may be confused,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Jewish chairman of the House Judiciary committee. “These hateful ideologies are dangerous not just because they, too often, lead to violence.” Nadler mentioned the October 2018 massacre of 11 Jewish worshipers in Pittsburgh and the deadly August 2017 neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia.

King said he agrees with the sentiments in the resolution, and continues to defend his remarks, saying they were misconstrued — he meant only to wonder why the term “Western civilization” caused offense.

The single vote against was by Rep. Bobby Rush, an Illinois Democrat, who wanted the body to go farther and censure King.

— JTA

Lithuanian judge postpones trial tied to deceased Nazi collaborator

JTA — A Lithuanian judge postpones a precedent-setting trial in which civil servants intend to publicly defend in court the actions and good name of a deceased Nazi collaborator.

The postponement in the trial connected to Jonas Noreika was announced Tuesday in Vilnius. Lawyers representing the Center for the Study of the Genocide and Resistance of the Residents of Lithuania said they needed more time to review materials relevant to a US citizen’s lawsuit demanding the state museum end the glorification of Noreika on public property.

The trial will mark the first time that European Union government officials defend in court the actions of a Nazi collaborator, according to Efraim Zuroff, the Simon Wiesenthal Center’s Eastern Europe director.

Zuroff, a Holocaust historian, for years has argued that Noreika, whom many consider a hero in Lithuania because he was killed while being held by Soviet authorities, became a mass murderer after his appointment in 1941 as head of Siauliai County under the German Nazi occupation.

In documents submitted to the court, the center claimed Noreika’s actions cannot be judged posthumously and that in any case there is no evidence to suggest he perpetrated war crimes. The Simon Wiesenthal Center, the Jewish Community of Lithuania and one of Noreika’s grandchildren, Silvia Foti, dispute this.

Silvia Foti, granddaughter of Lithuanian Nazi collaborator Jonas Noreika, visits a friend in Vilnius, Lithuania, July 2013. (Ina Budryte/via JTA)

The trial is set to begin in March.

— JTA

US service members killed in Syria attack, coalition says

US service members are among those killed in a suicide attack Wednesday in the flashpoint Syrian city of Manbij, the US-led coalition says without specifying how many.

“US service members were killed during an explosion while conducting a routine patrol in Syria today,” a coalition spokesman says in a statement posted on social media.

“We are still gathering information and will share additional details at a later time.”

— AFP

Netanyahu: US nuclear deal pullout ‘most important’ event in region this year

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with leaders of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, at his office in Jerusalem.

“The most important thing that happened this year in this region,” he tells the American pro-Israel group, according to a Hebrew-language statement from his office, “was President Trump’s decision to leave the [Iran] nuclear deal, which has caused the Iranian economy to crash. The nuclear deal filled Iranian coffers, and those funds went straight to Syria, Hezbollah and Hamas.”

Netanyahu adds: “The second dramatic thing that happened was our military actions in Syria to prevent Iran from entrenching militarily against us in Syria.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, meets with AIPAC leaders at his office in Jerusalem, January 16, 2019. (Haim Tzach/GPO)

Egypt says its forces killed 5 jihadists in northern Sinai

CAIRO — Egypt says its police forces have killed five militants in a shootout in the city of el-Arish in the turbulent northern Sinai Peninsula.

A statement Wednesday by the Interior Ministry says the shootout took place on a deserted farm used by the jihadists as a hideout. It says forces seized explosives and weapons.

It is unclear when the battle took place.

Egypt has been battling the militants for years, but the insurgency gained strength after the 2013 overthrow of an elected but divisive Islamist president. The militants have mainly targeted security forces and Christians.

Egypt last year launched a wide-scale security operation focused on the northern Sinai Peninsula, where an affiliate of the Islamic State group has carried out many attacks in recent years.

— AP

As storm hits, Israelis break wintertime electricity use record

The Israel Electric Corporation says Israelis just broke an all-time record in wintertime electricity consumption, guzzling 12,712 megawatts to warm their homes as a cold stormfront hits the country’s population centers.

The last winter record, of 12,624 megawatts, was set in January 2016.

The all-time record was set last summer, when Israelis drew 12,921 megawatts at one point, much of it for air conditioners amid an unusually hot summer.

A watt is a measure of energy transfer equal to one joule per second.

Hilik Bar is Labor’s third MK today to say he won’t seek reelection

It’s been a rough day for the Labor Party, with three serving MKs announcing they will not seek reelection to the party’s Knesset slate in the upcoming primaries amid polls showing the party’s election prospects sinking into the single digits.

After MKs Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and Eitan Broshi announced they were stepping out of the race, MK Hilik Bar, the party’s former secretary-general and a key activist, says he won’t seek a Knesset seat either.

Bar says in a statement that he plans to campaign for the party until the April 9 elections, after which he will turn to activism in support of a two-state peace solution with the Palestinians.

One victim of Nairobi attack confirmed as American Jewish 9/11 survivor

One person killed in the terror attack yesterday in Nairobi is identified as Jason Spindler, an American Jew who survived the 9/11 attacks and volunteered for the Peace Corps.

In an interview with NBC News, Spindler’s mother Sarah Sandler says he “was trying to make positive change in the third world in emerging markets.”

“It is with a heavy heart that I have to report that my brother, Jason Spindler passed away this morning during a terror attack in Nairobi, Kenya. Jason was a survivor of 9/11 and a fighter. I am sure he gave them hell!” Spindler’s brother Jonathan wrote on Facebook, according to CNN.

Jihadists who killed 14 in Nairobi say attack tied to US support for Israel

Following its deadly attack on a luxury Nairobi mall, which killed 14 people yesterday, the al-Shabaab terror group says its actions are linked to American support for Israel.

Tweeting about the attack, Rita Katz, the director of the SITE Intelligence Group, notes the al-Shabaab group is “just as opportunistic as it is dangerous.”

The group “uses its #Nairobi attack to capitalize on Palestine issue by pointing out one attacker’s bandana reading ‘heading to Quds [#Jerusalem],’ stating the attack ‘was directly related to’ #Palestine and Trump’s support for Israel.”

Snow begins to fall in Jerusalem

Snow has begun to fall in Jerusalem, mixed with hail in some places in the capital.

Snowfall has also been reported in the mountaintops of the Golan and Galilee, and in the Etzion Bloc in the West Bank south of Jerusalem.

Israelis set new all-time record for electricity use amid winter storm

Israeli electricity usage has now officially passed its all-time record, reaching 13,058 megawatts, the Israel Electric Corporation says.

The previous record was set last summer, when Israelis drew 12,921 megawatts at one point, much of it for air conditioners amid an unusually hot summer.

A watt is a measure of energy transfer equal to one joule per second.

Hamas praises Malaysia’s refusal to allow Israeli athletes into country

A senior Hamas official praises Malaysia for its refusal to host Israeli athletes at events in the country.

In a statement, Hamas Politburo member Ezzat al-Rishq calls Malaysia’s stance “honorable and genuine,” according to the Palestinian Information Center, a news site linked to the terror group.

On Wednesday, Malaysia’s Foreign Minister Saifuddin Abdullah said that the government will not budge over a ban on Israeli athletes in a para-swimming competition and has decided that the country will not host any events in the future involving Israel.

“The Cabinet has also decided that Malaysia will not host any more events involving Israel or its representatives. This is to me, a decision to reflect the government’s firm stance over the Israeli issue,” Saifuddin said after meeting a coalition of Muslim groups.

— Adam Rasgon with AP

Trump plan: Split Jerusalem, Palestinian state on up to 90% of W. Bank – report

Channel 13 news reports what it claims to be US President Donald Trump’s peace plan, in which Palestinians get up to 90% of the West Bank for their state with a land exchange that allows Israel to annex major settlement blocs.

According to the report, which cites a “senior American official” who relayed the outline of the plan in a closed “briefing a few days ago,” Israel would keep the settlements of the Etzion Bloc, Ma’ale Adumim and Ariel, and would be required to dismantle dozens of illegal outposts throughout the West Bank.

The plan, Channel 13 reports, divides Israeli settlements into three categories: major settlement blocs that were to be part of Israel in previous major peace frameworks, isolated settlements like Itamar, Itzhar and Tapuah that won’t be evacuated but also would not be permitted to grow, and outposts recognized as illegal under Israeli law that must be evacuated.

The plan purportedly divides Jerusalem into two capitals, an Israeli capital in Jewish-majority areas and a Palestinian one in most Arab-majority areas. The holy places in the city’s center would be under Israeli sovereignty but would be administered jointly by Israelis, Palestinians, Jordan and possibly additional nations.

The Trump administration believes the Palestinians will reject the plan, but expects Israel to react favorably, the report claims.

Stormy weather shutters Eilat airport

Flights in and out of the Ovda airport near Eilat are being delayed or diverted due to storm conditions and low visibility, Israel’s Airports Authority says.

One flight belonging to Wizz Air, which was headed to Ovda, has been diverted to Ben Gurion Airport near Tel Aviv.

Latest poll shows Likud in comfortable lead, Hatnua and Jewish Home erased

A poll for Channel 12 shows dramatic shifts on the right, including the possible collapse of the religious-Zionist Jewish Home party.

According to the poll, if the elections are held today, Likud would win 32 seats, Yesh Atid 14, Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience Party 13, Labor 9, Naftali Bennett’s New Right 8, the Ashkenazi Haredi United Torah Judaism party 7, a new Arab list headed by MK Ahmad Tibi 6, the Joint (Arab) List sans Tibi 6, the Sephardi Haredi party Shas 6, Yisrael Beytenu 6, Meretz 5, Kulanu 4 and Orly Levy-Abecasis’s Gesher party 4.

Three contenders for the next Knesset come in below the 3.25% electoral threshold: Tzipi Livni’s Hatnua, Moshe Ya’alon’s party and Jewish Home.

The survey was carried out by Meno Geva and Mina Tzemach and included 1,000 respondents.

Prominent settlement leader slams purported Trump peace plan

The mayor of a prominent settlement slams US President Donald Trump’s purported peace plan, as reported by Channel 13 earlier this evening.

While praising Trump for “being the first to move the American embassy to Jerusalem and to recognize our rights in the holy city,” Beit El Mayor Shai Alon says the plan, “as reported tonight, is full of holes, and of course we oppose it.”

“We did not return to Jerusalem after millennia of exile so a Jordanian guard can check us at the entrance to the Western Wall. This place has belonged to us from time immemorial, and there is no chance whatsoever that we would give it up or hand oversight of it to a third country,” Alon says.

He adds that Israel’s West Bank settlements “are working on building and strengthening these places by adding tens of thousands of new families in Judea and Samaria, not exchanging land and not freezing [construction],” both elements the Channel 13 report claims are in the Trump peace plan.

UK’s May wins vote to keep job, Brexit chaos

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May’s government survives a no-confidence vote called after May’s Brexit deal was overwhelmingly rejected by lawmakers.

The House of Commons expresses confidence in the government by 325 votes to 306, meaning May can remain in office.

Had the government lost, Britain would have faced an election within weeks while preparing to leave the European Union on March 29.

Despite the reprieve, May faces a monumental struggle to find a way out of her country’s Brexit impasse. She has until Monday to come up with a new blueprint for Britain’s EU exit after the deal she reached with the EU went down to a crushing defeat in Parliament on Tuesday.

— AP

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Hilik Bar is Labor’s third MK today to say he won’t seek reelection

It’s been a rough day for the Labor Party, with three serving MKs announcing they will not seek reelection to the party’s Knesset slate in the upcoming primaries amid polls showing the party’s election prospects sinking into the single digits.

After MKs Ayelet Nahmias-Verbin and Eitan Broshi announced they were stepping out of the race, MK Hilik Bar, the party’s former secretary-general and a key activist, says he won’t seek a Knesset seat either.

Bar says in a statement that he plans to campaign for the party until the April 9 elections, after which he will turn to activism in support of a two-state peace solution with the Palestinians.