The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s news as it happened.
Supreme Court president blasts ‘unprecedented assault’ on judicial branch
Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut lashes out against a bill that would limit the power of the court to strike down Knesset legislation as unconstitutional, calling it an “unprecedented assault” against the judicial branch and warning it would leave basic human rights unprotected.
Hayut delivers her comments during a swearing-in ceremony for new judges at the President’s Residence in Jerusalem. Also in attendance is President Reuven Rivlin and Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked, whose Jewish Home party is the main proponent of the controversial bill, known as the supercession law.
“The judicial branch is under a brutal and unprecedented attack that realistically threatens its power and independence,” Hayut says. “The significance of the legislation is simple — the elimination of the constitutional protection of human rights that is anchored in Israel by Basic Law: Human Dignity and Liberty and freedom to enact laws that violate those rights without the court being able to provide relief to the victims.”
“Those who hold that the supercession law ‘supercedes’ the court are mistaken,” Hayut continues. “In fact, it supercedes the human rights of every segment of Israeli society, and gives legitimacy to the Knesset, with the support of the government, to enact laws that violate human rights with impunity.”
Ministers on Sunday authorized the bill, which would give a 61-MK majority the ability to overturn Supreme Court decisions to strike down Knesset legislation as unconstitutional.
— Stuart Winer
Opposition faction leader praises Supreme Court president’s defiance
Zionist Union faction chairman Avi Gabbay praises Supreme Court Chief Justice Hayut for her public comments slamming the bill that aims to rein in the power of her institution to strike down Knesset legislation as unconstitutional.
“We must praise Hayut for her words, for not backing down and not cowering to the efforts to silence her and the court,” Gabbay says at the opening to his faction’s weekly meeting in the Knesset.
“This is an assassination attempt against the Supreme Court, against freedom and against Israeli democracy,” he says of the bill authorized by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation yesterday.
Gabbay also praises the coalition’s Kulanu party leader Moshe Kahlon for vowing to oppose the bill in the Knesset and for “standing up to the extremists in the government.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Israel announces measures easing Palestinian ‘fabric of life’ for Ramadan
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman announces that during the Muslim fast of Ramadan, which begins May 15, Israel will be enacting a series of steps “to improve the fabric of life of the Palestinian population in the Judea and Samaria area.”
In a statement, he says that West Bank Palestinians will be allowed to visit family members who are prisoners in Israeli jails on Sunday through Thursday as well as on the Eid al Fitr holiday marking the end of Ramadan.
Liberman also says Palestinians will be allowed to attend Friday prayers on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem as well as to fly out of Ben Gurion International Airport, with prior coordination.
Crossings into Israel will also stay open longer hours, he says.
“The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, Major General Kamil Abu Rokun, briefed Palestinian Authority officials and the international community on these steps and gestures on the occasion of the holiday,” the defense minister says.
“In addition, officers of the Civil Administration briefed the Palestinian population about the planned measures, and also briefed all forces operating in the field about the holiday’s traditions and customs.”
Opposition faction leader pans law making it easier for PM to declare war
Zionist Union chair Gabbay, speaking at his weekly faction meeting, also slams a law passed last week giving the prime minister the authority to declare war or order a major military operation after consulting only the defense minister, and not via a full cabinet vote as the law had previously required.
“Do you understand how absurd that is? For any small change to the normal laws we need the majority of the Knesset. But for this? To go to war? Just Liberman and Netanyahu,” he says.
According to the new law, in “extreme circumstances,” military operations can be authorized by the prime minister and defense minister alone and will not need a vote by cabinet ministers.
Gabbay calls on coalition partners to oppose the new law and support an amendment being presented by the Zionist Union this week that would cancel it.
“What do the coalition partners have to say about this? About the next war, the lives of our children? Nothing. This time, your silence is dangerous. During the next war, you won’t be able to say, ‘We didn’t know,'” he charges.
“The people of Israel will not forget. You have an opportunity to fix it.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Meretz leader calls on Kahlon to quit over court-hobbling bill
Meretz party chair Tamar Zandberg — citing a campaign being led by right-wing Im Tirtzu group against Moshe Kahlon for his opposition to the bill curtailing the powers of the Supreme Court — calls on Kahlon to take his Kulanu party out of the coalition and bring about new elections.
“I said he must resign during the last session of the Knesset over his support for the bill to help Netanyahu save himself from investigations, and now I call on him to resign because he opposes this bill and cannot claim to be protecting the rule of law while staying in the government,” she says at the opening of her weekly faction meeting in the Knesset.
Kahlon has vowed to vote against the bill in the Knesset.
Zandberg says she will not allow the proposal to pass. “In the Knesset, in the street, in the public squares, we will stand up to oppose it,” she says.
— Raoul Wootliff
Justice minister defends law hobbling Supreme Court
Justice Minister Shaked deflects the harsh criticism leveled at an initiative that would limit the court’s ability to strike down laws on constitutional grounds.
She says that those who oppose the law are too quick to predict the demise of Israel’s democratic character.
“Every week there’s someone proclaiming the end of Israeli democracy, sometimes because of a government process, and sometimes because of some legislation,” she says at the same gathering where the Supreme Court’s president called the bill an “assault on the judicial branch.”
“The inflation in announcements of the death of democracy has become absurd,” Shaked says. “I regret to disappoint the eulogizers, but go outside and take a look — Israeli democracy is alive and thriving and kicking and stronger than any of its critics and eulogizers.”
France, Germany say they’ll stick with Iran nuclear deal
The foreign ministers of France and Germany say they will hold on to the nuclear agreement with Iran, regardless of the upcoming US decision on whether to nix the deal.
US President Donald Trump has threatened to cancel the 2015 accord restricting Iran’s nuclear activities this week, saying it’s flawed.
France’s top diplomat, Jean-Yves Le Drian, says the three European countries that were part of the deal — France, Britain and Germany — are committed to maintaining it.
Le Drian says in Berlin that “we will continue it independently of the American decision.”
His German counterpart, Heiko Maas, says Berlin, too, wants to stick by the deal, which he said “makes the world a safer place and without it the world would be less safe.”
Unofficial results show Hezbollah gains in Lebanon elections
The Iran-backed Hezbollah group and its political allies scored significant gains in Sunday’s parliamentary elections in Lebanon while the Western-backed Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s Future Movement sustained losses, according to preliminary and unofficial results published in Lebanese media today.
The results, which are more or less expected to match the official count, show that Hariri, a Sunni politician with close ties to Saudi Arabia, has so far lost five seats in Beirut, once considered his party’s stronghold.
If confirmed, the results will be yet another boost for Iran’s allies in Lebanon and neighboring Syria, where it has seen its strength steadily grow over the past few years.
Official results are expected to be announced by Interior Minister Nouhad Machnouk later today, although no time has been set. Both Hariri and the Hezbollah leader, Hassan Nasrallah, were expected to speak later in the day.
The next Lebanon government, like the outgoing one, will likely be a unity government that incorporates Hariri’s opponents from the Shiite Hezbollah group.
Hezbollah and its allies appear set to take at least 47 seats in the 128-seat parliament, which will enable them to veto any laws the Shiite militant group opposes. The group, according to the unofficial results, added one seat and now has a bloc of 13 in parliament, known as “Loyalty to the Resistance” bloc.
Bennett says law limiting Supreme Court must come up for vote soon
Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett says he is willing to wait a few more days for the “supercession law” to be brought before the Knesset, but will not accept it being shelved indefinitely.
The bill, which would limit the High Court’s ability to overturn laws it deems unconstitutional, passed in the Ministerial Committee for Legislation yesterday but seems unlikely to face a Knesset vote this week after Kulanu party chair Moshe Kahlon said he would oppose it.
Bennett says that the bill is the only option on the table to solve “the worsening problem” of African asylum seekers living in Israel.
“Three times the Supreme Court has overturned our solution,” he says of government-sponsored initiatives to forcibly deport the asylum seekers.
“The prime minister has asked for more days in order to reach a solution that we can all agree on,” Bennett says.
“I say to the prime minister and Kahlon — if you have a better solution than ours, put it forward. But without that, we implore you to continue with this law, the supercession law. We can wait a few more days, but not longer.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Defense minister: ‘We need’ law making it easier for PM to declare war
Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman says that a new law giving him and the prime minister authority to declare war on their own, without authorization of the cabinet, is necessary “to deal with the many threats against the country.”
“We need to be ready at all times. There is no time for foot dragging,” he says at the opening of his Yisrael Beytenu faction’s weekly meeting.
“We are making sure that we are ready for any possible incident, both tactically and in terms of legislation,” he says.
Referring to recent reports that a military conflict with Iran could be near, Liberman says: “There is no place for national hysteria. Yes, there are threats, it’s not a simple situation, but we know how to deal with the problem and we are ready for any incident.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Iran says it could remain in nuke deal even if US pulls out
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says his country would be willing to remain in the nuclear deal even if the United States pulls out, providing the European Union offers guarantees that Tehran would keep benefiting from the accord.
Rouhani’s remarks came ahead of President Donald Trump’s decision expected later this week on whether to pull America out of the landmark deal between Iran and world powers. Rouhani speaks during a meeting with officials in the northeastern city of Mashhad.
He says a US pullout would be a “strategic mistake.”
He says that “what we want for the deal is that it’s preserved and guaranteed by the non-Americans” — a reference to other signatories of the 2015 agreement.
He adds that in this case “the US pullout will be OK.”
Kulanu chair doubles down on opposition to court-limiting bill
In rare comments to the press at the opening of his faction’s weekly meeting in the Knesset, Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon defends his opposition to the bill curtailing the powers of the Supreme Court, again attacking his coalition partners for pushing the measure through.
Kahlon said yesterday that the bill was an “attack on the rule of law” and vowed to vote against it in the Knneset.
Today, he fumes at the claim made by Jewish Home chair Naftali Bennett that he is failing the residents of south Tel Aviv by blocking the bill, which was ostensibly proposed in order to prevent the Supreme Court from overturning legislation to expel from Israel some of the large population of the African asylum seekers living there.
“I know exactly how a right-wing, nationalist public figure should behave — but with statesmanship,” he says, in an apparent rejection of the suggestion that he is veering to the political left.
“We need to stop the spin,” he says. “We are in favor or removing the infiltrators from the country. I have budgeted tens of thousands of shekels in the past year to deal with the problem of the infiltrators.”
But Kahlon claims that the current version of the bill will not do that.
“This bill will do nothing, and they know it,” he says of Jewish Home, without providing an explanation as to why the bill would fall short. “That is why they don’t want the bill to be brought before the Knesset plenum this week. They know it does nothing.”
Kahlon says he would support “a form of ‘supercession law’ to “remove the infiltrators,” but stresses that the current bill goes too far.
“The Kulanu party will not allow extremist factions to drag the State of Israel into a corner,” he says.
“I have said that we need to sit together to reach an agreement. But not this way. We will solve the problem of the infiltrators, not through underhandedness and not by damaging Israel.”
— Raoul Wootliff
Netanyahu says Israel facing ‘defense challenges’
Apparently alluding to flaring tensions with Iran, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel has “defense challenges” that it is “facing and will continue to face together.”
Speaking at the opening of his Likud party’s weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, Netanyahu also refers to controversial bills that his coalition is championing.
“We stand before an important [Knesset] session with very important laws that we will enact together,” he tells Likud MKs.
Gazans send incendiary balloon over border, causing fire
An incendiary device attached to a helium balloon is sent over the border from Gaza in Israel, causing a fire in a field outside Kibbutz Nir Am in the southwestern Shaar Hanegev region.
Reports say the extent of the damage is unclear.
It is the first such helium balloon sent from Gaza after several weeks in which Palestinians on the other side of the fence caused several fires using Molotov cocktails attached to kites.
ADL: 4.2 million anti-Semitic tweets in 2017
WASHINGTON — Twitter users lashed out with an estimated 4.2 million English-language anti-Semitic tweets in 2017, the Anti-Defamation League says, adding fresh concerns that digital platforms have become a haven for expressions of Jew-hatred.
In a report by the ADL’s Center for Extremism, researchers found that 4.2 million tweets were sent from roughly three million Twitter handles from January 2017 to January 2018. The average number of anti-Semitic tweets per week was 81,400.
The report does not search for non-textual expressions of anti-Semitism, like anti-Jewish memes or videos, but in many cases, they became part of the study when they were posted in conjunction with anti-Semitic text.The ADL’s study on the subject is its second in recent years, and notes a dramatic increase in anti-Semitic language.
The Jewish civil rights group last released a similar examination in October 2016, which found a total of 2.6 million tweets containing language posted between August 2015 and July 2016.
“This new data shows that even with the steps Twitter has taken to remove hate speech and to deal with those accounts disseminating it, users are still spreading a shocking amount of anti-Semitism and using Twitter as a megaphone to harass and intimidate Jews,” says the group’s CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt.
— Eric Cortellessa
Netanyahu says Jewish Home ‘burying’ Supreme Court override bill
Netanyahu lashes Jewish Home party for sticking to its guns on the bill that would severely limit the Supreme Court’s ability to strike down legislation on constitutional grounds.
“At the moment Jewish Home is pushing the override clause into the garbage can,” he tells members of his Likud faction, according to leaks to Hebrew media. Netanyahu is apparently referring to the fact that Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon has made plain that his party will not vote in favor of the law in its current form.
While Jewish Home is insisting on a version of the bill that would allow the Knesset to reenact a law struck down by the Supreme Court if 61 MKs vote to do so, there have been suggestions that the law could pass if that number were to be raised.
“The only way to pass the override clause is by reaching agreements within the coalition,” the prime minister says. “Anyone who pushes without arriving at agreements is burying the override clause.”
Army announces drill in the north, including explosions and flares
The army announces that it will be holding an exercise in the western Galilee region of northern Israel today that will include explosions and flares.
The drill is expected to last through the night, the army says.
The military stresses that the exercise, which comes amid reports Israel is gearing up for a possible Iranian missile strike, was planned in advance and is part of the regular annual training schedule.
— Judah Ari Gross
Jewish Home rejects Netanyahu criticism, but signals it could compromise
Jewish Home fires back at Netanyahu over his criticism of its decision to stick to its guns on the bill to override the Supreme Court.
“The override clause has been dragged out for three years under all sorts of pretexts,” the party says in a statement.
But the statement also appears to leave open an option for compromise, including raising the number of MKs that would be needed in order to reenact a law struck down by the court on constitutional grounds.
“We announce in advance that any override bill that receives the endorsement of Prime Minister Netanyahu, Finance Minister Kahlon and the rest of the coalition parties will also be acceptable to the Jewish Home faction.”
Foreign diplomats not invited to opening of US embassy in Jerusalem
A US embassy official says that foreign diplomatic corps have not been invited to the opening ceremony for the new embassy building in Jerusalem on May 14.
“We have invited around 800 guests,” the official says. “These include religious and business leaders, journalists, academics, and government representatives from the United States. We have also invited several Israeli government representatives and political leaders to attend.
“Given that the focus of the event is on US-Israeli relations, we did not extend an invitation to the foreign diplomatic corps,” the official adds.
— Raphael Ahren
Trump blasts Kerry for attempts to salvage Iran deal
US President Donald Trump takes former US secretary of state John Kerry to task for his efforts to salvage the Iran nuclear deal ahead of Trump’s May 12 deadline for deciding on whether to pull out of the pact.
“The United States does not need John Kerry’s possibly illegal Shadow Diplomacy on the very badly negotiated Iran Deal,” tweets the US president, who is widely rumored to be readying to pull out of the deal.
“He was the one that created this MESS in the first place!” Trump adds.
According to the Boston Globe, Kerry recently met with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to discuss possible ways of salvaging the deal.
The Globe’s source said Kerry also met recently with other top officials to discuss strategies to maintain the accord, including German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini and French President Emmanuel Macron.
Hezbollah declares ‘great victory’ in Lebanese elections
The leader of Lebanon’s Hezbollah praises provisional parliamentary election results as vindicating his Shiite terror group’s military operations.
“This is a great political and moral victory for the resistance option that protects the sovereignty of the country,” Hassan Nasrallah says in a televised address.
A day after Lebanon’s first general election in nine years, Hezbollah and its allies look set to secure a bloc large enough to block attempts for it to disarm, a longstanding demand of its political enemies.
Israeli teen admits to urinating on Auschwitz memorial
Polish prosecutors say an Israeli teenager has admitted to urinating on a memorial at the site of the former death camp Auschwitz-Birkenau, adding that he is willing to pay a fine.
The 19-year-old man committed the act in late March and was arrested the same day, according to Mariusz Slomka, prosecutor from the southern Polish city of Oswiecim.
“He confessed and over the course of the investigation expressed the wish to receive a fine of 5,000 zloty (1,200 euros, $1,400),” he tells AFP.
A guide from the museum at the site and several other people witnessed the act, according to Slomka, who adds that nothing suggested the teenager had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Under Polish law, such an offense normally calls for a fine or restriction of freedom, especially community service.
The memorial in question is located between the ruins of the two crematoriums at the former death camp set up by Nazi Germany after occupying Poland during World War II.
Knesset passes 1st reading of bill freezing PA funds over terror payments
The Knesset passes in its first reading a bill that seeks to cut money transfers to the Palestinian Authority due to its ongoing payment of stipends to terrorists and their families.
Because the Palestinian Authority does not have any air or sea ports or direct crossings into other countries, all of its imports pass through ports in Israel, which charges duties and other tariffs on the products for the PA.
Under the bill, Israel would hold on to some of that money, in order to offset any sums paid to terrorists, thus disincentivizing those payments, which Israeli officials have said encourages more attacks.
Under the bill, the cabinet would decide whether to freeze the funds. It is similar to the recently passed Taylor Force Act in the US.
The bill received bipartisan support, with 55 votes in favor and 14 against.
Before it is signed into law it must go through committee deliberation and two more readings.
After Trump jab, Kerry defends efforts to keep Iran deal alive
A spokesperson for former US secretary of state Kerry rejects Trump’s criticism of his recent efforts to keep the Iran nuclear deal alive amid indications the US could pull out of it next week.
“I think every American would want every voice possible urging Iran to remain in compliance with the nuclear agreement that prevented a war,” the spokesperson says in a statement.
“Secretary Kerry stays in touch with his former counterparts around the world just like every previous Secretary of State,” the statement continues. “Like America’s closest allies, he believes it is important that the nuclear agreement, which took the world years to negotiate, remain effective as countries focus on stability in the region.”
Amid tensions with Israel, Iran threatens to respond to any attack
Likely hinting at Israel, Iran threatens to retaliate to any attack by “the enemy.”
“If the enemy casts a covetous eye on our interests or conducts [even] a slight act of aggression, the Islamic Republic will give an appropriate response at an appropriate time,” Iran’s chief of staff, Mohammad Baqeri, warns, according to Press TV.
“At the present time, the Armed Forces are maintaining a high level of readiness to give a response to any threat and act of aggression by enemies of the Islamic Iran,” he says.
The statement is less combative than recent threats by Iran vowing to retaliate for attacks on its bases in Syria that it blamed on Israel.
Israeli defense officials said this week that the Islamic Republic was planning to launch missile strikes against military bases in the north.
Liberman: Israel ‘shutting the tap’ on Abbas
Defense Minister Liberman lauds the passage of a bill that would freeze funds to the Palestinian Authority over its payments to terrorists and their families.
“[We’re] shutting off the tap on Abu Mazen,” he tweets, using PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s nickname.
“This madness, that we’re transferring money to the Palestinian Authority that is used to encourage terror against us, will cease,” he added.
Critics of the bill have warned it could bankrupt the PA, leading to its collapse.
Joint (Arab) List MK Ahmad Tibi, whose party voted against the bill, assailed the measure as “extortion of the occupation” during today’s plenum session.
— Raoul Wootliff
UN appeals for stability in Lebanon after vote
The United Nations urges Lebanon’s politicians to act responsibly to protect Lebanon’s stability following elections that saw allies of the Iran-backed Hezbollah group make gains.
“We hope that all Lebanese political stakeholders will continue to act responsibly in the days following polling to protect Lebanon’s stability, which should include the swift formation of a government,” says UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric.
Military warns of Iranian-ordered cross-border attack – report
The IDF is gearing up for the possibility that Iran could send operatives to infiltrate Israeli army bases or towns in the north, Hadashot TV new reports.
Yesterday, defense officials said the Islamic Republic, which has vowed to retaliate for an alleged Israeli attack on one of its air bases in Syria, could order missile strikes on IDF assets in the north.
The military is on high alert, in light of the assessment that in addition to such a missile strike, Iranian proxies could cross the border and try to stage an attack.
In an apparent warning to Iran, the report quotes officials saying such an attack could precipitate a harsh Israeli response.
Meanwhile, residents of the north are being told to continue with their routines.
Turkey court rules to keep US pastor jailed, next hearing July 18
A Turkish court rules to keep in detention an American pastor jailed in Turkey for the last one and a half years on terror-related charges, setting the next trial hearing for July 18.
Andrew Brunson, head of a small Protestant church in the western city of Izmir, faces up to 35 years in jail if he is convicted in a case that has strained ties with Washington.
Netanyahu threatens Iran with Israel’s ‘steel fist’
Prime Minister Netanyahu threatens Iran implicitly, saying that Israel’s “steel fist is clenched and ready.”
“We will hit anyone who attacks us,” he adds at a ceremony marking the Israel Defense Forces’ 70th anniversary. “Let our enemies who threaten us with annihilation know that they will come up against an iron wall and are putting themselves in grave danger.”
Trump won’t attend embassy opening; Jared and Ivanka coming
Trump will not be attending the opening of the US’s new embassy in Jerusalem, Washington confirms.
In a statement, the White House details the members of the delegation to the opening, which takes place on May 14 in Jerusalem.
The delegation will be headed by Deputy Secretary of State John J. Sullivan and will also feature US Ambassador David Friedman, Trump’s son-in-law and adviser Jared Kushner, daughter Ivanka Trump, and Jason Greenblatt, the president’s envoy to the Israeli-Palestinian peace process.
Pro-Hezbollah bloc set to be Lebanon’s largest
The head of Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement says it has won at least 29 seats in parliamentary elections, making it the largest bloc in the assembly.
Gibran Bassil, who serves as foreign minister and heads Aoun’s party, tells reporters that their bloc could end up having 30 seats. He said it would maintain its “strategic alliance” with the Iran-backed Hezbollah terror group.
The Free Patriotic Movement was the second-largest in the outgoing parliament after Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s bloc, which had 32 seats but appears to have lost a third of them in Sunday’s elections.
Hariri is likely to remain in his post, but Hezbollah and its allies appear to have gained enough seats in the 128-member legislature to veto legislation.
Independent Chicago Jewish Star newspaper closes
The Chicago Jewish Star, an independent family-run newspaper, has published its final edition.
The for-profit biweekly, which launched in February 1991, shut down Friday due to the industry-wide decline in advertising, its owners say.
Douglas Wertheimer, who served as editor, and his wife, Gila, the associate and literary editor, owned the paper. Their son, Aaron, was the assistant editor.
The paper, which was based in Skokie, Illinois, won awards in city and state journalism competitions.
It first appeared as The Jewish Star of Alberta, Canada, which published Calgary and Edmonton editions from 1980 to 1990.