The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
The High Court of Justice on Wednesday freezes the appointment of Ophir Cohen as director general of the Justice Ministry and issues a biting critique of Justice Minister Amir Ohana.
“Removing a director general during an election campaign and appointing another from outside the public service directly contradicts the guidelines of the attorney general, and stands in direct opposition to the clear ruling of the Supreme Court,” Justice Menachem Mazuz says during the Wednesday debate on a petition from the Movement for Quality Government against the appointment.
Ohana, who was appointed justice minister in June, quickly fired the longtime and widely respected director general of the ministry Emi Palmor and appointed in her stead Cohen, an old personal friend who critics noted had never managed a large organization either in the public or private sectors.
An American immigrant is indicted today for allegedly raping two young girls 20 years ago.
The indictment, filed in the Central District Court, notes the two girls were 4 and 7 at the time of the attacks, which allegedly took place in a West Bank settlement between December 1999 and October 2001.
The 48-year-old, identified by prosecutors as Yosef Haim (nee Jimmy Julius) Karo of Carmiel, had served a prison sentence in the US for sexual crimes against minors, and reportedly moved to Israel to flee further prosecution.
According to the indictment, Karo allegedly threatened one girl he would hunt down her family and kill them if she didn’t acquiesce, and then gave his victims cookies after the assault.
He is charged with multiple counts of rape, sexual assault, causing bodily harm, and other lesser charges.
TEHRAN, Iran — Iran’s president sends a bill to parliament that would cut four zeroes from the value of the Islamic Republic’s sanctions-battered currency, the rial, as tensions remain high between Tehran and Washington.
By sending the bill to lawmakers, President Hassan Rouhani’s government shows it is serious about an idea discussed for some time in Iran, where people discuss monetary transactions in both rials and informally but more commonly in tomans. A toman is worth 10 rials.
If passed by parliament and approved by lawmakers, Iran’s Central Bank would in effect devalue the rial and rename it as toman.
The bank would have two years to create the new toman currency, returning a currency name that has not been officially used since the 1930s.
Iran’s rial has been battered by increasing US sanctions on the country since US President Donald Trump’s decision to pull out of Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers over a year ago. On Wednesday, the rial traded 116,500 to $1. At the time of the 2015 nuclear deal, the rial traded 32,000 to the dollar.
BEIRUT — Syrian opposition activists say airstrikes have hit a hospital in a rebel-held northwestern village, knocking it out of service. There is no immediate word on casualties.
The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights and the Thiqa news agency, an activist collective, say the Rahma hospital in Tel Mannas was hit early on Wednesday.
Activists report several airstrikes on Idlib, the last major rebel stronghold in Syria, as government forces capture new areas from insurgents.
A Syrian government military offensive began April 30 against rebels in Idlib, home to 3 million people. More than half a million have been displaced by violence elsewhere.
BAGHDAD — An Iraqi government fact-finding committee set up to investigate a massive munitions depot explosion near Baghdad earlier this month concludes the blast was the result of a drone strike.
The report, outlining the findings of the committee, says the August 12 explosion at the al-Saqr military base, which killed one civilian and wounded 28, wasn’t caused by faulty storage or an electricity circuit as had been suggested.
The report instead blames it on a drone strike that caused a huge fire. It didn’t say who the drone belonged to.
The blast was the latest in a series to hit bases for Iran-backed militia groups operating in Iraq. Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi ordered an urgent investigation.
ATHENS, Greece — Greece says it won’t assist an Iranian supertanker sought by the US that’s in the Mediterranean Sea, believed headed for a Greek port.
Deputy Foreign Minister Miltiadis Varvitsiotis says Greece is under pressure from US authorities, which claim the Iran-flagged Adrian Darya 1 is tied to a sanctioned organization.
Varvitsiotis says the tanker is too big for any Greek port and can’t legally unload its $130 million worth of light crude at EU refineries.
The ship left Gibraltar on Sunday after being held up for a month for allegedly attempting to breach EU sanctions on Syria. Gibraltar said Iran provided assurances the tanker wouldn’t unload its cargo in Syria.
Varvitsiotis tells private Antenna TV Wednesday Athens sent “a very clear message” it will not facilitate the crude’s transportation to Syria.
BERLIN — Police say an 8-year-old boy took his mom’s car and went for a nighttime joyride on a highway in western Germany.
Soest police say the boy’s mother called them early Wednesday after she noticed that both her son and her VW Golf had disappeared.
Mother and police eventually found the boy at a highway service area where he’d parked the car, turned on the hazard lights and put up the warning triangle.
According to police, the boy said he started feeling “uncomfortable” once he hit 140 kph (87 mph) on the highway.
The boy’s mother said her son regularly drives go-carts and bumper cars and has in the past practiced driving a real car on private property.
The legal age for driving in Germany is 18.
US Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren told an Iranian state news outlet that Israeli policies make achieving peace more difficult, but also that Israel had a right to defend itself against Hamas and Iran.
It’s not clear from the interview, posted Wednesday on the Mehr News Agency website, if Warren was aware of the affiliation of the reporter, named in the article as Javad Heirannia. Mehr is owned by the regime-controlled Islamic Ideology Dissemination Organization and defines its mission, in part, as conducting “in-depth studies on the enemies’ cultural onslaughts and anti-Islam propaganda to make policies to thwart their conspiracies and to enlighten the general public.”
Mehr’s headline, of course, focused on the criticism of Israel: “Israel’s policies complicate achieving peaceful solutions.”
But in the article, Warren boasts that her “first trip abroad as a Senator was to Israel and the West Bank. I believe that it is in the interest of Israel, the Palestinians, and the United States to find a two-state solution with a Jewish, democratic state of Israel existing alongside a state for the Palestinian people.”
She says the US should “play an active role in promoting a diplomatic resolution,” but also that “neither the United States nor any other outside power can impose a solution.”
And she adds, to quote Mehr as Warren’s own words were not quoted on this point, “she had consistently supported a strong US-Israel relationship and US aid to Israel, and believed that Israel had a right to defend itself from Hamas and hostile states like Iran.”
She then chides Israel’s policies: “At the same time, I have criticized Israeli government policies that make it more difficult to achieve a peaceful solution, from its settlement activity in the West Bank to its use of force in Gaza resulting in civilian casualties.”
She also criticizes the Palestinians, and Mehr dutifully quotes that criticism: “While the Palestinian people deserve their own state and a viable economy, I believe that the Palestinian leadership must be held accountable for any US assistance that is diverted to terrorists, and that terrorism and inciting violence are unacceptable.”
BERLIN — A German city that’s been the subject of a long-running lighthearted online conspiracy theory claiming it doesn’t really exist is offering big bucks to whoever proves that’s true.
Officials in Bielefeld said today they’ll give 1 million euros ($1.1 million) to the person who delivers solid proof of its nonexistence.
They said there are “no limits to creativity” for entrants, but only incontrovertible evidence will qualify for the prize.
The idea that Bielefeld doesn’t exist was first floated by computer expert Achim Held, who posted the satirical claim on the internet in 1994 in an effort to poke fun at online conspiracy theories.
Even German Chancellor Angela Merkel once jokingly cast doubt on the existence of Bielefeld, which is allegedly located about 330 kilometers (205 miles) west of Berlin.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is also the defense minister, approves the appointment of Brig. Gen. Yaakov Banjo as head of the Northern Corps.
Banjo, who will be promoted to major general for the new position, will also remain in his current post as head of battle doctrine and training in the army’s Operations Directorate.
The commander of a corps, or gayis in Hebrew, is a position activated in wartime that wields tactical and operational command of the combat divisions in a regional command. Banjo will serve as Northern Corps commander only in the event of a war, freeing his superior, the head of the entire Northern Command, to deal with the broader strategy of the war and to better interface with the political echelons.
The Northern Corps has been headed until now by Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Amir Baram.
The northern border is viewed by Israeli strategic planners as the country’s most dangerous, facing Iran-backed Hezbollah in Lebanon and Iranian encroachment in Syria.
Israeli analyst Ron Ben Yishai cites Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese reports in recent weeks that say a newly expanded border terminal on the Iraqi-Syrian border at Al-Bukamal will enable Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps to increase its weapons shipments to Hezbollah and allied forces in Syria and Lebanon.
The work at Al-Bukamal, long controlled by anti-Assad rebels, is being carried out with Iran’s help, Ben Yishai reports (Hebrew link).
The new land corridor expands Iraq’s unwanted new role as a major hub for Iranian military interventions throughout the region — and is likely a key reason that unknown forces, possibly Israel, have targeted weapons warehouses and other installation of pro-Iranian militias on Iraqi soil in recent months.
Iran has no direct land border with Syria or its Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, and has relied on secret cargo flights and other undercover methods to ship precise missiles and other armaments meant to be used in a future war against Israel.
BANGALORE, India — India’s Chandrayaan 2 spacecraft enters lunar orbit, executing one of the trickiest maneuvers on its historic mission to the Moon.
After four weeks in space, the craft completed its Lunar Orbit Insertion as planned, the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) says in a statement.
The insertion “was completed successfully today at 0902 hrs IST (0332 GMT) as planned, using the onboard propulsion system. The duration of manoeuver was 1738 seconds,” the national space agency said.
India is seeking to become just the fourth nation after Russia, the United States and China to land a spacecraft on the Moon.
If the rest of the mission goes to plan, the Indian probe will land on the lunar South Pole on September 7.
Israel and South Korea announce that long-delayed talks on a free-trade agreement have finally come to an end, potentially opening up the world’s 11th largest economy to more competitive Israeli exports and lowering prices for a huge array of South Korean imports, including consumer tech and household appliances.
A statement by Israel’s Economy Ministry reads: “In 2018, trade between Israel and South Korea amounted to approximately $2.5 billion, an almost 15% increase over 2017. It is anticipated that the free trade agreement will further increase bilateral trade. Upon the agreement’s taking effect, most Israeli exports to South Korea will be exempt from customs duties, including machinery and electrical equipment, mechanical devices, fertilizer, medical equipment, cosmetics, plastics, metals, fruit juices and wine. From the other side, customs duties will be lowered on South Korean goods imported into Israel such as automobiles and automobile parts, refrigerators, medical equipment, electronic components, toys and games, plastics and chemicals.”
The talks were stalled for years over South Korea’s demand not to include contentious areas controlled by Israel but not recognized as Israeli by the international community in the free-trade agreement. They included the West Bank and Golan Heights.
In a likely bid to demonstrate his government’s foreign policy and economic chops ahead of the September 17 election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acceded to the South Korean demand, exempting those areas from the agreement and pushing officials on both sides to quickly finalize the trade deal.
Miami police say they’ve arrested a suspect in a shooting outside a local synagogue last month.
The suspect, Carlints St. Louis of the nearby town of Hallandale Beach, was arrested Tuesday for the shooting and wounding of Yosef Lipshutz, 68, on July 28 outside the Young Israel of Greater Miami synagogue in North Miami Beach.
The case is being investigated as a possible hate crime, the local CBS affiliate reports.
St. Louis is suspected of returning to the synagogue multiple times after the shooting, each time in a different car.
On the day of the shooting, St. Louis drove up to the synagogue in a black Chevy Impala, stepped out of the vehicle and fired multiple shots at Lipshutz, hitting him in the leg and breaking his femur.
Police are charging the suspect with attempted murder and aggravated assault.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu hails the planned free-trade agreement with South Korea, saying it is Israel’s first such agreement with an east Asian nation.
“We’ve had free trade agreements with other parts of the world, with the United States, with Europe and elsewhere, but this is the first free-trade agreement we have with an Asian economy, and what an economy, a global leader, a vibrant, advanced economy,” he says in a meeting with South Korea’s Trade Minister Yoo Myung-hee in Jerusalem.
It is not yet clear when the agreement will enter into force. Israel’s Economy Minister Eli Cohen announced earlier today that the negotiations have concluded.
Netanyahu says the agreement would go beyond economic ties. “Technological exchanges will give us a tremendous advantage in the future. The people of Israel are delighted with this increased cooperation between our two countries.”
BAGHDAD — Iran-backed militias in Iraq say they hold the United States responsible for a series of attacks targeting militia bases across the country.
In a statement, the deputy head of the militias known collectively as the Popular Mobilization Forces, or PMF, says the group has accurate information that shows the US brought in four Israeli drones this year to work as part of the US fleet in the region and target militia positions in Iraq.
Abu Mahdi al-Muhandis says the PMF will from now on use “all means at its disposal to deter and prevent such attacks on our positions.”
An Iraqi government report obtained by The Associated Press today said a recent massive explosion at a munitions depot run by an Iranian-backed militia near Baghdad was caused by a drone strike.
A Palestinian man reportedly attempted to strangle an Interior Ministry official at the Allenby border crossing with Jordan, according to Israeli officials.
According to initial reports, the man, described as a 35-year-old resident of the northern West Bank city of Nablus, was waiting at the border crossing when the official walked by. He allegedly grabbed a security-cordon rope and attempted to strangle the official.
The official managed to call for help, and the crossing’s security personnel quickly wrestled the suspect to the ground. He was taken for questioning.
The Yesha Council, an advocacy group for West Bank settlements, sought to calm concerns on the right Wednesday over the upcoming free trade agreement with South Korea, which Seoul has insisted could not be applied to businesses based in the West Bank or Golan Heights.
In a statement, the group says the agreement is an “important” contribution to Israel’s economic strength and global standing.
“In a conversation between Economy Minister Eli Cohen and Yesha Council Chairman Hananel Dorani, it was clarified that the agreement makes no mention of a territorial distinction that discriminates or could hurt businesses and entrepreneurs in Judea, Samaria, the Jordan Valley or the Golan Heights, and that the agreement was crafted on the model of existing agreements with the European Union,” the statement says.
It adds that Cohen “promised that if South Korea does not grant customs benefits to businesses from Judea, Samaria and the Golan Heights, that the Economy Ministry intends to fully compensate them.”
If the agreement, which has not yet been publicized, is similar to those signed between Israel and the EU, the main text may not mention territories under Israeli control, which are not recognized as part of Israel by the international community — but the territories remain outside the agreement by dint of Seoul’s definition of its trading partner “Israel” as referring to territories within the Green Line.
According to recent media reports, Israel protested South Korea’s refusal to include those territories in the agreement, and that protest is contained in a separate letter attached to the agreement.
US President seemed to clarify on Wednesday who he thought Jews were being “disloyal” toward when they vote Democrat.
“If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel,” he is quoted as saying by Bloomberg senior White House reporter Jennifer Jacobs.
Dems have gone very far away from Israel, Trump says at WH departure.
“If you vote for a Democrat, you’re being disloyal to Jewish people and you’re being very disloyal to Israel.”
He says he hasn’t heard anyone call his remarks from yesterday anti-Semitic. https://t.co/8lQ2dzAcoj
— Jennifer Jacobs (@JenniferJJacobs) August 21, 2019
The comment follows his statement yesterday that “any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat – I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge, or great disloyalty.”
NEW: President Trump: “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat – I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge, or great disloyalty.” pic.twitter.com/E3jSpbxMH7
— NBC News (@NBCNews) August 20, 2019
That comments caused a stir, and a debate about who those Jews were betraying. Suggestions included Israel, America, fellow Jews, and Trump himself.
According to Jacobs, in his latest comments the US president says that Democrats have distanced themselves from Israel.
He also claims he hasn’t heard anyone call his earlier remarks anti-Semitic.
Here’s a refresher:
It’s unclear who @POTUS is claiming Jews would be “disloyal” to, but charges of disloyalty have long been used to attack Jews. As we’ve said before, it's possible to engage in the democratic process w/o these claims. It's long overdue to stop using Jews as a political football.
— Jonathan Greenblatt (@JGreenblattADL) August 20, 2019
Here is the president suggesting that Jews are disloyal if they don't vote Republican. The notion of provisional belonging–that Jews aren't really American or French or whatever if they don't do xx–is an idea with a hideous history. N.B. Some 75% of American Jews vote Democrat. https://t.co/fTHTtOSPhi
— Bari Weiss (@bariweiss) August 20, 2019
Among many more.
As Israel steadily transforms into a favorite partisan bludgeon in America’s domestic politics, President Reuven Rivlin calls the top elected Democrat in America, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, mostly to assure her that Israel does not actually want to be friends with one side at the expense of the other.
The President’s Residence statement says Rivlin’s call comes “against the backdrop of recent events.” He tells Pelosi: “The relationship between the State of Israel and the United States is a link between peoples, which relies on historical ties, deep and strong friendships and shared values that are not dependent on the relationship with one particular party.”
The two discussed the “recent sequence of events,” the statement adds, apparently a reference to the Netanyahu government’s ban of Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar, or possibly President Donald Trump’s latest tweet suggesting that Jews who vote Democrat are “disloyal” to Israel — there are numerous such events to choose from in recent days.
“I want to thank you for your unqualified commitment to US-Israel relations and for being a true friend,” the president says.
Rivlin even quotes Kennedy: “Friendship with Israel is not a partisan matter. It is a national commitment.”
“We must keep the State of Israel above [partisan] political disputes and make every effort to ensure that support for Israel does not become a [partisan] political issue. The elections we [both] hold give voice to the will of our citizens. We agree with the opinions of some, we speak out against the opinions of others, but we respect the wishes of each of our peoples,” Rivlin adds.
The Israel Defense Forces says the man nearly strangled earlier today by a Palestinian assailant at the Allenby border crossing was an off-duty IDF soldier wearing civilian clothes.
Earlier reports said the man was an Interior Ministry official.
The Palestinian, a 35-year-old Nablus resident returning from Jordan, is seen in security footage of the attack wandering around the border crossing area looking for a victim. When he sees the off-duty soldier, he rushes him, wraps a cellphone charger chord around his neck and tries to strangle him. The soldier escapes his grip and runs away, calling for help.
Security guards quickly subdue the assailant, who is taken for questioning by the security services.
CAIRO, Egypt — The family of prominent Palestinian politician Nabil Shaath accuses Egyptian authorities of arresting Shaath’s son Ramy last month.
“Ramy was arrested on Friday July 5th at 12:45 AM, from his home in Cairo,” the family says in a statement on Facebook. “At least a dozen heavily armed security agents stormed and searched his residence without presenting any legal document,” they add.
The son of a former interim prime minister and Oslo peace process negotiator, Ramy also entered politics and served as an adviser to Palestinian Liberation Organization head Yasser Arafat.
The 48-year-old has lived since 1977 in Egypt, where he has citizenship.
His arrest came 10 days after authorities raided 19 businesses allegedly tied to the banned Muslim Brotherhood, accusing them of funding a plot to overthrow the state.
Israeli troops open fire on a crop-dusting plane flying over the Golan Heights, mistaking it for an infiltrating aircraft, the army says.
“Once they realized it was a civilian Israeli aircraft, they stopped firing,” the military says in a statement.
“This was a serious incident that is being investigated. Lessons will be learned.”
No one is hurt in the incident.
— Judah Ari Gross
Ashkenazi Jewish women should be screened for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes linked to breast cancer.
That’s the recommendation by a US task force announced in an editorial this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
One in 40 Ashkenazi Jews have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, compared with one in 300 people in the general population, according to studies.
The US Preventative Services Task Force says that primary care doctors should assess women’s BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation risks if their ancestry is prone to BRCA mutations, such as Ashkenazi Jewish women, and if they previously were treated for breast or ovarian cancer.
The editorial also says that “researchers are actively reporting higher BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation frequencies across diverse populations than previously realized.”
An incoming rocket alert is sent to residents of Kibbutz Nahal Oz in southern Israel, the local government says.
There are no reports of injuries or damage.
It is not immediately clear what triggered the alarm. The military says it is investigating the matter.
— Judah Ari Gross
A rocket is fired from the Gaza Strip into an open field in southern Israel, the army says.
No injuries or damage are caused by the attack.
As the projectile was heading toward an unpopulated area, sirens did not sound in the nearby towns, the IDF says.
— Judah Ari Gross
A southern California school district is reopening its investigation into an incident in which students made a Nazi salute and sang a Nazi marching song at the start of an awards ceremony.
The Garden Grove Unified School District and officials at the Pacifica High School say in a statement that the district and the school have “received new information, allegations, and claims that have led us to reopen and widen the scope of the investigation.”
The incident, which took place last year, involved 10 members of the boys’ water polo team, the Daily Beast first reported. The video was posted to Instagram by one of the athletes.
Part of the new information includes new videos of additional instances of students making Nazi gestures and marching with a German flag and displaying a Confederate flag, the local ABC affiliate KACB reported. Two of the videos are from last year and one from three years ago.
The statement notes that when Pacifica High School administrators first learned of the initial video in March, four months after the incident occurred, its investigation led to “disparate accounts and lacked details that have since emerged.” It acknowledges that school administrators addressed the situation with the students shown in the video and their families but did not involve the larger school or district community in addressing the issue.
The Pacifica High School administration “realizes it did not respond to the incident with the gravity it deserved,” according to the statement.
The school district says it plans to form a Human Relations Taskforce to address school-based hate and bias and provide recommendations to the district, and to work with community partners to implement anti-bias campaigns at school campuses. The Anti-Defamation League and The Simon Wiesenthal Center Museum of Tolerance will be among those partners.
“Rest assured that any students engaging in hate speech or activities will face disciplinary action in accordance with California Education Code. We deeply apologize for the pain this has caused our community and the national community at large,” the statement also says, calling the incident “a crisis for our community.”
Dozens of angry parents and teachers attended a regularly scheduled school district board meeting Tuesday, calling for clarifications on the incident and the response to it.