Jewish Home leader urges party to back far-right merger
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Jewish Home votes overwhelmingly to merge with extremist Otzma Yehudit faction

Party leader says he opposes joint ticket with far-right, but urges nationalist religious party to back Netanyahu deal because there is ‘danger to our home’

Jewish Home central committee event in Petah Tikva, February 20, 2019 (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
Jewish Home central committee event in Petah Tikva, February 20, 2019 (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

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

Abbas rejects all tax revenues from Israel after cabinet withholds terror funds

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is rejecting all tax revenue payments transferred to it by Israel, in response to Jerusalem withholding over $138 million of the revenues over Ramallah’s payouts to Palestinian attackers and their families.

Earlier this week, the security cabinet okayed implementing a law passed last year allowing Israel to withhold funds used to pay the stipends from taxes Israel collects on the behalf of the PA.

According to Reuters, Palestinian officials say Israel collects and transfers NIS 803,282,580 ($222 million) to the PA every month.

PA officials have condemned Israel for withholding the money, arguing it amounts to “piracy” of Palestinian funds.

Israeli officials have defended the security cabinet’s decision, arguing that the PA’s payments incentivize violence and terrorism.

Suspect arrested in Paris for anti-Semitic hate speech

Paris officials say that an individual has been arrested for a torrent of hate speech directed at Jewish philosopher Alain Finkielkraut during a Saturday march by yellow vest protesters.

The Paris prosecutor’s office says the person was taken into custody last night after a police inquiry was opened into a suspected public insult based on origin, ethnicity, nation, race or religion.

Yesterday, thousands attended rallies across France to decry an uptick in anti-Semitic acts in recent months, including an attack on a cemetery where about 80 gravestones were spray-painted with swastikas. French President Emmanuel Macron observed a moment of silence with parliament leaders at the Holocaust museum in Paris.

France is home to the world’s largest Jewish population outside Israel and the United States.

— AP

Iran’s Zarif slams ‘hypocrisy’ of US-Saudi nuclear plans

Iran’s foreign minister seizes on a congressional report that the US sought to share nuclear technology with Saudi Arabia, accusing Washington of ignoring the kingdom’s human rights violations.

Mohammad Javad Zarif tweets: “First a dismembered journalist; now illicit sale of nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia fully expose #USHypocrisy.”

He appears to be referring to the report, released yesterday, which said senior White House officials pushed a project to share nuclear power technology with Saudi Arabia despite the objections of ethics and national security officials. He also refers to the killing of writer Jamal Khashoggi by Saudi agents in October.

The Trump administration withdrew from a 2015 international agreement aimed at preventing Iran from getting nuclear weapons, saying it did not go far enough in restricting Tehran’s nuclear activities.

— AP

Putin: Russia will target US if nukes deployed in Europe

President Vladimir Putin says Russia will target new weapons at the United States should it deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Europe following Washington’s withdrawal from a key arms control pact.

Putin, speaking at a state-of-the-nation address, rejected the US claim that its withdrawal from the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces treaty was prompted by Russian violations of the pact. He charges the US made false accusations against Russia to justify its decision to opt out of the pact.

Putin reaffirms that Russia will not be the first to deploy new intermediate-range missiles in Europe, but warned that it will retaliate if the US puts such missiles on the continent. He said it will not only target the host countries, but field new weapons that will target US decision-making centers.

— AP

Breaking silence on Leifer allegations, Litzman says ‘everything was legal’

Deputy Health Minister Yaakov Litzman breaks his silence about the allegations that he used his position to help a wanted pedophile avoid extradition to Australia, saying his intervention in the case was “for the good of the public.”

“I have a lot to say, but I cannot speak about it. It was all for the good of the public, everything was legal,” Litzman says at an opening ceremony for the new children’s ward at Ashkelon’s Barzilai Hospital.

Police suspect the chairman of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party coerced state psychiatrists into issuing false medical assessments to stop the extradition proceedings against Malka Leifer, an Israeli citizen wanted on 74 charges of child sexual abuse in Australia.

Gabbay names ex-general Tal Russo as Labor no. 2

Labor chairman Avi Gabbay names retired IDF general Tal Russo as number two on the party’s electoral slate for the April elections, promising to “place security above all else.”

Russo is filling the slot reserved for a candidate of Gabbay’s choosing.

Standing alongside Russo as he makes the announcement, Gabbay says he is confident the former head of the IDF’s Southern Command will “be a full partner in the battle for change in the country.”

As head of Southern Command, Russo oversaw 2012’s Operation Pillar of Defense, an eight-day aerial offensive against Palestinian terror groups in the Gaza Strip that began with the targeted killing of Hamas military chief Ahmad Jabari. He served in the role until 2013 when he retired from active duty.

Ori Ansbacher’s killer remanded for 8 more days

The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court extends the remand of a Palestinian man suspected of brutally murdering Israeli teen Ori Ansbacher earlier this month for eight more days.

Police requested the second remand from the court citing the need to keep him behind bars while all of the forensic evidence is examined.

Arafat Irfaiya, a 29-year-old Hebron resident, was arrested on February 8 in the West Bank city of Ramallah, with investigators from the Shin Bet security service and Israel Police hoping to indict him for murder in the context of a terrorist act, in addition to a charge of rape.

Poll: Current right-wing Knesset parties wouldn’t get majority in April election

A new poll released by Walla news shows that while Likud would command a wide lead over other parties if elections were held today, the right-wing bloc of parties in today’s coalition (Likud, New Right, Kulanu, United Torah Judaism, Shas and Jewish Home) would hold just 59 seats and not the required 61 to form a coalition.

According to the poll, each of the current lists (not counting for possible merger deals in the works) would receive:

1. Likud: 31
2. Israel Resilience: 19
3. Lapid: 13
4. Labor: 9
5. New Right: 8
6. United Torah Judaism: 7
7. Ta’al: 6
8. Meretz: 5
9. Jewish Home/National Union: 5
10. Joint List: 5
11. Kulanu: 4
12. Gesher: 4
13. Shas: 4
14. Yisrael Beytenu: 0

–Raoul Wootliff

Civilians evacuated from last Islamic State holdout in Syria

A convoy of trucks carrying hundreds of civilians — men, women and children — is leaving the last enclave held by Islamic State militants in eastern Syria this afternoon, signaling a possible end to a standoff that has lasted for more than a week.

An Associated Press team in Baghouz, a village near the Iraqi border where the Islamic State group is making its final stand, counts at least 17 trucks emerging through a humanitarian corridor used in past weeks to evacuate people from the jihadists’ last patch of territory along the Euphrates River.

Mustafa Bali, a spokesman for the Syrian Democratic Forces, the US-backed militia spearheading the fight against IS in Syria, confirms the trucks were carrying civilians out of the enclave.

— AP

Macron to unveil measures to fight anti-Semitism

French President Emmanuel Macron will announce measures to fight a flare-up in anti-Semitism during a dinner with Jewish community leaders this evening, a day after a spate of hate crimes brought thousands onto the streets in protest.

Macron’s address to the annual dinner of the Representative Council of French Jewish Institutions will be closely followed by Europe’s biggest Jewish community.

On a visit yesterday to a cemetery in the Alsace region, near Germany, where 96 Jewish tombstones were spray-painted with blue and yellow swastikas, Macron promised: “We shall act, we shall pass laws, we shall punish.”

His visit came as thousands of people took part in rallies around France to condemn a recent spike in anti-Jewish crimes, which Macron and his government has linked in part to anti-Semitic elements within the “yellow vest” protest movement.

— AFP

Main suspects in Jerusalem couple’s murder are family members

The two main suspects in the murder of an elderly couple in Jerusalem last month are relatives of the victims, according to newly released details about the investigation.

The revelation comes after the Jerusalem District Court partially lifted the gag order on the case during a remand hearing this afternoon.

Most details of the case are still under gag order. Police initially looked into both terrorist and criminal motives for the attack.

According to reports in Hebrew-language media, police investigators this week questioned up to three family members of the victims, Yehuda Kaduri, 71, and his wife Tamar, 68, who were found stabbed to death in their apartment in southern Jerusalem on January 13.

PM promised Jewish Home ministerial posts to merge with extremist party

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered the Jewish Home party two ministerial posts if it would run on a joint ticket with the extremist right-wing Otzma Yehudit faction as part of his efforts to ensure that minor right-wing parties come together ahead of national elections.

According to a statement from Likud, Netanyahu also offered the parties the number 28 spot on its Knesset list as party of the deal.

Jewish Home officials told Channel 13 the portfolios offered by Netanyahu were the housing and education ministries, and that the prime minister also promised the party two seats on the high-level security cabinet.

Netanyahu canceled his trip to Moscow today, reportedly to oversee mergers in his right-wing camp before a tomorrow’s deadline to submit party lists for the upcoming April election.

Turkey seeks life terms for 16 activists over 2013 protests

Turkey’s state-run news agency says prosecutors have charged a prominent philanthropist businessman and 15 other people with seeking to overthrow the government by allegedly supporting anti-government protests in 2013.

Anadolu Agency reportes that the prosecutors are seeking life prison terms for the all of those indicted. They include businessman Osman Kavala, exiled journalist Can Dundar and actor Mehmet Ali Alabora, who took part in the demonstrations.

The Turkish government has accused Kavala of financing and organizing the protests. He has been in pre-trial detention for more than a year.

The protests started with an environmental cause, protecting Gezi Part in central Istanbul. They quickly broadened into opposing the government.

A court in Istanbul must accept the prosecutors’ indictment against the suspects before a trial can begin.

— AP

Rivlin thanks Macron for ‘serious’ approach to spate of anti-Semitism

President Reuven Rivlin is praising French President Emmanuel Macron for his commitment to eradicating anti-Semitism amid a spate in anti-Jewish hate crimes in France.

“Mr. President, times like these demand clear and strong leadership,” Rivlin writes in what his office describes as an “urgent letter” to his French counterpart. “Your actions, as well as your words, show how seriously you take the issue of anti-Semitism,” he says.

French President Emmanuel Macron looks at a grave vandalized with a swastika during a visit at the Jewish cemetery in Quatzenheim, on February 19, 2019, on the day of nationwide marches against a rise in anti-Semitic attacks. (Photo by Frederick FLORIN / POOL / AFP)

The letter comes a day after thousands rallied in Paris and other French cities against a spate of attacks against Jewish communities and individuals, including most recently the spray-painting of swastikas on some 80 gravestones at a Paris cemetery late Monday.

Rivlin in his letter thanks Macron for visiting the cemetery yesterday.

“I am writing, both personally and on behalf of the State of Israel, to express my appreciation to you for visiting the Jewish cemetery at Quatzenheim and the Holocaust memorial in Paris yesterday,” he wrote.

Jewish Home chief backs Netanyahu offer to merge with far-right party

Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz says he backs a deal offered by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that would see his party merge with an extremist faction, Otzma Yehudit, in exchange for 2 ministerial posts in the next government and the 28th slot on the Likud party list.

In a statement, Peretz says he is seeking approval from the Jewish Home central committee, and that a decision will be made later this evening.

He asserts that nationalist religious parties “will be senior partners in leading the country and the next Knesset.”

Barak: Gantz and Lapid must unite to defeat ‘racist extremism’ in Netanyahu camp

Former prime minister Ehud Barak is urging a merger between centrist parties Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid to defeat “corruption and racist messianic extremism” offered by Netanyahu and his right-wing camp.

In a tweet, Barak says reports the two parties are close to a unity pact mean party leaders Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid are “coming to their senses at the last second.”

“The goal is to get Israel back on track, to end corruption, the abandonment of citizens and racist messianic extremism,” he says. “Only unity will win.”

Suspected arson balloon found in agricultural field near Gaza border

A balloon with a suspected explosive device that was apparently launched from the Gaza Strip was found in an agricultural field in the Eshkol region, the local government says.

Earlier, a balloon from Gaza exploded in the air nearby, the Eshkol spokesperson says.

Police sappers were called to the scene in order to remove the suspected explosive device.

— Judah Ari Gross

Balloon cluster carrying cardboard model drone discovered near Gaza border

A large cluster of balloons carrying a cardboard model of a drone also landed in a field in the Eshkol region, a spokesperson for the local government says.

This was one of the largest airborne devices to reach Israeli territory in months.

A cluster of balloons carrying what appears to be a cardboard model of a drone that was launched from the Gaza Strip touches down in southern Israel on February 20, 2019. (Eshkol Security)

Police sappers were called to remove the suspicious object, the Eshkol spokesperson says.

— Judah Ari Gross

Monument in France vandalized with anti-Semitic graffiti

Anti-Semitic graffiti is found at the “Garden of Remembrance” in Champagne-au-Mont-d’Or cemetery, a wealthy suburb west of the city of Lyon.

On the stele, two swastikas in reverse were spray-painted in red with the inscription: “shoa blabla,” according to an AFP photographer. At the foot of the monument, another swastika was affixed, accompanied by another phrase referencing the Holocaust.

The monument is outside a Catholic church and close to a Jewish cemetery.

— with AFP

IDF strikes Hamas outposts in response to arson balloons

The IDF says Israeli warplanes struck a Hamas outpost in the southern Gaza Strip this evening in response to a series of arson balloons launched into Israel from the Palestinian territory earlier in the day.

No injuries have been reported.

Levy-Abekasis submits party list, indicating no Gantz merger

MK Orly Levy-Abekasis submits her Gesher party’s Knesset list, indicating the merger negotiations with Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience for a joint slate in the coming Knesset elections are off the table.

Levy-Abekasis publishes the list of Gesher candidates amid reports that Gantz and Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid are close to striking a deal to run on a joint ticket.

Levy-Abekasis would not be allowed to join a Gantz-Lapid ticket because she not allowed to run on a ticket with a party that is in current Knesset.

Israel Resilience: Netanyahu ‘lost his dignity’ by striking deal with far-right

Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party responds to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to forger a merger between the far-right Otzma Yehudit party and the Jewish Home.

“In our government, there won’t be Balad or Kahane,” the party says in a statement, referring to the Arab-Israeli faction that has been accused of supporting terror, and the spiritual leader of Otzma Yehudit.

“Netanyahu has lost his dignity and his Zionism,” the party charges.

— Raoul Wootliff

NATO condemns ‘unacceptable’ Putin missile threats

NATO condemns the “unacceptable” threats by Russian President Vladimir Putin to deploy new missiles against Western capitals, as a key Cold War arms control treaty crumbles.

“Russian statements threatening to target Allies are unacceptable. We call on Russia to focus on returning to compliance with the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty,” NATO deputy spokesman Piers Cazalet says in a statement.

“NATO is a defensive alliance, which stands ready to defend all members against any threat. We do not want a new arms race, and allies have repeatedly called on Russia to verifiably destroy its intermediate-range missiles.”

The Russian leader struck a combative note in a state of the nation address, warning Washington against deploying new missiles in Europe after the collapse of the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) treaty, saying Moscow would install its own weapons targeting “decision making centers.”

— AFP

Shaked says Netanyahu-Jewish Home deal ‘good for the right’

Justice minister Ayelet Shaked welcomes Netanyahu’s preliminary election deal with the Jewish Home that would see it merge with an extremist faction as “good for the right.”

“If you look at it what’s best for the right-wing bloc, the merger is what’s best,” she says. “I am far from their views, but a parliament needs to know how to contain extremes.”

Earlier, the Likud party announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the Jewish Home party and grant it two Cabinet ministries in a future government if it merges with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party.

7 Palestinians reported injured in Gaza border flareup

The IDF says hundreds of Palestinians are rioting along the southern Gaza border, burning tires and throwing firebombs at Israeli security forces.

The army says troops are dispersing the rioters using crowd control means.

During the clashes, the army says two Gazans crossed the border fence into Israeli territory and set a tire ablaze before returning back across the border.

Reports in Palestinian media say seven Gazans are injured in the clashes east of the town of Khuza’a in the southern Strip.

Jewish Home leader urges party to back far-right merger

Jewish Home Party leader Rafi Peretz is urging party members to vote in favor of a deal with Netanyahu that would see it merge with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party.

Peretz says he opposes the merger on principle, but says that “when my house is on fire, I don’t check the tzitzit of who’s helping me put it out.”

“There is a danger to our home,” Peretz says, referring to Israel Resilience, as well as the Trump administration’s peace plan “that will seek to uproot communities.”

“Our answer to those who want to destroy our home is unity.”

Peretz also says that he and Netanyahu are in talks with Eli Yishai for a possible merger with his Yachad party.

— Jacob Magid

Jewish Home party votes overwhelmingly to merge with extremist Otzma Yehudit

The Jewish Home central committee votes overwhelmingly to adopt a merger deal with the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction.

The 250 or so members of the internal body also give their blessing to continue negotiations with Yachad chairman Eli Yishai to join the Jewish Home’s Knesset slate in the upcoming elections.

Jewish Home central committee event in Petah Tikva, February 20, 2019 (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Earlier, the Likud party announced it would reserve the 28th spot on its parliamentary list for the Jewish Home party and grant it two Cabinet ministries in a future government if it merged with Otzma Yehudit.

Netanyahu pushed for the deal to unite the ultra-right parties ahead of the April elections, prompting accusations he was pandering to extremists.

— Jacob Magid

Macron to adopt wider definition of anti-Semitism amid spate of attacks

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu discussed the spate of anti-Semitic attacks in France with President Emmanuel Macron in a phone call this evening.

According to a statement from Netanyahu’s office, Macron says he intends to adopt the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition of anti-Semitism, which includes anti-Zionism.

The statement says Netanyahu thanked Macron for move.

Confirming nixed Gantz deal, Levy-Abekasis announces independent Knesset run

Orly Levy-Abekasis says the merger negotiations with Israel Resilience party were unsuccessful, and that her Gesher party will be running independently in the upcoming elections.

In a statement, Levy-Abekasis slams Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz, saying it is “disappointing that the person promoting clean politics failed his first test — the test of credibility.”

MK Orly Levy Abekasis speaks during an campaign event in Tel Aviv for her Gesher party on February 5, 2019. (Flash90)

According to reports, Gantz and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid are close to striking a deal to run on a joint ticket in the April elections.

Recent polls have put Gesher hovering around the electoral threshold, raising the possibility it could fail to enter the Knesset.

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Jewish Home leader urges party to back far-right merger

Jewish Home Party leader Rafi Peretz is urging party members to vote in favor of a deal with Netanyahu that would see it merge with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party.

Peretz says he opposes the merger on principle, but says that “when my house is on fire, I don’t check the tzitzit of who’s helping me put it out.”

“There is a danger to our home,” Peretz says, referring to Israel Resilience, as well as the Trump administration’s peace plan “that will seek to uproot communities.”

“Our answer to those who want to destroy our home is unity.”

Peretz also says that he and Netanyahu are in talks with Eli Yishai for a possible merger with his Yachad party.

— Jacob Magid