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Netanyahu warns High Court against intervening in coalition agreement

Touting his election win as largest in Israel’s history, PM says justices will ‘bring fourth elections nearer’ if they override parts of deal between Likud and Blue and White

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement on May 4, 2020. (Screenshot)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement on May 4, 2020. (Screenshot)

The Times of Israel liveblogged Monday’s developments as they unfolded.

High Court to reconvene for 2nd day of hearings on fate of Netanyahu, coalition

The High Court of Justice will reconvene for the second day of hearings on petitions against allowing indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from forming a government and against the unprecedented rotational unity deal that he inked with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

Sunday’s hearings in front of an expanded panel of 11 justices were dominated first by representatives of Likud, Blue and White and the relevant branches of government, who all urged the court not to intervene in Netanyahu’s appointment. They were followed by the petitioners, who argued that the justices were obligated to step in. Like yesterday, the hearing will  be broadcast live.

Today at 10 a.m., the court will hear further petitions concerning the controversial aspects of the three-year coalition deal negotiated by Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz.

The agreement includes profound changes to Israel’s constitutional order, some of which contradict established laws, tradition and precedent.

China reports three new cases; all brought from overseas

China reported three new coronavirus cases Monday, all brought from overseas, and no additional deaths.

A total of 481 people remain in the hospital because of the virus, with about 1,000 under monitoring and isolation after showing symptoms or testing positive without symptoms.

China has reported 4,633 deaths from COVID-19 among 82,880 cases.

— AP

Worldwide coronavirus cases exceed 3.5 million

The number of confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide has surpassed 3.5 million, with three quarters of them in Europe and the United States, a tally based on official sources showed.

At least 3,500,517 infections and 246,893 deaths have been recorded globally. Europe is the continent most affected with more than 1.5 million cases and over 143,000 fatalities.

The United States has registered more than 1.1 million cases and 67,000 deaths.

The numbers around the world reflect only a fraction of the real figures as many countries test only serious cases.

— AFP

New Zealand reports no new cases for first time since mid-March outbreak

New Zealand reports no new coronavirus cases today, marking a significant moment that indicated the country’s bold strategy of trying to eliminate the virus was working.

It is the first time since the outbreak took hold in mid-March that the country reported zero new cases. Director-General of Health Ashley Bloomfield said the figures were clearly encouraging, but the result represented a moment in time and it won’t be until later this week that officials will know if new cases are continuing to pop up in the community. He said the result was a cause for celebration and was symbolic of the efforts of the entire country.

New Zealand closed its borders and imposed a strict monthlong lockdown after the outbreak began. The lockdown rules were eased a little last week to help reopen the economy, but many restrictions remain in place.

Many businesses — including most retail stores and sit-down restaurants — remain closed, most school children are learning from home, and people are required to maintain social distancing. New Zealand has reported nearly 1,500 cases of the virus and 20 deaths.

— AP

Kuwait says police ‘control’ rioting Egyptian workers

Police in Kuwait “dispelled a riot” by stranded Egyptians unable to return home amid the coronavirus pandemic, authorities say, the first reported sign of unrest from the region’s vast population of foreign workers who have lost their jobs over the crisis.

Online videos purported to show Kuwaiti police firing tear gas at the demonstrators overnight, who earlier chanted: “Where is our embassy?”

The state-run KUNA news agency calls the confrontation a “riot” carried out by Egyptians corralled at a group shelter.

“Security officials intervened and took control, arresting a number of them” the KUNA report says.

It does not acknowledge what level of force police used to put down the unrest, nor how many people authorities ultimately arrested after the incident. Kuwait’s Information Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Videos purport to show the Egyptians in a shelter, armed with pieces of furniture at one point of the confrontation. The shelter appeared to be in an industrial setting, surrounded by a chain-link fence topped with barbed wire.

KUNA earlier quoted Egypt’s ambassador to the oil-rich, tiny Kuwait as saying that Cairo planned repatriation flights for those stranded later this week. Kuwaiti officials also have said they would suspend fines and jail time for those who had overstayed visas in order to help those wanting to leave return to their home countries.

Kuwait, like many of the oil-rich Gulf Arab states, relies on a vast population of foreign workers for jobs ranging from domestic help, construction work to white-collar work. Long a lifeline for families back home, those migrant workers now find themselves trapped by the coronavirus pandemic, losing jobs, running out of money and desperate to return to their home countries as COVID-19 stalks their labor camps.

Some 35 million laborers work in the six Arab Gulf states of Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, as well as in Jordan and Lebanon, according to U.N. figures. Foreigners far outnumber locals in the Gulf states, accounting for over 80% of the population in some countries.

— AP

In first, US Supreme Court to be broadcast live

After a pause occasioned by the coronavirus, the US Supreme Court will resume hearing cases today, but in a small revolution for the tradition-bound institution the justices will participate from home, with live audio broadcast on radio and television.

The move to greater transparency has been demanded for years in legal circles and was long ago adopted by many state and local courts; but for the Supreme Court, it took a pandemic to make it happen.

In normal times, the top US court meets in its stately neoclassical building directly across First Street from the US Capitol.

Two hundred seats in its marble hearing room are reserved for members of the public, who often line up for hours outside the building’s white-columned facade for the privilege of hearing the nine justices ponder issues that range from the arcane to the history-changing.

Today for the first time in history, several media outlets, including the Fox and C-Span networks, will broadcast live the exchanges between the justices, each still confined at home, and lawyers arguing cases.

The pandemic has forced the nine justices — including progressive Ruth Bader Ginsburg, an octogenarian who has been in fragile health — to telework for nearly two months.

For today’s hearing, the justices will take part by telephone. But with no cameras involved, they won’t have to wear their traditional black robes.

— AFP

MDA says it’s conducted 245,460 tests since start of the pandemic

The Magen David Adom emergency service says it has tested 245,460 individuals for coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.

Of these, 96,065 were sampled at drive-through testing complexes across the countries, 88,272 were sampled in their homes, and 61,123 were sampled in nursing homes and other institutions, MDA says.

Ministers said to okay 24-hour extension of Jerusalem, Beit Shemesh neighborhood lockdowns

Ministers have approved a 24-hour extension on the lockdowns of neighborhoods in Jerusalem and Beit Shemesh that have become hotspots for the virus, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

Lockdowns had been placed on Kiryat Sanz, Kiryat Belz and Romema in Jerusalem and Menuha Venahala and Ramat Beit Shemesh Bet, though Menuha Venahala was already reopened.

WATCH: Court hears arguments on validity of unity deal in 2nd day of hearings

The High Court of Justice has reconvened for the second day of hearings, with today’s focus on the validity of the unprecedented rotational unity deal struck by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz.

The agreement includes profound changes to Israel’s constitutional order, some of which contradict established laws, tradition and precedent.

Germany warns vaccine could take ‘years’

Germany’s health minister says developing a vaccine for the coronavirus could take “years,” after US President Donald Trump predicted it could be achieved by the end of 2020.

“I would be delighted if it was possible to achieve this in a few months,” Jens Spahn say on ARD television.

“But it can also take years as there can of course be setbacks, as we have seen some with other vaccines,” he says. “The development of vaccines is one of the most challenging and difficult tasks in medicine.”

Trump, relaunching his re-election campaign on Sunday, was more optimistic.

“We are very confident that we’re going to have a vaccine at the end of the year, by the end of the year,” he said in a Fox News “town hall” show broadcast from the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC.

“The doctors would say ‘Well, you shouldn’t say that.’ I’ll say what I think,” he said.

AFP

Chief justice says hearing will focus on deal’s 6-month freeze, and Knesset’s committees

Chief Justice Esther Hayut says today’s hearing will touch on four issues relating to the unity deal:

  • Legislation required by the deal that is already in the process of being legislated, such as a law to shorten the term of the Knesset from four and half to three years.
  • Legislation required by the deal that has yet to be advanced, such as a law allowing for a two-year budget to be passed, the Haredi draft bill and the so-called expanded Norwegian Law that would allow any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting any other candidate lower on their party’s list to enter parliament in their stead.
  • Clauses in the deal that require future acts in parliament, such as changes in the makeup of the Committee to Appoint Judges (the agreement sees the removal of the traditional representative from the opposition).
  • Clauses in the deal that don’t require future actions, but rather obligations that go into effect immediately such as a freeze on non-coronavirus related legislation for six months.

Hayut asks the parties to focus on the latter two issues and particularly the fourth one.

PM lawyer to court: Nixing of even single clause could lead to unity deal falling apart entirely

The attorney representing Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at today’s High Court hearing warns the top legal body that the unity deal is “sensitive and complex” and that nixing even one of its clauses could lead  to the entire agreement falling apart.

“The agreement is a fabric; it has checks and balances that we have to maintain. Disqualification of any component of the agreement can lead to the entire agreement being invalidated. In the complex reality we are in, I ask the court to act with restraint and not intervene,” says Michael Rabilo.

Hayut presses: Why doesn’t deal include principles of post-virus period government?

Chief Justice Esther Hayut presses Netanyahu attorney Michael Rabilo on why the unity deal only includes principles for the first six months of the government’s term, when it will continue functioning after the specified “emergency” coronavirus period concludes.

Rabilo assures the court that government principles will be published before the new government is sworn in.

PM lawyer: New government effectively made up of coalition and opposition

Defending the coalition agreement’s stripping of the opposition’s official representative in the Committee for Appointing judges, Netanyahu’s lawyer Michael Rabilo says the new government will effectively be made of a coalition and an opposition on this matter and that the competing opinions will be represented on the panel.

The coalition deal sees right-wing Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser sitting on the committee instead of an MK from the opposition. Netanyahu is believed to prefer Hauser, as while he is not a Likud MK, he has a more conservative approach to judicial appointments than the average likely opposition lawmaker from Meretz, Yesh Atid or the Joint List.

Justice Neal Hendel appears not to accept the argument, responding: “The government does not define what coalition and opposition are.”

Justices: You’re asking us to make a pre-ruling on legislation that hasn’t been passed

Justice Meni Mazuz appears to dismiss both sides’ insistence that the High Court hand down a ruling regarding the unity deal’s legitimacy in the coming days.

“The court does not hand down pre-rulings even if the parties want it [to do so]. The court is not an insurance certificate,” he says.

“The petitioners’ desire to have everything decided here and now does not apply to us,” adds Justice Uzi Fogelman.

Netanyahu’s lawyer: A rotational coalition is not the same thing as a unity gov’t

Arguing that the new government should be treated by the court differently from a traditional unity government, Netanyahu attorney Michael Rabilo tells the justices, “A rotational government is not the same thing as a unity government.”

DMV will reopen tomorrow, but only by appointment

DMVs across the country will reopen tomorrow to the public, but only to those who have scheduled appointments in advance in order to limit crowding, Transportation Minister Bezalel Smotrich announces.

The DMVs have been closed for over a month due to the pandemic.

In the first phase, the offices in Haifa, Jerusalem, Holon and Beersheba will be opened, in accordance with the “purple badge” guidelines.

Ministers reportedly to vote on Friday opening for malls, outdoor markets and gyms

The cabinet is slated to meet shortly to approve the reopening of malls, outdoor markets, libraries and gyms on Friday, Channel 12 reports.

Ministers are also slated to approve water sports and non-medical treatments. However, the use of equipment at outdoor park gyms will still be banned, Channel 12 speculates.

Pressed on why deal doesn’t allow non-virus related legislation for 1st 6 months, PM lawyer backs down

After judges repeatedly pressed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorney Michael Rabilo on why the coalition deal doesn’t allow for most non-coronavirus related legislation for the first six months of the government, the lawyer gives in and says that an edit will be made to make the requirement less binding and allow other legislation to be advanced when necessary.

Hayut knocks unity deal’s 6-month barring of senior official appointments

Knocking the unity deal clause that bars the appointment of senior officials during the first six months as “exploitative,” Chief Justice Esther Hayut asks, “what does coronavirus have to do with the appointment of senior officials, such as the police chief which for the past year and a half has been filled by an interim official?”

Justice Uzi Fogelman adds that after three consecutive elections, such appointments cannot wait any longer.

Just 80 new virus cases in last day, as confirmed case tally climbs to 16,237

The Health Ministry announces that the number of confirmed coronavirus cases has risen to 16,237, an increase of 80 over the past 24 hours and 65 since last night.

The country’s death toll from COVID-19 stands at 234, up two since last night and four since yesterday morning.

According to the Health Ministry, 93 people infected with COVID-19 were in serious condition, 72 of whom were on ventilators.

Another 62 people are in moderate condition and the rest have mild symptoms.

So far, 9,858 people have recovered from the virus, while 6,763 are still sick; 1,791 tests have been conducted today, and 6,763 yesterday.

‘What if virus period extends past six months,’ Judges ask Likud attorney

The High Court justices appear to object to the unity deal’s emergency clause that bars non virus-related legislation for six months.

“What if the virus period extends past six months?” asks Justice George Kara.

Likud attorney Avi Halevy responds that if that indeed happens the government will be forced to extend the emergency period.

Authorities identify woman allegedly murdered by husband

Authorities have identified the 50-year-old woman who was allegedly murdered in her Bat Yam apartment by her husband last night as Tatiana Haikan.

 

Blue and White lawyer says party still plans to advance expanded ‘Norwegian Law’

Asked whether the new coalition still plans to advance an expanded version of the Norwegian Law, which has not been submitted for a Knesset vote along with other unity deal related legislation, Blue and White attorney Shimon Bar-On tells the court that this still is its intention.

The Norwegian Law allows any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead.

Blue and White wants to pass an expanded version of the law that would allow it to skip lower down the list to replace an MK who has been appointed minister, because since the election the Telem and Yesh Atid factions have split off and do not intend to join the government.

The judges are pressing Bar-On on how such legislation would be legal as it violates the will of the voters who cast their ballots for the list in the order it was seen on the day of elections.

Knesset legal rep agrees with court opinion against ruling on future legislation sanctioned by unity deal

Knesset legal representative Avital Sompolinsky tells the High Court that she agrees with the opinion stated by several justices that the court cannot rule on the legality of legislation sanctioned by the unity deal before it has even been passed.

Knesset legal rep: It’s not appropriate for minister to resign from post as MK

Knesset legal representative Avital Sompolinsky says that while there is a place for some lawmakers to resign from the Knesset upon being appointed minister in order to focus more on their cabinet position, it is not appropriate for every appointed lawmaker to do so, in an apparent knock against the expanded Norwegian Law that Blue and White says it plans to pass.

Court extends remand of man suspected of murdering wife by seven days

The Tel Aviv Magistrate’s Court has extended the remand of Igor Chepikov by seven days.

He is suspected of having murdered his wife, Tatiana Haikan, 50, in her Bat Yam apartment last night.

AG rep agrees with court opinion against ruling on future legislation included in unity deal

Attorney General’s Office representative Aner Helman concurs with Knesset legal representative Avital Sompolinsky and several justices who have argued that the court cannot rule on the legality of legislation sanctioned by the unity deal before it has even been passed.

Helman says judges should focus on whether the indicted Netanyahu should be allowed to form a government.

 

Expo 2020 Dubai postponed by one year to Oct 2021

The Expo 2020 Dubai has been postponed by a year because of the coronavirus outbreak and will now be held from October 1, 2021, to March 31, 2022, the Paris-based organizer says.

The six-month, multibillion-dollar global innovation fair, set to be the largest such event ever staged in the Arab world, was expected to attract some 24 million visitors starting October 20 this year.

But a two-thirds majority of member states of the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) have voted in favor of a delay requested by the United Arab Emirates, saying in a statement the postponement “allows all participants to safely navigate the impact of COVID-19.”

Israel is slated to participate in the expo for the first time.

“Expo 2020 Dubai is gearing up to help shape a post-pandemic world and create a better future for all,” the bureau says.

The delay “also allows the World Expo to focus on a collective desire for new thinking to identify solutions to some of the greatest challenges of our time.”

High Court debates whether coalition building akin to ‘Married at First Sight’ or ‘Survivor’

A brief debate has ensued during the High Court hearing over the character of the new Netanyahu-Gantz coalition.

Blue and White legal representative Shimon Bar-On: As of now, the parties have not yet reached the courtship period.

Chief Justice Esther Hayut: It’s like on TV, first you get married and then you court one another.

Bar-On: Factually, political life is more akin to “Survivor” than “Married at First Sight.”

After more than 3 hours, court recesses for lunch

After more than three hours, the High Court has taken a break from the hearing to eat lunch. Bon appetit!

Minister: Cabinet slated to grant immediate approval to outdoor gatherings of 20 people

The cabinet is slated to approve outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people, in a decision at a cabinet meeting later today that will go into effect immediately, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s office says in a statement.

In addition, the number of participants at outdoor weddings will expand from 19 to 50 starting Sunday.

Blue and White said to weigh abandoning controversial law amid court’s criticism

The Blue and White party is considering forgoing its plans to advance an expanded version of the so-called Norwegian Law as mapped out in its unity deal with Likud, the Walla news site reports.

The second-guessing comes moments after justices knocked the legitimacy of such a law during the High Court of Justice’s ongoing hearing on the legality of the coalition deal.

The Norwegian Law allows any MK who is appointed to a cabinet post to resign temporarily from the Knesset, thereby permitting the next candidate on the party’s list to enter parliament in his or her stead.

Blue and White wants to pass an expanded version of the law that would allow it to skip lower down the list to replace an MK who has been appointed minister, because since the election, the Telem and Yesh Atid factions have split off and do not intend to join the government.

Asked whether the new coalition still plans to advance an expanded version of the Norwegian Law, which has not been submitted for a Knesset vote along with other unity deal related legislation, Blue and White attorney Shimon Bar-On told the court that this still is its intention.

Judges subsequently pressed Bar-On on how such legislation would be legal as it violates the will of the voters who cast their ballots for the list in the order it was seen on the day of elections.

He provided what they considered to be political arguments as opposed to legal ones.

As a result, Chief Justice Esther Hayut ordered Bar-On to provide a legal justification for the law within the next 24 hours. Bar-On has agreed.

Slamming petitioners, judge says their claims against unity deal ‘irrelevant’

Dismissing the arguments presented by attorney Daphna Holtz-Lechne on behalf of the petitioners against the yet-to-be passed legislation sanctioned by the unity deal, Justice Menachem Mazuz says they’re “irrelevant” to the hearing at hand.

“They are political, moral, public arguments… speeches that don’t have a connection to the legal level.. and are irrelevant here,” Mazuz says.

Kahlon said to rip Health Ministry for ‘torpedoing’ government decisions

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon tore into the Health Ministry for “torpedoing” government decisions, during the ongoing cabinet meeting, Hebrew media reports.

“The Health Ministry’s monopoly-like power to torpedo any decision and make cabinet meetings meaningless is unacceptable,” he fumes.

“When a decision is made to reopen [parts of the economy], clear instructions from the Health Ministry must be published alongside it,” he adds.

Chief justice to lead petitioner: ‘You are talking politics, not law. Stop’

Eliad Shraga, an attorney for the Movement for Quality Government, tells justices that “there is no problem with the two sides [Likud and Blue and White] making agreements between them about how they are or are not going to work together, but to leave their little deals as a legacy in Basic Law not just not acceptable.”

Dismissing the arguments, Supreme Court Chief Justice Esther Hayut says, “for the last hour you are talking politics, not law. Stop. This is not the place.”

State comptroller says Israel’s foreign service badly underfunded, uncoordinated

A report released by the State Comptroller charges that Israel’s foreign policy apparatus is woefully underfunded and uncoordinated, and calls for reforms that would centralize the nation’s diplomatic activities.

In addition to the Foreign Ministry, there are over 35 other governmental agencies that deal with international relations. The report says this frequently leads to situations in which the Foreign Ministry and other bodies deal with the same matters vis-a-vis the same interlocutors abroad, without so much as informing each other of the fact.

“Although cooperation and coordination between the Foreign Ministry and the other foreign agencies is necessary to improve the government’s work in the international arena, in reality the government of Israel has difficulty promoting such coordinated activities,” the report states.

“In the current situation, governmental activity may only reflect the interests of the party leading it. This reality does not promote the government’s goals and policies in the international arena.”

— Raphael Ahren

Foreign Ministry welcomes report charging it’s vastly underfunded

The Foreign Ministry welcomes the State Comptroller’s report saying that it is underfunded, describing the findings as a vindication of its complaints going back years about low wages and shrinking responsibilities as successive governments have given key aspects of foreign policy making — including the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the Iranian nuclear threat or the boycott movement — to other ministries.

“The report clearly indicates that the most professional body, with the broadest view of foreign policy, is the Foreign Ministry,” it says in a statement. Many other countries in the world place diplomacy firmly in the hand of their foreign ministries, which usually has “unique capabilities” and knowledge to lead its international relations, the statement goes on.

“I urge the Finance Ministry to study every word and every page of this report, which unequivocally presents the damage done to Foreign Ministry over the years,” says Yuval Rotem, the ministry’s director general. “The State of Israel needs a strong Foreign Ministry and the way to achieve this is through proper budgeting that allows for appropriate activity to address the significant political challenges we face.”

— Raphael Ahren

China says Pompeo ‘insane’ over virus lab origin theory

China’s state broadcaster CCTV attacks US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s “insane and evasive remarks” over the origins of the coronavirus pandemic.

Yesterday, Pompeo said “enormous evidence” showed the virus originated in a lab in China, doubling down on previous claims that have been repeatedly denied by the World Health Organization and various scientific experts.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo speaks during a news conference, March 31, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik, Pool)

Titled “Evil Pompeo is wantonly spewing poison and spreading lies,” the harshly worded commentary cited WHO executive director Mike Ryan and Columbia University virologist W. Ian Lipkin, who claimed that the virus is natural in origin and was not man-made or leaked from a laboratory.

“These flawed and unreasonable remarks by American politicians make it clear to more and more people that no ‘evidence’ exists,” the commentary said.

“The so-called ‘virus leaked from a Wuhan lab’ hype is a complete and utter lie. American politicians are rushing to shift the blame, cheat votes and suppress China when their own domestic anti-epidemic efforts are a mess.”

— AFP

Jerusalem mayor says Mahane Yehuda market ready for opening

Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion welcomes the government’s intention to approve opening markets this Thursday.

“I welcome the decision of the ministers and support the opening of the markets according to the outline I proposed a few weeks ago. The Jerusalem City Enforcement and Policing Division is ready for the mission and as of Thursday morning, will deploy in the [Mahane Yehuda] market and ensure compliance with the guidelines,” Lion says in a statement.

Iran reopens mosques, records almost 80,00 hospital recoveries

Iran is reopening mosques in parts of the country deemed at low risk from the coronavirus, as it says almost 80,000 people hospitalized with the illness have recovered and been released.

Health ministry spokesman Kianoush Jahanpour says 74 new fatalities bring to 6,277 the total number officially recorded in Iran since it reported its first cases in mid-February. The country recorded 47 deaths yesterday, its lowest daily count in 55 days.

Another 1,223 cases of COVID-19 infections were recorded in the past 24 hours, Jahanpour said, raising the total to 98,647.

Today, mosques were allowed to reopen to worshipers in 132, or around a third, of Iran’s administrative divisions which are considered low-risk.

Worshipers are obliged to enter mosques with masks and gloves and told they can only stay for half an hour during prayer times and must use their personal items, says the health ministry. Additionally, mosques are being told to refrain from offering them food and drinks, provide hand sanitizers and disinfect all surfaces.

— AFP

Intel signs deal to buy Moovit for $1 billion

Intel Corp. says it has entered into an agreement to buy Israel’s smart-transit startup Moovit for $1 billion.

Moovit, a free, crowdsourced application that provides real-time information about public transportation schedules, is used by 800 million riders across 102 countries globally, according to the Israeli startup’s website.

Intel had already made a $30 million strategic investment in Moovit, via its venture capital arm in 2018.

Illustrative: The Moovit app running on a phone. (Itamar Sharon)

Moovit’s acquisition follows Intel’s massive buy of Jerusalem-based Mobileye, a maker of self-driving technologies, in 2017 for a whopping $15.3 billion, the largest ever acquisition in Israel. In December, Intel signed a deal to acquire Israeli startup Habana Labs, a Caesarea-based chip maker, for $2 billion, after it originally invested in the firm as part of a Series B funding round.

The acquisition of Moovit, together with that of Mobileye, will enable Intel to tap into a huge amount of data regarding transportation and transit in cities around the world.

— with Shoshanna Soloman

At international donors conference, Netanyahu pledges $60 million to fight coronavirus

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pledges $60 million (about NIS 210 million) at an international donors conference geared at raising funds to fight the coronavirus pandemic.

“I am confident that Israel’s leading research institutions, its world renowned scientists and our unique culture of innovation can enable us to play an important role in advancing solutions on all three fronts,” he says in a pre-recorded message to the virtual event “Coronavirus Global Response,” which was initiated by the European Union, France, Germany, the United Kingdom, Norway and Saudi Arabia, which currently holds the presidency of the G20.

“We hope to work with other countries to leverage our unique capabilities to find solutions for the benefit of all,” Netanyahu adds.

Other regional leaders who addressed the event included Jordan’s King Abdullah, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, Saudi Health Minister Tawfig AlRabiah, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, French President Emmanuel Macron, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

No one from the US participated.

Nasrallah says Hezbollah not active in Germany

Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah, condemns Germany’s ban on the terrorist organization as bowing to US pressure, insisting it was not active in the European country.

The ban announced last Thursday is a “political decision that reflects Germany’s submission to America’s will and to pleasing Israel,” Nasrallah says in a televised speech.

“When we say we are not active in Germany, we are being 100 percent honest,” he says.

— Agencies

86-year-old man dies of virus, raising toll to 235

An 86-year-old man dies of COVID-19 at the Soroka Hospital in Beersheba, raising the country’s virus death toll to 235.

He suffered from preexisting conditions, the hospital says.

Former pope Benedict complains of attempts to ‘silence’ him

Former pope Benedict XVI accuses opponents of wanting to “silence” him while associating gay marriage with “the Antichrist” and attacking “humanist ideologies” in a new authorized biography published in Germany.

The 93-year-old, whose original name is Joseph Ratzinger, claims in “Benedict XVI – A Life” that he has fallen victim to a “malignant distortion of reality” in reactions to his interventions in theological debates.

“The spectacle of reactions coming from German theology is so misguided and ill-willed that I would prefer not to speak of it,” he says.

Pope Benedict XVI blesses faithful from a balcony upon arrival in Castel Gandolfo, on February 28, 2013, before stepping down later in the day (photo credit: AFP/File Vincenzo Pinto)

The former pope — who dramatically resigned in 2013 — was especially criticized for a 2018 text that was seen as critical of the Jewish faith.

In a controversial 2018 essay published in Communio, an international theological quarterly he helped found in 1972, Benedict denied that the Catholic Church had ever embraced “supersessionism,” the belief that Christianity was to replace Judaism. At the same time he also argued the Christian interpretation of the Old Testament, the foundation text of Judaism, is the only correct one.

“I would rather not analyze the actual reasons why people want to silence my voice,” Benedict says.

— AFP

High Court justice shuts down Netanyahu’s lawyer: The opposition is not conceptual

Defending the coalition agreement’s stripping of the opposition’s official representative in the Committee for Appointing judges, Netanyahu’s lawyer Michael Rabilo tells the High Court that “the opposition is a conceptual concept” and will in effect have a place on the committee via a Blue and White representative.

The coalition deal sees right-wing Derech Eretz MK Zvi Hauser sitting on the committee instead of an MK from the opposition. Netanyahu is believed to prefer Hauser, as while he is not a Likud MK, he has a more conservative approach to judicial appointments than the average likely opposition lawmaker from Meretz, Yesh Atid or the Joint List.

Justice Neal Hendel shuts down Rabilo, telling him, “just as the government is not conceptual, so too the opposition is not. It exists. In law and in the Knesset.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Netanyahu to present ‘exit strategy’ in televised address

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will present an “exit strategy” and “steps for moving forward” from the coronavirus limitations placed on Israel in recent weeks in a televised press conference at 8:45 p.m. this evening, his office says.

He will appear alongside the finance minister, the health minister, the economy minister, the education minister, the culture and sport minister, and the director-general of the Health Ministry, the statement says.

They are expected to announce a series of measures to further relax restrictions, including opening markets, malls and gyms on Thursday and allowing gatherings of up to 20 people in open spaces and visits to first-degree relatives from next week, according to Channel 12 news.

High Court closes hearing on coalition deal after 9 hour debate

The High Court of Justice ends a marathon nine-hour hearing on the unprecedented three-year coalition deal negotiated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz, which includes profound changes to Israel’s constitutional order, some of which contradict established laws, tradition, and precedent.

The hearing in front of an expanded panel of 11 justices was dominated first by representatives of Likud, Blue and White, and the relevant branches of government, who all urged the court not to intervene in aspects of the agreement. They were followed by the petitioners, who argued that the justices were obligated to step in.

A ruling is expected by Thursday.

— Raoul Wootliff

Number of returning to work surpasses those exiting

The number of people who returned to work over the past 24 hours was several times higher than those who registered as unemployed, according to figures released by the National Employment Service.

Since Sunday there were 10,193 reports of people reentering the workforce, while just 2,523 joined the jobseekers, the agency says.

Since April 19, there were 30,808 reports of people returning to work. At the same time, some 70,000 joined the unemployed.

Cabinet split over Lag B’Omer lockdown

The cabinet holds a meeting to discuss approving a nationwide lockdown during the Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer, though some government ministers oppose to the move.

The National Security Council, which is coordinating Israel’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, recommended the lockdown to prevent large gatherings during the holiday, according Hebrew media reports..

A lockdown would also prevent Israelis from flocking to the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai at Mount Meron in northern Israel on Lag B’Omer, which begins the evening of May 11.

The holiday, which falls on the traditional date of bar Yochai’s death, is traditionally celebrated with large bonfires.

US awards 29 Purple Hearts for brain injuries in Iran attack

Six Army soldiers who were injured in a ballistic missile attack in Iraq in January have been awarded Purple Hearts, and 23 others have been approved for the award and will get them later this week, US Central Command says.

Navy Capt. Bill Urban said the awards were approved by Lt. Gen. Pat White, the top US commander in Iraq, following a review.

About 110 US service members were diagnosed with traumatic brain injuries after the Iranian ballistic missile attack at the al-Asad Air Base in Iraq on January 8.

Initially, commanders and President Donald Trump said that there were no injuries during the attack. But after several days, troops began exhibiting concussion-like symptoms and the military started evacuating some from Iraq.

Trump triggered criticism when he dismissed the injuries as “not very serious” and described them as headaches and other things.

— AP

Planned relaxation of rules includes opening malls and markets on Thursday

In his planned press conference for later this evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly set to announce a series of measures to further relax restrictions aimed at stemming the cornavirus outbreak in Israel.

Starting from this evening, Israelis will be able to gather outside in group of up to 20, Channel 12 reports. From next week, that number will be raised to 50 for weddings and funerals.

Malls and outdoor markets will be allowed to reopen on Thursday, with one person allowed per 20 meters of retail space, the channel reports. Additionally, gyms will be allowed to open, but pools and changing rooms will remain shuttered.

France coronavirus toll tops 25,000 after 306 new deaths

France announces that more than 25,000 people have died in the country due to the coronavirus epidemic, after a new jump in the daily death toll.

The health ministry says that 25,201 people are now confirmed to have died from the virus in the country, in hospitals and nursing homes. Over the last 24 hours, 306 people died from COVID-19, double the figure of 135 from the day earlier.

— AFP

PM Netanyahu: ‘We have accomplished a great achievement’

Addressing the nation in his first televised address in weeks, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that Israel has succeeded in preventing the spread of the coronavirus outbreak where other countries have not.

“We have accomplished a great achievement,” he says.

According to the prime minister, Israel’s low infection and death rates are due to the early steps the government took to enforce social distancing, the “great dedication” of health workers, and the “compliance” of the public in following the rules.

PM: We will reassess situation if infection, death rates rise

Netanyahu says that Israel will have to reassess enforcing social distancing measures if one of three criteria are met:

  1. 100 new coronavirus cases a day.
  2.  A doubling of cases within 10 days.
  3. 250 serious cases in hospitals.

Netanyahu announces end to limits on movement

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announces an end to restrictions preventing people from leaving the immediate vicinity of their homes.

“The 100-meter restriction is cancelled and you can leave the house, wherever you want,” he says in a televised address.

“In addition, you can meet with first-degree family members. We are also allowing gatherings of up to 20 people in the open space,” he adds, allowing Israelis to visit grandparents for the first time in six weeks.

PM says all restrictions on gatherings to be removed on June 14, if all goes to plan

Announcing the lifting of further restrictions, Netnayahu says that all restriction could be removed by the middle of next month.

“We are still limiting gatherings to no more than 20 people and only in open spaces, but if everything goes well, in two weeks, we will increase it to 50. Because Lag Ba’omer has many weddings, we will allow weddings of up to 50 people,” he says.

“On May 31, 100 people will be allowed and on June 14, we will abolish the restrictions altogether, assuming that no red light is lit.”

PM: Malls and markets to open on Thursday, kindergartens on Sunday

Netanyahu announces that malls and markets will open this Thursday, under certain restrictions, including no eating in the public spaces.

Referring to the return of the education system, Netanayahu says, “The kindergartens will start operating on Sunday, there will be more discussions about pre-school daycare. On June 14, informal education and higher education will return to normal.”

The prime minister adds: “We are gradually bringing back sports and leisure, and we will be publishing precise guidelines on opening parks. The same is true for bed-and-breakfast inns.”

Netanyahu: If High Court intervenes in coalition agreement, it increases chance of elections

Asked about the High Court hearings yesterday and today on petitions against allowing him forming a government under indictment and against the unprecedented rotational unity deal that he inked with Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says that he won the election and that any intervention by the court would be “against the will of the people.”

“I was elected by a majority vote: the Likud, headed by me, received more votes than any party in the history of the state. There is a huge majority of the people and in the Knesset who want the government we are going to form,” he says.

Additionally, he warns that if the court intervenes in coalition agreement, “it increases the chances of a fourth round of elections.”

Jewish comedian says nursing home wrongfully buried cousin in Catholic cemetery

Comedian Elayne Boosler says a Brooklyn nursing home did not notify relatives of her 83-year-old cousin’s death and buried the remains in a Catholic cemetery, rather than her Jewish family plot.

Boosler says that a relative had attempted to get in touch last month with Dorothea Buschell, who was staying at the Hamilton Park Nursing & Rehabilitation Center in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY.

After weeks of failed calls, the relative was allegedly told by the nursing home that Buschell had died, The City reported. Boosler says she then found out where her cousin had been buried and that the nursing home was asking for $15,000 to cover the cost of the burial.

“That’s right folks, they buried my Jewish cousin … IN A CATHOLIC CEMETERY HOLDING A ROSARY,” she wrote in a public Facebook post.

— JTA

Taika Waititi to direct new ‘Star Wars’ film

Taika Waititi, the Jewish New Zealand filmmaker of “Jojo Rabbit” and “Thor: Ragnarok,” will direct a new “Star Wars” film.

Waititi had for months been expected to take the reins of the galaxy far, far away, having already directed the season finale of the “Star Wars” streaming spinoff “The Mandalorian.” But the Walt Disney Co. waited until the franchise’s unofficial holiday, May the Fourth, to make Waititi’s hire official.

— AP

US government projects virus deaths to soar in May

US President Donald Trump’s administration privately projects that the daily death toll from COVID-19 will almost double by the end of the month, according to an internal document cited by both The New York Times and The Washington Post.

The government document reportedly forecasts that new coronavirus cases will surge to 200,000 per day by June 1, and the daily death toll to 3,000. That compares to a current daily average of 25,000-30,000 new cases, and 1,500-2,000 deaths.

The White House did not contest the authenticity of what it called an “internal CDC document,” referring to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but said it had not been presented to the president’s coronavirus task force, or gone through an interagency vetting process.

Only 38 new coronavirus cases in 24 hours — Health Ministry

Another 38 people have been found to be infected with the novel coronavirus over the previous 24 hours, bringing the national total of diagnosed cases to 16,246, the Health Ministry says.

Three people died during that period, raising the death toll to 235.

There are 5,947 sick with the COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, of whom 90 have serious symptoms and 70 are on ventilators. Another 60 have moderate symptoms and the rest are mild cases.

Of the 6,436 virus tests carried out over the past day, 0.7% percent returned positive.

So far, 10,064 people have recovered from the disease, the ministry says.

The previous 24-hour period saw only 23 new cases, the lowest daily figure for some six weeks.

UN: 19 million children among 46 million displaced in 2019

The UN children’s agency said Tuesday that an estimated 46 million people — 19 million of them children — fled violence and conflict last year but remained in their home country, and millions more were displaced by disasters.

A UNICEF report says there has been a steep increase in the number of internally displaced people, or IDPs, as a result of conflict and violence, from 25 million a decade ago to more than 40 million in the last five years. And last year more than 40% of the displaced were under the age of 18, it said.

“Millions of displaced children around the world are already going without proper care and protection,” UNICEF Executive Director Henrietta Fore says in a statement. “When new crises emerge, like the COVID-19 pandemic, these children are especially vulnerable.”

Almost 33 million new displacements were recorded in 2019 — around 25 million due to natural disasters and 8.5 million due to conflict and violence, according to the report. That included 12 million children — 3.8 million displaced by conflict and violence, and 8.2 million by disasters linked mostly to weather-related events like flooding and storms, it said.

UNICEF says coronavirus pandemic is making a critical situation for displaced children and families even worse this year.

The report, ‘Lost at Home,’ says children who are displaced lack access to basic services and are at risk of exposure to violence, exploitation, abuse, trafficking, child labor, child marriage and family separation. It calls for strategic investments and a united effort from governments, civil society, the private sector, humanitarian groups and children themselves to tackle these issues.

— AP

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Minister: Cabinet slated to grant immediate approval to outdoor gatherings of 20 people

The cabinet is slated to approve outdoor gatherings of up to 20 people, in a decision at a cabinet meeting later today that will go into effect immediately, Interior Minister Aryeh Deri’s office says in a statement.

In addition, the number of participants at outdoor weddings will expand from 19 to 50 starting Sunday.