Ministers slam ‘absurd’ French decision to bar Israeli flag from soccer match
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Polls give fledgling Democratic Camp between 8 and 12 Knesset seats

Labor tumbles to just 5 seats in two out of three TV surveys, Blue and White also suffers; ahead of potential right-wing merger, Ayelet Shaked’s New Right tops URWP in all polls

Israel Democratic Party chair Ehud Barak (L), former Labor MK Stav Shaffir (C), Meretz chair Nitzan Horowitz, July 25, 2019. (Courtesy)
Israel Democratic Party chair Ehud Barak (L), former Labor MK Stav Shaffir (C), Meretz chair Nitzan Horowitz, July 25, 2019. (Courtesy)

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

Ministers slam ‘absurd’ French decision to bar Israeli flag from soccer match

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev blasts as “absurd” a decision by French police to ban fans of Israeli soccer club Maccabi Haifa from flying the Jewish state’s flag during a Europa League qualifying match against Strasbourg this evening.

Amid a hostile environment in Strasbourg and expected anti-Israeli protests, local authorities also decided earlier today to prohibit Israelis from wearing Maccabi Haifa shirts or displaying other items bearing the club’s symbols. Additionally, the number of Israelis allowed into the stadium will be restricted.

“I expect French authorities to ensure the safety of the Israeli fans and players and let the fans cheer on their team like in all sports venues and competitions,” Regev says in a statement. “It is unacceptable for a fan of an Israeli club to be afraid in a soccer stadium in France and be barred from flying the flag of Israel or their team.”

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz says on Twitter that he has ordered the Israeli Embassy in France to take immediate action to have the restrictions removed.

Israel’s envoy to France, Aliza Ben Noun, earlier criticized as “unacceptable” the fact that demonstrations calling for boycotts of Israel are permitted while waving Israeli flags was not.

Similar decisions have been made in the past by authorities in European countries, including France and Scotland.

EU takes Hungary to court over ‘Stop Soros’ migrant law

The European Union takes Hungary to the EU’s highest court over its controversial legislation against assisting migrants, known as the “Stop Soros” laws, named after a Jewish billionaire who has been the target of anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

The European Commission, the EU’s executive arm, has decided to refer Hungary to the Luxembourg-based court over “legislation that criminalizes activities in support of asylum applications and further restricts the right to request asylum,” a statement says.

— with AFP

Israeli fans to be allowed to fly flags in soccer stadium but not outside — ministry

Israel’s Foreign Ministry says that after protesting to French authorities about a ban on Israeli soccer fans flying the Jewish state’s flag, Paris has clarified that the restrictions are in force throughout the city but not inside the stadium during the match.

“The Israeli Embassy in Paris protested about the flag which is meant to symbolize the liberty and fraternity between the teams — two values of the French Republic that are now denied from Maccabi Haifa supporters,” the ministry says in a statement.

“From conversations the embassy had, it has been clarified that the orders, which ban gatherings of fans of both teams during the days throughout the city, including the waving of flags, were published by the governor of Strasbourg due to security and public order considerations and are in force only in plaza and roads and not in the soccer stadium itself.”

Ukraine seizes Russian tanker in Black Sea

Officials in Ukraine say they have seized a Russian tanker moored in the Black Sea.

The Ukrainian Security Service (SBU) says in a statement that it seized the Russian tanker moored in a Ukrainian Black Sea port on Wednesday. Authorities say the tanker was used in a Russian operation to block Ukrainian vessels from sailing through the Kerch Strait between the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov in November last year.

Russian ships fired on Ukrainian vessels in the Kerch Strait on November 25 last year, sparking a major crisis amid already strained relations between the two countries. Russia seized the Ukrainian vessels and detained 24 Ukrainians onboard.

— AP

British navy to escort UK-flagged ships in Gulf strait

Britain orders its navy to escort UK-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz after Iranian soldiers seized a tanker in the flashpoint Gulf region.

“The Royal Navy has been tasked to accompany British-flagged ships through the Strait of Hormuz, either individually or in groups, should sufficient notice be given of their passage,” the defense ministry says in a statement to AFP.

— AFP

Romanian official appointed UN nuclear agency’s interim boss

The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog has appointed senior official Cornel Feruta as its acting director-general pending the naming of a permanent successor to the late Yukiya Amano.

Feruta, a Romanian diplomat, is currently the chief coordinator of the Vienna-based International Atomic Energy Agency. The IAEA says its board of governors designated him as the agency’s interim leader to ensure its “orderly and smooth functioning” until a long-term replacement is in place.

The board earlier today held a minute of silence for Amano, the Japanese diplomat who led the IAEA for a decade until his death last week at age 72. Amano was extensively involved in negotiations over Iran’s nuclear program and the cleanup of the 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan.

— AP

Israelis shot dead in Mexico were underworld figures

The two Israeli men gunned down in a Mexico City cafe yesterday were linked to organized crime networks, Hebrew-language media reports.

One of the men, Ben Suthi, 44, is described as a senior figure in the criminal underworld who moved from Tel Aviv to Mexico earlier this year after he was released from prison over his part in the murder of a man. The other, Alon Azoulay, 40, is reported to be Suthi’s close friend and bodyguard.

Moscow threatens consequences after Ukraine holds Russian tanker

Moscow threatens Kiev with unspecified “consequences” after Ukraine said it was holding a Russian tanker for its role in a naval confrontation between the two countries last November.

“We are looking into what happened to take appropriate measures,” a Russian foreign ministry spokesperson tells AFP. “If Russians are taken hostage, this would be interpreted as the crudest violation of international law and consequences will not be long in coming.”

— AFP

Senior Labor officials said trying to oust Peretz since he’s ‘endangering’ party

Senior officials in the Labor party are attempting to oust newly elected party chief Amir Peretz, claiming he is endangering the existence of the party, the Ynet website reports.

The unnamed officials today contacted Peretz’s predecessor Avi Gabbay, asking him to help overthrow Peretz, the report says.

They are asking Gabbay to put forward a motion to oust the chairman in the upcoming meeting of its central committee, which is due to approve the merger with Orly-Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher that drew ire within the party.

Discontent is growing since Peretz vowed not to join other left-wing parties Meretz and Israel Democratic Party, which earlier today announced they were joining forces along with Labor defector Stav Shaffir.

Bernie Madoff asks Trump to commute his 150-year sentence

Bernie Madoff has asked US President Donald Trump to commute his sentence.

Madoff, 81, filed a request with the Justice Department between one and three months ago, The Hill reports.

Financier Bernard Madoff arrives at Manhattan Federal court in New York City, March 12, 2009. (Stephen Chernin/Getty Images via JTA)

The Justice Department’s website lists the request as “pending,” and says it is updated to July 1. The request is for clemency, not a pardon.

Madoff is serving a 150-year sentence in federal prison in Butner, North Carolina, for his $19 billion Ponzi scheme, which began in the early 1970s and lasted until his arrest in 2008. He pleaded guilty to 11 felony charges related to money laundering, perjury, and falsifying financial documents.

The uncovering of the Ponzi scheme revealed the tens of billions of dollars in fake profit that victims believed they had earned through Madoff. Many prominent Jewish nonprofits also suffered big losses, with Yeshiva University taking a $140 million hit, Hadassah $90 million and Elie Wiesel’s foundation losing $15 million.

— JTA

IDF chief, US Europe Command head meet, commit to continuing cooperation

IDF Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi meets with Commander of the United States European Command (EUCOM) Gen. Tod D. Wolters.

It is Kohavi’s first meeting with Wolters since the latter assumed his current assignment some two months ago.

During the meeting, the two commanders discussed a number of operational matters and recent regional developments and emphasized their commitment to maintaining a strategic relationship between the IDF and the US EUCOM, the army says in a statement.

Wolters declared his commitment to ensuring regional stability and to continuing the ongoing security cooperation with the IDF in various fields, including ballistic missile defense and logistical support, the army adds.

— Jacob Magid

Boy, 6, stabbed and moderately wounded in Rehovot; motive unclear

A six-year-old boy is stabbed and moderately wounded at a playground in the central city of Rehovot, Hebrew-language media reports.

A 34-year-old male suspect is arrested and taken for questioning.

The reason for the stabbing isn’t immediately clear. Reports say the man was drunk.

Seoul says weapons tested by North Korea were new missiles

South Korea says the two weapons North Korea fired earlier today were a new type of ballistic missile.

South Korea’s presidential office issues the assessment after a national security council meeting.

Seoul said earlier based on analysis of the launches that one missile flew 690 kilometers (430 miles) and the other 430 kilometers (270 miles) before landing in the waters off the east coast.

The presidential office says national security council members expressed “strong concerns” about the launches because they won’t be helpful for an effort to ease military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

— AP

In 1st press conference, new left-wing alliance leaders vow to replace Netanyahu

Nitzan Horowitz, Stav Shaffir and Ehud Barak hold a joint press conference, hours after announcing they were joining forces and forming the Democratic Camp.

“We are embarking on a path that in a month and a half will lead to replacing the leadership and to a social change,” says Horowitz, the leader of the fledgling party, saying the new alliance will defend Israel from the “racism, corruption, occupation and religious coercion” of the Netanyahu government.

“The Israeli left is becoming a strong and significant force again. The era of bowing before the right is over,” Horowitz adds. “Because being a leftist is a compliment.”

He vows to lower social gaps, work toward peace with the Palestinians and defend democracy in the Supreme Court and the media.

“We will strive to be in the government, but not the Netanyahu government,” he concludes, telling the current leadership: “Your time is up, enough! On September 17 you’ll go home.”

Shaffir says her decision to bolt Labor wasn’t easy since it was her political home, but “when the house is on fire, you go outside and help putting the fire out. And then you rebuild it.”

She calls on Arab Israelis to join the new alliance, although it isn’t clear whether Arab political parties are included in that.

Ehud Barak also speaks, despite choosing to be just No. 10 on the party’s slate for the September 17 vote. He promises that the 10th spot will still have a realistic chance of being elected to the Knesset.

“This is the first step in getting Israel back on track, replacing the government and safeguarding Israel as Zionist, Jewish and democratic.”

He also expresses hope that there will be further mergers.

US federal government to resume executions after 16 years: Justice Department

US Attorney General Bill Barr announces that the federal government will resume implementing capital punishment after a 16-year hiatus and set execution dates for five convicted murderers.

Acting on US President Donald Trump’s call for tougher penalties on violent crimes, Barr directs the Federal Bureau of Prisons to adopt a new protocol for execution by lethal injection, as 14 of its states already do, to clear the way to carry out death sentences.

“The Justice Department upholds the rule of law — and we owe it to the victims and their families to carry forward the sentence imposed by our justice system,” Barr says in a statement.

— AFP

One Israeli suspect in Cyprus gang rape to be freed — lawyer

One of the 12 Israeli teenagers arrested over the alleged gang rape of a British tourist in Cyprus will be released today, his lawyer says, according to Hebrew-language media.

“This is a first harbinger of the investigation’s direction, and the cracks in the credibility of the plaintiff’s version,” the attorney claims.

Suspect in gang rape in Cyprus freed after DNA test shows he wasn’t involved

One of the 12 Israeli teenagers arrested over the alleged gang rape of a British tourist in Cyprus was released after DNA test results showed he wasn’t involved in the sexual assault, according to Hebrew-language media.

More reports suggest two more suspects could be freed today.

‘This is justice,’ says freed suspect in Cyprus gang rape, as 5 teens walk free

Five suspects in the alleged gang rape of a British tourist in Cyprus have now been released, out of a total of 12 Israeli teenagers arrested over the case, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

“This is justice, I’m not guilty and that’s it,” one of them says as the five head back to Israel.

https://twitter.com/arikbender/status/1154412920891158528/photo/1

About 150 migrants missing off Libyan coast

Some 150 migrants are missing after their boat sank off the coast of Libya, the International Organization for Migration says.

“The sinking took place off the coast of the city of Khoms,” some 100 kilometers (60 miles) from Tripoli, said Safa Msehli, IOM spokesperson in Libya.

Other migrants from the vessel, 145 of whom were rescued by the Libyan coastguard, report that some 150 more people are missing after the boat capsized.

— AFP

5 IDF officers to face pre-indictment hearings over soldier’s drowning in exercise

Five IDF officers are summoned for a hearing before charges are pressed against them over their failure to prevent the drowning of a soldier in a swollen stream in northern Israel during a navigation exercise in January, the army says.

The decision was made as part of an investigation into the drowning of Sgt. Evyatar Yosefi, 20, which has found a series of significant failures throughout the chain of command that the military says were the ultimate cause of the serviceman’s death.

The five officers — the soldier’s team leader, a lieutenant, his deputy platoon commander, a lieutenant, his platoon commander, a captain, the commander of his training program, a major, and his battalion commander, a lieutenant colonel — were all dismissed from their positions in March. The commander of the Paratroopers Brigade, Col. Yaakov “Yaki” Dolef, also received an official censure on his record, the military said at the time.

The IDF says that after the hearings it will be decided whether the officers will be charged and if so, on what offense.

The military adds lessons have been learned from the incident and integrated into its current conduct.

PA chief Abbas declares 3 days of mourning for Tunisian president

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas declares three days of mourning in honor of late Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi.

Abbas makes the announcement in a televised statement at the start of a meeting of top Palestinian officials at the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah.

Essebsi, the North African country’s first democratically elected leader, died on Thursday at 92.

Abbas also suggests he will travel to Tunisia to participate in Essebsi’s funeral: “I will participate in bidding farewell to the late leader.”

— Adam Rasgon with AP

IDF arrests 2 Palestinians caught with rifle in their car

IDF troops have arrested two Palestinian men at a military checkpoint in the northern West Bank, after a rifle was found in their vehicle, the army says in a statement.

The two suspects, arrested at the Te’enim checkpoint, have been taken for questioning while the weapon has been seized, the statement adds.

Brazil’s Bolsonaro says alleged hackers invaded his phone

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro says a group of alleged hackers have invaded his phone.

Bolsonaro says on Twitter he has received the information from the country’s Justice Ministry.

Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro talks on his cell phone during a ceremony at Planalto presidential palace, in Brasilia, Brazil, July 23, 2019. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

The ministry earlier said Bolsonaro’s phones had been targeted by four people arrested yesterday in the state of Sao Paulo, but didn’t say if they’d successfully gained access to the phone’s data.

The four alleged hackers are accused of invading messaging app accounts of Justice Minister Sergio Moro and four other authorities.

A federal forensics analyst says the group specialized in financial crimes might have hacked into more than 1,000 phones.

Moro has linked the alleged hackers to leaked messages that damaged his reputation as a former judge of the sprawling Car Wash corruption probe.

— AP

Polls give fledgling Democratic Camp between 8 and 12 Knesset seats

Polls conducted by the three main television channels vary in their prediction for the newly formed Democratic Camp, a merger announced this morning between Meretz and Ehud Barak’s Israel Democratic Party along with Labor Party defector Stav Shaffir.

While in one poll the party is given 12 seats, in another it was as low as eight.

Meanwhile, Labor crashes to just five seats in two of the polls, plunging the party into an even bigger crisis than it had been so far.

Meretz chairman Nitzan Horowitz, right, Israel Democratic Party chief Ehud Barak, left, and MK Stav Shaffir hold a press conference announcing their new alliance, the Democratic Camp, ahead of the September 17 elections, in Tel Aviv on July 25, 2019. (Tomer Neuberg/Flash90)

None of the polls predict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will be able to form a coalition without his nemesis, Avigdor Liberman’s Yisrael Beytenu party.

A poll conducted by Channel 12 news gave the ruling Likud party 29 seats, Blue and White 27, and the Joint (Arab) List 11. Democratic Camp and Israel Beytenu had 10 each, the New Right had 9, United Torah Judaism (UTJ) had 8, Shas had 7, Labor had 5 and the Union of Right-Wing Parties (URWP) had 4.  Netanyahu and his allies would have 57 seats without Liberman, not enough to form a coalition.

A Channel 13 news poll gave Likud 28, Blue and White just 23, and Democratic Camp 12. The Joint List got 11, New Right 10, Yisrael Beytenu 10, Labor 7, UTJ 6, Shas 5, URWP 4 and Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut 4. In this scenario, Netanyahu and his allies also take 57 seats.

The Kan public broadcaster also conducted a poll, predicting 30 seats each for Likud and Blue and White. Joint List is the next with 10, Yisrael Beytenu with 9, New Right with 9, Democratic Camp with 8, UTJ with 8, Shas with 7, Labor with 5 and URWP with 4. Netanyahu and his allies have 58 seats.

Police said to fear revenge attack in Israel after crime boss killed in Mexico

Israeli authorities fear that a revenge attack will be carried out in Israel soon following the assassination of an organized crime figure in Mexico, Channel 12 reports.

One of the two victims was a well-known Israeli crime boss, Tel Aviv native Ben Suthi, who completed a lengthy prison sentence in Israel in February.

Israeli police sources earlier told the Ynet news site that there is “no doubt” the murder was “commissioned by those with interests in Israel.” Israeli police reportedly suspect that an Israeli criminal organization paid a local group in Mexico City to carry out the hit.

Abbas says Palestinian will no longer abide by agreements signed with Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas says his government will stop abiding by agreements signed with Israel following the demolition earlier this week of 12 buildings in the West Bank territory adjacent to East Jerusalem but under PA control according to the Oslo Accords.

At a meeting of top Palestinian officials at the PA presidential headquarters in Ramallah, Abbas calls the home demolitions in Sur Baher “a violation of international legitimacy and agreements signed between us and them, an issue that can only be identified as ethnic cleansing and a crime against humanity.”

“In the face of the occupation authority’s insistence in negating all of the signed agreements and in line with the obligations that has been created, we announce the decision of the leadership to halt work related to the agreements signed with the Israeli side and begin establishing mechanisms, starting tomorrow with the formation of a committee to implement that,” he adds.

MGM to remove six-pointed star from security uniforms

Casino operator MGM Resorts International says an inquiry by a weekly Cleveland newspaper has prompted the company to begin removing a six-pointed star logo from the yellow shirts of security guards that a casino guest said “screams” the star Nazi Germany forced Jews to wear.

The Cleveland Jewish News pursued the story after a woman noticed the logo, which includes a circle and the MGM lion, at MGM Northfield Park outside Cleveland.

June Scharf, of Mayfield Heights, told the Jewish News she has family members who died in the Holocaust. She said she was “dumbfounded” when she saw the logo, which resembles a Jewish star, while attending a comedy show at the casino on July 13.

“Seeing that imagery takes me right back to that past which is so painful,” Scharf said.

Debra DeShong, a vice president for corporate communications for Nevada-based MGM Resorts, tells the newspaper it’s committed to changing the logo at all properties where the shirts are worn, beginning with Northfield Park.

“We regret anyone was offended,” DeShong says in an email. “It was certainly not our intention. We are committed to ensuring that everyone feels welcome on our properties. Diversity and inclusion is at the core of our company’s values.”

— AP

Ben Gvir denies as ‘spin’ report that PM offered to make him deputy minister

Itamar Ben Gvir says he cannot confirm a report by the Kan public broadcaster that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has offered to appoint him deputy minister in his meetings with Union of Right-Wing Parties leaders Rafi Peretz and Bezalel Smotrich earlier this week.

“I suppose they want to offer us all sorts of things, but these reports in my opinion are spins of Bezalel Smotrich so that Ayelet Shaked will agree to this merge [with all of us],” Ben Gvir tells The Times of Israel. “By the way, I’m in favor of mergers, I’m in favor of a big merger and I think it’s important. But there are also other elements on the right that need to show responsibility like the prime minister has.”

Otzma Yehudit member Itamar Ben Gvir visits a Chabad yeshiva in the northern city of Safed, on March 28, 2019. (David Cohen/Flash90)

— Jacob Magid

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Ministers slam ‘absurd’ French decision to bar Israeli flag from soccer match

Culture and Sports Minister Miri Regev blasts as “absurd” a decision by French police to ban fans of Israeli soccer club Maccabi Haifa from flying the Jewish state’s flag during a Europa League qualifying match against Strasbourg this evening.

Amid a hostile environment in Strasbourg and expected anti-Israeli protests, local authorities also decided earlier today to prohibit Israelis from wearing Maccabi Haifa shirts or displaying other items bearing the club’s symbols. Additionally, the number of Israelis allowed into the stadium will be restricted.

“I expect French authorities to ensure the safety of the Israeli fans and players and let the fans cheer on their team like in all sports venues and competitions,” Regev says in a statement. “It is unacceptable for a fan of an Israeli club to be afraid in a soccer stadium in France and be barred from flying the flag of Israel or their team.”

Israel Katz attends the weekly cabinet meeting at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on February 17, 2019. (Sebastian Scheiner/Pool/AFP)

Foreign Minister Israel Katz says on Twitter that he has ordered the Israeli Embassy in France to take immediate action to have the restrictions removed.

Israel’s envoy to France, Aliza Ben Noun, earlier criticized as “unacceptable” the fact that demonstrations calling for boycotts of Israel are permitted while waving Israeli flags was not.

Similar decisions have been made in the past by authorities in European countries, including France and Scotland.