Netanyahu meets with Pompeo; refuses comment on reported Syria strike
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IDF officer says was pressed ‘to fix the numbers’ on ultra-Orthodox enlistment

Officer in Manpower Directorate tells Israeli TV that pressure to meet conscription targets came from higher-ups; general denies inflated figures result of ‘malicious intentions’

Illustrative: Soldiers of the IDF's ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion study at the Peles Military Base, in the northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)
Illustrative: Soldiers of the IDF's ultra-Orthodox Netzah Yehuda Battalion study at the Peles Military Base, in the northern Jordan Valley. (Yaakov Naumi/Flash90)

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

Rivlin on political impasse: It seems political leaders ‘want to go crazy’

President Reuven Rivlin says Israel is in the midst of a “troubled time,” after months of political deadlock and that leading politicians seemingly prefer “to go crazy,” rather than compromise on a government.

“I won’t be exaggerating if [I] say that this is a troubled time for the State of Israel,” Rivlin writes in a series of tweets. “This is not a troubled time for one political side or the other. This is a troubled time for all of us.”

In a direct appeal to political leaders, Rivlin quotes a line from Israeli poet Haim Hefer — “They don’t want to sleep, they want to go crazy” — to describe the two months of coalition talks since elections in September ended inconclusively.

“You haven’t slept for two months already, and it appears to me [you] just want to go crazy,” the president says. “If that’s what you want, go crazy! But why drag the nation in Israel with you?”

As the Knesset has until December 11 for lawmakers to nominate a MK to form a government, Rivlin says there is still time to put Israel back on its “proper path.”

After neither secured a majority of seats together with their respective allies in the September vote, both Blue and White leader Benny Gantz and Likud chief Benjamin Netanyahu have expressed their support for a unity government of their parties, but talks between them have failed to result in a coalition and they have traded blame for the impasse.

UK’s Johnson denies dodging Trump at pre-election NATO summit

LONDON — British Prime Minister Boris Johnson denies he was avoiding being pictured with Donald Trump ahead of a UK election next week, as footage emerged of other leaders mocking the US president.

Johnson met Trump away from the cameras yesterday, before a two-day NATO summit, avoiding the media fanfare that normally accompanies such talks.

He also failed to publicly greet the American president and his wife Melania on the doorstep of Downing Street before a reception with other NATO leaders.

Johnson’s team are wary of what Trump might say during his two-day visit, with Britain set to go to the polls on December 12.

Johnson’s Conservatives are leading opinion polls, but the rival Labour party has sought to whip up public opinion against Trump, who is deeply unpopular in Britain.

Arriving for the formal NATO talks in Watford, north of London, Johnson denies he was trying to avoid being seen with Trump.

“I’m going to be photographed with every possible leader,” he insists, and later poses with the president for an official welcome alongside NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg.

— AFP

US President Donald Trump (R) shakes hands with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg (L) as Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson (C) looks on during the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London, December 4, 2019. (Christian Hartmann/Pool/AFP)

Knesset committee to hold deliberations on inflated ultra-Orthodox draft numbers

The Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee will convene next Monday to discuss the admission by the Israel Defense Forces that for years it released inflated numbers on ultra-Orthodox enlistment.

A statement from the Knesset says the meeting was called by Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi, a former IDF chief who heads the committee, and that representatives from the military and the defense ministry will be summoned.

France to create anti-hate crime office amid wave of anti-Semitism

WESTHOFFEN, France — The French government is creating a national anti-hate crime office, following the discovery of anti-Semitic graffiti at a Jewish cemetery in eastern France.

Interior Minister Christophe Castaner makes the announcement today in the town of Westhoffen, where vandals scrawled swastikas and other anti-Semitic inscriptions on 107 tombs yesterday.

Speaking alongside Jewish leaders, Castaner condemns the graffiti as a sign that “hate is on our national territory.”

“We must respect the right to believe,” he says.

A special police unit has begun investigating the incident, Castaner says, and the new national office will seek to fight hate crimes.

The graffiti marked the latest in a string of anti-Semitic acts in the Bas-Rhin region. Anti-Semitic graffiti was also discovered yesterday in the eastern French village of Schaffhouse-sur-Zorn, authorities say.

— AP

French Interior Minister Christophe Castaner, center, followed by Strasbourg chief Rabbi Harold Abraham Weill, second right, walk amid vandalized tombs in the Jewish cemetery of Westhoffen, west of the city of Strasbourg, eastern France, December 4, 2019. (AP Photo/Jean-Francois Badias)

Trump meets Turkey’s Erdogan one-on-one at NATO summit

WATFORD, United Kingdom — US President Donald Trump holds a previously unannounced bilateral meeting with Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on the sidelines of the NATO summit.

Turkey has faced criticism among the allies at the London meeting and has threatened to impede a stronger defense policy for the Baltic states and the head-to-head was not on Trump’s published agenda.

“The presidents discussed the importance of Turkey fulfilling its alliance commitments, further strengthening commerce through boosting bilateral trade by $100 billion, regional security challenges, and energy security,” a White House official says.

Some of Turkey’s Western allies, particularly France, have sharply criticized Ankara’s operation in northern Syria, which has targeted the Kurdish militia fighters who helped defeat the Islamic State jihadist group.

European capitals were as annoyed that Erdogan chose to buy and deploy Russia’s S-400 air defense system, in defiance of US sanctions threat and NATO defense procurement policy.

But Ankara in turn has demanded that NATO members recognize the Kurdish groups as terrorists and has threatened to oppose measures to shore up Eastern European members against threats from Russia.

— AFP

US President Donald Trump (L) and Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (R) leave the stage after the family photo at the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London, December 4, 2019. (Peter Nicholls/Pool/AFP)

Lapid calls inflation of ultra-Orthodox draft figures ‘grave and troubling’

Blue and White MK Yair Lapid, who has long championed increasing ultra-Orthodox military enlistment, calls it “grave and troubling” that the IDF long issued inflated numbers on conscription rates in the community.

Lapid says the matter needs to be clarified “immediately” and welcomes the decision by fellow Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi, who heads the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, to summon representatives from the IDF and Defense Ministry for a meeting next week.

“The equality of the burden is an open wound in Israel. The country needs to bring this issue to an end by legislating the enlistment bill exactly as it was written by the defense establishment,” Lapid tweets.

Disagreements over that bill between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s prospective coalition partners were central to thwarting the formation of a coalition following elections in April and setting off months of political deadlock.

Israeli lightly hurt by rock throwing in West Bank

An Israeli is hurt by a rock thrown at his car in the southern West Bank, a spokesman for the Har Hebron Regional Council says.

The Israeli was lightly hurt, according to the spokesman.

The window of a car broken by rock throwing in the southern West Bank on December 4, 2019. (Har Hebron Regional Council)

Trump calls Trudeau ‘two-faced’ after hot mic comments

WATFORD, United Kingdom — US President Donald Trump describes Justin Trudeau as “two-faced” after the Canadian prime minister was caught on camera apparently mocking him.

“He’s two-faced,” Trump tells reporters on the sidelines of the NATO summit, saying he had called out Trudeau on defense spending “and he’s not very happy about it.”

— AFP

US President Donald Trump (L) talks with Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during the NATO summit at the Grove hotel in Watford, northeast of London, December 4, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm/AFP)

UK’s Johnson pleads ignorance about apparent Trump gossip footage

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson pleads ignorance when questioned about footage of a group of NATO leaders apparently gossiping about US President Donald Trump’s behavior.

When asked whether the leaders were discussing Trump in the footage taken at Buckingham Palace, Johnson tells reporters that “I really don’t know what is being referred to there.”

The footage recorded during a reception yesterday showed Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau standing with Johnson, French President Emmanuel Macron, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte and Britain’s Princess Anne, daughter of Queen Elizabeth II.

Trump has called Trudeau “two-faced” after he was overheard appearing to gossip about the US leader.

— AP

Bloomberg spending tens of millions more on new ad campaign

NEW YORK — Billionaire Democrat Michael Bloomberg is putting tens of millions of more dollars behind a new television ad casting himself as uniquely qualified to defeat US President Donald Trump.

The ad is set to begin running today in all 50 states, including the first four on the presidential primary calendar.

The former New York City mayor, who entered the presidential race less than two weeks ago, launched his White House bid by introducing himself to voters across America in an initial national advertising campaign backed by close to $40 million. The spending behind the new one is being described as consistent with the first, although Bloomberg’s team would not disclose the specific dollar amount.

The first ad highlighted Bloomberg’s life story, including his success in business and philanthropy. The one that begins today focuses on his success fighting America’s gun lobby, “big coal” and “big tobacco.” If he can win those fights, the narrator in the ad says, he can beat Trump.

The new ad replaces the first one and runs on national television across all 50 states and roughly 100 local markets across the country. Bloomberg has said he is not competing in the first four states on the primary calendar — Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina — although the ad will air in those states, according to a spokesman.

— AP

In this Nov. 26, 2019, file photo, Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks to the media in Phoenix. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

UN envoy tours Gaza border amid truce efforts

The UN envoy for Middle East peace tours the Gaza border amid efforts to broker a long-term truce between Israel and Hamas, the terror group that rules the Palestinian enclave.

Nikolay Mladenov is accompanied by Brig. Gen. Eliezer Toledano, who heads the military’s Gaza Division.

Mladenov visited Gaza earlier today.

Rouhani says Iran still open to talks with US if sanctions lifted

TEHRAN, Iran — Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran hasn’t closed the window on talks with the US but reiterates his government’s standing condition that the Trump administration lift sanctions imposed on Iran before any negotiations can take place.

Rouhani’s statement is posted on the Iranian presidency’s website today. It quotes him as saying there’s no barrier from the Iranian side for meeting with the heads of 5+1 nations.

That’s a reference to the UN Security Council’s five permanent members, including the US.

Rouhani says that “whenever the US lifts the unfair sanctions, the heads of 5+1 nations can immediately meet and we have no problem” with that.

He says Iran has no other option but to defy those who imposed sanctions on Tehran, “but we have not closed the window on talks.”

— AP

Netanyahu claims credit for preventing Trump-Rouhani meet at UN

Prime Minister Netanyahu touches down in Lisbon for a two-day trip that will include meetings with US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Portuguese officials.

Speaking to reporters before landing, Netanyahu says sanctions are worsening the economic conditions in Iran, “which will create greater political problems for the regime.”

Weakening Iran is one of Israel’s “key goals” and that’s why he’ll meet Pompeo tonight, Netanyahu says.

He adds he believes there is no chance European countries will join the US sanctions campaign against Tehran, days after chiding Europe for “working to bypass” the sanctions regime.

Netanyahu also takes credit for preventing a meeting between US President Donald Trump and his Iranian counterpart Hassan Rouhani at the UN General Assembly last September. He says such a meeting would have strengthened Iran and weakened efforts to get them to change their behavior.

He also says it was he who suggested to Trump to pressure Iran and that the US president “decided to implement this.”

— with Raphael Ahren

Iran leader calls for ‘Islamic mercy’ after bloody crackdown on protests

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Iran’s supreme leader has reportedly called on judicial officials to treat those detained in recent protests with “Islamic mercy” after authorities acknowledged security forces shot and killed demonstrators nationwide.

A report today by the state-run IRNA news agency also quotes Ayatollah Ali Khamenei as saying citizens killed in the protests “without playing any part in instigating them” should be considered martyrs and their families should receive government stipends.

Khamenei’s comments come as Iranian officials only yesterday openly acknowledged security forces killed demonstrators.

Amnesty International believes at least 208 people were killed in the protests and security force crackdown that began from November 15.

Iran disputes Amnesty’s figures but has so far refused to release any nationwide casualty or arrest figures.

— AP

Trump slams House Democrats impeachment report as a ‘joke’

WATFORD, United Kingdom — US President Donald Trump slams a report by House Democrats presenting the case for his impeachment as a “joke” and lambastes his opponents for proceeding with hearings during his trip to a NATO summit.

“What they are doing is a very bad thing for our country,” Trump says when asked about the report from the House Intelligence Committee during a meeting in Britain with Italy’s prime minister. “It’s a joke.”

He calls it a “disgrace” that the House Judiciary Committee was holding a hearing Wednesday to consider drawing up articles of impeachment “when we are in London.”

— AFP

Likud reportedly set to approve leadership primaries

Likud’s top decision-making body is expected to approve holding leadership primaries when it meets on Sunday, the Ynet news site reports.

A date has still not been set for the prospective leadership vote.

The Central Committee will also reportedly approve forgoing primaries for the rest of the party’s electoral slate.

Prime Minister Netanyahu last month acquiesced to a primary amid a push by Likud MK Gideon Sa’ar for a leadership race.

Sa’ar, the only Likud lawmaker to so far publicly declare he will challenge Netanyahu, has argued the ruling party needs new blood at the top after the prime minister’s consecutive failures to form a government.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (C) and then interior minister Gideon Sa’ar (L) seen at the Knesset on July 9, 2013. (Flash 90)

Psych! Likud will put off decision on leadership race, cancel primaries

Following reports it was set to approve a party leadership primary at its upcoming meeting, Likud says it will not in fact hold a vote when it convenes next week.

The Likud Central Committee will instead only approve cancelling primaries for the party’s electoral slate and put off a decision on calling a leadership race if new general elections are called, as appears likely.

Sa’ar called last month for a leadership race to be held before the December 11 deadline for the Knesset to tap one of its members to form a government, a possibility now off the table with the Likud announcement.

Foreign Ministry hails Portugal’s admission to Holocaust remembrance alliance

The International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance approves Portugal as a full member, making it the 34th member of the intergovernmental group.

The decision to admit Portugal is praised by Israel’s Foreign Ministry and comes as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits Lisbon.

The ministry says the continued expansion of IHRA is an “important step” in combatting anti-Semitism.

“Preserving memory of the Holocaust and the fight against anti-Semitism are connected to each other. The past must be recognized and remembered in order to guarantee the future,” Foreign Minister Israel Katz says in a statement.

“Anti-Semitism is a disease that not only threatens the Jewish people but rather every society and country in which it exists. The joint effort to exterminate it is a moral obligation and necessary,” he adds.

Iranian-controlled weapons facility in Syria said hit in strike

Unidentified aircraft bomb an Iranian-controlled weapons storehouse in eastern Syria causing a massive explosion, a Syrian opposition news site reports.

According to Step News, the planes fired several missiles at warehouses in the al-Hamdan airport, outside Deir ez-Zor, in the Abulkamal region of Syria, an area that has reportedly been targeted several times by Israeli airstrikes on Iranian facilities.

Troops on the ground fired anti-aircraft weapons at the attacking planes, the news site reports.

There are no immediate reports of casualties.

— Judah Ari Gross

US, Sudan agree to upgrade diplomatic ties

WASHINGTON — The United States and Sudan have agreed to upgrade their diplomatic ties by exchanging ambassadors for the first time in more than two decades, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo says today.

The announcement of a return to ambassadorial-level representation after 23 years comes as Sudan’s new prime minister, Abdalla Hamdok, wrapped up his first visit to Washington. He met senior administration officials, including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Mark Green, head of the US Agency for International Development.

“This decision is a meaningful step forward in strengthening the U.S.-Sudan bilateral relationship, particularly as the civilian-led transitional government works to implement the vast reforms under the political agreement and constitutional declaration” from August, Pompeo says in a statement.

Hamdok was in Washington seeking support for Sudan’s transition toward democracy since the ouster of strongman Omar al-Bashir amid widespread protests against his rule.

Pompeo praises Hamdok for installing a civilian cabinet, making key personnel changes and committing to democratic elections after a transition period.

— AP

IDF officer says was pressured ‘to fix the numbers’ on Haredi enlistment

An officer in the IDF’s Manpower Directorate tells Channel 13 news that he experienced pressure from higher-ups to inflate annual figures of the number of ultra-Orthodox conscripts.

The officer, who the network reports is low-ranking, says the unit experienced pressure for years to meet enlistment targets and “to fix the numbers.” They called this the “art of presenting the figures,” the officer adds.

The network also interviews Maj. Gen. Moti Almoz, commander of the Manpower Directorate, who says several weeks ago they discovered “something about the numbers didn’t add up.”

Almoz denies the inflated numbers were due to “malicious intentions” and says they were likely due to “excess motivation.”

He says IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi has appointed to Maj. Gen. (res.) Roni Numa to get to the bottom of the matter and that any mistakes made by the army will be addressed.

Netanyahu meets with Pompeo; refuses comment on reported Syria strike

Prime Minister Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are now meeting in Lisbon.

Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu calls for increased action against Iran.

“The Iranian empire is tottering. Let’s make it totter even more,” he says.

Netanyahu also says “Iran is increasing its aggression, as we speak, literally today, in the region.” He accuses Tehran of acting against Israel all across the Middle East — in Iran itself, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen.

“We’re actively engaged in countering that aggression,” he says.

Netanyahu refuses to comment on a question about whether he authorized a reported airstrike today on an Iranian-controlled weapons factory in Syria.

— Raphael Ahren

https://twitter.com/newsisrael13/status/1202297107551522816

Netanyahu thanks Pompeo for saying settlements not illegal: This will further peace

Netanyahu also thanks Pompeo for his statement last month saying that Israeli settlements in the West Bank are not illegal.

“This will advance peace, because peace has to be based on truth, not lies,” he says.

— Raphael Ahren

Arizona State student government passes resolution to support Jewish students

The undergraduate student government of Arizona State University passes a resolution in support of the school’s Jewish students.

The resolution, which passed by acclamation, comes amid public discussion among campus student organizations about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and in the wake of fliers bearing swastikas and Stars of David circulated on campus, The State Press student newspaper reports.

Last month, four pieces of legislation were submitted to the student government on the topic of the conflict. One called for divestment from companies involved in “human rights abuses,” including a number in Israel.

The resolutions have been postponed over what the student government said were errors in the documents.

The Resolution to Stand With Jewish Students at ASU notes the rise in anti-Semitic hate crimes as reported in the FBI’s annual Report on Hate Crimes, as well as the October 2018 attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh.

It says that ASU Jewish students “have expressed concerns over their own safety on campus to the administration and police force in light of recent events, specifically Nazi propaganda.”

The resolution also says the student government supports “all students in mutual civil dialogue and debate in an environment that is free from threat and intimidation,” and that it “does not support anti-Semitism, and stands by the Jewish community.”

Opponents of the resolution say it conflated anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel.

— JTA

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Live updates (closed)

Netanyahu meets with Pompeo; refuses comment on reported Syria strike

Prime Minister Netanyahu and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are now meeting in Lisbon.

Ahead of the meeting, Netanyahu calls for increased action against Iran.

“The Iranian empire is tottering. Let’s make it totter even more,” he says.

Netanyahu also says “Iran is increasing its aggression, as we speak, literally today, in the region.” He accuses Tehran of acting against Israel all across the Middle East — in Iran itself, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Gaza and Yemen.

“We’re actively engaged in countering that aggression,” he says.

Netanyahu refuses to comment on a question about whether he authorized a reported airstrike today on an Iranian-controlled weapons factory in Syria.

— Raphael Ahren