Netanyahu orders NIS 3.3 billion increase in defense budget
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Report: Netanyahu has decided to go to new elections in November

Sources close to PM cited by newspaper say he won’t allow budget to pass by August deadline, leading to new national vote; reportedly fears courts will ban him from post over trial

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the weekly cabinet meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem on June 28, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

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

Gantz’s party votes to ban gay conversion therapy; Haredis vow: You won’t be PM

Ultra-Orthodox parties are outraged after the coalition’s Blue and White party breaks ranks with the coalition to give backing to a bill banning gay conversion therapy.

“You won’t be prime minister!” some shout at party chief Benny Gantz as the bill passes in a preliminary reading. The bill must still pass three more readings at the plenum before it becomes law.

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana, who is openly gay, also votes against his party’s wishes.

The bill passes 42-36. Many Likud lawmakers are reported to have been absent from the vote.

Netanyahu orders NIS 3.3 billion increase in defense budget

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for a NIS 3.3 billion increase in the defense budget, despite the current economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the move is necessary in light of “the many security challenges surrounding us.”

In a statement, Netanyahu’s office says the decision was made following a discussion with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Israel Katz, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and other top government officials.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Adviser to the US Secretary of State, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“The prime minister ordered the Finance Ministry, together with officials from the Defense Ministry, National Security Council, and the Prime Minister’s Office, to find sources of funding to add NIS 3.3 billion to the defense budget,” his office says.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, this money will go to “funding routine IDF activities, [construction of the] Gaza border barrier, and other critical areas that cannot be delayed.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu stressed the importance of allowing the defense establishment to preserve stability in the face of the many security challenges surrounding us,” his office says.

— Judah Ari Gross

UK: Labour pays damages to whistleblowers over anti-Semitism

Britain’s opposition Labour Party has agreed to pay substantial damages to seven whistleblowers who sued the party for defamation over an anti-Semitism dispute.

The seven former employees appeared on a BBC investigative program last year looking into whether Labour was anti-Semitic. They criticized the party’s handling of anti-Semitism complaints, and sued the party when it issued a statement describing the group as having “personal and political axes to grind.”

The former employees were also accused of trying to undermine Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader at the time.

Mark Henderson, representing Labour, tells the High Court that the party acknowledges that “the claims about the claimants are untrue” and apologizes to the group.

— AP

Litzman: Likud must decide if it is able to run coalition

Yaakov Litzman, head of the ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judaism party, says Blue and White’s choice to vote against the coalition’s wishes “is a challenge to our political partnership with them.”

He added that the Likud party “must decide if it is able to run a coalition or if it is losing itself politically.”

Newly appointed housing minister and former health minister Yaakov Litzman, at his installation ceremony at the Housing Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Olivier FitoussiFlash90)

Labor ministers: Conversion therapy inhumane, a crime — we voted our conscience

Labor party ministers explain their votes against coalition directives and in favor of banning gay conversion therapy.

“Conversion therapy is inhumane, immoral and un-Jewish,” Economy Minister Amir Peretz says in a tweet. “Alongside coalition discipline there is also [our] conscience.”

Welfare Minister Itzik Shmuli, himself openly gay, tweets: “There are moments that you need to do what’s right…conversion therapy is a crime. LGBT youth should be accepted, not changed.”

Minister of Labor, Social Welfare and Social Services Itzik Shmuli during a ceremony at the ministry in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Shlomi Cohen/Flash90)

Ultra-Orthodox MKs said planning to boycott votes until further notice

Shas and UTJ legislators are saying they will not participate in plenum votes until further notice, in protest of coalition members having voted against directives, according to Channel 12 news.

Likud Minister David Amsalem, who serves as liaison between the Knesset and government, says: “Blue and White are creating cracks in the coalition and leading Israel to elections… it’s brazen and shameless, against all coalition agreements.”

Bill bans only conversion therapy carried out by psychotherapists

Notably, the new bill does not ban all gay conversion therapy, but only that carried out by psychotherapists. Rabbis are not forbidden from continuing to perform it.

Palestinians report 356 new virus patients, taking case count to 9,088

The Palestinian Authority Health Ministry reports 356 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, raising the total number of active cases in Gaza, the West Bank, and East Jerusalem to 9,088.

Despite over two weeks of lockdown in the most affected areas, the virus continues to rage in the Hebron governorate, which registered 154 new cases today. Another 186 cases were confirmed in Israeli-controlled East Jerusalem, which the PA counts in its official statistics.

A member of the Palestinian security forces controls the cars entering the West Bank town of Hebron on July 17, 2020, after a surge in coronavirus cases (HAZEM BADER / AFP)

Since the beginning of the pandemic, 63 West Bank Palestinians have died from the coronavirus, in addition to three in East Jerusalem and one in the Gaza Strip.

— Aaron Boxerman

Police minister: Attorney general doing nothing to halt ‘next Yigal Amir’

Public Security Minister Amir Ohana once again asserts that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit is failing to take seriously threats against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Ohana tells Army Radio that “threats are at a record high. I think anyone with eyes… can see explicit threats of murder” as part of the mass protests against Netanyahu. “Not things you need to interpret… very clear statements.”

He asserted that if not for the prime minister’s protection and bodyguards, “someone would have already risen up and done something.

“I see the hate rising up and reaching irrational levels. It brings some people to write ‘Who will be the hero that will be the next Yigal Amir,'” he adds.

Newly appointed Public Security Minister Amir Ohana attends a passing the baton ceremony at the Public Security Ministry in Jerusalem on May 18, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Knesset topless protester: I didn’t plan it in advance, I love my country

A social work student who made waves, and caused outrage, yesterday by climbing a menorah sculpture outside the Knesset and removing her shirt tells Jerusalem FM radio her actions pale when compared to the injustices taking place in the country.

“I didn’t think about this act [in advance],” she says. “It wasn’t some provocative sign. It was simply a very real moment by me, with myself.

“Apart from that, I’m Jewish. I love my country. I’m not an anarchist. I believe the state should take care of its citizens. And if the menorah is a symbol, my body is also a symbol. Maybe my action is controversial, but I think it is dwarfed by what is going on in our country.”

A topless protester sits on a menorah statue near the Knesset during a demonstration against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on July 21, 2020. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

UTJ says it will push forward bills on matters of religion and state

Following an emergency faction meeting, United Torah Judaism says “Blue and White harmed the trust and partnership with United Torah Judaism. We feel absolved of any obligation toward them.”

It also holds “the Likud faction and the prime minister who leads it as responsible for violating the [coalition] agreement and for the breach in the walls of Judaism [caused by the new bill] — both through members who voted in favor and through those who voted with their feet and did not attend.”

UTJ says it will move in the coming week to propose bills touching on issues of religion and state on which it has so far held off, as “we were waiting for dialogue between the coalition partners to reach an agreement.”

The faction says it will vote later today for the sweeping Coronavirus Law “due to the sacred principle of pikuah nefesh (the Jewish value of saving lives). Other than that we see ourselves as absolved of coalition obligations and will consider our steps going forward.”

Blue and White official tells TV: Likud getting payback for bid to probe judges

A senior official in the Blue and White party tells Channel 12 news: “What we did today is payback to Likud for the [move to form a] committee on judges’ conflicts of interests. We’re not pushovers.”

Likud angered Blue and White earlier this month when it voted to form a parliamentary committee to investigate Supreme Court Justices alleged conflicts of interest, despite strident objections from its coalition partner.

The bill failed to pass despite Likud’s support.

Motorbike rider, 35, killed in crash near city of Holon

A motorbike rider has been killed after being hit by a car east of Holon.

The man, aged 35, was hit on Route 44, between the cities of Holon and Lod.

Paramedics who arrived at the scene attempted but failed to resuscitate him.

Lebanese media says Israeli army drill sparks fire near border

A fire breaks out along the Israeli-Lebanese border, apparently caused by a military exercise nearby, amid heightened tensions between Israel and the Hezbollah terror group.

A journalist for the Hezbollah-affiliated al-Manar news outlet reports that Israeli troops were conducting an exercise in the Golan and fired two artillery shells into the area of Shebaa Farms, known in Israel as Mount Dov, sparking the blaze.

Spanish UN peacekeepers patrol in the disputed Shebaa Farms area between Lebanon and Israel, overlooking the divided border village of Ghajar, southeast Lebanon, February 24, 2015. (AP /Hussein Malla)

A number of firetrucks were sent into the area to put out the fire, according to al-Manar. The Israel Defense Forces says it is aware of reports and is looking into the matter.

The border incident comes a day after Hezbollah accused Israel of killing one of its members in an airstrike outside Damascus on Monday night.

— Judah Ari Gross

Activist singer apologizes to LGBTQ community for calling PM a ‘transvestite’

Singer-songwriter Assaf Amdursky, who has recently become a regular participant in protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, has apologized to the LGBTQ community for saying yesterday that the prime minister is “a transvestite who dyes his hair purple.”

Netanyahu has been the object of mockery for dyeing his hair in a silvery hue that sometimes seems tinged with purple.

Following intense criticism by LGBT activists, Amdursky says he wishes to apologize “to the trans community specifically and the entire LGBTQ community.”

He says the comment was made “out of excitement, in a moment of irresponsibility.”

He adds: “Forgive me, my dear sisters, the criminal from Balfour [street] is not worth the insult I hurled at you, and the danger in my words is terrible and real.”

Knesset quarrel erupts between ministries over need for new gas-fired power plants

A simmering dispute erupts between the energy and environmental protection ministries over the need for new natural gas-fired power plants, with Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz accusing a senior Environmental Protection Ministry official of populist behavior.

The spat takes place after Gil Proaktor, head of Climate Change Policy at the Environmental Protection Ministry, tells the Knesset Internal Affairs and Environment Committee that were the government to treat climate change with the same urgency as the coronavirus, it would stop building “white elephant” power stations based on gas — a fossil fuel – that will still be operating in 2050, when much of the developed world will have already moved to 100 percent electricity from renewable sources.

Energy Minister Yuval Steinitz at the Knesset in Jerusalem on May 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

“Nobody intends to establish a single [gas] power station that’s not needed, but show me one country in the world that depends for 40% of its energy on the sun, even 30%,” shouts Steinitz, who is aiming for 30% renewables by the end of the decade.

“We’re taking a huge risk here, you should be ashamed of yourself. A government has to be responsible, not populist!”

— Sue Surkes

Iran says it successfully tested virus vaccine on animals, is moving to humans

Iran has successfully tested a coronavirus vaccine on animals and is preparing to move forward to human trials, a top official in the Islamic Republic claims.

Mohammad Mokhber, who heads the Headquarters of Imam Khomeini’s Directive, a state-owned enterprise, announces the move to human trials “after receiving license from the health ministry.”

He also says the Headquarters, which holds a network of businesses in various fields, has also developed a cheaper version of the drug remdesivir, which is believed to be helpful in treating some serious coronavirus cases.

Illustrative: A person is injected as part of the first human trials in the UK to test a potential coronavirus vaccine, taken by Oxford University in England, on April 23, 2020. (Screenshot/Oxford University Pool via AP)

Education minister urges summer schools be kept open to allow parents to work

Education Minister Yoav Gallant says there is no justification for closing summer schools, saying they are not a significant location of infection.

He says most cases of children diagnosed with coronavirus at summer schools are believed to have occurred outside the school. Such cases are quickly identified and the establishments are shut down, preventing further infections.

He stresses that for parents who need to work, keeping institutions open until early August, as originally planned, is critical.

Education Minister Yoav Gallant at a passing the baton ceremony in Jerusalem on May 18 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

UN experts urge Iran to release jailed activist with COVID-19 symptoms

A group of UN rights experts calls on Iran to immediately release jailed activist and journalist Narges Mohammadi, reportedly ill with the novel coronavirus, warning her life is at stake.

“The Iranian authorities must act now before it is too late,” the 16 independent experts say in a statement, expressing grave concern that Mohammadi appeared to have contracted COVID-19 in Zanjan Prison in north-western Iran.

Mohammadi, 48, is a campaigner against the death penalty and was spokeswoman for the Defenders of Human Rights Center in Iran — founded by lawyer and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi — when she was arrested in May 2015. The mother of two is serving a 10-year prison sentence for “forming and managing an illegal group,” among other charges.

In this Monday, June 9, 2008, photo, Iranian Narges Mohammadi listens to a question during a press conference on the Assessment of the Human Rights Situation in Iran, at the UN headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland (Magali Girardin/Keystone via AP)

The rights activist, who suffers from a lung condition, already requested temporary release from prison for medical treatment last month.

— AFP

Opposition candidate’s team wants Poland’s presidential election voided

The campaign team for the opposition challenger in Poland’s presidential election, Warsaw Mayor Rafal Trzaskowski, says it now wants the vote annulled, alleging numerous irregularities.

The liberal Trzaskowski lost the July 12 runoff by a narrow margin to conservative incumbent President Andrzej Duda. Trzaskowski, who received 48.97% of votes, earlier conceded defeat to Duda, who received 51.03%.

Trzaskowski’s team and his Civic Platform party lodged a protest with the Supreme Court last week arguing that state-run media and the government were unfairly involved in boosting Duda’s campaign, while not all Poles abroad were able to cast ballots.

Campaign posters for two contenders in Poland’s key presidential election runoff Sunday, incumbent conservative president, Andrzej Duda, who is seeking reelection, and his liberal rival, Warsaw mayor, Rafal Trzaskowski, are pictured in Raciaz, Poland, on July 9, 2020. (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski)

Polish media reports that Trzaskowski’s team and his party are also urging the top court to declare the election void. A spokesman for Trzaskowski’s team, Jan Grabiec, confirmed it to The Associated Press.

— AP

Knesset committee approves coronavirus powers bill for 2nd, 3rd readings

The Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee has approved a controversial bill granting the government powers to impose wide-ranging restrictions to curb the coronavirus pandemic through June 2021.

The bill is now set to go up for its second and third readings at the plenum later today.

The bill allows the cabinet to set restrictions on the public, with the Knesset given 24 hours to approve or reject the virus regulations before they take effect automatically.

Virus regulations law on course to strip Coronavirus Committee of its powers

The version of the sweeping coronavirus law approved by the Knesset’s Constitution, Law and Justice Committee earlier and now set to be voted on by the plenum appears to be the same one agreed upon during marathon talks at the committee yesterday night.

This will see the Knesset given 24 hours to strike down cabinet decisions on restrictions before they come into effect. After government-imposed measures take effect, four Knesset committees will be able to approve or reject the measure for a week or two, depending on the nature of the restrictions.

The current committee in charge of reviewing coronavirus restrictions, which has repeatedly angered the prime minister by striking down measures shortly after the cabinet okayed them, is expected to be largely stripped of its powers, as it will no longer have the power to nix measures.

Female leaders doing ‘better job’ on crisis, European Central Bank chief says

Female leaders are doing a better job handling the coronavirus crisis, European Central Bank chief Christine Lagarde says Wednesday, praising them for their honest communication and for showing they care.

The differences in policies and communication are “quite stunning” in countries led by women, she says in an online interview with The Washington Post.

“I am going to be extremely biased. I’m not going to be a central banker at this very moment, but I would say that for myself, I’ve learned that women tend to do a better job,” she says.

Managing Director of International Monetary Fund (IMF) Christine Lagarde talks during a press conference ahead of the annual meetings of the IMF and World Bank in Bali, Indonesia on October 11, 2018. (AP Photo/ Firdia Lisnawati)

Lagarde, who is the ECB’s first female president, singles out German Chancellor Angela Merkel for praise.

She cites Merkel’s science-based approach as an example of how “very honest, transparent” explanations on coronavirus data and infection rates helped members of the public appreciate why masks, social distancing and confinement measures are necessary.

— AFP

Culture, health ministries agree on live music concerts in drive-in format

The culture and health ministries announce they have agreed to approve live music concerts be held in a drive-in format, in which concert-goers will be required to stay in their vehicles at venues.

Up to 200 cars will be allowed to enter such concert drive-in locations, keeping two meters distance between all vehicles.

People will be allowed to go to the toilets in a regulated manner, with the approval of ushers working at the venues.

Health Ministry reports 2,136 new virus cases in past 24 hours

The latest Health Ministry figures show a continued steady rise in virus infections throughout the country, with 2,136 cases in the past 24 hours, taking the total case count to 55,695, of which 32,060 are active cases.

The death toll remains at 430 since the morning. Of the patients, 273 are in serious condition (78 of them on ventilators), 120 are in moderate condition and the rest suffer only mild symptoms or are asymptomatic.

IDF: Soldier killed, officer injured in car crash near Lebanese border

A soldier was killed and an officer was injured in what the Israel Defense Forces say was a car accident near the Lebanese border.

The incident comes amid growing tensions between Israel and the Lebanese Hezbollah after the terror group accused the IDF of killing one of its fighters in an airstrike outside Damascus on Monday night.

The military says the car crash occurred in the area of Mount Dov, also known as Shebaa Farms, which Israel, Lebanon, and Syria all claim as their territory.

The dead soldier is identified by the military as 20-year-old Sahar Algazar, from the southern Israeli community of Ranen.

A UN patrol near the Israeli-Lebanese border, November, 2016. (Doron Horowitz/FLASH90/File)

The IDF says the Military Police have launched an investigation into the crash.
The officer, a lieutenant, sustained moderate injuries and was taken to a nearby hospital for treatment, according to the IDF.

— Judah Ari Gross

Iranian MP: Natanz incident was definitely ’caused by a security breach’

A member of the Iranian parliament’s National Security Committee tells the legislature authorities have reached a definitive conclusion that the blast and fire at the Natanz nuclear facility earlier this month was “caused by a security breach,” according to multiple reports in Persian and Arab media.

It was not immediately clear if Karimi Qudusi was explicitly referring to some type of infiltration of the sensitive site.

Qudusi ruled out an outside strike on the facility.

The incident at the advanced centrifuge development and assembly plant at Iran’s Natanz uranium enrichment facility has been widely attributed to Israel in a possible cyber attack.

A building after it was damaged by a fire, at the Natanz uranium enrichment facility some 200 miles (322 kilometers) south of the capital Tehran, Iran, July 2, 2020. (Atomic Energy Organization of Iran via AP)

Report: Netanyahu has decided to go to new elections in November

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has decided not to pass the 2020 state budget by August as required, leading to a new election in November, Haaretz reports, citing sources who have spoken to the premier.

The sources claimed Netanyahu is seeking to create a sense that there is chaos in the coalition to shore up public support for breaking up the current coalition.

The report further says Netanyahu made the decision after the Jerusalem District Court ruled that it will begin to hear testimony from witnesses in his criminal cases in January 2021, with hearings to be held three times a week. The premier is said to fear that petitions to the High Court will demand he be prevented from serving in his post while focused on his trial, and that such appeals will be accepted by the court.

Netanyahu plans to take control of the Justice Ministry after such an election to help his legal prospects, the report says.

Outrage over photos of cop pressing knee into protester’s neck in Jerusalem

Photos of a policeman digging his knee into the neck of a protester during demonstrations against the prime minister in Jerusalem yesterday have elicited outrage by activists and on social media, evoking the actions of the American cop alleged to have killed George Floyd through the same technique, leading to massive nation-wide protests.

Several officers were filmed slamming one demonstrator to the ground during yesterday’s events, with one of them digging his knee into an activist’s face and neck.

The man, 28-year-old Or Yerushalmi, told Haaretz that he was attacked after he tried to prevent a cop from punching a middle-aged woman who was protesting alongside him.

“I tried to stop him and hold back his hand, but then he and another officer yanked me to the floor. Then, two or three cops — I do not know how many for sure — grabbed me. One held me down and the other put his foot on my neck. It lasted a few seconds and hurt, but I did not suffocate,” he said.

An Israeli police officer puts his knee on a demonstrator to make an arrest during a protest against Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu outside his residence in Jerusalem, early Wednesday, July 22, 2020. (AP Photo/ Ariel Schalit)

“If he’d used a bit more force, I would not have been able to breathe.”

In June Israel’s first-ever Bedouin diplomat complained that he was manhandled by security guards at a bus depot in Jerusalem, saying the guards constricted his neck and made it difficult for him to breathe, and one placed a leg on his head until another guard told him to stop.

Report: Gabi Barbash threatening to walk away from virus czar post amid disputes

Prof. Gabi Barbash, chosen by the government to lead Israel’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, has warned that if the details of his appointment are not approved tonight, he will walk away from the job, according to reports by several media outlets.

Channel 12 and Haaretz report that the Prime Minister’s Office is fighting with the Health Ministry over the amount of authority to be given to the former senior health official who once served as the Health Ministry’s director-general, with Health Minister Yuli Edelstein opposed to giving him sweeping powers.

Prof. Gabi Barbash, former director general at Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, on April 7, 2020. (Channel 12)

Barbash is said to have told officials he will not be able to lead the fight against the pandemic effectively without powers over the health system, the Health Ministry, and other ministries as well.

Prime Minister Netanyahu is said to support handing Barbash the powers he requests.

Senior coalition officials tell TV: ‘Real danger’ of new elections this year

Senior coalition officials tell Channel 13 news, “There is a real danger of elections this very year.”

An ally of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells the network: “The odds are 50-50.”

The conflict centers on the state budget and whether the coalition will pass it by its mid-August deadline. Failure to do so will automatically trigger new elections.

The coalition agreement between Likud and Blue and White calls for a two-year budget to be agreed on, but Netanyahu is now insisting on passing a budget for a single year, purportedly to give the government more flexibility in light of the coronavirus pandemic — though Blue and White fears he is seeking to give himself the opportunity to bolt the coalition next year.

MKs convene to vote on new coronavirus law in its final readings

Knesset members have convened to vote on the new coronavirus law in its final second and third readings.

The bill is set to give the cabinet sweeping powers to announce restrictions on the public amid the COVID-19 pandemic, limiting the Knesset’s oversight of such measures.

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Netanyahu orders NIS 3.3 billion increase in defense budget

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calls for a NIS 3.3 billion increase in the defense budget, despite the current economic downturn due to the coronavirus pandemic, saying the move is necessary in light of “the many security challenges surrounding us.”

In a statement, Netanyahu’s office says the decision was made following a discussion with Defense Minister Benny Gantz, Finance Minister Israel Katz, IDF Chief of Staff Aviv Kohavi, National Security Adviser Meir Ben-Shabbat and other top government officials.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Brian Hook, US Special Representative for Iran and Senior Adviser to the US Secretary of State, at the Prime Minister’s Office in Jerusalem on June 30, 2020. (Olivier Fitoussi/Flash90)

“The prime minister ordered the Finance Ministry, together with officials from the Defense Ministry, National Security Council, and the Prime Minister’s Office, to find sources of funding to add NIS 3.3 billion to the defense budget,” his office says.

According to the Prime Minister’s Office, this money will go to “funding routine IDF activities, [construction of the] Gaza border barrier, and other critical areas that cannot be delayed.”

“Prime Minister Netanyahu stressed the importance of allowing the defense establishment to preserve stability in the face of the many security challenges surrounding us,” his office says.

— Judah Ari Gross