The Times of Israel liveblogged Wednesday’s events as they happened.
In six months, Gaza balloons burned 3,300 acres of forest, 4,000 of farmland
More than 3,000 acres of forest in the northern and western Negev desert have been damaged by arson attacks from Gaza.
Marking six months since Palestinians in Gaza began sending incendiary balloons and kites over the border toward southern Israel, Keren Kayemeth L’Yisrael-Jewish National Fund reports that some 3,279 acres — a total of 12,270 dunams – of forests have been damaged by fires caused by the attacks. Another 4,000 acres of farmland also have been destroyed by the fires.
The largest amount of damage occurred in the Be’eri and Kissufim forests in the western Negev, and in forests near the city of Sderot and Kibbutz Lahav in the northern Negev.
Police arrest 3 teens in Beit Shemesh synagogue fire
Three teens are under house arrest for allegedly setting a synagogue on fire in the city of Beit Shemesh, southwest of Jerusalem.
Police say the arson attack was not being investigated as a hate crime, but as an “act of mischief.”
The synagogue building in the Ramat Beit Shemesh Gimel neighborhood was damaged in the fire two weeks ago.
The attack “could have caused serious harm to people as well,” police say in a statement.
Rivlin pays tribute to Danish underground that saved Jews in WWII
President Reuven Rivlin begins a state visit to Denmark today, which started with the laying of a wreath at the memorial to the Danish underground that helped save Jews in World War II.
Danish Defense Minister Claus Hjort Frederiksen accompanies Rivlin at the memorial, as well as survivor Salli Besiakov, who laid a second wreath.
According to a statement from the President’s Residence, “Salli was rescued as a fifteen-year-old by the efforts of the underground. In October 1943, Salli and his family left their home for a safe house in Copenhagen. His life was saved when he was taken in a fishing boat to Sweden.”
Rivlin is quoted as saying in his meeting with Besiakov, “The determination with which the Jews of Denmark were saved moves us even today.”
He is slated to meet Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II for a private meeting later today.
Kavanaugh takes Supreme Court seat for 1st time
Brett Kavanaugh takes the bench with his new Supreme Court colleagues for the first time.
The new justice dives into his new job, asking a handful of questions in the first arguments of the day following a traditional welcome from Chief Justice John Roberts, who wished Kavanaugh “a long and happy career in our common calling.”
In court, Kavanaugh asks questions of both sides in arguments over increased prison sentences for repeat offenders. He jumps in with his first question after most of the other justices had spoken.
Questions from Kavanaugh and Justice Neil Gorsuch, US President Donald Trump’s two court picks, suggest they could vote against the Trump administration and side with a criminal defendant from Florida who is fighting an increase in his sentence.
French lawmakers adopt ‘fake news’ bill
PARIS, France — French lawmakers adopt two bills aimed at preventing the spread of false information during election campaigns following allegations of Russian meddling in the 2017 presidential vote.
The “fake news” bills enable a candidate or political party to seek a court injunction preventing the publication of “false information” during the three months leading up to a national election.
They also give France’s broadcast authority the power to take any network that is “controlled by, or under the influence of a foreign power” off the air if it “deliberately spreads false information that could alter the integrity of the election.”
The measure is seen as aimed at Russia’s state-backed RT network which began broadcasting in French late last year.
Macron has had Russian media in his sights since his 2017 campaign when a state-backed Russian site ran allegations that he was gay and had a secret bank account in the Bahamas.
France’s opposition has criticized the bills as an attempt to create a “thought police,” noting that a law dating to 1881 already protects politicians and other citizens against defamation.
German historians accuse far right chief of echoing Hitler
BERLIN, Germany — German historians accused far-right leader Alexander Gauland of paraphrasing Adolf Hitler in a newspaper column taking aim at a “globalized class” that he claimed threatens all that is good in his “homeland.”
The co-leader of the far-right AfD has rejected allegations of parallels with a 1933 speech by Hitler, but the latest episode is yet another controversy raising questions over his anti-migrant party’s views on the Nazi-era.
In a guest commentary for Saturday’s Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung (FAZ), Gauland wrote that the “globalized class” occupies positions in mainstream organizations from international corporations to the media to universities, and are also in key political parties. “Their members live almost exclusively in big cities, speak fluent English, and when they move from Berlin to London or Singapore for jobs, they find similar apartments, houses, restaurants, shops and private schools everywhere.
“This group socializes among itself but is culturally ‘diverse,'” he wrote, adding that they have no attachments to their homeland.
He argued that the AfD stands against this group which if left unchecked, would threaten “what makes our country and our continent worth living in.”
Historian Wolfgang Benz, a prominent researcher on the Nazi era, notes Wednesday that Gauland’s commentary was strikingly similar to a speech made by Hitler in 1933.
“It’s a paraphrase that looks like the AfD chief had the Fuehrer’s speech from 1933 on his desk when he was writing his column for the FAZ,” writes Benz in Tagesspiegel daily.
Gauland had simply modernized the criticism, adds Benz.
Addressing workers at the Siemens Dynamo Works in Berlin in November 1933, Hitler railed against a “small, rootless, international clique.”
They are “the people who are at home both nowhere and everywhere, who do not have anywhere a soil on which they have grown up, but who live in Berlin today, in Brussels tomorrow, Paris the day after that, and then again in Prague or Vienna or London, and who feel at home everywhere,” he said, as a man in the audience shouts “the Jews!”
In the speech — also the first by Hitler broadcast live on all German radio stations, the Nazi leader accused this “clique” of its ability to “conduct their business everywhere but the people cannot follow them.”
Historian Michael Wolffsohn says it is no accident Gauland had written his column in this manner.
“It is bad that Gauland is signaling to his educated followers that he knows the speech and style of Hitler’s speech and that he is transferring Hitler’s accusations against the Jews to the opponents of the AfD today,” says Wolffsohn.
Leading members of the AfD have come under fire repeatedly for comments that appear to play down the Holocaust. Gauland in June described the Nazi period as a mere “speck of bird poo in over 1,000 years of successful German history.”
Bloomberg becomes Democrat again, looks at presidential run
Former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg is officially a Democrat again.
The global media company founder says he has registered as a Democrat, which would be especially significant if he decides to challenge US President Donald Trump in 2020. Bloomberg says on social media he did so “because we need Democrats to provide the checks and balance our nation so badly needs.”
Bloomberg does not say when he might make a decision on running for president. He served three terms as New York City mayor and has variously been a Democrat, a Republican and an independent. He twice flirted with running for president as an independent candidate.
Bloomberg has thrown money and support behind Democrats and is attacking Republicans on abortion and gun policies.
Category 4 Hurricane Michael roars nearer to Florida coast
PANAMA CITY, Florida — Michael’s leading edge careens onto northwest Florida’s white-sand beaches as a still-growing Category 4 hurricane this morning, lashing the coast with tropical storm-force winds and rain and pushing a storm surge that could cause catastrophic damage well inland once it makes landfall.
The unexpected brute quickly sprang from a weekend tropical depression and grew to top winds of 145 mph (230 kph), the most powerful hurricane in recorded history for this stretch of the Florida coast.
The sheriff in Panama City’s Bay County issued a shelter-in-place order before dawn Wednesday, and Florida Gov. Rick Scott tweeted that for people in the hurricane’s path, “the time to evacuate has come and gone … SEEK REFUGE IMMEDIATELY.”
The storm now appears so powerful — with a central pressure dropping to 933 millibars — that it is expected to remain a hurricane as it moves over central Georgia early Thursday, and unleash damaging winds all the way into the Carolinas. Rainfall could reach up to a foot (30 centimeters), and the life-threatening storm surge could swell to 14 feet (4 meters).
“We are in new territory,” National Hurricane Center Meteorologist Dennis Feltgen writes in a Facebook post Wednesday. “The historical record, going back to 1851, finds no Category 4 hurricane ever hitting the Florida panhandle.”
Florida officials say more than 375,000 people up and down the Gulf Coast had been urged or ordered to evacuate.
Rivlin meets Denmark’s queen, praises her work in commemorating rescue of Jews
President Reuven Rivlin and his wife Nechama meet Denmark’s Queen Margrethe II at the Amalienborg Palace in Copenhagen.
Rivlin is on a state visit to Denmark.
Denmark’s Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen accompanies Rivlin to the meeting, according to a statement from the President’s Residence.
“The president expressed his sorrow on the death of Prince Henrik, the Queen’s husband, earlier in the year,” the statement reads. “President Rivlin thanked the Queen for her personal involvement over the years in commemorating the rescue of the Jews of Denmark, and for the good relations with the Jewish community and the State of Israel.”
The two speak about burgeoning trade ties between the two countries, and Rivlin invites Margrethe to visit Israel.
Swedish Jewish politician’s house burned in suspected hate crime
The house of a Swedish politician who has been the target of anti-Semitic harassment is set on fire in what his community is calling a hate crime.
The incident occurred on Tuesday night in the southern city of Lund, the Council of Swedish Jewish Communities writes in a statement. It does not name the person believed to have been targeted, describing him only as a lay politician with Jewish roots. The alleged victim was able to extinguish the flames before they spread to other homes.
Police have no suspects in custody in connection with the incident, which resulted in extensive damage to the property.
The incident Tuesday, in which no one was hurt, follows an earlier arson attack in the summer, Aron Verstandig, the council’s president, writes. In the earlier attack, the victim’s home also was targeted. Both homeowners have been “active on Jewish issues” over the past few years, and both wish to remain anonymous, Verstandig adds.
“There is strong suspicion that these attacks are targeted against these people because they are Jews. The latest incident has the extra dimension of an attempt to intimidate a politician into silence,” he says, calling the arson “an attack on Swedish democracy.”
In December, several men, some of them Arab, participated in riots during which a firebomb was hurled at the synagogue of Gothenburg in southern Sweden. Three of the culprits who were tried for the attack said it was payback for the United States’ recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.
In addition to Muslim extremist violence, which is common across Western Europe, Swedish Jews are exposed to violence and intimidation by far-right groups on a scale that is rare in that part of the world.
3 Polish teens make Nazi salute at Auschwitz, post photo on Instagram
WARSAW, Poland – Three Polish teens who made a Nazi salute at the site of the former Auschwitz-Birkenau camp will be investigated by the local prosecutor’s office.
A photo of the teens making the gesture in front of the Death Gate, the entrance to Auschwitz II or Birkenau, where trains rolled through bringing thousands of Hungarian Jews to be gassed, was posted on Instagram by one of the teenagers.
The photo was discovered on social media by a representative of the Auschwitz-Birkenau state museum. It was later removed, but saved in a screenshot.
Museum officials filed a complaint with the District Prosecutor’s Office in Oświęcim, where the camp is located, about the offense. Propagating fascism is illegal in Poland.
“This is shocking behavior – especially in such a tragic place. The place where innocent people were imprisoned and murdered as a result of the criminal ideology of German Nazism. Such behavior, although fortunately extremely rare, is particularly painful when it concerns young people. It also shows how important it is not only to educate and to bring the youth up properly, but also to make people sensitive to the tragedy of all the victims of Auschwitz,” Pawel Sawicki, a museum spokesman, told JTA.
More IDF raids reported in village of Barkan stabbing suspect
IDF forces raided several homes in the village of Shuweika in the Tulkarem area this afternoon and carried out arrests, according to reports in Palestinian media outlets.
The raids are part of the ongoing manhunt after Ashraf Na’alowa, the suspected perpetrator of the deadly stabbing attack on Sunday at the Barkan Industrial Zone in the northern West Bank.
The latest arrests may be linked to violent protests in Shuweika, the suspected terrorist’s home village, on Tuesday night.
PA slams Israel’s detention of US student over boycott support
The Palestinian Authority Foreign Ministry lashes out at Israel for detaining a US student of Palestinian descent over allegations that she supports a boycott of Israel.
The PA Foreign Ministry says in a Facebook post that Israel’s refusal to let 22-year-old Lara Alqasem through Ben Gurion International Airport is “the ugliest form of political terrorism.”
Alqasem, who has Palestinian grandparents, was prevented from entering the Jewish state last Tuesday, despite having received a student visa from the Israeli Consulate in Miami to study in a masters program at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.
She has been held in an airport detention facility ever since while she appeals to be let in, insisting she does not support a boycott of Israel. Israeli officials say she is not being detained at the airport, as she is free to return to the US at any time.
— Adam Rasgon
Owner of limousine in crash that killed 20 uncovered plots to bomb 2 synagogues
The Muslim owner of the limousine company involved in an upstate New York crash that left 20 people dead helped uncover planned terror attacks on two synagogues while working undercover for the FBI.
Shahed Hussain, a Pakistani immigrant and Albany-area businessman who owns Prestige Limousine, went undercover for the FBI after he pleaded guilty to a federal fraud charge for helping someone get their driver’s license illegally.
On Saturday, one of the company’s stretch limos ran a stop sign at an intersection in Schoharie, killing the 18 occupants of the limo and the two in the other vehicle.
The limo had failed inspections for problems with its brakes, suspension, and chassis last month, and the driver did not have the proper license to operate a commercial vehicle, The New York Times reported. The car also was not certified to carry so many people.
As part of an FBI sting operation at a mosque in Newburgh, a suburb north of New York City, Hussain, posing as a wealthy representative of a Pakistani terrorist organization, helped convict four men in a thwarted plot to attack synagogues and shoot down military planes. Hussain’s role in the Newburgh case was the subject of an HBO documentary.
Lee Kindlon, a lawyer for Hussain and Prestige, told The Times that Hussain has been in Pakistan for some time dealing with health issues. He said his client would be willing to return to the United States if the limo investigation continues.
Toddlers killed in Beitar Illit apartment fire are buried
The two children who died in a fierce apartment fire in Beitar Illit on Tuesday are buried this afternoon in the city.
The two, aged 2 and 4, died within minutes of the start of the fire, according to Dedi Simchi, head of the Fire and Rescue Services.
Simchi tells Hadashot television news today that the fire “definitely was not caused by arson. We believe an electric short, either from a ceiling light or a nightlight, ignited the fire.” Two parallel investigations have been launched to determine the cause.
The apartment was filled with flammable substances, apparently did not have smoke detectors installed, and the children slept in the bomb shelter room, which was the furthest room from the exit, he says.
“As winter approaches, Israelis must take precautions, make sure they have working smoke detectors, and not leave children alone in the house,” he says.
Google-owned Israeli app Waze expands carpooling throughout US
SAN FRANCISCO — Google will begin offering its pay-to-carpool service throughout the US, an effort to reduce the commute-time congestion that its popular Israeli-made Waze navigation app is designed to avoid.
The expansion announced Wednesday builds upon a carpooling system that Waze began testing two years ago in northern California and Israel, before gradually extending it into Brazil and parts of 12 other states.
Now it will be available to anyone in the US.
Drivers willing to give someone a ride for a small fee to cover some of their costs for gas and other expenses need only Waze’s app on their phone. Anyone willing to pay a few bucks to hitch a ride will need to install a different Waze app focused on carpooling.
About 1.3 million drivers and passengers have signed up for Waze’s carpooling service, the company says. About 30 million people in the US currently rely on the Waze app for directions; it has 110 million users worldwide.
Waze’s carpooling effort has been viewed as a potential first step for Google to mount a challenge to the two top ride-hailing services, Uber and Lyft.
But Waze founder and CEO Noam Bardin rejected that notion in an interview with The Associated Press, insisting that the carpooling service is purely an attempt to ease traffic congestion.
Popular anchor, actor marry in secret interfaith wedding
Popular anchor Lucy Aharish is marrying “Fauda” actor Tzachi Halevi this evening in a beachfront wedding at an undisclosed location in central Israel.
Aharish, 37, is an Arab Muslim and Halevi, 43, is a Jew. The two have reportedly been in a stable relationship for years, but have kept their relationship under wraps over opposition from both their families.
Their wedding plans were also kept secret to avoid drawing protesters from Muslim and Jewish extremist groups, according to Hadashot television news.
Anthony Weiner will leave prison 3 months early for good conduct
Former New York congressman Anthony Weiner, who was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for sexting with a 15-year-old girl, will be released three months early for “good conduct.”
Weiner reported to FMC Devens in Massachusetts — one of the few federal prisons with a residential treatment for sex offenders — on November 6, 2017. His new release date is now set for May 14, according to the Federal Bureau of Prisons website.
Weiner, 54, pleaded guilty in May 2016 to one charge of transferring obscene material to a minor and had faced up to 10 years in prison. He must also register as a sex offender for life for his inappropriate conversations with the North Carolina teen.
In the fall of 2016, then-FBI director James Comey cited emails involved in the Weiner case to reopen an investigation into Hillary Clinton’s private server less than two weeks before the presidential election. The FBI shut down the investigation days later, saying that nothing new or damaging had come to light, but Clinton blamed the new probe in part for her loss to Donald Trump.
Weiner’s troubles date back to 2011, when the Jewish lawmaker resigned from Congress after tweeting an explicit photo. He has since been involved in multiple sexting scandals, and his wife, Huma Abedin, a longtime Clinton aide, is divorcing him.
Trump helped Sheldon Adelson advance Japan casino plans, report claims
WASHINGTON — A wide-ranging report into the relationship between US President Donald Trump and casino magnate Sheldon Adelson says that Trump intervened on Adelson’s behalf in the Jewish billionaire’s quest to open a casino in Japan.
The report posted Wednesday by ProPublica and WNYC, NPR’s New York affiliate, says that Trump told Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe he should strongly consider allowing Adelson to open a casino in the country.
Adelson’s spokesman, Ron Reese, denies the claim.
“If our company has any advantage, it would be because of our significant Asian operating experience and our unique convention-based business model,” Reese tells ProPublica/WNYC. “Any suggestion we are favored for some other reason is not based on the reality of the process in Japan or the integrity of the officials involved in it.”
Abe also met with Adelson during his visit in February 2017, a month after Trump assumed office. Since then, Abe has advanced legislation that would allow casinos to open in Japan, although it is not clear yet that Adelson’s Sands operation will be given a license.
Adelson, the Las Vegas-based casino magnate and one of the wealthiest men in the world, spent $20 million to help elect Trump and another $5 million for his inauguration. His oft-stated rationale for backing Trump is the president’s Israel policy, which aligns closely with the Israeli right wing, including moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem and pulling out of the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
ProPublica/WNYC listed other benefits that have accrued to Adelson, including a provision in last year’s tax rehaul that gives a break to companies that incur high taxes abroad. Adelson paid lobbyists to argue for the provision, and Sands saved $1.2 billion because of it.
Netanyahu says Turkey becoming ‘undemocratic,’ calls Erdogan ‘reckless’
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told the foreign ministers of Greece and Cyprus last month that he’s deeply pessimistic about Turkey’s future and believes its economy is destined for further decline.
“Turkey is becoming undemocratic,” Netanyahu said, according to a Channel 10 report today that cited Israeli officials familiar with the September meeting.
“Erdogan calls me ‘Hitler’ every two weeks. It’s a systemic problem – I don’t see light at the end of the tunnel,” the prime minister is reported to have said about Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
“Erdogan is making economic decisions that make no sense. The situation there is getting worse. Turkey wanted to advance reconciliation with Israel two years ago because of the situation in Syria. Now [after the removal of the Israeli ambassador in Ankara] there isn’t even intelligence cooperation with Turkey on Syria.”
Netanyahu warns the Greek and Cypriot officials that Erdogan may act against their natural gas drilling operations in the Mediterranean, according to the report. “Erdogan is unpredictable and reckless. We’re worried and watching to see if he does something in the region [about the gas] … I’m pessimistic. It’s an oxymoron that a member of NATO has [Russian] S-400 missiles. I’m worried about them having F-35 planes.”
Erdan defends actions against US student not allowed into Israel
Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan is defending Israel’s handling of the case of an American graduate student who has been prevented from entering the country and has been held in detention for the past week at Ben Gurion International Airport over suspicions that she supports the Palestinian-led boycott campaign against the Jewish state.
Lara Alqasem, a 22-year-old American citizen with Palestinian grandparents, landed at Ben Gurion last week with a valid student visa. But she was barred from entering the country and ordered deported, based on suspicions that she supports the boycott movement.
In an interview with AP, Erdan says Israel will do “whatever we believe that is right” for the country’s security. He says Israel has the right to decide who enters its borders.
The case has drawn international criticism.