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Netanyahu defends his efforts to fold extremist Otzma Yehudit into Jewish Home

Premier calls it ‘absurd’ that ‘Zionist bloc’ he’s forming is considered by critics as prohibited, while a Gantz-led coalition supported by Arab-Israeli parties is seen as kosher

Jacob Magid is the settlements correspondent for The Times of Israel.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement after a meeting of his ruling Likud party in Ramat Gan on February 21, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu gives a televised statement after a meeting of his ruling Likud party in Ramat Gan on February 21, 2019. (Menahem Kahana/AFP)

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

United Gantz-Lapid party to be called ‘Blue and White’

The newly united slate of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid has decided to call itself the Blue and White party.

Hebrew media reports that details of the agreement will see Yesh Atid candidates take up 13 of the first 30 spots and Israel Resilience holding 12 of them. Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party, which merged with Benny Gantz’s slate last month, will receive four seats; and Gabi Ashkenazi, who agreed to join the expanded party last night will also receive a spot (at No. 3).

Lapid will serve as foreign minister and Ya’alon will head the Defense Ministry during the first two and a half years that Gantz is prime minister — if they win the election.

Postponed Netanyahu-Putin talks to be rescheduled ‘in near future’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu speaks to Russian President Vladimir Putin on the phone after he postponed a visit to Moscow for talks with the Russian leader to stay home and broker an election deal with two nationalist parties in a bid to beef up his right-wing bloc ahead of national elections.

The Russian embassy in Israel says Netanyahu and Putin discussed “international and bilateral issues” during the call, and said the leaders would hold face-to-face talks in Moscow “in the near future.” Moscow says the call was initiated by the Israeli side.

Yesterday, Kremlin officials told Russian state media the meeting between Putin and Netanyahu was postponed for several days due to Israeli internal political reasons.

The meeting scheduled for today would have been their first extensive face-to-face talks since a friendly fire incident in September that led to a Russian plane being downed by Syrian air defenses during an Israeli airstrike, which angered the Kremlin.

Report: IDF drone fires at Gaza motorbike after arson balloons launched at south

An Israeli drone fired at a motorbike that had been used by Palestinians launching airborne incendiary devices from the southern Gaza Strip into southern Israel, Palestinian media reports.

The Israeli military refuses to comment on the reports.

According to the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency, the Israeli unmanned aerial device fired at the motorcycle east of the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. No injuries have been reported.

— Judah Ari Gross

While not yet buying it, Gabbay tells Zandberg he’ll look into whole merger thing

Senior Labor officials are still considering the possibility of a last minute merger with the Meretz party despite the skepticism of its chairman Avi Gabbay.

Gabbay has called Zandberg and shared with her his doubts that a left-wing alliance would poll better for his party, but promised her he’d continue looking into the possibility, Channel 12 reports.

UTJ says ‘no’ to sitting in Gantz-Lapid government

The ultra-Orthodox United Torah Judasim party has announced that it will not sit in a government led by the Blue and White party of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid.

While the party had shown openness over the past month to sitting with Gantz, the former IDF chief’s merger last night with Lapid made him persona non grata in their eyes.

“We will fight in any way to continue Netanyahu’s rule, out of responsibility for the nation’s wholeness, the future of ultra-Orthodox Judaism, the state’s Jewish character, the values ​​of religion and the Jewish tradition,” a statement from UTJ says.

‘It’s an exciting day,’ says Ehud Barak

Former prime minister Ehud Barak lauds the merger deal reached between Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid and Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience party.

“This is a very important and exciting day,” Barak tells the Walla news site. “Lapid and Gantz are demonstrating national responsibility, overcoming the obstacles, putting aside their egos and moving toward something that has a real chance of causing a revolution.”

Ehud Olmert: Lapid-Gantz merger could work in Netanyahu’s favor

Former prime minister Ehud Olmert speculates that the Lapid-Gantz merger could work in Netanyahu’s favor.

“I have no doubt that it not only meets the expectations of the prime minister, but also his wishes. He wanted this to be a war between two blocs,” Olmert says at a panel at the Conference of Presidents.

Likud branch petitions against PM’s reserving of spot for Jewish Home MK

A group of Likud members led by a liberal branch called the New Likudniks has filed an urgent petition to the party’s high court, demanding that it cancel a deal inked by the prime minister with the Jewish Home party which saw Netanyahu offer his party’s 28th spot in exchange for the national religious faction merging with Otzma Yehudit.

“One of the Knesset members to be included in Likud’s Knesset list will be, in effect, a Trojan horse… a candidate on behalf of another party, who is not a member of the Likud, is not committed to Likud values and is not expected to act in accordance with the Likud constitution,” they write in their petition.

Tibi’s Ta’al and Odeh’s Hadash party said set to merge

Ahmad Tibi’s Ta’al party and Ayman Odeh’s Hadash party are set to merge their two slates ahead of the filing deadline later today, Hebrew media reports.

It is not immediately clear who would head the joint list, but Ta’al has been polling slightly better than Hadash.

Gantz and Lapid’s Blue and White party releases slate; no women in first six spots

The newly merged Blue and White party headed by Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz has released its slate for the upcoming elections.

Environmental activist Miki Haimovich is the woman placed highest on the list at number seven. Only eight women are in the first 30 spots.

1. Benny Gantz
2. Yair Lapid
3. Moshe Bogie Ya’alon
4. Gabi Ashkenazi
5. Avi Nissenkorn
6. Meir Cohen
7. Miki Haimovich
8. Ofer Shelah
9. Yoaz Hendel
10. Orna Barbivai
11. Michael Biton
12. Chili Tropper
13. Yael German
14. Zvi Hauser
15. Orit Farkash-Hacohen
16. Karin Elharar
17. Meirav Cohen
18. Yoel Razvozov
19. Asaf Zamir
20. Izhar Shay
21. Elazar Stern
22. Mickey Levy
23. Omer Yankelevich
24. Pnina Tamano-Shata
25. Gadeer Mreeh
26. Ram Ben Barak
27. Alon Shuster
28. Yoav Segalovich
29. Ram Shefa
30. Boaz Toporovsky

As deadline approaches, Netanyahu scrambling to further unite right — report

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is reportedly in last-minute efforts to unite right-wing parties against the centrist bloc presented by the newly formed Blue and White alliance, a union of the Israel Resilience, Yesh Atid and Telem parties

The prime minister reportedly is holding a series of conversations and meetings throughout the day as a 10 p.m. deadline approaches when parties running for Knesset must declare their candidate slates.

One possible, but complicated, move would be to join Netanyahu’s ruling Likud party with Kulanu, which is led by former Likud member Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, the Ynet news website reports.

Talks have been held between Netanyahu and Kahlon’s confidants to explore the possibility, the report says.

Eli Ben Dahan to receive 28th spot on Likud list reserved for Jewish Home MK — report

Jewish Home MK Eli Ben Dahan will be placed on the 28th spot of the Likud list, which Netanyahu agreed yesterday to reserve for a candidate from the national religious party in exchange for its merging with the extremist Otzma Yehudit faction, Haaretz reports.

Ben Dahan initially opposed the merger, but came out in support of it last night ahead of the Jewish Home central committee vote to approve the deal.

Kulanu declares that it will run alone in upcoming elections

Despite reported attempts by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to pressure the Kulanu party to fold into Likud or merge with another right-wing party such as Yisrael Beytenu, which is also teetering on the electoral threshold, Moshe Kahlon’s party says it will run on its own in the upcoming election.

“We have learned in recent months that everyone has a price for work arrangements. Kahlon has no price,” the faction says in a statement.

PM to give statement to the press at 8:30 p.m.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will give his first press statement since the Lapid-Gantz merger, tonight at 8:30 p.m.

The content of the remarks has not been revealed, but the premier refrained from referring to the speech as “dramatic” as he did ahead of his last such statement ahead of an address in which he said he wanted to debate the state’s witnesses in the criminal investigations against him.

Tonight’s speech will take place as the new Blue and White party presents its new, united slate in the upcoming elections.

Labor officials said to be highly skeptical of possibility of last minute merger with Meretz

Senior officials in the Labor party tell Channel 13 that the chances of a last minute merger with the left-wing Meretz party are “lower than low.”

Chairman Avi Gabbay told counterpart Tamar Zandberg earlier today that he didn’t see the benefit of such an alliance, but that he would continue looking into it.

New Blue and White party of Gantz and Lapid reveals new logo

The newly formed Blue and White party, made up of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid, reveals its new logo.

The image, featuring Gantz’s name above Lapid’s, takes design elements from both Yesh Atid and Israel Resilience’s logos.

Logo for Blue and White party, the result of a merger of Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience with Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid. (Courtesy)

Labor announces it will not make last minute alliance with Meretz

The Labor party announces that it will not form an alliance with the left-wing Meretz party for the upcoming Knesset elections after saying earlier today that it would consider the idea.

“After a thorough examination of by the Labor Party today, we saw that a merger between Labor and Meretz would be smaller than the sum of its parts. A combination of the two movements does not increase our strength, on the contrary, it weakens the bloc,” a statement from the party says.

Citing polling that showed both parties would pass the electoral threshold on their own, Labor says, “We will run separately and help one another in order to bring about a change of government.”

Idit Silman tapped as replacement for Yifat Erlich in Jewish Home spot reserved for female candidate

Jewish Home party activist Idit Silman has been chosen to replace Yifat Erlich at the number three spot on the national religious faction’s slate for the upcoming Knesset elections.

Erlich bowed out this morning following the party’s decision to merge with the extremist Otzma Yehudit last night.

Silman is the head of the Jewish Home’s women’s forum, a member of the faction’s secretariat, and the director of marketing at Clalit Health Services.

The 38-year-old mother of three lives in the central town of Rehovot.

Silman will take the spot on the Jewish Home list reserved for a female candidate and will be joined by former MK Orit Strock as the only women on the list made up of the Jewish Home, National Union and Otzma Yehudit.

Itit Silman, candidate for the Jewish Home party in the 2019 elections. (Courtesy)

Netanyahu: It’s a ‘hard campaign’; left is uniting with support of the media

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tells members of his Likud party at a secretariat meeting that “the left is uniting with the support of the media and will enjoy constant propaganda from now until election day,” Walla reports.

“It’s going to be a difficult election campaign,” he says. “If we don’t get all the people to the polling booths and convince them to vote Likud, there’s danger.”

Just over four hours remain for parties to register slates ahead of April elections

The Central Elections Committee opens its doors for the final opportunity for parties to register their slates ahead of April’s elections.

Yesterday 12 parties registered their candidate lists, including the New Right, Yisrael Beytenu, and United Torah Judaism, as well as a number of smaller parties not expected to pass the electoral threshold.

Of the first to arrive today were representatives from the Pirate party who seek to promote a form of direct democracy via internet referendums. Party chairman Ohad Shem Tov, decked in a tricorn hat, said that if elected to the Knesset, they would recommend “the internet” as prime minister and not Benjamin Netanyahu or Benny Gantz.

Parties have until 10 p.m. to hand in their lists.

The newly formed Blue and White party will present its list at 7 p.m.

— Raoul Wootliff

Eli Yishai will not be folded into Jewish Home mix, official says

Yachad chairman Eli Yishai will not be folded into the ever-expanding Jewish Home party, an official from the national religious faction tells Channel 12.

Ben Gvir: Otzma Yehudit’s ideology identical to Kahane but our path is different

Otzma Yehudit’s Itamar Ben Gvir, who is placed on the 8th spot in a united list with the Jewish Home party, tells the Ynet news site that his faction’s ideology is “identical” to that of Meir Kahane, but their path is different.

Kahane’s Kach party was barred from running in the 1984 elections due to its incitement to violence and the movement was later banned from Israel entirely under anti-terrorism laws.

Asked to elaborate how his path is now different, Ben Gvir says that in the past he would have gone to protests and shouted in order to enact change; now as a lawyer he petitions the High Court of Justice.

The far-right activist condemns the “character assassination” being done to Kahane in recent days.

Pirate party files slate ahead of upcoming elections

The Pirate party has registered its party at the Central Elections Committee and has submitted a request to be represented on ballot slips by the Hebrew letters זן, which its leaders said was a reference to the Hebrew slang word for penis.

— Raoul Wootliff

New Right slated to be lone party with equal male-female representation

As less than four hours remain for factions to file their slate for the upcoming elections, Ayelet Shaked and Naftali Bennett’s New Right party is slated to be the lone party likely to cross the electoral threshold with an equal representation of male and female candidates.

Kahlon and Levy-Abekasis file slates for upcoming elections

Representatives from Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu and Orly Levy-Abekasis’s Gesher parties and have filed their slates at the Central Elections Committee.

Both parties, who have platforms on socio-economic issues, will run independently in the upcoming race.

Levy-Abekasis says her Gesher party will be “the surprise of these elections,” and will outdo its currently poor polling.

Levy-Abekasis said yesterday that the party would run alone after failing to reach a merger agreement with former military chief Benny Gantz’s Israel Resilience.

“We are not in anyone’s pockets. Gesher will follow its own path,” she tells journalists after filing the list with the committee. “I was courted by different parties for many months, especially Israel Resilience. I gave it a chance, I wanted to try.”

Levy-Abekasis says negotiations fell apart despite her having reached written agreements with Gantz that included Israel Resilience’s adoption of Gesher’s socio-economic platform as one of the alliance’s main campaign planks, as well as which spots on a unified list her party members would receive.

She, nonetheless, says that Gesher will still enter the Knesset “because there is a need for a party that knows about and cares about the challenges facing people. ​We will be here for the people who need it.”

The Gesher slate includes Yifat Bitton, a law professor and social activist; Hagai Reznik, the former director-general of the Housing Ministry; David “Dadi” Perlmutter, a former vice president of Intel; Liat Yakir, a geneticist; Dan Shaham, a former diplomat and foreign ministry official; Hagai Lavi, an educator; Michal Hirsch Negri, the former director-general of the Ra’anana municipality; Gilad Samama, the director-general of the Social Equality Ministry; and Carmel Elmakayes, a social activist.

— Raoul Wootliff

Israeli local official questioned by police on allegations of sexual harassment

The deputy chairman of a regional council in southern Israel has been questioned by police on suspicion that he sexually harassed an employee of the council.

The suspect has been conditionally released.

Police believe the harassment lasted for two months, even though the female worker asked him several times to stop.

New US Pro-Israel group condemns PM’s efforts to fold extremist Otzma Yehudit into Jewish Home

The new US pro-Israel group, Democratic Majority for Israel, condemns the recent agreement inked by Jewish Home to merge with the far-right party Otzma Yehudit in a move pushed by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that all but ensures the entrance of Meir Kahane disciples into the Knesset.

“Because we at Democratic Majority for Israel believe in a strong and democratic Israel, we are compelled to speak out against the possibility that followers of radical racist Meir Kahane could enter Israel’s parliament,” says the group’s co-chair Anne Lewis. “Making such individuals parliamentarians would be an insult to the ideals embodied in Israel’s Declaration of Independence, and the principles espoused by every previous Israeli prime minister from every party.”

“We recognize that past Israeli governments and courts have banned the group to which these individuals belonged from participating in elections because of their incitement to racism. We have faith that Israeli voters will reject the representation of such values in their institutions.”

3 Gazans injured by IDF fire in border protest — health ministry

Three Palestinians were injured by Israeli fire during a border protest near the southern Gaza border town of Rafah, the Hamas-run health ministry says.

The extent of their injuries is not immediately clear.

Protesters are said to be burning tires and attempting to damage the fence surrounding the coastal enclave.

PM to meet with Putin next week after delaying trip in order to unite the right

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Moscow and meet Russian President Vladimir Putin next Wednesday, Channel 12 news reports.

The premier had been scheduled to meet Putin today, but delayed his trip in order to focus on his efforts to unite the Jewish Home with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party ahead of the upcoming elections.

Record number of parties have filed slates for upcoming Israeli election

The 27th party just registered its slate for the April election, overtaking the number of parties that ran in 2015.

Then, 26 parties registered but the Meginim al Yeladenu party pulled out of the race a day before the election, leaving 25 in the race (and sending 4 million voting slips to landfill).

Raoul Wootliff

Settlement mayor petitions elections committee against name of Gantz-Lapid united party

Ma’aleh Adumim mayor Benny Kashriel files a petition against the newly formed Blue and White party, calling for the Central Elections Committee to prevent the unified party of Israel Resilience and Yesh Atid from using the chosen name for the joint list.

Kashriel, a well-known figure in the Likud party, leads the Blue and White faction in the city council of the West Bank settlement and is claiming that using the name for a national party is against election law.

A spokesperson for Blue and White declined to respond to the petition.

Ashkenazi suggests Rivlin would prefer that Blue and White party form next coalition

New Blue and White candidate Gabi Ashkenazi tells fellow faction members that President Reuven Rivlin would prefer their party form the next coalition after the upcoming elections, Channel 12 news reports.

“I hope this train stops at the President’s Residence. I can only guess who the president wants to see there,” Ashkenazi reportedly says at the party’s first faction meeting in Tel Aviv.

Poll puts new Gantz-Lapid alliance well ahead of Likud, but unable to form coalition

A Channel 13 news poll indicates the new Blue and White party led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid would receive 10 more mandates than Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud.

However, the merged parties would not be able to form a coalition. The right-wing bloc led by Netanyahu would muster 61 seats in the 120-member Knesset, to 59 for the center, left and Arab parties.

The poll results are as follows:

36 Blue and White
26 Likud
10 Hadash-Ta’al (formerly part of the Joint Arab List
8 Jewish Home
7 United Torah Judaism
6 Shas
5 Yisrael Beytenu
5 New Right
5 Labor
4 Kulanu
4 Meretz
4 Ra’am-Balad (formerly part of the Joint Arab List)

Channel 12 poll gives Gantz-Lapid 36 seats, to 30 for Netanyahu’s Likud

A Channel 12 news poll indicates similarly favorable results for Gantz and Lapid’s Blue and White party, but better numbers for Likud than the Channel 13 survey.

The Netanyahu-led bloc could muster 60 seats, with 60 for the center, left and Arab parties. Quips a Channel 12 analyst: There’d be rotation — not between Lapid and Gantz, but between Gantz and Netanyahu.

36 Blue and White
30 Likud
8 Labor
7 United Torah Judaism
6 New Right
6 Joint List
6 Ta’al
5 Shas
4 Yisrael Beytenu
4 Jewish Home
4 Kulanu
4 Meretz

Gantz: Blue and White party will win in upcoming elections ‘by a lot’; will create a government for all

In introducing his party’s slate for the upcoming elections, Benny Gantz says the Blue and White party will win in April “by a lot.”

“My government, which is our government, will not be for inciting extremists but for everyone,” Gantz says in an apparent reference to the Jewish Home’s merger with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s behest.

Israel Katz stands by comments against Poland, asserts ‘many Poles’ cooperated with Nazis

Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz says he doesn’t regret his comments that Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.” Rather, he repeats that “many Poles” cooperated with the Nazis.

He makes the comments in an interview with Channel 13 news.

Lapid: To stop the rule of fear, we are building a wall of hope

Speaking ahead of the introduction of his party’s slate, Blue and White co-chair Yair Lapid goes after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for pushing Jewish Home to merge with the extremist Otzma Yehudit.

“In the past 24 hours there were two unifications in our political system; one of extremism and one of hope. Netanyahu is bringing Kahane’s followers into the Knesset and offered our children’s education ministry to [Jewish Home’s Bezalel] Smotrich,” Lapid says.

“He’s stoking hate and fear. Racism and violence. That has to be stopped. To stop the rule of fear, we are building a wall of hope. We stand here today and say ‘No more.’ Enough. It’s time to remind the Israeli public that the choice is in our hands. The ability to change is in our hands. We are creating a party of government.”

PM mocks Gantz for being willing to give premiership to Lapid who has no military experience

In his first speech since the Gantz-Lapid merger, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes after Benny Gantz for minimizing his military experience while being willing to take part in a rotation agreement to allow Yair Lapid to replace him as premier.

Netanyahu says the Blue and White ticket is not the first time that Israel has seen a slate of IDF generals “of the left pretending to be of the right.”

He says the election of former IDF chief of staff Yitzhak Rabin led to the “disastrous” Oslo Accords, and that of Ehud Barak brought the second intifada and an onslaught of Palestinian terrorism.

“When I’m PM, you’re not afraid of getting on a bus or sitting at restaurants,” Netanyahu says.

PM claims Lapid supported the Iran nuclear deal

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says Yair Lapid supported the Iran nuclear deal led by former US president Barack Obama.

Lapid opposed the deal, but also opposed Netanyahu’s decision to address a joint session of Congress in 2015 against Obama’s wishes.

Kulanu MK doesn’t rule out sitting in gov’t with Gantz

Kulanu MK Roy Folkman tells The Times of Israel that his party will not rule out sitting in a government with the Blue and White party headed by Benny Gantz.

“We are part of the national camp and Likud is our natural partners, but we will consider every possibility when the time comes,” Folkman says before presenting Kulanu’s party slate to the Central Elections Committee.

“We will assess the proposals that each party has. If [Blue and White] want to advance social programs that fit with our economic worldview, which leans to the right, we will have no problem with them,” he says. “They have some good people who have the same worldview as us. We will have to see what the party wants to do.”

Folkman did, however, take a swipe at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s efforts to merge the Jewish Home party with the extremist Otzma Yehudit by claiming it was necessary to preserve the right-wing government. “We may be right-wing, but we are sensible, rational right. Not Kahanists or extremists.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Netanyahu: Media will laud Blue and White, while besmirching Likud

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says the media will “laud” the Blue and White electoral alliance of Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid while “besmirching us.”

“Only a large Likud will prevent a left-wing government,” the premier says, summarizing his address.

Netanyahu defends his efforts to fold extremist Otzma Yehudit into Jewish Home

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defends his efforts to fold the extremist Otzma Yehudit into Jewish Home.

The premier calls it “absurd” that a “Zionist bloc” he’s forming is considered by critics to be prohibited, while an opposing, alternative coalition supported by the Arab-Israeli parties is seen as kosher.

Arab-Israeli parties working until deadline to unite in same manner they did in 2015

Joint (Arab) List MK Msaud Gnaim tells The Times of Israel that negotiations are still ongoing in efforts to keep the united slate of four Arab-Israeli parties together, with just an hour left until the deadline to present candidate lists.

“We are trying until the last moment,” he says, admitting that gaps still remain, but saying he believed it was “still possible.”

In the last elections in 2015, the four parties ran together on the Joint (Arab) List, winning 13 seats and becoming one of the largest factions in the opposition.

The Joint List was composed of the Arab Movement for Renewal, Balad, the United Arab List and the mixed Arab and Jewish Hadash party.

As of 9 p.m, Gnaim said that the Arab Movement for Renewal and Hadash had agreed to run together and Balad and the United Arab List separately.

Veteran Arab lawmaker Ahmad Tibi, the head of Arab Movement for Renewal, is insisting his party would run alone.

Balad and the United Arab List announced an agreement in principle on Wednesday that they would run on the same slate. But officials in the two parties said they would not team up again with Hadash unless Tibi’s faction also joined.

— Raoul Wootliff

Ya’alon: Those fed up with ultranationalism and trampling on rule of law have a home in Blue and White party

Speaking at the launch of the newly-formed Blue and White alliance, Moshe Ya’alon addresses “right-wing voters who are fed up with ultranationalism, with the trampling on the rule of law… you have a home, you have representation in the Blue and White party.”

Gantz: 70 years ago, my mother and Lapid’s father lived in same apartment building in Budapest ghetto

Looking emotional while addressing Blue and White members and supporters at the launch of the newly-formed alliance, Benny Gantz reveals that his mother, Malka, and Yair Lapid’s father, Tommy, lived in a shared apartment building in the Budapest ghetto. He said he only found out about this a few days ago.

“And here today, the son of Tommy, of blessed memory, and the son of Malka, of blessed memory, stand before you on one stage,” he says.

Labor’s No.2, ex-general Tal Russo, refuses to say whether he supports two-state solution

The Labor Party’s new security figure and number two on its Knesset slate, retired general Tal Russo, refuses to say whether he backs a two-state solution, repeatedly ignoring questions about his stance on security and diplomatic issues.

Speaking to reporters after Labor presented its list of candidates to the Central Elections Committee, Russo said the party “has a lot of offer the public based on a true ideology.”

Asked what he own ideology was, Russo said he “agreed totally” with the party, but refused to say whether he supported land concessions for peace or the establishment of a Palestinian state.

Asked at least 12 times whether he supported a two-state solution, the brawny former head of the IDF’s Southern Command appeared shocked into silence, only eventually saying, “I tell you, political journalists are a lot tougher than military reporters.”

Seeking to bolster the once-dominant Labor Party’s security credentials in an attempt to regain lost support, party chair Avi Gabbay named Russo as number two on the party’s electoral slate for the April election, promising that Labor will “place security above all else.”

— Raoul Wootliff

Pompeo expresses support for Poland in latest row with Israel

Polish Foreign Minister Jacek Czaputowicz speaks to his US counterpart, Mike Pompeo, about Israeli Acting Foreign Minister Israel Katz’s controversial statement that Poles “suckle anti-Semitism with their mothers’ milk.”

According to a readout of the conversation provided by the Foreign Ministry in Warsaw, Pompeo expressed his “full support” for Poland’s rejection of Israeli leader’s statements.

— Raphael Ahren

Netanyahu: A Palestinian state will endanger our existence

With the Trump administration saying it will present its peace plan after the April elections, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu warns in his press statement this evening that “a Palestinian state will endanger our existence.”

The premier claims that the Blue and White alliance, led by Benny Gantz and Yair Lapid, will evacuate settlements in the West Bank.

 

Netanyahu appears to go after Gantz’s English-speaking skills

Continuing his personal attacks on Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appears to mock Gantz’s English-speaking skills.

“A prime minister of Israel must be able to present Israel to the world. And yes, Benny Gantz, in English. And you have to be able to say no and stand behind it,” Netanyahu says.

Likud offers creative solution to allow Jewish Home MK to take spot on slate

Presenting its Knesset slate to the Central Elections Committee, Likud reveals a creative solution to potential legal problems created by its deal with the Jewish Home to give a spot to one of the religious Zionist party’s candidates.

According to the agreement signed yesterday, Jewish Home’s appointee for the Likud number 28 spot — reserved by the ruling party for a Netanyahu appointee — will be MK Eli Ben Dahan. In exchange, the Jewish Home agreed to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s request for them to join with the extremist Otzma Yehudit party in order to prevent lost votes on the right.

Facing legal challenges both from within the ruling party’s ranks and outside of it,  Likud officially presented a joint list with the defunct Achi party, registering Ben Dahan as a member of the faction formed in the 1990s and not of the ruling party.

Doing so prevents petitions against the move both in Likud internal courts and in the Central Elections Committee.

The complaint against the move from within Likud claims that since Ben Dahan is not a member of the party, he is not eligible to receive the spot reserved for Netanyahu’s choice.

An appeal filed Thursday with the Central Elections Committee argues that allowing one party’s lawmaker to run in another party should be seen as a form of election fraud, as it constitutes an agreement between politicians to use votes for one party and artificially deliver them to another.

Registering Ben Dahan as a member of a different party which then unites with the Likud ostensibly bypasses both problems.

A party official told The Times of Israel that Netanyahu was behind the move. “He’s the magician, no?” they said, referring to a nickname for the prime minister based on his repeated use of political tricks to get out of tricky situations.

— Raoul Wootliff

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Report: IDF drone fires at Gaza motorbike after arson balloons launched at south

An Israeli drone fired at a motorbike that had been used by Palestinians launching airborne incendiary devices from the southern Gaza Strip into southern Israel, Palestinian media reports.

The Israeli military refuses to comment on the reports.

According to the Hamas-affiliated Shehab news agency, the Israeli unmanned aerial device fired at the motorcycle east of the city of Rafah in southern Gaza. No injuries have been reported.

— Judah Ari Gross