The Times of Israel liveblogged Thursday’s developments as they unfolded.
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn says Israel is moving toward legalization of cannabis for recreational use within nine months, while balancing “liberalism and responsibility.”
Nissenkorn is presenting the recommendations of an interministerial team that has been reviewing the matter, alongside Likud MK Sharren Haskel and Blue and White MK Ram Shefa, who have both been leading their parties’ push on the issue.
Israel has taken steps in recent years to make medical cannabis available and is poised to become a major exporter of the crop, though medical cannabis users have complained of near-impossible access to the few dispensaries licensed to distribute it.
Recreational use of the drug is currently illegal, though the Public Security Ministry partially decriminalized it in 2017, setting fines and treatment for initial offenders instead of criminal procedures.
The state prosecution has informed Hadera Mayor Zvi Gendelman of its intention to indict him on corruption charges, pending a hearing.
Gendelman is suspected of fraud, breach of trust and other charges for allegedly providing favors to a local contractor in exchange for support in the October 2018 municipal election.
The coronavirus committee is meeting to discuss the next national steps regarding the pandemic, including a possible nighttime curfew and the potential return to school of grades 5-6.
Hebrew media reports indicate the Blue and White party will object to a curfew while pushing for more stringent enforcement in high infection areas.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he’ll form a ministerial committee to oversee the import and dispersal of coronavirus vaccines.
The premier also says no new decisions are expected before Sunday.
On his final day on the job as coronavirus czar, Ronni Gamzu criticizes the country’s political leadership throughout the pandemic.
“We can’t have medical needs being weakened by politicking. We need a leadership that doesn’t tell the people why they are [acting] wrong — but speaks to them eye to eye,” Gamzu says at the handover ceremony to his successor.
“These were a hundred difficult days that demanded all the mental strength I had. I received support from Israeli society, including Arab society and parts of the ultra-Orthodox society.
“We have great medical teams, the best professional infrastructure in the Western world. We have the best testing and contact tracing system to cut the chains of infection. Despite the violations here and there, we have a disciplined and great people,” Gamzu says.
Gamzu is returning as planned to his job as director of Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital. He has been replaced by Nachman Ash, former chief medical officer of the Israel Defense Forces.
Iran passes the grim milestone of 40,000 coronavirus deaths, with the latest 10,000 added in less than a month, as the country struggles to contain its most widespread wave of infection yet.
The Iranian health ministry announces 457 new fatalities today, along with 117,517 new infections, pushing the total case count past 726,000, although officials have warned that’s a significant undercount.
The death toll has soared in recent weeks, shattering records in the nation that for months has suffered the worst outbreak in the Middle East.
Nearly half of Iran’s coronavirus deaths are recorded in the capital of Tehran, according to health officials, where medical workers have warned that the health system may soon be overwhelmed and demanded a strict month-long lockdown in all provincial capitals to slow the virus’ spread.
But the government has resisted shutting down the country, desperate to salvage an economy cratered by unprecedented American sanctions that effectively bar Iran from selling its oil internationally.
At the coronavirus cabinet meeting, Netanyahu says ministers should stop commenting on what steps they will or won’t vote for ahead of time, as well as leaking disagreements from the meetings.
“It’s pointless,” he says. “We’re a country that’s doing better than European nations, but because of these leaks there’s this image that comes out differently.”
A helicopter crash in Egypt’s Sinai desert involving a multi-national observer force has killed seven people — five Americans, a French national and a Czech citizen, an Israeli source says.
The source says that the crash involved the Multi-national Force and Observers, a peacekeeping force that was co-founded by Israel in 1979 when it signed a peace deal with Egypt, and is not linked to the United Nations.
Iran’s intelligence ministry has arrested a leader of a separatist group allegedly involved in the killing of dozens of people during a military parade in 2018, state-run IRNA news agency reports.
The report says Farajollah Cha’ab was arrested and calls him “the main person in the terrorist attack” in September 2018 in the southwestern city of Ahvaz.
The report does not elaborate on when or where he was arrested.
The statement says Cha’ab had been planning more attacks in Tehran and Khuzestan province.
In September 2018, militants disguised as soldiers opened fire on an annual military parade in Ahvaz city, the capital of Khuzestan province. At least 25 people were killed and 70 wounded, including a 4-year-old boy.
The report claims Saudi Arabia and Israeli intelligence services supported the group.
At the coronavirus cabinet meeting, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says he supports the reduction of quarantine periods to seven days, after the matter is proposed by Interior Minister Aryeh Deri.
Quarantine for those suspect of potentially contracting the virus now stands at 14 days, but starting tomorrow will be shortened to 12 days.
Also at the meeting, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein complains that though the cabinet has approved raising fines for those who violate health restrictions, the matter has stalled in the Knesset.
“We’re simply hurting ourselves,” he says.
An adviser to French President Emmanuel Macron meets top Lebanese officials in a desperate bid to save a plan Paris put forward to rescue the country’s agonizing economy.
Patrick Durel, who arrived in Beirut yesterday, holds talks with President Michel Aoun and other key players, including parliament speaker Nabih Berri.
A statement from the presidency quotes Aoun as saying that he “adheres to the French initiative, which is in the interest of the country.”
Yet Lebanon’s ruling class has ignored the deadlines set by France, which has spearheaded efforts to stop the country’s collapse since a crushing currency crisis and a cataclysmic explosion at Beirut port.
Israeli cybersecurity firm Check Point Software Technologies says Iranian hackers have been behind several recent ransomware attacks on Israeli companies.
Global ransomware attacks have generally been on the rise. Such attacks involve software infecting the target’s computers and either locking the users out of their own system or threatening to publicize secret information unless a ransom sum is paid.
The recent attacks reportedly used weaknesses in companies’ VPN software for employees’ remote connection to their networks.
Several recent attacks on Israeli firms have seen targets asked to pay 7-9 bitcoins (some $112,000) to secure their data.
Check Point says the trail has led its investigators to Iranian hackers. There is now word on the attacks being tied to the government in Tehran.
Justice Minister Avi Nissenkorn has agreed to freeze a law stiffening penalties against illegal construction, according to Hebrew media reports.
Arab Israelis have fought hard against the 2017 legislation that they say disproportionately targets them.
Known as the Kaminitz Law, the amendment gave the government increased enforcement powers including on demolition and eviction orders, and substantially increased the use of financial penalties against offenders.
Opponents of the legislation say that it disproportionately impacts Arab Israeli towns, where illegal building is common due to a lack of government-granted permits. The Adalah rights group argues that the Kaminitz Law “fails to take into account the decades of systematic discrimination in state land planning and allocation against [Arab Israelis] that has resulted in a severe housing crisis in Arab towns and villages.”
The World Health Organization held a four-hour session earlier today focusing on Israel’s alleged violation of health rights in the Palestinian territories as well as of Druze of Syrian origin in the Golan Heights, UN Watch reports.
The organization says dozens of delegations accused Israel of harming health rights.
Hillel Neuer, executive director of UN Watch, condemns the “cynical politicization of the world’s top health agency at the expense of focusing on the COVID-19 pandemic and other vital global health priorities and emergencies.”
He says the claim Israel is violating health rights is a “lie” and that “the opposite is true,” noting that thousands of Palestinians receive care at Israeli hospitals on a regular basis.
The US special representative for Iran insists that a pressure campaign of sanctions targeting Iran will persist into the administration of Joe Biden, even as the president-elect has pledged to potentially return America to Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers.
Elliott Abrams, who also serves as the US special representative to Venezuela, says sanctions targeting Iran for human rights violations, its ballistic missile program and its regional influence will go on.
Iran now has far more uranium than allowed under the deal since US President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew from the accord in 2018. The Mideast also has been roiled by tensions between Tehran and Washington, which pushed the two countries to the brink of war at the beginning of the year.
“Even if you went back to the [deal] and even if the Iranians were willing to return… this newly enriched uranium, you would not have solved these really fundamental questions of whether Iran is going to be permitted to violate long-term commitments it has made to the world community,” Abrams says.
Two wealthy Israeli businessmen have been arrested on suspicion of tax evasion, Hebrew media reports.
They are suspected of withholding taxes worth hundreds of millions of dollars. Their lawyer has denied the charges, saying his clients are cooperating with investigators and believe they will be found innocent.
Ronni Gamzu holds a press conference as he ends his tenure as the government’s coronavirus czar.
Gamzu says it is critical that the government communicate well with the public. “That is the most important thing here.”
He says prior to his arrival in July the crisis “was not always fully managed,” and says the formation of a single managerial body separate from the Health Ministry or cabinet was very significant.
He says he believes the country must henceforth handle the pandemic using a localized approach based on infections in each community.
The Islamic State group claims responsibility for a bomb blast that struck a World War I commemoration at a non-Muslim cemetery in Saudi Arabia, which wounded two people.
A statement by the jihadist group on its Telegram channels says IS fighters “planted an explosive device in… the cemetery in the city of Jeddah yesterday,” where European diplomats were gathered.
It is rare for Islamic State to admit to attacks in Saudi Arabia.
— with AFP
The US Senate’s top Democrat warns his Republican colleagues that they are “poisoning” the country’s democracy by continuing to refuse to acknowledge Joe Biden’s presidential election victory last week.
“We just had a divisive and hard-fought presidential election, but instead of working to pull the country back together so that we can fight our common enemy COVID-19, Republicans in Congress are spreading conspiracy theories, denying reality and poisoning the well of our democracy,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer tells reporters.
Schumer accuses his GOP colleagues of “deliberately casting doubt” on the election results due to their fear of President Donald Trump, even after every major US media outlet called the race in the Biden’s favor.
American billionaire Larry Ellison lobbied and convinced fellow magnate Arnon Milchan to give up the services of Israeli attorney Boaz Ben Tzur in one of the criminal cases against Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, in order to allow Ben Tzur to represent Netanyahu in the case, Haaretz reports.
The newspaper reports Netanyahu, who was lacking in top tier representation, had Ellison use his influence to convince Milchan to drop Ben Tzur and free him up to help Netanyahu.
The case in which Milchan was involved, Case 1000, involves allegations of a long-term and wide-ranging illicit relationship between the prime minister and the Hollywood producer, that saw the premier aid Milchan in various matters while the billionaire provided him many gifts and benefits.
Though police recommended charging Milchan in Case 1000, prosecutors eventually decided not to do so.
Pro-Republican magnate Sheldon Adelson’s newspaper the Las Vegas Review publishes an editorial excoriating US President Donald Trump for peddling false claims of voter fraud.
Adelson has been a top Trump backer throughout his presidency.
The president “does a disservice to his more rabid supporters by insisting that he would have won the Nov. 3 election absent voter fraud. That’s simply false,” the editorial says.
“There is no evidence, however, that fraud cost Mr. Trump the election, no matter how much the president tweets the opposite and his supporters wish it so.
“It’s an insult to reason and logic to argue that isolated irregularities constitute proof of a grand national conspiracy.”
First Sheldon Adelson's paper had that huge "Biden Wins" headline. Today, it has a brutal editorial telling Trump he lost:"(Trump) does a disservice to his more rabid supporters by insisting that he would have won the Nov. 3 election absent voter fraud. That’s simply false."
— Jon Ralston (@RalstonReports) November 12, 2020
The Israeli military says its forces evacuated an American servicemember injured in today’s chopper crash in Sinai.
He will be treated at an Israeli hospital.
Eight peacekeepers, six of them Americans, were killed in the crash.
At the end of the coronavirus cabinet meeting, the prime minister says Israel will receive Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine and asserts “It will begin in January, and increase monthly.”
He says that after speaking with Pfizer’s CEO Albert Bourla again, all legal impediments have been removed to sign a deal.
“We, and I, are working to bring vaccines from other sources. The more the better.”
Meanwhile, outgoing coronavirus czar Ronn Gamzu appears to contradict the premier, telling media he believes vaccines will start arriving in April, or March at the earliest.
The Foreign Ministry expresses “deep sorrow for the deaths of eight members of the international observer force in Sinai” in a helicopter crash earlier.
The ministry says the peacekeepers are greatly valued for their work in the region.
Foreign Minister Gabi Ashkenazi also offers wishes of swift recovery for the single wounded soldier who was medevaced to Israel.
At the end of a meeting with Cypriot and Greek defense officials in Cyprus, Israeli Defense Minister Benny Gantz says Israel’s enemies “know very well how strong we are and that they will bear the consequences of any violation of sovereignty on our territory.”
He says the countries’ trilateral partnership is “based on a shared commitment to promoting stability, collaboration and peace across the Mediterranean, as well as on the warm ties between our peoples.”
Gantz says he is committed to promoting defense and state ties further.
The latest figures from the Health Ministry show 522 coronavirus cases have been diganosed so far today.
The number of serious cases stands at 298, 133 of them on ventilators.
The death toll remains at 2,706.
The head of the Israel Police National Financial Investigations Unit, who was one of the officials responsible for the investigations of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, will retire from the force.
Media reports indicate Eli Assayag may be quitting due to not being promoted during a recent round of police appointments.
Associates tell Channel 12 news Assayag had hoped to next head the Lahav 433 anti-corruption unit, but was skipped over for the role.
He is expected to end his 35-year service in the coming months.
Housing Minister Yitzhak Cohen (Shas) has resigned from his position, less than a month after his appointment, saying he cannot run the ministry and carry out his duties as a minister in the Treasury at the same time.
The appointment had been intended as largely symbolic, with United Torah Judaism’s Yaakov Litzman meant to run the ministry in practice while technically serving as deputy minister. However, Litzman has so far not been appointed to the post.
Last month it was reported that Litzman would not return to the cabinet as deputy housing minister due to opposition from his rabbi.
Litzman quit the government earlier this year in protest of the government’s decision to impose a general lockdown during the High Holiday period.
The High Court of Justice has ordered the Knesset and the government to justify within 21 days legislation that serves as the bedrock of the current government, further jeopardizing its continued existence.
The court orders officials to explain why legislation behind the power-sharing government that narrows the Knesset’s powers, including its authority to bring down the government, should be allowed.
It also decides to henceforth review the matter in a panel of nine justices rather than the current three, signaling it believes the issue to be of particularly high stakes.
The power-sharing coalition deal between Likud and Blue and White necessitated a complicated legislative package and extraordinary amendments to Israel’s Basic Laws to ensure the premiership rotation and prevent each side from bringing down the government preemptively.
One former Supreme Court justice once described the deal as “shocking” and full of “legal monstrosities.”
Trump adviser Corey Lewandowski has tested positive for the coronavirus.
Lewandowski recently traveled to Pennsylvania to assist Trump’s efforts to contest the state’s election results. He says he believes he was infected in Philadelphia and he’s not experiencing any symptoms.
Lewandowski appeared with Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani at an event last Saturday outside a landscaping company and lobbed unfounded accusations of voter fraud as the race was called for Trump’s challenger, now-President-elect Joe Biden.
Lewandowski was also at the election night party at the White House last week linked to several virus cases.
Numerous White House and campaign officials have tested positive in this latest wave of infections, including Trump chief of staff Mark Meadows.
Pope Francis speaks with Joe Biden by telephone Thursday to offer “blessings and congratulations” to the US president-elect on his victory, the Democrat’s transition team says in a statement.
“The president-elect thanked His Holiness for extending blessings and congratulations and noted his appreciation for His Holiness’s leadership in promoting peace, reconciliation, and the common bonds of humanity around the world,” according to a readout of the call provided by Biden’s office.
Biden, 77, is only the second Catholic elected to the US presidency, after John F. Kennedy in 1960.
Walla news reports that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo plans to visit an Israeli West Bank settlement during his visit to Israel next week. This would make him the first secretary of state to do so.
The website quotes unnamed Israeli and American sources with knowledge of the matter.
It says officials at the US Embassy and in the US Secret Service are making plans for the trip.
Knesset Speaker Yariv Levin blasts the “outrageous” ruling by the High Court of Justice demanding that the government and Knesset defend controversial legislation that serves as the basis for the current coalition.
Levin, of Likud, says the court is “laying the groundwork for crossing the red line of intervening in Basic Laws.”
He says “any such step by the High Court broadens public support for changes to the way in which justices are selected and pushing out of the system justices who take advantage of their position to trample on democracy.”
The Movement for Quality Government, which made the appeal to the High Court, welcomes the decision, saying the current legislation effectively changes Israel’s system of government “in a manner that serves the man facing three indictments and who is attempting to evade justice” — a reference to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The legislation in question severely limits the Knesset’s ability to bring down the government, ostensibly to protect the unity coalition.
Joint List MK Mansour Abbas, who chairs the Arab alliance’s Ra’am party (which is now a faction in the Joint List party), tells Channel 12 he does not rule out supporting legislation to protect Netanyahu from criminal proceedings in exchange for legislation benefiting his community.
Rumors have flown in recent days of Abbas growing closer to Netanyahu nad potentially aiding him politically.
“If I get funds and [beneficial] legislation, I don’t mind giving Netanyahu what’s needed,” Abbas tells the network.
Surprise at Abbas’s recent about-face is doubled by the fact that Ra’am, which is connected to the Islamic Movement in Israel, is known to be one of the more hardline factions in the Joint List.
Netanyahu has repeatedly demonized the lawmakers of the Joint List, while accusing his opponents of attempting to cooperate with them against him,
Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman pledges to strike extremists with an “iron fist,” after a bombing against a gathering of diplomats was claimed by the Islamic State group.
“We will continue to strike with an iron fist against all those who want to harm our security and stability,” Prince Mohammed says in an address to the Shura Council, the top government advisory body, a day after Wednesday’s attack in the Red Sea port of Jeddah.
Yamina MK Ayelet Shaked, the former justice minister, says the legislation supporting the current power-sharing government should never have been passed, after the High Court signals it may intervene to shoot it down.
However, she adds that “the High Court does not have the authority to reject Basic Laws, and must not intervene in the arrangement the Knesset made.”
BALTIMORE — The number of people testing positive for the coronavirus has soared to a new daily high in the United States.
Data from Johns Hopkins University indicates the number of confirmed cases reached 184,514 yesterday, as the number of people infected continues to surge.
The Johns Hopkins data shows the seven-day rolling average for virus-related deaths reported daily in the US rose over the past two weeks from about 828 on October 30 to 1,047 on Friday, an increase of about 26%
The seven-day rolling positivity rate also rose over the past two weeks from 6.4 to 9.6, an increase of about 50%, even as the number of tests performed has grown.
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