Rouhani says Iran will enter talks with US if sanctions lifted
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Shaked said collaborating with Ben Gvir in effort to take over URWP

Ex-New Right co-chair believes a united front with Otzma Yehudit will allow her to demand more in negotiations with Rafi Peretz’s national religious party

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

(L) Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends the Yakir of Jewish Law ceremony in Tel Aviv on June 12, 2019. (Flash90). Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir during an election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 6, 2019. (Flash90)
(L) Former Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked attends the Yakir of Jewish Law ceremony in Tel Aviv on June 12, 2019. (Flash90). Otzma Yehudit party member Itamar Ben Gvir during an election campaign event in Bat Yam on April 6, 2019. (Flash90)

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

Gantz pans Peretz’s gay conversion remarks, avoids calling for minister’s axing

Blue and White chairman Benny Gantz holds a press conference in which he condemns for a second time the remarks in support of gay conversion therapy made by Education Minister Rafi Peretz. However, he refuses to call for the resignation of the chairman of the Union of Right-Wing Parties.

“Rabbi Rafi and I served a long service together [in the IDF]. There was a serious deviation here and we cannot ignore it. I am not getting into the matter of his dismissal,” Gantz said when pressed whether he would join others, including members of his own party, who have called on Peretz to step down.

Gantz said that if elected prime minister, he would appoint someone from his own party as education minister.

Backtracking on controversial policy, Afula says nonresidents will be allowed in city’s parks

The Afula municipality has agreed to open its parks to the general public, reversing a controversial city ordinance banning nonresidents that an advocacy group claims was designed to keep residents of nearby Arab towns out of the Jewish-majority city.

The city agreed to change its policy at the recommendation of the Nazareth District Court, where the Afula Municipality is being sued by the advocacy group Adalah.

Before the judge handed down his ruling, Afula officials told the court the signs banning nonresidents would be removed by Tuesday.

The judge said that limiting access to public parks was illegal, but did not refer to Adalah’s claims that the ban was motivated by anti-Arab racism.

— Tamar Pileggi 

PM appoints spokesman for international media, filling post vacant for 8 months

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appoints South African-born academic Dr. Evan Gary Cohen as his new spokesperson for international media.

The 51-year-old Cohen currently teaches in Tel Aviv University’s Linguistics department.

Cohen, who moved to Israel when he was six, replaces Los Angeles native David Keyes, who quit the post in December 2018 amid reports of sexual misconduct.

In a tweet making the announcement regarding the position, which has been vacant for eight months, Netanyahu highlights that Cohen founded the Likud pride branch. Last night, Education Minister Rafi Peretz made comments in support of gay conversion therapy, sparking fury across the political spectrum.

Peretz: My gay conversion therapy remarks were misconstrued

Education Minister Rafi Peretz responds Sunday to widespread outrage caused by his remark a day earlier that gay conversion therapy works and that he in the past sent pupils to undergo them.

In a lengthy Facebook post, Peretz claims his words had been distorted and taken out of context, accusing his critics of making “cynical use” of the upcoming Knesset elections and seeking to “make political gains at the expense of the LGBT community.”

“Since I entered politics I learned that there is freedom of speech for one sort of remark, and freedom of incitement against those who detail a different view,” he wrote.

Peretz says that during the lengthy interview he had sought to express a nuanced view regarding the LGBT community, and that the headline “did not match reality.”

He says he had expressed his educational vision of loving and respecting everyone, including members of the LGBT community.

“When I was specifically asked about conversion therapy, I said from my own experience only that when students contacted me and asked for guidance I referred them to professional officials at their request and saw it was possible. I did not say I support conversion therapy.”

“I believe that most of those who heard about the interview didn’t watch it. The responses distorted my words, using cheap populism that further deepens the rift in Israeli society and I regret that,” he said.

“It isn’t my statement that they attack, but who and what I represent,” he charged. “There is a struggle over the right to think differently.”

Government survey: 93% of tourists ranked their Israel visit from good to excellent

A new government survey shows that 93% of tourists ranked their visit to Israel from good to excellent.

Fifty-three percent of tourists said that their views on Israel changed for the better after visiting the country, according to the Tourism Ministry survey.

Forty-one percent said the visit did not change their minds and 1.5% said that the visit changed their views for the worse.

Omri Casspi to leave NBA, return to Maccabi Tel Aviv squad

Israeli basketball player Omri Casspi is reportedly poised to return to local basketball powerhouse Maccabi Tel Aviv after a decade-long career in the NBA.

According to a report on Israel’s Sport 5 channel, Casspi has agreed to a 3-year $3.2 million contract with the Israeli squad.

Syria gas pipeline hit by sabotage attack, state media says

A new sabotage attack has hit a gas pipeline in Syria, state media reports, putting it out of service in the latest setback to the country’s troubled energy sector.

The official news agency SANA denounces what it called a “terrorist act,” without identifying the suspected perpetrators.

According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, a Britain-based war monitor, a bomb blast targeted the pipeline in the Badiya desert, where the Islamic State jihadist group is present.

The pipeline transports gas from the government-controlled Shaer field, the country’s largest, in the central province of Homs to the Ebla plant, according to SANA.

“The gas pipeline… was put out of service by a terrorist act,” the agency says, adding that “technical teams are working to repair it in the coming hours.”


Trump tells liberal Democratic women they should leave the US

US President Donald Trump is wading provocatively into a rift between a group of liberal Democratic congresswomen and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

In tweets Sunday, Trump portrays the lawmakers as foreign-born troublemakers who, he says, should go back to their home countries. He tweets: “You can’t leave fast enough.” In fact, all but one of the lawmakers in question were born in the US.

Trump assails what he calls “‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe.” He does not identify the women.

But he’s unmistakably referring to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York and her allies in what’s become known as the squad. The others are Reps. Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Rashida Tlaib. Only Omar was foreign-born.

— AP

Daycare attendant sentenced to 17 years for choking to death girl in her care

A daycare attendant has been sentenced to 17 years in prison for choking to death an 18-month-old girl who was under her care.

The Central District Court has also given Ina Skivenko 18 more months of a suspended sentence and ordered her to pay NIS 120,000 to the parents of Yasmin Vinta, who. she smothered to death. She was convicted under a plea bargain in which she also admitted to assaulting nine other children.

Vinta’s parents, mother Dorina and father Vladimir, new immigrants to the country, were at the courthouse for the sentencing.

Dorina says “Nothing can heal the wounds.”

“17 years is not enough for me, for my husband, for my family, but I am a little bit quiet in my heart because I know she is in the prison and she will be there all her life and she will suffer,” she tells reporters at the court, speaking in English. “She is a mother and she know what it means to not see your child.”

“17 years is nothing, she should have 60 — she murdered my girl,” Yasmin’s father says.

Rouhani says Iran will enter talks with US if sanctions lifted

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran is willing to enter nuclear negotiations with the US if Washington lifts its sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

“We have always believed in talks … if they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere,” Rouhani says on state television.

Trump defends border detention camps

US President Donald Trump is defending the conditions of the border detention facilities visited by Vice President Mike Pence on Friday.

Trump tweets, saying the children’s rooms were “well run and clean” while the men’s facilities were “clean but crowded.”

The president’s account flies in the face of images from the visit and accounts from journalists present during Pence’s tour of the McAllen, Texas, facility.

Hundreds of men were crowded in sweltering cages without cots. Some of the men said they were hungry and had been held in the foul-smelling caged room for 40 days or longer.

Pence’s tour was meant to show the administration is providing adequate care for migrants but needs more money.

The scene he witnessed, though, sparked new criticism of the conditions facing migrants.

— AP

Smotrich: Peretz enduring ‘lynch’ over remarks in support of conversion therapy

After remaining silent for nearly 24 hours, the No. 2 MK in the party of Rafi Peretz says that the education minister has been enduring a “lynch” as a result of his comments in support of gay conversion therapy.

“I’ve known for a while now that freedom of expression in the State of Israel is reserved for only one side. The lynch that Rabbi Rafi is enduring is unacceptable. The conduct is dictatorial and we have to defend freedom of expression. You must not call for a minister’s resignation because he said something you do not like. Every person in Israel must be able to say his opinion without fear. No one will be silenced,” Smotrich tells Ynet.

Hundreds call for Peretz’s ouster in protest outside Tel Aviv government HQ

hundreds of Israelis are demonstrating outside the Kiryat Memshala government compound in central Tel Aviv, calling on Education Minister Rafi Peretz to resign over his comments in support of gay conversion therapy during a Channel 12 interview last night.

Former Meretz member, Peace Now head joins Ehud Barak’s new party

Former Peace Now chair and one-time Meretz party leadership candidate Avi Buskila announces that he is joining the newly-formed Israel Democratic Party headed by Ehud Barak.

“I am excited and proud to join the struggle to save Israeli democracy. This is no longer an election campaign, but a fateful choice on the vision of the State of Israel as a Jewish and democratic state,” Buskila says in a statement.

“These days, as Netanyahu and his emissaries continue to tear Israeli society apart, we offer another way, a way of working together and reuniting Israeli society,” he adds.

— Raoul Wootliff

Shaked and Ben Gvir said collaborating in effort to take over URWP

Former New Right co-chair Ayelet Shaked and Otzma Yehudit candidate Itamar Ben Gvir have held several lengthy conversations in recent weeks, in an effort to team up and take over the Union of Right-Wing Parties, Channel 12 reports.

Until now, URWP chairman Rafi Peretz has refused to give up on the number one spot in the party in his negotiations with Shaked, whose New Right did not cross the electoral threshold in the April elections. Shaked has said that she plans to run again, but has not disclosed her platform for doing so.

According to the Channel 12 report, Shaked believes that URWP cannot afford to run without her, as well as Otzma Yehudit, and that if she and Ben Gvir collaborate, they will be able to get more from Peretz in negotiations, at the end of which she hopes to be named party chairman, while Ben Gvir and other members of his far right faction would be given higher spots on her slate.

Two more F-35s land in Israel, bringing number in arsenal to 16

Two more F-35 fighter jets landed in Israel today, bringing the number of fifth-generation stealth aircraft that the military acknowledges having in its arsenal up to 16.

The first two F-35 jets landed in Israel in December 2016. Approximately a year later, the stealth fighter — known in Israel as the Adir — was declared operational, and several months later the head of the air force revealed that the aircraft had conducted bombing raids, making Israel the first country to acknowledge using the planes operationally.

“The capabilities of the Adir Squadron adds another tier to the operational and strategic abilities of the air force, which ensures the air force’s superiority in all its missions, namely the protection and safety of the State of Israel’s skies,” the IDF says.

Israel has agreed to purchase at least 50 F-35 fighter jets from the US defense contractor Lockheed Martin. They will be delivered in batches of twos and threes over the next few years. Israel is the second country after the United States to receive the F-35 from Lockheed Martin and one of the few to be allowed to modify the state-of-the-art aircraft.

“The ongoing procurement of the Adir is another expression of the long-term military cooperation between Israel and the US, which continues to produce exceptional results in the process of strengthening and streamlining [the F-35],” the army says in a statement.

— Judah Ari Gross

Police said probing voter fraud in several towns during last election

Police are currently probing suspicions of voter fraud that took place in several towns during the last election, the Kan public broadcaster reports.

At least one individual from the northern, Druze village of Kisra Sumei was interrogated under caution last month on suspicion that he falsified ballot results, Haaretz reports.

The alleged voter fraud benefited the Likud, according to the reports.

In the last election, the Likud recruited over 1,000 activists to work in Arab polling stations across the country. Each came with a camera in an effort to film alleged voter fraud.

Report: Cop who shot dead Solomon Teka will be released from house arrest

The police officer who shot dead Solomon Teka will be released from house arrest tomorrow, with law enforcement not likely to extend the order requiring him to remain at home, Walla reports.

However, additional restrictions are expected to remain on the officer.

Milchan said to have boasted that PM arranged for Mossad to take him to Jordan via private jet

A former close adviser to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly told police investigators that an Israeli billionaire boasted the premier agreed to arrange for the Mossad to take him to neighboring Jordan by helicopter.

Nir Hefetz, who was the Netanyahu family’s most trusted spokesman, turned state’s witness last year in a series of corruption investigations implicating the prime minister.

One of the probes Hefetz provided testimony in is Case 1000, which involves suspicions Netanyahu and his wife accepted gifts from wealthy benefactors in exchange for favors, namely Israeli-born Hollywood mogul Arnon Milchan.

According to transcripts of his testimony published by Channel 12, Hefetz said that Milchan told him Netanyahu would arrange for the Mossad intelligence service to take him and a leading Indian businessmen by helicopter to meet with the Jordanian king regarding the planned establishment of a free trade zone near the Jordan-Israel border that could have personally benefited Milchan.

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Rouhani says Iran will enter talks with US if sanctions lifted

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani says Tehran is willing to enter nuclear negotiations with the US if Washington lifts its sanctions against the Islamic Republic.

“We have always believed in talks … if they lift sanctions, end the imposed economic pressure and return to the deal, we are ready to hold talks with America today, right now and anywhere,” Rouhani says on state television.