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Second day of Netanyahu pre-indictment hearings finishes after 11 hours

Deliberations between PM’s lawyers and prosecutors take place as he’s sworn into the new Knesset; next week’s hearings to focus on Cases 1000 and 2000

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attorneys arrive at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for a pre-indictment hearing on October 3, 2019. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's attorneys arrive at the Justice Ministry in Jerusalem for a pre-indictment hearing on October 3, 2019. (Yossi Zamir/Flash90)

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

Likud says Netanyahu considering calling leadership primary

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering calling a snap primary for leadership of the Likud party.

“The purpose of the move is shattering the illusion of a ‘rebellion in Likud’ that other parties are wishing for, something which is holding them up from joining a unity government,” Likud says in a statement.

The statement comes as Netanyahu is struggling to form a government after last month’s elections, with the rival Blue and White party ruling out sitting in government with him due to pending corruption charges and rebuffing his calls to join him in a coalition of right-wing and religious parties.

It also comes ahead of the swearing-in of the new Knesset this afternoon and as Netanyahu’s lawyers attend a second day of pre-indictment hearings in a series of cases the premier faces charges in.

After Likud says Netanyahu weighing leadership primary, rival Sa’ar says let’s go

After Likud says Prime Minister Netanyahu is considering calling primaries for party leader, his internal rival Gideon Sa’ar issues an apparent response.

“I’m ready,” Sa’ar writes in a terse tweet.

Satellite images show activity around Iranian-flagged tanker off Syria

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — Satellite images released today show that a once-detained Iranian-flagged oil tanker sitting off the coast of Syria has been approached by a smaller Iranian tanker, an indication the ship could be preparing to transfer its cargo.

Images released by Maxar Technologies show the Jasmine alongside the Adrian Darya 1 yesterday, with mooring lines between them and a crane deployed on the larger vessel.

The Adrian Darya 1, formerly named the Grace 1, was detained off the British overseas territory of Gibraltar in July while carrying $130 million in crude oil, on suspicion of breaking European Union sanctions by taking the oil to Syria. Gibraltar later released the tanker, after it said Iran promised the ship wouldn’t go to Syria.

The ship later sailed toward the Syrian coast, angering Britain.

The oil shipment website TankerTrackers.com said on Twitter on Tuesday that the Adrian Darya 1 was “postured in an STS (Ship-to-Ship) formation with a smaller Iranian-flagged Handymax (350K barrel capacity) tanker,” the Jasmine. It noted this was “not a confirmation of any oil transfer just yet. We’ll compare imagery later.” The image it posted showed the two vessels off the coast of Syria.

However, the website yesterday it was ending its public coverage of the Iranian tanker’s movements due to a tweet by US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who used the image of the two tankers in a tweet of his own.

Pompeo tweeted that despite Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad “Zarif’s promise to the UK that the #AdrianDarya1 would not deliver oil to Syria, it is now transferring oil off the Syrian coast. Will the world hold Iran accountable if this oil is delivered to Syria?”

There is no official reaction from Iranian authorities.

— AP

Sa’ar ally says she’ll back him for Likud leader if primaries called

Likud MK Michal Shir tells Channel 12 news that “if there are indeed primaries” for the party’s leadership she’ll back her former boss Gideon Sa’ar.

Shir stresses, however, that Likud hasn’t yet decided it is holding leadership primaries.

She was responding to Likud’s announcement that its leader, Prime Minister Netanyahu, is considering calling snap primaries for leadership of the party to dispel any notion its members will throw aside their longtime leader as he struggles to form a government and faces an upcoming indictment on graft charges.

Netanyahu has previously accused Sa’ar, a popular former minister, of plotting to oust him as Likud chief. Sa’ar has rejected the accusation.

Likud MK Michal Shir at an orientation day at the Knesset, April 29, 2019. (Noam Moscowitz/Knesset)

Likud’s Israel Katz vows to back Netanyahu if leadership primary held

Foreign Minister Israel Katz says he’ll back Prime Minister Netanyahu if the Likud party calls leadership primaries.

Katz, currently No. 3 in Likud, has expressed an interest in heading Likud after Netanyahu leaves the party.

After meeting Netanyahu, Liberman dines with Lapid at Knesset cafeteria

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman dines with Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid in the Knesset cafeteria.

The meeting comes after Liberman met with Prime Minister Netanyahu, whose Likud party has charged Lapid is the main obstacle to Blue and White joining a government.

Yisrael Beytenu leader Avidgor Liberman (L) talks with Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid in the cafeteria of the Knesset on October 3, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

Blue and White has ruled out sitting in government with Netanyahu due to the graft charges he faces. It is also opposed to joining a coalition that includes Likud’s national-religious and ultra-Orthodox allies.

Lapid said set to announce he’ll forgo rotation deal with Gantz

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid will announce he is forgoing his rotation agreement with Benny Gantz to switch off as prime minister if the centrist party forms the next government, Hebrew media reports.

Arab Israelis go on strike to protest deadly crime wave

Arab citizens of Israel are observing a general strike and holding protests over a wave of deadly violence within the minority community.

Local and national Arab leaders called for today’s strike and newly elected Arab members of Knesset planned to skip the swearing-in this afternoon out of solidarity.

Police say there have been more than 70 killings this year, nearly as many as in all of 2018. Earlier this week, two brothers were killed and a third was wounded in a brawl involving guns and knives in the town of Majd al-Krum.

Arab leaders say Israeli authorities haven’t done enough to stem the violence. The police say they have confiscated 4,000 weapons and arrested some 2,800 people this year alone, and that community leaders need to do more.

— AP

Lapid confirms he’s giving up on PM rotation deal with Gantz

Blue and White No. 2 Yair Lapid confirms he’s giving up on his deal with party leader Benny Gantz on rotating the prime ministership, in order to ease the path to a possible unity government.

Speaking at the Blue and White faction meeting in the Knesset, Lapid says: “For the sake of a unity government I’m forgoing the rotation. It’s far more important to me that there’s unity in the country. That there won’t be another election. That this country begins a healing process.”

Adds Lapid: “The citizens of Israel deserve better, they deserve better than what’s happening in this building. They deserve a stable unity government with a prime minister who isn’t under indictment. They deserve a government that will focus on health, education and security instead of bribery, fraud and breach of trust.”

He accuses Netanyahu of “trying everything to drag us to elections. One man with three indictments stands between us and a national unity government… This country needs a national unity government led by Blue and White, with Likud, with Liberman, with Labor…

“In that government there will be a rotation. Benny Gantz will be prime minister for the first two years. There’s no other option… If in two years Netanyahu will complete the legal process and be cleared of all charges then there’s no problem, he can come back. I hope for him that’s what happens… There won’t be a rotation with three people. That’s not serious. Running a country is a serious matter.”

Liberman on Lapid giving up rotation deal: ‘An important and noble step’

Yisrael Beytenu party leader Avigdor Liberman praises Blue and White MK Yair Lapid for forgoing his agreement with Benny Gantz to rotate as prime minister if the centrist party leads the next government.

“This is an important and noble step,” Liberman is quoted saying by Hebrew media.

Liberman, whose party holds the balance of power in the Knesset, has pushed for a unity government consisting of Yisrael Beytenu, Likud and Blue and White.

Gantz says Netanyahu is now sole obstacle to unity government

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz reiterates his centrist party’s commitment to forming a unity government after last month’s elections left neither bloc with a clear path to a majority.

Gantz says Netanyahu is now “the sole obstacle” to a unity government involving Blue and White and Likud, and that the broad platform of such a “liberal unity government” is agreed by the parties.

Israel, says Gantz, “needs a prime minister who can attend to its citizens’ needs, not his legal difficulties… a unity government not a immunity government.”

He charges that Netanyahu is “prepared to do anything to protect his own interests, even if that means dragging us to us to new elections.”

“The best thing for Israel is a unity government on the basis of fundamentals,” Gantz tells Blue and White lawmakers before the swearing-in of the new Knesset.

His comments jive with those of Yisrael Beytenu leader Avigdor Liberman, who is pushing for a unity government that includes his party, Netanyahu’s Likud and Blue and White.

After meeting earlier today with Netanyahu, Liberman said the focus should be on finding “common ground” between the parties and not on doling out ministerial portfolios or a rotation agreement for prime minister.

Gantz also addresses Netanyahu’s pending indictment on corruption charges.

Directing his remarks at Netanyahu, he says he hopes the prime minister will be able to prove his innocence in the three graft cases he faces. “I don’t want to see a prime minister behind bars… I don’t want to see you convicted of criminal offenses.” But until then, Gantz urges him, “Don’t bunker down in your post… We’ll take things from there… We’ll put Israel before everything else.”

Australian envoy says granting of bail to accused pedophile Leifer ‘concerning’

Australia’s ambassador to Israel says a district court’s decision to grant bail yesterday to Malka Leifer, who is wanted by Canberra for alleged serial pedophilia, is “concerning.”

The comments from Chris Cannan come shortly before the Supreme Court will hear an appeal against the decision to release Leifer to house arrest as a psychiatric panel decides whether she is feigning mental illness to avoid extradition.

— with Jacob Magid

Netanyahu says Gantz ‘trying to escape’ from unity government

Prime Minister Netanyahu reiterates his call for the formation of a “broad national unity government” and rejects his rival Benny Gantz’s call for him to step down over his legal woes.

Netanyahu says that such a government is the “will of the nation” after both his Likud party and Gantz’s Blue and White failed to secure sufficient support together with their allies in last month’s elections to form a government alone.

“Apparently Benny Gantz is trying to escape from this decision. He is suggesting changing the democratic process. I don’t intend to accede to this request,” Netanyahu says, referring to Gantz’s demand he step down.

“We need to go together.”

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) speaks during a Likud faction meeting at the Knesset in Jerusalem on October 3, 2019. (Emmanuel Dunand/AFP)

Peretz urges Gantz to sign coalition agreement with Labor

Labor chairman Amir Peretz calls on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to sign his first coalition agreement with the Labor party.

Speaking at a faction meeting ahead of the Knesset’s swearing-in ceremony, Peretz urges Gantz to sign on the dotted line even before he is “passed the mandate” for forming a government — which currently is held by Prime Minister Netanyahu — from President Reuven Rivlin.

Peretz proposes that Labor and Blue and White operate as a “shadow government” until an official one is formed, presenting alternative diplomatic, security and economic policies in the face of “Netanyahu’s failed government.”

— Jacob Magid

Swearing-in ceremony for new Knesset begins

The pomp and circumstance begins at the Knesset as President Reuven Rivlin makes his entrance to the Knesset grounds, accompanied by an honor guard on horseback and the IDF military band.

He is greeted by Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein, Knesset Secretary General Yardena Muller Horovitz and 6th grade students from the Modiin Ariel elementary school.

The president will place a wreath on the Knesset’s monument for fallen soldiers before meeting privately with Edelstein and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then leading the 120 MKs to the plenum for their first official session.

— Raoul Wootliff

Deri calls on Gantz to join government with Likud, religious parties

Shas chairman Aryeh Deri calls on Blue and White leader Benny Gantz to agree to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s offer for a government made up of Likud, Blue and White and religious parties.

The offer would see Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu serve for two years as prime minister followed by Gantz for two years. The sides would split up ministerial positions equally.

Blue and White has vowed not to sit in a government with Netanyahu so long as he is under indictment. The party has also called for forming a liberal unity government, in a rebuff of the religious parties.

“There is a high possibility that the Knesset will disperse again,” Deri says at faction meeting of his ultra-Orthodox Shas party ahead of the Knesset’s swearing-in ceremony. “This is a real crisis and a big problem for the economy and our security.”

“I direct my concerns at one person who holds the key — Benny Gantz,” continues Deri. “I always defended him when he was attacked and defend him to this very today. I tell him: My dear Benny, join Netanyahu’s call to form unity for which he made great concessions and made a very generous offer. I do not know if I myself would agree to make such a generous offer, but he did so. Now it is your turn.”

— Jacob Magid

5 Palestinians charged with murdering Israeli teen for Hamas

Military prosecutors indict five Palestinian men suspected of murdering 18-year-old yeshiva student Dvir Sorek in August on behalf of the Hamas terror group.

Two of the men are believed to have carried out the stabbing itself, while the other three are accused of helping plan and prepare for the attack.

“The indictments filed against the accused are for intentionally causing death, the equivalent to murder in Judea and Samaria, and additional serious crimes,” the army says, using the Biblical name for the West Bank.

According to the indictment, on the night of August 8, Nasir and Qasseem al-Asafra were driving near the Migdal Oz settlement south of Bethlehem when they spotted Sorek walking alone. Nasir exited the vehicle and stabbed Sorek multiple times in the upper body, and then the two men fled the scene.

Dvir Sorek (Courtesy)

Sorek’s body was found hours later on the road leading to the religious seminary in Migdal Oz where he was studying as part of hesder, a program that combines military service with Jewish study.

According to the IDF, in addition to Nasir and Qasseem al-Asafra, the other members of the cell were Ahmad al-Asafra, Yusef Zahour and Mahmoud Atouna.

“The accused formed the cell, which is part of the Hamas terror group, in order to carry out attacks against Israeli targets. As part of their activities, the members of the cell performed training exercises and lookouts, and armed themselves with knives,” the army says.

According to the indictment, Qasseem al-Asafra also carried out a stabbing attack in Beersheba in 2011 in which two Israelis were injured but was never caught. He is also being charged for that attack.

— Judah Ari Gross

Rivlin: Israel democracy facing an emergency

President Reuven Rivlin addresses lawmakers as the 22nd Knesset is sworn in with no new government in sight.

Rivlin acknowledges criticism of his efforts to broker a unity government between Likud and Blue and White after both feel short of winning enough seats with their allies to form a coalition after last month’s elections. “It is legitimate and contains some truth,” he says.

Though his position is largely ceremonial, Rivlin says are times when a president is required to intervene “as part of carrying out his official role,” such as when no party has a clear path to forming a government.

“I know this — we are facing a time of crisis for the House of Jacob, an emergency for Israel’s security and for Israeli society, an emergency for Israeli democracy: all that is dear to us,” he says.

“Forming a government is not only the wish of the people. More than ever, in times like these, it is an economic and security need the likes of which we have not known for many years,” he adds.

Rivlin says election stalemate ‘a red card for populism’

Despite last month’s elections prolonging Israel’s months-long political gridlock, President Rivlin sees signs for optimism in the results of the September 17 vote.

“Along with the frustration at the political deadlock we are in, the election results are also a badge of honor for Israeli society. They are a red card from Israeli citizens to their elected officials. A red card for populism, for a political system that feeds on picking away at the differences between us and that sees all our fears, each of the other, as something to exploit,” he says.

Rivlin says a unity government will allow Israeli politicians to “put the disagreements between us to one side” and focus on the “wide range of challenges that we can all agree to tackle.”

“Honorable Members of Knesset, the eyes of the nation are on you, small parties and large. Elections are the most expensive reality show in town — NIS 1.7 billion. You must remember that each season, the ratings are likely to drop, while the result remains the same. As I have said before, I have no magic solutions. But this people does not need solutions of that kind, it needs leader,” he says.

Yamina lawmaker becomes 1000th MK in Israel’s history as Knesset members sworn in

Saying the words “I commit” after Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein reads the swearing-in declaration for the lawmakers of the 22nd Knesset, Yamina MK Matan Kahana officially becomes the 1000th Knesset member in Israel’s history.

There are only eight MKs being sworn in today who have never served in the Knesset before, a record low.

— Raoul Wootliff

First Arab astronaut to reach International Space Station returns to Earth

ALMATY, Kazakhstan — A three-man crew including an Emirati who became the first Arab to reach the International Space Station returned to Earth safely today and were in good shape, the Russian space agency Roscosmos says.

Hazzaa al-Mansoori of the United Arab Emirates touched down in the Kazakh steppes along with NASA astronaut Nick Hague and Roscosmos cosmonaut Alexey Ovchinin, who both survived a failed launch to the ISS last year.

“The crew that returned to Earth is feeling well,” Roscosmos says immediately after the landing.

Russian Space Agency rescue team members and United Arab Emirates specialists carry Emirati astronaut Hazzaa al-Mansoori shortly after the landing of the Russian Soyuz MS-12 space capsule about 150 km (90 miles) south-east of the Kazakh town of Dzhezkazgan, on October 3, 2019. (Dmitri Lovetsky/Pool/AFP)

Roscosmos footage from the landing site in central Kazakhstan shows Mansoori smiling as he sits wrapped in an Emirati flag after leaving the capsule.

Hague and Ovchinin completed a 203-day mission aboard the orbiting laboratory while Mansoori’s two crewmates from his September 25 launch — Russia’s Oleg Skripochka and NASA’s Jessica Meir — are staying on as part of a six-member team.

Although Mansoori’s mission was short — eight days in total — it has been the source of great pride in the UAE, a newcomer to the world of space with ambitions to send an unmanned probe to orbit Mars by 2021.

— AFP

Likud Central Committee expected next week to approve leadership primaries

Likud’s Central Committee is expected to convene next Thursday to approve party leadership primaries, according to Hebrew media reports.

3 Palestinian brothers said arrested in Israeli special forces raid

An Israeli special forces team arrests three Palestinian brothers in the West Bank town of Kobar, near Ramallah, local media reports.

Palestinian outlets identify the men as Qassam, Naseem and Aseel Barghouti. According to the reports, in addition to arresting the three suspects, IDF troops also searched their home.

Earlier in the day, the IDF arrested two other members of the Barghouti family.

The IDF does not immediately confirm the Palestinian media reports. An army spokesperson says she is looking into the matter.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu warns Israel could pay a ‘heavy price’ if no unity government formed

Prime Minister Netanyahu addresses Knesset members before the traditional group picture of party leaders and again calls for the formation of a “broad national unity government” to stave off a third round of elections in less than a year.

“We are not the only ones who suffer from this problem,” Netanyahu says of prolonged political gridlock. “But we cannot let ourselves suffer this problem. No one is as challenged as much as we are, no other country. And democracies that haven’t understood that you need to unite at time of danger suffer a heavy price.”

Netanyahu warns Israel faces major security challenges — namely Iran — which he says require the formation of a broad government.

“This isn’t spin, it’s not a whim, this is not ‘Netanyahu trying to scare us,'” he says.

Netanyahu lauds President Rivlin’s proposal for a unity government and references Elvis Presley in calling for the quick formation of a new government.

“I’ll quote an Elvis Presley song: ‘It’s now or never.’ But I’ll amend it a little — it’s now or later. The right thing to do now is to [finalize a unity government]. But if we don’t do it now, then [we’ll still have to do it] after I return the mandate, and Benny Gantz returns the mandate, and the final 21 days pass…”

President Reuven Rivlin sits for the traditional picture of party leaders following the swearing-in of the 22nd Knesset on October 3, 2019. (Raoul Wootliff/Times of Israel)

Supreme Court puts stay on accused pedophile Leifer’s bail release

The Supreme Court orders an extension on the stay of a decision to release Malka Leifer to house arrest.

Judge Anat Baron says she needs time to deliberate and doesn’t specify when she will make a decision.

The afternoon hearing had been called after the state appealed a Wednesday Jerusalem District Court ruling to release Leifer to house arrest while a psychiatric panel is convened to provide a recommendation on whether she is feigning mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia where the former girls’ school principal faces 74 charges of sex abuse.

Last week’s court ruling ordering the convening of a psychiatric panel was blasted by victims’ rights group as well as the Australian government as a further delay in the extradition process which has lasted over five years.

— Jacob Magid

Gantz: Unity government can be formed ‘within an hour’ if Netanyahu steps aside

Blue and White leader Benny Gantz says a unity government can quickly be formed if Prime Minister Netanyahu steps aside as Likud leader.

“If he vacates his position, there will be a unity government within an hour,” he tells reporters at the Knesset.

Gantz also lauds his No. 2 Yair Lapid for forgoing their agreement to rotate as prime minister if Blue and White forms the government. He says Lapid decided on this alone.

“He took a brave step,” Gantz says.

Likud Central Committee head says he sees no need for leadership primary

Likud MK Haim Katz, who heads the party’s Central Committee, says he doesn’t see a need for the party to hold it’s leadership primary.

“I don’t see any need for a Likud leadership primary because Netanyahu’s leadership can’t be undercut and no one in Likud will dare to come out against him,” Katz is quoted saying by Hebrew media.

“I’ll discuss the matter this evening with the prime minister. If he believes primaries should be held we’ll do so in a quick, clean and democratic process,” he adds.

The Central Committee is the top decision-making body in Likud and has the authority to call leadership primaries.

Holocaust denial not a human right, rules European court

STRASBOURG, France — Denial of the Holocaust is not a human right, a European court rules today, throwing out a complaint by a German neo-Nazi politician.

Udo Pastoers, who served in the local parliament of the northeastern region of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, was convicted in Germany in 2012 after giving a speech in 2010 in which he appeared to cast doubt on whether the Holocaust really happened.

Pastoers, a member of the extreme right National Democratic Party (NDP), lodged a complaint against the conviction with the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) in 2014.

Udo Pastoers of the extreme-right National Democratic Party party attends a news conference after the party’s convention in Berlin on April 5, 2009. (AP Photo/Gero Breloer)

He argued his freedom of expression was violated and his right to a fair trial infringed because the judge at his appeal could not have been impartial as he was the husband of a judge who had convicted him in a lower court.

The ECHR judges rule unanimously that Pastoers’ complaint that freedom of expression had been violated is “manifestly ill-founded and had to be rejected.”

The judges also rule by four votes to three that there had been no violation of the right to a fair trial.

It adds an independent court of appeal panel with no links to either married judge had ultimately decided on the bias claim and had rejected it.

— AFP

Police say they foiled gun-smuggling operation on Lebanese border

Police say they foiled an attempt last month to smuggle guns from the Lebanese border to Israel.

On September 14, Israeli forces spotted two suspects near the border town of Metula and subsequently found two bags filled with 39 handguns at the scene, according to a police statement.

A suspect from the northern Druze town of Yarka who police say arrived to gather the guns was arrested. He was released after 14 days in custody.

Police say the investigation is ongoing.

Peace Now: Population growth rate in settlements well ahead of national average

There are now 427,800 Israeli settlers living in the West Bank, according to the Peace Now anti-settlement group.

Citing Central Bureau of Statistics data, Peace Now says population growth in settlements stood at 3.5 percent last year, far outpacing the national average of 1.9%.

The group says settlers account for 4.77% of the Israeli population and 14% of the population in the West Bank.

Netanyahu said asking right-wing allies to pledge they’ll only back him as PM

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reportedly launched a fresh push to sign his right-wing religious allies to a document pledging to back no other candidate for premier if both he and another candidate fail to form a government.

According to Hebrew media reports, the ultra-Orthodox Shas and United Torah Judaism parties indicated they were open to signing the document but the national-religious Yamina alliance has yet to decide.

Yesterday, Channel 12 news reported Yamina and UTJ refused to sign such a document.

As the reports trickle out, Shas leader Aryeh Deri tweets that his party has said from the get go it will not recommend anyone else besides Netanyahu for prime minister.

“I’m not concerned about third elections. Shas will also get stronger in them. I hope logic will win out and unity government will be formed,” Deri tweets.

Anti-Semitic incidents in Argentina more than doubled in 2018 — report

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — Anti-Semitic incidents in Argentina soared by 107 percent in 2018 over the previous year, according to a new report.

The 20th edition of the annual Anti-Semitism Report prepared by the research body of the DAIA Jewish political umbrella group shows that nearly 90 percent of the 834 complaints filed dealt with incidents that occurred online, on social networks or on news websites.

“We are losing the cultural battle against hate speech,” DAIA President Jorge Knoblovits says while presenting the figures. “Our efforts are not enough; the increase is fierce.”

Knoblovits also says that the situation has become worse in 2019, with not only online but also physical attacks, including the assault of a rabbi in Rosario in June.

The 2017 report from the DAIA’s Center for Social Studies had shown a 14 percent rise from the previous year.

This year’s report also provides a study about attitudes toward Jews in Argentina by the Gino Germani Institute at the University of Buenos Aires. The survey of 1,443 people reveals that 87 percent “do not know or have a misconception about what is Zionism” and 61 percent agreed with the assertion that “Jews had too much power in financial markets.”

— JTA

Death toll in Iraq protests rises to 31

BAGHDAD — An Iraqi medical official says at least six protesters have been shot and killed in the southern city of Nasiriyah, south of the capital Baghdad, during anti-government rallies.

The official tells The Associated Press the bodies of the protesters were brought to the local hospital after sunset. The protesters had defied a curfew imposed in the city, about 320 kilometers, or 200 miles, southeast of the capital, Baghdad. Protests have spread in Baghdad and towns and cities to the south since Tuesday. The new violence brings the death toll to 31, including 10 killed today. The official speaks on condition of anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to brief the media.

The protesters have rallied behind calls to unseat the government, accusing it of corruption and failure to address deepening economic malaise. The security forces have responded with live ammunition, tear gas and water cannons while authorities cut the internet which protesters had used to organize.

— AP

Blue and White’s Ashkenazi appointed acting chair of top Knesset committee

Blue and White MK Gabi Ashkenazi is unanimously approved as acting chairman of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee.

He replaces Likud MK Avi Dichter, who has headed the committee since 2016.

The appointment is on an acting basis as a government has yet to be formed since the first round of Knesset elections earlier this year.

The Arrangements Committee, which is tasked with appointing lawmakers to various committees, taps United Torah Judaism MK Moshe Gafni to head the Knesset Finance Committee.

Gafni has chaired the committee since 2015.

Israel’s envoy to Australia recognizes discomfort made by court decision to release Leifer

Israel’s ambassador to Australia appears to come as close as a diplomat can to criticizing a court ruling from its own country.

“While Israeli lawcourts are independent, there are very many in Israel, including the State Prosecution, who find the recent legal decisions regarding Malka Leifer incomprehensible and are working avidly to overturn them,” Mark Sofer tweets.

“In their eyes, the case has gone on for far too long and nothing short of full justice can be acceptable. Uppermost in their minds is the immediate extradition of Malka Leifer to Australia to stand trial.”

The comments come a day after the Jerusalem District Court ordered Leifer be released to house arrest while a psychiatric panel convenes to determine whether she has been feigning mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia where she faces 74 charges of sex abuse.

Earlier today, the Supreme Court extended a stay on the decision as it mulls appeals from the defense and prosecution. A final ruling is expected in the coming days.

— Jacob Magid

Day 2 of Netanyahu pre-indictment hearings finishes after 11 hours

The second day of pre-indictment hearings for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu wraps up after 11 hours.

Like yesterday, today’s hearing focused on Case 4000, which is considered the most serious case against Netanyahu as it carries a bribery charge in addition to fraud and breach of trust.

The case involves Netanyahu’s allegedly illicit ties with Shaul Elovitch, the controlling shareholder of Bezeq telecom.

Two days of hearings will be held next week on Cases 1000 and 2000. Netanyahu faces charges of fraud and breach of trust in those cases.

Netanyahu was not present at this week’s hearings at Justice Ministry headquarters and was represented by his lawyers.

Today’s hearing coincided with the swearing-in of the new Knesset and comes as Netanyahu struggles to form a new government after he and his allies fell short of winning a majority in last month’s elections.

IDF nabs 2 Gazans with knife near border fence

Israel Defense Forces soldiers arrest two Palestinians near the border fence with the Gaza Strip, one of whom was found carrying a knife.

The IDF says the two were taken for questioning.

It doesn’t specify what side of the security fence they were on.

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Supreme Court puts stay on accused pedophile Leifer’s bail release

The Supreme Court orders an extension on the stay of a decision to release Malka Leifer to house arrest.

Judge Anat Baron says she needs time to deliberate and doesn’t specify when she will make a decision.

The afternoon hearing had been called after the state appealed a Wednesday Jerusalem District Court ruling to release Leifer to house arrest while a psychiatric panel is convened to provide a recommendation on whether she is feigning mental illness to avoid extradition to Australia where the former girls’ school principal faces 74 charges of sex abuse.

Last week’s court ruling ordering the convening of a psychiatric panel was blasted by victims’ rights group as well as the Australian government as a further delay in the extradition process which has lasted over five years.

— Jacob Magid