Tel Aviv is sixth most congested city in Asia – report
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Mother of Nechama Rivlin’s lung donor: ‘Another part of you has gone’

Sari Halabli, mother of 19-year-old Yair who died in March drowning accident, eulogizes ‘modest’ Rivlin, says she will ‘rest in peace, together with my enchanting son’

President Reuven Rivlin with his wife Nechama at the French ambassador's home in Jaffa, on June 18, 2014. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)
President Reuven Rivlin with his wife Nechama at the French ambassador's home in Jaffa, on June 18, 2014. (Gideon Markowicz/Flash90)

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

Jared Kushner heads to Brussels for peace plan talks

BRUSSELS — US President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and Middle East peace adviser Jared Kushner will hold talks with European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Tuesday, the EU announces.

“The [EU Commission] president [Jean-Claude Juncker] will meet Jared Kushner, senior adviser to the president of the United States of America, Donald Trump. They will discuss the Middle East situation and other geopolitical issues,” Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva told reporters.

Kushner is set to launch the first, economic, phase of the long-touted Trump administration peace plan later this month. A number of Sunni Arab states have said they will attend the rollout in Bahrain, as will Israel, but Palestinians have declined to attend, citing what they say is the Trump administration’s bias.

Trump administration officials have in recent weeks dampened expectations about the peace rollout. Kushner in an interview broadcast Sunday expressed doubts about the Palestinians ability to govern themselves, and Mike Pompeo, the secretary of state, last week told Jewish leaders that the plan might not “gain traction.”

— AFP and JTA

Right-wing activists protest McDonald’s refusal to open West Bank branch

A right-wing activist group made up of wounded IDF veterans is accusing the McDonald’s fast food chain of “boycotting” Israeli West Bank settlements.

The group, which calls itself the Forum of IDF Wounded for Israel’s Security, placed large signs today in front of McDonald’s branches in Tel Aviv warning Israelis that the restaurant “is controlled by a company that boycotts parts of Israel. By entering this area you become a supporter of the boycott.”

The move comes a day after Samaria Regional Council head Yossi Dagan protested to the finance and transportation ministries over McDonald’s participation in a state tender to open an establishment at Ben Gurion Airport.

McDonald’s licensing rights in Israel are held by Aloniel, a company controlled by businessman and former Peace Now co-founder Omri Padan, who in 2013 refused calls to open a branch of the fast-food chain in the West Bank city of Ariel.

Signs placed in front of McDonald’s branches in Tel Aviv on June 4, 2019, accusing the fast-food chain of boycotting West Bank settlements, and urging Israelis to boycott the restaurant giant in return. (Channel 12 screen capture)

Tourist arrivals, Israelis’ departures spike in first months of 2019

Some 2.03 million arrivals entered Israel from January through May 2019, a 10 percent jump from the same period in 2018, according to figures released today by the Central Bureau of Statistics.

Of that number, 1.9 million arrivals were tourists, a jump of 8%.

The first five month of 2019 also saw 2.7 million departures by air of Israelis traveling abroad — a 6 percent spike from the same period in 2018.

Another 240,000 departures occurred over Israel’s land borders with Egypt and Jordan during the same period, a 20% jump from last year apparently driven by Israelis’ return to vacationing in the Sinai Peninsula.

Lod man, 30, accused of beating sister to death in ‘honor killing’

A 30-year-old Lod man is accused of murdering his sister, whose body was discovered last month in a suitcase in the Ben Shemen Forest in central Israel.

The victim, Najla al-Amouri, 19, was believed killed in a so-called “honor killing,” the murder of a female family member over behavior, usually romantic in nature, deemed by male family members to have “dishonored” the family.

In an indictment set to be filed tomorrow, police say they believe the as-yet unnamed suspect, al-Amouri’s brother, beat her to death, placed her body in the suitcase, then attempted to bury her in the forest.

Gaza incendiary devices spark 3 fires in Eshkol region

Three brush fires near the Gaza border are said to have been caused by incendiary devices launched from the Palestinian enclave.

The determination comes from the Fire and Rescue Services after firefighters gained control over the fires in the Eshkol Regional Council area.

Labor party sets leadership race for July 2

Labor party leaders say the party’s leadership primary will take place on July 2, ahead of the September 17 general elections.

Leader Avi Gabbay led the party to its worst-ever ballot showing, with just six seats. Party institutions have yet to decide whether the party will hold a vote for the remainder of the party’s Knesset list.

Majority of Israeli Jews want more welcoming religious conversion process

A slim majority of Jewish Israelis, 52 percent, say in a poll they believe the state conversion process for non-Jews should be “more welcoming and lenient in order to enable more potential converts to join the Jewish people.”

A large majority, 71%, say they back the IDF’s conversion process for soldiers who wish to convert to Judaism. Nearly half, 45%, support the program’s expansion, according to the latest Israel Democracy Institute Israeli Voice Index survey, released today.

Israel’s state conversion system has been a politically divisive issue since as many as 300,000 non-Jewish family members of Jews moved to Israel during the great wave of immigration from the former Soviet Union in the 1990s.

Many of these Russian-speaking Israelis have lived their lives as Jews and have no other identity, but encountered difficulties converting to Judaism in Haredi-controlled state rabbinic courts that have demanded stringent Jewish observance as a precondition for conversion.

Asked who they believed should determine a person’s Jewish status for the state, 36% said it should be a “yet-to-be established new government conversion agency,” 32% sided with the Chief Rabbinate, and 17% backed “private conversion courts for each of the religious streams – ultra-Orthodox, Orthodox, Conservative and Reform.”

Musician excoriated for lamenting PM’s wife isn’t dead

The musician Ephraim Shamir, 67, part of the iconic 1970s rock ensemble Kaveret, draws condemnation after lamenting that Sara Netanyahu, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s wife, is not dead.

Responding to the passing Tuesday of President Reuven Rivlin’s wife Nechama, Shamir posts to Facebook the question, “Why not Sara?”

When commenters object, he defends his remark by calling them “hypocrites who just elected a criminal,” a reference to the prime minister, who is embroiled in three corruption investigations.

Shamir’s comments drew widespread excoriation, especially from Likud leaders. One minister, Gila Gamliel, calls Shamir a “legendary former musician” now engaged in “incitement and hatred.”

In a statement, the Likud party says it is “deeply shocked” by the comments.

Shaked leaves Justice Ministry amid praise for her ‘honesty,’ promises to return

Now-ex justice minister Ayelet Shaked bids farewell to the Justice Ministry after four years on the job, as her firing by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu goes into effect today.

In a ceremony in Jerusalem, many of the ministry’s top officials talks openly about Shaked’s vociferous criticism of the judicial and legal systems — but also of their respect for her after four years of working together.

Shaked says she “loved the work in the ministry” and had hoped “to continue for the next four years.” She boasts she had “changed the DNA” of the Justice Ministry during her term, and was certain that her successor would continue her reforms — efforts to appoint more conservative judges and strengthen political control over government legal advisers, among other changes.

“After the rails are laid, and the train sets off, it can’t be stopped or turned back,” she declares, adding, “Besides, I fully intend to come back.”

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit praises Shaked, saying, “You came to bring about change, and you changed things. Change isn’t a dirty word.” Though they sometimes disagreed, Mandelblit says, he praises Shaked for carrying out her reforms “with study, dialogue and attentiveness.”

State Attorney Shai Nitzan speaks openly about the disagreements at the ceremony. “We have had regular, substantive, respectful, open and serious discussions. We didn’t always agree. We sometimes believed that bills the minister wanted to advance, or other steps she sought to take, did not comply with the Basic Laws, and there were statements that we believed unnecessarily hurt the judicial system. In those cases we made our positions known, had a deep dialogue with you, and in many cases came to agreement. Even when we did not agree, we always appreciated your seriousness and honesty.”

Major Jerusalem thoroughfare shuttered due to brushfire

Begin Road, a key thoroughfare that cuts through western Jerusalem, is closed in both directions due to a brushfire near where Route 1 enters the city.

The road is expected to remain closed until the fire at the site is put out, police say.

Jerusalem firefighters deploy in force, call out planes amid forest fires

Seven firefighting squads are battling blazes in forests west of Jerusalem.

The fires have already closed the Begin thoroughfare in both directions. The village of Even Sapir, on Jerusalem’s southwest border, is facing evacuation, according to firefighters.

At least four firefighting planes have been ordered to the Jerusalem area to bolster the forces on the ground.

Iran to free Lebanese jailed for US spying – report

BEIRUT, Lebanon — Iran is to free a Lebanese national held since 2015 and sentenced to 10 years in jail on charges of spying for Washington, the foreign ministry in Beirut says.

Nizar Zakka, a resident of the United States in his 50s, was arrested in September 2015 during a visit to Iran, where he was convicted the following July.

The foreign ministry, quoted by Lebanon’s official news agency NNA, says Zakka was pardoned at the request of Beirut as a gesture for this week’s Eid holidays marking the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

At the time of his arrest, state television in Iran charged Zakka had “deep ties to military and intelligence services of the United States.”

It broadcast photographs of a man in military uniform it said was of Zakka at an American base.

The report on his imminent release following almost four years of detention comes at a time of heightened US-Iranian tensions. Washington last month deployed an aircraft carrier task force, B-52 bombers and an amphibious assault ship to the Gulf, along with additional troops over an alleged Iranian plan to attack US assets.

— AFP

Homes evacuated southwest of Jerusalem due to nearby forest fire

Firefighters have begun to evacuate some of the homes in Ora and Even Sapir, on Jerusalem’s southwest edge, as they battle to contain a forest fire in the area.

Netanyahu said considering Likud MK Ohana for justice ministry

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering appointing Likud MK Amir Ohana as acting minister of justice, Channel 13 news reports.

Ohana would replace Ayelet Shaked, who left her position earlier Tuesday after being fired by Netanyahu, at least until a new government is formed following the September 17 elections.

Given the seven-day post-election advisory period for the president’s appointing a PM-designate, and the roughly seven-week period usually granted to premiers to negotiate a coalition, Ohana — or whoever Netanyahu finally appoints as interim justice minister — could serve in the position well into mid-November.

The open ministerial position automatically reverted to Netanyahu when Shaked officially left the post on Tuesday. Netanyahu is also currently minister of defense, foreign affairs and health. However, Netanyahu faces three corruption investigations by officials in the Justice Ministry, and so is not permitted to hold the justice portfolio until the investigations are concluded.

Girl, 4, dies after being trapped in burning car

A four-year-old girl dies after being trapped in a burning car north of Jerusalem.

It is not immediately clear what caused the car to ignite.

Rescuers who arrived at the site in the West Bank settlement of Givon Hahadasha  pronounced the girl dead at the scene.

Far-right extremists vow to disrupt Jerusalem Pride Parade

The leader of an extremist Jewish group says his organization plans to disrupt this week’s Jerusalem Pride Parade in order to fight what he calls “LGBT terrorism.”

Bentzi Gopstein says his Lehava organization, a racist group that has held violent protests outside interfaith weddings and has faced multiple police investigations over harassment and other crimes, received a police permit to stage a protest near the annual parade on Thursday and would use loudspeakers to disrupt the marchers who “are bringing disaster to Israel.”

“The purpose of the march is to dissolve the values ​​of the Jewish family and to turn Jerusalem and all of Israel into Sodom,” Gopstein said in a statement.

Gopstein is a member of the far-right Otzma Yehudit party, which united with the Jewish Home and National Union ahead of April’s elections to form the Union of Right-Wing Parties. The merger was orchestrated by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in order to salvage votes for the right-wing bloc, which he said would have been wasted had the hardline parties run on their own and not crossed the electoral threshold.

US to probe Williams College student council over rejection of pro-Israel group

The US Department of Education is investigating Williams College in Massachusetts for discrimination after the student government refused to give a pro-Israel group official status.

The department’s Office for Civil Rights in Boston opened an investigation into a complaint alleging that the College Council, the school’s student government, violated Title VI of the Civil Rights Act, the College Fix reports. Title VI prohibits “discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, including shared ancestry or ethnic characteristics.”

The complaint was filed by George Mason University law professor David Bernstein. He was notified on Friday of the opening of the investigation.

The complaint notes that earlier this spring, Jewish students at Williams sought to launch a group called Williams Initiative for Israel. On April 23, the Williams College Council voted 13-8, with one abstention, against recognizing the group, according to the complaint.

The complaint notes that the College Council had previously recognized Students for Justice in Palestine. That means the council “has no policy, formal or informal, against recognizing student groups that take positions on foreign affairs in general, on the Middle East specifically, or on matters related to Israel or the Israel-Palestinian conflict,” it said.

Less than a month after the College Council turned down the application for recognition, the Williams administration granted the group official status, bypassing the council. It is not known if that decision will make a difference in the Office for Civil Rights investigation.

It was the first time in over a decade that a student group was rejected after complying with council bylaws, minutes from the meeting show, according to the Williams Record student newspaper.

— JTA

Israeli official: US-brokered maritime talks with Lebanon coming soon

Israel reportedly believes US-brokered talks with Lebanon on demarcating the countries’ maritime border could be held within weeks.

Speaking with Reuters today, an unnamed senior Israeli official says the talks “will begin already in the coming weeks” and could be held in southern Lebanon.

The official says the potential talks, which Lebanon has not publicly commented on, would only deal with demarcating the maritime border, and not the land border.

Israel and Lebanon dispute where their shared maritime border runs, with potentially lucrative gas reserves lending the disagreement greater urgency in recent years.

Girl who burned to death came from Bedouin village north of Jerusalem

The four-year-old girl who burned to death in a car north of Jerusalem belonged to the Khalayleh Bedouin village, and not to the Givon Hahadasha settlement nearby, as reported initially.

Police say they have launched an investigation into the death.

There is no immediate report by authorities as to what caused the car to ignite.

Fire west of Jerusalem extinguished, roads reopened

Police in Jerusalem say the brush fire near Lifta that shuttered the key Begin thoroughfare in the capital has been extinguished.

“All roads closed due to the fire have been reopened,” the statement says.

Tel Aviv is sixth most congested city in Asia – report

The Tel Aviv metropolis is the sixth-most congested city in Asia, according to a report released today by navigation company TomTom.

The TomTom Traffic Index details the traffic situation in 403 major cities in 56 countries around the world.

Mercifully, Israel’s commercial hub doesn’t rank anywhere near global No.1 most congested city, Mumbai, whose residents, by TomTom’s measurements, spend an average of 65% extra travel time stuck in traffic.

But Tel Aviv residents still spent 42% longer in their cars than they would sans the traffic jams.

Globally, India’s Mumbai is followed by Colombian capital Bogota (63%), Lima, Peru (58%), New Delhi in India (58%) and Russian Capital Moscow (56%), which together make up the top five most congested cities in the world.

In Asia, after Mumbai and New Delhi come Jakarta, Indonesia (53%), Bangkok, Thailand (53%), Chongqing, China (44%), and Tel Aviv (42%). The last four in the top-10 urban parking lots in Asia are all in the far east: Zhuhai, China (42%), Guangzhou, China (42%), Tokyo, Japan (41%) and Beijing (40%).

— AP and Times of Israel staff

PM said considering ex-minister Ayoub Kara for ambassador to Egypt

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is considering appointing former Likud communications minister Ayoub Kara as Israel’s next ambassador to Egypt, Channel 13 news reports.

Kara, a Druze politician from the Galilee, has been a staunch supporter of the PM, but failed to win a high enough spot on the party’s Knesset slate to enter the current Knesset.

Mother of Nechama Rivlin’s lung donor: ‘Another part of you has gone’

The mother of the young man whose lung was transplanted into Nechama Rivlin says she grieves the latter’s passing.

Sari Halabli, the mother of 19-year-old Yair Halabli, who died in March after drowning in a diving accident in Eilat, says Rivlin’s passing on Tuesday at the age of 73 meant another part of her son had died.

Rivlin was “a modest woman, just like Yair,” Halabli tells the Ynet news site.

Yair Yehezkel Halabli (Twitter)

“Rest in peace, together with my enchanting son,” she says to Rivlin, then to her son: “Another part of you has gone, and of my heart.”

Halabli’s family donated several of his organs after his death. Rivlin received his lung on March 11 after a long time on a waiting list as she suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. She died earlier today from complications linked to the transplant.

A secret pay raise for PA ministers angers Palestinians

The Palestinian labor market in the West Bank was limping along in 2017, with unemployment stubbornly high and economic growth slowing. But that didn’t stop the Palestinian Cabinet from secretly giving itself a series of lavish payouts and perks, highlighted by a 67% salary hike.

The payments and perks were kept quiet for the past two years, but news of the Cabinet decision leaked this week in a series of documents posted anonymously to social media.

The revelations have rocked the West Bank, where the cash-strapped government has been forced to slash the salaries of its employees because of a financial crisis. Coming during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, a time of high expenses for struggling families, the report renewed outrage among Palestinians who have long seen their leadership as out of touch and rife with corruption.

“The cabinet members behaved as if the government is their private shop and they can take as much as they want without being held accountable,” says political commentator Ehab Jareri.

According to one leaked document, the monthly salaries for Cabinet ministers spiked from $3,000 to $5,000, while the prime minister’s salary was raised to $6,000.

The raises were kept secret from the public and approved by PA President Mahmoud Abbas, two senior officials said. The pay raise was made retroactive to 2014, when the Cabinet took office, giving the ministers an extra bonus of tens of thousands of dollars, the officials said.

The benefits did not end there. Ministers who live outside the West Bank city of Ramallah, the seat of the Palestinian Authority, received $10,000 a year to rent a house there, another document showed. Officials who already owned Ramallah homes also reaped the lucrative bonus. And in an extra boost, the government inflated the exchange rate, giving them a roughly 17% premium when converting the salaries to Israeli shekels.

— AP

All fires near Jerusalem extinguished, fire chief says

Jerusalem’s fire chief, Nissim Twitto, says all brush and forest fires near the capital have been extinguished.

Earlier today, fires near Lifta and Even Sapir closed the Begin highway, forced the evacuation of dozens of homes and saw authorities dispatching as many as 30 fire crews and four firefighting planes to the city.

Small pinpoint fires remain in the wooded areas of the capital’s western boundaries and firefighting crews will be working to extinguish those late into the night, officials say, but all danger to the capital’s residents has passed.

Ireland Eurovision contestant got threats, abuse for performing in Israel

Ireland’s contestant in the Eurovision Song Contest says she received terrifying threats and abusive messages after performing in Israel.

Sarah McTernan, 25, told the Irish Sun over the weekend that “I got hundreds of threats… It did freak me out.”

In addition to threatening mail, much of which got delivered to her grandmother’s house, the young singer also received “hundreds and hundreds” of threatening and abusive messages on social media. She reportedly went off line for the days leading up to her appearance in the second semifinal of the competition, held last month in Tel Aviv. She did not advance to the final.

“There is still s*** being thrown at me online but I’m not going to look at it,” she told the newspaper.

She said she knew representing Ireland in Israel would be controversial. “I was aware but I didn’t know how much of a backlash there would be,” she said. “I was happy to represent my country.”

Left-wing Irish officials and performers called for their country to boycott Eurovision hours after Israel won the 2018 contest and the right to host this year’s Eurovision.

— JTA

Flurry of rumors see 4 in race for justice minister, new envoys to Cairo, UN

As Israel goes to new elections slated for September 17, and with full ministers not expected to be appointed before late October or early November, a flurry of rumors are being bandied about over possible interim appointments.

The most desirable position, based on the number of names rumored to be considered, is justice minister.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who became acting justice minister earlier today with the departure of Ayelet Shaked, is said to be considering MK Amir Ohana, Environmental Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin, Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi and Deputy Foreign Minister Tzipi Hotovely for the four-month appointment.

Rumors also relate to two diplomatic appointments under consideration in the PM’s circle: former Likud communications minister Ayoub Kara as ambassador to Egypt and current Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan as the next ambassador to the United Nations.

Meeting Kushner, EU leaders call for ‘viable political solution’

In a meeting today with US President Donald Trump’s top peace adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, European leaders call for a “viable political solution” to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that will follow “the agreed international parameters” for an agreement.

Kushner met in Brussels today with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini.

In a readout to journalists, the EU said after the meeting that the two EU leaders “listened to Mr. Kushner’s ideas and underlined the fundamental interest of the European Union for a lasting and sustainable peace and stability in the region. The economic development of the whole region is crucial. It must be accompanied by viable political solution that takes into account the legitimate aspirations of both the Palestinians and the Israelis and the agreed international parameters.”

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Tel Aviv is sixth most congested city in Asia – report

The Tel Aviv metropolis is the sixth-most congested city in Asia, according to a report released today by navigation company TomTom.

The TomTom Traffic Index details the traffic situation in 403 major cities in 56 countries around the world.

Mercifully, Israel’s commercial hub doesn’t rank anywhere near global No.1 most congested city, Mumbai, whose residents, by TomTom’s measurements, spend an average of 65% extra travel time stuck in traffic.

But Tel Aviv residents still spent 42% longer in their cars than they would sans the traffic jams.

Globally, India’s Mumbai is followed by Colombian capital Bogota (63%), Lima, Peru (58%), New Delhi in India (58%) and Russian Capital Moscow (56%), which together make up the top five most congested cities in the world.

In Asia, after Mumbai and New Delhi come Jakarta, Indonesia (53%), Bangkok, Thailand (53%), Chongqing, China (44%), and Tel Aviv (42%). The last four in the top-10 urban parking lots in Asia are all in the far east: Zhuhai, China (42%), Guangzhou, China (42%), Tokyo, Japan (41%) and Beijing (40%).

— AP and Times of Israel staff