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AG defends police recommendations to indict PM: ‘No one is above the law’

In first public appearance since proposed charges against Netanyahu revealed, Avichai Mandelblit denies rift, says force ‘carried out investigation according to the book’

Raoul Wootliff is the The Times of Israel's political correspondent.

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during a farewell ceremony for outgoing Supreme Court chief justice Miriam Naor in Jerusalem on November 6, 2017. (Flash90)
Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit speaks during a farewell ceremony for outgoing Supreme Court chief justice Miriam Naor in Jerusalem on November 6, 2017. (Flash90)

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

Court rules Eritrean draft dodgers eligible for asylum in Israel

An Israeli appeals court rules that Eritreans who deserted military service in their home country and came to Israel should be considered asylum seekers.

The decision could affect thousands of Eritreans living in Israel who are facing deportation.

“There is a well-founded fear of persecution because of the political opinion attributed to him by his country’s authorities as a result of his desertion from military service,” the decision said of deserters.

Israel until now has refused to process the vast majority of asylum seeker applications.

There are approximately 38,000 African migrants and asylum seekers in Israel, according to the Interior Ministry. About 72 percent are Eritrean and 20% are Sudanese. The vast majority arrived between 2006 and 2012.

— Dov Lieber

Friends mourn Jewish victim in Florida shooting

Friends of Jaime Guttenberg, the first fatality to be named from yesterday’ fatal shooting spree at a Florida school which left 17 dead, leave tributes on Facebook to say how “heartbroken” they are at her death.

According to local media reports, parents Fred and Jennifer, who are Jewish, initially shared photos of their daughter through Facebook, in the hope that someone would find her alive.

On learning that she had died, they changed Jaime’s Facebook page, which now reads, “Remembering Jaime Guttenberg. We hope that people who love Jaime will find comfort in visiting her profile to remember and celebrate her life.”

Posted by Jaime Guttenberg on Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Jaime’s brother Jesse, also a pupil at the school, was unharmed in the attack.

Another Jewish victim, according to Yeshiva World News, was Ben Wikander, who was shot three times and was undergoing surgery.

Britain’s Labour Party backs separate labeling for kosher, halal meat

Britain’s Labour Party announces its support for separate labeling for meat from animals slaughtered without stunning in keeping with Jewish and Muslim traditions.

Jewish groups in the United Kingdom and beyond in Europe oppose the proposed measure, which appeared in Labour’s Animal Welfare Plan published by the opposition party earlier this week, because they deem it discriminatory.

Illustrative: A kosher slaughterhouse. (AP Photo/Mosa’ab Elshamy)

The mandate states it will seek “mandatory labeling of meat, both domestic and imported. This would include details on country of origin, method of production and method of slaughter (stun or non-stun.)”

Shechita UK, an organization representing communal interests in the matter, in the past has called labeling meat as “not stunned” discriminatory because “it suggests that shechita-slaughtered meat comes from a non-humane process, and there will be no label to indicate how non-kosher meat is slaughtered or if their stunning methods have failed (as they so frequently do).”

— JTA

 

Ratan Tata denies partnership with Milchan after being named by police

Indian billionaire Ratan Tata denies links to Hollywood producer Arnon Milchan after the head of the Tata business conglomerate was named by police in indictment recommendations against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

“The reports in the media of a ‘partnership with Arnon Milchan’ and the claim of ‘a huge profit’ are both factually incorrect and appear to be motivated,” a statement from Tata’s office says.

Ratan Tata (Public Domain)

The project in question was a 2009 proposal for Tata Motors, which includes the Jaguar and Land Rover brands, to build a low volume automotive assembly plant in the West Bank intended to provide skilled jobs to Palestinians. Netanyahu is suspected of pushing the project on behalf of Milchan, whose security firm Blue Sky International was set to assist in the planning.

“The prime minister is suspected of working to advance a business project that Milchan had a direct interest in being approved as part of his partnership with Indian businessman Ratan Tata,” police said, recommending to charge Netanyahu and Milchan for a number of bribery schemes in which Milchan allegedly gave the prime minister expensive gifts in return for political favors.

Tata’s statement insists “these discussions on the project were directly held between a Tata team and the Israeli authorities and not with Arnon Milchan as stated by the Israeli media. Tata wishes to clarify once again that there has never been any partnership in any such project with Milchan.”

South African lawmakers choose Ramaphosa as president

South African lawmakers select Cyril Ramaphosa as the country’s new president after scandal-tainted Jacob Zuma resigned under pressure from his own ANC ruling party.

Ramaphosa was chosen without a vote after being the only candidate nominated, chief justice Mogoeng Mogoeng tells assembled lawmakers at a special sitting of the parliament in Cape Town. The announcement brought loud cheers from ANC lawmakers, with Ramaphosa due to address the parliament later during proceedings.

Acting President of South Africa Cyril Ramaphosa in the parliament in Cape Town, February 15, 2018. (Mike Hutchings, Pool via AP)

Zuma resigned on Wednesday as the ANC finally turned against him after a nine-year reign dominated by corruption scandals, economic slowdown and plummeting electoral popularity.

Zuma’s hold over the ANC was broken in December when his chosen successor — his former wife Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma — narrowly lost to Ramaphosa in a vote to become the new party leader.

— AFP

Lebanon asks US to stop Israeli violations

Lebanon’s president says he has asked visiting US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to work on preventing ongoing Israeli violations of its sovereignty.

President Michel Aoun made the comments during a meeting with Tillerson at the presidential palace on Thursday. According to Aoun’s office, he also told Tillerson that Lebanon rejects Israeli claims over parts of the countries’ maritime border where Lebanon will be drilling for oil and gas.

Tillerson arrived in the Lebanese capital earlier in the day as part of a regional tour.

The visit coincides with heightened tensions between Lebanon and its southern neighbor over oil and gas reserves and Israel’s construction of a border wall that Lebanon says encroaches on its territory.

Lebanon is also protesting Israeli violations of Israeli airspace, often to bomb targets inside neighboring Syria.

— AP

Tillerson: Hezbollah must cease foreign forays

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is urging Hezbollah to cease its activities abroad to help reduce tensions in the region.

Tillerson says it us unacceptable for a militia like Hezbollah to operate outside the authority of the Lebanese government.

Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, right, speaks with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, at the Government House, in Beirut, Lebanon, February 15, 2018. (AP Photo/Hussein Malla)

Speaking at a joint press conference with Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, an ally of the West who is at odds with Hezbollah, Tillerson says Hezbollah’s engagement in Syria has “perpetuated the bloodshed” in that country and threatens the security of Lebanon.

Earlier in the day, he met with key allies of the Iranian-backed Hezbollah group including the president and parliament speaker.

— AP

Government to make list of Israeli BDS supporters, deny them benefits — report

The government is reportedly planning to compile a blacklist of Israeli supporters of the BDS movement and deny them tax breaks and participation in government tenders, to complement a similar existing list of foreign activists and groups.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon is set to approve the new regulations preventing the benefits from applying to BDS supporters in the coming days, along the lines of a law approved last year that banned foreign individuals calling for a boycott of Israel from entering the country, Haaretz reports.

The text of the law refers not only to advocates of a boycott of Israel, but to those calling for a boycott only of West Bank settlements as well. However, the question of whether the expected regulations will apply to those who only boycott the settlements is yet to be decided, the report says.

— Michael Bachner

Ukrainian monument to Jewish Holocaust victims vandalized

A monument for Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust in what is today Ukraine was vandalized by unidentified individuals who painted on it a swastika and the SS Nazi elite unit’s symbol.

The incident occurred earlier this month in the city of Ternopil, located about 80 miles east of the city of Lviv in Western Ukraine, Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, writes in a Facebook post.

Last month, the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs published a report saying that the number of recorded anti-Semitic attacks documented in Ukraine in 2017 surpassed the tally of all such incidents in the entire former Soviet Union. More than 130 incidents were recorded in Ukraine last year, double the number for 2016.

— JTA

Poles abroad urged to document, report ‘anti-Polish’ statements

Poland’s senate leader is appealing to Poles living abroad to report to the authorities any statements deemed to hurt “Poland’s good name” — part of a wider campaign by the government to defend the country against what it calls “historical untruth” and “slander.”

The letter, posted recently on the Senate’s website and reported by German media, is linked to a controversial new law that penalizes attributing the crimes of Nazi Germany during the World War II to the Polish nation. The government insists it is not to block historical research, but critics say its wording is unclear.

The legislation that criminalizes accusing the Polish nation or state for the crimes of the Holocaust has sparked a diplomatic crisis with Israel, which says it will inhibit free speech about the Holocaust. The United States also strongly opposes the legislation, saying it could hurt Poland’s strategic relations with Israel and the US.

— with AP

Swiss honor diplomat who saved thousands of Jews

A room in the Swiss Federal Palace where high-level foreign policy decisions are made is being renamed for a diplomat who saved tens of thousands of Jews during the Holocaust.

Carl Lutz, who worked as vice consul for Switzerland in Budapest during the years of World War II, is credited with having a hand in saving about 86,000 Jews from the Nazis. He has been called the Swiss Oskar Schindler.

Carl Lutz, who worked as vice consul for Switzerland in Budapest during the years of World War II and is credited with having a hand in saving about 86,000 Jews from the Nazis, January 1, 1944. (CC BY-SA 3.0 FORTEPAN/ARCHIV FÜR ZEITGESCHICHTE ETH ZÜRICH/AGNES HIRSCHI/Wikipedia)

The room in the palace in Bern was renamed the Carl Lutz room on the 43rd anniversary of his death, The Local-Switzerland reported. A commemorative plaque bearing his name and those of Harald Feller, Gertrud Lutz-Fankhauser, Ernst Vonrufs, and Peter Zürcher, who all worked with Lutz to help save thousands of Jews from Nazi death camps, also was hung in the room.

Lutz served as vice consul for Switzerland in Budapest from 1942 to 1945. In 1944, when the Germans entered Hungary, Lutz signed an agreement for the Germans to provide safe passage for 8,000 Jews, and then extended the diplomatic letters of protection he received to whole families instead of individuals. When the 8,000 documents were used up, he issued new ones. Lutz and his diplomatic colleagues also set up safe houses around Budapest for thousands of Jews.

Lutz has been honored by Israel’s Yad Vashem as a Righteous Among the Nations.

— JTA

Lawsuit says Brooklyn principal discriminated against Orthodox school therapist

An occupational therapist at an elementary school in Brooklyn is suing the principal alleging discrimination because she is an Orthodox Jew.

Ilene Klass filed a lawsuit in a New York state Supreme Court in Brooklyn charging that principal Sungmin Yoo has written her up for planning her work schedule around religious Jewish holidays, the New York Daily News reported.

The lawsuit names Yoo, the state Department of Education, and the city as defendants.

Klass is the only staff member at P.S. 312 who is an Orthodox Jew, according to the Daily News.

She says in the lawsuit that she has been subject to religious discrimination at least four times. One example states that Yoo purposely changed Klass’ work hours and extended her work day on Friday, making it virtually impossible for her to make it home in time for Shabbat during the winter months.

Yoo threatened to write up Klass for professional misconduct or theft of services if she left early, according to the lawsuit.

— JTA

New Jersey foundation gives $5 million to subsidized housing for Israeli seniors

A New Jersey-based foundation is granting $5 million to a Jewish Agency for Israel initiative providing subsidized housing for senior citizens in Israel.

The Wilf Family Foundation announced the grant to the the Senior Affordable Housing Initiative, which is planning to build about 3,000 affordable housing units for seniors on 17 sites in nine cities across Israel. The initiative’s first site is under construction in Tel Aviv.

There is currently a waiting list of 27,000 low-income Israeli seniors — half of them Holocaust survivors — for subsidized housing.

Several other donors have committed more than $27 million to The Jewish Agency project, including the Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation; the Claims Conference; the Belz Foundation; the Coopersmith Charitable Trust; the Iranian Jewish Federation; and Keren Hayesod donors from South America, Sweden, and Holland.

The building will be dedicated in the fall as the Joseph Wilf Building, according to The Jewish Agency.

— JTA

Egyptian army says global jihadists looking to Sinai for new home base

After crushing blows in Iraq and Syria, global jihadists could be eyeing Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula as a new home base, the Egyptian army says, as it presses an offensive in the region.

Cairo last week announced a major operation against jihadists across swathes of territory, including the volatile region which has been at the heart of a persistent Islamic State group insurgency.

The security sweep in the Sinai, Nile Delta and Western Desert near the border with Libya comes as the country prepares for polls next month, in which President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seeking re-election.

A picture taken on November 28, 2017 from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, shows smoke billowing following an explosion close to the border on the Egyptian side of the divided city.
(AFP/SAID KHATIB)

Army spokesman Tamer el-Refai says at a press conference that intelligence showed that jihadists were planning “to create a new terrorist home base in another area that could potentially be the Sinai Peninsula.”

The spokesman told a tightly controlled press conference that 53 jihadists have been killed since the start of the operation, while more than 600 people have been detained.

— AFP

Trump denounces ‘terrible violence, hatred, and evil’ in Florida shooting

President Donald Trump says Wednesday’s mass shooting turned a Florida school into a “scene of terrible violence, hatred, and evil.”

Addressing the nation a day after the shooting that killed at least 17 people, the president was silent on the issue of gun control, suggesting that the suspect was “mentally disturbed.”

Trump says the entire nation “with one heavy heart” is praying for the victims and their families.

An orphaned 19-year-old with a troubled past and his own AR-15 rifle was charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder Thursday morning, following the deadliest school shooting in the US in five years.

Trump to visit Florida after school shooting

US President Donald Trump says he’ll visit Parkland, Florida, the site of Wednesday’s shooting that killed 17 people.

Trump said from the White House he’s making plans to meet with families and local officials, and to continue coordinating the federal response.

Trump called on Americans to “answer hate with love, answer cruelty with kindness,” after a troubled 19-year-old former pupil gunned-down students and teachers at the school. He tweeted early Thursday that the suspect appeared to be “mentally disturbed,” but he has not mentioned guns.

US President Donald Trump delivers a statement on the mass shooting at a South Florida High School from the White House, February 15, 2018, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Trump said, “To law enforcement, first responders, and teachers who responded so bravely in the face of danger, we thank you for your courage.”

Trump had been planning on spending the weekend in Florida. The White House says the timing of the visit has yet to be finalized.

— AP

Iran central bank takes steps to shore up rial

Iran’s central bank announces a hike in deposit rates in a bid to shore up the value of the rial, after police in Tehran rounded up around 100 foreign exchange dealers.

The currency had lost a quarter of its value in six months, sliding to a record low of 48,400 to the dollar on Wednesday, as US President Donald Trump’s threats to tear up a landmark 2015 nuclear deal dash hopes of a surge in foreign investment.

The central bank says that to encourage savers to keep their money in rials rather than buying hard currency, it will ease the cap it imposed last year on the deposit rates offered by lenders.

Banks will for the next two weeks be authorized to offer interest rates of up to 20 percent on fixed one-year deposits, against 15 percent previously.

— AFP

2nd Jewish student confirmed killed in Florida shooting

A second student killed in Wednesday’s fatal shooting in Florida, in which 17 teenagers and teachers were shot dead, has been confirmed as Jewish.

“It is with a heavy heart that we share with you the very sad news that our camper Alyssa Alhadeff was a victim in the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL.,” Camp Coleman says in a statement.

Alhadeff was 15.

“On behalf of the entire Coleman community, we offer heartfelt condolences and prayers for comfort to Alyssa’s family and friends. May Alyssa’s memory forever be for a blessing,” the Jewish camp says.

Earlier, Local 10 News, an ABC affiliate, named one of the dead students as Jaime Guttenberg, who was also Jewish.

Parkland Chabad rabbis believe that at least six of those killed in the shooting were Jewish, the Chabad website reports.

“This is a small community, where nearly half of the population is Jewish, so everyone has been touched by what has happened,” Rabbi Shuey Biston, director of outreach and development of Chabad of Parkland, says that “everyone has been touched by what has happened.”

Biston said Chabad rabbis have coordinated with Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to ensure that the bodies of any Jewish victims be released for burial as soon as possible in keeping with Jewish tradition.

Netanyahu to meet with UN’s Guterres in Munich

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to meet with the head of the United Nations António Guterres and with the chairman of the board of BMW, while in Munich.

His offices says he will likely also meet with other ministers and senior figures on the sidelines of the conference.

The prime minister is due to speak on Sunday morning.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, US Secretary of Defense Mattis, and Iranian foreign minister Zarif are also set to attend this weekend’s conference.

— Judah Ari Gross

Netanyahu sends condolences to families of Florida ‘horrible massacre’ victims

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sends his condolences to the families of victims in Wednesday’s mass shooting at a Florida school in which 17 students and teachers were killed.

“I wish to send our deepest condolences to the families of the slain schoolchildren and teachers in the horrible massacre in Florida,” he says before boarding a plane to Munich.

“I speak for the entire people of Israel when I say to the families and to the American people: our hearts are with you.”

Netanyahu: We won’t accept ‘restrictions’ on our Syria activity

Netanyahu says Israel will not accept any limitation on its activities in Syria and will continue to defend its citizens, ahead of a visit to the Munich Security Conference, where he is due to speak.

“We will defend ourselves, of our own power, with no restriction,” he says at the Ben Gurion Airport before boarding his plane, in an apparent reference to concerns that Russia may curb Israel’s freedom of operation in Syria.

The prime minister says he will present information showing Iran’s involvement in the last weekend’s clashes, in which Israel downed a drone said to be sent by Tehran and struck multiple Iranian targets in Syria.

PM thanks public for ‘warmth, praise, and support’ after police charges

Leaving Israel for a three-day trip to the Munich Security Conference, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thanks the public for what he says he been a deep expression of support following police recommendations to indict him for a series of graft crimes.
“My wife and I are deeply moved, there is no other way to say it from the warmth and support the praise, that so many Israeli citizens have showed towards us, and I will keep serving them and our country, with responsibility and determination from a feeling of great comfort, because I am sure that the truth will come out and will win,” he says.

Friends, family confirm 5 members of Jewish community killed in Florida shooting

Four Jewish students and a teacher are confirmed to be among the 17 who were killed during a massacre at their high school the day before.

A former student, identified as Nikolas Cruz, armed with an AR-15 rifle opened fire at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School on Wednesday, killing at least 17 people, officials say, in a harrowing shooting spree that saw terrified students hiding in closets and under desks as they texted for help.

Jamie Guttenberg’s father announced her death in post to his Facebook page in which he wrote “My heart is broken. Yesterday, Jennifer Bloom Guttenberg and I lost our baby girl to a violent shooting at her school.

The death of Alyssa Alhadeff, 15, is announced by her mother, Lori, in post to her Facebook page.

“My Daughter Alyssa was killed today by a horrific act of violence,” Lori Alhadeff writes.

The parents of Meadow Pollock, 18, say Thursday morning that their daughter too was a victim, the Palm Beach Post reported.

Congregation Beth Am, in Longwood, Florida, in a post to its Facebook page, writes that Alex Schachter, was also killed in the shooting.

Camp Starlight writes on its Facebook page that Scott Beigel, also lost his life.

They were all members of the local Jewish community.

White supremacist group admits ties to Florida shooter

The leader of a white nationalist militia says Florida school shooting suspect Nikolas Cruz was a member of his group and participated in paramilitary drills in Tallahassee.

Jordan Jereb tells The Associated Press on Thursday that his group, the Republic of Florida, wants Florida to become its own white ethno-state. He says his group holds “spontaneous random demonstrations” and tries not to participate in the modern world.

Jereb says he didn’t know Cruz personally and that “he acted on his own behalf of what he just did and he’s solely responsible for what he just did.”

He also says he had “trouble with a girl” and he believes the timing of the attack, carried out on Valentine’s Day, wasn’t a coincidence.

Nineteen-year-old Cruz has been charged with 17 counts of premeditated murder in the shooting.

— AP

AG defends police recommendations to indict PM: ‘No one is above the law’

In his first public appearance since police published recommendations to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for bribery, Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit rejects reports of a rift between state prosecutors and the police, defending the force and the work they did during the year-long investigations.

“These investigations were run according to the book, the way you would expect legal authorities to approach a case like this, determined to find the truth,” he tells a conference at Tel Aviv University.

“I hear efforts to suggest a rift between the different authorities,” he says of a report yesterday that state prosecutors believed the police did not have enough evidence for the charges they put forward.

“We have worked together with full cooperation to turn over every stone and to bring the truth to light,” he says. “I recommend being very skeptical about reports of rifts and tension between the various law enforcement bodies.”

Mandelblit also offered a veiled potential criticism of the prime minster who, responding to the recommendations, has accused the police of bias against him.

“No one is about the law and no one is immune from it,” he says emphatically.

Lapid rejects claim he was ‘central witness’ in PM probes

Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid rejects claims made by Prime Minister Benjamin Netnayahu and Likud MKs that he is behind an subversive campaign to bring down the government via police investigations

“Don’t threaten me for answering a police summons to give testimony, and  for telling the truth,” he says during an interview with Hadashot news, in comments directed at critics from the ruling party.

Police recommended Tuesday that Netanyahu be indicted for a series of corruption charges including bribery, fraud, and breach of trust.

Lapid — a former finance minister under Netanyahu and now his political rival — provided police with evidence that the prime minister had tried to push legislation to extend the period for which new immigrants and returning Israelis are exempt from declaring and paying tax on income earned overseas, a move which could have saved billionaire Hollywood movie producer Arnon Milchan millions of dollars.

He has since become the focus of Likud responses, accusing him of turning to police after failing to beat Netnayahu in elections.

“I’m not a central witness as has been claimed,” he says. “A central witness is someone who brought them the story. I didn’t bring them the story. I was asked about my part in it and I told the truth.”

Lapid says he “didn’t even remember the incident until they asked him about it.”
“I blocked the law because I work for the citizens of Israel not tycoons. And it wasn’t good for the citizens of Israel,” he adds.

 

 

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Ukrainian monument to Jewish Holocaust victims vandalized

A monument for Jews who were murdered in the Holocaust in what is today Ukraine was vandalized by unidentified individuals who painted on it a swastika and the SS Nazi elite unit’s symbol.

The incident occurred earlier this month in the city of Ternopil, located about 80 miles east of the city of Lviv in Western Ukraine, Eduard Dolinsky, the director of the Ukrainian Jewish Committee, writes in a Facebook post.

Last month, the Ministry for Diaspora Affairs published a report saying that the number of recorded anti-Semitic attacks documented in Ukraine in 2017 surpassed the tally of all such incidents in the entire former Soviet Union. More than 130 incidents were recorded in Ukraine last year, double the number for 2016.

— JTA