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After Gantz’s maiden speech, Likud lashes him as a ‘leftist’

Under the slogan ‘there’s no right and no left, only Israel,’ Gantz vows to unite country, says he won’t sit with indicted PM

Benny Gantz (R) and Moshe Ya'alon (L) at a campaign event for the Israel Resilience party in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Benny Gantz (R) and Moshe Ya'alon (L) at a campaign event for the Israel Resilience party in Tel Aviv on January 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

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

Palestinian man, 45, critically hurt in violent protest at Gaza border

Palestinians in Gaza report that a 45-year-old man is critically wounded from IDF fire during a violent protest at the Gaza border in the northern Strip.

According to reports from the area, rioters are attempting to approach the border fence and damage it. IDF troops are reportedly firing crowd-dispersal ordnance.

John Malkovich to star in Weinstein-inspired play in London

LONDON — John Malkovich is returning to the London stage as a powerful Hollywood producer accused of sexual misconduct, in a play with strong echoes of the Harvey Weinstein saga.

Producers announce today that Malkovich will star in the world premiere of David Mamet’s “Bitter Wheat,” which recounts the fall from grace of a “depraved Hollywood mogul.”

Malkovich tells the BBC that the play “started as reaction to all the news that came out, in particular about Harvey Weinstein” but that the central character is “not particularly Harvey Weinstein.”

Scores of women have accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct. He denies allegations of non-consensual sex.

In this Thursday, July 11, 2013 file photo, John Malkovich arrives at the LA premiere of “Red 2” at the Westwood Village on in Los Angeles. (Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP, File)

Mamet, whose plays include “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Oleanna,” also directs the production. It runs at London’s Garrick Theatre from June 7 to September 14.

— AP

‘Game of Thrones’ actress says anti-Semitic abuse changed her online habits

A Jewish actress on the cast of the television series “Game of Thrones” says online anti-Semitic attacks over her posts on the Holocaust have made her change how she uses social media.

“I must say that I have disabled the comments on my Instagram simply because my skin wasn’t thick enough,” Laura Pradelska, who portrays Quaithe on the HBO hit series, says in a BBC interview.

The abuse, she says, is “mostly to do with Israel, and it’s completely uncalled for because I tend to post pretty pictures, of rehearsal, of work that I do.”

In April 2017, Pradelska, who was born in Germany, recounted her grandmother’s story of survival in the Holocaust during a Jewish community commemoration. That year, she also hosted a charity event whose proceeds went to Sheba Medical Center, a hospital in Israel.

“I am outspoken, and I do work with organizations. That doesn’t mean I necessarily have to have a political opinion, and I’m not really equipped to go into major discussions,” she tells the BBC.

— JTA

EU urges internet giants to work harder fighting fake news

BRUSSELS — European Union authorities are urging Facebook, Google and Twitter to work harder to combat fake news ahead of upcoming bloc-wide parliamentary elections.

The EU’s executive commissioners say today that while the US internet giants have made some progress, they need to pick up the pace of their work fighting disinformation.

The Commission has been turning up the heat on tech giants ahead of the elections scheduled for May, in which millions of people in 27 EU member countries will vote for 705 lawmakers in the bloc’s parliament.

The EU’s digital and security commissioners say at a press briefing that they’re concerned that some tools the tech companies have introduced to scrutinize political ads have not yet been rolled out to all of the EU member countries.

In this March 29, 2018, file photo, Facebook’s logo appears on screens at the Nasdaq MarketSite in New York’s Times Square. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

— AP

Rivlin rejects clemency request from bribe-taking former chief rabbi

President Reuven Rivlin rejects a clemency request from Israel’s former Ashkenazi chief rabbi, Yona Metzger, who is serving a 3.5-year prison sentence after being convicted on a string of corruption charges.

The president notes that a pardon “is intended for isolated and exceptional cases,” saying he had reviewed the case and given his opinion on the evidence and the crimes in a letter to Metzger, Hebrew-language media reports.

Metzger is expected to face a parole board soon, where it is thought he will argue for early release and relief from the fines imposed by his sentence.

In 2017, Metzger pleaded guilty to fraud, theft, conspiracy, breach of trust, money laundering, tax offenses and accepting bribes involving some NIS 10 million ($2.6 million) under a plea bargain reached with state prosecutors.

China tells US to stop ‘unreasonable crackdown’ on Huawei

BEIJING — China calls on Washington to “stop the unreasonable crackdown” on Huawei after the United States stepped up pressure on the tech giant by indicting it on charges of stealing technology and violating sanctions on Iran.

Beijing will “firmly defend” its companies, a foreign ministry statement says. It gives no indication whether Beijing might retaliate for the charges against Huawei, China’s first global tech brand and the biggest maker of switching gear for phone and internet companies.

Huawei Technologies Ltd., which has spent a decade battling US accusations it is a front for Chinese spying, denies committing any of the violations cited in Monday’s indictment.

The foreign ministry complains Washington has “mobilized state power” to hurt Chinese companies “in an attempt to strangle fair and just operations.”

“We strongly urge the United States to stop the unreasonable crackdown on Chinese companies including Huawei,” says the statement read on state TV. It says Beijing will defend the “lawful rights and interests of Chinese companies” but gives no details.

The charges unsealed Monday by the Justice Department accused Huawei of trying to take a piece of a robot and other technology from a T-Mobile lab that was used to test smartphones. Huawei passed Apple in mid-2018 as the second-biggest global smartphone brand after Samsung.

— AP

UK’s May said seeking to re-open Brexit divorce deal

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek “changes” to the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with EU leaders last month, her spokesman says, even though Brussels has insisted it will not re-open the deal.

“We have to have a deal which can carry the support of parliament and that’s going to require some changes to the withdrawal agreement,” the spokesman says ahead of a series of parliamentary votes on Britain’s Brexit strategy.

— AFP

Brazil issues 5 arrest warrants in deadly mine dam collapse

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian authorities issue arrest warrants for five people in connection with a dam collapse that killed at least 65 people as it plastered part of a city with reddish-brown mud and mining waste.

Police issue the orders in Sao Paulo and in the state of Minas Gerais, where the collapse happened. They come as rescue crews worked for the fifth day to search for survivors or bodies.

Local media reports the warrants are for employees of Vale, the mining company that owned and operated the waste dam that collapsed.

In a statement, Vale says it is working with authorities. However, a spokeswoman can’t immediately confirm that those being sought worked for the company.

— AP

Activists: Suicide blast targets al-Qaeda-linked group in Syria

BEIRUT — Syrian opposition activists say a woman has blown herself up, killing two people, outside an administration office for an al-Qaeda-linked group in the northern city of Idlib.

The Local Coordination Committees say today’s blast outside the offices linked to Hayat Tahrir al-Sham also wounded others. The attack comes weeks after the al-Qaeda-linked group captured wide parts of northern Syria in battles with Turkey-backed opposition fighters.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, another group monitoring the civil war, says the bomber exchanged fire with guards before blowing herself up.

Idlib, in northwestern Syria, is the last stronghold of opposition groups fighting President Bashar Assad’s government. The al-Qaeda-linked HTS is a dominant force in the area.

A Russian and Turkish-backed ceasefire is in place since September but has increasingly been violated.

— AP

Intel to pump $11b into Israeli operations, and receive a $1b government grant

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon affirms the global tech giant Intel will receive a $1 billion government grant to offset its investment of $11 billion in expanding its manufacturing facilities in the country, including a manufacturing plant in Kiryat Gat.

Intel says it will soon publicize a plan “for continued investment in the company’s Kiryat Gat manufacturing site,” Reuters reports, which is slated to some 1,000 new workers to the 13,000-strong Intel workforce in the country.

In an interview with Army Radio, Kahlon justifies the grant, saying, “The moment the company comes to Israel and invests $10 billion, and it receives a grant of 9 percent, that means 91% of it stays here. There are always such discounts, there are always incentives.”

Reuters notes the grant is added to a NIS 700 million grant for another round of investment by Intel in its Israeli operations valued at some $5 billion.

1,000 rioters, 20 boats protesting in northern Gaza

Approximately 1,000 Palestinians are rioting along the northern Gaza border, across from the Israeli community of Kibbutz Zikim, the army says.

The demonstrators are throwing stones at Israeli troops on the other side of the security fence. The soldiers are responding with tear gas and, in some cases, live fire, according to the IDF.

At sea, approximately 20 boats are making their way toward the limits of the permitted fishing zone in a naval protest. They are being turned back by Israeli naval ships, the army says.

— Judah Ari Gross

French Eurovision entry faces threats, abuse over performing at Israel contest

France’s Eurovision entry, the popular singer Bilal Hassani, says he’s received threats from activists demanding he not attend the Eurovision contest in Tel Aviv in May.

Some of the threats were abusive and homophobic in nature, Hassani tells Israel’s Hadashot television news. Hassani is an openly gay artist.

He has refused to succumb to the pressure, he says, adding that he’s dreamed of performing in the Eurovision contest since he was a boy and won’t be frightened into pulling out.

He will sing the song “Roi” at the Tel Aviv contest.

Asked if he had a message for the 2018 Eurovision winner, Netta Barzilai, Hassani says, “If I had anything to say to Netta, I’d say ‘congratulations.’ I loved the performance [of the song ‘Toy’], loved the song, it was amazing.”

Gantz inks agreement to run with fellow former IDF chief Moshe Ya’alon

Hebrew media reports say former IDF chief and Israel Resilience Party leader Benny Gantz has signed his first political agreement, agreeing to run together with fellow former IDF head Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party in the April 9 elections.

There is no information immediately available about the details of the agreement. Reports have suggested Ya’alon asked for three seats in the joint Knesset slate’s top 10 slots.

Gantz is expected to announce the alliance in his 8 p.m. speech tonight, his first major campaign address.

Sources in Gantz’s party also say he will have a “surprise guest” at tonight’s speech.

Gantz gives Ya’alon 3 seats in his top 10 Knesset slate slots

Benny Gantz hands Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party three slots of the top 10 in their joint Knesset list, Hebrew media reports.

It’s a surprisingly generous offer considering Telem’s poor poll showing in recent months.

Venezuelan party thanks Israel for recognition, urges Jews to return to country

Maria Corina Machado, the national coordinator of Vente Venezuela, a center-right party that backs Juan Guaido for interim president of Venezuela against the sitting president Nicolas Maduro, issues a heartfelt thank you to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for recognizing Guaido and urges the Jewish community to return to the embattled country.

The comments come in an English-language video Machado gave to the Israeli public broadcaster Kan.

Her comments, in full:

On behalf of the people of Venezuela, I would like to thank Benjamin Netanyahu, the prime minister of the State of Israel, for his recognition of Juan Guaido as the interim president of Venezuela.

Prime Minister Netanyahu joins our many allies in the hemisphere and the world in welcoming Venezuela back to the bloc of western democratic nations that oppose despots and oppression. We certainly have a common enemy with Israel: the criminal forces that undermine freedom and peace in the world.

Venezuela was one of the nations that back in 1947 in the General Assembly of the United Nations supported Resolution 181 that led to the creation of the State of Israel in 1948. Since then, we’ve had good and strong diplomatic relations. That’s why we, the Venezuelan people, look forward to the reestablishment of diplomatic relations with the State of Israel.

I want to reaffirm the valuable contribution the Jewish community has given to the development of Venezuela through decades. And even though many have been forced to leave our country, we want and expect that they come back to rebuild our nation.

Venezuela’s reconstruction will require strong support and involvement in areas such as medicine, security, rural development and technology, where Israel can be a genuine partner. I want to express how meaningful it was for the Venezuelan people that this recognition [by Netanyahu] for the genuine government of Venezuela came precisely on the day of Holocaust recognition [January 27].

I myself look forward to visiting the state of Israel as soon as we [acquire] our freedom. We will prevail.

Ya’alon’s party gets spots 2, 5, 8 in joint slate with Gantz

Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party gets spots 2, 5 and 8 in the joint slate he’s agreed to with Israel Resilience leader Benny Gantz, party sources tell The Times of Israel.

— Raoul Wootliff

New Right blasts Gantz, Ya’alon for alleged ‘stalemate doctrine’ in Gaza

The New Right party, led by longtime critics of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-IDF chief Benny Gantz’s policy of containment of Hamas in Gaza, issues a biting critique of Gantz today.

Shortly after news outlets confirmed earlier this evening that Gantz’s Israel Resilience party had agreed to run together with Moshe Ya’alon’s Telem party, New Right called the two former IDF chiefs “the architects of the stalemate” with Hamas.

“Last time Bogi [Ya’alon] and Gantz worked together it ended with 30 terror tunnels [from Gaza] in the south,” the New Right statement says.

“Both are good people, but they led the weak stalemate doctrine. It’s a doctrine of ignoring threats instead of taking care of them with determination. The question in this election is, what’s better, Gantz and Ya’alon’s stalemate doctrine, or [New Right chair Naftali] Bennett’s doctrine of decisive victory.”

US sanctions on Venezuela threaten heavy crude supplies

LONDON, United Kingdom — US sanctions against Venezuela’s national oil company risk raising crude prices owing to a drop in exports of so-called heavy crude on which the world depends.

Washington’s move against PDVSA on Monday is aimed at crippling embattled President Nicolas Maduro’s power base.

Although crude output by OPEC member Venezuela has slumped in recent years, its heavy crude oil is sought after by US refineries who mix it with lighter crudes to make petrol. Prior to the US announcement, oil kingpin Saudi Arabia had already warned of the impact of Venezuela’s political crisis on the crude market.

“Of course, developments in Venezuela may have an impact on the markets… We are watching developments there, and there could be an impact on the oil market balance,” Saudi energy minister Khalid al-Falih tells Al-Arabiya news channel.

Oil production in Venezuela has slumped in recent months from more than two million barrels per day to around 1.4 million bpd amid the country’s political crisis. The Latin American nation sits on the world’s largest oil reserves of more than 300 billion barrels, most of it heavy crude.

— AFP

UNRWA seeks $1.2b budget for Palestinians despite US cuts

GENEVA, Switzerland — The UN agency for Palestinian refugees appeals to nations to help it maintain a $1.2-billion budget in 2019 after it was hit last year by the withdrawal of US funding.

The organization, known as UNRWA, was able to fully fund a budget of the same amount in 2018, despite a dramatic initial shortfall when the administration of US President Donald Trump announced it was withdrawing nearly all support.

“The campaign last year was successful,” agency chief Pierre Kraehenbuehl tells reporters in Geneva today.

“We closed the entirety of the shortfall, which was an almost existential shortfall of $446 million, … thanks to the remarkable and generous mobilization of member states” and others, he says.

The US, which was previously UNRWA’s largest contributor, last year cut a full $300 million in funding to UNRWA, and has said it will not repeat the $60 million it did provide. In the void, the European Union, followed by Germany and Saudi Arabia, were the biggest donors, with a total of 40 governments providing funds to the UN agency.

— AFP

CIA chief says Iran still ‘technically’ adhering to 2015 nuclear deal

WASHINGTON — Iran is still abiding by the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal despite the US pullout from the multinational agreement, CIA chief Gina Haspel says today.

“At the moment technically they are in compliance” with the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Haspel tells the Senate Intelligence Committee.

“I think the most recent information is the Iranians are considering taking steps that would lessen their adherence to JCPOA as they seek to pressure the Europeans to come through with the investment and trade benefits that Iran hoped to gain from the deal,” she says.

“They are making some preparations that would increase their ability to take a step back if they make that decision,” she notes. “But we do see them debating among themselves as they failed to realize the economic benefits that they hoped for from the deal.”

— AFP

US warns Americans not to visit Venezuela

CARACAS, Venezuela — The US State Department says Americans shouldn’t travel to Venezuela and it warns of unrest and the threat of being arbitrarily arrested.

Tuesday’s announcement raises the travel advisory to its highest level.

Venezuela is gripped by raising political instability as US-backed opposition leader Juan Guaido presses to oust socialist President Nicolas Maduro.

Officials have cleared the US embassy in Caracas of everybody but essential staff.

The travel advisory warns of the threat of kidnapping, robberies and mass demonstrations occurring with little notice.

Opposition leaders have called for anti-government demonstrations this week.

— AP

Venezuela prosecutor moves on popular opposition leader Guaido

CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuela’s chief prosecutor asks the country’s top court to ban opposition leader Juan Guaido from leaving the country, launching a criminal probe into his anti-government activities while international pressure builds against President Nicolas Maduro.

Attorney General Tarek William Saab makes his request to the government-stacked Supreme Court, and also asks it to block Guaido’s financial accounts.

Saab doesn’t specify what crimes Guaido is being investigated for, but says the probe is tied to unrest sparked by his decision to declare himself interim president last week in a direct challenge to Maduro’s authority.

While rights monitors say hundreds of demonstrators have been arrested in recent days, Guaido has so far avoided arrest, while making occasional and brief public appearances. US National Security Adviser John Bolton has warned that any harm to Guaido or the National Assembly he presides over would be considered a “grave assault” and be met with a “significant response,” without specifying.

Opening a case against Guaido comes as international pressure mounts against Maduro’s government from the United States, which earlier in the day handed control over Venezuela’s US bank accounts to Guaido. Russia announced it expects Venezuela to have problems paying its debts.

Guaido has been recognized as the nation’s rightful leader by two dozen nations, including the United States, Israel, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Argentina, Peru, Ecuador and Paraguay, that contend the re-election of socialist President Nicolas Maduro was a sham, in part because his strongest opponents were barred from running.

— AP

Benny Gantz takes the stage for first campaign speech

Gantz enters to jubilant crowds, with his campaign jingle, “Israel before everything,” playing to an upbeat rhythm. The news broadcasts all turn to the scene at Tel Aviv’s Fairgrounds.

Gantz sends message of unity, decries Israel’s current leadership

Former IDF chief of staff Benny Gantz begins his speech with a message of unity.

“I came here tonight because besides my family nothing else matters more than Israel,” he says.

“The Jewish people and the Zionist state is a great story, unparalleled, bigger than any leader. We are one nation, we have one flag, one anthem and one army,” he adds.

Despite this unity, Gantz warns of a “bad wind” blowing through Israel and condemns the leadership of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, without naming him.

“I‘m proud of my country. I’ll never be ashamed of it. But lately, more and more people, on the right and left, feel embarrassed by the way our leadership behaves. A strong government unites, and doesn’t divide in order to rule,” Gantz says.

“Just like you, I feel the time has come for a leadership that connects, unites, that acts differently and will lead differently, a leadership that won’t place itself ahead of the good of the country, won’t weaken us from within,” he adds.

Gantz vows to form gov’t of ‘dignity, strength,’ touts military credentials

Gantz says he will form a government of “dignity, strength, that will act with responsibility and determination,” following elections on April 9, and points to his military career as his qualifications.

“For 38 years I was a soldier and commander,” he adds. “I can tell you security is achieved with deeds, not words.”

“In the hard Middle East around us, no one pities the weak, and only the strong survive.”

Turning to Iran and its allies, Gantz says Israel won’t tolerate threats against its sovereignty.

“The heads of the terror groups must know that Ahmed Jabari wasn’t the first and doesn’t have to be the last,” he says, referring to the former head of Hamas’ military wing who was killed in Gaza during Gantz’s tenure as IDF chief.

Gantz: No more ‘wild attacks’ on police chief, AG, chief of staff when I’m PM

Gantz again slams Netanyahu’s leadership without naming the prime minister.

“In the government there won’t be wild attacks on the chief of staff, head of police and attorney general,” he says.

“There won’t be incitement against the judiciary, cultural institutions and the media. We won’t incite hatred against half a nation on the right or half a nation on the left. The days when bereaved families are used for political purposes are over,” Gantz adds.

Gantz says he won’t join coalition led by PM under indictment

Gantz says a government cannot be led by a prime minister under indictment, ruling out joining a Netanyahu-led government if the premier is hit with criminal charges.

“All my life I’ve been telling the truth. I will not lend a hand to damaging integrity, and I will not close my eyes if I notice such damage. The very thought that a prime minister who has been indicted can serve in Israel is ridiculous to me. It will not happen,” he says.

Gantz says he’ll pursue peace with Palestinians as PM

While emphasizing his security credentials, Gantz vows to pursue peace with the Palestinians if he is prime minister.

“I know that we need something different, we can have something different. A government that I lead will seek peace and won’t miss an opportunity for a regional change,” he says.

However, he says, “if it turns out that there is no way to reach peace at this time, we will create a new reality. We will fortify Israel’s position as a democratic state, strengthen the settlement blocs and Golan, where we won’t leave ever. Jordan Valley will be our border, but we won’t let millions of Palestinians living beyond the fence to endanger our identity as a Jewish state.”

He also says Jerusalem will stay as “our united capital.”

Gantz officially unveils political alliance with fellow ex-IDF chief Ya’alon

Benny Gantz formally announces a political alliance with fellow former IDF chief of staff Moshe “Bogie” Ya’alon ahead of the April 9 vote.

“Bogie Ya’alon is a security man, an ethical person. He was once my commander, my boss. From now, he’s a central partner on this path. Together, we have set the less important things on the side, and put Israel before anything else. This is the first political alliance, and we will work to have others,” Gantz says.

Taking the stage, Ya’alon says he and Gantz will put Israel “back on track.”

“Together we’re taking responsibility, as we did all our lives, this time for the highest purpose, the country’s future, its character and values. It’s a battle for our homes, and we have no choice but to win,” Ya’alon says.

Ya’alon, fresh from joint appearance with Gantz, says he doesn’t support Palestinian state

Asked by The Times of Israel if he would support a peace deal with the Palestinians within the “two states for two peoples” formula, Moshe Ya’alon replies “of course not.”

Ya’alon was leaving the Tel Aviv event in which he joined Benny Gantz in announcing their joint run for Knesset.

— Raoul Wootliff

In pre-prepared video, Kulanu blasts ‘20,000 words, 0 plans’ Gantz speech

The Kulanu party was ready for Benny Gantz’s first campaign speech with a slick video.

Set to an action-movie music sequence, the text reads: “We waited, we expected, we chewed our nails, and then it happened: 20,000 arrogant, patronizing, detached words, 0 plans, 0 ideas, 0 solutions. The conclusion is clear: A grade of ‘0’ in caring.”

It then flashes to a photo of Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon, with the tagline: “Only Kahlon. The only one who cares.”

Screen capture from a Kulanu campaign video featuring party leader Moshe Kahlon and lashing Israel Resilience head Benny Gantz. The Hebrew tagline reads, “Only Kahlon. The only one who cares.” Posted online January 29, 2019. (screen capture)

ABC orders pilots based on two Israeli TV series

ABC orders pilots for two shows based on Israeli television series.

“Until the Wedding,” a romantic drama based on the Israeli series of the same name in Hebrew — “Ad HaHatuna” — aired on Israel’s Channel 13. It tells how a couple’s decision to get married affects everyone in their lives. It is being produced by Sarah Timberman, Carl Beverly, Alon Aranya, Israel’s Reshet Media and ABC Studios, according to Deadline Hollywood.

ABC also ordered a pilot for the romantic comedy “The Baker and the Beauty,” based on the Israeli series “Lihiyot Ita,” or (To Be With Her) by Keshet Broadcasting, according to Deadline Hollywood. The show aired with English subtitles on Britain’s Channel 4, and the two seasons were picked up for streaming by Amazon.

The Israeli series is the story of a supermodel who falls in love with a Yemenite-Israeli baker. The remake is a romance between a blue-collar baker and an international superstar.

— JTA

Likud slams Gantz’s first speech and call for unity, calling him a ‘leftist’

Likud puts out a dismissive response to Benny Gantz’s speech, which charged that Likud’s leadership of the country was built on incitement and tolerated corruption. Gantz, the message says repeatedly, is a “leftist.”

The statement reads:

“All Gantz’s verbiage, which received such a warm embrace from the media, can’t hide the fact that he’s a leftist. Anyone who says he’s neither left nor right — he’s left. Right after the elections, Gantz will unite with [Yair] Lapid and the rest of the leftist parties — and form a leftist government. The left’s tired trick of sticking a general at the head of their list to topple a right-wing government — won’t work this time on the nationalist camp.”

Shas slams Gantz’s promises of civil marriage, Western Wall compromise

The Haredi party Shas slams Gantz’s call, in his first political speech, for civil marriage and approval of the 2015 Western Wall compromise.

“After weeks of silence, your gospel for the people of Israel is civil marriage and a Reform kotel?” the party asks in a statement. “Public transportation on the Sabbath? This isn’t the way to unify the country, but to divide it. Don’t unravel the delicate fabric that unites us as a nation. Don’t touch the heritage of Israel.”

As with the centrist Kulanu party, the Shas statement also comes with pre-prepared graphics, which suggest they had responses ready for a variety of statements they believed Gantz might deliver.

Netanyahu in talks with Russia to avoid Syria ‘frictions’

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu holds talks with two Russian officials on reinforcing military coordination in Syria in order to avoid any “friction” there, his office says.

The talks focus on “Iran and the situation in Syria, and strengthening the security coordination mechanism between the militaries in order to prevent friction,” says a statement from his office.

At the meeting, the Kremlin’s Syria envoy Alexander Lavrentiev and Deputy Foreign Minister Sergey Vershinin “reiterated Russia’s commitment to the maintenance of Israel’s national security,” says the statement.

Both Russia and the Islamic republic, Israel’s arch-enemy, are allies of Syrian President Bashar Assad and have helped his forces inflict numerous defeats on rebels and jihadists.

— AFP

Black Jewish ‘Empire’ actor assaulted in possible hate crime, police say

Black Jewish actor Jussie Smollett, best known for his work on the show “Empire,” was hospitalized in Chicago today following an assault that is being described by police as a possible hate crime.

Smollett was exiting a restaurant when two men approached him. The Chicago Police Department reports they “gained his attention by yelling out racial and homophobic slurs towards him.” They then proceeded to attack Smollet, pouring an “unknown chemical substance” on him and wrapping a rope around his neck.

Smollett was born to a Jewish father and African-American mother. He portrays a gay musician on “Empire” named Jamal Lyon. In 2015, Smollett came out as gay, telling Ellen DeGeneres, “I choose not to talk about my personal life. But there is, without a doubt, no closet that I’ve ever been in.”

Smollett is reportedly in good condition at the hospital. Authorities are asking witnesses to come forward and help the investigation into the attack.

Jussie Smollett speaks at the Children’s Defense Fund California’s 28th Annual Beat The Odds Awards at Skirball Cultural Center on December 6, 2018 in Los Angeles. (Gabriel Olsen/Getty Images/via JTA)

— JTA

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UK’s May said seeking to re-open Brexit divorce deal

LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May will seek “changes” to the withdrawal agreement she negotiated with EU leaders last month, her spokesman says, even though Brussels has insisted it will not re-open the deal.

“We have to have a deal which can carry the support of parliament and that’s going to require some changes to the withdrawal agreement,” the spokesman says ahead of a series of parliamentary votes on Britain’s Brexit strategy.

— AFP