The Times of Israel liveblogged Tuesday’s events as they happened.
Following Israel, US opens probe into Facebook privacy breach
Days after similar steps were announcement by Israeli authorities, the US Federal Trade Commission says it has opened an investigation into Facebook’s privacy practices and the harvesting of its data on tens of millions of Facebook users by the British consulting group Cambridge Analytica.
The FTC confirms media reports that is is conducting a “non-public investigation” into Facebook over whether it mishandled private data or violated a 2011 agreement which settled an earlier probe.
Israel’s Justice Ministry informed Facebook last week that it is carrying out an “administrative investigation” into possible “violations of Israelis’ personal information.”
Cambridge Analytica been under fire since The New York Times and The Guardian newspaper reported that it used data inappropriately obtained from roughly 50 million Facebook users to try to influence elections, including the 2016 US presidential election.
Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive Alexander Nix has admitted to using Israeli private companies’ “intelligence gathering” methods to get information about voters.
French investigators probe Netanyahu benefactor for bribing prison guards
French police arrest seven men, including a Jewish chaplain, two Jewish inmates, and director and a supervisor at one of France’s biggest prisons, on suspicion of taking bribes from a prominent Jewish convict with ties to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
The director and supervisor employed by the Fresnes jail, in the suburbs of Paris, are suspected of having received bribes from Arnaud Mimran and a second Jewish inmate, Eric Robic, in exchange for preferential treatment. Nearly 280,000 euros were allegedly found during searches of the prison and of their homes on Monday, investigators say.
Mimran, who has claimed in the past that he gave donations to Netanyahu, was jailed in July 2016 for eight years and fined one million euros for his part in a €283 million fraud involving the trade of carbon emissions permits and the taxes on them.
Robic was sentenced to five years in jail in December 2014 for a hit and run killing of 25-year-old Lee Zeitouni in Tel Aviv in 2011. Robic fled to France after the incident.
— with AFP
UAE says Qatar fighter jets intercept civilian flights
The United Arab Emirates says two Qatari fighter jets “dangerously approached” two UAE passenger flights, sparking a swift denial by Doha in the third such incident between the Gulf rivals.
Qatar and the Emirates have quarreled repeatedly over alleged airspace violations this year, as a diplomatic crisis in the Gulf enters its 10th month.
The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority condemns the “reckless manner in which two Qatari fighter jets dangerously approached two UAE-registered commercial aircraft while flying over Bahraini airspace today, in a flagrant and serious threat to civil aviation and air navigation safety.”
One of the aircraft was forced to “do an emergency maneuver to avoid colliding with the Qatari jets,” the aviation authority says in a statement published by the official WAM news agency.
Qatar “categorically” denies the accusation in a statement released by its own civil aviation authority.
Mysterious train sparks speculation of Kim visit to Beijing
A mysterious armored train making a round trip from North Korea to Beijing is fueling speculation that North Korea’s reclusive leader Kim Jong Un made a secret visit to China.
The visit by the special train and unusually heavy security at a guesthouse where prominent North Koreans have stayed comes amid talk of preparations for a meeting between Kim and US President Donald Trump
Such a trip would be seen as a potential precursor to Kim’s planned summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in late April and his anticipated meeting with Trump by May. Analysts, however, questioned whether Kim would make the visit to Beijing himself rather than send an envoy.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying, asked whether Kim or another North Korean official was visiting Beijing, said, “I know you’re all very curious but I have no information on that.”
North Korea’s state-run media had no immediate reports of a delegation traveling to China.
— with AP
NATO to announce ‘measures’ over Russian poisoning in UK
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg will later today unveil “measures” in response to the poisoning of a former Russian spy in Britain, the military alliance says, as international pressure mounts on Moscow.
A statement from NATO warns that the nerve agent attack on Sergei Skripal and his daughter must have “consequences” and says Stoltenberg will hold a news conference in Brussels this afternoon to make an announcement on “further decisions.”
Governments of 24 countries around the world have expelled more than 100 Russian diplomats over the poisoning of the Skripals, an unprecedented international response to the first offensive use of a nerve agent in Europe since World War II.
Israel’s Foreign Ministry released a statement condemning the attack but omitting any mention of Russia, and has so far made no moves to expel any Russian diplomats in the country.
— with AFP
Cambridge Analytica whistle-blower: Israeli spy firm hacked Nigeria president
The whistle-blower at the heart of the Facebook privacy scandal tells the British parliament that an Israeli intelligence gathering firm was involved in a hacking scheme targeting the president of Nigeria.
Cambridge Analytica “utilized the services of an Israeli private intelligence firm, Black Cube,” former Cambridge Analytica employee Christopher Wylie tells UK lawmakers at a special hearing. “Black Cube on the Nigeria project was engaged to hack the now-president Buhari to get access to his medical records and private emails.”
Wylie alleges that Cambridge Analytica harvested details of 50 million Facebook users and used the material in US President Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign by micro-targeting with campaign material.
His accusation about Black Cube appear to confirm reports from last week that Israelis from an “office in Tel Aviv” handed employees of Cambridge Analytica a USB stick containing hacked personal emails from the computers of Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan and Saint Kitts and Nevis politician Timothy Harris. Harris was at the time opposition leader and is now prime minister.
Cambridge Analytica was hired by a Nigerian billionaire to support the re-election of Jonathan and run a fierce campaign against his rival, opposition leader Muhammadu Buhari, The Guardian reported.
Black Cube has previously been linked to a number of controversial clients, having been hired by film producer Harvey Weinstein to suppress the publication of looming stories that he sexually harassed and assaulted scores of women, and having had two of its employees convicted in Romania of trying to intimidate the country’s crusading anti-corruption chief.
Black Cube calls claim it hacked Nigerian president ‘defamatory lie’
Israeli private spy firm Black Cube denies accusation made by a former Cambridge Analytica that intelligence gathering group were involved in a hacking scheme targeting the president of Nigeria, calling the claim a “flagrant lie.”
“Black Cube has always operated within the boundaries of the law in every jurisdiction it operates, following legal advice from the world’s leading law firms,” the company says in a statement. “However, whilst we are flattered that we are seemingly being connected with every international incident that occurs, we will state that Chris Wylie’s testimony is a flagrant lie. We categorically declare that neither Black Cube, nor any of its affiliates and subsidiaries, have ever worked for, or engaged with, SCL, Cambridge Analytica, or any of their affiliates and subsidiaries.”
SCL is Cambridge Analytica’s parent company.
Black Cube’s statement goes on to say that it “never operated in Nigeria or for any Nigerian connected project and none of its employees has ever put his foot in Nigeria connected to her projects.”
The company said it will investigate the claim and “reveal the truth and the motive behind Wylie’s defamatory lie” and sue him.
“Following that we will launch a massive defamation claim against any entity that we will find involved, including Christopher Wylie, SCL or Cambridge Analytica for any pound they still have or don’t have.”
Black Cube also shared with the Times of Israel numerous emails from Cambridge Analytica saying that they had “never worked with or have been in contact with Black Cube in any capacity.”
NATO expels seven Russian diplomats, denies accreditation to three more
NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg says the alliance is expelling seven Russian diplomats and denying accreditation to three more as part of international measures over the poisoning of a former spy in Britain.
“I have today withdrawn the accreditation of seven staff of the Russian mission to NATO. I will also deny the pending accreditation request for three others,” Stoltenberg tells a news conference at NATO headquarters in Brussels.
“This will send a clear message to Russia that there are costs and consequences for their unacceptable pattern of behavior,” she adds.
Ombudsman demands Netanyahu respond to complaints by family of missing soldier
State Comptroller Yosef Shapira says he has asked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to promptly respond to claims about the efforts to return the remains of an IDF soldier whose body is being held by the Hamas terror group in the Gaza Strip.
Shapira says in a statement that he recently met with the family of Hadar Goldin, an IDF officer who was killed during the 2014 summer conflict in Gaza, and received from them “a detailed document regarding the State of Israel’s handling of the return of Lieutenant Hadar Goldin to Israel.”
Without specifying what points the Goldin family made regarding the matter, Shapria says that he has sent a letter to Netanyahu “to get his response to the claims of the Goldin family.”
After receiving the prime minister’s input, Shapria, who is state ombudsman, will decide how his office will deal with the matter, the statement says.
UK Jewish leaders to tell Corbyn to oust Livingstone, ‘drain the sewer’
British Jewish leaders are reportedly set to request Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn permanently kick out London’s controversial ex-Mayor Ken Livingstone from the party as part of his renewed pledge to rid anti-Semitism from Labour’s ranks.
“Ken Livingstone really cannot remain. His views are shameful and disreputable. He will have to go,” Jonathan Arkush, the president of the Board of Deputies tells anti-Semitism campaigners.
Labour had penalized Livingstone in April 2016, after he claimed that Adolf Hitler was initially a supporter of Zionism “before he went mad and ended up killing 6 million Jews.”
At a rally outside the Houses of Parliament Monday, Jewish groups accused Corbyn of failing to stamp out anti-Jewish prejudice within the opposition party.
Democrats press White House for results of Kushner inquiry
Two House Democrats are pressing the White House counsel’s office to provide results from a newly revealed internal inquiry into more than $500 million in loans made last year by two companies to Trump administration senior adviser Jared Kushner’s family firm. The loans coincided with Kushner’s meetings with executives of those companies.
Congressmen Elijah Cummings and Raja Krishnamoorthi ask White Counsel Don McGahn to provide documents showing any results from the Kushner inquiry and documents relating to more than $500 million in loans last year to Kushner Cos. from Citigroup and Apollo Global Management.
The head of the government’s ethics agency informed Krishnamoorthi last week about the White House inquiry into whether any ethics or criminal laws were broken in Kushner’s dealings with the two companies. David J. Apol, acting director of the US Office of Government Ethics, told Krishnamoorthi that White House lawyers were probing whether the loans to Kushner Cos. may have spurred ethics or criminal violations.
Apol said that when he raised concerns with White House lawyers about the loans and whether they should look into the matter, “the White House informed me that they had already begun the process.”
Israeli woman in serious condition after falling out of passenger jet
An Israeli woman is in a serious condition after falling out of the doorway of a passenger jet during a chaotic evacuation when passengers became alarmed at smoke in the cabin and rushed to the emergency exits.
Dikla Abitbul, 38, a mother of two from the central city of Lod who was on a five-day holiday in Hungary organized by her work. She is being treated in a Budapest hospital where she has been since the incident happened last Friday, at the start of her return flight from Ferenc Liszt International Airport to Tel Aviv.
Abitbul’s mother, Riki Sapirin, says that her daughter is sedated and on respiration after having undergone surgery.
In addition to her head injuries, Abitbul has broken ribs and her arms are in plaster, Sapirin said, speaking from Budapest where she had joined her daughter.
The incident happened as the plane was taxiing in preparation for the flight to Tel Aviv. An airport towing tug emitted thick smoke that was sucked into the cabin by the plane’s air-conditioning system. Although the pilot repeatedly announced to passengers that the smoke was coming from outside and that there was no danger, those on board apparently left their seats and rushed the doors.
Urban Outfitters opens store in Israel
Trendy US retailer Urban Outfitters opens its first Israeli store, in the Big Fashion center in Ashdod, with three more stores planned in the coming year.
Urban Outfitters is traded on Nasdaq as part of its parent company the Fox Group, known for its funky combination of apparel, home furnishings, and beauty products, appealing to customers who love bohemian, retro, and alternative styling.
The Urban Outfitters brand was created out of the Free People concept catering to the hipster crowd. Free People became its own, separate clothing brand. Anthropologie, another brand, was developed for the older Urban Outfitters customer, catering to affluent, creative 30- to 45-year-old women.
Fox, the family-owned business known for its inexpensive T-shirts and sweatshirts emblazoned with the all-capital FOX name, has become Israel’s largest fashion group, bringing an assortment of brands to the Israeli shopping scene.
Besides Fox clothing and Fox Home, and its other Israeli brands, Laline, and Yanga, the group includes Charles and Keith, Mango and Sacks, American Eagle, Billabong, Nike, Children’s Place, and now Urban Outfitters.
Facebook’s Zuckerberg turns down British lawmakers for data privacy grilling
Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg turns down a request by British lawmakers to appear before them to respond to concerns about data privacy as the European Union set a deadline for the US social media giant to respond to its own questions.
Zuckerberg is instead offering to send one of his deputies as the US company comes under new pressure from the EU to disclose more details about how up to 50 million users’ data are alleged to have been taken from Facebook and used in political campaigns.
In a letter to the British parliament’s digital, culture, and media committee, Rebecca Stimson, head of public policy for Facebook UK, says the company “fully recognizes the level of public and parliamentary interest in these issues.”
Mattis predicts partnership with Bolton despite differences
US Defense Secretary Jim Mattis acknowledges that he and President Donald Trump’s incoming national security adviser, John Bolton, have different world views but predicts they will develop a working partnership.
“I look forward to working with him — no reservations, no concerns at all,” Mattis tells reporters at an impromptu news conference. “Last time I checked he’s an American. I’m not in the least bit concerned.”
Mattis says he has never met Bolton, a former ambassador to the United Nations and conservative hawk. He said he expects Bolton to pay a visit to the Pentagon soon, perhaps this week, to begin developing a relationship.
“I’ll tell you right up front: it’s going to be a partnership,” he says. When a reporter mentioned that people see his world view as significantly different than that of Bolton, Mattis replied, “That’s the normal thing you want, unless you want group-think.”
Trump not coming to Israel for Jerusalem embassy opening — report
US President Donald Trump will not be travelling to Israel in May, when the US opens its new embassy in the city to coincide with Israel’s 70th anniversary, Hadashot news reports.
Trump in December bucked decades of US foreign policy by formally recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and setting in motion plans to move the US embassy there from Tel Aviv. Earlier this month, the US said the move would take place to coincide with Israel’s 70th birthday.
Sitting across from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the Oval Office on March 5, the American president was asked if he would travel to Israel to cut the ribbon on the new facility, almost a year after his first visit to Jerusalem as president.
“I may. I may,” he said. “We’re looking at coming. If I can, I will.”
US sources now say that he will not be at the ceremony, according to the report.
Knesset speaker threatens to boycott Israel 70th event over plans for PM to speak
Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein has told organizers that he will boycott the annual torch-lighting ceremony that marks the start of Israel’s Independence Day and prevent any involvement from parliament officials if Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu pushes ahead with a demand to speak at the event.
Since first held in 1951, on Israel’s second birthday, the Knesset has hosted the ceremony with the Knesset guard opening the evening and the Knesset speaker being the most high-level official to speak. Despite being the most highly regarded of all Independence Day celebrations, neither the prime minister or the president speak at the event so as to help it appeal to all sectors of Israeli society.
This year however, Education and Culture Minister Miri Regev, a staunch ally of Netanyahu, has told the ceremony’s organizing committee that given it is the 70th anniversary of Israel, the prime minister will be speaking.
Responding to Eledelstein’s threat, Regev said the Knesset speaker was “turning the state event into a publicity opportunity for himself.”
Hitting back, Edelstein says: “It pains me that for the first time in Israel’s history, the Culture Minister is trying to damage the ceremony, which has always been a pure and beautiful expression of the unity of the people of Israel.”