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51 MKs back Netanyahu, as president ends first day of meetings

24 members of Zionist Union back Herzog for premiership; McCain says Obama should get over his ‘temper tantrum’ on Israel

Marissa Newman is The Times of Israel political correspondent.

President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on March 22, 2015, in a meeting with the Likud party. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/GPO)
President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem on March 22, 2015, in a meeting with the Likud party. (photo credit: Mark Neyman/GPO)

President Reuven Rivlin on Sunday began his consultations with party representatives on the formation of a governing coalition. After meeting with the Likud, Zionist Union, Joint (Arab) List, Shas, and United Torah Judaism, the president collected 51 recommendations for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and 24 for the Zionist Union. The Joint (Arab) List abstained from recommending a candidate.

Rivlin will meet with Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu, Kulanu, and Meretz on Monday.

Rivlin on Sunday said that Israel underwent a “tempestuous and passion-filled” election campaign, and that “now is the time to begin the process of mending and healing Israeli society.”

Arab MKs demanded that the president force an apology from Netanyahu for his remarks on election day, when a statement from the prime minister warned Arab citizens were voting “in droves.” The president denounced the prime minister’s “hurtful” remarks, but rebuked the Joint (Arab) List party for likening Zionism to the Islamic State, comments he said were “unacceptable.”

Meanwhile, after President Obama berated Netanyahu for his rejection of the two-state solution on Saturday night, US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro said that Washington had not yet made a decision about changing its policy regarding Israel, but warned that recent comments by Netanyahu on the peace process were “confusing” and raised doubts about Israel’s true intentions. Israeli ambassador to the US Ron Dermer defended Netanyahu’s comments.

Senator John McCain slammed Obama for his “temper tantrum” against Netanyahu, and said the president’s priorities in the Middle East were “screwed up.”

The Times of Israel liveblogged developments as they unfolded.

Arab MKs to urge prosecution of PM

Rivlin meets with representatives of the Joint (Arab) List, who say they will not recommend any candidate for the premiership.

Arab lawmakers say they will ask the attorney general to prosecute the prime minister for remarks he made on election day warning that Arab voters were turning out in droves.

The president denounces the “harsh and hurtful” remarks by both Jewish and Arab candidates during the election season.

“There is no place for such remarks, not during the elections and certainly not after them,” he said. “I call on everyone, Jews and Arabs alike, to refrain from mutual incitement and provocation.”

He rebukes the Arab list for likening Zionism to the Islamic State several weeks ago in an official statement.

Meretz MK Issawi Freij calls on Rivlin to compel Netanyahu to apologize for his election day statement about Arab voters.

Read the full report here.

Palestinian shot in clashes with IDF dies

A 20-year-old Palestinian injured in clashes with the IDF last week dies of his wounds.

The man was shot in the stomach by a rubber bullet during a demonstration against soldiers northeast of Ramallah, the army said in a statement on Thursday.

2 men convicted for rape of US tourist

Two men are convicted for the rape of a 25-year-old American tourist in 2013.

The woman — who was visiting Israel on a Taglit-Birthright trip at the time — was attacked in the Jaffa flea market by a 31-year-old resident of Raanana after she entered his jewelry store, the conviction says. The second suspect, 46, stands accused of raping her later that day.

Palestinian envoy urges Obama to push peace

Afif Safieh, roving Palestinian ambassador for special missions, writes an open letter to President Obama, urging him to push a peace deal on Israel.

He writes: “Mr President, I suspect you would be surprised by the massive support you would receive, domestically and internationally, if you were to link US aid to Israel with US advice. In short: if you were to reconcile American power and American principles. Responding to the Palestinian cry for freedom out of captivity and bondage is crucial for US credibility, respectability and – I dare say – lovability.

“With a single telephone call in 1956, President Eisenhower had David Ben Gurion withdraw from the occupied Sinai – and during a Presidential election year. Compared to Ben Gurion, Netanyahu looks like a lamb.

“We still have two more years. If the international will was to have primacy over the Israeli national whim, a territory that was occupied in 1967 in six days can also be evacuated in six days, so that the Israelis can rest on the seventh, and we can finally engage on the fascinating journey of state-building and economic recovery.

“Can we really witness another Eisenhower moment? Yes, Mr President, I believe we can.”

Read the full letter here.

6 men held for breaking into London synagogue

Six men are arrested after they forced their way into a synagogue in north London.

The men, who were drunk, tried to enter a synagogue in the largely Haredi neighborhood of Stamford Hill late on Saturday night, the BBC reports.

Synagogue security staff removed the men, Metropolitan Police tell the BBC.

“The incident is being treated as an anti-Semitic incident, due to remarks made by one of the group,” a police spokesman tells the BBC. “However, there is nothing to suggest that it was a planned or targeted attack.”

A video of the incident shows around 10 members of the synagogue having to defend themselves with chairs and makeshift clubs as the gang attempts to enter a room in the synagogue, the London-based Jewish Chronicle reports.

The gang is seen in the video threatening the worshippers who are preventing them from entering the room.

Police tell the BBC they increased patrols in the neighborhood.


Obama remarks ‘carry heavy strategic price’ — Oren

Kulanu MK-to-be and former ambassador to the US Michael Oren says Obama’s critique of Israeli democracy “strategically damages Israel’s standing in the world.”

UK medical students feared to have joined IS

A group of British medical students of Sudanese origin who went missing after traveling to Turkey are feared to have crossed into Syria to join the Islamic State (IS) group as doctors, reports and sources say.

The families of the students have traveled to the Turkey-Syria border in a desperate appeal for them to return home before it is too late, a Turkish opposition MP says.

According to reports in Britain’s The Guardian newspaper and the BBC, the nine young British medical students flew to Istanbul from the Sudanese capital Khartoum on March 12 and then overland towards Syria.

They have been joined by two other medics from the United States and Canada, also of Sudanese origin, the BBC says.


Third Tunisia museum attacker ‘on the run’

A third attacker in the massacre of tourists in Tunisia’s national museum is on the run, President Beji Caid Essebsi says, vowing to track him down.

“Definitely there were three,” Essebsi tells France’s iTele television and Europe 1 radio.

“Two were killed, but there is one who is now on the run,” he says. “In any case, he will not get very far.”

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi speaks during a press conference on March 22, 2015 following his visit at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis to pay tribute to the victims of the deadly attack claimed by the Islamic State group. (photo credit: AFP/FETHI BELAID

Tunisian President Beji Caid Essebsi speaks during a press conference on March 22, 2015 following his visit at the National Bardo Museum in Tunis to pay tribute to the victims of the deadly attack claimed by the Islamic State group. (photo credit: AFP/FETHI BELAID

The attack on the Bardo museum in Tunis on Wednesday killed 21 people, all but one of them foreign tourists, and was claimed by the Islamic State group.


US Marines issues warning after IS cyber-hack

The US Marine Corps urges “vigilance” after a group claiming to be Islamic State hackers publishes what they said were the names and addresses of 100 military personnel and urges supporters to kill them.

The warning comes after a group calling itself the Islamic State Hacking Division posted information about members of the air force, army and navy, including photos and ranks, on the Internet, according to monitoring group SITE Intelligence.

The US Marine Corps says it was visiting all affected staff, and urges caution online.

“Vigilance and force protection considerations remain a priority for commanders and their personnel,” US Marine Corps Lieutenant Colonel John Caldwell says in a statement, adding that the threat remained “unverified.”

“It is recommended Marines and family members check their online/social footprint, ensuring privacy settings are adjusted to limit the amount of available personal information.”


PM said to be eyeing Likud MK as UN envoy

A Knesset channel reporter writes on Twitter that Netanyahu is slated to offer an unnamed senior Likud member the position of ambassador to the United Nations, which is currently held by Ron Prosor.

Rivlin says 45 MKs backed Netanyahu so far

After meeting with Likud, Zionist Union, Jewish Home, and Shas, Rivlin says 45 Knesset members have recommended Netanyahu for the premiership, and 24 nominate Herzog.

He will meet with the United Torah Judaism party shortly.

“As a Jerusalemite who didn’t excel in math, to date 45 MKs have recommended Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and 24 for Zionist Union chairman Isaac Herzog,” he says, according to Ynet.

CIA chief says US will keep pressure on Iran

CIA Director John Brennan tells Fox News that the US will “continue to keep pressure” on Iran to ensure it does not “destabilize” the region and develop nuclear weapons, regardless of whether a nuclear deal is ultimately signed.

“The nuclear program is one issue that we’re hoping to be able to halt; but also, we see that Iran is still a state sponsor of terrorism,” he says. “And so what we have to do, whether there’s a deal or not, is continue to keep pressure on Iran and to make sure that it is not able to continue to destabilize a number of the countries in the region.”

He says Iran is aware there will be “tremendous costs and consequences and implications” to its expansionism and attempts to develop a weapon. Brennan says the US “has gone to school” in the past ten years, “so that we can now have a better plan and an opportunity to verify some of the things that they are saying that they’re going to do and not do.”

“President Obama has made it very clear that we are going to prevent Iran from having that type of nuclear weapon that they — they were going on the track to obtain. So if they decide to go down that route, they know that they will do so at their peril.”

CIA Director John Brennan. (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

CIA Director John Brennan (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Iran supreme leader’s sister dies

The sister of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei dies at the age of 89, the semi-official Fars News Agency reports.

Seyedeh Fatemeh Hosseini Khamenei died on Saturday night of unspecified causes.

Her death came two days after the mother of President Hassan Rouhani died.

In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme leader's office, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addresses a group of Iranian military commanders in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, April 17, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Office of the Supreme Leader)

In this photo released by an official website of the Iranian supreme leader’s office, supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, addresses a group of Iranian military commanders in Tehran, Iran, Wednesday, April 17, 2013 (photo credit: AP/Office of the Supreme Leader)

McCain tells Obama, ‘Get over temper tantrum’

Sen. John McCain urges Obama to “get over” his “temper tantrum” over Netanyahu’s comments, and says the president “has his priorities so screwed up it’s unbelievable” with regard to the Middle East.

“There was a free and fair democratic election, the only nation in the region that will have such a thing. The president should get over it. Get over your temper tantrum, Mr. President. It’s time that we work together with our Israeli friends and try to stem this tide of ISIS and Iranian movement throughout the region, which is threatening the very fabric of the region,” McCain told CNN’s “State of the Union.”

Netanyahu’s remarks are “the least of your problems,” he says, stressing that the comments were said during an election campaign.

When pressed by the interviewer as to whether Obama should simply ignore Netanyahu’s rejection of the two-state solution, he says: “I think maybe the president shouldn’t like it, but thousands are being slaughtered by ISIS… Bibi’s rhetoric concerning an election campaign pales in comparison to the threat, the direct threat to the United States of America, of ISIS. The president has his priorities so screwed up that it’s unbelievable.”

McCain says that if Obama would back a UN resolution for Palestinian statehood, “Congress would have to reexamine our funding for the United Nations.”

Such a move would be a “violation” and would contradict US policy for “at least ten presidencies,” McCain says.

In this March 4, 2009 file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., looks on as President Barack Obama makes remarks on government contracts reform in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on the White House campus in Washington. (photo credit: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

In this March 4, 2009, file photo, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., looks on as President Barack Obama speaks. (photo credit: AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

Dermer defends PM on two-state solution

Israeli Ambassador to Washington Ron Dermer defends Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, saying in a Sunday morning interview that the Obama administration misinterpreted Netanyahu’s pre-election statements and that “the prime minister is not against a two-state solution with a demilitarized Palestinian state.”

Israel's Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, July 29, 2014 (photo credit: Ron Sachs)

Israel’s Ambassador to the US Ron Dermer, July 29, 2014 (photo credit: Ron Sachs)

Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Dermer argues that “things have changed” – but that the change is in the diminishing security situation in the region and the fact that the Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas has maintained his alliance with Hamas.

Rebecca Shimoni-Stoil

UTJ recommends Netanyahu

United Torah Judaism recommends Netanyahu for prime minister, bringing the total number of MKS behind his recommendations to 51.

The Zionist Union is the only party so far to back Herzog, while the Joint [Arab] List abstained from recommending either candidate.

Rivlin wraps up the meetings for the day.

Tomorrow he will meet with representatives of Yesh Atid, Yisrael Beytenu, Meretz, and Kulanu.

Syrian regime chopper crew captured by rebels

Islamist rebels in Syria capture four crew members when a regime helicopter crashes in the country’s northwest, a monitor says, while a fifth serviceman is killed.

“A regime helicopter was forced to land in the region of Jabal al-Zawiya in the northwest, which is a bastion of (Al-Qaeda’s Syrian affiliate) Jabhat al-Nusra,” Rami Abdel Rahman, head of the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, tells AFP.

“Four of the crew were captured and a fifth man was killed by armed men in a neighboring village.”


Hundreds bury female Afghani lynch victim

Hundreds of people attend the burial of an Afghan woman who was beaten to death and set on fire by a mob for allegedly burning a copy of the Koran.

Authorities announce the suspension of 13 police officers as well as multiple arrests over the lynching, which took place in full view of several policemen and sparked widespread condemnation at home and abroad.

The body of Farkhunda, 27, who was lynched on Thursday by an angry crowd in central Kabul, is carried to the graveyard by women amid crowds of men, an AFP reporter says, a rare act of protest in a male-dominated society.

The crowd, shouting “Allah o Akbar” (God is greatest), demands the government bring the killers to justice.


Independent Afghan civil society activist women carry the coffin of Farkhunda, 27, who was lynched by an angry mob in central Kabul on March 22, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar)

Independent Afghan civil society activist women carry the coffin of Farkhunda, 27, who was lynched by an angry mob in central Kabul on March 22, 2015. (photo credit: AFP PHOTO / Wakil Kohsar)

Rivlin urges broad coalition

In his meeting with the United Torah Judaism party earlier today, Rivlin asks the representatives if they would be part of the coalition if it were a wider government than anticipated.

“The political issues and the pressure that our best friends in Europe and the US will exert require a broad coalition in the upcoming Knesset,” the president says.

MK Moshe Gafni tells Rivlin in response that his  party would not be willing to sit with certain political parties, and said that if those unnamed parties were to join the coalition, United Torah Judaism would head to the opposition.

French diplomat pans ‘unrealistic’ Israeli position on Iran

An unnamed French diplomat criticizes Israel’s position on the Iranian nuclear program as “unrealistic,” and says Netanyahu went “too far” in his Congress address on the issue.

“Israel has marginalized itself. In November 2013, we were working with them and they played the game. They didn’t take unrealistic positions,” the diplomat tells Reuters.

“But here they have gone too far. We told them to play their part so they could influence a final accord, but they have taken unrealistic positions.”

Singer harassed at airport for left-wing views

Singer Achinoam Nini writes on her Facebook page that she was threatened by strangers at Ben Gurion Airport for her left-wing views.

She says that upon her return from Italy, someone shouted: “There’s Achinoam Nini! Hater of Israel, we’ll deal with her like Geffen,” referring to an attack on writer and artist Yehonatan Geffen at his home several days ago.

“Welcome to the nightmare we’ve woken up to,” she writes.

Israeli singer Achinoam Nini in the Israeli parliament last July, during a meeting between Palestinian officials and Israeli ministers and MKs (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash 90)

Israeli singer Achinoam Nini in the Israeli Knesset during a meeting between Palestinian officials and Israeli ministers and members of Knesset, July 31, 2013 (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Israeli team heads to France to discuss Iran

Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz goes to France with National Security Adviser Yossi Cohen and several other experts to consult with French officials on the ongoing nuclear talks with Iran, Reuters reports.

Steinitz is quoted as saying that he may meet with other European leaders as well.

“This is an effort to prevent a [nuclear] deal that is bad and full of loopholes, or at least… to succeed in closing or amending some of these loopholes,” he says.

The visit comes ahead of the March 31 deadline for the negotiations.

Intelligence Minister Yuval Steinitz (r) and Yossi Kuperwasser attend a session of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee at the Knesset, October 16, 2013 (photo credit: Flash90)

Minister of Strategic Affairs Yuval Steinitz (right) and director-general of the Strategic Affairs Ministry Yossi Kuperwasser (left) attend a session of the Security and Foreign Affairs Committee at the Knesset, October 16, 2013. (photo credit: Flash90)


Morocco says IS cell busted, arms seized

Morocco says it dismantled a “terrorist cell” and seized weapons earmarked for a string of assassinations in a nationwide operation targeting supporters of the Islamic State jihadist group.

The interior ministry says the operation was carried out by a newly formed judicial investigations agency, but did not specify the timing or the number of arrests.

Raids were carried out in several cities including Agadir in southwest Morocco, Marrakesh in the south, Boujaad in the center, Tangiers in the north, Ain Harouda near Casablanca, and in the Western Sahara.

“Firearms and a large amount of ammunition” to be used “to assassinate political, military and civilian figures” were seized near Agadir, the ministry says, quoted by the official MAP news agency.

It says members of the dismantled network had pledged allegiance to IS and vowed to target the Moroccan security forces and send recruits to fight in Syria and Iraq.

According to official figures, between 1,500 and 2,000 Moroccans are fighting or have fought alongside jihadists in Iraq and Syria as well as in Libya.


Ted Cruz to announce presidential run

Hard-right Republican Texas Sen. Ted Cruz plans to announce on Monday that he will run to become the party’s 2016 presidential candidate, making him the first White House hopeful to officially enter the race.

Cruz is a strong backer of Israel. On foreign policy, Cruz was among 47 Republican senators who signed a letter to Iran’s Supreme Leader warning that any nuclear deal that is struck with the Obama administration and five other world powers could become null and void after the 2016 election — when the current president leaves the White House. He met with Netanyahu twice in the past year, and defended Israel during the summer conflict in Gaza.

Cruz, 44, has considerable appeal among the Republican Party’s base of conservative voters. After his election to the Senate in 2012, the former Texas solicitor general quickly established himself as an uncompromising conservative willing to take on Democrats and Republicans alike.

Criticized by members of his own party at times, he won praise from ultraconservative tea party activists for leading the Republican push to shut down the federal government during an unsuccessful bid to block funding for President Barack Obama’s health care law.

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the 2014 Values Voter Summit in Washington, Friday, September 26, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

Senator Ted Cruz, R-Texas, speaks at the Values Voter Summit in Washington, September 26, 2014. (photo credit: AP/Manuel Balce Ceneta)

In a recent Associated Press interview, he said he wants to counter the “caricatures” of the right as “stupid,” ”evil” or “crazy.”

“The image created in the mainstream media does not comply with the facts,” he continued.

The son of an American mother and Cuban-born father, Cruz would be the nation’s first Hispanic president. Cruz was born in Canada, but two lawyers who represented presidents from both parties at the Supreme Court recently wrote in the Harvard Law Review that Cruz meets the constitutional requirement to run.

AP, Times of Israel staff

Jewish Democrats demand apology from Iowa’s Steve King

Some Jewish Democrats demand an apology from US Rep. Steve King of Iowa for saying that American Jews “can be Democrats first and Jews second.”

King, a conservative Republican who is important to his party’s potential presidential candidates — in part because of his influence in Iowa, the first caucus state — was asked Friday by Boston Herald Radio about Democrats who had boycotted the speech to Congress in early March by Netanyahu.

“I don’t understand how Jews in America can be Democrats first and Jewish second and support Israel along the line of just following their president,” he said.

The National Jewish Democratic Council “condemned” the remarks in a statement.

“For anyone, let alone an elected official, to actively belittle the hundreds of thousands of American Jews who vote for Democratic candidates is beyond the pale,” the council’s chairman, Greg Rosenbaum, says. “Rep. King is essentially stating that we aren’t Jewish enough for him. How dare he. We demand, and deserve, an apology at once.”

Rep. Steve Israel (D-NY), the highest-ranking Jewish Democrat in the House of Representatives, berates King in a Twitter post.

“I don’t need Congressman Steve King questioning my religion or my politics,” writes Israel, who has headed fundraising for congressional Democrats in the last two elections. “I demand an apology from him and repudiation from GOP.”

King replies, also on Twitter, that “real men make such requests face to face,” which prompted Israel to call King a “meshugeneh,” or crazy.


Netanyahu’s 2013-14 meetings with ministers revealed

In 2013-2014, Netanyahu met with Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon (Likud) a total of 53 times — but didn’t meet with the welfare and immigration absorption ministers even once, the Movement for Freedom of Information reports.

The full list of Netanyahu’s meetings — during the two-year period — shows that he met with Communications Minister Gilad Erdan (Likud), 38 times; Transportation Minister Yisrael Katz (Likud), 31 times; Economy Minister Naftali Bennett, 29 times; and Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman, 26 times.

The prime minister met with Strategic Affairs Minister Yuval Steinitz 25 times — eight times in 2013, 17 times in 2014 — and met with Finance Minister Yair Lapid a total of 23 times.

The ministries that met least often with the prime minister are pensioners affairs (1), tourism (1), health (1), internal security (2), environmental protection (2), housing (3), education (3), and science (3).

Key ministries should stay in Likud — Hotovely

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely addresses the coalition negotiations, saying the other parties need to cut down on their demands in the interest of having a stable coalition.

“I am certain it’s of mutual interest to establish a lasting, strong and stable coalition, and for this the other sides need to lower their demands,” she says, according to the Walla news website. “It’s important that key ministries such as the foreign, defense, and education [ministries] stay in the Likud.”

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Likud MK Tzipi Hotovely (photo credit: Miriam Alster/Flash90)

PM’s Public Diplomacy and Media head resigns

Netanyahu’s Public Diplomacy and Media head Liran Dan announces he will step down, after three years in the position.

“I thank Liran for his excellent, professional and dedicated work and for his contribution to the State of Israel and to myself. During his tenure as head of Public Diplomacy and Media, his proven abilities were apparent in the many complex tasks and missions to which he was assigned. Under two of my governments, as we were faced with many challenges, Liran advanced public diplomacy and media affairs with great responsibility, creativity and innovation, and for this I thank him,” Netanyahu says in a statement.

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