Two days ahead of the general election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Zionist Union leader Isaac Herzog on Sunday continued to vie for the premiership, with the former addressing a right-wing rally in Tel Aviv in the evening and Herzog saying he was willing to form a national unity government under his own leadership.
Netanyahu early Sunday offered the Finance Ministry post to Kulanu leader Moshe Kahlon in an effort to secure an alliance with the centrist former Likud minister. Kahlon, however, rebuffed the offer. The prime minister later addressed tens of thousands of right-wing voters in Tel Aviv’s Rabin Square, warning against a left-wing government, and vowing never to make territorial concessions to the Palestinians.
Jewish Home leader Naftali Bennett later took the stage and said voters do not have to decide between the cost of living and security. He grabbed a guitar and played “Jerusalem of Gold” in defiance of a Central Elections Committee directive that banned performances at the event, and in opposition of Herzog, who he said was willing to divide Jerusalem.
In Switzerland, US Secretary of State John Kerry was set to kick off a fresh round of nuclear talks with his Iranian counterpart. Kerry said he hoped a deal would be possible “in the next days.”
The Times of Israel liveblogged developments as they unfolded.
Herzog says Likud can join ZU-led coalition
In an interview with the Walla news website, Herzog does not nix having the Likud party join a coalition led by him, but says the Joint [Arab] List is not prepared to be part of the government.
“I am dealing with victory, and I am dealing with change. Any party in my eyes is worthy of being a partner in that change,” Herzog says.
As for the Joint (Arab) List, he says: “The Joint (Arab) List has announced its intention not to be part of any coalition, so that isn’t relevant. They are legitimate, and have respectable leaders, but there is no chance they’ll be part of the government, they aren’t prepared to do it.”
Asked whether the Zionist Union would sit in a Likud-run government, Herzog dodges the question.
“I am focusing exclusively on beating Netanyahu. Period.”
Herzog says that if elected, he will advance peace talks with the Palestinians, and says he would “certainly” freeze construction in the settlements outside the main blocs as a confidence-building measure.
Needy IDF soldiers to work at polls
Soldiers from disadvantaged homes will work at the polls on election day, the army confirms to Channel 2.
The much-sought position, which pays some NIS 1,000 ($247) for the day, will be filled by some 4,000 troops, who will be discharged for the day.
Some 5,500 soldiers applied for the position.
Iran said to fund Argentine leader’s campaign
Iran financed the 2007 campaign of Argentinian President Cristina Kirchner, in exchange for impunity for Iranians in the AMIA bombing, a magazine reports.
The Brazilian magazine Veja on Saturday reports that the deal, brokered by Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, also provided the Iranians with nuclear know-how.
“I need you to broker with Argentina for aid to my country’s nuclear program. We need Argentinians to share their knowledge on nuclear technology; without this collaboration it is impossible to advance our program,’ Ahmadinejad told Chavez on January 13, 2007, according to the testimony of three former Chavez Cabinet members who now live in the United States and are collaborating in crime investigation.
“Don’t worry about the expenses required for this operation. Iran will support everything necessary to persuade the Argentines. I have another issue. I need you to discourage the Argentinians from insisting that Interpol capture the authorities of my country,” added the Iranian president, according to the report. Chavez agreed.
The Treasury Venezuela bought $6 billion in Argentina’s bonds to cover its debt in 2007 and 2008.
The Argentine government also received cash for the agreement. One of three former Venezuelan officials said that the famous suitcase of Guido Antonioni Wilson, containing $800,000 which he brought into the country without claiming, came from the Iranian regime and was bound for the presidential campaign of Cristina Kirchner and that Chavez was just the middlemen.
According to Veja, the exchange of nuclear secrets was managed in Argentina by Minister of Defense Nilda Garre, now ambassador to the Organization of American States, or OAS, in Washington. Iran was interested in the Argentinean experience with its heavy-water nuclear reactor “Atucha,” because they wanted to produce plutonium for use in nuclear weapons using only natural uranium.
“I can’t say that the government of Argentina gave nuclear secrets, but I know it took a lot by legal means and illegal means in exchange for something valuable to the Iranians,” the former officials reveal to Veja in its story titled “Chavistas confirm the conspiracy denounced by Nisman.”
Lapid slams PM for Finance Ministry offer
Ex-finance minister Yair Lapid slams Netanyahu for offering the treasury to Kahlon ahead of the election, arguing the move was “undemocratic.”
“In democracies, first you are elected, and then you give out positions,” Lapid tells Israel Radio.
He says that he is being attacked by Livni, Herzog, and Kahlon because they are “afraid” of Yesh Atid’s standing in recent polls.
Kahlon turned down Netanyahu’s offer earlier today.
Liberman says he’s the ‘real right wing’
In visit to the Cave of the Patriarchs in Hebron, Foreign Minister Avigdor Liberman says: “The real national camp is here — in other places, it’s just talk. The real right wing that has a course of action, has determination, and knows what it wants is here.”
In a subtle rebuke of Netanyahu’s policies, Liberman, the head of Yisrael Beytenu, says: “We didn’t give up Hebron. We’ve always voted against releasing terrorists, we demanded that Hamas be destroyed, and we voted against the disengagement [from the Gaza Strip].”
While recent polls gave Liberman’s party 4-5 seats, the foreign minister says he anticipates that the party will receive more than 10 seats. He says he sees himself as the next defense minister.
He does not comment on who he will recommend for the premiership, saying only that it would be the candidate who will advance Yisrael Beytenu’s policies.
“We made Netanyahu prime minister. We want to make sure the next government will lead toward the destruction of Hamas, and not toward a second disengagement. I will recommend myself to the president first, then we will recommend the person who commits to the laws we want to pass.”
Right-wing rally organizers deny using public funds
The organizers of the right-wing rally in Rabin Square deny that public funds were used for the demonstration.
Earlier today, the Meretz party lodged a petition with the Central Elections Committee alleging that the Gush Etzion, Mount Hebron, and Jordan Valley regional councils in the West Bank are all using their funds to support to event, in violation of campaign regulations.
The organizers say the demonstration does not represent one party, since both Netanyahu and Jewish Home party leader Naftali Bennett are slated to speak, the Walla news website reports. They say that no public funds were used for advertising or transportation, and ask that the petition be dismissed.
US must talk to Assad to end Syria war – Kerry
The United States will have to negotiate with Syrian President Bashar Assad to end the civil war now entering its fifth year, Secretary of State John Kerry concedes in an interview.
“Well, we have to negotiate in the end. We’ve always been willing to negotiate in the context of the Geneva I process,” Kerry says.
He stresses Washington is working hard to “re-ignite” efforts to find a political solution to end the war.
The United States helped lead international efforts to kick-start peace talks between Assad and a splintered Syrian opposition, bringing the two sides together in Geneva for the first time early last year.
But after two rounds of talks, the negotiations collapsed in bitter acrimony and no fresh negotiations have been scheduled while the scale of the killing and devastation has mounted.
“Assad didn’t want to negotiate,” Kerry tells CBS television.
“So if he’s ready to have a serious negotiation about the implementation of Geneva I, of course, if people are prepared to do that. And what we’re pushing for is to get him to come and do that,” he replied when asked if he would negotiate with Assad.
“This is one of the worst tragedies any of us have seen on the face of the planet,” Kerry says, in an interview recorded in the Egyptian resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.
He insists that despite the challenge of the US-led fight against the Islamic State group which has seized territory in Iraq and Syria, Washington was still focused on ending the Syrian civil war.
“We are increasing our efforts in a very significant way, working with the moderate opposition, but doing much more than that also,” Kerry says.
“We’re also pursuing a diplomatic track. We have had conversations with a number of different critical players in this tragedy,” he says.
US President Barack Obama “is extremely seized of the issue and focused on it with the intent to see what we can do to change the dynamic,” he says.
Vatican backs force to stop IS ‘genocide’
The Vatican’s envoy to the United Nations in Geneva endorses military action against the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria — an unusual move because the Vatican traditionally has opposed force in the region.
In an interview with the US Catholic website Crux, Archbishop Silvano Tomasi says IS fighters were committing atrocities on a huge scale and the world needed to intervene.
“We have to stop this kind of genocide,” the Italian archbishop tells Crux. “Otherwise we’ll be crying out in the future about why we didn’t do something, why we allowed such a terrible tragedy to happen.”
Tomasi says a coordinated and “well-thought-out coalition” is needed to do everything possible to achieve a political settlement without violence.
“But if that’s not possible, then the use of force will be necessary,” he adds.
US on cusp of ‘very bad deal’ with Iran — Senate leader
In an interview with CNN’s “State of the Union,” US Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell warns that the Obama administration “is on the cusp of entering into a very bad deal with one of the worst regimes in the world.”
3 UK teens headed to Syria nabbed in Turkey
Turkish officials say three British teenagers who were planning to cross the border into Syria and join the Islamic State group have been arrested in Istanbul, Reuters reports.
The three suspects, who are 18 and 19, are not named.
Armed Gazan arrested near Nahal Oz
An armed Palestinian man is arrested near the kibbutz of Nahal Oz after infiltrating from the Gaza Strip, the Walla news website reports. The army says the man is armed with a folding knife, and takes him in for questioning.
Iran FM says deal a matter of ‘political will’
Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif says securing a final nuclear deal is a matter of the US’s political resolve.
“I think that if the other side shows the same political will that exists on the part of the Islamic Republic of Iran, reaching a solution will not be difficult,” he says, according to the semi-official Fars News Agency.
Meanwhile, 226 Iranian parliamentarians signed a bill that requires the final deal to include the removal of all sanctions.
Palestinian woman nabbed with knife in Hebron
A Palestinian woman armed with a knife is arrested outside Hebron’s Cave of the Patriarchs, where Liberman visited earlier today, Israel Radio reports.
Kerry says obstacles to Iran deal mostly ‘political’
Kerry, returning to talks with Iran on its nuclear program, says most of the differences still barring an agreement are political rather than technical.
Kerry, who is to sit down today in Switzerland with Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammed Javad Zarif, tells CBS News that Tehran must fulfill “the promise of proving to the world” that its nuclear program is peaceful.
Kerry says “there are clearly some differences that still rest on a technical judgment.”
“But by and large, most of the differences now are political decisions that need to be made in order to fulfill the promise of proving to the world that a program is peaceful,” he adds. Kerry said in an interview on CBS News that Tehran “to its credit has thus far lived up to every part of the agreement we made over a year ago.”
Iran ex-president’s son gets 15 years in jail
The son of Iran’s former president Akbar Hashemi Rafsanjani is sentenced to 15 years in jail after being tried for security offenses and financial crimes, state media says.
Mehdi Hashemi is accused of involvement in protests that followed Iran’s disputed presidential election in 2009, and he was arrested after returning to Tehran in 2012.
He has 20 days to appeal his conviction, Iranian media reports.
Right-wing rally to proceed, sans singer
Israeli Supreme Court Justice Salim Joubran, the head of the Central Elections Committee, rejects a Meretz petition and rules the right-wing rally in Tel Aviv later this evening can proceed as planned.
However, the singer on the line-up is banned from performing, he rules, and public funds cannot be used to cover any of the demonstration costs.
Meretz has accused the organizers of the rally of using public funds. Netanyahu and Bennett are set to address the crowds.
Jewish Home worried voters leaving to Likud
Jewish Home MK Ayelet Shaked warns that voters for the right-wing party are drifting to Likud in an effort to boost Netanyahu’s standing.
She tells the Walla news website: “We are working eagerly, there is good momentum for the right [wing], but there is an exodus from Jewish Home to Likud. This is a dangerous wave that could lead to a national unity government.”
Shaked says that long-time Jewish Home voters are telling her they are considering Likud, because the prime minister has cautioned that “Herzog will be tasked with building a coalition if he has more mandates, despite the fact that in no scenario does Herzog have a coalition.”
The Jewish Home Knesset member says that given more votes, Likud will likely join forces with the Zionist Union.
“To the voters of the Jewish Home, I say: Those who want Stav Shaffir to be a minister should vote Likud, because it will lead to a unity government, and those who want us to be ministers, should vote for the Jewish Home.”
8 suspected jihadis appear in Spanish court
Eight suspected members of a jihadi cell that allegedly urged attacks to be carried out in Spain and picked people to be sent to fight for the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria are appearing in court.
The Spanish nationals — five of whom are of Moroccan origin — are answering questions Sunday before National Court judge Javier Gomez Bermudez, who must decide whether to send them to trial.
Police made the arrests Friday in the northeastern provinces of Barcelona and Girona and in the central regions of Avila and Ciudad Real.
Those arrested are suspected of participating in an intense pro-jihad propaganda campaign among the immigrant community in Spain, especially Spaniards of Moroccan descent.
Sara Netanyahu rejects all claims by ex-caretaker
Sara Netanyahu files an affidavit with the Jerusalem Labor Court, rejecting all the allegations against her by former caretaker Menny Naftali.
The premier’s wife writes that the accusations “are incorrect and are intended to harm the prime minister and me without justification,” according to the Ynet news website.
She argues that Naftali would frequently show up when he was not meant to work and hang around the residence, and would later charge the Netanyahus for those hours. She says that he frequently brought his children to the residence, where they were “greeted happily” although he had not requested permission and although he occasionally brought them when the prime minister was in the middle of high-level meetings.
She says Naftali would dump meals prepared by employees of the Prime Minister’s Residence and tell her that no such meals had been prepared, forcing them to order takeout (Netanyahu was slammed in the State Comptroller report for the excessive funds that went toward takeout food).
Netanyahu also rejected allegations of abuse and harassment against Naftali.
She says that Naftali was involved in an altercation with an employee in a previous job as a security guard. She writes that had she known of the fight, she would never had hired him.
European Jewish institutions ‘bankrupted’ by security costs
Jewish communities in Europe are “being bankrupted” by the need to provide security for their institutions, the US special envoy on anti-Semitism says.
“Every Jewish community in Western Europe certainly needs security support,” says Ira Forman, the State Department’s special envoy to monitor and combat anti-Semitism, the French news agency AFP reports. “Many of them are being bankrupted by the money they have to spend to protect their institutions.
“If current trends continue, and they’re not good… we have to worry about small Jewish communities in Europe and their very viability.”
Swastika painted on Dallas rabbi’s car
A large, white swastika is spray-painted on the car of a Dallas rabbi who is being sued by the city over a synagogue he runs in his home.
Rabbi Yaakov Rich discovered the swastika on his car on March 11, the local media reports over the weekend.
He runs the small Orthodox Congregation Toras Chaim from his home; services have continued there.
Rich says in a statement that he feels “completely violated.
“As a Jew, the swastika is the most offensive symbol that there is,” he says. “They didn’t just attack me; they attacked every Jew in the city of Dallas.”
Last month, the city of Dallas sued Rich and the congregation, demanding some $200,000 in improvements to bring the home up to city code for a place of worship.
In early February, a neighbor sued Rich, seeking $50,000 in compensatory damages, claiming the synagogue lowered his property value.
The mezuzah has been ripped from Rich’s door in the past, the CBS affiliate in Dallas reports.
Opponents of 2-state solution should vote Jewish Home — Likud MK
Likud MK Ze’ev Elkin tells Galei Israel radio that opponents of the two-state solution should vote for the Jewish Home party, rather than Likud.
“How should a voter who is against a Palestinian state feel? When he votes Likud, he votes for a party in which most are against a Palestinian state, but perhaps not all. Or should he vote for the Jewish Home, where they are 100 percent opposed to a Palestinian state? If he wants to feel completely justified, so it may be right for him to vote Jewish Home, then he will feel 100 percent at peace with himself,” Elkin says.
Netanyahu addresses the rally
Netanyahu takes the stage to address the tens of thousands of activists.
He thanks the crowds for attending, for coming “from all corners of the country.”
Netanyahu praises the “Jewish spirit, the Zionist spirit, our spirit” at the rally.
He says he came here “as the prime minister of the entire nation, of those who don’t agree with me, and those who do agree with me, and there are many, many.”
Netanyahu says he respects all, will ensure the security of all.
He asks everyone to keep the political discussion civil, “without incitement, without violence, without provocations.”
Netanyahu criticizes the remarks at the left-wing rally last week, at which the “amulet kissers” — and later the “mezuzah-kissers” — were derided.
“I want to ask what’s wrong with kissing a mezuzah? Since when is it a sin? Yes, we keep traditions.”
Netanyahu says he will keep Jerusalem united, which “is not the way of the left,” and pledges to increase construction in the capital.
The prime minister says Livni condemned the decision to build in Jewish neighborhoods in Jerusalem.
“And I ask, if Jews can’t build in Jerusalem, where can they build?”
He quotes Herzog saying Jerusalem will serve as the capital for the Jews and Palestinians.
“Now they’re trying to hide it. But this is their real position.”
Netanyahu promises that in the face of “the greatest pressures, we are presenting the truth of the Jewish people,” just like he did in Congress, he says.
PM vows Jewish Home will be ‘senior partner’
Netanyahu calls the elections “fateful.
“In these elections, something is happening that was hidden at first, and now, I am sure you are all aware of it,” he says, attacking foreign funding to V15.
He says that although the majority of the public wants him as prime minister, “we must close the gap, we can close this gap” between the Zionist Union and the Likud.
He promises the Jewish Home will be a “senior partner” in our coalition, “and it doesn’t matter how many seats it gets.”
PM vows no territorial concessions
Netanyahu condemns the “left and its friends in the media, and we know they have a lot there.”
Netanyahu says that for the left-wing parties, if you haven’t made territorial concessions, you haven’t accomplished anything.
He lists the accomplishments of his governments, “things that haven’t been done since the establishment of the state.”
Between listing all the government projects — from housing to economic policies — he repeats the statement, “For the left, if you haven’t evacuated, you haven’t done anything.
“Here’s the truth: We didn’t evacuate, and we will not evacuate.
“But we did things, and we did a lot.”
Netanyahu urges Kahlon to join him as finance minister in the next government, hours after the ex-Likud minister rebuffed him.
PM says they have V15, but ‘we have the nation’
Netanyahu says that “they have V15,” but “we have the nation.
“The money won’t determine [the election], but the heart will,” he adds.
He quotes Isaiah, and says, “Together, we will achieve victory.”
He ends his speech.
Bennett takes the stage
The Jewish Home leader takes the stage at Rabin Square and says, “For a long time, these words have not been said in this square: We love the people of Israel, we love the land of Israel, we love the Torah of Israel, and we love the IDF. And we really, really, won’t apologize for this.”
He says Herzog went to the Western Wall, “said the words that need to be said,” but quotes Herzog in an earlier interview as saying that Jerusalem could serve as the capital of both a Palestinian and a Jewish state.
“And I tell you, and we tell you, Boujie, are you not ashamed? Who are you kidding? Jerusalem — are you willing to divide it?
“Boujie, what is that, a last visit before the split?”
He refers to the Meretz party petition to stop the rally, and the decision to prevent singers from performing.
“They will not silence us. We will not stop singing. What song do you want to sing? Perhaps a song about Jerusalem?”
Bennett grabs a guitar and begins to sing “Jerusalem of Gold.”
Bennett also vows not to give up territory
Bennett resumes his speech, saying that despite the platforms of left-wing parties on economic policies, “you don’t need to divide Jerusalem to lower the cost of cheese.
“There is a social right-wing,” he says. No one has to decide between social policies and the right-wing, he argues.
“In order to lower the cost of living, Mr. Kahlon, you don’t need to divide Jerusalem,” he says.
Bennett says his parents moved to Israel from the US, “and they taught me you never say anything bad about Israel.” But the media does that, he says.
“Abba and Imma also taught me that the Land of Israel belongs to the people of Israel,” he says.
Bennett says the whole world is watching, and we will tell them that “one cannot occupy his own home.”
He repeats it in English.
Bennett vows that “never, but never, will we give up a centimeter of the Land of Israel to the Arabs.”
Bennett says left ‘doesn’t want a Jewish state’
Bennett says the left-wing “doesn’t want a Jewish state,” and therefore is willing to give up land, and is opposed to the Jewish state bill.
He says that since Yair Garbuz condemned the “kissers of mezuzahs,” he has been more attentive and careful to kiss the doorpost.
Bennett says that at 10 p.m. after the polls close on Tuesday, he will call Netanyahu. He says everyone should vote for whoever they want, but there will be a strong right-wing bloc.
20,000-40,000 people at rally
Channel 10 reports that there are some 20,000 people present at the Tel Aviv rally. The report says the organizers maintain that the numbers are closer to 40,000.
The organizers say some 700 buses (with the capacity of some 35,000) made their way to the event.