Morning Read 5/18: Who do you trust? Al-Jazeera says Jordan source of Trump’s leaked intel, contradicting NY Times
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First Direct Flight From Saudi Arabia to Israel?
President Donald Trump’s trip to Israel next week will probably be historic for another reason – it might be the first direct flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel.
According to the schedule released by the White House, Trump is supposed to do something quite unusual during his trip: fly directly from Saudi Arabia, the first stop on the trip, to Israel, the second.
The two countries have a limited partnership in the field of intelligence, since they both view Iran and its proxies in the region as enemies, but officially, they have no diplomatic relations. There are no commercial flights connecting Israel’s Ben-Gurion Airport to Saudi Arabia, and Israeli airplanes aren’t even allowed to fly over Saudi Arabian airspace.
Haaretz inquired with the relevant authorities and agencies in Israel whether a direct flight from Saudi Arabia to Israel ever took place before. Speaking on background, government officials said that they were not aware of any such flight – certainly not one that took place “in broad daylight” and was reported in the press.
Elliott Abrams, a former senior official in the Bush and Reagan administrations, addressed this issue recently, saying on a podcast published by the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) that “it will be interesting to see when he [Trump] takes off from Saudi Arabia whether he needs to make believe he’s flying to Jordan. And the reason I say that is I’ve been on flights with Secretary of State Rice that went from Israel to Saudi Arabia, and we had to—we had to almost land at Queen Alia Airport in Amman to make believe that we were, in fact, coming from Amman. I hope and assume that that kind of silliness has been dispensed with.”
This is a practice that exists not only in the world of government, but also in the private sector. Many Israeli businesspeople work in the Persian Gulf region, and publicly available flight tracking websites routinely show Israeli and foreign private jets flying from Israel to countries in that region. To overcome the diplomatic hurdle of no direct flights, they have to land in Amman, wait several minutes on the tarmac and take off again – with a cleared flight plan.
It is unlikely that such a procedure would be used, however, for Air Force One, the airplane that serves the president of the United States. First of all, because it could create possible security difficulties, and secondly, because Trump’s trip already has a busy jam-packed schedule. Trump did speak on the phone with Jordanian King Abdullah on Tuesday, but there were no signs of any preparations for a meeting between the two leaders, for now. [HAARETZ]
Intel Trump gave Russians came from Jordan, not Israel
Jordan, not Israel, was likely the original source of secret intelligence information given by US President Donald Trump to the Russians, the Qatar-based al-Jazeera news network reported Thursday, citing current and former Jordanian intelligence officials.
Speculation has swirled as to which country provided information that, according to a bombshell Washington Post story Monday, Trump disclosed to Russians officials in the White House last week. Trump later confirmed and defended the passing over of sensitive details about potential terror threats.
The country supplying the intelligence to the US was identified in the Post story only as “an ally that has access to the inner workings of the Islamic State.” But The New York Times reported Tuesday that Israel was that country, prompting reports in local media that Israeli officials were reassessing intelligence sharing cooperation with the US.
ABC news even reported that, as a result of the information leaked by Trump, an Israeli spy’s life was believed to be at risk. The spy was said to have tipped handlers off about an Islamic State plan to blow up a passenger plane headed for the US by hiding a bomb in a laptop, ABC said, quoting current and former US officials.
However, the Jordanian sources assessed to al-Jazeera that Israel is unlikely to have been able to position a key spy in IS, the jihadist terror group.
The sources said the intelligence that Trump shared with the Russians came mainly from Jordanian spies. Jordan, they said, has developed human intelligence resources with agents on the ground, including some who have infiltrated militia groups — among them IS — inside Syria and Iraq. [ToI]
EGYPT’S SISI: TRUMP VITAL TO RESOLVING ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN CONFLICT
Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi said Wednesday that US President Donald Trump serves as a crucial link in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
Speaking at a meeting with the chief editors of three Egyptian newspapers, Sisi expressed his confidence in Trump, saying “I believe in him and his abilities to resolve conflict.”
“Trump is a great man who is not satisfied with anything but success, and we have confidence in his abilities and his promises,” the Egyptian leader said.
Sisi made the remarks ahead of Trump’s first presidential foreign trip that includes stops in Saudi Arabia, Israel and the Vatican. Trump is due to meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Jerusalem on May 22 and with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem on May 23.
In his comments Wednesday, Sisi urged the Israelis to seize what he said was an opportunity for peace.
“The Arabs and Palestinians are ready for peace,” he stated in address to Israel. “You have an opportunity to reach peace. There is an opportunity for all of us to live together and achieve a better future for our people without hatred.” [JPOST]
Trump willing to try engagement with North Korea, on conditions
U.S. President Donald Trump told South Korea’s presidential envoy that Washington was willing to try to resolve the North Korean nuclear crisis through engagement, but under the right conditions, South Korea’s foreign ministry said on Thursday.
Trump has said “a major, major conflict” with North Korea is possible and all options are on the table but that he wanted to resolve the crisis diplomatically, possibly through the extended use of economic sanctions.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who took office last week, has campaigned on a more moderate approach towards the North but he has said it must change its attitude of insisting on arms development before dialogue can be possible.
Moon’s envoy to Washington, South Korean media mogul Hong Seok-hyun, said Trump spoke of being willing to use engagement to ensure peace, Hong said in comments carried by television on Thursday.
“The fact that Trump said he will not have talks for the sake of talks reiterated our joint stance that we are open to dialogue but the right situation must be formed,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck in a regular media briefing.
South Korea and the United States agreed during a visit to Seoul by Trump’s national security advisers this week to formulate a “bold and pragmatic” joint approach, Cho added. [REUTERS]
Iran Nuclear Deal in Play as Hard-Line Candidate Gains on President
TEHRAN — President Hassan Rouhani faces a hard-line opponent in a national vote Friday that is shaping up as one of the most contentious and consequential elections since the founding of the Islamic Republic in 1979.
The contest puts before Iranian voters two candidates with conflicting visions for the country—Mr. Rouhani, who has made an opening to the West, and a political newcomer wary of where such a path leads.
Ebrahim Raisi, a 56-year-old cleric with close ties to Iran’s supreme leader, has emerged as a tougher-than-expected challenger, taking advantage of economic troubles and railing during campaign rallies against inefficient government and its failure to address corruption.
Mr. Raisi, supported by Iran’s hard-line establishment, has used his campaign to criticize the signature accomplishment of Mr. Rouhani’s first term: the 2015 nuclear deal with six world powers, including the U.S. The agreement lifted most economic sanctions and expanded oil exports.
The Obama administration pushed the nuclear deal, in part, because it believed the lifting of sanctions would allow Iran to eventually moderate its domestic and foreign policies, according to current and former U.S. officials.
The Trump administration has shifted U.S. rhetoric and imposed new sanctions on Iran that target entities involved in Tehran’s ballistic missile program and alleged human-rights abuses. It sees the election as a gauge of Tehran’s future policies, but its antipathy toward Iran is unlikely to change regardless of who wins, a senior Trump administration official said. [WSJ]
Former FBI chief Mueller appointed to probe Trump-Russia ties
The U.S. Justice Department, in the face of rising pressure from Capitol Hill, named former FBI chief Robert Mueller on Wednesday as special counsel to investigate alleged Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election and possible collusion between President Donald Trump’s campaign and Moscow.
The move followed a week in which the White House was thrown into uproar after Trump fired FBI Director James Comey. Democrats and some of the president’s fellow Republicans had demanded an independent probe of whether Russia tried to sway the outcome of November’s election in favor of Trump and against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
Trump, whose anger over the allegations has grown in recent weeks, took the news calmly and used it to rally his team to unite, move on and refocus on his stalled agenda, a senior White House official said.
“We are all in this together,” Trump told his team, the official said.
Trump said in a statement after the Justice Department announcement he looked forward to a quick resolution.
“As I have stated many times, a thorough investigation will confirm what we already know – there was no collusion between my campaign and any foreign entity,” he said.
Mueller said in a statement tweeted by CBS News: “I accept this responsibility and will discharge it to the best of my ability.” [REUTERS]
Jury acquits Tulsa cop in shooting of unarmed black man
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — A jury on Wednesday acquitted a white Oklahoma police officer who says she fired out of fear last year when she killed an unarmed black man with his hands held above his head.
The family of Terence Crutcher burst into tears and expressed outrage after jurors found Tulsa officer Betty Jo Shelby not guilty of first-degree manslaughter in the Sept. 16 shooting. About 100 demonstrators later gathered outside the courthouse and some briefly blocked a main street.
“Let it be known that I believe in my heart that Betty Shelby got away with murder,” Crutcher’s father, Rev. Joey Crutcher, said after the verdict was announced.
A lawyer for Shelby said the officer was “elated” that the jury found her not guilty.
Shelby testified that she fired her weapon out of fear because she said Crutcher didn’t obey her commands to lie on the ground and appeared to reach inside his SUV for what she thought was a gun. Crutcher was unarmed.
Prosecutors told jurors that Shelby overreacted. They noted Crutcher had his hands in the air and wasn’t combative – part of which was confirmed by police video taken from a dashboard camera and helicopter that showed Crutcher walking away from Shelby, hands held above his head. [AP]
Trump Meets With Four Candidates to Lead FBI
President Donald Trump met with four candidates to lead the Federal Bureau of Investigation, including Acting Director Andrew McCabe and former Sen. Joe Lieberman, the White House said.
Speaking to reporters aboard Air Force One on the trip back to Washington after Mr. Trump’s remarks at the U.S. Coast Guard Academy in Connecticut, press secretary Sean Spicer said the other two candidates Mr. Trump was meeting with were former FBI official Richard McFeely and former Oklahoma Republican Gov. Frank Keating.
Mr. Trump’s meetings, which took place at the White House Wednesday afternoon, came as his administration is pressing to quickly pick the next FBI director before the president leaves on a nine-day foreign trip on Friday. Justice Department officials over the weekend held what they described as substantive discussions with at least eight candidates to lead the bureau.
Sarah Isgur Flores, a Justice Department spokeswoman, said Attorney General Jeff Sessions “has talked to all of” the remaining candidates about the position.
Selecting Mr. Lieberman—who served in the Senate as a Democrat and then as an independent, and endorsed Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election—would allow the White House to characterize the choice as a bipartisan one. Mr. Lieberman, 75 years old, served as attorney general in Connecticut before his election to the Senate in 1988, but has no federal law-enforcement experience, unlike past FBI directors. [WSJ]
U.S. immigration arrests up nearly 40 percent under Trump
U.S. arrests of suspected illegal immigrants rose by nearly 40 percent in the first 100 days of Donald Trump’s presidency, following executive orders that broadened the scope of who could be targeted for immigration violations, according to government data released on Wednesday.
The acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Thomas Homan said that arrests by his agency jumped to 41,318 between January 22 of this year and the end of April, up from 30,028 arrests in roughly the same period last year.
Of those arrested almost two-thirds had criminal convictions. But there was also a significant jump – of more than 150 percent – in the number of immigrants not convicted of further crimes arrested by ICE: 10,800 since the beginning of the year compared to 4,200 non-criminal arrests in the same period in 2016.
That increase is a result of recent guidance given by Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to implement Trump’s executive orders on interior immigration enforcement and border security signed on Jan. 25, just days after the Republican president took office.
“Those that enter the country illegally, they do violate the law, that is a criminal act,” Homan said on the call, while emphasizing that immigrants who pose a threat to national security or have criminal records are still a priority for the agency.
He said ICE will continue to target people who have been issued a final order of removal by an immigration judge even if they have not committed another crime. [REUTERS]
Teen arrested and charged with torching synagogue
The blaze that gutted a landmarked Lower East Side synagogue was set by a 14-year-old firebug who had previously tried to torch the historic house of worship, law-enforcement sources said Wednesday.
David Diaz was with other teens inside the abandoned Beth Hamedrash Hagadol synagogue when he allegedly set a curtain on fire Sunday night, according to the sources.
The flaming curtain fell onto some pews, causing the fire to quickly spread through the building, which was destroyed.
Several teens were caught on surveillance video fleeing the scene — and a female friend of the alleged arsonist gave him up to cops after they spotted her going to school on Tuesday.
Diaz was picked up at his Lower East Side home, which is near the synagogue, and charged with felony arson. No one else is expected to be arrested for the fire
Rabbi Mendel Greenbaum said he’s devastated by the loss of his synagogue but pities the “lost soul” who started the inferno.
“They were not aware of what they were doing, and the way it looks to me, it was not anti-Semitic, it was not a hate crime,” he said. “Maybe it’s a wake-up call, maybe this gives him some brains, and I hope he would be able to straighten out his life.”
Greenbaum lamented that the congregation was in the “final steps” of making a deal that would have cleared the way to renovate the synagogue. [NYP]
Statewide e-cigarette bill will likely outlaw devices’ use indoors
ALBANY — State lawmakers moved on Wednesday to place greater restrictions on the use of electronic cigarettes indoors.
The Democrat-controlled Assembly overwhelmingly approved a measure placing the same indoor prohibitions on e-cigarettes that currently exist for traditional cigarettes, effectively banning their use in most restaurants, bars and workplaces.
“The vapor of e-cigarettes contains nicotine and other dangerous chemicals,” said Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal (D-Manhattan), who sponsored the measure. “It also infringes on the right of people to not have to inhale noxious vapors from e-cigarettes.”
The measure, which extends the provisions of New York’s 14-year-old Clean Indoor Air Act to cover e-cigarettes, now heads to the GOP-controlled state Senate, where it has already been approved by the Health Committee.
Gov. Cuomo had included a similar provision in his proposed budget, but at the last minute it was dropped from the spending plan adopted by lawmakers in April.
Critics of the bill argued, however, that it went too far and there was not enough evidence to prove e-cigarette vapor was harmful. [DN]
Poll: De Blasio Enjoys Big Lead Over Challengers; Job Approval Hits High
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has a big lead over challengers in this fall’s election and his job approval rating has risen to 60%, its highest since taking office, a new poll showed.
The poll out Wednesday from Quinnipiac University found voters prefer Mr. de Blasio, a Democrat, over two likely Republican challengers by 3 to 1.
“Stay tuned for a slam-bang mayoral election—four years from now,” Maurice Carroll, the poll’s assistant director, said Wednesday.
The poll comes in the midst of a race that has so far offered little competition for Mr. de Blasio. The mayor has virtually no formidable opposition in the Democratic primary. Several potential challengers, like Comptroller Scott Stringer, considered entering the race, but backed away when investigations into the mayor’s fundraising operation yielded no indictments.
Dan Levitan, a campaign spokesman for Mr. de Blasio, said voters were responding to the mayor’s successes, which he said included his prekindergarten initiative, as well as low crime in the city and a strong economy. [WSJ]
New York Reaches Settlement With Nazi-Linked Community on Long Island
New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman’s office said Wednesday that it settled with the German American Settlement League in Yaphank, Long Island, over what prosecutors called racially discriminatory housing practices.
The League’s 40-acre community, a former Nazi summer camp called Siegfried Park, had only allowed people “primarily of German extraction” to own homes or be members. The group maintained these practices by leasing land to its members and prohibiting public listings of home sales, according to court documents.
Under the terms of the settlement, the League didn’t admit fault. It agreed to replace its president and treasurer and regularly report to the attorney general’s office, among other requirements.
In 2015, a married couple and a Long Island housing nonprofit sued the League, claiming its housing policies were illegal. The couple, who are white and of German ancestry, had been unsuccessful in selling their Siegfried Park home for at least six years because of the League’s “racially restrictive policies,” the suit alleged.
In the late 1930s, German-Americans traveled to Yaphank for Nazi rallies, according to the 2015 suit. Siegfried Park was used as a summer camp beginning in 1935, and was transferred to the League in 1937. The camp had Nazi flags, pictures of Adolf Hitler and a swastika-shaped garden, court documents say.
The subdivision had street names like Hindenburg Street, Adolf Hitler Street and German Boulevard, the suit said. Its constitution, dated 1998, says one of the purposes of the League is to “introduce, cultivate and propagate in every direction true Germanic culture and to cultivate the German language, customs and ideals.” Adolf Hitler Street has since been renamed, as have some other streets.
The 2015 lawsuit said a modified Hitler Youth emblem still sits on top of a flagpole that flies a German flag in the League’s clubhouse. All homeowners in Siegfried Park are and have always been white, according to the suit. It wasn’t clear if the Hitler Youth emblem was still there or if the race of homeowners had changed since 2015. [WSJ]
Trump campaign had at least 18 undisclosed contacts with Russians
Michael Flynn and other advisers to Donald Trump’s campaign were in contact with Russian officials and others with Kremlin ties in at least 18 calls and emails during the last seven months of the 2016 presidential race, current and former U.S. officials familiar with the exchanges told Reuters.
The previously undisclosed interactions form part of the record now being reviewed by FBI and congressional investigators probing Russian interference in the U.S. presidential election and contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia.
Six of the previously undisclosed contacts described to Reuters were phone calls between Sergei Kislyak, Russia’s ambassador to the United States, and Trump advisers, including Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser, three current and former officials said.
Conversations between Flynn and Kislyak accelerated after the Nov. 8 vote as the two discussed establishing a back channel for communication between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin that could bypass the U.S. national security bureaucracy, which both sides considered hostile to improved relations, four current U.S. officials said.
In January, the Trump White House initially denied any contacts with Russian officials during the 2016 campaign. The White House and advisers to the campaign have since confirmed four meetings between Kislyak and Trump advisers during that time.
The people who described the contacts to Reuters said they had seen no evidence of wrongdoing or collusion between the campaign and Russia in the communications reviewed so far. But the disclosure could increase the pressure on Trump and his aides to provide the FBI and Congress with a full account of interactions with Russian officials and others with links to the Kremlin during and immediately after the 2016 election. [REUTERS]
Flynn reportedly stopped US military plan against Islamic State that Turkey opposed
Just days before President Trump was sworn in, his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, reportedly blocked a military plan opposed by Turkey that was supposed to take aim against an ISIS group.
The plan that he reportedly blocked was to be carried out by Syrian Kurdish forces in Raqqa, a measure Turkey has long opposed.
Flynn, who was fired from his position in February, was registered as a foreign agent for $530,000 worth of lobbying work before Election Day.
Paperwork filed in March with the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Unit said Flynn and his firm were voluntarily registering for lobbying from August through November that “could be construed to have principally benefited the Republic of Turkey.”
The McClatchy news service reported that President Obama’s national security team asked for Trump’s approval on a plan to retake the Islamic State’s de facto capital of Raqqa, because it was more than likely to be carried out under his presidency.
Timelines distributed by members of Congress show that Flynn told then national security advisor Susan Rice to hold off, delaying the operation for months.
Trump eventually approved the plan, but only after Flynn had been fired in February for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other white House officials about his ties to Russia’s ambassador to the U.S. [FOXNEWS]
Republicans worry Trump scandals may doom legislative agenda
Scandals enveloping U.S. President Donald Trump have left Republican lawmakers and lobbyists increasingly gloomy about the prospects for passing sweeping tax cuts, a rollback of Obamacare and an ambitious infrastructure program.
With the White House and both chambers of the U.S. Congress under Republican control, party leaders and their allies in the business community had expected to get quick traction on their plans, with corporate tax cuts among the top priorities.
But four months into Trump’s tenure, only limited progress has been made. The House of Representatives passed a measure to rewrite Obamacare, but the Senate is only in the very early stages of considering the issue. Lawmakers are just beginning their push on tax reform.
The House Ways and Means Committee will hold a hearing on tax reform on Thursday. Key administration and congressional leaders met Wednesday afternoon to discuss a path forward. But they remain a long way from signing a bill into law.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that “less drama from the White House” was needed to advance legislative priorities. [REUTERS]
Comey Under Oath: ‘Have Not Experienced Any Requests to Stop FBI Investigations’
The debate about former FBI Director James Comey’s alleged memo about President Donald Trump’s attempt to stop the agency’s investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn showed up on Twitter Wednesday.
A reporter tweeted that Comey denied any interference in the agency’s investigations while under oath at a Senate hearing earlier this month.
Although Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) didn’t specifically ask about Trump in the question she posed to Comey, the inquiry was about whether or not he had experienced having a higher authority stop an FBI investigation.
“So if the Attorney General or senior officials at the Department of Justice opposes a specific investigation, can they halt that FBI investigation?” Hirono asked.
“In theory yes,” Comey answered.
“Has it happened? Hirono asked.
“Not in my experience,” Comey responded. “Because it would be a big deal to tell the FBI to stop doing something that — without an appropriate purpose.”
“I mean where oftentimes they give us opinions that we don’t see a case there, and so you ought to stop investing resources in it,” Comey said. “But I’m talking about a situation where we were told to stop something for a political reason, that would be a very big deal.
“It’s not happened in my experience,” Comey said. [BREITBART]
House GOP Leader’s ‘Putin pays Trump’ remark called a ‘failed attempt at humor’
House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., suggested to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., last summer that Russian President Vladimir Putin was paying Donald Trump, a remark spokesmen for both lawmakers dismissed as a bad joke Wednesday.
The remark, made just over a month before Trump received the Republican nomination for president, was dismissed as “a failed attempt at humor”by McCarthy’s spokesman.
“The idea McCarthy would assert this is absurd and false,” Matt Sparks told Fox News.
The June 15 conversation was first reported by The Washington Post, which claimed it that it heard a recording of the conversation.
“There’s two people I think Putin pays: Rohrabacher and Trump,” said McCarthy. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., has said policymakers in Washington have been too harsh on Russia and should work more closely with Moscow to fight extremist groups.
According to a transcript from the Post, McCarthy’s comment prompted laughter from some Republicans in the room, at which point Ryan jumped in.
“No leaks, all right?” the Speaker said, as the laughter continued. “This is how we know we’re a real family here.”
Ryan spokesman Brendan Buck also described the exchange as “an attempt at humor,” at one point taking to social media to counter the report. [FOXNEWS]
Showdown Expected at Western Wall as Hundreds of Reform Jews Plan to Defy Prayer Restrictions
Hundreds of Reform Jews from around the world plan to defy regulations at the Western Wall on Thursday morning by holding a Torah reading service in an area of the Jewish holy site deemed off limits to worshippers.
Their actions are likely to be viewed as a provocation, forcing a showdown with ultra-Orthodox worshippers and with with security guards acting on behalf of the organization that administers the Western Wall.
The World Union for Progressive Judaism, the international umbrella organization of the Reform movement, is holding its biennial conference in Jerusalem this week. A highlight of the event will be a joint bat-mitzvah at the Western Wall, scheduled for Thursday morning, for about a dozen Jewish women from Latin America who never participated in the Jewish initiation ritual. Around 450 Reform Jews from 30 different countries are expected to attend the event.
The bat-mitzvah ceremony will be held at the area designated for mixed prayer services, known as Azarat Yisrael, which is located at the southern expanse of the Western Wall. But following the ceremony, the worshippers plan to move to the area known as the upper plaza, right near and in full view of the traditional gender-segregated plazas, where they will hold a Torah reading service, in which both men and women will participate.
Worshippers at the Western Wall are not allowed to bring their own Torah scrolls to the site but are asked instead to use the Torah scrolls available in the men’s section. The Western Wall Heritage Foundation, the Orthodox-run organization that administers the holy site, does not make Torah scrolls available to women, however. For this reason, members of the Reform delegation attending Thursday’s service plan to disregard the ban and bring their own Torah scrolls to the Western Wall.
Even if they manage to smuggle them in, they could be prevented from holding a mixed service in the upper plaza, since the Western Wall Heritage Foundation has declared this particular space off limits for prayer.
Almost a year ago, Reform and Conservative Jews from around the world, convening in Jerusalem at the time, had planned on holding a mixed prayer service in the upper plaza to protest the government’s inaction in implementing the egalitarian prayer space agreement. At the last minute, fearing violent protests, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit issued a special order preventing the gathering.
Rabbi Shmuel Rabinowitz, director of the Western Wall Heritage Foundation and the chief custodian of the holy site, later announced that prayer in the upper plaza would from hereon be absolutely forbidden.
In recent months, Ateret Cohanim, an Orthodox yeshiva affiliated with the settler movement, has been trying to push Reform and Conservative worshippers out of the Azarat Yisrael space. It frequently holds prayer services there, rather than in the tradition gender-segregated spaces, seting up a barrier, or mechitza, on the temporary platform to separate men and women.
Several weeks ago, leaders of the Reform and Conservative movements in Israel sent a letter to Netanyahu and to Mendelblit complaining that their members were being pushed out of the only space they had available for prayer, noting that they were frequently harassed by young Orthodox bystanders while holding services and ceremonies there. [HAARETZ]
EU fines Facebook 110 million euros over WhatsApp deal
European Union antitrust regulators fined Facebook (FB.O) 110 million euros ($122 million) on Thursday for giving misleading information during a vetting of its deal to acquire messaging service WhatsApp in 2014.
Calling it a “proportionate and deterrent fine”, the European Commission, which acts as the EU’s competition watchdog, said Facebook had said it could not automatically match user accounts on its namesake platform and WhatsApp but two years later launched a service that did exactly that.
“The Commission has found that, contrary to Facebook’s statements in the 2014 merger review process, the technical possibility of automatically matching Facebook and WhatsApp users’ identities already existed in 2014, and that Facebook staff were aware of such a possibility,” the Commission said.
Facebook said in a statement the errors made in its 2014 filings were not intentional and that the Commission had confirmed they had not affected the outcome of the merger review.
“Today’s announcement brings this matter to a close,” Facebook said.
The fine would not reverse the Commission’s decision to clear the purchase of WhatsApp and was unrelated to separate investigations into data protection issues, it added. [REUTERS]
Rabsky files plans for 104-room Williamsburg hotel
Rabsky Group filed plans for a 104-room hotel on Bedford Avenue in South Williamsburg – the first hotel project for the prolific Brooklyn developer.
The company, led by Simon Dushinsky and Isaac Rabinowitz, plans to build an 11-story property spanning roughly 155,000 square feet on the site at 361 Bedford Avenue, which is currently the site of a small parking lot, according to an application filed with city Department of Buildings Wednesday.
A spokesperson for the company was not immediately available for comment.
Rabsky began assembling the site in 2014 when it bought the property at 359 Bedford Avenue between South 4th and 5th streets for $800,000. The next year, the company bought the property further down the block at 353 Bedford Avenue for $2.5 million. The developer filed plans to demolish the 3-story building at 359 Bedford Avenue.
Rabsky continued to acquire development rights on the block through an assemblage that included more than 10 tax lots.
The developer became one of the most active firms in Brooklyn by building rentals and condos in the northern section of the borough, but has recently branched out into commercial development.
Last week, the company closed on the $68 million purchase of a development site in Downtown Brooklyn that, combined with a neighboring property the company already owns, allows it to build a skyscraper as large as 770,000 square feet. [TRD]
Five-Story, 10-Unit Residential Building Planned at 230 20th Street, South Slope
Brooklyn-based Candor Capital has filed applications for a five-story, 10-unit residential building at 230 20th Street, located in South Slope. The project will measure 10,850 square feet and its residential units should average 789 square feet apiece, indicative of rentals. Amenities will include recreational space on the ground floor, plus laundry facilities and storage rooms in the cellar. Brooklyn-based NA Design Studio is the architect of record. The 35-foot-wide, 2,630-square-foot assemblage consists of a pair of two-story townhouses. Demolition permits were filed in April. [YIMBYNEWS]