Israel approves law to curb protests during virus lockdown

Thousands of Israelis gathered in Jerusalem to demand the resignation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a day after the country tightened its lockdown aimed at slowing coronavirus spread. (AFP)
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Updated 30 September 2020

Israel approves law to curb protests during virus lockdown

  • The law allows the government to declare a special week-long state of emergency if the coronavirus spreads out of control
  • That measure is widely seen as a bid to squelch protests against Netanyahu, which have drawn thousands each week

JERUSALEM: Israel’s parliament on Wednesday passed a law that would allow the government to curtail public protests during the country’s nationwide coronavirus lockdown, a measure that drew fierce opposition a day earlier.
The law allows the government to declare a special week-long state of emergency if the coronavirus spreads out of control. If such a state is declared, the government would be able to limit participation in assemblies, including protests, to 1 kilometer (0.6 miles) from a person’s home, effectively putting a halt to large weekly demonstrations outside Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s residence.
The Knesset approved the bill 46-38 during a late-night session that stretched into the morning hours.
That measure is widely seen as a bid to squelch protests against Netanyahu, which have drawn thousands each week outside his official residence for the past several months.
They are the largest sustained demonstrations against Netanyahu in nearly a decade, and call on the longtime prime minister to resign while on trial for corruption charges and accuse him of bungling his management of the coronavirus crisis
Netanyahu has said the protests must end due to public health concerns. But protesters say he is using the crisis as a pretext to muzzle them.
Netanyahu is on trial for fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in three separate cases. He has denied any wrongdoing, accusing the media and law enforcement of an orchestrated “witch hunt” against him.
Earlier this month, Israel declared its second countrywide lockdown, and tightened restrictions further last week in a bid to rein in one of the world’s most severe coronavirus outbreaks. Schools, malls, restaurants and hundreds of businesses are shut.
The lockdown went into effect on Sept. 18, just before the Jewish New Year, and was initially slated to be lifted on Oct. 11. But Israeli officials are now saying the lockdown is expected to run longer as new COVID-19 cases continue to climb.
Israel, a country of around 9 million people, has recorded over 235,000 cases of the novel coronavirus and more than 1,500 deaths, according to Health Ministry figures. The ministry said Tuesday the country has for the first time surpassed the US, one of the world’s worst-hit countries, in per capita daily coronavirus deaths.


US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

Updated 22 October 2020

US officials: Iran sent emails intimidating American voters

  • Intelligence director: “These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries”

WASHINGTON: US officials accused Iran on Wednesday of being behind a flurry of emails sent to Democratic voters in multiple battleground states that appeared to be aimed at intimidating them into voting for President Donald Trump.
The announcement at a rare, hastily called news conference just two weeks before the election underscored the concern within the US government about efforts by foreign countries to spread false information meant to suppress voter turnout and undermine American confidence in the vote.
The activities attributed to Iran would mark a significant escalation for a nation that some cybersecurity experts regard as a second-rate player in online espionage, with the announcement coming as most public discussion surrounding election interference has centered on Russia, which hacked Democratic emails during the 2016 election, and China, a Trump administration adversary.
“These actions are desperate attempts by desperate adversaries,” said John Ratcliffe, the government’s top intelligence official, who, along with FBI Director Chris Wray, insisted the US would impose costs on any foreign countries that interfere in the 2020 US election and that the integrity of the election is still sound.
“You should be confident that your vote counts,” Wray said. “Early, unverified claims to the contrary should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism.”
Wray and Ratcliffe did not describe the emails linked to Iran, but officials familiar with the matter said the US has linked Tehran to messages sent to Democratic voters in at least four battleground states that falsely purported to be from the neo-fascist group Proud Boys and that warned “we will come after you” if the recipients didn’t vote for Trump.
The officials also said Iran and Russia had obtained voter registration data, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Ratcliffe said the spoofed emails were intended to hurt Trump, though he did not elaborate on how. An intelligence assessment released in August said: “Iran seeks to undermine US democratic institutions, President Trump, and to divide the country in advance of the 2020 elections. Iran’s efforts along these lines probably will focus on online influence, such as spreading disinformation on social media and recirculating anti-US content.”
Trump, speaking at a rally in North Carolina, made no reference to the press conference but repeated a familiar campaign assertion that Iran is opposed to his reelection. He promised that if he wins another term he will swiftly reach a new accord with Iran over its nuclear program.
“Iran doesn’t want to let me win. China doesn’t want to let me win,” Trump said. “The first call I’ll get after we win, the first call I’ll get will be from Iran saying let’s make a deal.”
Both Russia and Iran also obtained voter registration information, though such data is considered easily, publicly accessible. Tehran used the information to send out the spoofed emails, which were sent to voters in states including Pennsylvania and Florida.
Asked about the emails during an online forum Wednesday, Pennsylvania Secretary of State Kathy Boockvar said she lacked specific information. “I am aware that they were sent to voters in multiple swing states and we are working closely with the attorney general on these types of things and others,” she said.
While state-backed Russian hackers are known to have infiltrated US election infrastructure in 2016, there is no evidence that Iran has ever done so.
The voter intimidation operation apparently used email addresses obtained from state voter registration lists, which include party affiliation and home addresses and can include email addresses and phone numbers. Those addresses were then used in an apparently widespread targeted spamming operation. The senders claimed they would know which candidate the recipient was voting for in the Nov. 3 election, for which early voting is ongoing.
Federal officials have long warned about the possibility of this type of operation, as such registration lists are not difficult to obtain.
“These emails are meant to intimidate and undermine American voters’ confidence in our elections,” Christopher Krebs, the top election security official at the Department of Homeland Security, tweeted Tuesday night after reports of the emails first surfaced.