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Israeli opposition leaders say they’ve reached a deal to form a coalition government that would end Benjamin Netanyahu’s 12-year reign as prime minister. The deal would see far-right politician Naftali Bennett serve as prime minister for two years, followed by opposition leader Yair Lapid for two years after that. It’s not at all clear whether the coalition might last that long. The new government includes a small party of Palestinian citizens of Israel known as the United Arab List. Netanyahu, who is scrambling to derail the newly announced coalition, today blasted it as a “dangerous left-wing government.”
Naftali Bennett is a tech multimillionaire who entered politics in 2006 as a senior aide to Benjamin Netanyahu. Bennett previously led the Israeli settler movement in the occupied West Bank. He’s called for the annexation of Palestinian lands, opposes a Palestinian state and has compared Palestinian citizens of Israel to a “fifth column.”
At the White House, Press Secretary Jen Psaki on Wednesday refused to answer a reporter’s questions about whether Bennett would be a “partner for peace” in Israel.
Reporter: “Does Biden have a view on Naftali Bennett’s past statements about annexing the West Bank and negating a two-state solution? How will Biden approach clear differences there on that issue? And does he still think he has a partner for peace in an Israeli government led by Bennett?”
Press Secretary Jen Psaki: “Well, we’re not going to weigh in on an ongoing political process in a foreign country, in Israel or anywhere in the world.”
The head of the International Committee of the Red Cross toured the Gaza Strip Wednesday, visiting neighborhoods devastated by Israel’s 11-day bombardment, including a road where 42 people were killed. This is ICRC Director-General Robert Mardini.
Robert Mardini: “It’s really heartbreaking to see and to hear about the people who paid the ultimate cost of this escalation — women, children, civilians, who were living in their — safely in their apartments and were caught in this rubble that we see behind us.”
Israel’s assault on Gaza killed 256 Palestinians, including at least 66 children, while rockets fired from Gaza killed 12 civilians in Israel, including two children.
The heads of the International Monetary Fund, World Bank, World Trade Organization and World Health Organization are promoting a $50 billion plan to increase vaccine access and end the pandemic faster. The agencies’ leaders note that low-income nations have received less than 1% of vaccines administered so far, writing, “Some affluent countries are already discussing the rollout of booster shots to their populations, but the vast majority of people in developing countries — even front-line health workers — have still not received their first shot.”
Meanwhile, a new report by the International Labour Organization finds the coronavirus pandemic has pushed over 100 million workers into poverty, wiping out 144 million jobs in 2020.
President Joe Biden has announced new incentives aimed at getting 70% of U.S. adults vaccinated against COVID by the Fourth of July. Biden said his administration would partner with Black-owned barbershops and beauty salons around the U.S. to promote vaccine education and to provide shots, where possible. Biden also offered promotional giveaways to people who get shots, including sports tickets, free child care and beer.
President Joe Biden: “Anheuser-Busch announced that beer is on them on July the Fourth. That’s right: Get a shot and have a beer. Free beer for everyone 21 years or over to celebrate the independence from the virus.”
Meanwhile, West Virginia has expanded a giveaway of vaccination prizes to include weekly lottery drawings, four-year scholarships, and rifles and handguns.
COVID-19 cases continue to fall across the U.S., with the average number of daily infections dropping below 20,000. Hospitalizations are at their lowest level in over a year, with doctors reporting nearly all new COVID patients are unvaccinated people.
A Florida man who took part in the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol pleaded guilty Wednesday to one felony count. Paul Hodgkins, who carried a Trump flag as he breached the Senate on January 6, is just the second person to plead guilty and faces a maximum sentence of 21 months in prison, as well thousands of dollars in fines.
Meanwhile, former President Trump has reportedly been telling people he expects to be reinstated as president by August. Earlier this week, Trump discontinued his blog after just 29 days due to low readership.
Calls are growing to abolish the filibuster in order to pass federal protections for voting rights as Republicans push voter suppression bills around the country. On Wednesday, President Biden called again for passage of the For the People Act and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. California Congressmember Barbara Lee tweeted in response, “It’s either uphold the filibuster or uphold our democracy.” But Democratic Senators Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona have staunchly opposed doing away with the filibuster, which would allow Democrats to pass legislation with a simple majority. Senator Sinema was pressed on the issue yesterday as she appeared with Texas Republican Senator John Cornyn.
Sen. Kyrsten Sinema: “Well, as folks in Arizona know, I’ve long been a supporter of the filibuster, because it is a tool that protects the democracy of our nation, rather than allowing our country to ricochet wildly every two to four years back and forth between policies.”
International pressure is mounting for Ethiopia to declare a ceasefire and allow for delivery of aid to the northern Tigray region, where millions of people are now facing famine. The U.N. says over 90% of people in the area need emergency food aid after months of conflict and displacement. There have also been many reports of sexual violence and indiscriminate killings since the fighting erupted in November of last year. Earlier this week, reports were published of a May 8 attack in which Eritrean soldiers killed 19 civilians, mostly children and women, in a Tigray village.
One of Sri Lanka’s biggest environmental disasters on record is set to get even worse, after a stricken cargo ship carrying tons of chemicals began sinking in the Indian Ocean. Officials are now bracing for an oil spill from about 350 metric tons of oil loaded in the sinking ship’s fuel tanks. This week, Sri Lanka temporarily banned fishing along a 50-mile stretch of coastline, devastating the country’s fishing industry.
Joshua Anthony: “The ship has dealt a death blow to our lives. We can’t go to the sea, which means we can’t make a living.”
In Nicaragua, police arrested opposition leader Cristiana Chamorro and filed money laundering charges against her, in what critics say is an attempt to block a challenge to President Daniel Ortega in November elections. Cristiana Chamorro is the daughter of former President Violeta Barrios de Chamorro, who herself defeated Ortega to become president in 1990. In 2018, anti-government protests erupted in Nicaragua demanding Daniel Ortega step down and release political prisoners. Rights groups say police and pro-government militias killed hundreds during the uprising. Ortega has also come under fire for refusing to take public health measures to protect Nicaraguans from the pandemic.
The Guardian reports the British royal family had a policy banning the hiring of people of color or foreigners in roles other than domestic servants until at least the late 1960s. Buckingham Palace was also able to negotiate an exemption from British laws that prevent discrimination. The revelations come as the royal family is still grappling with the fallout from an explosive March interview with Meghan Markle and Prince Harry in which Markle revealed a member of the royal family expressed concern about her then-unborn baby’s skin color. In the interview, Markle shared with Oprah Winfrey her mental health struggles during her time as a royal.
Back in the United States, Texas Republican Governor Greg Abbott is attempting to revoke licenses for state child care facilities that shelter unaccompanied asylum-seeking minors. If successful, children and teenagers would be forced to stay in immigration jails run by Customs and Border Protection and unlicensed temporary facilities, which are overcrowded and are not equipped to care for them. The Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees the state shelters, says they don’t intend to close any centers as a result of Governor Abbott’s order. Former Housing and Urban Development secretary and San Antonio Mayor Julián Castro tweeted, “This is a cruel political tantrum at the expense of children.”
California Governor Gavin Newsom has granted 14 pardons, 13 commutations and eight medical reprieves. Among those pardoned are two formerly incarcerated firefighters who faced deportation. Kao Saelee and Bounchan Keola were both born in Laos but brought to the United States as small children. Keola was incarcerated for over two decades after he was prosecuted as an adult for a crime he committed when he was just 16. He suffered a near-fatal injury battling California’s record-shattering wildfires last year. Saelee was transferred to a U.S. immigration jail last year to await deportation after completing a 22-year sentence for a robbery he committed as a teenager. Both men rejoined their families over the weekend.
In Dallas, Texas, a high school class valedictorian tossed out her pre-approved commencement speech at her graduation on Sunday and instead delivered a passionate denouncement of Texas’s assault on reproductive rights. Lake Highlands High School graduate Paxton Smith was responding to a bill signed last month by Republican Governor Greg Abbott banning all abortions about six weeks into a pregnancy.
Paxton Smith: “I have dreams and hopes and ambitions. Every girl graduating today does. And we have spent our entire lives working towards our future. And without our input and without our consent, our control over that future has been stripped away from us. I am terrified that if my contraceptives fail, I am terrified that if I am raped, then my hopes and aspirations and dreams and efforts for my future will no longer matter. I hope that you can feel how gut-wrenching that is. I hope you can feel how dehumanizing it is to have the autonomy over your own body taken away from you.”