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Extremist lawmaker surges ahead of elections in Israel…

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Extremist lawmaker surges ahead of elections in Israel…

TEL AVIV, Israel (AP) — Israeli lawmaker Itamar Ben-Gvir calls his Arab colleagues “terrorists.” He wants to deport his political opponents, and in his youth, his views were so extreme that the army banned him from compulsory military service.

Yet today, the populist lawmaker who was once relegated to the margins of Israeli politics is surging ahead in the polls ahead of November elections. He has received the blessing of former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and is poised to emerge as a major force that could propel the onetime premier back to power.

Ben-Gvir’s stunning rise is the culmination of years of efforts by the media-savvy lawmaker to gain legitimacy. But it also reflects a rightward shift in the Israeli electorate that has brought his religious, ultranationalist ideology into the mainstream and all but extinguished hopes for Palestinian independence.

“Over the last year I’ve been on a mission to save Israel,” Ben-Gvir recently told reporters. “Millions of citizens are waiting for a real right-wing government. The time has come to give them one.”

Ben-Gvir, 46, has been a fixture of Israel’s extreme right for more than two decades, gaining notoriety in his youth as a disciple of the late radical rabbi, Meir Kahane. He first became a national figure when he famously broke a hood ornament off then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s car in 1995.

“We got to his car, and we’ll get to him too,” he said, just weeks before Rabin was assassinated by a Jewish extremist opposed to his peace efforts with the Palestinians.

Kahane’s violent anti-Arab ideology — which included calls to ban Jewish-Arab intermarriage and for the mass expulsion of Palestinians — was considered so repugnant that Israel banned him from parliament and the U.S. listed his party as a terrorist group. Kahane himself was assassinated by an Arab assailant in New York in 1990.

But in recent years, his followers and some of his ideas have made their way to the Israeli mainstream — in large part thanks to Ben-Gvir.

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He transitioned into politics last year after a career as a lawyer defending radical Jewish West Bank settlers. His intimate knowledge of the law has helped him test the boundaries of the country’s incitement laws and avoid sanctions that have prevented some of his closest associates from running in elections.

Ben-Gvir, for instance, calls Kahane “righteous and holy” but also says he doesn’t agree with everything his former mentor said. He’s careful to limit his own calls for expulsion to those who engage in violence and lawmakers — Jewish or Arab — who he says undermine the state.

Before entering politics, he removed a photo of Baruch Goldstein — a Jewish militant who gunned down 29 Palestinians in a mosque in 1994 — from his living room. He no longer allows his supporters to chant “Death to Arabs” at political rallies. Instead, they are told to say, “Death to terrorists!”

Supporters say Ben-Gvir has changed, been misunderstood, or wrongly painted an extremist.

“People mature. People develop,” said Nevo Cohen, Ben-Gvir’s campaign manager. “They stuck a label on Ben-Gvir that is totally wrong.”

Ben-Gvir’s office turned down an interview request. But he makes frequent appearances on Israeli TV and radio, displaying a cheerful demeanor, quit wit and knack for deflecting criticism as he banters with his hosts.

He also has tapped into a wave of anti-Arab and nationalist sentiment driven by years of violence, failed peace efforts and demographic changes. Ben-Gvir’s supporters are largely religious and ultra-Orthodox Jews, who tend to have large families, and also come from the influential West Bank settler movement. Ben-Gvir himself lives in a hard-line settlement next to the West Bank city of Hebron, home to more than 200,000 Palestinians.

“He is a populist demagogue. He plays on the sentiments of hate and fear of Arabs,” said Shuki Friedman, an expert on Israel’s far right at the Jewish People Policy Institute. “He interviews well, he is good on camera and he has had plenty of screen time that has given him legitimacy.”

In the opposition over the past year, Ben-Gvir has positioned himself as a rabble rouser against the government — the first ever to have an Arab party as a member. He publicly quarreled with Arab lawmakers in scenes captured on camera and widely broadcast.

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In the tense run-up to last year’s Gaza war, he staged provocative visits to Arab neighborhoods, rallying ultranationalist supporters to confront Palestinians and assert “Jewish Power” — the name of his party.

He set up an outdoor parliamentary “office” in an Arab neighborhood of east Jerusalem where Jewish settlers are trying to expel Palestinians from their homes, setting off a melee. He later called for police to use live fire against Palestinian protesters at a flashpoint holy site.

His surge in the polls has made him a central figure in Netanyahu’s comeback strategy.

Netanyahu is on trial for corruption, and the public is again torn over his fitness to rule. After four consecutive inconclusive elections, Netanyahu and his Likud party hope to break the logjam with Ben-Gvir’s support.

“Yes, Ben-Gvir is someone very militant and yes, sometimes a little provocative, but he is someone who cares about Israel,” said Likud lawmaker and Netanyahu confidant Miki Zohar, who insisted Ben-Gvir would fall in line under a Netanyahu-led government.

Last week, Netanyahu personally brokered a deal between Ben-Gvir and a rival far-right leader, Bezalel Smotrich, to ensure they run together. If they hadn’t, Smotrich might not have made it into parliament, depriving Netanyahu of a critical source of support.

“Joining forces is the order of the day,” Netanyahu said.

One recent poll forecast Ben-Gvir’s alliance with 12 seats, which would make it parliament’s fourth-largest. That means Netanyahu almost certainly would make Ben-Gvir a Cabinet minister if he can form a government.

Ben-Gvir has said his first order of business would be to pass a law allowing deportations of those who allegedly subvert the country and its security forces. He has proposed imposing the death penalty for “terrorists” and granting immunity to soldiers accused of committing violent crimes against Palestinians.

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Thabet Abu Rass, the Arab co-director of the Abraham Initiatives, which promotes Jewish-Arab coexistence, said the mainstreaming of figures like Ben-Gvir is not only a threat to Israel’s Arab citizens, but to the country as a whole.

By branding Arab members of parliament as traitors who should be expelled, Ben Gvir delegitimizes the political participation of Arab citizens — who make up around 20% of Israel’s population — and the possibility of Jewish-Arab partnerships, Abu Rass said.

“It’s very dangerous for the whole Israeli society,” he said. “It’s going to bring about the collapse of democracy.”

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

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Remember last year’s Memorial Day travel jams? Chances are they will be much worse this year

The patience of Memorial Day weekend travelers was tested Thursday by widespread delays across the country, but there were relatively few canceled flights, raising hopes that airlines can handle bigger crowds expected Friday.

By early evening on the East Coast, more than 6,000 flights had been delayed Thursday, with the biggest backups at the three major airports in the New York City area and Dallas-Fort Worth International.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

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Pasha Pidlubniak waits for a domestic flight at Miami International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Miami. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Lynne Sladky)

 

The Transportation Security Administration predicted that Friday will be the busiest day for air travel over the holiday weekend, with nearly 3 million people expected to pass through airport checkpoints. It could rival the record of 2.9 million, set on the Sunday after Thanksgiving last year.

“Airports are going to be more packed than we have seen in 20 years,” said Aixa Diaz, a spokesperson for AAA.

When they aren’t waiting out flight delays, travelers are reporting sticker shock at the prices.

At Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, Larisa Latimer of New Lenox, Illinois, said her airfare was reasonable but other expenses for a getaway to New Orleans were not.

 

 

 

 

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Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

Motorists travel along Interstate 24 near the Interstate 40 interchange Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to hit the pavement over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

“I just have to make the accommodation,” she said. “The rental car is up … this year, the hotel accommodations were very unusually expensive.”

Kathy Larko of Fort Meyers, Florida, used frequent-flyer miles — and some flexible scheduling — to pay for her trip to Chicago.

“I’m really conscious of looking at the cost of the entire trip. We’re staying a little farther out than we normally would” to get a lower hotel rate, she said. “We’re also flying back a day later, because we could get cheaper miles.”

More travelers will be on the road. AAA estimates that 43.8 million people will venture at least 50 miles (80 kilometers) from home between Thursday and Monday, with 38 million of them taking vehicles.

 
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Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Travelers wait at a TSA checkpoint at the Los Angeles International Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Los Angeles. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/Ryan Sun)

 

Airport unions are using the holiday weekend to highlight their demands.

About 100 workers who clean airplane cabins and drive trash trucks at the airport in Charlotte, North Carolina, started a 24-hour strike Thursday, demanding better pay and healthcare, according to the Service Employees International Union. About 15% of flights were delayed, but it was unclear whether the strike played any role.

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A planned strike at John F. Kennedy Airport in New York was averted, however. Teamsters Local 553, which represents about 300 workers who refuel passenger and cargo jets at JFK, said that it reached a settlement with Allied Aviation Services and called off a walkout planned for Friday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

George Ridley, 4, left, rides on a suitcase as he and his father Chris Ridley make their way through the Nashville international Airport, Thursday, May 23, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. A record number of Americans are expected to travel over the 2024 Memorial Day holiday. (AP Photo/George Walker IV)

 

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“We are happy an agreement has been reached, a need for a strike averted, and we are hopeful that the deal will be ratified by our members,” said Demos Demopoulos, the secretary-treasurer of the local.

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Associated Press video journalist Melissa Perez Winder in Chicago and Associated Press radio reporter Shelley Adler in Washington contributed to this report.

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

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Texas health department appoints anti-abortion OB-GYN to maternal mortality committee

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas’ health department has appointed an outspoken anti-abortion OB-GYN to a committee that reviews pregnancy-related deaths as doctors have been warning that the state’s restrictive abortion ban puts women’s lives at risk.

Dr. Ingrid Skop was among the new appointees to the Texas Maternal Morality and Morbidity Review Committee announced last week by the Texas Department of State Health Services. Her term starts June 1.

The committee, which compiles data on pregnancy-related deaths, makes recommendations to the Legislature on best practices and policy changes and is expected to assess the impact of abortion laws on maternal mortality.

Skop, who has worked as an OB-GYN for over three decades, is vice president and director of medical affairs for the Charlotte Lozier Institute, an anti-abortion research group. Skop will be the committee’s rural representative.

Skop, who has worked in San Antonio for most of her career, told the Houston Chronicle that she has “often cared for women traveling long distances from rural Texas maternity deserts, including women suffering complications from abortions.”

Texas has one of the most restrictive abortion bans in the U.S., and doctors have sought clarity on the state’s medical exemption, which allows an abortion to save a woman’s life or prevent the impairment of a major bodily function. Doctors have said the exemption is too vague, making it difficult to offer life-saving care for fear of repercussions. A doctor convicted of providing an illegal abortion in Texas can face up to 99 years in prison and a $100,000 fine and lose their medical license.

Skop has said medical associations are not giving doctors the proper guidance on the matter. She has also shared more controversial views, saying during a congressional hearing in 2021 that rape or incest victims as young as 9 or 10 could carry pregnancies to term.

Texas’ abortion ban has no exemption for cases of rape or incest.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which says abortion is “inherently tied to maternal health,” said in a statement that members of the Texas committee should be “unbiased, free of conflicts of interest and focused on the appropriate standards of care.” The organization noted that bias against abortion has already led to “compromised” analyses, citing a research articles co-authored by Skop and others affiliated with the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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Earlier this year a medical journal retracted studies supported by the Charlotte Lozier Institute claiming to show harms of the abortion pill mifepristone, citing conflicts of interests by the authors and flaws in their research. Two of the studies were cited in a pivotal Texas court ruling that has threatened access to the drug.

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

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Michigan farmworker diagnosed with bird flu, becoming 2nd US case tied to dairy cows

A Michigan dairy worker has been diagnosed with bird flu — the second human case associated with an outbreak in U.S. dairy cows.

The male worker had been in contact with cows at a farm with infected animals. He experienced mild eye symptoms and has recovered, U.S. and Michigan health officials said in announcing the case Wednesday.

A nasal swab from the person tested negative for the virus, but an eye swab tested Tuesday was positive for bird flu, “indicating an eye infection,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials said.

The worker developed a “gritty feeling” in his eye earlier this month but it was a “very mild case,” said Dr. Natasha Bagdasarian, Michigan’s chief medical executive. He was not treated with oseltamivir, a medication advised for treating bird flu, she said.

The risk to the public remains low, but farmworkers exposed to infected animals are at higher risk, health officials said. They said those workers should be offered protective equipment, especially for their eyes.

Health officials say they do not know if the Michigan farmworker was wearing protective eyewear, but an investigation is continuing.

In late March, a farmworker in Texas was diagnosed in what officials called the first known instance globally of a person catching this version of bird flu from a mammal. That patient reported only eye inflammation and recovered.

Since 2020, a bird flu virus has been spreading among more animal species — including dogs, cats, skunks, bears and even seals and porpoises — in scores of countries.

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The detection in U.S. livestock earlier this year was an unexpected twist that sparked questions about food safety and whether it would start spreading among humans.

That hasn’t happened, although there’s been a steady increase of reported infections in cows. As of Wednesday, the virus had been confirmed in 51 dairy herds in nine states, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department. Fifteen of the herds were in Michigan.

The CDC’s Dr. Nirav Shah said the case was “not unexpected” and it’s possible more infections could be diagnosed in people who work around infected cows.

U.S. officials said they had tested 40 people since the first cow cases were discovered in late March. Michigan has tested 35 of them, Bagdasarian told The Associated Press in an interview.

Shah praised Michigan officials for actively monitoring farmworkers. He said health officials there have been sending daily text messages to workers exposed to infected cows asking about possible symptoms, and that the effort helped officials catch this infection. He said no other workers had reported symptoms.

That’s encouraging news, said Michael Osterholm, a University of Minnesota epidemiologist who has studied bird flu for decades. There’s no sign to date that the virus is causing flu-like illness or that it is spreading among people.

“If we had four or five people seriously ill with respiratory illness, we would be picking that up,” he said.

The virus has been found in high levels in the raw milk of infected cows, but government officials say pasteurized products sold in grocery stores are safe because heat treatment has been confirmed to kill the virus.

The new case marks the third time a person in the United States has been diagnosed with what’s known as Type A H5N1 virus. In 2022, a prison inmate in a work program picked it up while killing infected birds at a poultry farm in Montrose County, Colorado. His only symptom was fatigue, and he recovered. That predated the virus’s appearance in cows.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

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