July 17, 2023


Government Affairs News Digest
I’m writing to share J Street’s statements and news updates.

Israeli President Isaac Herzog is arriving to D.C. this Tuesday, where he will meet US President Joe Biden and address a joint session of Congress. The meeting comes after President Biden’s noteworthy interview to CNN last week, in which he criticized extremists in Prime Minister Netanyahu’s Cabinet for destabilizing and escalating tensions in the West Bank as they push for settlement expansion. The Biden Administration has also called on the Israeli government to respect the freedom of its citizens to demonstrate, as protests erupted once again with the Knesset’s advancement of far-right judicial reform.

In this week’s digest, you will also find a New York Times op-ed by Thomas Friedman that’s generated much discussion. In it, Friedman posits that the Biden Administration is reconsidering its appropach to the Netanyahu government, as the latter continues to disregard American pressure and persists with moves promoting annexation and the undermining of the Palestinian Authority.

This week also brought yet another attack by settlers on Palestinian villages in the West Bank. To learn more about this terrible phenomenon and what the Biden Administration can do about it, see the J Street Policy Center’s new issue brief on settler violence.

I hope you’ll check out, or continue making use of, our regularly updated dossier on the Netanyahu government. As always, you can find our Congressional briefing book, background information on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, recordings of previous briefings and more at J Street’s Congressional Resource Page.

Feel free to reach out with any questions.

All the best,

Debra Shushan, PhD
Director of Policy, J Street
mobile: (757) 746-0366 | [email protected] | @DrShushan

This week on j street



Israeli Settler Violence Against Palestinians in the West Bank

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What we’re reading

Herzog heads to DC, hoping to bridge the Biden-Netanyahu divide

President Isaac Herzog is set to take off early Tuesday for Washington, where he will meet US President Joe Biden and address a joint session of Congress… Biden’s embrace of Herzog is likely a way for the US president, who proudly calls himself a Zionist, to show that he supports Israel but has serious reservations about the Netanyahu-led hardline coalition. It will be Herzog’s second White House visit in less than nine months, while Netanyahu has yet to receive an invitation since returning to office in late December… Netanyahu told the Ambassador Michael Herzog — the president’s brother, who is Israel’s envoy to Washington — that he thought the visit would give the White House legitimacy to avoid inviting the premier, the report said… The White House said in a statement that Herzog’s visit “will highlight our enduring partnership and friendship” and that Biden will use the opportunity when they meet on Tuesday to “reaffirm the ironclad commitment of the United States to Israel’s security.” “The two leaders will discuss opportunities to deepen Israel’s regional integration and to create a more peaceful and prosperous Middle East,” the White House added… On Wednesday, Herzog will give an address to a joint session of Congress in honor of Israel’s 75th anniversary… Along with Biden and Harris, Herzog will meet with Secretary of State Antony Blinken and National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan.
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Biden Calls Out ‘Most Extreme’ Israeli Government for Fueling Tensions With Palestinians

U.S. President Joe Biden on Sunday slammed members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s far-right coalition for exacerbating tensions between Israel and the Palestinians, calling it “one of the most extreme” governments he has seen in his decades in politics. “Bibi, I think, is trying to work through how we can work through his existing problems in terms of his coalition,” Biden told CNN’s Fareed Zakaria, adding “it’s not all Israel now in the West Bank, all Israel’s problem, but they are a part of the problem, and particularly those individuals in the cabinet who say, ‘We can settle anywhere we want. [The Palestinians] have no right to be here, etc.’” He continued, “We were talking with them regularly, trying to tamp down what’s going on and hopefully, Bibi will continue to move toward moderation and change.” Biden further noted the Palestinian Authority has lost its credibility and created a vacuum for extremism. When asked about a potential Netanyahu invitation to the White House, Biden said, “The Israeli president is going to be coming, and we have other contacts,” referring to President Isaac Herzog’s upcoming visit to Washington at the end of the month.
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Israeli protests return as Netanyahu restarts judicial overhaul

Israel’s far-right ruling coalition preliminarily voted to limit the Supreme Court’s power of judicial review Tuesday, sparking street protests and threatening a return of the upheaval that has buffeted the country for months. Within hours of the early morning vote, demonstrators interrupted traffic on dozens of roads, in some cases pitching tents and lighting bonfires… Police said they had arrested more than 70 protesters by Tuesday night. The actions marked the end of a three-month respite in the chaos after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu temporarily shelved his broader judicial revision package in March… But under pressure from hard-line ministers, and following the collapse of compromise talks with opposition leaders, Netanyahu is now allowing one part of the plan to advance. The measure put forward Tuesday would eliminate the Supreme Court’s ability to override government actions that judges deem to be outside the bounds of “reasonableness.” Without a written constitution, the courts have used the “reasonableness” doctrine to block certain controversial decisions and appointments… Tuesday’s preliminary vote to block the court’s use of the doctrine narrowly passed the Knesset, with all members of the coalition voting in favor… Talks over a possible compromise package of judicial revisions brokered by Israeli President Isaac Herzog broke down last month amid disputes over the makeup of the parliamentary committee that selects judges. Lapid and Herzog called for those sessions to resume in light of Tuesday’s vote. “Come to your senses, set your egos aside and get back to talking,” Herzog said.
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U.S. calls on Israel to not crack down on anti-government protesters

The White House called on the Israeli government “to protect and respect the right of peaceful assembly” after Israeli police made dozens of arrests and used force against protesters who rallied across the country against the Netanyahu government’s judicial overhaul. The unusual statement by the White House on domestic issues of an ally like Israel signals the growing concern of the Biden administration about the escalating internal unrest in the country… Thousands of Israelis demonstrated across the country on Monday, blocked main roads, and held a mass protest at the Ben Gurion International Airport that affected the operations. Police used force against some protesters at a level not seen at previous demonstrations. More than 70 people were arrested — a number that is significantly higher than that seen at other demonstrations. The escalation in the force used by the police came a few days after Netanyahu held a three-hour Cabinet meeting with the chief of police and the attorney general about the demonstrations. During the Cabinet meeting… Netanyahu and his ministers pressed the police and the attorney general to conduct tougher enforcement measures against the protesters. Several days before this Cabinet meeting, the Tel Aviv chief of police who was ousted by Minister of Internal Security Itamar Ben-Gvir gave a speech in which he claimed he was removed for refusing the ultranationalist minister’s demands to “crack skulls.” The White House National Security Council spokesperson said the Biden administration continues to urge the Israeli government to stop the unilateral legislation process and seek a consensus-based approach toward judicial reform.
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‘Israel does not currently meet’ Visa Waiver Program requirements, DHS tells lawmakers

The Department of Homeland Security told lawmakers that Israel still does not meet the requirements for entry into the Visa Waiver Program, highlighting concerns about reciprocal treatment of American travelers. “Israel does not currently meet all of the statutory and policy requirements for designation as a VWP country,” Zephranie Buetow, DHS’s assistant secretary for legislative affairs said in a letter to lawmakers dated Wednesday that was obtained by Jewish Insider. “The Administration strongly supports Israel’s candidacy in the VWP once it meets all requirements, including extending reciprocal privileges to all U.S. citizens and nationals—including Palestinian Americans and Americans on the Palestinian Authority population registry traveling to or through Israel.” The letter comes in response to recent congressional letters from lawmakers — some pushing for Israel’s entry into the program this year and others arguing that Israel is not yet fit for entry. Israel faces a Sept. 30 deadline to enter the program… “To be eligible for the VWP, DHS and DOS firmly maintain that Israel must provide equal treatment to all U.S. citizens and nationals regardless of national origin, religion, or ethnicity seeking to enter or transit through Israel to meet reciprocity requirements for VWP designation, just like all other VWP members.” The letter does not provide any clear indications of what, if any, timeline DHS envisions for Israel’s entry into the program. Israel is launching a pilot program this summer to allow Palestinian Americans to travel more freely into Israel, with an eye toward ensuring its VWP entry this year.
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Opinion | The U.S. Reassessment of Netanyahu’s Government Has Begun

Why did the U.S. ambassador to Israel just say that America is working to prevent Israel from “going off the rails”? …The U.S.-Israel breakdown in shared values starts with the fact that Netanyahu’s ruling coalition, which squeaked into office by the narrowest of margins, decided to behave as if it had won in a landslide and immediately moved to change the long-established balance of power between the government and the Supreme Court, the only independent check on political power. Netanyahu’s steady destruction of this shared fiction is now posing a real problem for other U.S. and Israeli shared interests: It threatens the stability of Jordan, a vital U.S. and Israeli interest. It is driving the Arab states that joined with Israel in the Abraham Accords to take a step back. It is giving the Saudis real pause about moving ahead with normalization with such an unpredictable Israeli regime. And it is forcing the U.S. to choose. If Netanyahu’s government is going to behave as if the West Bank is Israel, then the U.S. will have to insist on two things… Why should the U.S. continue to defend the idea in the U.N. and the International Court that Israel is just temporarily occupying the West Bank — and therefore is not practicing some form of apartheid there — when this Israeli government appears to be openly hellbent on annexing the West Bank and has given two of the most active annexationists, Smotrich and Ben-Gvir, extensive security and financial powers over settlements in that region?
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