July 21, 2023


Government Affairs News Digest

I’m writing to share J Street’s news updates.

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,

Hannah Morris
Director of Government Affairs, J Street
Cell: 832-606-1817
J Street’s Congressional Resource Page

What we’re reading

Israel’s Netanyahu doubles down on judicial plan, rejects criticism and moves ahead toward key vote

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday vowed to press ahead with his contentious judicial overhaul, despite unprecedented mass protests at home, growing defections by military reservists and appeals from the U.S. president to put the plan on hold. Netanyahu’s message, delivered in a prime time address on national television, set the stage for stepped-up street protests in the coming days leading up to a fateful vote expected Monday… Netanyahu was at times conciliatory during his address, saying he understands the differences of opinion that have bitterly divided the country and offering to seek a compromise with his political opponents. But he was also defiant, saying his opponents were bent on toppling him and lashing out at the scores of military reservists who say they will stop reporting for duty if the plan is passed… Parliament is expected to vote Monday on a bill that would curtail the Supreme Court’s oversight powers by limiting its ability to strike down decisions it deems “unreasonable.” The reasonability standard is meant as a safeguard to protect against corruption and improper appointments of unqualified people… After Netanyahu’s speech, opposition leader Yair Lapid urged Netanyahu to defy his coalition allies and halt the legislation. “This extremist group has no mandate to turn Israel into a messianic and non-democratic state,” Lapid said. “The Netanyahu government is waging a war of attrition against the citizens of Israel.”
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Biden Invites Netanyahu to U.S., Easing Tensions

President Biden on Monday invited Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel to a meeting in the United States for the first time since Mr. Netanyahu re-entered office in December, easing months of tensions about the direction of Israel’s government. Mr. Netanyahu’s office said that Mr. Biden made the invitation in a “warm and long” phone call on Monday evening, on the eve of a visit to Washington by Isaac Herzog, the Israeli president. Until Monday, that visit had been widely seen as a slight to Mr. Netanyahu… But White House officials said the prospect of a face-to-face meeting should not be interpreted as Mr. Biden’s abandoning his objections to some of the Israeli leader’s hard-line positions. “You shouldn’t take away from the fact that they had a conversation today and that they will meet again that we have less concerns over these judicial reforms or less concerns over some of the extremist activities and behavior by some members of the Netanyahu cabinet,” John F. Kirby, a spokesman for the National Security Council, told reporters at the White House… White House officials declined to say whether Mr. Netanyahu would be invited to the White House, which would be the usual practice for a close ally, or only to meet with Mr. Biden on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, which meets later in the fall. No date was set for the visit.
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As Congress Hosts Israeli Leader, Republicans Block Food Aid For Poorest Palestinians

As Israeli President Isaac Herzog gets the red-carpet treatment in Washington this week, two powerful Republican lawmakers are withholding $75 million in American aid from the poorest Palestinians…. Half a million children are at particular risk, according to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency, or UNRWA, which would administer the aid… Legislators approved the food assistance for Palestinians in a bill they passed last year when Democrats controlled Congress, noting rising food and transport costs. In May, the State Department told Capitol Hill it planned to disburse the funds shortly. McCaul and Risch used their positions on the powerful committees to enact holds soon afterward, with McCaul pausing more than $400 million in United Nations funding beyond the Palestine aid. On Tuesday, a Risch representative put the onus for releasing needed funds on President Joe Biden and cast doubt on a resolution before the Sept. 1 deadline that UNRWA describes as vital… While Israel is critical of UNRWA, the country has long acknowledged the need for help in Gaza, where observers say the experience of living in what is effectively an open-air prison helps drive locals into the arms of violent anti-Israel factions. Advocates for the aid hope the urgency of the situation will eventually convince the senator to accept similar guarantees about vetting and to use a different tack to push for changes at UNRWA.
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U.S. Senators Introduce Major Legislation on Israel’s Normalization Efforts

Leading U.S. senators from both parties introduced on Thursday legislation that would designate a special envoy and dedicate tens of millions of dollars to Israel’s regional normalization attempts. It could be the most significant legislation tied to Israel’s ongoing normalization efforts with other Middle Eastern countries. The Regional Integration and Normalization Act was introduced a day after Israeli President Isaac Herzog urged the U.S. to help Israel expand its regional integration. It would give the U.S. administration new tools and funds to deepen and expand Israel’s normalization initiatives… The bill supplements three separate education funds meant for normalization efforts: the Israel-United States Binational Industrial Research and Development Foundation, the United States-Israel Binational Science Foundation, and the Binational Agricultural Research and Development Fund. These funds recently stirred controversy after the Biden administration ruled they could no longer fund academic programs in the West Bank. Joint cybersecurity training and information sharing for the countries in question are also endorsed in the bill, which calls on the U.S. to further build and expand cross-regional structures – including with Saudi Arabia. The bill is sponsored by Sens. Bob Menendez and Jim Risch, the top Democrat and Republican on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Other sponsors are bipartisan Senate Abraham Accords Caucus co-chairs Sens. Jacky Rosen, Joni Ernst, Cory Booker, and James Lankford.
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U.S. and Israel agree on conditions that could see Israelis join visa waiver program

The U.S. and Israel on Wednesday signed a memorandum of understanding (MOU) setting the conditions for Israel’s entry into the U.S. Visa Waiver Program. It’s a big step forward for Israel’s bid to eventually become a part of the waiver program, which allows a country’s citizens to travel to the U.S. for 90 days without first obtaining a visa… The MOU will start a four-to-six-week review period during which Israel will implement a pilot program aimed at ensuring most Iranian, Palestinian and other Arab Americans are given equal treatment when traveling to or through Israel, according to Israeli officials… Israeli officials say the estimated 700 Palestinian Americans who reside in Gaza will face a more complex situation due to security concerns… Senior U.S. officials who briefed reporters said they welcome the Israeli decision to change the entry procedures to the country. A special team of the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security will arrive in Israel next week to begin monitoring the pilot program and review how Israel is implementing the MOU, the Israeli officials said. “For entry into the Visa Waiver Program, the complete list of requirements must be satisfied,” the State Department said. If Israel stops implementing its commitments under the MOU at any point, the U.S. will be allowed to trigger a “snap back” mechanism and prevent Israelis from entering the U.S. without a visa, the sources said.
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