July 7, 2023


Government Affairs News Digest

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

You’ll find three major news items featured in this week’s News Digest, as well as important analysis pieces breaking down the implications of the latest developments and broader trends:

    • The Israeli government launched a large-scale operation in the Jenin refugee camp in the occupied West Bank – the largest since the Second Intifada in the early 2000s. Twelve Palestinians and one Israeli soldier were killed, hundreds of Palestinians were wounded, thousands fled the refugee camp, and the Israeli army inflicted massive infrastructure damage. The Israeli army claims that it dismantled hundreds of explosives, destroyed underground hideouts, confiscated weapons and “terror funds,” but an Israeli military analyst noted that “professional echelons in the [Israeli] defense establishment have no illusions that this will achieve a fundamental change in the security reality.” That point was underscored by rockets launched from Gaza and a terror attack in Tel Aviv, wounding eight Israelis, following the raid on Jenin.
    • Major Israeli pro-democracy protests continued this week, as the Netanyahu government is moving ahead with significant judicial overhaul legislation. The government is set to vote next week to block the Israeli Supreme Court from applying the “reasonableness standard,” a key tool in its judicial review tool kit. Concurrently, the government is advancing a bill to strip key powers from the Israel Bar Association, in particular its mandate to appoint two of the members of the all-important committee that selects judges to the Supreme Court and lower courts. Following the resignation of the Tel Aviv Police Chief, who was slated to be demoted amid accusations of not cracking down on pro-democracy protesters, masses poured out onto the streets.
  • The Israeli police officer who fatally shot Iyad al-Hallaq, a severely autistic Palestinian man, in East Jerusalem was acquitted. The border police announced that he would return to the force and attend a training course to become a commander. Al-Hallaq was killed in May 2020, during the same week George Floyd was murdered by police in Minnesota.

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




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What we’re reading

As Israel ends 2-day West Bank offensive, Palestinian residents emerge to scenes of vast destruction

Palestinian residents of the Jenin refugee camp encountered scenes of widespread destruction Wednesday as they emerged from their homes and returned from nearby shelters following the most intense Israeli military operation in the occupied West Bank in nearly two decades. The two-day offensive, meant to crack down on Palestinian militants after a series of recent attacks, destroyed the camp’s narrow roads and alleyways, sent thousands of people fleeing their homes and killed 12 Palestinians. One Israeli soldier also was killed. While Israel claimed the operation had inflicted a tough blow on the militants, it remained unclear whether there would be any lasting effect on reducing more than a year of Israeli-Palestinian violence. The offensive also further weakened the Palestinian Authority, Israel’s erstwhile partner in battling militants, which already had little control in the camp to begin with… Riyad Mansour, the Palestinian U.N. ambassador, condemned the raid, calling the Israeli operation in Jenin “horrific.” He said there were reports that 80% of dwellings in the refugee camp were either destroyed or damaged… At the request of the United Arab Emirates, the U.N. Security Council has scheduled closed consultations on the Jenin violence for Friday. Mansour said the Palestinians want the council to take action to protect their people, disarm Israeli settlers and authorize a temporary international presence.
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Israeli lawmakers give first nod to new judicial overhaul bill

Israeli lawmakers on Tuesday gave an initial nod to a bill that limits Supreme Court power to rule against the government after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced he would press on with contentious changes to the justice system. In a stormy session broadcast live, Parliament’s constitution committee, dominated by Netanyahu’s nationalist-religious ruling coalition, voted in favour of the bill that limits “reasonableness” as a standard of judicial review… “You have taken the first step today and with God’s help more steps to strengthen Israeli democracy will follow,” said Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich. After the committee vote, the shekel weakened by 0.3% against the dollar. The bill still has to pass three readings in parliament to be written into law… On Monday, thousands of anti-government protesters converged on Israel’s Ben Gurion Airport, some scuffling with police. Netanyahu doused some of the furore in March by pausing the legislation and holding compromise talks with the opposition. Those negotiations proved fruitless, and he is now pursuing what he deems a scaled-back version of the overhaul. Washington has urged Netanyahu to seek broad agreement on justice reforms but the opposition says the changes he seeks remain a danger to democracy and called on him not to press ahead with the bill which they say opens the door to corruption. “This legislation is not meant to protect citizens but to protect politicians,” said a joint statement from opposition party leaders Yair Lapid and Benny Gantz.
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Thousands of Israelis cripple Tel Aviv highway to support police chief ousted by Netanyahu ally

Thousands of protesters on Wednesday blocked Tel Aviv’s main highway and major roads and intersections across Israel in a spontaneous outburst of anger following the forced resignation of the city’s popular police chief. Ami Eshed announced late Wednesday that he was leaving the Israeli police force under what he said was political pressure. Eshed has regularly clashed with the country’s hard-line national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, who has demanded that police take a tougher stance against months of anti-government protests. “I am paying an intolerably heavy personal price for my choice to avert a civil war,” Eshed said. Thousands of people blocked the Ayalon Highway, halting traffic on the normally bustling thruway. The protesters, many holding blue and white Israeli flags, blew horns, danced in the street and lit multiple bonfires. Police, some mounted on horseback, attempted to push back the crowds, at times using a water cannon. During a live news broadcast, a motorist drove his car through a crowd of protesters, striking one man and send him crumpling to the ground. The driver was reportedly arrested… Ben-Gvir responded to the resignation, saying politics had “infiltrated the most senior ranks” of the police force and that Eshed had made a “complete surrender” to leftist politicians.
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Israeli Court Acquits Police Officer Who Killed Autistic Palestinian Man

An Israeli court on Thursday acquitted a police officer charged with manslaughter in the killing of an unarmed Palestinian man with autism in Jerusalem, a case that drew Palestinian outrage and focused attention on the treatment of Palestinians by Israeli police. The man, Iyad al-Hallaq, 31, was shot and killed by an Israeli police officer in Jerusalem’s Old City in May 2020 while walking to the special-needs school where he was a student. His death immediately drew comparisons to George Floyd’s killing by a Minneapolis police officer just days earlier. But the judge called the killing an “honest mistake” because the officer — whose name the courts have barred from publication — mistook Mr. al-Hallaq for an armed terrorist. Khairi al-Hallaq, the victim’s father, said his family was surprised by the ruling. “The court basically told the police — do whatever you want to Arabs. You won’t get punished for it,” he said. Critics say Israeli police are rarely held accountable for allegations of abuse, especially when they involve Palestinians. A report by Israel’s state comptroller in May found that 1.2 percent of complaints against officers in 2021 resulted in criminal indictments… Still, right-wing Israeli politicians claim the existing policies have tied the hands of police officers, hampering their ability to fight crime. Israel’s hard-line national security minister, Itamar Ben-Gvir, campaigned on loosening open-fire regulations and protecting security forces from criminal prosecution. In her ruling on Thursday, Judge Chana Lomp of Jerusalem District Court called Mr. al-Hallaq’s death “the horrific loss of a young man beloved by his family.” But the Israeli police officer who killed Mr. al-Hallaq — a 19-year-old rookie at the time — believed he was acting in self-defense in a tense area that had often seen attacks against Israelis, Judge Lomp wrote.
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Biden muddles along with Israel as West Bank violence spirals

In the aftermath of the Jenin raid, the dreaded cycle of violence rolled on, with reports of scattered Palestinian reprisals. It all comes in a context shaped by the most right-wing government in Israel’s history, as well as an increasingly feeble Palestinian Authority, which is both unable to rein in Palestinian militancy and increasingly unpopular among the Palestinian public living under decades of Israeli military occupation… In the face of all this, the Biden administration is muddling along and doing little to change a dangerous status quo. In a curt statement this week, the White House said it supported “Israel’s security and right to defend its people against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups”… U.S. officials may warn their Israeli counterparts about their concerns over settlement expansion and other maneuvers by the Netanyahu government, including its plans to overhaul of Israel’s judiciary. But there is little sign that the Biden administration is willing to marshal a tougher position on Israeli actions in the West Bank… Though it pays lip service to achieving “a negotiated two-state solution” for Israelis and Palestinians to live side-by-side, successive U.S. administrations, including that of Biden, have effectively shielded Israel from facing any political or legal repercussions for its settlement activity in the West Bank. U.S. supporters of a two-state solution and Palestinian-Israeli reconciliation consider this approach untenable.
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Former Prime Minister Ehud Barak Op-Ed: Israel Is Hours Away From Becoming a De Facto Dictatorship

On Monday, the bill limiting the use of the reasonableness standard will be submitted to the Knesset for the first of three votes in the legislature. When the voting ends, Israel will be three hours away from a de facto dictatorship… The masks have been removed. On one side stand Benjamin Netanyahu and his partners, determined to degrade Israel into a corrupt and racist dictatorship that will crumble society, isolate the country and jeopardize its future. Facing them is a protest movement comprised of loyalists to Israel’s Declaration of Independence and the law. This is the force that stopped the insane blitz on the night the prime minister fired Defense Minister Yoav Gallant (a decision he reversed two weeks later). And this is the force that will stop the “Polish salami” on steroids that has replaced it. The government coup charges on… If Netanyahu insists on passing the reasonableness law within two weeks, we face a constitutional crisis. The military reservists will carry through on their plan to stop volunteering, the protest will surge, the High Court will overturn the law and the case will be put to the gatekeepers, who will stand the test. The defeated Netanyahu will be forced to face the ferocious appetite of his partners and the frustrations of his supporters – under the shadow of his trial. This will be an important step on the road to victory, and even if it is delayed, it will surely come. This is the fight of our lives. In the future, we will be asked: Did you stand at the side of democracy and the law? We must all make sure we can say that we did.
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