“Sen. Ben Cardin, D-Md., a pro-Israel stalwart in the Democratic Party, lashed out at Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a J Street conference, breaking with a party tradition of avoiding heated confrontations with Israel’s leaders….Cardin noted that he had opposed the 2015 Iran nuclear deal — a key policy win for J Street and its allies — but nonetheless decried Netanyahu for using Congress as a platform to speak out against it…..Cardin also likened Netanyahu’s plan to deport African asylum seekers to President Donald Trump’s policies severely restricting refugees arriving from some Muslim majority countries. He also noted Trump’s failure to unequivocally condemn white supremacists during the demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia. In each case, he said his objections arose from ‘a responsibility to speak out against the policies of Israel or the United States that are not consistent with our Jewish and Democratic values.’”
“Susan Rice, the national security adviser of former U.S. President Barack Obama, defended the nuclear deal with Iran during an address to the annual conference of pro-peace Jewish group J Street. Rice also mocked U.S. President Donald Trump for saying early on in his presidency ‘how easy it will be to get Middle East peace.’…. ‘The facts on the ground make the viability of the two-state solution more and more remote,’ she continued. ‘The politics on both sides are hostile to a two-state solution, particularly on the Israeli side at the moment. On the Palestinian side there is a leadership that is repeatedly unable to take yes for an answer. The Trump administration has made a difficult situation even worse.’”
“On the opening night of the annual J Street conference, Israeli lawmaker Tamar Zandberg, the head of the liberal Meretz party, drew a comparison between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump and attacked them for their policies….Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, said that ‘the one-state reality is fast becoming a true, one-state nightmare’…..Ben Ami spoke about the importance of the 2018 mid-term elections for J Street, and said that electing politicians who support the organization’s values should be a priority for every person attending the conference…..The last speaker of the conference’s opening night was Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers labor union, who also spoke about the similarities between Trump and Netanyahu… ‘We believe in America, and we believe in Israel. But democratic norms and institutions are under fierce attack in both countries we love,’ Weingarten said.”
“J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East lobby, launched its 10th anniversary conference with repeated and unflattering comparisons of the two leaders of the countries it straddles, Israel and the United States. Over and over at the conference opening Saturday night speakers cast Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump as twin villains. ‘All across the globe liberal democracy is in retreat,’ Jeremy Ben Ami, J Street’s president, said Saturday as the conference opened. ‘J Street proudly opposes these trends, and we couldn’t be clearer in the threat President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu pose’….The unfavorable comparisons of Netanyahu to Trump and vice versa included allegations that each leader undercuts democratic norms by marginalizing dissent, delegitimizing media and demonizing immigrants.”
“Israel ‘massively overreacted’ to protests at the Gaza border, Senator Bernie Sanders told the annual conference of the pro-peace Jewish group J Street on Monday…. ‘I have condemned Hamas’ use of terrorist violence and will continue to do so. But that violence cannot excuse shooting at unarmed protesters, and it cannot excuse trapping almost 2 million people inside Gaza’…..Sanders criticized ‘the reactionary policies of Prime Minister Netanyahu’ and slammed ‘the inhumane blockade of Gaza,’ but added that other countries in Israel’s region also fail to do enough. The senator specifically mentioned Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Salman, who recently visited the United States…..Sanders went on to discuss the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict and expressed concern over the future of the two-state solution. According to Sanders, putting an end to the Israeli occupation and establishing a Palestinian state ‘is in the interest of Americans Israelis, Palestinians and the entire region.’”
Democrats to ask Netanyahu not to raze Palestinian villages, Times of Israel
“With J Street’s annual national conference set to take place Sunday through Tuesday, Democratic legislators are organizing a letter urging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to halt plans for the demolition of two Palestinian villages in the West Bank. The missive follows a November letter signed by 10 Democratic senators, including prominent figures like Bernie Sanders of Vermont, Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Diane Feinstein of California, that had a similar message. Four of the 10 signatories were Jewish….Orchestrated by Democratic reps. Jan Schakowsky of Illinois and John Yarmuth of Kentucky, it calls on the Israeli premier to nix an order to demolish the West Bank Palestinian villages of Sussiya and Khan al-Amar. Israel says both were built illegally, but the plans to raze the villages have sparked a sustained international outcry…..The liberal Mideast advocacy group J Street, which welcomed the letter, said that its activists will ask other members of Congress to sign it on Tuesday, when those who participated in its annual national conference will travel to Capitol Hill and lobby legislators on their agenda. J Street and its campus branch, J Street U, launched a campaign last fall to stop the razing of Sussiya and Khan al-Ahmar called ‘Stop Demolitions, Build Peace.’”
Daily Kickoff, Jewish Insider
“At J Street’s gala dinner honoring the group’s president Jeremy Ben-Ami, Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) thanked J Street for working closely with the Obama administration to get 42 Democrats to support the Iran nuclear deal in 2015. ‘Two years ago, I came to J Street to thank you for supporting President Obama when he called for an historic understanding with Iran. It was an incredible achievement — not just for the President and the U.S., but for Israel and the world, and you were part of it.’ ‘J Street exists to support those of you strong enough and courageous enough to lead us in a different direction,’ Ben-Ami told the members of Congress and candidates that participated in the group’s 10th-anniversary celebration.”
“J Street touted the appearance by Cardin, a regular speaker at the much larger annual American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) conference, as evidence of J Street’s growing political heft as Democrats increasingly speak out against Israel’s right-wing turn….While introducing Cardin, J Street board member Victor Kovner praised the senator’s role in leading the opposition to Trump’s pick of David Friedman as the US ambassador to Israel as well as his commitment to keeping the United States in the nuclear accord with Iran despite his 2015 vote against the agreement.”
“Palestinian Ambassador to the US Husam Zomlot told the J Street conference on Monday that the Palestinians will not accept any Trump administration peace plan that does not include East Jerusalem or address the issue of refugees.”
“Zionist Union Knesset member Tzipi Livni was critical in a speech on Sunday of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s support for legislation that would weaken the power of the Israeli Supreme Court. Speaking in Washington at the annual conference of the left-wing American Jewish organization J Street, Livni, a former justice minister and foreign minister, warned that the proposed legislation would pose a risk to democracy in Israel. ‘Those trying to overcome the Supreme Court do not accept the values of democracy,’ she said. Livni warned about what she said was a trend toward the delegitimization of civil society and the press and statements by politicians casting down over trust in the legal system.”
“ Speaking at the annual J Street conference in Washington, Schatz advocated for a more open and critical discourse on Israel, and defended those like himself who disagree with Israeli policies while supporting the state of Israel. But along the way, he also made a key point about anti-Semitism that is worth highlighting.”
“The liberal Israel lobby J Street and a few small progressive American Jewish organizations immediately came out against Bolton’s appointment, condemning his approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as well as his Islamophobia and militarism.”
“Great job by Rep. Gerry Connolly at the J Street forum earlier today….demolishing Trump’s/Bannon’s evisceration of decades of U.S. foreign policy. According to Rep. Connolly, there’s an ‘intellectual framework’ to what Trump’s doing, ‘and it comes from Steve Bannon and Breitbart…[namely that] the traditional instrumentalities we built after WWII that…won the Cold War and promoted democracy are suspect and need to be abandoned.’”
The Real Next War in Syria: Iran vs. Israel, The New York Times
Tom Friedman writes, “Israel and Iran, at the exact same time, seem to be heading for a High Noon shootout in Syria over Iran’s attempts to turn Syria into a forward air base against Israel, something Israel is vowing to never let happen. This is not mere speculation. In the past few weeks — for the first time ever — Israel and Iran have begun quietly trading blows directly, not through proxies, in Syria. And this quiet phase may be about to end. Israel and Iran are now a hair-trigger away from going to the next level — and if that happens, the U.S. and Russia may find it difficult to stay out.”
The Humbling of Mike Pompeo, The Atlantic
“CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s nomination to serve as secretary of state is facing opposition from most Democrats and a key Republican on the Foreign Relations Committee, raising the possibility that he could become the first top diplomat in the nation’s history to win confirmation without the public endorsement of the panel that oversees the State Department. No Democrats have come out in support of Pompeo, who has failed to win any converts since he testified at his confirmation hearing last week….Chances are that Pompeo, at least, will ultimately prevail in the Senate within the next few weeks, humbled but not necessarily hobbled by the Foreign Relations Committee. But if he takes over the State Department without the panel’s recommendation, he’ll be the first secretary of state to do so after such a tentative endorsement from Capitol Hill.”
Israel Conferred With U.S. on Strike in Syria to Target Iranian War Gear, Wall Street Journal
“With tacit American support, the Israeli military targeted an advanced Iranian air-defense system at a Syrian base last week, said intelligence officials and others briefed on the matter, the latest sign the Trump administration is working with Israel to blunt Tehran’s expanding influence in the Middle East.”
A siren sounded throughout Israel as people and cars came to a halt at the start of Israel’s Memorial Day.
Israelis and Palestinians on all sides of the political divide came together Tuesday to mourn and acknowledge each other’s grief for loved ones killed in the conflict in a unique Memorial Day ceremony in Tel Aviv, sharing stories of loss and calling for an end to violence. Upwards of 5,000 people arrived for the event at Yarkon Park. Dozens of demonstrators protesting the event and heavy security, including border police on horseback, are also present.
The High Court of Justice ruled on Tuesday to allow bereaved Palestinians to join Israelis in a Memorial Day ceremony. The ruling rejected the position of Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who said the event was not a memorial ceremony, but “a display of bad taste.” The ruling was given following an urgent petition filed by the Parents Circle – Families Forum and Combatants for Peace, the organizers of the alternative Memorial Day ceremony taking place Tuesday evening in Tel Aviv.
Jared Kushner, Ivanka Trump mull attending Jerusalem embassy opening, Times of Israel
US President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Kushner’s wife, White House adviser Ivanka Trump, are considering traveling to Israel next month to inaugurate the US embassy in Jerusalem, The Times of Israel has learned. On May 14, the US will hold an official dedication ceremony for the US embassy in Jerusalem’s Arnona neighborhood.
IDF falls into Hamas’ trap on Gaza border, Al-Monitor
Yossi Beilin writes, “One of the most infuriating aspects of the conflict taking place on the Gaza border over the last few weeks is that there are no surprises in this script. The Palestinians in this crowded prison are ready — at least some are — to risk their lives in order to express their rage. The most powerful army in the region, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF), still does not know exactly how to deal with unarmed civilians. So it shoots. Hamas sees the popular protest initiative as a blessing and grants it resources and an institutional framework, where every Palestinian casualty counts as an achievement. Some of the world criticizes Israel for disproportionate use of force, but since the United States is not participating in this critique, the Netanyahu government is not worried.”
Anshel Pfeffer observes, “Russia doesn’t have a military option to restore its deterrence in Syria. Its forces there are insufficient to take on any of the other nations who have operated, and may operate again, in Syria. Working together – and probably also individually – the United States, Britain and France, as well as Israel and Turkey, can all deploy larger and more capable forces to the region much faster than Russia can.”