News Roundup for April 19, 2017

April 19, 2017

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J Street in the News

575 Jewish Students Challenge Birthright on Israel’s Travel Ban: Will We Be Vetted on Our Political Views?, Haaretz

“More than 500 Jewish American students are challenging Birthright, the  biggest sponsor of trips to Israel in the world, to take a stand against a new law that would deny entry to Israel to foreigners who support boycotting the country, even if the boycott is restricted to West Bank settlements. In a letter to senior executives at the program, the students are demanding responses to three questions: Does Birthright intend to impose a screening process to vet applicants according to their views on the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, the settlements and other political issues? If participants are turned back at Ben-Gurion Airport because of the new law, will Birthright provide them with assistance and support? Has Birthright been in touch with the Israeli program about how the new law will affect participation in its trips?…..Behind the initiative is J Street U, the student arm of J Street, a pro-Israel, anti-occupation organization. About 25 percent of the students who signed the letter, however, have no affiliation whatsoever with the organization….Among the students who helped draft the letter was Rachel Stryer, the co-head of J Street U at Stanford University. ‘When I heard the law was passed, I was confused, frustrated and very sad about it because it violates everything I knew about Israel being a democracy and committed to freedom of speech,’ said Stryer, who plans to go on a Birthright trip this summer after she graduates.”

American Jewish students ask Birthright to reject Israel’s boycott law, JTA

“Jewish American college students have called on Birthright Israel to take a stand against Israel’s new law that would prevent boycott supporters from entering the country. Some 575 students from 97 colleges and universities and three high schools across the United States sent a letter to Birthright senior executives, Haaretz, which saw the letter, reported….J Street U, the campus arm of the dovish pro-Israel lobby, is behind the initiative, Haaretz reported, though it said that some 25 percent of the students who signed the letter are not affiliated with the group.”

Students petition Birthright to support participants who oppose settlements, i24News

“Over 500 Jewish students petitioned Birthright, an organization which sponsors free trips to Israel for Jewish participants, to support applicants who oppose Jewish settlement expansion in the West Bank and not to screen its applicants based upon their political beliefs, Haaretz daily reported on Tuesday….The letter contains signatures from 575 students from 97 American colleges, universities and high schools, according to Haaretz Daily. The initiative is backed by J Street, a left-wing Jewish organization which opposes Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank an comes just before summer break when some 30,000 birthright participants are slated to visit Israel on Birthright’s free ten-day organized trips. ‘While we represent pro-Israel students from across the political spectrum,’ the letter reads, according to Haaretz, ‘we recognize that there is nothing anti-Israel about opposing settlement expansion.’”

Will Birthright Kowtow To Israel’s Right Wing Government?, Forward

J Street U Stanford leader Rachel Stryer writers, “There are many Jewish young people like me at Stanford and across the country who are excited about exploring Israel, but who also find ourselves in opposition to the country’s settlement policy and deeply concerned about the ongoing occupation. We are not alone. According to a 2016 poll of American Jewish voters, 78 percent would like to see Israel limit or halt settlement expansion….Birthright must ensure that young pro-Israel, anti-occupation American Jews like me know if we are still welcome on their program – and welcome in Israel. More than just my summer travel plans are on the line here. Israel’s future — and the future of the American Jewish relationship with Israel — hang in the balance.”

S.F. Federation CEO, J Street U have a meeting of minds, J Weekly

“For the first time in the Bay Area, the head of the S.F.-based Jewish Community Federation was a featured speaker at an event put on by the left-leaning student group J Street U. Federation CEO Danny Grossman spoke at ‘Pluralism and Democracy in Israel and at Home,’ held April 13 at San Francisco’s Congregation Sherith Israel. The appearance at a J Street U event by one of the Bay Area’s most prominent Jewish community leaders marks a symbolic shift in how the Federation perceives the student group. By appearing before the oft-marginalized organization, Grossman — and the Federation — appeared to welcome J Street U into the big tent of Jewish politics. ‘They asked me to speak at the event, and I think it’s important for us to recognize them as part of the community,’ Grossman said in a prior telephone interview. ‘The tone is a positive one, of collaboration. We’d like to identify the places we agree, and develop greater mutual understanding.’…..Joining Grossman in a panel discussion were J Street U regional co-chair Sonia Brin, who attends UC Berkeley, and vice president for the Northwest region Zoe Goldblum, a student at Stanford. Their conversation largely revolved around the Federation’s funding guidelines.”

Top News and Analysis

U.S. says Iran complies with nuke deal but orders review on lifting sanctions, Reuters

The Trump administration said on Tuesday it was launching an inter-agency review of whether the lifting of sanctions against Iran was in the United States’ national security interests, while acknowledging that Tehran was complying with a deal to rein in its nuclear program. In a letter to House of Representatives Speaker Paul Ryan, the top Republican in Congress, on Tuesday Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said Iran remained compliant with the 2015 deal, but said there were concerns about its role as a state sponsor of terrorism. Under the deal, the State Department must notify Congress every 90 days on Iran’s compliance under the so-called Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It is the first such notification under President Trump.

Over 1,000 Palestinian Prisoners in Israel Stage Hunger Strike, The New York Times

“More than 1,000 Palestinians in Israeli prisons joined in a hunger strike on Monday, demanding better conditions in an unusually large protest led by Marwan Barghouti, the most prominent prisoner and a figure often seen as a future Palestinian leader. Later Monday, there were unconfirmed reports by both Israeli and Palestinian news outlets that Mr. Barghouti had been moved from his usual prison, Hadarim, near Haifa, and placed in solitary confinement at another prison. The reports said his offenses were the strike and the act of smuggling out of prison an essay that he wrote, which was published as an Op-Ed article on Sunday in The New York Times….It was unclear whether the strike could be sustained to the point of forcing concessions from the Israeli authorities, but experts said it nonetheless had the potential to stir passions among Palestinians. Protests erupted on Monday in support of the prisoners in the occupied West Bank and in Gaza, growing in size over the course of the day….Polls suggest that Mr. Barghouti, 57, is the most popular choice to replace Mr. Abbas, 82, even though he is serving five life sentences after he was convicted of being a leader of the second intifada and of directing attacks that led to the killings of Israelis.”

With Palestinian Prisoner Strike, Barghouti Challenges Abbas’ Leadership, Haaretz

Amos Harel writes, “The hunger strike that nearly 1,200 Palestinian security prisoners in Israel began on Monday is expected to ratchet up the tensions between Israel and the Palestinians in the coming days. If complications occur and the strike lasts for an extended time, it is liable to take over the security and diplomatic agenda at a time when U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration is declaring its intention to restart the peace process….The hunger strike is basically the initiative of a single person, Marwan Barghouti, the highest-ranking Fatah prisoner in Israel. The media attention from a prolonged strike will serve him in his moves vis-à-vis the Palestinian Authority leadership, which is officially supporting the strike but in actuality is concerned about any outcome that could advance the standing of the imprisoned leader, who is not especially liked by President Mahmoud Abbas and his people.”


NY Times public editor raps paper for omitting Palestinian writer’s terrorist past, JTA

The public editor of The New York Times took the newspaper to task for failing to identify Palestinian leader Marwan Barghouti as a convicted murderer of Israeli Jews. Liz Spayd responded Tuesday to criticism of the newspaper for publishing Sunday an Op-Ed by Barghouti identifying him only as “a Palestinian leader and parliamentarian.” Nearly a day later, an editor’s note appended to the end of the article clarified that Barghouti is serving a lengthy prison term after being convicted in an Israeli court of five counts of murder and membership in a terrorist organization. Failure to “more fully identify the biography and credentials of authors, especially details that help people make judgments about the opinions they’re reading,” Spayd wrote, “risks the credibility of the author and the Op-Ed pages.”

Israel: No talks with Palestinian inmates on hunger strike, Minneapolis Star Tribune

Israel will not negotiate with hundreds of Palestinian prisoners who launched a hunger strike to press for better conditions, a government minister said Tuesday, adding that the organizer of the protest has been placed in solitary confinement.

Palestinian PM, UNRWA head meet to discuss school impasse, Times of Israel

The Palestinian Authority Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah has met with the head of the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) in a bid to end a dispute over modifications to the way Israel is portrayed in the Palestinian educational curriculum.

Taba crossing into Egypt to remain closed indefinitely, Times of Israel

The Taba crossing into Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, which was closed last week, will remain shut to Israelis, the Counter Terrorism Bureau announced Tuesday evening. Before the Passover holiday on Monday night, the Transportation Ministry shut down the Taba crossing — also known as the Menachem Begin Crossing — to Israeli vacationers hoping to enter Sinai, citing fears of an imminent terror attack by the Islamic State terror group.

Record Number of Jews Visit Temple Mount over Passover, Jerusalem Post

A record number of Jews visited the Temple Mount over Passover, breaking the record for most Jewish visitors to the site in one day as well as over the course of Passover. Approximately 1,600 Jews visited the site throughout the seven days of Passover, compared to last year’s Passover record of 1,015, according to Yirah, an organization that encourages the presence of Jewish worshipers on the Temple Mount.

Israeli Settler Convicted of Inciting Violence Online Against Palestinians, Soldiers, Haaretz

A right-wing activist from the West Bank settlement of Yitzhar was convicted on Wednesday with inciting violence against Israeli soldiers and Palestinians on Facebook and an online forum.

Jewish Democrat in Atlanta suburbs faces runoff in race that has become referendum on Trump, JTA

Jon Ossoff, a Jewish Democrat, led by a wide margin among 18 candidates in a special election in Atlanta’s suburbs seen as a referendum on Donald Trump’s young presidency, but failed to win it outright. Ossoff won 48.1 percent of the vote Tuesday and now faces a runoff against his nearest rival, Karen Handel, a former Georgia secretary of state who won 19.8 percent of the vote. The deciding ballot will be on June 20.

Opinions and Analysis

Why We Are on Hunger Strike in Israel’s Prisons, The New York Times

Marwan Barghouti, the Palestinian leader currently imprisoned for terrorist violence against Israelis, describes why he is leading a new hunger strike of Palestinian prisoners. “Some 1,000 Palestinian prisoners have decided to take part in this hunger strike, which begins today, the day we observe here as Prisoners’ Day. Hunger striking is the most peaceful form of resistance available. It inflicts pain solely on those who participate and on their loved ones, in the hopes that their empty stomachs and their sacrifice will help the message resonate beyond the confines of their dark cells….Israel has built nearly all of its prisons inside Israel rather than in the occupied territory. In doing so, it has unlawfully and forcibly transferred Palestinian civilians into captivity, and has used this situation to restrict family visits and to inflict suffering on prisoners through long transports under cruel conditions. It turned basic rights that should be guaranteed under international law — including some painfully secured through previous hunger strikes — into privileges its prison service decides to grant us or deprive us of.”

Marwan Barghouti’s supporters should acknowledge his past, +972

Dahlia Scheindlin writes, “[I]n my personal analysis and opinion Barghouti should eventually be released so that he can run for Palestinian political office, in the (unfortunately) unlikely event of Palestinian elections. He might bring more accountable governance to an increasingly rotten political system for Palestinians….Yet the following also needs to be said: Barghouti was arrested, charged and convicted in an Israeli civilian court for involvement in terror attacks that killed Israeli civilians inside the Green Line. He was among the leaders of al-Aqsa Martyr’s Brigade, a name synonymous with the most deadly and horrible attacks during those blood-drenched years of the second Intifada.”

Barghouti’s N.Y. Times Article Met by Israeli Ritual of Diversion and Denial, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev argues, [A]nyone who wants to address Barghouti’s claims substantively, even if it’s to criticize them, is seen as collaborating with a terrorist and enabling terror. It’s the same system by which anti-occupation groups such as Breaking the Silence are tarred as traitorous, backstabbing informants so that no one dares consider the actual testimonies they present about the hardships of occupation and the immorality of forcing the IDF to police the West Bank. What’s hilarious, however, is that so many Israelis and Jews are convinced that articles such as the one written by Barghouti, which most readers probably view as yet another tedious polemic about an intractable Middle East conflict, somehow causes more harm to Israel’s image than a senior government official who compares a news article to a terror attack and who recommends closing down the offices of the most widely respected news organization in the world, a la Putin or Erdogan.”

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