News Roundup for April 2, 2019

April 2, 2019
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J Street in the News

GOP Wants To Politicize Anti-Semitism To Help Trump, Saudis. Jewish Groups Push Back, Huffington Post
“In February, House Republican leaders dramatically slowed a bipartisan effort to end a four-year U.S. intervention in Yemen by adding surprise language condemning anti-Semitism to the antiwar legislation. That kind of maneuver is cynical and counterproductive, two top Jewish groups have warned in recent days […] Jeremy Ben-Ami, the head of the advocacy group J Street, called the prospective GOP approach an ‘outrageous stunt’ in a Monday statement that urged Democrats to not let it succeed. ‘[Republicans] see concern over anti-Semitism as just another political weapon to wield against their opponents.’ Democratic leaders are united in support of the Yemen bill. The fear among the party and outside activists is that if Republicans repeat their February move, they’ll still be able to win over enough Democrats, particularly those who recently won in purple districts, to tack on the amendment and force the process of getting the same language through both chambers to start all over again.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg attends memorial service for Israeli author Amos Oz, Washington Post
“Hey, isn’t that . . . Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, attending a memorial service Sunday afternoon at Temple Sinai in Washington for the Israeli author and peace advocate, Amos Oz? The pop-culture icon known as the Notorious RBG arrived in style, wearing a fur-trimmed cape (as one does), heels and her signature scrunchie, an attendee tells us, and was greeted with applause and gasps when she walked through the center aisle to take a front-row seat. The event, co-hosted by J Street, featured tributes to Oz, including a video of actress Natalie Portman.”

One Month In, ‘Jexodus’ Group Has Trump’s Support – And Not Much Else, The Forward
“[T]he organization has been criticized for being a so-called ‘astroturf’ organization founded by a longtime Republican operative, and having little grassroots support in a largely-liberal community – and indeed, the cover image on their social media pages is not a supporter but rather a stock photo model. The organization’s Facebook and Twitter pages only have around 6,000 combined followers. Jews have consistently voted for Democrats in the last few elections – with a 79%-17% Democratic split in the 2018 midterms, according to an exit poll commissioned by the left-wing Israel group J Street.”

Ruth Bader Ginsburg makes rare public appearance at Amos Oz memorial event, Jewish Telegraphic Agency
“Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg attended a memorial in Washington, D.C., for the late Israeli author Amos Oz, making a rare public appearance. Ginsburg, 86, has been recovering from cancer surgery. She did not make any public statements at the event Sunday at Temple Sinai. Several Jewish organizations including the New Israel Fund, Americans for Peace Now and J Street co-sponsored the memorial.”

Wanted: an Israel youth heritage visit that is grounded in the real world, Plus 61j
“Recently, the American Jewish advocacy organisation J Street announced it was starting an alternative program. Media reporting of the J-Street program aired critiques of the existing Birthright model […] While these programs do not necessarily have an obligation to present the full scope of Israel’s complexities, they shouldn’t serve to merely perpetuate the status quo. There should be space for discussion and debate, and madrichim should encourage critical questions as they arise. It goes without saying that the education should not be so one-sided as to elicit protests.”

Daily Kickoff Email: SCENE LAST NIGHT IN DC, Jewish Insider
“Speakers included NYTimes columnist Roger Cohen, Natalie Portman (by video), J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, professor Fania Oz-Salzberger (Oz’s daughter) and URJ’s Rabbi Esther Lederman. Among the attendees were former ambassador Dan Kurtzer, Gilead Sher, Moment Magazine’s Nadine Epstein and ADL’s Michael Lieberman.”

RBG Attended An Amos Oz Commemoration In DC, The Forward
“Ginsburg, who has been keeping a low profile since undergoing surgery for lung cancer in December, told Oz’s daughter Fania Oz-Salzberger that she was a fan of her father’s writing, Haaretz reported. Left-wing Jewish organizations, including the New Israel Fund and Americans for Peace Now and the Oz-supported J Street coordinated the commemoration for Oz. Ginsburg did not make public comments, but listened to speeches by Oz-Salzberger, The New York Times columnist Roger Cohen and J Street founder Jeremy Ben Ami.”

House GOP Shamefully Exploiting Anti-semitism Concerns to Block Unrelated Resolution on Yemen, J Street
In response to reports that House Republicans may continue to use a Motion to Recommit (MTR) condemning anti-Semitism to prevent the passage of an unrelated resolution on US military disengagement from the Yemen conflict, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami released the following statement: “Just as they did earlier this year, Republican leaders may again shamefully exploit concerns over bigotry against Jews to stall a totally unrelated bill that would help put an end to US support for the war in Yemen. By tacking on ‘non-germane’ language condemning anti-Semitism, they would hand Mitch McConnell the ability to once again stall a vote on the Yemen resolution.”

Top News and Analysis

Israel’s Netanyahu to meet Putin in Moscow on Thursday, Reuters
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will fly to Moscow on Thursday to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin, the Israeli leader’s office said on Tuesday. The statement did not elaborate on the intended topics of discussion. The two leaders will meet five days before Israel’s April 9 election in which the right-wing Netanyahu faces a strong challenge from a centrist candidate […] Thursday’s meeting could also help Netanyahu in the closely contested election, in which he has played up his statecraft and security credentials in the face of the politically untested challenger Benny Gantz, a former military chief.

Gantz-Netanyahu Faceoff Is Suddenly Infested by Fake Social Media Accounts, Haaretz
Chemi Shalev writes, “[O]ne prominent reason for the hubbub surrounding Bergman’s report of the dissemination of fake news and unsubstantiated slander is the analogy to Donald Trump’s 2016 election campaign. The possibility that Netanyahu is using similar underhanded methods comes in the wake of a growing perception that Trump and his campaign are serving as role models for the Israeli prime minister. From fake accounts to slimy insults against rivals and a blatant disregard for actual facts, Netanyahu seems to have adopted Trump not only as the greatest friend Israel has ever had but as a personal and political role model as well. His fans don’t mind, but opponents abide by the rule: Tell me whom you emulate, and I’ll tell you who you really are.”

Bibi forever? Supporters in Netanyahu’s heartland think so, CNN
In one week, Israel will vote in a poll that’s gearing up to be as defining for the country as it is challenging for its prime minister. Benjamin Netanyahu — who was the country’s youngest prime minister when he was elected in 1996, and now hopes to become its longest serving — faces his toughest electoral challenge in 10 years. It comes in the shape of Benny Gantz, a former Chief of the General Staff of the Israel Defense Forces, who has gathered together a “blue and white” alliance, named after the colors of the Israeli flag. By its very nature — a collection of centrist and center-right political parties that includes no fewer than three former IDF chiefs of staff — the alliance presents a substantial challenge to the man who has dominated and reshaped Israeli politics for the past decade.

Half of Israeli Arab Public Won’t Vote in Election, Survey Finds, Haaretz
Only 50 percent of Israel’s Arab population plans on voting in the upcoming April 9 election, a 19 percent drop since Israelis last headed to the polls, a survey ordered by the Arab-majority Hadash-Ta’al slate found. Arab parties were expecting a resurgent energy in their electorate after the Knesset slates were announced and the Central Election Committee disqualified some of the nominees from running – a decision the High Court later overturned. However, it seems that the most powerful “party” ahead of the election in Israeli Arab society is that of the absentees.


Network of Fake Social Media Accounts Boosting Netanyahu Ahead of Election, Report Says, Haaretz
A network of hundreds of social media accounts has been working to boost Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s re-election campaign and smear his opponents ahead of next week’s election, the New York Times and Israeli daily Yedioth Ahronoth reported on Monday, citing a report by a watchdog group.

Not a bot: Netanyahu trots out homophobic Kahanist who called journalists ‘dogs’, Times of Israel
A man Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu paraded in front of the media on Monday as proof that his online supporters were “real people,” and not “bots,” is a far-right political activist with a history of lashing out against the prime minister’s rivals, journalists, and public officials, with racist and homophobic statements. Giora Ezra, who runs a a pro-Netanyahu Twitter account under the moniker “Captain George,” assured journalists at a press conference alongside the prime minister that he was personally in charge of his account, in response to a watchdog report that claimed to uncover a network of fake Twitter accounts backing Netanyahu.

Palestinian killed in West Bank clashes with Israeli troops, Associated Press
A West Bank medical official says a Palestinian was killed in clashes with Israeli forces during arrest raids north of Jerusalem. The Israeli military said in a statement Tuesday that troops arrested 12 Palestinians in the West Bank wanted for “involvement in terror activity and violent disturbances.” The military says it was investigating an incident north of Jerusalem in which troops used live fire after coming under attack.

Joined by Netanyahu, Brazilian president makes trailblazing trip to Western Wall, Times of Israel
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was joined by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at the Western Wall on Monday, becoming the first foreign head of state to visit the site together with a senior Israeli official. His unprecedented step could be seen as a tacit recognition of Israeli sovereignty over that location in Jerusalem’s Old City, which the international community generally considers occupied Palestinian territory. The Western Wall, part of the retaining walls of the Second Temple, is the holiest place where Jews can pray.

UN General Assembly to Condemn Islamophobia, Anti-semitism, The Jerusalem Post
In the wake of the horrific attack at two New Zealand mosques, in which 50 people were murdered and 50 others injured, the UN General Assembly will vote tomorrow to condemn Islamophobia and antisemitism. A draft of the resolution proposed by Turkey declares that the member states are “deeply alarmed by all terrorist attacks against places of worship that are motivated by religious hatred, including antisemitism and anti-Muslim hatred.”

Israel expands Gaza fishing zone as part of ceasefire agreement, Al Jazeera
Under the Oslo Accords signed in 1993, Israel is obligated to permit fishing up to 37km, but it has never been implemented. Overfishing in a small area over the years has decreased the fish population and depleted fish breeding grounds. Al Jazeera’s Mohammed Jamjoom, reporting from Gaza, said that despite the ease on restrictions, Monday’s weather forecast forced many fishermen to quickly sail back to shore. “It’s cloudy and it’s been raining heavily here in Gaza. The people who assembled here say they need to go back into the water,” Jamjoom said. “This is one of the few viable industries here, this is one of the few ways which people in Gaza are able to make money,” he said.

Druze feelings mixed about Trump’s recognition of Golan, Al-Monitor
[Since] 1981, few residents have requested an Israeli identification card. According to Interior Ministry estimates, no more than 10% have chosen to become naturalized Israeli citizens […] Wahel Tarabiah, an art teacher from Majdal Shams and an activist with the Al-Marsad Arab Human Rights Center, sees himself as a Syrian citizen living on Syrian land. He says he will not seek an Israeli identification card. “In Israel, they call us the ‘Druze villages,’ but culturally we are Arab, and our political affiliation is Syrian,” Tarabiah told Al-Monitor. “We are Druze as a religious identity. We are not the Druze villages! We are the Arab Syrian villages! The Israeli regime calls us this in order to bring religious identity to the forefront and to erase the cultural roots of our identity.”

Palestinians See Little Hope in Israeli Elections, The Globe Post
Tayseer Barakat is like many Palestinians when asked about the upcoming Israeli elections. He doesn’t see much hope. “We have learned from past experience that we are always the victims of Israeli elections, and it doesn’t seem there will be anything new,” said 58-year-old Barakat. “It is more than likely there will be no meaningful changes, despite our hopes that there will be something new to change the situation,” he added as he walked with bags of groceries in Ramallah in the occupied West Bank. Israel’s upcoming elections could have a direct effect on the Palestinians, but many have little interest in who wins, having lost hope its more than 50-year occupation will end no matter which party is in charge.

Palestine financial hit: Civil servants salaries cut in half, Al Jazeera
For the second month in a row, the Palestinian government will only pay civil servants half their salaries. This comes after Israel said it would withhold the taxes that it collects on behalf of the Palestinian Authority. The Palestine government says salary cuts will come from high-salary officials.

Opinion and Analysis

Donald Trump, the Golan, and the Return of the Old World Disorder, The American Prospect
Gershom Gorenberg writes, “Donald Trump just recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights, territory occupied in a war 52 years ago. Trump also supports Brexit, doesn’t give a fig for NATO, thinks neo-Nazis may be ‘very fine people,’ and is trying to sabotage America’s very belated halfway attempt to emulate the national health-care systems of other developed countries. Yes, these things are connected. They show Trump’s role as a prime mover of a global trend: dismantling the measures taken after World War II to prevent another such human-made mega-catastrophe. The trend, and America’s role in it, suggests something frightening—that the ability to remember historical events and learn from them may be limited by the length of a human life.”

Israel’s Concessions to Hamas Are Just the Prelude, Haaretz
Amos Harel writes, “The government is prepared to go far to achieve quiet in the south until the April 9 election. Not a single official announcement – by the Israel Defense Forces spokesman or the Prime Minister’s Office – has been issued about easing conditions in the Strip. The Defense Ministry wouldn’t even answer a question about how large the fishing limits off Gaza are.”

A year after US withdrawal from the nuclear deal, Iran digs in, The Interpreter
Barbara Slavin writes, “Nearly a year after the Trump administration unilaterally withdrew from the Iran nuclear deal, it is loudly proclaiming the harsh impact of reinstated US secondary sanctions on the Iranian economy. As a result of reduced revenues, US officials assert that Iran is under increasing pressure to scale back its support for proxy groups that have widened Iran’s regional reach. But although Iranians are clearly suffering from high inflation and unemployment, there are no signs that their government is willing to talk to Trump officials about a “better” deal or that it is abandoning long-standing regional partners. Instead, Tehran appears to be digging in, prepared to wait out Trump in hopes that he will be a one-term president and that a successor administration would return to the 2015 nuclear agreement.”

While Palestinians Gathered on Israel-Gaza Border, Arab World Looked Away, Haaretz
Zvi Bar’el writes, “The directives given by the committee coordinating the demonstrations at the Gaza border with Israel were clear: ‘Stay out of range of fire and open areas. Gather in pre-determined places and do not leave them. Cooperate fully with the committees maintaining order and follow their instructions. Focus on creative, non-violent action and revive the national heritage. Demonstrate the determination of our people and hold steadfastly to life despite the siege and the aggression. Do not burn tires and do not use blunt objects even if they are defined as non-violent.’”

Why Bret Stephens Is Wrong About Iran, The National Interest
Paul Pillar writes, “Actually, Obama was right. The fallacy that Stephens, and others who defend the Trump administration’s reimposition of nuclear sanctions, are promoting is that making life more difficult, costly, or painful for someone else somehow advances U.S. interests—at least if we sufficiently hate whoever the someone else is. That would be true only if schadenfreude were a U.S. national interest, which it isn’t. Pain infliction serves U.S. interests only if it changes the targeted country’s behavior in a desired direction, by either limiting its capabilities or inducing it to change its policies. Regarding Iran over the past year, this is not happening.”

Netanyahu’s Tough Election Campaign Approach Appears To Channel Trump, NPR
Daniel Estrin writes, “Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is waging a mudslinging re-election campaign on social media, channeling his close ally President Trump in style and substance. Netanyahu is known not to use a cellphone personally, so there is no Trump-style improvisational tweeting. But as Israel’s April 9 elections approach, and Netanyahu faces a formidable challenger and possible indictment on corruption charges, his young campaign advisers are churning out a steady supply of memes and video clips on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and YouTube to boost his profile — and trash his opponent — to his millions of followers. One theme is constant: Netanyahu’s claim that Israel’s left-wing media is out to topple him.”

Israeli Arabs Who Refuse to Vote Are Handing Netanyahu Victory on a Silver Platter, Haaretz
Chemi Shalev writes, “There are, of course, various reasons, some understandable, for the low turnout of Israel’s Arab citizens, or Palestinian-Israelis, as many prefer to define themselves. About 10 percent, according to various studies, refrain from voting for ideological reasons: They view the participation in elections for the Israeli parliament as tantamount to recognition and acceptance of the Jewish state. Many Arab voters were disappointed by the achievements of the Joint List, and many more are frustrated by its dissolution. Unlike their exceptionally high turnout in local elections, Israeli Arabs do not expect the Knesset to take them into account or care for their needs. Much of the blame, as a Haaretz editorial pointed out on Monday, lies with Jewish politicians. Netanyahu’s incessant incitement has cast Israeli Arabs to as untouchable and the Nation-State bill entrenched their estrangement and isolation.”

In Israel Campaign, All Sides Claim Fabled Voice From the Grave: Menachem Begin, New York Times
Isabel Kershner writes, “In life, he was a fiery orator and campaigner who upended nearly three decades of political domination by Israel’s socialist founders and their Labor Party. Now, 27 years after his death, Menachem Begin — the militant Zionist, the founder of the right-wing Likud party and the storied prime minister — has re-emerged as an unlikely icon as Israelis prepare to go to the polls on April 9. With an apparent dearth of living visionaries, Mr. Begin’s legacy as both peacemaker with Egypt and bellicose champion of Greater Israel have turned him into a versatile, if posthumous, campaign prop.”