News Roundup for April 3, 2019

April 3, 2019
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J Street in the News

‘Outrageous Stunt’: Jewish Groups Accuse GOP of Weaponizing Anti-Semitism to Prolong Slaughter in Yemen, Common Dreams
“Jewish advocacy groups on Monday condemned House Republicans for once again attempting to weaponize anti-Semitism to derail the Yemen War Powers resolution, which seeks to end U.S. complicity in the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. ‘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 U.S. support for the war in Yemen,’ Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the progressive-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street, said in a statement.”

Top News and Analysis

Putin Is Pulling for Netanyahu as He Did for Trump – but This Time in Broad Daylight, Haaretz
Chemi Shalev writes, “The announcement of Benjamin Netanyahu’s sudden summit with Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Thursday, five days before the Israeli elections, can mean one of two things: Either there is an acute crisis concerning Israel’s involvement in Syria, or Netanyahu is using the Russian president as a campaign prop, with what can only be his active collaboration. Putin is pulling for Netanyahu as he did for Donald Trump, but this time it’s out in the open. Putin’s reasons for backing Netanyahu are clear: As a general rule, he has buttressed nationalistic, ethnocentric, anti-European Union politicians wherever he could find them. And in exchange for his grudging acquiescence to Israeli bombing raids against Iranian targets in Syria, Netanyahu has legitimized Russia’s presence in Syria and quietly agreed to the pullout of U.S. troops. A photo-op in Moscow is a small price for Putin to pay for such benefits.”

Netanyahu, Gantz Ramp Up Attacks in Israeli Election, Wall Street Journal
Israel’s national election is becoming particularly vicious and personal as campaigning enters its final week, highlighting how the battle for Israel’s premiership remains closely contested. With a small advantage in polls showing he can build a majority coalition, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has launched an offensive against Benny Gantz, a former general whose centrist coalition poses a stiff challenge. Longtime Israeli political observers say Mr. Netanyahu’s campaign has been brutal even by the standards of Israeli elections.

Israel’s Arabs Could Swing the Election. There’s Only One Problem, Haaretz
Turnout among the Arab community could dip below 50 percent on April 9. It’s like ‘a soccer game in which the Jewish right and center-left are the two teams and the Arabs are the ball. Everybody’s kicking us and neither team wants us’ says one expert.

I’m An Arab Citizen Of Israel. I’m Boycotting The Election., The Forward
Seraj Assi writes, “Israel’s basic laws and policies are predicated on Jewish exclusiveness and privilege. In other words, Israel is a democracy, but it is a democracy for — if not exclusively of — its majority Jewish population. It should come as no surprise, then, that many in the Arab community view their Israeli “citizenship” as a mere political fiction. And when the State of Israel officially degrades its Arab citizens into second-class citizens, one is left to wonder exactly what moral mandate it has to demand their unconditional loyalty.”


At ToI event, Gantz accuses Netanyahu of leading assault on Israeli democracy, Times of Israel
Blue and White leader Benny Gantz slammed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for leading an attack on Israel’s civic life and democracy, as he neared the final stretch of a bruising campaign season Tuesday. Speaking to Times of Israel’s founding editor David Horovitz at an event attended by over 1,000 people a week before Israelis head to the polls, Gantz warned that Israeli democracy is in danger. “We are in an emergency era. I wouldn’t say a literal emergency as if something is wrong tomorrow, but we are living in an era of emergency.”

PM Calls On Supporters to ‘Wake Up’ in Campaign to Increase Turnout, The Jerusalem Post
With one week left to the election, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shifted his strategy to emphasize increasing voter turnout in speeches, public appearances and strategically leaked comments on Tuesday. “The Right is complacent,” Netanyahu warned in a speech to supporters in Bat Yam. “When we look [at polls] on how many people plan to vote, we see a significant gap between Left and Right. People say ‘why bother, Bibi will win.’” Playing on this week’s reports claiming that fake social media accounts are behind much of the Likud’s online support, along with comments he made about Israeli Arabs in the 2015 election, Netanyahu added: “The bots need to come to the voting booths en masse.”

Palestinians largely ignored in run-up to Israeli election, Associated Press
In a charged election campaign that has been heavy on insults and short on substance, Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians has been notably absent from the discourse. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling Likud Party has offered no plan for what many believe is the country’s most existential problem. His main challenger speaks vaguely of “separation,” while Netanyahu’s hard-line partners speak openly of the once unthinkable idea of annexing all or parts of the West Bank. Talk of a Palestinian state, the international community’s preferred solution for the past two decades, is non-existent.

Report: Israel and Hamas Negotiating Prisoner Exchange as Part of Long-term Calm Deal, Haaretz
Contacts between Israel and Hamas for a long-term calm in the south include negotiations on a prisoner exchange, Al-Quds television, a Hamas-affiliated channel, reported on Tuesday. Citing “knowledgeable sources,” the station said “the coming hours will be decisive.” The report has not been confirmed in Israel and in the past, similar reports have ultimately turned out to be false. A senior Palestinian official who is in contact Hamas leaders who are imprisoned in Israel has meanwhile told Haaretz that among the goals of a planned hunger strike by prisoners is to obtain such a deal. According to the official, Hamas prisoners are waiting for a signal from Ismail Haniyeh, Hamas’ leader in Gaza, greenlighting a hunger strike starting on Sunday.

Hamas Threatens Families of Captured Israelis: ‘Accept our Terms’, The Jerusalem Post
You will see your sons only if you accept the terms of the Resistance,” read a Hamas-attributed post released on Tuesday threatening the families of IDF Lt. Hadar Goldin, St.-Sgt. Oron Shaul, Avera Mengistu and Hisham al-Sayed. The tweet featured pictures of family members of the four captured Israelis. Later on Tuesday, the Al-Qasam Brigade released a music video on their Twitter titled “A Message from Captivity” targeted towards the families of Israelis captured by Hamas. The fictional video is presented from the perspective of one of the captives, who is writing a letter to their family in Israel.

First lady Nechama Rivlin rushed to hospital with ‘severe’ breathing problems, Times of Israel
The wife of President Reuven Rivlin was rushed to a hospital Tuesday evening with difficulty breathing, almost three weeks after receiving a lung transplant. Nechama Rivlin was suffering from “severe shortness of breath with a cardiac link,” said a statement from Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, where the transplant operation took place and where she was hospitalized on Tuesday.

Palestinian tries to stab West Bank settler, is shot dead: Israel, Reuters
A Palestinian tried to stab Israelis with a knife in the occupied West Bank on Wednesday and was shot dead by one of them, the Israeli military and a witness said. A Palestinian official, however, questioned the Israeli account of the incident at Hawara junction, near Nablus. The West Bank, among territories where Palestinians seek statehood, has seen surges of street attacks on Israeli settlers and soldiers since U.S.-backed peace talks stalled in 2014. Palestinians say Israel’s armed response has been excessive.

Twitter says action taken against pro-Netanyahu bot network, Associated Press
Twitter says it has “taken action” after an Israeli watchdog exposed an alleged bot network spreading propaganda in support of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and smearing his opponents. Noam Rotem, one of the researchers behind the report, said Tuesday he has seen Twitter shut down 258 of the over 400 automated and fake accounts his team identified. Twitter did not comment on the number of accounts removed, but said that the platform prohibits fabricated accounts and “has taken action where violations are identified” to ensure healthy dialogue online during election cycles. With just a week until the national vote, the pro-Netanyahu bot network discovery jolted Israel’s already turbulent campaign season. Netanyahu lambasted the report as “libel,” and his challenger Benny Gantz accused him of “trying to steal the election.”

Palestinians pray for fish as Israel opens deeper waters, Reuters
As their rickety motorboats puttered out into deep Mediterranean waters for the first time in almost two decades, the Palestinian fishermen prayed for deepwater mackerel and tuna to supplement Gaza’s usual shallows fare of sardines, shrimp and crab. This week, as part of Egyptian-mediated efforts to ease the plight of 2 million residents of the blockaded Gaza Strip, Israel has extended the area where it permits Palestinians to fish. “Such a distance has been off-limits. And hopefully there are lots of fish to bring back,” said 69-year-old fisherman Ahmed al-Amoudi.

Opinion and Analysis

A Palestinian boy with a gun to his head asked if I was OK. I still think about him, The Guardian
Tariq Jordan writes, “In 2014 I found myself travelling along the West Bank on a coach with about 30 young Palestinians. This journey was full of music and dance. Darbukas and dabkes. And I was involved. It was impossible not to be. That is what empathy is. Feeling with others and not for them. But along this journey, that empathy turned quite suddenly to sympathy. Our bus had to pass a roadblock guarded by Israel Defence Forces soldiers. Guns were pointed at our driver and he was forced to halt the bus, throwing the younger members of the group 10 feet down the aisle. As we all scrambled to our seats, I immediately sat next to a young Palestinian boy of 13.”

Why the new nationalists love Israel, Financial Times
Gideon Rachman writes, “[W]hile the clouds are gathering at home for Mr Netanyahu, they are lifting overseas. Israel is benefiting from the rise of a new generation of nationalist-populist political leaders — from Washington to Delhi, and from Budapest to Brasília — who ardently admire the Jewish state. This change in the international political atmosphere has created new breathing space for a country that has long feared international isolation and trade boycotts.”

Netanyahu Is Running for Re-Election as ‘Mr Security.’ But His Strategy in Gaza Might Be His Achilles Heel, Time Magazine
Joseph Hinks writes, “Israelis are watching events in Gaza unfold just as Israel’s election campaign approaches its final stages. Netanyahu, who has been in power for three consecutive terms since 2009 and also led Israel from 1996-1999, is hoping to surpass Israel’s founder David Ben-Gurion as the longest serving prime minister in the country’s history. But he is facing serious headwinds. In late February, Israel’s Attorney General said he would indict the prime minister on bribery, fraud and breach of trust charges, pending hearings. Netanyahu has also risked the support of moderate Israelis by fostering a deal between his far-right coalition partners and the extreme right Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, so as to boost both’s chances of passing the 3.5% of the vote threshold required to enter the Knesset.”

Will truce between Hamas, Israel last until election day?, Al-Monitor
Rasha Abou Jalal writes, “[Two analysts] said Hamas is trying to force Netanyahu, who seeks to win the upcoming Israeli elections, to abide by understandings to ease the siege of Gaza, in return for a calm security situation on the Gaza border. Talal Awkal, a political analyst for al-Ayyam newspaper in Gaza, agreed, adding, ‘Whoever wins the upcoming Israeli elections, any new Israeli prime minister will have to accept these understandings as the key to keeping things quiet in the south. Otherwise, the only alternative is military confrontation with the resistance in Gaza.’”

Under a Decade of Netanyahu Rule the Israeli Economy Has Gone Backwards, Haaretz
Meirav Arlosoroff writes, “Bank of Israel Governor Amir Yaron holds no grudges against Benjamin Netanyahu. After all, it was the prime minister who appointed him, only a few months ago. Nevertheless, the central bank’s first annual report under Yaron — issued Sunday, just nine days before the election — gave the prime minister an F on the economy. The report paints in the colors of failure the man who has led Israel since 2009 and has arguably been the dominant figure in Israeli economic policy since his stint as finance minister in the early 2000s.”

Israel’s year of the undecided voter, Al-Monitor
Akiva Eldar writes, “Nine days before the elections, news editions found time to report that a pelican had been found meandering along a major highway. Not a word, however, was said about the final communique of the annual Arab League summit that wrapped up March 31 in Tunis with discussion of the Palestinian issue. Who cares that the Arab states reiterated support for their 2002 peace initiative with Israel? So what if the Arab League insists on once again offering Israel full diplomatic relations and peace based on the 1967 borders? More so, they are offering it despite the booby traps placed in their path by Netanyahu and his friend President Donald Trump: the relocation of the US Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and US recognition of Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights.”

How to Make Trump’s Israeli-Palestinian Peace Plan Work, New York Times
Michael Singh writes, “After two years of playing coy, the Trump administration is reportedly finally ready to unveil its plan for Israeli-Palestinian peace. The plan’s details remain confidential, but if it is anything like President Trump’s moves so far on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, it will be bold. Some of those steps have worked out far better than the president’s critics anticipated. Moving the United States’ embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, for example, failed to elicit the protests in the wider Arab world many predicted, even as Israelis celebrated it as correcting a historical injustice. Another of the administration’s bold strokes has been to all but eliminate the United States’ once-considerable aid to Palestinians. And while that has attracted far less attention than the embassy move, it is likely to prove more consequential for American and Israeli interests, and for the president’s hoped-for deal — and not for the better.”

Win or lose, Netanyahu has already cemented his legacy, 972 Mag
Edo Konrad writes, “In his 10 years in power, Netanyahu has engaged in race-baiting against his own citizens, declared the occupation a permanent feature of Israeli reality, and shifted both the national and international conversation on Palestine. It is time to acknowledge that these are no mere trends — but his very legacy.”