News Roundup for December 19, 2018

December 19, 2018

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J Street in the News

Curbing Speech in the Name of Helping Israel, The New York Times

The editorial board writes, “One of the more contentious issues involving Israel in recent years is now before Congress, testing America’s bedrock principles of freedom of speech and political dissent…J Street, a progressive American pro-Israel group that is often at odds with Aipac and that supports a two-state peace solution, fears that the legislation could have a harmful effect, in part by implicitly treating the settlements and Israel the same, instead of as distinct entities. Much of the world considers the settlements, built on land that Israel captured in the 1967 war, to be a violation of international law….Although the Senate sponsors vigorously disagree, the legislation, known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, is clearly part of a widening attempt to silence one side of the debate. That is not in the interests of Israel, the United States or their shared democratic traditions….It’s not just Israel’s adversaries who find the movement appealing. Many devoted supporters of Israel, including many American Jews, oppose the occupation of the West Bank and refuse to buy products of the settlements in occupied territories. Their right to protest in this way must be vigorously defended. The same is true of Palestinians. They are criticized when they resort to violence, and rightly so. Should they be deprived of nonviolent economic protest as well?….Any anti-boycott legislation enacted by Congress is also likely to face a court challenge. It would be more constructive if political leaders would focus on the injustice and finding viable solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict rather than reinforcing divisions between the two parties and promoting legislation that raises free speech concerns.”

Top News and Analysis

Haley, previewing Mideast peace plan, says Israel wants peace agreement but does not need it, Washington Post

U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said Tuesday that “Israel wants a peace agreement but it doesn’t need one,” signaling the Trump administration’s embrace of Israel’s security-centered approach that may not include a Palestinian state as it works to craft a Middle East peace plan. Giving what is probably her final U.N. address on the Middle East before she leaves office this month, Haley said Palestinians would gain “far greater political control” under a peace agreement, but that phrase stops well short of pledges from previous U.S. administrations to support a sovereign Palestinian nation.

In Starkest Warning Yet, EU States Say Trump’s Mideast Peace Plan Risks ‘Being Condemned to Failure’, Haaretz

“Eight European Union member states issued on Tuesday their starkest warning ahead of the publication of President Donald Trump’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan. The joint statement by France, the Netherlands, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom, Belgium, Germany and Italy follows a United Nations Security Council session on the situation in the region during which outgoing U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley praised the “thoughtful” plan. The EU states, all members of the Security Council, warned that any peace plan that would disregard “internationally agreed parameters,” namely a two-state solution based on the 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital of both states, “would risk being condemned to failure.”

Lawmakers Consider Adding Measure Protecting Israel to Languishing Spending Bills, The New York Times

“Just days away from a partial government shutdown, lawmakers are weighing adding a contentious measure to a stymied spending package that would keep American companies from participating in boycotts — primarily against Israel — that are being carried out by international organizations. Critics of the legislation, including the American Civil Liberties Union and a number of Palestinian rights organizations, say the bill infringes on First Amendment rights and is part of a broader effort on the state and federal levels to suppress support for efforts to boycott, divest investments from and place sanctions on Israel, a movement known as B.D.S.”


Israel arrests 100 Palestinians in crackdown after week of violence, JTA

Israeli forces arrested over 100 Palestinians over the past weekend as part of an anti-terror crackdown launched in the wake of last week’s uptick in terror activity in the West Bank.

Saudi-Israel Backchannel Takes Hit After Officials Dismissed Over Khashoggi Murder, Report Says, Haaretz

Efforts to improve the relationship between Israel and Saudi Arabia have been seriously hindered after Riyadh fired two Saudi officials leading the project over suspected involvement in the murder of dissident Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, The Wall Street Journal reported on Tuesday. One of the officials, former media adviser to the court Saud al-Qahtani, issued directives to the Saudi press with the goal of improving Israel’s image. The two countries have no diplomatic ties and anti-Israel sentiments are widespread in the kingdom.

GOP senators pitch resolution to recognize Israeli sovereignty of Golan Heights, Times of Israel

Two Republican senators introduced a resolution on Tuesday calling for the US to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. Texas Senator Ted Cruz and Arkansas Senator Tom Cotton drafted the motion, which claims that Israel’s national security depends upon its permanent control of the territory. Otherwise, the text says, Israel will be vulnerable to attacks from Syria and Lebanon.

After Suspending Ban on Settlements, Airbnb VP Tours West Bank, Haaretz

A day after Airbnb announced that it has suspended the implementation of its prior decision to remove listings in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, the company’s Vice President Chris Lehane visited West Bank settlements and met with prominent settler leader Yossi Dagan.

Israel said to strongly protest Russian invite to Hamas leader, Times of Israel

Israel has in recent weeks lodged furious protests with Russia over its recent invitation to Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh to visit Moscow later this month, according to a television report on Tuesday. The objections were raised both by Israel’s embassy in Moscow and in conversations with the Russian embassy in Tel Aviv, Channel 10 reported. But Russian officials rejected the complaints, noting that Israel was itself talking to Hamas, albeit indirectly. The Hamas delegation is expected in Moscow in late December.

UN Agency Announces Cutbacks in Food Aid to Gaza, West Bank, Haaretz

The World Food Program announced on Wednesday cuts in food aid affecting some 190,000 impoverished Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank – or half of all its recipients there – citing a severe funding shortfall.

Opinion and Analysis

How Democrats are helping the right stifle debate on Israel, Washington Post

Paul Waldman writes, “[P]assing laws to protect Israel from criticism doesn’t fight anti-Semitism. And using the recent rise in right-wing anti-Semitism in the United States as an excuse for these kinds of measures — as Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) did when justifying his support of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act — is nothing but cynicism….What we have right now is a situation in which the Israeli right and the American right are joined in an effort to convince the world that any criticism of the Likud government’s policies is not just wrong but anti-Semitic and thus must be quashed. It’s a poisonous idea, and Democrats such as Cardin and Booker, not to mention the other Democrats who have supported this bill, shouldn’t help them spread it.”

Legalizing Outposts: Netanyahu’s Ministers Try to Profit From West Bank Attacks, Haaretz

Mordechai Kremnitzer reports, “The decision by the Ministerial Committee for Legislation to approve a bill that would retroactively legalize illegal construction in the West Bank for a two-year period demonstrates that neither security nor the rule of law are what interests this government – only its political survival….If Habayit Hayehudi chairman Naftali Bennett couldn’t get the defense portfolio, let them at least be comforted by trampling on the rule of law. After all, it’s inconceivable that there should be a terror attack without extracting some political benefit from it. Everything goes in the effort to strengthen the Jewish hold on the West Bank at the Palestinians’ expense. Even the horrifying linking of innocent blood with the strengthening of the settlement project deters no one, as if the former were a condition for the latter.”

Khan al-Ahmar: Setting the record straight, +972

“The story of Khan al-Ahmar has been told countless times in the media in recent months as the Israeli High Court gave a green light to the demolition. The following months saw activists prepare for and fight what seemed like an imminent demolition. Then, as international pressure was ratcheted up, the Israeli government put the demolition on hold. The way that story has been told, however, is chock full of misconceptions.”