News Roundup for February 12, 2019

February 12, 2019

Receive the roundup in your inbox every morning!

J Street in the News

Rep. Omar apologizes after House Democratic leadership condemns her comments as anti-Semitic tropes, Washington Post

“Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) apologized Monday afternoon for what many saw as anti-Semitic comments perpetuating the tired stereotype that Jews control politics with money. Omar’s mea culpa came shortly after House Democratic leaders called the first-term representative’s comments ‘deeply offensive’ and urged her to apologize. In a tweet, the Minnesota congresswoman said ‘anti-Semitism is real and I am grateful for Jewish allies and colleagues who are educating me on this painful history of anti-Semitic tropes’….J Street, a nonprofit liberal advocacy group, called the entire debacle a ‘war of words’ that ‘does nothing to advance the true interests and needs of Israelis or Palestinians, nor those of the American Jewish community.’ While elected officials need to be aware of harmful Jewish stereotypes, they also should refrain from labeling all criticisms of Israel as anti-Semitic, the group said.”

Ilhan Omar Apologizes for ‘anti-Semitic’ Tweet Following Backlash, Haaretz

“J Street published a statement, titled ‘Weaponization and oversimplification of Israel debate must end.’ The progressive organization said that the ‘war of words’ taking place between lawmakers on the subjects of Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian and anti-semitism does not advance the needs of Israelis or Palestinians, nor those of the American Jewish community. Regarding Omar’s tweet that pro-Israel support ‘Is all about the Benjamins’, the group commented: ‘There is no doubt that money often plays a major role in our political system. At the same time, elected officials must be extremely aware that tropes about Jewish money and political influence have been used for centuries to target and stigmatize our community. Indeed, such tropes featured alarmingly in the campaign ads of Republican candidates during the 2018 election cycle. This kind of rhetoric and imagery has never been the exclusive province of left or right.’”

J Street: There Is No Democratic Divide Over Israel, Slate

Joshua Keating interviews Jeremy Ben-Ami. “If you define a divide as a handful of people who disagree, then sure, call it a divide. I would say that when 90 percent of a caucus is in one place, and a handful of people are in another, that’s not a divide; it’s a couple of outliers. We’ve seen a shift in the Democratic Party on its overall stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to a more moderate and balanced place that is supportive of Israel and supportive of the cause of Palestinian self-determination. That is the consensus position in the Democratic Party. There are a couple of people in the caucus who have come out in favor of BDS, but there’s 230 members who have not. I don’t see that as a sharp divide. What I see is Republicans who, for partisan purposes, are trying to drive a wedge in the Democratic Party.”

The numbers behind Ilhan Omar’s AIPAC tweet, Quartz

“One of the top pro-Israel DC lobbying groups in recent years has been JStreetPAC, which is dedicated to ‘a diplomacy-first approach to advancing US interests in the Middle East and promoting peace and security for Israel,’ including a ‘two-state approach’ for Israel and Palestine, and continued foreign aid to both. ‘There is no doubt that money often plays a major role in our political system,’ J Street said in a statement released today about Omar’s comments. ‘At the same time, elected officials must be extremely aware that tropes about Jewish money and political influence have been used for centuries to target and stigmatize our community.’”

Yarmuth cheers Democrats condemning lawmaker for ‘anti-Semitic’ tweet, Louisville Courier-Journal

“J Street, a liberal-leaning Jewish group, said in a statement Monday that it is frustrated by the heated rhetoric that ignores the nuances in addressing the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The group said talk of ‘Jewish money and political influence have been used for centuries to target and stigmatize our community.’ But J Street also warned against labeling all criticism of Israel as being anti-Jewish. ‘Elected officials should also refrain from labeling all criticism of Israeli actions or policies as ‘anti-Semitic’ in a transparent effort to silence legitimate discussion and debate,’ the statement said. ‘Such attacks only undermine the vital effort to counter the actual scourge of anti-Semitism in the United States and around the world.’”

Weaponization and Oversimplification of Israel Debate Must End, J Street

“J Street is dismayed and frustrated by the ongoing war of words that has taken place between lawmakers including Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN), Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) and others on the subjects of Israel, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and anti-Semitism. This pattern of overheated, ill-considered and reductive attacks, playing out on social media and in the press, has failed to address these issues with the nuance, sensitivity and seriousness that they deserve. It does nothing to advance the true interests and needs of Israelis or Palestinians, nor those of the American Jewish community….J Street is committed to ending the weaponization and dangerous oversimplification of issues that are so complex and deeply important. We continue to call on our elected officials to focus their energies on policies and discussions that can actually yield a positive outcome for Israelis, Palestinians and the American people.”

Top News and Analysis

The controversy over Ilhan Omar and AIPAC money, explained, Vox

Matt Yglesias observes, “The notion that congressional support for Israel is literally all about the Benjamins is clearly false, and Omar could have saved herself some grief by acknowledging as much….There are, pretty obviously, major questions of ethnic and religious identity in play — not just among American Jews but also with the incredible influence of Christian Zionism in American politics and, conversely, the not-coincidental reality that Omar and Tlaib, who are both Muslim, have strong feelings on this topic. That said, while it’s true that to suggest a cabal of Jewish moneymen control Congress from behind the scenes via their perfidious financial influence certainly does traffic in anti-Semitic stereotypes, it’s also clearly true that pro-Israel forces’ financial clout makes a difference in American politics….The larger context for this controversy, however, is not the strength of the pro-Israel lobby but its weakness. The concurrent administrations of Obama in the United States and Netanyahu in Israel led to a serious deterioration of the relationship between Democrats and pro-Israel organizations.”

Labor Primary: Three Women Make It to Top 5 as Party Seeks Revival, Haaretz

“Itzik Shmuli reached the first place in the Labor Party’s primary on Monday ahead of the April 9 election, followed by Stav Shaffir, Shelly Yacimovich, Amir Peretz and Merav Michaeli….Thirty-four thousand party members voted in 84 nation-wide polling station. The turnout, 56 percent, was higher than senior party officials had predicted, and close to the 60 percent turnout of the 2015 primary.”

Anti-BDS Bill Passed Senate, but Trouble Awaits in House, Haaretz

Amir Tibon reports, “Democrats are convinced that the entire purpose of the Republican decision to add the anti-BDS bill into the broader Middle East package was to orchestrate an intra-Democratic fight over the issue, and force many Democrats to choose between their position on the free speech criticism of the bill and their general opposition to BDS….The Democratic leadership in the House, where it has had a majority since the midterm elections, will most likely break up the package into a number of separate bills. That will allow the House to approve the non-controversial bills on security aid to Israel and sanctions on Syria, without immediately setting the stage for a new round of internal party tensions on the ‘constitutional right to boycott’ question.”


Israel Asks Dutch Court to Drop War Crimes Case Against Gantz, AP

The Israeli Justice Ministry on Monday said the government has asked a Dutch court to dismiss war crimes allegations against Benny Gantz, an ex-military chief who is challenging Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in April elections. A Dutch-Palestinian man originally from the Gaza Strip is suing Gantz and Israel’s former air force chief, Amir Eshel, for their roles in an airstrike on his family’s home that killed six relatives. The dead included a 72-year-old woman and a 12-year-old child.

PA says it will take legal action against US over ‘financial siege’, Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister Riyad al-Malki said Monday that the PA would take legal action to counter US moves to apply financial pressure on Ramallah. Malki’s comments came a day after a senior Fatah official, Hussein al-Sheikh, said in an Arabic-language interview that the US has asked international banks to squeeze the Palestinian Authority financially in a bid to pressure the Palestinian leaders to accept the Trump administration’s not-yet-announced peace plan.

Jared Kushner will try to sell Middle East peace plan to U.S. allies amid skepticism, scant details, USA Today

President Donald Trump’s senior adviser and son-in-law, Jared Kushner, will embark on a diplomatic lobbying blitz for his Middle East peace plan – starting next week in Europe and continuing later this month with stops across the Arab world. Kushner and Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for the Middle East peace negotiations, plan to tout their peace plan during a high-level meeting of foreign ministers and heads of state – including Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu – in Poland on Feb. 13 and 14. The two Trump advisers will then make a trip to Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, and several other Arab countries at the end of February, where they will seek sign-off on the plan but may face deep skepticism.

Abbas’ Mission in Riyadh: Persuade Arab World to Oppose Trump’s Peace Plan, Haaretz

The Palestinian Authority is bracing for the publication of U.S. President Donald Trump’s peace plan and has started working preemptively to ensure that Arab and Muslim countries will not support it. Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas arrived Monday in Riyadh to meet with King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad Bin Salman in an attempt to ensure Saudi support for the Palestinians in relation to the plan.

Levy-Abekasis clarifies she’s not in talks to merge with Gantz, Times of Israel

The leader of the Gesher political party made it clear on Sunday that she is not in talks with Benny Gantz to unite with his Israel Resilience party in an effort to oust the ruling Likud party in the coming elections. “There are currently no contacts between me and Benny Gantz,” MK Orly Levy-Abekasis told Channel 12 news.

Battered in Polls, Kulanu’s Kahlon Backs Netanyahu to Be Re-elected, Haaretz

Kulanu chairman Moshe Kahlon said on Tuesday he would recommend to President Reuven Rivlin that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu form the next government after the Knesset election on April 9. Kahlon’s remarks came two months after he pledged not to sit in a coalition under Netanyahu if he would be indicted. Since then, he has floundered in the polls.

Opinion and Analysis

The Top 10 Political Combos That Could Swing Israel’s April 9 Election, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev writes, “The prospect of falling by the wayside is pushing the smaller parties on both left and right to contemplate their own mergers and acquisitions, thus increasing their chances of passing the threshold. Which explains the unusual degree of uncertainty in the political arena. Ten days before the submission of their Knesset lists, eight weeks before the election, Israeli voters have no idea what parties will compete in the April 9 ballot.”

Private Mossad for Hire, New Yorker

Adam Entous and Ronan Farrow report, “Psy-Group had more success pitching an operation, code-named Project Butterfly, to wealthy Jewish-American donors. The operation targeted what Psy-Group described as ‘anti-Israel’ activists on American college campuses who supported the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions movement, known as B.D.S….In early meetings with donors, in New York, Burstien said that the key to mounting an effective anti-B.D.S. campaign was to make it look as though Israel, and the Jewish-American community, had nothing to do with the effort. The goal of Butterfly, according to a 2017 company document, was to ‘destabilize and disrupt anti-Israel movements from within.’”

Will Labor’s Vibrant Primaries Be Remembered as Turning Point – or Gala on the Titanic?, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev writes, “The Israeli Labor Party indicated on Monday night that reports of its death, as Mark Twain once said, were exaggerated. Labor members came out in droves to participate in the primaries for the party’s Knesset list, surprising everyone with a demonstration of energy and even exuberance that stood in stark contrast to the party’s terrifying free-fall in the polls and the widespread predictions of its imminent demise. Labor hopes the jubilant atmosphere that prevailed at Tel Aviv’s Exhibition Gardens, where the party faithful gathered to hear the results and congratulate the winners, will be remembered as a turning point in its fortunes. If their critics are right, however, the festive night will probably end up being compared to a gala ball on the Titanic.”