News Roundup for February 14, 2017

February 14, 2017

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J Street in the News

Over 600 Rabbis and Cantors Sign Petition Opposing David Friedman as U.S. Ambassador to Israel, Haaretz

“More than 600 American rabbis and cantors have signed a letter expressing their opposition to the appointment of David Friedman as the next U.S. ambassador to Israel. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee is set to begin confirmation hearings on Friedman’s appointment Thursday morning. In their letter, the rabbis and cantors ask that either President Donald Trump withdraw the nomination, or alternatively, that the Senate reject it. The letter expresses concern about Friedman’s ‘denigration of American Jews who believe differently from him and his policy positions that we believe run contrary to the interests of the United States and Israel.’ The signatures were collected by a coalition of progressive organizations deeply opposed to Friedman’s appointment, including J Street, T’ruah, New Israel Fund, Ameinu, NCJW, Partners for Progressive Israel and Americans for Peace Now. The letter is signed by rabbis representing all the Jewish movements, among them well-known social activists.”

600 rabbis and cantors sign letter opposing Trump’s Israel envoy Friedman, Times of Israel

“More than 600 rabbis and cantors signed an open letter released Monday against US President Donald Trump’s nominee to be the next ambassador to Israel, David Friedman….’The Rabbis of the Talmud are adamant that we are to speak to and about other people — particularly those with whom we disagree — with love and respect. We are taught that shaming a person is tantamount to shedding their blood,’ they said. ‘Yet Mr. Friedman seems to have no qualms about insulting people with whom he disagrees.’ The letter was orchestrated by a number of liberal American Jewish groups who have responded with horror to Friedman’s nomination since it was announced and have vowed to fight his bid, including J Street, T’ruah and Ameinu. Signatures were collected over a period of 2-3 weeks.”

Letters from rabbis, Holocaust survivors, scholars decry use of ‘kapo’ by Trump nominee, JTA

“Letters to the Senate from hundreds of rabbis, and dozens of Holocaust survivors and scholars say the abuse of the term ‘kapo’ by President Donald Trump’s nominee for ambassador to Israel should be a factor in considering his confirmation. An array of liberal Jewish groups organized three separate letters this week to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee: One from rabbis and cantors, one from Holocaust survivors, and one from Holocaust scholars. The letters will be delivered to senators on the committee before Friedman’s confirmation hearing commences on Thursday. The letter from the rabbis and the cantors, which so far has accrued more than 600 signatures from clergy of all streams, and the letter from 31 Holocaust survivors urge the committee to reject Friedman. The letter from 29 Holocaust scholars – including a handful not based in the United States – stops short of a call to reject him, but says: ‘We hope that you will keep Mr. Friedman’s disrespectful and politically cynical use of the Holocaust in mind as you consider his nomination to serve as our ambassador to Israel.’….Organizing the push to persuade the Senate to block his confirmation are J Street, Ameinu, Americans for Peace Now, the National Council of Jewish Women, the New Israel Fund, Partners for Progressive Israel and T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights group. Partners for Progressive Israel, a group affiliated with leftist Zionist parties in Israel, on Monday urged its activists to call senators and voice their opposition to Friedman.”

J Street Fervently Campaigns Against Trump’s Pick For Ambassador to Israel, Jerusalem Post

“Liberal Jewish group J Street is pushing a campaign against David Friedman, US President Donald Trump’s pick to serve as ambassador to Israel. Ahead of Friedman’s confirmation hearing in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee this Thursday, J Street is scrambling to transmit its plea far and wide: ‘Stop Friedman.’ The group is calling on supporters and non-supporters alike to appeal to senators to oppose Friedman’s confirmation, charging that his appointment should alarm all Americans, including those who tend to disagree with J Street. ‘David Friedman is a friend of the settlement movement who backs unlimited settlement expansion, has accused [former] president [Barack] Obama of being an antisemite and says that liberal Zionists are ‘worse than kapos,’’ the advocacy group stated. J Street supporters were the targets of the latter insult, while members of the Anti-Defamation League were branded by Friedman as “morons.” ‘The contempt Mr. Friedman has shown toward liberal American Jews – labeling them worse than Nazi collaborators – makes him a horrible choice to be our representative in Israel,’ reads a letter drafted by J Street for Friedman opponents to send to their senators. The letter also accuses Friedman of posing ‘a threat to longstanding US policies in the Middle East that have been supported by Democratic and Republican presidents alike.’ Friedman – who has a long personal history of supporting the settler enterprise – has referred to the two-state solution as a ‘scam’ and “an illusory solution in search of a nonexistent problem.’”

Word on the Street: A Glimpse of the Next Four Years, J Street

Jeremy Ben-Ami writes, “Wednesday’s meeting between President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu provides a fascinating first glimpse at what the next four years of American policy in the Middle East will look like. We’re all too aware of what the Israeli and American right wing are hoping for. Naftali Bennett and the settler movement want to sound the death knell of the two-state solution and a give a green light to annexation and uninhibited West Bank settlement construction…..But the President may have different ideas. In stark contrast to how he has handled other issues, his rhetoric and actions since Inauguration Day on Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict have been restrained. And the rapturous applause of the settlement movement has gone quiet.”

Top News and Analysis

Michael Flynn Resigns as National Security Adviser, The New York Times

“Michael T. Flynn, the national security adviser, resigned on Monday night after it was revealed that he had misled Vice President Mike Pence and other top White House officials about his conversations with the Russian ambassador to the United States. Mr. Flynn, who served in the job for less than a month, said he had given “incomplete information” regarding a telephone call he had with the ambassador in late December about American sanctions against Russia, weeks before President Trump’s inauguration. Mr. Flynn previously had denied that he had any substantive conversations with Ambassador Sergey I. Kislyak, and Mr. Pence repeated that claim in television interviews as recently as this month. But on Monday, a former administration official said the Justice Department warned the White House last month that Mr. Flynn had not been fully forthright about his conversations with the ambassador.”

Weak and Totally Dependent on Trump, Netanyahu Will Have to Tiptoe in Washington, Haaretz

Aluf Benn observes, “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu flies on Monday to Washington for a summit at the White House with the new United States president, Donald Trump, from a doubly weakened position: He has lost his main source of leverage in Washington, and his coalition in Jerusalem is cracking. More than ever before during his term in power, Netanyahu is dependent on the goodwill of his host. Trump could give him his backing and assure him of quiet on the political front – or whip up a squall that shatters the calm and truncates his time on the throne….That is why it seems that Trump’s and Netanyahu’s messages ahead of their meeting have been coordinated. Trump is supporting Israeli-Palestinian peace ‘and maybe beyond that’ without getting into details, aside from deciding to appoint his son-in-law, Jared Kushner, as special envoy; Netanyahu supports a Palestinian state, based on conditions that the Palestinians have refused to accept so far; Washington will oppose expanding the settlements and will protect Netanyahu from Bennett’s pressures; the discussion about moving the embassy will be intense and thorough, but won’t end any time soon; Israel will eschew provocations and the White House will forgo condemnations.”

A New Beginning for Israel and the United States, The New York Times

The editorial board writes, “The issues facing the United States and Israel, which include addressing the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians and restraining Iran’s assertiveness in the region, are as tough to resolve as they are consequential. If Mr. Trump chooses to stand up for America’s national interest and not just cater to the hard-line views of Mr. Netanyahu’s Likud government, there are likely to be rough patches ahead….Although Mr. Trump signaled during the campaign that he would be Israel’s unquestioning defender, his recent statements have moved from harsh rhetoric to more nuanced positions, at the urging of Arab leaders. For instance, after insisting that on becoming president he would immediately relocate the United States Embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, Mr. Trump has hesitated, at least temporarily. Similarly, while initially voicing unquestioned support for Israeli settlement building, the administration recently said that expanding settlements ‘beyond their current borders may not be helpful’ in achieving peace. Mr. Trump is showing signs, in other words, of glimpsing the complexity of the task before him. This is not remotely like any other real estate deal he has ever attempted. We hope he can confound the skeptics, including ourselves, and pull it off.”

Netanyahu Non-Committal On Palestinian Statehood As He Heads To U.S., Huffington Post

“Hours before Netanyahu’s departure for Washington, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan told Army Radio that “all members of the security cabinet, and foremost the prime minister, oppose a Palestinian state”. The forum convened on Sunday ahead of Wednesday’s White House meeting between Netanyahu and Trump. On the Tel Aviv airport tarmac, Netanyahu was asked if he still stood behind the so-called two-state solution. ‘Come with me, you’ll hear very clear answers,’ he told reporters accompanying him on the flight. If confirmed, a departure from a two-state policy would present Israel with diplomatic, political and demographic challenges as it contends with the complex question of how to deal with a Palestinian population now under limited self-rule.”


Germany’s Merkel Cancels Summit With Israel in Wake of Palestinian Land-grab Law, Haaretz

German Chancellor Angela Merkel decided to cancel a joint summit with Israel’s government, scheduled for May 10 in Jerusalem. The official reason her office gave the Prime Minister’s Office for the cancelation in the planned visit by Merkel and top officials was the German elections in September. But German and Israeli sources say there was another reason, albeit not the main one – her dissatisfaction at the Israel’s new law to expropriate private Palestinian lands, enacted in Knesset last week.

Don’t push Trump ‘into corner’ on Palestinians, Lapid warns, Times of Israel

The chairman of the opposition Yesh Atid party Yair Lapid on Monday warned Prime Minister Netanyahu against “pushing [US President Donald] Trump into a corner” during his upcoming visit with the new US leader. Speaking at his weekly faction meeting in the Knesset, Lapid called on ministers to stop urging the prime minister to use the Wednesday meeting as an opportunity to push Israel’s settlement policy in the West Bank.

14 Jewish Democrats Push Bill To Oust Steve Bannon From National Security Council, Forward

At least 14 Jewish Democrats are among the sponsors of a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would force President Donald Trump to remove Stephen Bannon from the National Security Council.

Prime Minister Netanyahu Expected to Quit Post as Israel’s Communication Minister, Haaretz

Prime Minister Netanyahu is expected to relinquish his post as Israel’s communications minister amid a looming court petition by Israel’s opposition over alleged talks he held with prominent media mogul Arnon Mozes. The leading candidates to replace him are Culture Minister Miri Regev and Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi. Though Netanyahu values control of the ministry, and has even enshrined political supports for his policies through coalition agreements, legal officials believe they will have a hard time defending his post at an upcoming hearing at Israel’s High Court.

Trump intended to move embassy to Jerusalem, changed his mind, top Republican says, Times of Israel

President Trump was planning on moving the US embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as soon as he took office, but then reconsidered after he entered the White House, a senior Republican senator said in an interview published Monday. Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, told Politico’s Global Podcast that Trump started to reconsider when he began to see the regional implications of the controversial step — including Israel’s developing ties with Arab states

Opinion and Analysis

Can This ‘Special Relationship’ Be Saved?, The New York Times

Aaron David Miller and Steven Simon write, “The Israeli government and the powerful settler movement are poised to exploit the administration’s perceived pro-Netanyahu stance by expanding settlements and neighborhoods in the West Bank and Jerusalem. The Palestinian national movement will no doubt respond with terror and incitement to violence, undermining its own legitimate case. Given the asymmetry of power, Israel’s response will probably be harsher and increasingly seen as anti-democratic, or worse. Perhaps Mr. Trump will deliver on his promise to broker a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But more likely — either through inattention or acquiescence, or the sheer difficulty of diplomacy — the administration will adopt a laissez-faire approach to Israeli actions. What will things look like in four to eight years? American support for an increasingly right-wing Israeli policy will mean that Israel will have built more settlements; diplomacy aimed at a two-state solution will be stillborn or abandoned; and violence in the West Bank will require Israel to use force to restore order. Politics in Israel will continue to drift right amid a deepening conviction that it has no Palestinian partner and against the backdrop of an increasingly dangerous region.”

This Is What Trump and Netanyahu Will Discuss in Their Meeting (If You Believe Spicer), Haaretz

Amir Tibon writes, “A White House that has been outspoken on almost every issue for the past three weeks has shown a tendency to speak in a calculated and careful tone when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and to effectively ‘duck’ any direct questions about this Middle-Eastern hotspot….The only piece of clarity provided so far by the White House was in the form a written statement attributed to Spicer, that came out in early February and stated that while the administration didn’t view existing settlements as an impediment to peace, it didn’t think expanding them or building new ones would be helpful. Even that statement, however, left many open questions – did it mean the White House would give Israel a free hand to build inside existing settlements? Would there be a geographical agreement with Israel separating certain “settlement blocs” from isolated settlements? When Spicer was asked about the written statement a day after its publication, he said the text was clear enough, and chose not to add anything to it.”

President Trump: Peace Processor, Council on Foreign Relations

Robert Danin argues, “How President Trump intends to pursue peace and how he will succeed where his predecessors have all stumbled is yet to be determined. It seems that President Trump himself is not yet sure. He is taking a decidedly different approach in launching his efforts than that of his predecessor, President Barak Obama, who announced his intention of resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with fanfare just two days after his inauguration. In contrast, President Trump is gradually revealing his intentions while consulting in an uncharacteristically low-key fashion with regional partners. Yet Donald Trump, in one stark and unmistakable way, is no different than the eight presidents that preceded him: He is clearly and unambiguously a peace-processor.”

American Jews Are New Target of Israel’s Unprecedented Escalation Against Civil Society, Haaretz

Jennifer Gorovitz writes, “Border security should be used to keep all of us safe – not to discriminate on any basis: religious, ethnic, or political. Democracies should not use political litmus tests at their airports; they shouldn’t use border control to harass, intimidate, and humiliate visitors. Misusing the security apparatus for political purposes robs everyone of the real security we need. In Israel and in America, we will not be stopped or cowed: not me, not my colleagues at the New Israel Fund, not any of our partners, nor the activists we support. We will remain devoted to the values of a democratic society: justice, equality, democracy, and the fair treatment of every citizen. And we’ll all keep coming back.”


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