News Roundup for February 14, 2019

February 14, 2019

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J Street in the News

Unpacking What The American Israel Public Affairs Committee Does, NPR

J Street Senior Adviser Ben Shnider speaks to NPR’s Peter Overby about the work of pro-Israel lobbying groups.

Omar fires back at Trump, saying he has ‘trafficked in hate’ his entire life, Washington Post

“Omar, who has publicly apologized, has been huddling with Jewish members of Congress to express her regret, according to several Democrats. Prioritizing Jewish members of the freshman class, Omar is lining up several face-to-face meetings with lawmakers whom she alienated as she seeks to move past her comments. Her outreach effort includes Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). She also has spoken to Bend the Arc and J Street, liberal Jewish groups, as well as national Jewish leaders. In her district, she has been in touch with local Jewish groups and is organizing a roundtable with Jewish constituents next week to hear their concerns.”

Can we have a nuanced debate about Israel?, Minnesota Public Radio

In the wake of Rep. Ilhan Omar’s controversial tweets, MPR News host Kerri Miller interviewed J Street’s Director of Communications Logan Bayroff about how Americans can productively debate and discuss Israel and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Continued Bad-Faith Weaponization of Israel Debate Harms Israelis, Palestinians and American Jews, J Street

“We need to be clear: Those who routinely demonize and scapegoat ethnic and religious minorities out of ideological conviction or to gain political advantage, have zero credibility in the important fight against anti-Semitism. Efforts by Congressional Republicans to act against Rep. Omar without reckoning at all with their own destructive rhetoric should be treated as shameful political posturing. All who care about combating bigotry and promoting a better future for Israelis and Palestinians must refuse to allow bad-faith, hyper-partisan attacks to dominate or restrict important discussions about anti-Semitism, Israel or US foreign policy. The political weaponization of these issues is doing tremendous damage to the American Jewish community, to our national political discourse and to the cause of Israeli-Palestinian peace. It needs to stop.”

Top News and Analysis

Mike Pence chides US allies at Warsaw summit on Iran, Guardian

“The US vice-president Mike Pence has sharply rebuked Washington’s European allies over their efforts to shield their businesses from US sanctions on Iran, as transatlantic tensions over US foreign policy were laid bare at a conference in Warsaw. A scheme set up by the EU to facilitate trade with Iran was ‘an effort to break American sanctions against Iran’s murderous revolutionary regime’, Pence said during a conference on the Middle East organised by the United States in the Polish capital. ‘It is an ill-advised step that will only strengthen Iran, weaken the EU and create still more distance between Europe and the United States,’ he said.”

Warsaw Summit Will Test U.S. Gamble on Israeli-Arab Pact Against Iran, Haaretz

Amir Tibon observes, “This week’s global summit in Warsaw will test the main pillar of the Trump administration’s policy in the Middle East: The belief that Israel and key Arab states can form an alliance against Iran, even when peace talks between Israel and the Palestinians seem more distant than ever….The administration wants to bring Israel and the Sunni Arab states closer to each other and to see them working together against Iran and Hezbollah, two common enemies. That is one of the main purposes of the administration’s long-gestating peace plan, which could be published after the upcoming Israeli election on April 9.”

How U.S. politicians use charges of anti-Semitism as a political weapon, Washington Post

Mairav Zonszein writes, [T]the wider frenzy betrayed the cynical ways that charges of anti-Semitism and claims to be standing up for Israel are so often wielded by U.S. politicians — especially, but not exclusively, by Republicans. Israel, and by extension Israelis and American Jews, gets used as a wedge by pretty much anyone who chooses to pick up the cause in service of their own political agendas….Declaring that criticism of Israel is anti-Semitic wrongly — and falsely — assumes all Jews are the same. The Israeli government encourages this: It implicitly claims to speak for all Jews, and Netanyahu claims to be the authority on what is anti-Semitic. His cozying up to Hungary and Poland despite their Holocaust revisionism is just one example. Reality is different: A poll by the American Jewish Committee last year found that less than half of American Jews supported Trump’s decision to move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem; other polls routinely find that American Jews rank Israel as less important to them than many other political issues. But the more Israel becomes a pawn in U.S. politics, the more elected officials will treat Jews as an object, rather than as individuals.”


Hamas Will Try to Draw Israel Into Full-out Gaza War, Israeli Intel Assessment Says, Haaretz

Hamas may initiate broad military action that could bring forth an all-out military confrontation with Israel in a bid to obtain international involvement on the humanitarian situation in Gaza, an Israeli intelligence report published Wednesday asserts. Based on the annual assessment of the Israeli military intelligence’s research division, the Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kochavi, sworn in last month, has already prioritized preparations for a potential Gaza war. Kochavi has approved operational plans for combat and set up an administrative unit to handle the formation of a list of potential targets in the Strip. These plans are pending any decisions by Israel’s political leadership.

PM’s rival Sa’ar up to third in Likud primaries vote recount, Times of Israel

Gideon Sa’ar, one of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s main rivals, came third in the Likud primaries, putting him at number four on the party slate for the upcoming elections, after a recount was completed to include hundreds of votes that had gone missing. According to the new results released late Wednesday, Knesset Speaker Yuli Edelstein came first in the primaries, and thus will take the number two spot on the Likud Knesset list for the April 9 elections (behind Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who was reelected as party leader in a 2016 vote). Edelstein was followed by Transportation Minister Israel Katz, Sa’ar, Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, and Culture Minister Miri Regev.

Israeli Council for Higher Education Unanimously Approves West Bank Medical School, Haaretz

The Council for Higher Education in Judea and Samaria unanimously approved on Wednesday the establishment of the medical school at Ariel University, even though Israel’s Planning and Budgeting Committee, which is responsible for funding higher education, objected to the plan.  In the afternoon, Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit allowed the West Bank council to make the decision just hours before the council was meant to dissolve. On Thursday, the council’s authority is to be transferred to the Council for Higher Education in Israel.

Meretz holds first-ever primaries in hope for vital boost for ailing left, Times of Israel

Members of the left-wing Meretz party were going to the polls on Thursday to elect its Knesset slate for the upcoming national elections, in the first-ever primary ballot open to the party ranks. Introduced in an effort to boost enthusiasm and participation among activists and supporters, Meretz is hoping that the primary vote and the final slate it produces will expand the reach of Israel’s dwindled and sidelined political left.

IDF believes Iran pulling forces in Syria away from Israel border due to strikes, Times of Israel

Israel’s campaign of airstrikes in Syria has driven Iran to change tack in the country, moving the bulk of its troops and bases away from the Israeli border and toward what it sees as a safer location closer to Iraq, according to Military Intelligence assessments released Wednesday.

Opinion and Analysis

One Thing Netanyahu Said This Week May Have Killed Trump’s Peace Plan, Haaretz

Amir Tibon writes, “Speaking to a group of right-wing and religious-Zionist pundits in Jerusalem, Netanyahu promised that if he wins the upcoming Israeli election (which for now remains the most likely scenario), he will form a religious, right-wing governing coalition and won’t offer a partnership to his centrist challenger, Benny Gantz. This statement could be more significant for the future of Kushner’s peace plan than anything other leaders in the Middle East have said about it so far. If following the April 9 election Netanyahu does indeed form a coalition similar to the one he had over the past four years, there is absolutely zero chance of him making even the slightest concession for peace, since he won’t have support for such concessions within his own government.”

Will Israeli Jews support Arab Knesset candidate?, Al-Monitor

Shlomi Eldar reports, “According to the latest polls, Taal is likely to win five to seven seats in the next Knesset. In the battle between the two major blocs over every single vote, seven seats could tip the scales in favor of the center-left….While Netanyahu and Liberman have been inciting against Tibi….he has been getting a boost from a surprising, if unforeseen, new direction: Jewish voters on the left. Over the last few weeks, they have come out in support of Tibi’s new party, and there are enough of them to earn him at least one more seat.”

Among Newbie and Veteran Laborites, Primary Election Showed All Hope Is Not Lost – Yet, Haaretz

Sophia Jessen interviews Labor primary voters.