News Roundup for February 15, 2019

February 15, 2019

Receive the roundup in your inbox every morning!

J Street in the News

With Procedural Maneuver, House G.O.P. Elevates Anti-Semitism as Political Issue, The New York Times

“The latest war of words over anti-Semitism on Capitol Hill is making some Jewish leaders increasingly uneasy. Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, the liberal Jewish lobbying group, said in a recent interview that he worries that charges of anti-Semitism are being thrown around lightly. ‘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,’ Mr. Ben-Ami said Monday in a statement, after Ms. Omar apologized. ‘It does nothing to advance the true interests and needs of Israelis or Palestinians, nor those of the American Jewish community.’”

Stop Alleging Anti-Semitism Just to Score Political Points, Atlantic

J Street’s Jeremy Ben-Ami writes, “A healthy national debate over Israel and Palestine should welcome a wide variety of views and perspectives, and it should be possible to criticize Israeli actions without being dismissed as an anti-Semite, or to promote American support of Israel without being accused of buying influence. When the debate descends into an exchange of charges of anti-Semitism, you can be sure we’re not teeing up a reasoned discussion about the shape of American policy. Being afforded the space for criticism brings with it an obligation on the part of the critics to think about the impact of their words—and tweets. And critics of the critics should be called to task when their rhetoric crosses the line to Islamophobia and racism. Sadly, the noisy political firefight means there’s little chance of having the discussion that’s actually needed about how to end the nearly century-old Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Getting this right means reversing a political dynamic that rewards political grandstanding and devalues those who stand up for a future in which Israelis have security and recognition and Palestinians have freedom and self-determination. The United States won’t play a productive and necessary diplomatic role so long as its political leaders would rather score political points than work to bring about that better future.”

Pro-Israel donors spent over $22m on lobbying and contributions in 2018, Guardian

“Pro-Israel groups and individuals also contributed just under $15m to US politicians’ campaigns during the 2018 cycle, the highest amount since the 1990 cycle. The JStreetPac, a progressive, pro-Israel lobby that advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, contributed the most at $4.03m. The nonpartisan NorPAC contributed $1.1m, while the Republican Jewish Coalition contributed about $502,000. J Street senior political adviser Ben Shnider didn’t comment specifically on what the lobby gets in return for its investment, but said the high level of contributions to his lobby indicates support for a ‘diplomacy first Middle East policy’. ‘What that demonstrates is that there’s momentum behind a pragmatic, pro-diplomacy, moderate approach to the Middle East, and to the Israel-Palestine issue,’ he said.”

Top News and Analysis

Trump officials promote joint action against Iran and downplay Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, Los Angeles Times

“In a choreographed show of rare unity, officials from the United States, Arab states and Israel joined together at a Middle East peace conference Thursday to pledge tough action against Iran, calling that nation a threat to all. The focus on Iran, however, overshadowed discussion of the still-secret Israeli-Palestinian peace plan that President Trump has long promised — and that may be just how his senior representatives at the forum wanted it, given nettlesome issues that remain….The Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, which Greenblatt is drafting with Trump’s son-in-law and advisor, Jared Kushner, and the U.S. ambassador to Israel, former Trump lawyer David Friedman, has been kept largely under wraps, its unveiling repeatedly delayed as the authors were forced to rewrite sections condemned by Arab leaders. Kushner on Thursday briefed delegates at the conference, behind closed doors, on the broad outlines of the plan. He did not disclose details.”


With huge turnout in first primary, Meretz voters pick veteran MKs for top spots, Times of Israel

Veteran MK Ilan Gilon took the top spot in the Meretz party’s first-ever open primary, after an resounding 86 percent of the left-wing faction’s members cast ballots Thursday. The result means Gilon will be placed second on the party’s slate for upcoming elections, behind party leader Tamar Zandberg. Incumbent MKs Michal Rozin and Issawi Frej took second and third place, and newcomer Ali Shalalha, a Druze educator from the northern village of Beit Jann placed fourth.

Israeli Arab Parties on Verge of Disbanding Alliance, Prepare to Run Separately in Election, Haaretz

The four Arab parties in the joint Arab List are preparing to disband their association and run separately in the April election, as the negotiating teams for Hadash, Ra’am, Balad and Ta’al say the talks this weekend will be critical. Separate runs would exacerbate the risk the parties, each on its own, won’t pass the 3.25 threshold seats in the next Knesset. But the parties have been riven by mutual distrust, and amid mutual accusations, are bracing to contend divided.

Netanyahu expected to name new foreign minister on Sunday, Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is expected to appoint a replacement as foreign minister on Sunday, two months after having said he would give up the portfolio. The announcement Thursday was made by the state in response to a petition filed at the High Court of Justice over the number of ministerial portfolios held by Netanyahu. In addition to serving as prime minister, Netanyahu is also currently Israel’s defense, foreign and health minister.

Abbas Suspends Salaries, Allowances to Over 5,000 Gazans, Haaretz

A total of 5,043 Palestinians from the Gaza Strip did not receive their regular monthly salaries or government allowances from the Palestinian Authority at the beginning of February, Palestinian media outlets and human rights organizations have said. The Gazans affected by the withholding of the payments are affiliated with either Islamic Jihad, Hamas or with supporters of Mohammed Dahlan, a rival of Abbas in the Palestinian president’s Fatah movement.

Jewish Home and National Union agree to reunite for Knesset run, Times of Israel

Leading national religious parties Jewish Home and National Union reached an agreement late Thursday evening to run on a joint slate in the upcoming elections, maintaining a partnership that over the past weeks appeared on the fritz as each party adapted to its new leadership. Under the arrangement, scratched out on a hand-written note, Jewish Home leader Rafi Peretz will head the combined list, while National Union chair Bezalel Smotrich will follow at number two and be given the ministerial portfolio that the party would likely receive if it enters the governing coalition.

Opinion and Analysis

Israel’s political identity crisis goes beyond left or right, Washington Post

Gilad Hirschberger observes, “When asked to rate the severity of different threats facing the country, security invariably comes first, and the threat to Israel’s identity appears at the very end of the list. It seems, therefore, that Israelis are supportive of peace in principle, but turn a blind eye to the implications of failing to separate from the West Bank in the near future.

High levels of support for pragmatic solutions to the conflict are thus stifled by a relative lack of interest in this topic. Moreover, whereas only a minority of Israelis supports annexation of the West Bank, they support this policy with zeal. Supporters of the two-state solution or unilateral separation may be a majority, but their support for these policies is more tempered. A determined minority will often hijack the public agenda when the majority is asleep.”

Boxed in on Left and Right, Meretz Holds Primary Election, Haaretz

Anshel Pfeffer observes, “In nearly all the polls, Meretz is either stuck with the same five seats it has in the current Knesset or else it’s down to four, hovering perilously close to the electoral threshold. Where have all those voters gone? The answer can be found in the meteoric rise of Benny Gantz’s centrist Hosen L’Yisrael party and in the lack of excitement among Meretz’s natural voters for the party’s current leadership or any of the main candidates running in the primary for the party’s Knesset slate….The April 9 election has one main theme: Will Benjamin Netanyahu survive as prime minister? The possibility of finally replacing Bibi is attracting even left-wingers to Gantz, despite his blatant play for right-wing voters. Meretz has yet to come up with an exciting new idea to compete with this.”

Ilhan Omar Is Not Anti-Semitic. She’s An Anti-Imperialist, Forward

Raphael Magarik argues, “Narrowly, arguments about supposed anti-Semitism often rest on the claim that critics single out Israel unfairly….But it is totally unfair when applied to Omar. She genuinely holds radical, risky views on all aspects of American foreign policy. She is opposed to violence against civilians in Latin America, in Yemen, and yes, in Gaza too. She believes the United States should end sanctions everywhere — not just against Iran, but against North Korea too. Say what you want about her foreign policy, but she is a peacenik and skeptic of American empire—consistently. But beyond the question of her consistency, Ilhan Omar’s anti-imperialism is important because it heralds new possibilities in American politics—and a new conversation about Israel and Palestine.”

It’s time to stop asking why the Israeli left has disappeared, +972

Dahlia Scheindlin concludes, “[A]dulation and hate for Netanyahu have so captivated the country that even those on the left and center are abandoning the parties that once stood for something different (Labor), or still do (Meretz and the Palestinian Arab parties). These voters largely agree with left-wing policy positions but would rather vote for someone like former IDF Chief of Staff Benny Gantz, who has given little indication of what he would do if elected, but whose party list is drifting steadily to the right. Perhaps that is Bibi’s greatest victory of all. And perhaps the secret weapon of the Israeli left is to sharpen its values….and fight for a genuine alternative over votes. After all, polls today can still change tomorrow.”