News Roundup for February 17, 2017

February 17, 2017

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J Street in the News


Trump’s Nominee for Israel Envoy Apologizes for ‘Hurtful Words’, The New York Times

“President Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, David M. Friedman, a bankruptcy lawyer with no diplomatic experience, on Thursday apologized for his language during the ‘highly charged presidential campaign,’ an apparent reference to his comments comparing liberal American Jews to the Jews who aided the Nazis in the Holocaust. Appearing before senators for his confirmation hearing, Mr. Friedman — a former campaign adviser who has aligned himself with the Israeli far right and questioned the need for a two-state solution — spoke broadly of regretting his language, promising to be ‘respectful and measured’ if confirmed….Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s top Democrat, pressed Mr. Friedman on his apology, pointing out that his remarks were written, meaning he would have had time to carefully choose his words….Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, said Mr. Friedman’s ‘many restrained and careful answers’ and expressions of ‘regret’ were not enough.”

David Friedman, Trump’s Pick for Israel Ambassador, Regrets Past Comments, NBC News

“J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami was not swayed by Friedman’s professed contrition. ‘Friedman gave many restrained and careful answers to difficult questions from Senators, and expressed regret for many of his past statements and writings,’ Ben-Ami said in a statement. ‘But he cannot change or walk back the deeply held ideological convictions he has held and the actions that he has taken over the course of decades.’”

Trump pick for ambassador to Israel has contentious Senate audition, Washington Post

“The liberal group Friedman had attacked, J Street, is generally critical of Netanyahu, who visited the White House on Wednesday. The organization has been among the loudest voices opposing Friedman.”

Friedman’s Apology Tour Has Persuaded Some. But J Street Isn’t Buying It, Haaretz

“J Street President Ben-Ami, for his part, attended the Senate hearing, but isn’t buying Friedman’s apparent bid for forgiveness. ‘He did not do much apologizing’ at the hearing, Ben-Ami told Haaretz afterward. ‘It had to be pulled out of him.’ ‘It is so clear that the person on display today has nothing to do with the person who is going to serve in this position,’ Ben-Ami said. The phone calls Friedman placed to the ADL and URJ ‘don’t even begin to do justice to the level of repentance needed here.’ Now, said Ben-Ami, ‘it is up to senators to determine if three hours of testimony can undo a lifelong track record, both in terms of what he actually believes and how he conducts himself.’”

Trump’s Nominee For Israel Ambassador Spent A Ton Of Time Apologizing For Saying Terrible Things, Buzzfeed

“In the middle of the hearing, US Ambassador to the UN Nikki Haley told reporters on her way to a meeting that the US commitment to the two-state solution was firm — but her office emphasized that there was no daylight between her statement today and the president’s on Wednesday….After the hearing, J Street president Jeremy Ben-Ami, when asked about Haley’s remarks, told BuzzFeed News that he feels “sorry for anybody who has to serve this president in a foreign policy role. Because the zigs and the zags and the incoherence of the policy make it very difficult to be reassuring to our allies — and our adversaries — about where the US stands. ‘Based on the comments yesterday, we can’t say for sure if the US supports the two-state solution,’ Ben-Ami continued. ‘The clean-up of that is all well and good but who knows what he’s going to say tomorrow.’”

David Friedman To Liberal Jews: Sorry, But I’m Not Sorry, Forward

“David Friedman doesn’t think J Street, the Anti-Defamation League, or President Obama deserve an apology for his attacks on them. In his prepared opening statement at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Friedman acknowledged ‘rightfully’ criticism of some of his rhetoric. This rhetoric included, among other, calling J Street “kapos” — the Jews who collaborated with Nazis during World War II — and describing the ADL as ‘morons.’ ‘I regret the use of such language and I want to assure you that I understand the important difference between a political contest and a diplomatic mission,’ Friedman said, but he did not go as far as apologizing for the comments. ‘No apology, tweeted J Street CEO Jeremy Ben-Ami.”

Trump’s Israel envoy pick heckled, expresses remorse at confirmation hearing, Times of Israel

“J Street head Jeremy Ben-Ami said the apology did not count for much. ‘You can’t take everything one has held over the course of an entire lifetime and expunge that in three hours,’ he told The Times of Israel.”

Trump’s ‘one-state’ remarks embolden rightwing Zionists – Jewish and Christian, The Guardian

“[A]dvocates of a progressive two-state solution to the crisis expressed dismay at Trump’s shock departure from established US policy. Dylan Williams, chief lobbyist of the Washington-based group J Street, which wants to see a democratic Jewish state living peacefully alongside a Palestinian country, said: ‘The president is really playing with fire here in a way that he probably doesn’t grasp yet. He seriously risks jeopardizing the bipartisan policy that has held for so long in the US, that a two-state solution is essential to a negotiated end to the conflict.’”

Top News and Analysis

Trump’s ambassador pick is well-known figure in West Bank, AP

“[E]ven by Trump’s new standards, Friedman appears to be extreme. A bankruptcy lawyer and son of an Orthodox rabbi, Friedman is a fervent supporter of the settlements and an outspoken opponent of Palestinian statehood. In Beit El, the Friedman Faculty House, which bears his and his wife’s names on the facade, is built on private Palestinian land without permission from its Palestinian landowners, according to the anti-settlement watchdog Kerem Navot. A website connected to Friedman’s fundraising group describes Beit El’s institutions as ‘facts on the ground’ in the face of the international community’s desire to uproot us.’ Such views are unprecedented for U.S. ambassadors to Israel, who in the past, whether from Republican or Democratic administrations, have avoided travel to settlements.”

In Bid to Waltz Through Senate Hearing, Trump’s Israel Pick Downplays Ties to Settlement, Haaretz

Judy Maltz reports, “For the past six years, Friedman has served as president of an organization that raises money for the West Bank settlement of Beit El, which is situated far from the 1967 border and is not expected to be incorporated into Israel as part of any future peace agreement. Friedman was asked if he’would be willing to accept a deal that included the evacuation of Beit El. He said that he would “in the context of a consensual agreement.’ At the same time, he attempted to downplay the extent of his involvement in this particular settlement. American Friends of Beit El raises several millions of dollars for institutions and projects in the settlement. In response to a question, Friedman insisted his support of the settlement had little to do with ideology….One of the key institutions supported by Friedman’s fundraising organization is Arutz Sheva, a news website that serves as the mouthpiece of the settler population and prides itself, on “articulating the legitimate rights of the indigenous Jewish population to self-determination throughout its ancient homeland.” At the Senate hearing, Friedman was grilled about vicious attacks he made in columns for Arutz Sheva against Jewish liberals and Senate Democrats. Two of Friedman’s close friends at Beit El – former lawmaker Yaakov (“Katzele”) Katz and Baruch Gordon – are affiliated with groups on the Israeli far right.”

Is 2-State Solution Dead? In Israel, a Debate Over What’s Next, The New York Times

Isabel Kershner reports, “Purposefully or not, Mr. Trump had suddenly implied that the long-proposed solution of two states did not really matter. By Thursday, Israelis and Palestinians were feverishly debating what might come next, still confused about American policy after Mr. Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki R. Haley, reasserted that the administration ‘absolutely’ supported two states. What were the viable options other than the two-state solution? One state with equal rights for both Israelis and Palestinians? A dominant Israeli state alongside a defined Palestinian region with statelike but curtailed powers? Would either side ever settle for less than everything?…Mostly, Mr. Netanyahu appears to want to solidify Israeli control over the occupied West Bank and manage the conflict. That basically means maintaining the current situation of Palestinian cantons divided by growing Israeli settlements and surrounded by Israeli forces. Mr. Netanyahu has referred to it as a “state-minus” — implying the Palestinians would get some statelike autonomy, and that would be enough. Critics call it a creeping one-state reality, and certainly not the “ultimate deal” that Mr. Trump says he hopes to achieve. Some analysts chalk up Mr. Trump’s flippancy to a lack of knowledge, because one thing many Palestinians and Israelis do agree on is that a one-state formula will not bring peace.”

In Arab world, fresh doubts about the chances for a Palestinian state, Los Angeles Times

“[M]any in the Palestinian territories, and across the region, were shaken by the president’s almost casual dismissal of the longstanding U.S. commitment to the eventual creation of a Palestinian state, a diplomatic bedrock known as the two-state solution….Some regional analysts poured cold water on the notion that warming ties with some Sunni Arab states – due to a common threat posed by jihadist groups and the ambitions of Shiite Muslim Iran – could lead to any meaningful Arab engagement in a peace bid…..conservative Gulf monarchies, mindful of domestic constituencies, are seen as highly unlikely to step up without significant Israeli concessions, which do not appear on the horizon as long as Netanyahu’s right-wing government is in power. None of those states has formal diplomatic ties with Israel, and would almost certainly seek to keep any dealings ‘covert and compartmentalized,’ Rabbani said. Few Gulf governments, he said, would want to stake their prestige on a peace process that was not aimed at culminating in Palestinian statehood.”

Trump Snaps at Jewish Reporter Who Asks How He Will Tackle anti-Semitism, Haaretz

U.S. President Donald Trump lashed out on Thursday at an ultra-Orthodox Jewish reporter who asked him what his administration is prepared to do against anti-Semitism, apparently interpreting the question as a personal accusation of anti-Jewish sentiment.


Trump’s UN Envoy: U.S. Still Supports Two-state Solution, but We’re Thinking ‘Out-of-the-box’, Haaretz

The American ambassador to the United Nations, Nikki Haley, said on Thursday that the Trump administration still supports a two-state solution to Israel’s conflict with the Palestinians, a measure that would see a Palestinian state created alongside Israel.  Speaking to a UN Security Council session on the Israeli-Palestinian issue, Haley said: “We support the two-state solution, but we are thinking out-of-the-box as well.”

American Jewish Leaders Call Trump’s Ideas on Israel ‘Terrifying’ and ‘Bizarre’, Haaretz

Liberal American Jewish leaders responded with concern Thursday after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and U.S. President Donald Trump’s meeting, calling the president’s willingness to drop the two-state solution “terrifying” and even “bizarre”.

Germany says building more Israeli settlements may end two-state solution, Reuters

Germany’s foreign minister on Thursday warned that building more Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories could end the prospect of a two-state solution and fuel conflict in the region. Sigmar Gabriel’s comments came as conflicting statements by the new U.S. administration threw off European allies who had hoped to get some clarity from Washington following U.S. President Donald Trump’s apparent shift in policy on Wednesday regarding the Middle East peace process.

France ‘Confused And Worried’ By Trump Mideast Peace Stance, Forward

France considers the U.S. position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “confused and worrying,” its foreign minister said on Thursday, reacting to President Trump’s dropping of the America’s commitment to a two-state solution. Jean-Marc Ayrault met Secretary of State Rex Tillerson at a G20 meeting of foreign ministers in Bonn where, he said, he got some reassurance about Washington’s stance on Russia, but little on the Middle East.

Netanyahu Discussed Jonathan Pollard’s Probation With White House, Haaretz

A source in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s entourage in Washington said that Netanyahu discussed the issue of the limitations imposed on Jonathan Pollard as terms for his release with White House officials. Pollard, who was released from prison in 2015, served 30 years in prison for spying for Israel and, among other limitations, is barred from leaving the United States.

Opinion and Analysis

The Trump-Bibi-Murdoch Love Triangle Puts Us All at Risk, The Nation

Eric Alterman writes, “Though they hail from different ethnic and economic backgrounds, Bibi Netanyahu and Donald Trump are, politically speaking, brothers-in-arms. Each serves as the titular head of a government out of his control, held hostage by far-right forces that care little for the rule of law or even the dictates of nature, and whose members answer to higher powers—
political, financial, and theological. But one weapon that both men share and that none of their adversaries, enemies, or even ‘frenemies’ can match is their ability to deploy massive media empires to intervene on their behalf. Each has long cultivated mutually beneficial relationships with powerful right-wing billionaires willing to put their money behind propaganda networks designed to bludgeon the public mind in the service of their business interests and pet political causes. As it happens, Netanyahu and Trump even share the same media cronies.”

Trump-Netanyahu Meeting: Ignorance, Contradictions and Empty Talk of a Deal, Haaretz

Barak Ravid observes, “One of the most significant things that Trump said related to the substance of the deal he wants to achieve. He breezily declared that as far as he’s concerned, the two-state or one-state solutions are all the same to him. He’ll go with the flow. All that’s left is the minor detail of getting the two sides to agree on something. For the first time, a U.S. president has brushed aside the two-state solution and expressed support for the possibility of turning Israel into a binational state. Not Palestinian autonomy, as Naftali Bennett would like. Not a state-minus, as Netanyahu would prefer. One Jewish-Arab state. This message is almost anti-Zionist. It’s doubtful that Trump himself understood the significance of what he said.”

Will The Real David Friedman Please Stand Up?, Forward

Jane Eisner writes, “In re-Trump Washington, a man like David Friedman would never have come before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee as a nominee to be ambassador to Israel. Not after he insulted, in writing, a sitting U.S. president; many members of the Senate, including the Democratic Minority leader; top officials of Jewish organizations, and the entire State Department. Not when five former ambassadors, Democrat and Republican, said he was unqualified. Not when he has no diplomatic experience whatsoever. Not when his views are way to the right of even those of the right-wing Israeli government…..[E]ven the sympathetic chair of the committee, Republican Sen. Bob Corker, acknowledged that, at the hearing, Friedman had to ‘recant every single strongly held belief you have,’ a situation that Corker characterized as ‘fairly extraordinary.’ Sen. Bob Menendez, the New Jersey Democrat, called it ‘nomination conversion.’”

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