News Roundup for February 20, 2019

February 20, 2019

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J Street in the News

Sanders’ 2020 Run Assures Israel Central Spot in Campaign, Haaretz

“Over the past 24 months, Sanders has intensified his involvement in Middle East issues. He harshly criticized Netanyahu’s right-wing policies, and hosted in his office Israeli and Palestinian activists working against the occupation in the West Bank. Another country that has become a target for Sanders’ criticism is Saudi Arabia: Sanders has taken a lead role in opposing the Saudi-led war in Yemen. In 2017, in an appearance before the left-wing Jewish group J Street, Sanders ridiculed Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for purchasing a yacht worth $450 million. Sanders asked how many Palestinian refugees could have been supported with that money. He has also attacked Saudi Arabia’s human rights record.”

Top News and Analysis

The Kahanists and the Homophobes: The Two Parties No One Wants but Netanyahu Needs, Haaretz

Allison Kaplan Sommer reports, “The right-wing religious bloc, always crucial for Netanyahu in his efforts to construct a solid ruling coalition, is splintered into no fewer than six parties, some of which have dangled perilously close to the electoral threshold. If one – or worse, two – of these parties fall below that threshold (which currently stands at 3.25 percent of the overall vote), it means that thousands of right-wing votes that should have been translated into Knesset seats in Netanyahu’s governing coalition will go to waste….The first party is Otzma Yehudit, led by a handful of former followers of the deeply racist Rabbi Meir Kahane; the second is Yachad, headed by Eli Yishai, which broke off from Shas after Yishai lost a leadership struggle with Shas’ current leader, Arye Dery. It has since become a more virulent religious right-wing version of its original Sephardi ultra-Orthodox progenitor….the prime minister has been publicly and privately lobbying the leaders of other rightist religious parties to merge with Otzma on a joint slate.”

A Champion of Alliances in Israeli Politics, Tzipi Livni Rejected at Finish Line, Haaretz

Yossi Verter writes ”Over the last four years, the public has turned its back on Livni’s ideological hallmark – diplomatic negotiations, seeking peace, a two-state solution as a guarantee of Israel’s continued existence as a Jewish and democratic state. In other words, what is commonly termed the left. She discovered that there were no buyers for these wares. Based on the in-depth polling she conducted in recent weeks, she realized that the fault line between the right and the center-left is no longer over the Palestinian issue, but over democracy – the assault on the rule of law, the attempts to undermine the High Court of Justice, the racist legislation.”


Gantz Unveils Party Ticket: ‘Sole Ruler Netanyahu Is Afraid’, Haaretz

Benny Gantz, former army chief and chairman of the Hosen L’Yisrael party, launched a harsh attack on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during his second major campaign speech on Tuesday, while calling on Yesh Atid Chairman Yair Lapid to meet with him “tonight” to discuss potentially joining forces ahead of the April general election. “His court jesters are no longer laughing, and his party is terrified,” Gantz said, describing Netanyahu as the “sole ruler” who has controlled Israel’s ruling party for the past decade and saying that the prime minister ruled “through incitement, deception and fearmongering.”

U.S. Palestinian mission to merge with Israel embassy in March, Reuters

The United States Consulate General in Jerusalem, which serves Palestinians, will be absorbed into the new U.S. Embassy to Israel in March, a U.S. official said on Tuesday, giving a date for a merger that has been condemned by Palestinians. Senior Palestinian leader Saeb Erekat denounced the decision to eliminate the consulate as the latest evidence the Trump administration is working with Israel to impose a “Greater Israel” rather than a two-state solution.

Kahanists in the Knesset? Talks Advance for Far-right Merger, Haaretz

Far-right party Otzma Yehudit, led by a followers of racist Rabbi Meir Kahane, announced Wednesday they agreed to a merger with Habayit Hayehudi and the National Union, a day before the Thursday deadline to formally register party rosters for the April 9 election. Otzma Yehudit officials agreed to a compromised discussed in recent days, placing its candidates on the 5th and 8th spots on the unified list. However, the party led by former National Union MK Michael Ben Ari and right-wing settler activists Baruch Marzel, Itamar Ben-Gvir and Benzi Gopstein, has yet to announce its candidates.

Netanyahu calls Smotrich’s dad, upping pressure for far-right merger, Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the father of the Jewish Home party’s Bezalel Smotrich on Monday, urging him to convince his son to merge with a pair of far-right factions that otherwise will likely not pass the electoral threshold in April’s national ballot. Smotrich — who is number two on the Jewish Home list after folding his National Union party into it last week — confirmed the phone call, which was first reported by Channel 13.

Clashes Erupt During Eviction of Palestinian Family From East Jerusalem Home, Haaretz

Police and protesters clashed on Sunday for several hours as a Palestinian family was evicted from the home in Jerusalem’s Old City where they had lived since the 1950s. The Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court had ordered the eviction, which was upheld on appeal, based on a finding that a Jewish charitable trust had rightful ownership of the property, owned by Jews before Israel’s establishment in 1948.

For first time in months, Gaza balloons spark fire in south, Times of Israel

A balloon carrying an incendiary device from the Gaza Strip sparked at least one fire in southern Israel on Tuesday, the first such arson case in several months, authorities said. The blaze burned grasslands in a wooded area outside the community of Kibbutz Kissufim in the Eshkol region. It was quickly extinguished, according to the Israel Fire and Rescue Services.

Ilhan Omar Apologizes to U.S. Jewish Leaders for ‘Benjamins’ Remark, Haaretz

Rep. Ilhan Omar apologized to Jewish groups, mostly from the left, for her tweets stating that support for Israel in D.C., and specifically the work of pro-Israel lobby AIPAC, is ‘all about the Benjamins.’ In an off-the-record conference call convened Tuesday, Omar said she would like to start a process to mend ties with the American-Jewish community.

Opinion and Analysis

Netanyahu pretends occupation does not exist, Al-Monitor

Akiva Eldar writes, “The April 9 elections to the 21st Knesset will be the 15th time since the 1967 Arab-Israeli War that Israel’s citizens and soldiers will exercise their democratic right while ruling over millions of disenfranchised Palestinians. There were times when the exhortation “down with the occupation” merited a place of honor in the political discourse, alongside the word “peace.” Under the decadelong regime of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, such talk has made way for a discourse of annexation and incitement. It is as if not saying the word makes the occupation disappear.”

Two-state solution loses champion as Livni drops from race, Al-Monitor

Mazal Mualem observes, “Livni could be described as someone who jumped from party to party in order to survive. She could even be called an opportunist for joining the Netanyahu government in 2013. But what can never be taken from her is her diplomatic agenda. More than anyone else in Israeli politics over the last few years, Livni came to be identified with the two-state solution. It’s not that Meretz or the Labor Party didn’t talk about it; she was simply its best spokesperson, particularly because she grew up in a Revisionist (right-wing) home and was so deeply entrenched in the Likud. To her credit, it must be said that she never abandoned her diplomatic vision. In many ways, she sacrificed herself for it. Politics is a brutal game, and this week Livni reached the end.”

Correction: The American Somali-Jewish relationship is strong, The Times of Israel

Mohamed Ahmed reflects, “We Somalis and Jews have come to an understanding that we are minorities facing a common problem of extreme hate — anti-Semitism, Islamophobia and racism. The Jewish community and Somali community have built a relationship on American values of tolerance and respect. We know that diversity is our strength, and we are working to expand it within our communities. We know that we stand with each other, leaning on one another.”