News Roundup for February 21, 2019

February 21, 2019

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J Street in the News

Major Jewish Groups Mum On Netanyahu’s Deal With Extremist Party, Forward

“Nine major Jewish groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Jewish Federations of North America, did not respond to questions from the Forward about Netanyahu’s successful efforts to merge the national-religious Jewish Home party with Otzma Yehudit, or ‘Jewish Power,’ a small party led by disciples of Kahane…..The groups that did speak about the merger were largely critical. In an emailed statement, the left-wing Israel lobby J Street said that the merger ‘shows that there may be no red line Netanyahu will not cross in his desperate effort to remain in office, no matter how much damage he does to Israel in the process.’ J Street called on pro-Israel organizations and US officials to condemn the move.”

Palestinian president says door is open to dialogue with Trump, Axios

“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told a Democratic congressional delegation today in Ramallah that dialogue with the Trump administration, which has been frozen for more than a year, could possibly be re-opened….The Palestinians have been boycotting the Trump administration since Trump’s Dec. 2017 announcement that the U.S. Embassy would move to Jerusalem. Abbas told the Democratic delegation, which was brought to Ramallah by progressive US lobbying group J Street, that in order to renew the dialogue with the Palestinians, the Trump administration must announce it is accepting a two-state solution and backing off Trump’s declaration that Jerusalem is ‘off the table’ — a statement that was understood by the Palestinians to be a sign that the US doesn’t support their aspirations for a capital in East Jerusalem.”

To save himself, Netanyahu empowers Israel’s most racist extremists, J Street

“Prime Minister Netanyahu’s effort to bring the ultra-right, extreme racist Otzma Yehudit (“Jewish Power”) party into a potential new governing coalition is disgraceful and dangerous. It shows that there may be no red line Netanyahu will not cross in his desperate effort to remain in office, no matter how much damage he does to Israel in the process. We call on US officials and pro-Israel organizations to condemn Netanyahu’s efforts to bring these extreme racists into Israel’s next government.”

Top News and Analysis

Political Bombshell as Gantz, Lapid Join Forces to Replace Netanyahu, Haaretz

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s two biggest rivals on the center-left announced early Thursday morning that they have decided to join forces and merge their parties, causing a political shakeup ahead of the Israeli ballot slated for April 9. Hosen L’Yisrael chairman Benny Gantz and Yesh Atid chairman Yair Lapid have agreed to run on a joint ticket that will be called “Blue and White.” They have also enlisted former Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff, Lt. General (res.) Gabi Ashkenazi to join their unified party….The deal struck between the two party leaders means that Gantz would be prime minister for two and a half years, with Lapid becoming prime minister after that, if they form the next government. According to the agerement, while Gantz serves as prime minister, Lapid would receive the Foerign Ministry and former Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon would receive the Defense Ministry. Yesh Atid will receive 13 slots in the first 30 while Hosen L’Yisrael will receive 12 and Ya’alon’s party Telem will receive four….Polls published in recent weeks put Gantz as Netanyahu’s main rival in the upcoming election, with some predicting that a joint Gantz-Lapid ticket could overtake Likud.”

Netanyahu courts ‘frightening’ extreme right party ahead of elections, CNN

“In 1988, extremist Rabbi Meir Kahane and his political party were banned from Israel’s parliament for being racist and undemocratic. Now his followers are making a comeback, courted by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he seeks a fifth term as the country’s leader….The head of the Jewish Strength party, Michael Ben Ari, was one of the first outspoken followers of Kahane, who advocated forcible expulsion of Arabs from Israel and the West Bank. In 2012, Ben Ari’s visa application to the United States was denied after the State Department ruled he was involved in terrorist activity, according to a statement from Israel’s parliament.”

Americans Want a Less Aggressive Foreign Policy. It’s Time Lawmakers Listened to Them, Time

Ian Bremmer writes, “Asked how the U.S. should respond if ‘Iran gets back on track with its nuclear weapons program,’ there was a bipartisan preference for diplomacy over military action. Eighty percent of respondents preferred diplomatic options for trying to maintain a non-nuclear Iran. Significantly more people believed ‘Iran has the right to defend itself even if it means developing nuclear weapons’ than supported a ‘preemptive strike on Iran to prevent its government from acquiring nuclear weapons.’”

Netanyahu’s despicable push to bring racists into Israel’s political mainstream, Times of Israel

David Horovitz laments, “The PM has persuaded the religious-Zionist Jewish Home to partner with the Kahanists of Otzma Yehudit. It makes cynical political sense for his interests, but what of Israel’s? The Jewish Home party, the current iteration of what used to be Israel’s National Religious Party, on Wednesday night voted in favor of a pre-election alliance with Otzma Yehudit, a racist successor to the banned Kach party of the late Rabbi Meir Kahane. Kahane, who won a seat in the Knesset 35 years ago on a platform of revoking citizenship from Arab Israelis and a pledge to ‘transfer’ out of the country those who would not accept this status, and who sought to outlaw sex and marriage between Jews and non-Jews, was banned as a racist from seeking re-election four years later.”


UN Envoy Says Risk of Israeli-Palestinian War Looms Large, The New York Times

The prospect of peace between Israel and the Palestinians is fading by the day as violence and radicalism grow — and “the risk of war continues to loom large,” the U.N. Mideast envoy warned Wednesday. Nikolay Mladenov also told the U.N. Security Council that a negotiated two-state solution is drifting further away. “What is needed, first and foremost, is the necessary leadership and political will for change,” he said. “Until that will can be found, Palestinians and Israelis will continue to slide into increasingly hazardous territory.”

After Joining Labor, Ex General Says Security for Israel Means Separating From the Palestinians, Haaretz

Tal Russo, a former general who was placed on the number two slot in the Labor Party’s ticket on Tuesday ahead of the April 9 election, told reporters that real security for Israel means separating from the Palestinians. “Our vision and our interest is to part ways with the Palestinians, and the way there is a regional solution of neighboring countries as well as the two-state solution,” he said, adding that “we must not allow the Palestinians to lead us to a single state with an Arab majority. That would be going against our grandfathers and grandmothers who came to build a Jewish state.”

Israel should apologize to Poland in Holocaust row: U.S. ambassador to Warsaw, Reuters

Washington’s ambassador to Warsaw on Wednesday called on Israel to apologize to Poland in a row between the two countries over the Holocaust, after Israel’s acting foreign minister said “many Poles” had collaborated with the Nazis.U.S. ambassador Georgette Mosbacher, asked if Katz should apologize, said the comment “warrants an apology”. Mosbacher said she felt two strong allies like Israel and Poland “shouldn’t be using that kind of rhetoric. We are too important to each other not to work these things out.”

Hamas Heightens Risk of War With Violent Nights on Gaza Border, Haaretz

“Violent nighttime incidents along the Gaza-Israel border are creating a new risk of a broader conflict with Hamas and are different in nature than the weekly protests that have been carried out on the border on Fridays for almost a year. On Monday evening, another violent nighttime demonstration took place across the border from Kibbutz Nahal Oz. The nighttime Hamas unit is comprised of older, more experienced operatives, in contrast to the young men who are prominent at the Friday protests, and the level of violence is much higher at the nighttime demonstrations.”

Israel Attacks Hamas Following Airborne Firebomb From Gaza, Haaretz

The Israeli military attacked a Hamas outpost Wednesday in response to the first airborne firebomb fired from the Gaza Strip since November. A balloon-borne incendiary device sent from Gaza started a fire Tuesday in the Kissufim Forest near the Gaza border. The fire was fairly small and was put out quickly. The incendiary balloon comes a few days after Hamas approved a renewal of these attacks in light of stalled talks on lifting the closure of the Gaza Strip. A senior Hamas political official told Haaretz that the organization did not want to go “all out” against Israel, so as to allow Egyptian-mediated talks to continue.

Opinion and Analysis

Political attacks mount in Israel as a retired general challenges Netanyahu, Washington Post

Ruth Eglash reports, “With seven weeks left until Israelis go to the polls, the two most likely candidates to become the country’s next prime minister, incumbent Benjamin Netanyahu and newcomer Benny Gantz — both highly decorated former Israeli army officers — have taken aim, at each other….Writing in the Israeli daily Yediot Aharonot, commentator Nahum Barnea said Gantz had little choice but to push back against Netanyahu, who ‘has been making completely baseless attacks on him daily.’”

I Thought Bibi Was Amoral. He’s Not. He’s Evil. Thanks to Him, Kahane Lives, Haaretz

Bradley Burston declares, “This is the one that tells you more than you want to know about evil: Netanyahu’s relentless campaign to bring into his future governing coalition, the Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party, led by disciples of the vicious, unabashedly racist, rabidly Jewish supremacist ideology of the late Meir Kahane […] Netanyahu, backed by the media resources of Sheldon Adelson’s mass-circulation Israel Hayom, has spent much of his time and energy pressing leaders of other right-wing parties to merge with Otzma, which would then form a key part of a post-election Netanyahu coalition.”

Pro-Israel money is influential, but are we Jews the only ones allowed to say it?, Arizona Jewish News

Joel Rubin asks, “As an American Jew who loves Israel, including having lived there for more than a year of my life, it’s easy for me to care about Israel. But what about members of Congress who have zero personal connection to Israel? What makes their connection so deep? It’s a time-tested truism that politicians care most about what their supporters — both voters and donors — care most about. For pro-Israel Americans, dominated by Jews and the Christian right, the number of voters impacting elections is limited; it’s high in a small number of districts (New York, Florida, Ohio) and dispersed throughout the country. But when it comes to donors — and lobbyists — financial influence knows no hard geographic boundaries.”

In Likud Heartland, These Israelis Are Ready to Turn Their Backs on Netanyahu, Haaretz

Ashdod has been a bulwark of support for the prime minister and his Likud party, but on a recent visit Haaretz discovers growing discontent toward the country’s long-serving leader. “‘For the past 25 years I’ve lived here, I’ve always voted Likud,’ Rosti says. ‘I thought Bibi was the future of Israel, that he would bring peace. But something about him has changed – it seems like he’s only interested in solving our problems abroad and doesn’t care about what’s happening inside the country.’”