News Roundup for April 16, 2021

April 16, 2021

Receive the roundup in your inbox every morning!


J Street works to promote an open, honest and rigorous conversation about Israel. The opinions reflected in articles posted in the News Roundup do not necessarily reflect J Street’s positions, and their posting does not constitute an endorsement from J Street.

J Street in the News

The pandemic cancelled a year of Birthright trips. That pause may have unexpected side effects., The Forward
“Over two decades, Birthright Israel delivered more than 750,000 free-of-charge trips to young Jews, but amid the COVID-19 pandemic, like so many organizations, its programming came to halt. More than a year of inactivity and cancellations later, the group is now beginning to think about what a return to normalcy might look like…The stated goal of Birthright is to foster connections of largely unaffiliated young Jews’ to their Jewish identities, communities and to Israel. But some progressive American Jewish groups – including J Street, IfNotNow and Jewish Voices for Peace (JVP) – have questioned those goals, and criticized the trips for omitting Palestinian voices. While JVP and eventually IfNotNow called for young Jews to boycott entirely, J Street advocated for reforms to the trip…J Street, meanwhile, was leading a ‘Let Our People Know’ campaign, advocating for young Jews to pledge to only visit Israel through trips that “meaningfully engage” with the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and provided a competitive trip that did so. (Those trips were also cancelled due to the pandemic and J Street hopes to resume them soon, a spokesperson for the group told the Forward.)”

Top News and Analysis

Iran’s Top Leader Signals That Nuclear Talks Will Resume Despite Natanz Sabotage, New York Times
Iran’s top leader said on Wednesday that his country would keep negotiating with world powers over how to salvage the 2015 nuclear deal, quashing speculation that Iran’s delegation would boycott or quit participating in protest of the apparent Israeli sabotage of a major uranium enrichment site. The declaration by the top leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, who has the last word on security matters in the country of 80 million, came three days after an explosive blast at the Natanz enrichment site plunged the heavily guarded facility into a blackout and disabled or destroyed hundreds of underground centrifuges used to process uranium into fuel. Suspicion over the destruction immediately fell on Israel, which has sabotaged the Natanz site before. Israel neither confirmed nor denied the accusation, but intelligence officials said it was a clandestine Israeli operation.

Will Natanz attack, uranium enrichment derail nuclear diplomacy with Iran?, Brookings
Brookings’ Robert Einhorn says, ” Iran plans to begin enriching uranium to 60%, which is a step closer to weapons grade of 90%. And it’s also going to add about 1000 advanced centrifuges to its operation at Natanz. Why did they do this? I think there was a combination of reasons. It felt it needed to show its adversaries, and I’m really talking about Israel and the United States, that it would respond strongly to attacks against Iran. To show its adversaries that there would be consequences that would be damaging to their interests. Clearly there were also domestic pressures to push back hard against this attack.”

House Democrats to Introduce Bill Seeking to Regulate U.S. Aid to Israel, Haaretz
Democratic lawmakers on Thursday will introduce a House bill specifying various actions Israel may not finance with U.S. taxpayer funding, while also calling for additional oversight of how aid is distributed. The “Defending the Human Rights of Palestinian Children and Families Living Under Israeli Military Occupation Act” – to be introduced by Representative Betty McCollum and co-sponsored so far by Representatives Andre Carson, Danny Davis, Marie Newman, Ilhan Omar, Bobby Rush and Raul Grijalva – specifies the detention of Palestinian minors, destruction of Palestinian property, or support for unilateral annexation, according to a letter McCollum distributed to colleagues.


Iran starts enriching uranium to 60%, its highest level ever, AP
Iran began enriching uranium Friday to its highest level ever, edging closer to weapons-grade levels to pressure talks in Vienna aimed at restoring its nuclear deal with world powers after an attack on its main atomic site. A top official said only a few grams an hour of uranium gas would be enriched up to 60% purity — triple the level it once did but at a rate far slower than what Tehran could produce. International inspectors already said Iran planned to do so above-ground at its Natanz nuclear site, not deep within its underground halls hardened to withstand airstrikes.

Senate advances Power nomination as US aid co-ordinator, The National
Former UN ambassador Samantha Power cleared a key procedural hurdle in the US Senate on Thursday to lead the US Agency for International Development (USAID), which oversees American foreign assistance operations across the globe. The Senate Foreign Relations Committee advanced Ms Power’s nomination to serve as the agency’s director by voice vote with bipartisan support.

Israelis no longer required to wear masks outside starting Sunday, as COVID ebbs, Times of Israel
In a further sign that Israel is beating back the COVID-19 pandemic, Health Minister Yuli Edelstein declared Thursday that starting on Sunday, Israelis will no longer be required to wear masks while outside. In a statement as the country’s Independence Day celebrations were coming to an end, Edelstein said he had instructed ministry director-general Chezy Levy to sign a decree ending the health regulation as of Sunday, after consulting with ministry professionals. Masks will still be required in closed public spaces.

Israeli Army Strikes Hamas Targets in Response to Rocket Fired From Gaza, Haaretz
Israeli fighter jets attacked Hamas targets in Gaza overnight Thursday after a rocket was fired earlier in the evening from the enclave. “IDF fighter jets and attack helicopters struck a Hamas weapons manufacturing site, a weapon smuggling tunnel and a military post,” the military said in a statement. The rocket fired from Gaza fell in an open area in the south of Israel on Thursday evening, authorities said, as the country’s Independence Day drew to a close.

Israel Bolsters Police Presence in East Jerusalem as Tensions Rise Ahead of First Ramadan Prayers, Haaretz
Israel has bolstered forces in preparations for the first Friday prayers of Ramadan in East Jerusalem and amid rising friction between the police and local Palestinians. In a departure from previous years, Israel is only permitting 10,000 West Bank residents, all of whom must be vaccinated, to attend the prayers. It remains unclear how many will be permitted to enter in the end, but it is set to be a far cry from tens of thousands that have been allowed to visit in the past. The police have organized a sizeable force around the Old City ahead of the prayer.

Opinion and Analysis

How Trump’s ‘maximum pressure’ united hardliners and reformers in Iran, Responsible Statecraft
Sajjad Safaei writes, “That some of the most democratic voices in Iran should harbor suspicions towards engagement with the West, and in particular the United States, should be a matter of profound concern for policymakers hoping to hold future talks with Iran on a whole host of issues, chief amongst them the nuclear dossier. For if skepticism characterizes the attitude among factions traditionally seen as sympathetic to constructive engagement with the West, it takes little intellectual effort or imagination to appreciate how hardened Iranian public opinion has become during the Trump years, especially on national security and foreign policy. Biden’s failure thus far to lift sanctions and ensure the nuclear deal’s long-term survival has fueled cynicism across the political board, irrespective of views on democratic development.”

Arafat’s Nephew Is Coming for Abbas, Foreign Policy
Dalia Hatuqa writes, “Eighteen years ago, Mahmoud Abbas, then-Palestinian prime minister, was locked in a power struggle with iconic Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat. At stake was control of Palestinian security forces vital to a U.S.-mediated Israeli-Palestinian peace plan, known as the Roadmap for Mideast Peace. Arafat and Abbas disagreed over which of them would control these forces, and Abbas grew increasingly frustrated with Arafat’s unwillingness to cede him any power. The rivalry negatively affected the—now stagnant—peace process and led to a schism inside the West Bank’s ruling Fatah party. Fast forward to 2021. Abbas is president of the Palestinian Authority (PA)—a position he has held for more than 15 years after being elected to just a four-year term in 2005—and Palestinians are patiently awaiting a vote that could finally seal his fate. Whether the elections, slated for this May, July, and August, will be allowed to go ahead remains unclear. (Both Israel and the PA hold the cards.) But in the interim, Abbas is facing a challenge from the nephew of the very man he was at loggerheads with two decades ago.”