News Roundup for April 20, 2021

April 20, 2021

Receive the roundup in your inbox every morning!

J Street in the News

House Democrats Sound Alarm on Israel’s Deepening Occupation at J Street, Haaretz
“Leading House Democrats on Monday sounded the alarm on Israel’s deepening occupation and treatment of Palestinians during remarks to J Street’s 2021 annual conference. Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-TX), vice chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and one of the first lawmakers to criticize Israel for not adequately providing COVID-19 vaccinations for Palestinians, said he has ‘deep concerns regarding unilateral actions by the Netanyahu government that threatened to foreclose the establishment of a viable Palestinian state.’”

J Street’s Sigh of Relief, Moment Magazine
“J Street and other players on the center-left of the pro-Israel camp feel that doors to the corridors of power are open once again. Gone are the four difficult years they had to endure under Trump, with a Middle East team that ignored any voice left of AIPAC, and with his ambassador to Israel David Friedman, who famously called J Street ‘kapos.’ J Street and its allies are now on the field again, providing advice, receiving input from the administration, and making their mark.”

U.S. Envoy: Biden Will Support Israel Against Iran’s Aggressive Behavior, Haaretz
“U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield said Monday that the Biden administration will support Israel as it works to counter the threats posed by Iran’s aggressive behavior. Thomas-Greenfield — the highest-ranking Biden administration official to address the J Street 2021 annual conference — said that the administration shares the common goal with Israel to never allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons, but intends to achieve this through diplomacy.”

Biden’s relationship with Israel shaping up to be less cozy than his predecessors’, Washington Post
“The current Iran nuclear talks mark a defining moment for President Biden and the new, less-cozy relationship that is shaping up between Biden and Israel, its longtime leader and its American supporters. […] Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the ambassador to the United Nations, and Cedric L. Richmond, Biden’s public engagement director, will be speaking at the event. J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said he was not troubled by Biden’s absence. ‘I still think it’s early days. I think we’re not even at the 100-day mark, and I don’t know that they have all the key players in place,’ Ben-Ami said. ‘So I still give them a bit of a pass as far as outreach.’”

Sens. Sanders, Warren call for ‘restricting’ US aid to Israel at J Street confab, Times of Israel
“Prominent progressive senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren both used their Monday addresses at the J Street lobby’s national conference to call for regulating US aid to Israel, asserting that such assistance should not be allowed to bankroll Israeli policies in the West Bank that damage prospects for a two-state solution […] Progressive Democrats, with J Street’s backing, are not calling to limit the amount of already-agreed-upon aid, but are rather seeking greater control of how it may and may not be used. ‘If we’re serious about arresting settlement expansion and helping move the parties toward a two-state solution, then it would be irresponsible not to consider all of the tools we have at our disposal,’ Warren told J Street in prerecorded remarks played on the second day of the left-wing, pro-Israel lobby’s virtual conference.”

Elizabeth Warren Suggests US Explore Conditional Aid To Israel, The Intercept
“At today’s meeting of the annual J Street conference, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., suggested that the U.S. consider conditional aid to Israel. ‘I support military assistance to Israel,’ said Warren’s planned remarks, referring to the aid as ‘the elephant in the room.’ ‘But if we’re serious about arresting settlement expansion and helping move the parties toward a two-state solution, then it would be irresponsible not to consider all of the tools we have at our disposal,’ her speech went on. ‘One of those is restricting military aid from being used in the occupied territories. By continuing to provide military aid without restriction, we provide no incentive for Israel to adjust course.’”

Bernie Sanders: U.S. Should Have a Say in How Israel Uses Military Aid, Haaretz
“Sen. Bernie Sanders told the J Street 2021 National Conference on Monday that the United States should be able to determine how Israel uses the aid it gives to the state, and should restrict aid in response to moves that would undermine the peace process. ‘I strongly believe that we must also be willing to bring real pressure to bear, including restricting U.S. aid, in response to moves by either side that undermine the chances for peace,’ Sanders told the pro-Israel, left-wing group’s annual confab.”

Daily Kickoff: Warren Joins J Street Conference, Jewish Insider
“At the J Street Conference yesterday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) raised the prospect of restricting U.S. military aid to Israel. ‘It would be irresponsible not to consider all of the tools we have at our disposal,’ she said. ‘One of those is restricting military aid from being used in the occupied territories.’”

Elizabeth Warren at J Street: Israeli Opposition Must Stop Infighting to Oust Netanyahu, Haaretz
“Sen. Elizabeth Warren said Monday that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has poorly served Israel’s long-term strategic interests, sharply criticizing him for driving Israel to political crisis as a means to protect himself from criminal charges. ‘He has precipitated four stalemate elections in two years in his frenzied effort to immunize himself from well-documented charges of corruption,’ the Massachusetts senator told the J Street 2021 annual conference.”

In J Street speech, Abbas urges Biden to scrap US law deeming PLO a terror group, Times of Israel
“Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas on Sunday urged the Biden administration to revoke a US law that deems the Palestinian Liberation Organization and its affiliates a terror group. In a video address to the national conference of the left-wing, pro-Israel J Street lobby, Abbas said he looked forward to ‘develop[ing] and strengthen[ing]’ ties with Washington, which Ramallah severed in 2017 after the Trump administration recognized Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

At J Street, Abbas Warns of Apartheid if Two-state Solution Is Abandoned, Haaretz
“Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas told the J Street 2021 National Conference on Sunday that moving away from a two-state solution would lead to a “de facto apartheid one-state solution,” calling this something neither the Palestinians nor the world would accept. ‘We are ready to resume peace negotiations with our Israeli counterpart on the basis of international legitimacy, resolutions and signed agreements and under the auspices of the International Quartet,’ Abbas said.”

Abbas to J Street: US must rescind declaration of PLO as terror group, Jerusalem Post
“The Biden administration must rescind the 1987 US determination that the Palestine Liberation Organization is a terror group, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas told the annual J Street Conference, as he spoke of the steps to re-establish ties between Washington and Ramallah. ‘We seek to develop and strengthen bilateral relations with the new US administration for the common interest of both countries and the interest of peace and prosperity in our region,’ Abbas said in a virtual address to the US-based gathering.”

Three left-wing party leaders address J Street on first day of dovish lobby’s conference, Times of Israel
“Labor head Merav Michaeli, Meretz head Nitzan Horowitz, and Joint List head Ayman Odeh have just addressed the opening plenary session of J Street’s annual conference, which is being held virtually this year due to the pandemic. Each of the party leaders expressed their support, to varying degrees, for Israel to return to negotiations with the Palestinians to achieve a two-state solution. However, they all recognized that the current political dynamics will make such a reality very difficult to achieve.”

Israeli Left-wing Leaders Tell J Street: We’re Committed to Replacing Netanyahu, Haaretz
“Several leading Israeli left-wing politicians on Sunday told the J Street 2021 National Conference that they remain committed to replacing Benjamin Netanyahu as Israel’s prime minister and ending the nation’s political crisis. Addressing the pro-Israel, left-wing Jewish organization’s 12th annual conference — all virtual this year due to COVID-19 — Labor Party leader Merav Michaeli, Meretz leader Nitzan Horowitz and Joint List leader Ayman Odeh all drew comparisons to the defeat of former U.S. President Donald Trump in the 2020 U.S. elections.”

Abbas, Olmert call for 2 states at J Street conference, Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle
“The failed Israeli-Palestinian peace attempt in 2008 would have succeeded if it had been given more time, said former Prime Minister Ehud Olmert, who came closer than any Israeli leader to reach a peace agreement with the Palestinians.”

Using Israel for Political Gains in the U.S. Does Disservice to Both Countries, Schumer Tells J Street, Haaretz
“I’ll make sure that the U.S. remains committed to strengthening our relationship with Israel, to work for her security and prosperity and to continue finding ways for Israelis and Palestinians to live together in peace, security and dignity,” Schumer said. “A safe, secure and democratic two-state solution is what we must continue to advocate for.”

Menendez and Feinstein renew push to limit F-35 sales to UAE, Jewish Insider
“Sens. Robert Menendez (D-NJ) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) are making a new push to create roadblocks for the sale of advanced F-35 fighter jets to the United Arab Emirates and other foreign powers after the Biden administration announced last week it would allow the deal to go forward. The senators’ first attempt to halt the sale, in October 2020, failed to receive a full Senate vote. […] J Street spokesman Logan Bayroff told JI that the organization still opposes the deal because the ‘deadly weaponry… will endanger civilians and further erode the security of the U.S. and our allies.’”

Top News and Analysis

Progress in Iran nuclear talks but resolution still far away, AP
High-level talks in Vienna aimed at bringing the United States back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran are moving ahead with experts working on drafting proposals this week, but a solution remains “far away,” Russia’s delegate said Monday. The U.S. unilaterally left the agreement, which promises Iran economic incentives in return for curbs on its nuclear program, in 2018 under then President Donald Trump, who said it needed to be renegotiated and imposed crippling sanctions. In response, Iran has steadily been violating the restrictions set by the deal, by enriching uranium far past the purity allowed and stockpiling vastly larger quantities, in a thus-far unsuccessful effort to force the other countries involved to provide economic relief that would offset the American sanctions.

In Blow to Netanyahu, Rivals Secure Key Parliamentary Panel, Haaretz
The anti-Netanyahu bloc won a key vote to determine the composition of the Knesset arrangements committee on Monday. The committee is responsible for setting the Knesset agenda during the transitional period between an election and the formation of a new government. This means that the committee controls which bills come before the Knesset for a vote during this time, giving the committee’s extraordinary influence.

Israel Should Support Biden’s Efforts to Revive the Iran Nuclear Deal, Foreign Policy
Tamir Prado and Matan Vilnai write, “Despite the shortcomings in the deal, no alternative diplomatic platform for dealing with the immediate crisis is available. A U.S. return to its former status as a party to the JCPOA would restore its ability to determine when sanctions are snapped back, when sanctions relief is warranted in the context of Iran’s compliance, and its ability to affect decisions concerning the efficiency of inspections and reactions to violations when detected.”


Israeli PM threatens defamation suit against predecessor, AP
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is threatening to sue his predecessor, Ehud Olmert, if he does not apologize for saying the Israeli leader’s family suffers from mental illness. A spokesman for the Netanyahu family confirmed Monday that the Netanyahus’ attorney sent Olmert the letter of warning in advance of a possible defamation suit.

Lashing Bennett’s ‘absurd’ ambition, Netanyahu urges direct vote for PM, Times of Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday declared his support for holding a special direct election for the premiership and attacked Yamina party leader Naftali Bennett, accusing him of “absurd” political gambits that, he claimed, would lead to a left-wing government.

Israeli police clash with Palestinian crowd in Jerusalem, AP
Israeli police clashed with hundreds of Palestinian protesters outside Jerusalem’s Old City on Sunday, firing stun grenades and a water cannon to disperse the crowd, Israeli media said. Similar clashes have occurred nightly since the Muslim holy month of Ramadan began last week. Palestinians say they typically gather on the stairs outside the Old City’s Damascus Gate each evening during Ramadan but that this year Israeli police put up barriers to keep away the crowds.

Palestinians receive 72,000 AstraZeneca doses to boost stuttering vaccine drive, Times of Israel
Palestinians received 72,000 doses of AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine through the international COVAX initiative on Monday, as health officials in the West Bank and Gaza struggle to accelerate their vaccination campaign. […] The Palestinians have lagged far behind Israel in coronavirus vaccinations, even as a stormy debate has raged over Israel’s alleged obligation to immunize them. So far, only around 3.44 percent of Palestinians have received a coronavirus vaccine, with supplies rapidly depleting in the Gaza Strip.

Opinion and Analysis

The Daily: A Difficult Diplomatic Triangle [Podcast], NYT
When a nuclear fuel enrichment site in Iran blew up this month, Tehran immediately said two things: The explosion was no accident, and the blame lay with Israel. The Israeli government reportedly gave only a cursory warning to the Biden administration — calling moments before the sabotage attack and leaving no time for the United States to intervene. The independent action would be a departure from a decade ago, when the United States and Israel worked together to set back Iran’s nuclear ambitions. Since then, an ideological gulf has opened up between their approach. We look at what the blast says about relations between the United States, Iran and Israel.

Why is the EU helping to label Israel criticism as antisemitism?, +972 Magazine
Ilan Baruch writes, “Since the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance (IHRA) adopted its “working definition of antisemitism’ in May 2016, various Israeli organizations — some of them with reported links to the Israeli government — have been promoting the definition with the aim of discrediting and undermining civil society work challenging Israel’s occupation of Palestine.”

Jerusalem dispute could derail Palestinian vote, AP
Joseph Krauss writes, “A dispute over voting in east Jerusalem is threatening to cancel or delay the first Palestinian elections in more than 15 years. While President Mahmoud Abbas is vowing to hold the vote, Israeli restrictions on Palestinian voters in east Jerusalem could give him a pretext for calling off an election that appears increasingly likely to threaten his hold on power.”

Iranian enrichment is worrying, but weapons-grade uranium doesn’t a bomb make, Times of Israel
Judah Ari Gross writes, “Iran’s enrichment of uranium to 60 percent represents not only the latest in a series of escalating violations of the 2015 nuclear accord, but the closest the Islamic Republic has ever come to producing weapons-grade fissile material. For countries that oppose a nuclear Iran, it is a worrying development, bringing Tehran one step closer to a bomb. But it is also just one step, and not the final one, toward that goal.”

Netanyahu Has Lost Control of His Own Racist Creation, Haaretz
Anshel Pfeffer writes, “The Israeli right is much more pragmatic than it seems. They stuck with Netanyahu as long as he guaranteed victory. But the impression of adulation is exaggerated. Most on the right wing are not hardcore Bibists. They supported him as long as he seemed the most efficient obstacle to a government that would consider dismantling settlements.”