News Roundup for April 6, 2021

April 6, 2021

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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

Hawks preview strategy to oppose Biden’s ‘woke’ Iran policy , Responsible Statecraft
“Logan Bayroff, communications director for J Street, told Responsible Statecraft by phone that his organization ’is very proud to work with a large coalition and a group of partners, including NIAC, in support of diplomacy.’ He said that the Trump administration policies would have forced the United States and Israel to choose between ‘having to launch another disastrous and deadly war in the Middle East or having to accept an Iran armed with a nuclear weapon. – At this point, it’s frankly outrageous that [Trump administration officials] keep peddling their same nonsense arguments,’ he said. ‘We’ve seen maximum pressure completely, utterly blow up in their faces. In every sense now, we are worse off now than we were under the JCPOA.’”

Liberal Jewish groups threaten boycott of JNF-KKL if it buys West Bank land, The Forward
“‘If this decision is not rejected and reversed by the Board of JNF-KKL, we pledge to lend no further support to the JNF-KKL,’ the groups wrote in their letter to Avraham Duvdevani, according to a copy obtained by the Forward. ‘We have a collective obligation to ensure that our philanthropy, educational programs and communal impact in no way legitimizes or contributes to the expansion of Israel’s settlement enterprise in the West Bank.’ The letter was organized by organizations including J Street, Americans for Peace Now, T’ruah, the New Israel Fund, Habnonim Dror and affiliates of the Reform movement. The coalition included organizations based on four continents and was also signed by roughly 7,000 individuals.”

Top News and Analysis

U.S. begins indirect talks with Iran Tuesday on reentering nuclear deal, Washington Post
U.S. negotiators, headed by special envoy Robert Malley, will begin indirect talks with Iran Tuesday that the Biden administration hopes will reestablish restrictions on Iran’s nuclear program in exchange for a lifting of U.S. sanctions. “The primary issues to be discussed are actually quite simple,” State Department spokesperson Ned Price told reporters Monday. “They are, on the one hand, the nuclear steps that Iran would need to take” to return to compliance with the 2015 nuclear accord, “and the sanctions relief steps that the United States would need to take.”

Rivlin hands Netanyahu mandate to form coalition despite low chance of success, The Jerusalem Post
President Reuven Rivlin gave Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu the mandate to form a coalition on Tuesday morning, after the Likud leader received the most recommendations from his fellow members of Knesset. Rivlin signed a letter of appointment, giving Netanyahu 28 days to form a government. He did not invite Netanyahu to his office to receive the mandate. In his speech, Rivlin lamented that he could not have imagined when he was elected seven years ago that he would appoint a candidate to form a government five times during his term. He said his main consideration must be who can best form a government that would receive the trust of the Knesset and that no candidate can currently obtain a majority of the Knesset.

US-Iran meeting in Vienna signals new hope for JCPOA, Responsible Statecraft
Trita Parsi writes, “Privately, White House officials admit that they fumbled the Iran file early on (my words, not theirs). But the message we’re hearing now is that things have changed, and Washington is now moving full speed toward a JCPOA return. We are now seeing the first signs vindicating this narrative.  Over the past weeks, however, mistrust between the two sides has grown. The Iranians have watched in dismay how Biden has messaged that the JCPOA is not a priority, and how coordination with Israel and assuaging hawks in Congress was seemingly tantamount to getting talks started.  This left Tehran with the impression that either Biden wanted to use Trump’s maximum pressure sanctions as a bargaining chip, or that he simply didn’t have the will to pay the price of taking on the opponents of the JCPOA in the United States and the region. At the same time, the U.S. side saw a continuation of attacks in Iraq, a hardening of Iran’s public position and escalatory nuclear moves, and speculated that perhaps the window had already closed, and that Tehran doesn’t want a return until after its Presidential elections.”


AOC says human rights is central to peace between Israel and the Palestinians, The Forward
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a progressive firebrand from New York, shared her views on solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, comparing it to the fight against the federal government’s abusive treatment of detained children at the southern border. “The value of human rights is really the path to peace here,” Ocasio-Cortez said in a conversation with Rabbi Michael Miller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, posted to YouTube on Monday. “That’s a central thing that we need to make sure that we value the safety and the human rights of Israelis and we value the safety and human rights of Palestinians in that process that is similar on equal footing.”

After day in court, Netanyahu rails at prosecutors, alleging ‘coup attempt’, Times of Israel
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Monday lashed out at state prosecutors after the first day of testimony in his corruption trial, accusing them of “hypocrisy” and of leading a “witch hunt” against him. He said the investigation and prosecution constitute an effort by police and prosecutors to “trample democracy” in Israel and subvert the will of the electorate.

The Iran Nuclear Talks Explained, New York Times
Talks in Vienna starting Tuesday will try to bring both the United States and Iran back into compliance with the 2015 nuclear deal. It won’t be easy.

The US and Iran have their first real chance to revive the nuclear deal, Vox
On Tuesday, officials from Iran, the European Union, Russia, China, France, the United Kingdom, and Germany will meet in Vienna, Austria, to discuss how the US — which withdrew from the multilateral nuclear accord in 2018 under President Donald Trump — can return to the pact known officially as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA). It’s a deal many would like to keep alive since it severely curbs Iran’s nuclear development in exchange for sanctions relief.

Iran neither optimistic nor pessimistic about nuclear talks, Reuters
“We are not optimistic nor pessimistic about the outcome of this meeting now, but we are confident that we are on the right track, and if America’s will, seriousness and honesty is proven, it could be a good sign for a better future for this agreement and ultimately its full implementation,” Rabiei said.

Lapid says he offered Bennett first turn as PM, Netanyahu can still be blocked, Times of Israel
In a televised speech, Lapid called for a government of “national agreement” made up of parties from the left, center, and right. He spoke as President Reuven Rivlin wrapped up consultations with party leaders on who should form the next government, with Likud head Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu getting more recommendations than Lapid, but not enough for a majority. Yamina, which won seven seats in the March 23 elections, recommended Bennett, the only party to do so.

PM, His Family Asked to Make Negative Articles ‘Disappear,’ Ex-news Site Chief Says, Haaretz
The first witness in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu trial told the Jerusalem court on Monday that his boss feared that any news story angering Netanyahu’s wife, Sara, would kill his chances of getting regulatory relief.

Potential kingmaker Ra’am declines to endorse candidate for PM, Times of Israel
The Islamist Ra’am party, seen as a potential kingmaker in the wake of the March 23 election, did not recommend either Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu or Yesh Atid leader Yair Lapid for prime minister on Monday night.

Opinion and Analysis

Vienna could be a small step toward bigger places if US-Iran take advantage of it, Responsible Statecraft
Suzanne DiMaggio writes, “The Iranians believe that the U.S. should make the first move by lifting sanctions since it was the Trump administration that withdrew from the deal in May 2018. Biden administration officials are unwilling to take an initial, unilateral step. Instead, they want to meet the Iranians first and work out the sequencing for a return to mutual compliance. The purpose of meeting first, they say, is to agree on a sense of direction, not to extract concessions. The Iranians are refusing to meet U.S. officials at this stage as it could be perceived as renegotiating the deal, which they say is out of the question.”

Tale of Two Benjamins: As Netanyahu Stands Trial, Supporters Outside See a Different Story, Haaretz
Nir Hasson writes, “One Netanyahu sat in court, charged with serious crimes. On the signs of the demonstrators outside the court, one saw the image of the second Netanyahu – an admired prime minister being persecuted in a sick and obsessive fashion by a gang of criminals headed by uber-criminal chief prosecutor Liat Ben Ari.”

Human rights organizations to Israeli government: Lift travel restrictions against Amnesty International employee, B’Tselem
B’Tselem writes, “The second petition of our colleague from Amnesty International, Laith Abu Zeyad, will be heard today in Jerusalem District Court. Israel has been barring Abu Zeyad from leaving the West Bank for almost a year and a half, since October 2019. Prohibiting Laith Abu Zeyad from leaving the West Bank is yet another example of Israel’s persecution of human rights activists, which is aimed at silencing critics of the regime and of its policies. Nevertheless, these are exactly the measures that expose the nature and goals of the regime.”

It’s hard to connect to the Torah as a trans Jew. I’m trying anyway, The Forward
Dubbs Weinblatt writes, “Had you asked me 20 years ago, 10 years ago, even last year (truthfully, last month) if I’d ever quote the Torah in a piece I was writing, I probably would have (respectfully and nervously) laughed in your face. The Torah makes me anxious because I know that it holds the potential to oppress me as a genderqueer trans Jew. And I know it informs so many Jews of their strongly held beliefs, and those beliefs directly oppress me and others.”

Jews Really Don’t Need ‘Heroes’ Like Jonathan Pollard, Haaretz
Jonathan Tobin writes, “Freed spy Jonathan Pollard just broke his silence since immigrating to Israel in a gobsmackingly tone deaf interview in which he told tall tales, expressed no regrets, called the U.S. incorrigibly antisemitic and advised other American Jews to follow his catastrophic example of betrayal.”