News Roundup for March 19, 2024

March 19, 2024
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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

How Can Biden Save Us and His Election Campaign, The Times of Israel
J Street Israel Executive Director Nadav Tamir writes, “Now that Biden and Trump have been declared the candidates of their respective parties in the presidential elections, earlier than ever, President Biden must use the few remaining months before the campaign goes into high gear, in order to promote a significant political process between Israel and the Palestinians. Such a process can assist Israel in dramatically altering its standing in the region, enable the creation of a real alternative to Hamas in Gaza, provide a framework for normalization of Israel in the region and the establishment of a regional defense treaty against Iran.”

Two-Way Street | The Secret Emails of Mordechai and Esther, Part One, J Street
Rabbi Nina Mandel offers a creative retelling of the Purim story. Read an excerpt from her first installment: “However, I do vow to intervene on behalf of my people, as best I can. But please, wise Mordechai, help me understand exactly which Haman you fear. Certainly, there is the minister of the king who paid handsomely for the right to kill us. I have seen him about the palace and he is despicable. But I have come to learn that there are others with Haman-like intent, both within these walls and outside of them. There seem to be a number of people who are intent on eliminating their enemies in whatever brutal manner they can justify. Should I not be concerned about them too? Or is it just Haman the Agagite you want to stop?”

Top News and Analysis

Famine May Already Be in Northern Gaza, Leading Aid Groups Say, The Washington Post
The new report from a cluster of international organizations and charities known as the Integrated Food Security Phase Classification initiative, or IPC, outlined a devastating situation with up to half the population of Gaza — 1.1 million people — facing catastrophic levels of hunger and starvation between now and July. In the IPC’s five-tier classification of food crises, Gaza now has the largest percentage of a population to receive its most severe rating since the body began reporting in 2004, Beth Bechdol, deputy director general at the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), told The Washington Post.

Biden Speaks With Netanyahu Amid Escalating Tensions in US-Israel, Warns Against Rafah Invasion, NBC News
During a critical phone call Monday, President Biden warned Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu against Israel carrying out a planned military operation in Rafah, the White House said. “Our position is that Hamas should not be allowed a safe haven in Rafah or anywhere else, but a major ground operation there would be a mistake,” national security adviser Jake Sullivan said at the White House press briefing where he outlined the leaders’ conversation. “It would lead to more innocent civilian deaths, worsen the already dire humanitarian crisis, deepen the anarchy in Gaza, and further isolate Israel internationally,” Sullivan added.

Israel’s Return to Al-Shifa Proves That Hamas Is Far From Surrendering in Northern Gaza, Haaretz
Amos Harel writes, “It took only a few hours for the division that conducted the raid to cross the Gaza Strip and encircle Shifa, illustrating the low level of resistance that Hamas is currently capable of displaying in northern Gaza. At the same time, the decision to launch a raid there shows that Hamas is far from surrendering, even in areas where the Israel Defense Forces has declared that it has fully dismantled the organization’s military capabilities. Hamas has returned to operations in these areas, spurring Israel to conduct further raids.”

Israel and Hamas Start Detailed Hostage Negotiations for First Time in Months, Axios
Since December of last year, the talks mediated by Qatar and Egypt have been deadlocked in discussion about a framework for negotiations, rather than details of the actual agreement. The current proposal being negotiated could lead to a six-week ceasefire in Gaza and to the release of 40 hostages – women, female soldiers, men over the age of 50 and men in critical medical conditions – in return for hundreds of Palestinian prisoners.

Trump Says Jews Who Vote for Democrats ‘Hate’ Israel and ‘Their Religion’, NBC News
Former President Donald Trump invoked a dual loyalty trope Monday by claiming Jews who vote for Democrats hate Israel. “Any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion,” Trump said in an interview with Sebastian Gorka, a former Trump administration official, on Gorka’s web show. “They hate everything about Israel, and they should be ashamed of themselves, because Israel will be destroyed,” Trump continued, going on to discuss Iran’s nuclear ambitions.

Ex-PM Olmert Hails Schumer’s ‘Courage’ for Urging Elections to Replace Netanyahu, The Times of Israel
Calling Schumer “a great friend of Israel,” Olmert praises the New York Democrat “for the courage that you have showed in saying so many of us Jews across the world and traditional supporters of Israel feel today.” “Indeed, the prime minister of Israel is not worthy of the responsibilities bestowed upon him,” adds Olmert, who has long been a vocal critic of Netanyahu.


Israel to Send Officials to Washington to Hear US Concerns on Rafah Operation, The Hill
Netanyahu agreed to send a team of senior officials to Washington in the coming days “to hear US concerns about Israel’s current Rafah planning, and to lay out an alternative approach that would target key Hamas elements in Rafah without a major ground invasion,” National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan said.

From Her Lips to Chuck’s Ears: Schumer’s Rabbi Weighs in on His Israel Speech, Politico
“In this speech, he said what most of us think,” Timoner, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim, said in an interview with Politico. “There’s been a real fear in the American Jewish community of criticizing Israel. … He did something so great in breaking that silence.”

EU’s Borrell Says Israel Is Provoking Famine in Gaza, Reuters
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said on Monday that Israel is provoking famine in Gaza and using starvation as a weapon of war: “In Gaza we are no longer on the brink of famine, we are in a state of famine, affecting thousands of people.” Israeli foreign minister Israel Katz in a response urged Borrell to “stop attacking Israel and recognize our right to self-defense against Hamas’ crimes.”

Jailed Palestinian Leader Marwan Barghouti ‘Beaten With Clubs’ by Guards, Family Claims, Haaretz
The Palestinian Commission for Detainees and Ex-Prisoners’ Affairs, and the family of the senior Fatah member Marwan Barghouti, who is serving a life sentence in an Israeli jail, claim he was attacked with clubs by prison guards, and have asked countries involved in mediation between Israel and Hamas to intervene so he can receive an external medical evaluation. According to the claims, Barghouti suffered bleeding near his eye as a result of the injuries suffered.

Israelis Evacuated From the Lebanese Border Wonder if They’ll Ever Return, AP
Among approximately 60,000 Israelis evacuated from northern Israel after months of cross-border fighting, Partush and her children are staying temporarily in another kibbutz, and she isn’t sure if she wants to return to Malkiya. Nearly 91,000 people from south Lebanon have also been displaced. There has been near-daily violence along the Lebanon-Israel border and international mediators are scrambling to prevent an all-out war between Hezbollah and Israel.

US Reports Death of Senior Hamas Military Leader Marwan Issa, BBC
Hamas leader Marwan Issa died in an Israeli air strike, White House official Jake Sullivan has said. As deputy military commander, Mr Issa would be Hamas’s most senior leader to die since the war began on 7 October. The Palestinian group, which controls Gaza, has not officially commented on reports of his death. Israeli media sources have reported that Mr Issa was killed in a strike on a tunnel complex under the Nuseirat refugee camp in central Gaza last week.

EU ‘Unanimously’ Agrees to Impose Sanctions Against Violent Israeli West Bank Settlers, Haaretz
The move, which was agreed upon by all of the EU’s 27 member countries, follows in the footsteps of the US and Britain. It involves a travel ban and asset freeze on ‘violent’ Israeli settlers in the West Bank and forbids EU citizens from doing business with the targets.

UNRWA Chief Says Israel Blocks Him From Gaza, Reuters
Philippe Lazzarini, whose organization has been in crisis since Israel accused 12 of its staff of taking part in Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, said he meant to go to the Gaza city of Rafah but was informed: “My entry into Rafah is declined.” “On the day new data is out on famine in #GAZA, the Israeli Authorities deny my entry to Gaza,” Lazzarini wrote on X, adding that his visit was intended to improve humanitarian operations.

Headed to North Gaza, Aid Trucks Face Gauntlet of Armed Looters and Starving Civilians, The Times of Israel
According to Mark, who asked to use a pseudonym due to the sensitivity of the subject, as Gazans have grown hungrier, relief trucks are increasingly being emptied by both desperate civilians and armed looters before they can reach their intended distribution points. “In the first convoys, we were able to arrive at the distribution points and actually set up the distributions. But from around February, it’s been very difficult to be able to even move more than a kilometer after the first checkpoint. Once you cross past it, everyone is desperate, everyone is hungry,” […] Israeli strikes have caused the disbandment of the Hamas-run police, which would often escort the trucks, accelerating the breakdown of law and order. […] “It’s now become impossible to reach the distribution centers,” Mark said, noting that these are mainly located around UNRWA structures such as schools, where many Gazans have been sheltering.

Opinion and Analysis

How Biden Became Embroiled in a Gaza Conflict With No End in Sight, The Washington Post
Yasmeen Abutaleb and John Hudson report, “On Oct. 27, three weeks into Israel’s punishing counterattack in Gaza, top Biden officials privately told a small group assembled at the White House what they would not say in public: Israel was regularly bombing buildings without solid intelligence that they were legitimate military targets. […] The previously unreported meeting shows that discrepancies were emerging far earlier than publicly known between the Biden team’s internal doubts about Israel’s conduct and its ironclad external support. At nearly every turn, President Biden and his aides defended the Jewish state, even as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu defied the US on everything from protecting civilians to allowing aid delivery to accepting a Palestinian state.”

What Schumer and Biden Got Right About Netanyahu, The New York Times
Thomas Friedman shares, “Biden could frame the choice for Israel’s next election: “Biden’s plan versus Bibi’s no-plan” — instead of Biden personally versus Netanyahu personally. Let Netanyahu choose between being remembered as the prime minister who presided over Oct. 7 or the prime minister who opened the road to Saudi Arabia. The hour is growing late. There are a million moving parts, any one of which could fail. But this is my gut feeling for how the next phase of the Gaza conflict could play out and why Schumer’s speech was not just some personal rumination but a deep reflection of America’s best interests at this time — and, I believe, Israelis’ and Palestinians’ best interests as well.”

Is the Destruction of Gaza Making Israel Any Safer?, The Atlantic
Andrew Exum writes, “The IDF has made clear – repeatedly – that it does not prioritize preserving the lives of noncombatants relative to other aims. This indifference has strategic as well as moral repercussions. Biden administration officials were reportedly horrified by the disregard that Israeli leaders showed for the deaths of more than 100 Palestinians trying to reach humanitarian aid a few weeks ago. Now Washington finds itself in the supremely embarrassing position of having to build a pier to deliver aid to Gaza, because its principal ally in the region –  which receives more than $3.8 billion in US taxpayer money each year – is apparently slow-rolling the delivery of humanitarian necessities to a population on the brink of famine.”

Every Time Donald Trump has Accused American Jews of Disloyalty, Forward
Louis Keene discusses how Donald Trumps latest assertion that “any Jewish person that votes for Democrats hates their religion,” fits into a pattern for the former president. “Trump’s words built on a central claim of his presidency and subsequent reelection defeat: that he had done more for Israel than any previous commander-in-chief, and American Jews, who predominantly vote Democrat, were insufficiently grateful for his achievements. His public remarks along these lines, which date back to at least 2019, have often conflated Jewish and Israeli identity, including by referring to Israel as “your country” and Benjamin Netanyahu as “your prime minister” when addressing Jewish groups. The statements have been criticized for perpetuating antisemitic notions of American Jews’ “dual loyalty” to Israel.