News Roundup for March 26, 2021

March 26, 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

43 senators sign bipartisan letter to Biden on Iran, Jewish Insider
“The letter became a flashpoint between AIPAC and J Street, with AIPAC lobbying for the letter and J Street against it, according to a Senate staffer. The letter was one of AIPAC’s lobbying priorities during its virtual national council meeting last week, and spokesman Marshall Wittmann described it as ‘an important bipartisan statement.’ J Street lobbyist Dylan Williams said that his group ‘has deep concerns’ that the letter ‘will be framed by opponents of diplomacy with Iran as demonstrating the signatories’ opposition to the Biden Administration’s compliance-for-compliance approach.’ Williams added that ‘it’s clear that the overwhelming view of Democrats in both houses of Congress’ is that the U.S. should follow the Biden administration’s strategy of first returning to the 2015 deal and then negotiating further agreements.”

Hawkish Iran letter falls flat in the Senate, Responsible Statecraft
“Forty-three mostly Republican senators have joined an effort backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to pressure the Biden administration to take a harder line on Iran. Sens. Bob Menendez (D-N.J.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) had been pushing their colleagues for at least several weeks to sign a letter to President Joe Biden on the Iranian issue, as Responsible Statecraft first reported. AIPAC, which has consistently called for a harder line on Iran and opposed the Obama administration’s diplomatic efforts, promoted the letter as top priority during its annual conference, the Jewish Insider reported […] Menendez and Graham’s effort was seen by JCPOA proponents as an attempt to derail a return to the 2015 nuclear deal and continue the Trump administration’s maximalist policies. J Street, a left-leaning pro-Israel group, lobbied senators not to sign on.”

Top News and Analysis

Israel’s Election Ends in a Stalemate, Final Results Show, New York Times
Israel’s fourth election in two years has ended in another stalemate, with neither Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor his opponents able to win a parliamentary majority, according to final results released Thursday by the Israeli election authority. The results set the stage for weeks or even months of protracted coalition negotiations that many analysts expect may fail, prompting yet another election in late summer. The results, though final, are not yet official since they have yet to be formally presented to the country’s largely ceremonial president, Reuven Rivlin. That will happen next Wednesday, a spokesman for the central elections committee said.

Biden administration renews financial aid to Palestinians, YNetNews
U.S. Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield announced Thursday that Washington will restore financial aid to the Palestinians, halted by former U.S. President Donald Trump. She said that the U.S. will be sending $15 million to support vulnerable communities in the West Bank and Gaza Strip with COVID-related issues. “President Biden is restoring U.S. assistance programs that support economic development and humanitarian aid for the Palestinian people,” Thomas-Greenfield said speaking at a UN Security Council briefing on the situation in the Middle East.

U.S. Jewish Groups Concerned as Kahanists Closer Than Ever to Joining Government, Haaretz
U.S. Jewish organizations and lawmakers are sounding the alarm over the possibility that Israel’s next governing coalition will include members of a far-right, anti-Arab and proudly homophobic party. Their concern centers on Prime Minister Netanyahu’s intention to include the Religious Zionism party in the government, if he is indeed tasked with forming one. The Religious Zionism party, helmed by far-right radical Bezalel Smotrich, is an alliance that includes the anti-LGBT Noam party and Otzma Yehudit, founded by former disciples of Rabbi Meir Kahane, whose Kach party was banned from running in the 1988 Israeli election due to incitement and racism against Arabs. The party’s co-founder, Michael Ben-Ari, was denied an entry visa to the United States in 2012 due to his membership in a “terrorist organization.”


How Netanyahu Could Lure Defectors to Secure Majority, Haaretz
Several times during the election campaign, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made remarks about legislators from other parties who were likely to defect to Likud after the vote. As of Wednesday night, the Netanyahu bloc and Naftali Bennett’s Yamina party had captured only 59 of the Knesset’s 120 seats, so those comments may be put to the test in the coming days.

New Hope No. 2 says Likud offered her Education Ministry to defect, Times of Israel
The No. 2 lawmaker in the right-wing New Hope party, Yifat Shasha-Biton, said Thursday that several of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s associates have tried to convince her to leave her party and join the premier’s Likud faction.

‘The Forgery’s Begun’: Israel’s Stop the Steal Campaign Is On, Haaretz
“The forgery has begun,” tweeted Yair Netanyahu, the son of Israel’s prime minister. He swiftly deleted the tweet within a minute of putting it up, and reposted it within a minute with an alternative, less provocative wording: “The tricks have begun.” He’s not alone. In the 72 hours since polls closed in Israel’s fourth election in two years, right-wing groups affiliated with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s ruling party have been abuzz with claims of voter fraud.

Biden, Harris, Doug Emhoff speak at White House Passover celebration, Forward
President Joe Biden made an appearance at the White House Passover celebration on Thursday, telling the nearly 10,000 virtual attendees one way in which this year’s seder is different from all others: “Not only ‘next year in Jerusalem,’ but ‘next year in person!’”

4th time’s not the charm: With all ballots tallied, Netanyahu again falls short, Times of Israel
With all votes counted Thursday evening, results showed Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had failed, for the fourth time in a row, to win a clear parliamentary majority. The results left both the premier and his political opponents once again without a clear path to forming a coalition government, and heralded enduring gridlock and a potential fifth election.

Soldiers assault 16-year-old at al-‘Arrub R.C., break his jaw and arrest him for 26 days, B’Tselem
As the jeeps entered, children and youths threw stones at the soldiers. The soldiers fired tear gas canisters and stun grenades. One jeep followed the crowd and hit 16-year-old Muhammad Muqbal. He fell but then got up and kept running until the soldiers caught him. A soldier hit him in the jaw, and he fell again. Another soldier kicked him all over his body as he lay on the ground. The soldiers then handcuffed him and put him in the jeep. One of the soldiers kept beating him on the car ride.

Opinion and Analysis

How Liberals Lost in Israel, Foreign Policy
Yehuduh Mirsky writes, “In Israel, the world’s only Jewish state, one-fifth of the citizens are Arab—mostly, though not all, Muslim. It is a vibrant, raucous democracy in a largely undemocratic region; a military and technological power punching well above its weight, wracked by profound economic and social inequalities and burdened by generations of trauma; a state built by settlers who largely saw themselves not as colonizers but as stateless refugees coming home; a Western-style polity engaged in a decades-long occupation. It has also been moving steadily in the direction of religious nationalism and authoritarian populism. The March 23 election propelled into parliament politicians belonging to the once-fringe Otzma Yehudit (Jewish Power) party—a far-right group with roots in the late Rabbi Meir Kahane’s violent anti-Arab Kach movement that was once described by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee as ‘racist and reprehensible.’”

Is It Kahanist Ben-Gvir That Bothers You?, Haaretz
Gideon Levy writes, “A list that in Europe would have been classified straight away as neo-Nazi has just made it into the Knesset. There is no other way to describe the Religious Zionism party. Xenophobia, homophobia and nationalism, combined with religious fundamentalism and violence, with no restraint on any of this: What else can you call it? No Western European country would have the audacity to include such a faction in its government. In Europe, this fascism would be unacceptable. In Israel, it’s on the verge of being part of the next government.”

Is Facebook about to crack down on criticism of Zionism?, +972 Mag
Oren Ziv and Alex Kane writes, “Palestine advocates have long charged Facebook with suppressing criticism of Israel. Now they fear the company will escalate its censorship using a single keyword.”

Tucker Carlson Is Now a Big Problem for pro-Israel Conservatives, Haaretz
Jonathan Tobin writes, “One of the things that sets Carlson apart from virtually any other prominent conservative figure is his distinct lack of enthusiasm for Israel.”

A look at Israel’s caretaker government after stalemate vote, AP
Ilan Ben Zion writes, “Although Israel has won praise for its recent rollout of a successful coronavirus vaccine campaign, it has struggled to formulate coherent policies and been hobbled by the lack of a proper budget. Once again, a caretaker government is set to assume power this week until a majority coalition is formed or new elections are held. Here’s a glance at how its limited powers affect government rule:”

Meretz and Labor Have Achieved an Almost Heroic Achievement, but Should Not Be Blinded by It, Haaretz
Uri Misgav writes, “Israel’s bruised and vilified Zionist left, the object of endless ridicule by its myriad enemies and detractors – from the right to senior Haaretz opinion writers – came off the respirator on Tuesday evening and shyly reared its head. Election campaigns centered on survival and a surprising tribal loyalty kept it on the map, allowing it to do its bit towards a kind of tie with the Bibi and Kahanist bloc, a near-heroic accomplishment under the circumstances.”