News Roundup for March 4, 2021

March 4, 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

With Strong Ties to Democrats, J Street Is Now at the Center of US Israel Policy, Blue Tent
“As AIPAC and the Israeli government itself have moved to the right, J Street has become influential within the Democratic Party; it hosted many of the leading presidential candidates at a 2019 conference and was in close contact with their campaigns, advocating they take a line that balances support for a Jewish state with concern for Palestinian rights. This gives the group a substantial amount of clout, but the events of the last four years—during which time Trump reneged on the deal President Barack Obama made with Iran on its nuclear program and antagonized Palestinians—mean that U.S. policy in the region is ‘at a low moment,’ according to Logan Bayroff, J Street’s director of communications. ‘Our ambitions for the Biden administration start with just undoing a lot of the damage that was done and sort of rebuilding a significant portion of America’s ability to actually play a positive role in the region.’”

Senators grill Biden nominee as proxy for wider Iran-deal debate, Washington Post
“The nominee for deputy secretary of state, Wendy Sherman, faces a difficult confirmation process as Republicans and some Democrats raise concerns about the Biden administration’s promise to reenter the deal, even as some liberal groups say the White House is moving too slowly on restoring an agreement that President Donald Trump abandoned […] ’The longer the elements of ‘maximum pressure’ remain in effect, the more it will continue to embolden hardliners and make U.S.-Iran diplomacy more difficult,’ said the groups, including MoveOn, J Street and Win Without War. ‘The recent escalation in military activity between the United States and reported Iranian proxies in Syria and Iraq only shows how urgently needed a new course of action is.’”

Top News and Analysis

Why some Israeli generals want to see the U.S. return to the nuclear deal with Iran, Washington Post
Maj. Gen. (Ret.) Yair Golan writes, “It may come as a surprise to some, but when former president Barak Obama unveiled the terms of the Iran nuclear deal in 2015, key leaders in the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) let out a long-held sigh of relief. I know. I was there. As a major general with the IDF who was serving as deputy chief of the general staff, I can attest that the general sentiment in the senior ranks was one of satisfaction. As our nuclear, security and diplomatic experts delved into the complex details of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), it became clear just how well-designed the deal was, and just how vital a tool it would become in preventing the existential threat of a nuclear Iran.”

ICC Will Investigate Accusations of War Crimes in Israeli-Occupied Territories, New York Times
The International Criminal Court announced Wednesday that it was opening a formal investigation into allegations of war crimes by Israel and Palestinian militant groups in territories occupied by Israel in 1967. The decision, which infuriated many Israelis but was welcomed by the Palestinian leadership and its supporters, came six years after the court began a preliminary investigation of Israeli actions in the territories and just weeks after a ruling by the court that it had jurisdiction there. The court’s outgoing chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement on Wednesday that the investigation would cover crimes that were alleged to have been committed since June 13, 2014, shortly before the start of that summer’s devastating, 50-day Gaza war. Israel’s airstrikes during the war, which led to many Palestinian civilian deaths, are likely to be one focus of the inquiry, as is the indiscriminate rocket fire by Palestinian militant groups against Israeli civilian communities. Israel’s continued settlement construction will also come under scrutiny.

Biden Can’t Claim ‘Moral Leadership’ While Sanctioning the ICC, Foreign Policy
Sari Bashi writes, “Washington’s aversion to the court’s recent decision on Palestine is emblematic of a fundamental disconnect in U.S. foreign policy […] Restoring U.S. credibility around the world—which Biden says he will do—means resetting the United States’ relationship with the ICC, the premier body of international criminal justice. Ideally, Washington would join the court; at the very least, it should refrain from interfering in the ICC’s scrutiny of U.S. nationals and allies like Israel. But all signs indicate that Biden is reverting to the Obama-era modus operandi: selective support for the ICC, which undermines U.S. credibility and threatens the viability of the court itself.”


US stands with Israel, ICC lacks jurisdiction to hold investigation, The Jerusalem Post
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken expressed the US’s opposition to the prosecutor of the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) decision to open a full war crimes probe against Israel and the Hamas terrorist group in the Gaza Strip on Wednesday night.

Netanyahu asked Biden to keep Trump’s sanctions on International Criminal Court, Axios
Netanyahu asked Biden in their first phone call last week to keep sanctions imposed by the Trump administration on the International Criminal Court (ICC) in place, Israeli officials tell me.

Capitol Police Warn of Threat on Thursday, and House Cancels the Day’s Session, Times of Israel
The Capitol Police force is preparing for another assault on the Capitol building on Thursday after obtaining intelligence of a potential plot by a militia group, just two months after a mob of Trump loyalists and extremists attacked the building, leaving five dead and hundreds injured.

Senate progressives push Biden nominees on Iran diplomacy, Responsible Statecraft
Sens. Chris Murphy (D–Ct.) and Ed Markey (D–Mass.) asked whether it is still the Biden administration’s goal to return to the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran, while Tim Kaine (D–Va.) and Chris Van Hollen (D–Md.) claimed that an escalation with Iran could pose grave risks to U.S. forces in Iraq and Syria.

Israel denies COVID vaccine to Palestinian student at Tel Aviv University, +972 Mag
The student, who lives in the West Bank, was barred from receiving a vaccine after traveling for hours to the university for a campus-wide vaccination drive.

‘Center-left Ready to Sacrifice Values to Replace Netanyahu,’ Says Labor Party Leader, Haaretz
Michaeli said the center-left camp has become addicted to “messiahs and saviors,” while some members were “willing to sacrifice all their values just for the chance, even if it’s slim, of replacing Netanyahu.”

Blaming Iran, environment minister calls oil spill ‘environmental terrorism’, Times of Israel
Gamliel called the oil leak, which has been described as Israel’s worst ecological disaster in decades, an act of “environmental terrorism.” She suggested the spill was orchestrated by Iran.

Netanyahu Allies Compare Reform Jews to Dogs in Racist Election Ads, Haaretz
Benjamin Netanyahu’s ultra-Orthodox coalition partners have ratcheted up their election campaigns with incendiary material comparing Reform Jews to dogs and xenophobic ads warning that African asylum seekers would convert to Judaism.

Opinion and Analysis

Why Pfizer’s CEO Would Be Wise to Delay His Visit to Israel Until After the Election, Haaretz
Alon Pinkas writes, “Anyone listening to Netanyahu in recent months would think he’d developed the COVID-19 vaccine and administered all the shots himself. Pfizer’s CEO can still keep his company out of Netanyahu’s election campaign.”

Reform Rabbi Gilad Kariv goes to the Knesset – A historic first, Times of Israel
Rabbi John Rosove writes, “Gilad’s candidacy has struck a raw nerve among the ultra-Orthodox because Israeli Reform Judaism increasingly represents the liberal values and inclusive attitudes of an ever-growing number of Israelis who want to celebrate egalitarian non-Orthodox Judaism. Recent surveys show that 13% of all Israeli Jews (800,000) identify as Reform whether or not they are formally members of synagogue communities. This is roughly the same percentage of Israeli Jews who identify as ultra-Orthodox.”