News Roundup for May 13, 2021

May 13, 2021

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J Street in the News

Biden assures Israel’s Netanyahu of U.S. support, urges calm as fighting kills dozens, Politico
“The United States dramatically deepened its involvement in the latest Israeli-Palestinian crisis on Wednesday, with President Joe Biden breaking his silence by assuring Israeli leaders of America‘s support but also calling for an end to the fighting that has already killed dozens of people. […] ‘U.S. engagement at a time like this is desperately needed,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a left-leaning pro-Israel group. ‘This conflict can’t go untended. The United States has to be party that manages this conflict. Without it, the fires will continue to burn.’”

US boosts diplomatic response to Israeli-Palestinian violence amid criticism Biden MIA, ABC News
“After a spiraling descent into bloodshed in recent days, the U.S. is boosting its diplomatic efforts to halt the violence between Israeli security forces and Hamas, the Palestinian terrorist group ruling Gaza. […] ‘The Biden administration cannot ignore this conflict. In the first four months of this administration, it’s very clear that this issue was not a priority … but it is irresponsible to step away from engaging in a meaningful way,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal advocacy group. ‘It leaves the conflict unattended and contributes heavily to the escalating tensions that can explode as they precisely have in the last 48 hours into violence.’”

Biden Pressured to Take Sides in Clash Between Israelis and Palestinians, Wall Street Journal
“The Biden administration is urging a de-escalation in deadly clashes between the Israeli military and the Islamist Hamas movement, while some Democratic allies call for stronger support for Palestinians and some Republicans want more forceful backing of Israel. […] ‘The conflict only deepens when the U.S. backs away,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a left-leaning Jewish group in Washington that opposes expanding Israeli settlements in the West Bank.”

Biden to Send U.S. Official Hady Amr ‘Immediately’ to Meet Israeli, Palestinians Leaders, Haaretz
“The United States will send Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Israel and Palestinian Affairs Hady Amr to Israel ‘immediately’ in a bid to deescalate tensions between Israel and the Palestinians. […] J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, meanwhile, called on the Biden administration to step in in a ‘much more forceful and active way than it has to date,’ adding that it would be irresponsible to step away from engaging in a meaningful way. The leader of the pro-Israel, left-wing organization called for the administration to appoint a senior-level point person to direct and coordinate policy due to the lack of clear leadership on this issue within the administration, as well as the expedited appointment of a qualified ambassador. ‘This should not go to someone who is a donor. This is not a political perk of a position. This is a vital diplomatic post and lives are at stake, and it’s really important that it be someone with meaningful policy experience in the issues that they’ll be dealing with,’ he added.

Examining the relationship between Israel and Diaspora Jewry, Jerusalem Post
Oded Revivi writes, “Left and Right, religious and secular, we have become too pedantic toward Diaspora Jewry. We have not paid sufficient attention to almost half of our people who do not live in the Jewish state. We have moved away from them in recent years, and perhaps thanks to COVID, we now have an opportunity to mend this rift. We have a chance to better understand that we in the Jewish state have a duty toward our brethren overseas. […] The Israeli Right is made up of ultra-Orthodox, national Orthodox, religious, less religious, settlers, liberal secularists and others. This group, perhaps out of fear of disrupting the unity, did not go into depth on the questions that bother Diaspora Jewry. To some extent the result is the weakening of AIPAC and the establishment of J Street.”

Top News and Analysis

As rival gangs of Jews and Arabs clash on streets, fears mount of irreparable damage to Israeli society, Washington Post
As bands of Jewish and Arab citizens fought each other and police in towns across Israel for a third night early Thursday, Israelis worried that the battle inside the country may be harder to stop than the air war still being waged with Gaza. Scenes of anarchy reigned across mixed cities in Israel Wednesday night, marking a new escalation in the worst communal violence to unfold in two decades. Fears of civil warlike fighting have erupted on the heels of the worst exchange of missiles and rockets between Israel and Hamas militants since the 2014 war.

Biden Stonewalls U.N. Concern Over Israeli-Palestinian Clashes, Foreign Policy
The Biden administration has stonewalled efforts in the U.N. Security Council to call for a halt to the escalating violence between Israeli forces and Palestinian militants, leaving the United States politically isolated just as it seeks to refurbish its multilateral credentials. In recent days, the United States has on at least three occasions refused to engage in negotiations initiated by Norway and Tunisia aimed at adopting a Security Council statement criticizing Israel’s evictions and demolitions of Palestinian properties in occupied East Jerusalem. The U.S. stance has effectively rendered the 15-nation council mute, as all statements from the body must be supported by consensus. The United States has told other countries that it is trying to calm the violence through direct diplomatic outreach and believes U.N. Security Council action at this stage could jeopardize that effort, according to sources at the international body.

Israel-Hamas fighting poses test for Biden and exposes rifts among Democrats, Washington Post
The worst violence in years between the Israeli military and Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip poses the first major foreign policy challenge for President Biden, while exposing a growing divide among Democrats over criticism of Israel and giving Republicans an opening to criticize the president’s approach. The days of deadly cross-border rocket attacks and airstrikes approached all-out war on Wednesday amid international calls for calm and a flurry of diplomatic efforts from Washington. The White House said U.S. officials have made more than 25 calls to Israeli, Palestinian and regional Arab leaders in the past few days, as well as other diplomatic outreach.


Amid the Shooting, Netanyahu’s Foes See an Opening, and Risks, New York Times
Israeli politicians often close ranks in a crisis, but this time the prime minister’s enemies, trying to form a government and oust him, are blaming the violence on him.

Gaza crisis: Casualties pile up with no signs of ceasefire from Israel, Hamas, Axios
The Israeli air force attacked a meeting of senior Hamas military leaders on Wednesday in Gaza and reported it had killed the Gaza City Brigade commander and the heads of Hamas’ cyber arm and weapons research and development department, along with at least three other senior officials. The fighting intensified overnight, with Hamas and other militants firing over 100 rockets toward Tel Aviv and other nearby cities, and Israel continuing its air campaign in the Gaza Strip by destroying high-rise buildings, Hamas facilities and rocket units.

Nowhere to run: Fear in Gaza grows amid conflict with Israel, AP
Screams and flying debris enveloped Umm Majed al-Rayyes as explosions hurled her from her bed in Gaza City. Groping in the dark, the 50-year-old grabbed her four children and ran as Israeli bombs struck their apartment building Wednesday, shattering windows, ripping doors to splinters and blasting away concrete. While casualties mounted this week in the most severe outbreak of violence between Israel and the Gaza Strip since a 2014 war, al-Rayyes and other Palestinians in the line of fire faced an all-too-familiar question: Where should we go?

Attempted Lynching and Smashed Stores as Jewish-Arab Clashes Spread Across Israel, Haaretz
Clashes between Jewish and Arab residents of the central Israli city of Lod resumed on Wednesday for the third day, with at least 30 people, mostly non-residents, arrested during the violent altercations. Over the last three days, one person was killed and 11 were wounded in the confrontations. Meanwhile, a mob of right-wing Jews pulled an Arab driver out of his car in the city of Bat Yam and beat him. He was evacuated for medical treatment. Dozens of right-wing activists marched in the city, just south of Tel Aviv, and attacked a number of Arab-owned businesses. The rioters smashed glass windows, threw objects and shouted racist slogans. Police said in a statement that they had stopped an illegal march in Bat Yam by people who sought to go to Jaffa and clash with Arab residents. According to the police, the marchers refused to abide by police instructions and were dispersed with crowd control methods. In another part of the city, a police car was torched.

‘There is no safe place in Gaza’: Israeli strikes terrify inhabitants, The Guardian
“I’m terrified,” said Fatima Ashour, 41, a lawyer. “I can’t sleep and have a pain in my stomach and diarrhoea from the stress. I live in a house on the eighth floor and there’s a lot of glass in it, so I decided to move to my friend’s house in the Tal al-Hawa area. Ashour added: “Unfortunately that area saw the heaviest bombardment last night, including homes, government offices and streets. I don’t know what the aim is. What the significance of all this violence and bombing is. There is no meaning but more bloodshed. They say here that all this is for the sake of helping Jerusalem. But why is there no one helping Gaza now? I don’t know what to say. There’s no safe place in Gaza.”

UN watchdog: Iran has enriched uranium to highest purity yet, AP
Iran has enriched uranium to slightly higher purity than previously thought due to “fluctuations” in the process, the United Nations’ atomic watchdog said Wednesday. The report underscores the challenges diplomats face in ongoing talks, that began in April, to bring the United States back into the 2015 nuclear deal with Tehran, which is supported by U.S. President Joe Biden. The initial announcement from Iran that it would start enriching to 60% — which is not yet weapon’s grade but its highest purity yet — came just as the talks were to begin in Vienna. International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Rafael Grossi reported to member agencies on Tuesday that the latest inspections confirmed Iran continues to enrich uranium at up to 60% purity in its Natanz plant.

Negotiations to oust Netanyahu stall amid Jerusalem crisis, Axios
Efforts to form a new Israeli government and oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have come to an almost complete halt amid the escalation with Hamas. Opposition leader Yair Lapid is six days into a 28-day mandate, and seemed on track to strike a coalition deal with Naftali Bennett, a right-wing kingmaker. But the latest crisis could make those efforts nearly impossible.

Opinion and Analysis

Palestinian Refugees Deserve to Return Home. Jews Should Understand., New York Times
Peter Beinart writes, “Why has the impending eviction of six Palestinian families in East Jerusalem drawn Israelis and Palestinians into a conflict that appears to be spiraling toward yet another war? Because of a word that in the American Jewish community remains largely taboo: the Nakba.”

Biden’s Old Playbook Won’t End Israeli-Palestinian Violence, Foreign Policy
Zaha Hassan writes, “The United States is not responsible for the new wave of violence, death, and destruction that is now engulfing Israel and the Palestinian territories it occupies and controls. But Washington should have seen it coming. This explosion is the inevitable consequence of the permanent denial of basic Palestinian rights and freedoms by Israel, the matrix of discrimination and control that Israel imposes on every facet of Palestinian life, and the ongoing blockade of Gaza making life there ever more untenable. The U.S. government under President Joe Biden has adopted a depressingly familiar stance: meaningless calls for restraint from both sides, preventing action at the United Nations Security Council, and hiding behind the implausible notion that Washington has no leverage over one of its closest allies and largest aid recipients.”

What Your Taxes Are Paying For in Israel, New York Times
Nicholas Kristof writes, “But as American taxpayers, we don’t have much influence over Hamas, while we do have influence over Israel and we provide several billion dollars a year in military assistance to a rich country and thus subsidize bombings of Palestinians. Is that really a better use of our taxes than, say, paying for Covid-19 vaccinations abroad or national pre-K at home? Shouldn’t our vast sums of aid to Israel be conditioned on reducing conflict rather than aggravating it, on building conditions for peace rather than creating obstacles to it?”

Battle between Israel and Hamas is an unwelcome surprise for Biden, CNN
Aaron David Miller and Daniel Kurtzer write, “Faced with the greatest challenge of national recovery since former President Franklin Roosevelt, President Joe Biden has made his top priority fixing America’s broken home. He has subsequently chosen his foreign policy priorities carefully — Iran, China and climate. Needless to say, the intractable Israeli-Palestinian conflict was not the top of the list. And yet the Middle East has a notorious habit of surprising the unprepared and unwary.”

Why Biden Can’t Look Away From the Israeli-Palestinian Crisis, New York Times
Giovanni Russonello writes, “The conflict comes at a moment of inflection — not only in Israeli politics, where Benjamin Netanyahu’s future as prime minister is in doubt — but also in terms of the United States’ approach to Israel. While the staunchly conservative Mr. Netanyahu closely aligned himself with President Donald J. Trump over the past four years, Democratic leaders in Washington have increasingly shown a willingness to criticize some elements of the Israeli government’s approach, particularly its support for settlements in Palestinian neighborhoods and territories.”

In Gaza, we are forced to choose between a quick or slow death, +972 Magazine
Ismail writes, “Nobody in Gaza misses the sight of horror and bloodshed. But under Israel’s siege, we are bleeding whether or not there is a war.”