News Roundup for May 14, 2021

May 14, 2021

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J Street in the News

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is exposing a deep schism in the Democratic Party, Vox
“Over the past several years, the Democratic Party has moved further left on US policy toward Israel, showing a greater willingness to criticize Israel and speak up in defense of the rights of Palestinians. […] ‘I think it’s reached a point where that might not be a bad idea,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, after I asked him about the president’s silence. But Ben-Ami added, ‘he’s not going to focus on this day in and day out.’ At a minimum, they’d like to see Biden do something — anything, really. […] ‘The permanent occupation of Palestinian territory by the state of Israel, and millions of people in the occupied territory, held for decades and generations without rights remains an unsustainable situation,’ said J Street’s Ben-Ami. ‘That will lead to these regular outbreaks of violence if there is not an effort consistently made to, at a minimum, prevent the situation from getting worse.’”

Biden’s guarded approach to Israel tested by violence, Financial Times
“US president voices support for staunch regional ally but wants to avoid protracted role. […] Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a progressive Jewish advocacy group, on Wednesday accused the US of ‘diplomatic neglect’ and called for a “much more forceful and active” role. He said he wanted the Biden administration to deliver a clear, unequivocal message that ‘the provocative actions in Jerusalem that set this in motion have to end.’”

Biden faces pressure from all sides on Israel, The Hill
“President Biden is coming under pressure from all sides as he seeks to navigate the latest violence between Israel and the Palestinians, a perennial political problem for U.S. presidents. […] McCollum’s bill is, for the first time, endorsed by the progressive Israel and Palestinian advocacy group J Street, signaling broader support for the effort that had earlier failed to gain such backing in previous congressional sessions.”

Biden administration bucks fellow Democrats’ growing calls to pressure Israel, The National
“After days of ignoring mounting tension in Jerusalem despite weeks of warnings from two Arab governments, US President Joe Biden finally acknowledged the issue on Wednesday – but only after the crisis had led to a barrage of Hamas rocket attacks and deadly Israeli strikes on the Gaza Strip. […] Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, an AIPAC rival and liberal lobby group that raised more than $2 million for Mr Biden’s 2020 election campaign, said he was calling on the Biden administration to step in more forcefully. ‘There’s a balance to a very large number of the [congressional] statements that you’re seeing, where they’re saying the rockets are horrible – you have to condemn the use of that kind of tactic against civilians – and it’s really important that Israel be called out on some of its activities that it has undertaken in Jerusalem in recent weeks. That’s the match that’s lit the fire,’ he said. J Street, which spent $190,000 lobbying the Biden administration and Congress between January and March this year, has backed legislation on Capitol Hill that would enact conditions on the $3.8 billion in annual military aid the US provides to Israel – a position that would have once constituted political suicide in Washington.”

US sends diplomat to urge calm as Israel, Hamas fighting escalates, Al Monitor
The Biden administration is dispatching a senior diplomat to meet with Israeli and Palestinian leaders as the fighting intensifies between Israel and militant group Hamas. […] ‘Right now, it’s critical that the Biden administration engage proactively in securing an immediate ceasefire and pushing all sides to de-escalate,’ J Street, a liberal Jewish-American lobbying group, said in a statement. ‘With lives on the line, our government can and should be doing more.’

Solution to Violence Must Be Strategic, Times of Israel
J Street’s Nadav Tamir writes, “Every time an exchange of blows begins between Israel and Hamas, we hear advice from politicians and military commentators on what needs to be done in response – to strike, to renew deterrence, to charge a price. These tactical responses sound logical to most Israelis who suffer from Hamas’s missile terrorism and feel a human need to respond to aggression. However, this is an illusion because there is no tactical solution to the Gaza issue, neither the military responses nor the short-term settlement with Qatari funding. There is no military answer to the Gaza issue, not even in the hands of the most powerful army in the Middle East. There is also no ability to separate Gaza from the other elements of the Palestinian reality in the West Bank and among the Arab citizens of Israel.”

Top News and Analysis

Palestinians flee as Israeli artillery pounds northern Gaza, AP
Palestinians grabbed their children and belongings and fled neighborhoods on the outskirts of Gaza City on Friday as Israel unleashed a heavy barrage of artillery fire and airstrikes, killing a family of 6 in their home. Israel said it was clearing a network of militant tunnels ahead of a possible ground invasion. Israel has massed troops along the border and called up 9,000 reservists as fighting intensifies with the Islamic militant group Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip.

Israel’s “change bloc” collapses, leaving Netanyahu in charge, Axios
In a dramatic shift that comes amid fighting in the Gaza strip and clashes between Jewish and Arab citizens in Israel, right-wing kingmaker Naftali Bennett has announced he will no longer seek an alternative government to oust Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Bennett had been on the verge of a power-sharing deal with centrist opposition leader Yair Lapid that would have made him prime minister for two years until Lapid rotated into the job. Without Bennett, Lapid has no path to a majority, and Israel will almost certainly head for its fifth election since 2019 with Netanyahu still in his post.

Biden followed pro-Israel U.S. precedent. But new critics shake status quo., NBC News
With nowhere else to turn, Dejani, 60, is appealing directly to America’s president for help. “Oh, Joe Biden, think, think, think about humanity, please!” she said this week. “Please put yourself in our shoes — if you are a human being, think that we are also human beings.” Her appeals are being taken up by parts of the international community and even left-wing members of Biden’s party, who are demanding that he speak up in behalf of Palestinians. But the rising violence challenges Biden, who has spent the past three months burnishing his progressive bona fides, to pick a side in a conflict that has brought his predecessors little but disappointment.


Beset by virus, Gaza’s hospitals now struggle with wounded, AP
Just weeks ago, the Gaza Strip’s feeble health system was struggling with a runaway surge of coronavirus cases. Authorities cleared out hospital operating rooms, suspended nonessential care and redeployed doctors to patients having difficulty breathing. Then, the bombs began to fall. This week’s violence between Israel and Gaza’s Hamas rulers has killed 119 Palestinians, including 31 children, and wounded 830 people in the impoverished territory. Israeli airstrikes have pounded apartments, blown up cars and toppled buildings.

Arab-Jewish coexistence in Israel suddenly ruptured., New York Times
The hulks of burned out cars and trucks litter the streets of the mixed Arab-Jewish town of Lod, the epicenter of three nights of violence inside Israeli cities that have fed fears the country could be careening toward a civil war. When the violence spread on Monday from the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem to Gaza, an uneasy coexistence in Lod, deep inside central Israel, abruptly ruptured. The authorities have declared a state of emergency in the town of about 80,000 people and imposed a night curfew from Wednesday. Armed border police, brought in from the occupied West Bank, were deployed. But the curfew did little to calm the atmosphere, and both Jews and Arabs described a terrifying night on Wednesday. Arab residents, who account for about 30 percent of the town’s population, rioted while Jewish extremists came from outside Lod and burned Arab cars and property.

U.N. Security Council to meet on Sunday about Israel, Gaza, Reuters
The U.N. Security Council will publicly discuss the worsening violence between Israel and Palestinian militants on Sunday, diplomats said, reaching a compromise over U.S. objections to a meeting on Friday.

How War With the Palestinians Triggered Ethnic Violence in Israel, Foreign Policy
Among the scenes of violence playing out between Israelis and Palestinians during the past few days, many are familiar with their other recent eruptions: Israeli security forces confronting Palestinian protesters, Hamas militants firing barrages of rockets at Israeli cities, and Israeli warplanes dropping huge payloads on the Gaza Strip. But something different and, in some ways, more alarming has come to characterize this round of fighting. In several mixed Jewish-Arab towns across Israel, an intercommunal violence has flared, sometimes pitting neighbor against neighbor, Arab citizens of Israel against Jewish ones.

For Israel and Hamas, Hard Choices Before Any Talks Could Begin, New York Times
United States and Egyptian mediators are heading to Israel to begin de-escalation talks, but the antagonists face critical political decisions before they will agree to begin discussions on ending the violence. Both Israel and Hamas first have to find ways to spin a narrative of victory for their publics, analysts say, but the task will be easier for Hamas than for Israel.

‘It’s different this time’: Palestinian Americans find support in US progressives, The Guardian
The days-long violence in Jerusalem and now Gaza over the contested neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah sparked international condemnation, notably by a growing cluster of US progressive lawmakers who spoke out against Israeli military , accusing it of using excessive force to try and displace Palestinians from their homes. UN human rights officials also urged Israel to stop evicting Palestinians from their homes and abide by international humanitarian law which states East Jerusalem remains part of Palestinian territory.

In Gaza, an Ordinary Street, and Extraordinary Horror, as Missiles Thunder In, New York Times
The taxi was loaded with everything the family would need for Eid al-Fitr, a holiday of feasts and cookies and new clothes that Israeli airstrikes on Gaza have transfigured this year into a time of swooping drones and fear. In their four suitcases, the al-Hatu family — mother, father, son, daughter — had made sure to pack kaak filled with date paste, the biscuits traditionally shared among friends and family during Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the fasting month of Ramadan.

‘It looks dire but I’m hopeful’: Jewish and Arab coexistence activists respond to the violence in Israel’s streets, JTA
Lama Abuarquob said she feels that, despite the recent violence, Israelis and Palestinians still had only one choice — to keep getting to know each other in the land they share. “We have to start putting plans and making programs, working on more practical and deeper procedures that would lead to more communication between the two peoples,” she said. “Because if people get together, talk to each other, they will listen to each other.”

Opinion and Analysis

Israelis and Palestinians can’t go on like this. Weep for us., Washington Post
Gershom Gorenberg writes, “Weep, damn it, weep for us. Weep for this place in the season of wildflowers when it should be beautiful, weep for the dead and the living, weep for God who can’t get us to stop, weep for humanity. Somehow this will stop. May it happen now, as you read this. We will see each other’s faces, each other’s pain. We will realize this cannot go on. We will find each other. It is what can come after anger and grief, what must come. I have to believe.”

Israel’s War Will Never End, Foreign Policy
Steven Cook writes. “The conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is, at its core, about identity—and thus its mutual denial by the antagonists. This cannot be wished away or smoothed over by well-meaning diplomats armed with confidence-building measures, security guarantees, and development aid. It is why the hope that, during the periodic spasms of violence between Israelis and Palestinians, each will look over the abyss and avoid the worst outcome, is so misplaced. At each moment when the rockets and artillery stop, Israelis and Palestinians are never closer to figuring out how to exist together because they willfully and collectively refuse to recognize the legitimate existence of the other.

What we’re seeing now is just the latest chapter in Israel’s dispossession of the Palestinians, Washington Post
Rashid Khalidi writes, “A sustainable solution, whether based on two states or one, must enshrine absolute equality of rights for both peoples, including collective, national and political rights, as well as religious, property and civil rights. Until the United States accepts this principle and acts to enforce U.N. resolutions it voted for, cqwhether on Jerusalem or Israeli colonization; until it vigorously enforces its laws on the strictly defensive use of American weapons and regarding the “charitable” status of American 501(c)(3) groups that finance settlement activities in violation of international law, it is not a neutral actor: It is an active party to the dispossession of the Palestinian people, alongside Israel.”

It’s time to put this dysfunctional U.S.-Israel relationship to the test, Responsible Statecraft
Kelley Beaucar Vlahos writes, “The Biden administration should take the same tough love tone with Netanyahu and his government as he has with the Saudis — for the sake of Israelis, Palestinians, and their neighbors in the region. And for our own sake. Every mosque stormed by troops, civilian killed, every home destroyed, can be tied to the United States. We will never be free, nor fully safe, until we confront this dysfunctional relationship head on.”

What Netanyahu and Hamas gain as countless suffer, Washington Post
Ishaan Tharoor writes, “The drivers of the current explosion of violence may be familiar. Hamas has long used the threat of its rockets in Gaza, which has been under Israeli blockade ever since the Islamist group seized control in 2007, to extract various humanitarian concessions from Israel and aid from Arab states. Netanyahu, who has been in power for much of this time, presided over a strategic arrangement that saw Israel periodically “mow the grass” in Gaza — no matter the collateral damage in Palestinian civilian lives — yet also saw Hamas revive each time as strong as ever.”