News Roundup for May 17, 2021

May 17, 2021

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J Street in the News

Tensions Among Democrats Grow Over Israel as the Left Defends Palestinians, New York Times
“During his first four months in office, Mr. Biden devoted little attention to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, an intractable issue that had bedeviled his predecessors. But the violence in recent days, the worst in years, has proved just how difficult that will be. And now, Mr. Biden finds his administration buffeted by conflicting forces within his coalition. ‘Neglect is not a policy,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the pro-Israel, pro-peace advocacy group J Street, who would like to see Mr. Biden more engaged in the region.

The U.S. conversation on Israel is changing, no matter Biden’s meek response, Washington Post
Ishaan Tharoor writes, “President Biden is drawing fire from all fronts for his handling of the resurgent Israeli-Palestinian conflict. […] Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a center-left pro-Israel advocacy organization that increasingly reflects the mainstream position of American liberals, said in a briefing with reporters last week that the ‘diplomatic blank check to the state of Israel’ given out by successive U.S. administrations has meant that ‘Israel has no incentive to end occupation and find a solution to the conflict.’”

Joe Biden feels political ground shift as Israel-Gaza conflict rages on, The Guardian
“In his staunch defence of Israel, Joe Biden is sticking to a course set decades ago as a young senator, and so far he has not given ground on the issue to the progressive wing of his party or many Jewish Democrats urging a tougher line towards Benjamin Netanyahu. […] The liberal Jewish American lobby, J Street, has growing influence in the Democratic party and has urged Biden to do more to stop the bloodshed and the Israeli policies that have helped drive the conflict. ‘We’re also urging the administration to make clear publicly that Israeli efforts to evict and displace Palestinian families in East Jerusalem and the West Bank are unacceptable, as is the use of excessive force against protesters,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s president.”

Democrats embrace a tougher tack toward Israel as violence flares, Politico
“Democrats are heading for a major reckoning over the U.S. relationship with Israel, amid a spiraling escalation of violence in recent days that has put pressure on President Joe Biden to get tougher on the Israeli government. […] ‘There is a very strong emerging ground in the Democratic Party that wants to see an American policy that is balanced — that recognizes both Israel’s security needs and rights when it comes to defending itself from rockets and terror, but also recognizes that will never end unless Palestinians get their rights and their freedoms,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, an advocacy group founded as a progressive pro-Israel voice on U.S. policy. ‘We think that this is becoming the center of the Democratic Party.’”

Biden faces an angry rift in his own party over Israeli-Palestinian conflict, CNN
“So much attention has been focused on the rift in the GOP over former President Donald Trump’s antidemocratic lies about the 2020 election. But Democrats have their own brewing disagreement over how the US should react to violence between Israelis and Palestinians, leading Democrats to question President Joe Biden’s commitment to human rights and demanding he do more to pressure Israel. […] ‘By continuing to provide military aid without restriction, we provide no incentive for Israel to adjust course,’ Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren said in April, in remarks to the liberal pro-Israel group J Street.”

Biden has yet to reverse many of Trump’s pro-Israel policies he labeled ‘destructive’, USA Today
“President Joe Biden never promised a wholesale reversal of his predecessor’s approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. […] ‘The current violent escalation shows that this is not an issue that can be left on the back burner. It’s not a sustainable status quo,’ said Logan Bayroff, vice president of communications for J Street, a left-leaning advocacy group that describes itself as ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace.’”

On Israel’s relations with its’ Arab minority, Times of Israel
J Street’s Nadav Tamir writes, “The time has come to realize the Zionist vision of the Declaration of Independence, which called for complete equality for Israeli Arabs. Change will not come through accusations and the search for symmetry, change will come by taking responsibility. Taking responsibility for our democracy is at the core of the Zionist idea and the key to our existence here.”

Top News and Analysis

Calls mount for Gaza-Israel cease-fire, greater US efforts, AP
U.N. Security Council diplomats and Muslim foreign ministers convened emergency weekend meetings to demand a stop to civilian bloodshed as Israeli warplanes carried out the deadliest single attacks in nearly a week of Hamas rocket barrages and Israeli airstrikes. President Joe Biden gave no signs of stepping up public pressure on Israel to agree to an immediate cease-fire despite calls from some Democrats for the Biden administration to get more involved. His ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, told an emergency high-level meeting of the Security Council that the United States was “working tirelessly through diplomatic channels” to stop the fighting.

Grief Mounts as Efforts to Ease Israel-Hamas Fight Falter, New York Times
Diplomats and international leaders were unable Sunday to mediate a cease-fire in the latest conflict between Israel and Hamas, as Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel vowed to continue the fight and the United Nations Security Council failed to agree on a joint response to the worsening bloodshed. The diplomatic wrangling occurred after the fighting, the most intense seen in Gaza and Israel for seven years, entered its deadliest phase yet. At least 42 Palestinians were killed early Sunday morning in an airstrike on several apartments in Gaza City, Palestinian officials said, the conflict’s most lethal episode so far.

AP’s top editor calls for probe into Israeli airstrike, AP
The Associated Press’ top editor is calling for an independent investigation into the Israeli airstrike that targeted and destroyed a Gaza City building housing the AP, broadcaster Al-Jazeera and other media, saying the public deserves to know the facts. Separately, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders asked the International Criminal Court to investigate Israel’s bombing of a building housing the media organizations as a possible war crime. Sally Buzbee, AP’s executive editor, said Sunday that the Israeli government has yet to provide clear evidence supporting its attack, which leveled the 12-story al-Jalaa tower.


Protesters in major US cities decry airstrikes over Gaza, AP
Pro-Palestinian protesters took to the streets of Los Angeles, New York, Boston, Philadelphia, Atlanta and other U.S. cities on Saturday to demand an end to Israeli airstrikes over the Gaza Strip. Thousands of people shut down traffic on a major thoroughfare in west Los Angeles as they marched two miles from outside the federal building to the Israeli consulate. The protesters waved signs that said “free Palestine” and shouted “long live intifada,” or uprising.

The assault on Gaza halts Covid shots and could spread the virus, U.N. officials warn., New York Times
Israel’s airstrikes and shelling of Gaza have stopped all Covid-19 vaccinations and testing in the Palestinian enclave and raise the risk of superspreading as civilians cram into shelters for safety, United Nations officials said. In an interview over Zoom on Friday as the sound of Israeli explosions shook their headquarters, the leaders of the U.N. Palestinian relief agency’s operations in Gaza and the head of the World Health Organization’s Gaza sub-office said they feared that a severe worsening of Covid-19 infections would be a side-effect of the death and destruction from the latest surge in hostilities.

Dozens of Democrats Urge Immediate Israeli-Palestinian Cease-fire to Prevent Further Loss of Life, Haaretz
Democratic lawmakers on Sunday widely demanded an immediate cease-fire between Israel and the Palestinians amid the latest round of violence. Twenty-eight Democratic senators, led by Sen. Jon Ossoff, and eight House Democrats issued joint statements calling for a swift end to the flare-up in order to prevent a further loss of life. “To prevent any further loss of civilian life and to prevent further escalation of conflict in Israel and the Palestinian territories, we urge an immediate cease-fire,” the senators said.

Biden in call with Netanyahu raises concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza, Axios
President Biden spoke to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Saturday and raised concerns about civilian casualties in Gaza and the bombing of the building that housed AP and other media offices, according to Israeli officials. At least 140 Palestinians, including dozens of children, have been killed in Gaza since fighting between Israel and Hamas began Monday, according to Palestinian health officials. Nine people, including two children, have been killed by Hamas rockets in Israel.

A Press Corps Deceived, and the Gaza Invasion That Wasn’t, New York Times
The Israeli military abruptly announced after midnight on Friday that its ground forces had begun “attacking in the Gaza Strip,” saying it on Twitter, in text messages to journalists, and in on-the-record confirmations by an English-speaking army spokesman. Several international news organizations, including The New York Times, immediately alerted readers worldwide that a Gaza incursion or invasion was underway, a major escalation of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities. Within hours, those reports were all corrected: No invasion had taken place. Rather, ground troops had opened fire at targets in Gaza from inside Israeli territory, while fighters and drones were continuing to attack from the air. A top military spokesman took responsibility, blaming the fog of war. But by Friday evening, several leading Israeli news outlets were reporting that the incorrect announcement was no accident, but had actually been part of an elaborate deception.

For 3rd time, US blocking joint Security Council statement urging ceasefire, Times of Israel
For the third time in a week, the US is blocking a joint statement from the UN Security Council calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, two diplomats involved in the matter said Sunday. The statement was introduced by Norway, Tunisia and China following an emergency session earlier in the day on the fighting in Gaza and generally criticizes both sides for the ongoing violence but makes no mention of Hamas rocket fire.

The roar of an Israeli airstrike, buildings collapsed and a family buried under rubble, Washington Post
Sana’a al-Kulak spent the night under the rubble. It was hard to breathe; her leg was trapped. Her son, stuck beside her, managed to get out his phone and call for help. “We tried to hold out,” she said. It was around five hours after Israeli airstrikes flattened their home before al-Kulak, 56, and her 24-year-old son, Mohammed, were pulled out by rescuers. It wasn’t until she got to the hospital that she learned the shattering news. Her husband, their two sons, a daughter, daughter-in-law and a 1-year-old grandchild had all been killed, alongside at least 11 other members of her extended clan that had lived across two four-story buildings in Gaza’s Wehda Street.

Opinion and Analysis

The U.S. Must Stop Being an Apologist for the Netanyahu Government, New York Times
Senator Bernie Sanders writes, “In the Middle East, where we provide nearly $4 billion a year in aid to Israel, we can no longer be apologists for the right-wing Netanyahu government and its undemocratic and racist behavior. We must change course and adopt an evenhanded approach, one that upholds and strengthens international law regarding the protection of civilians, as well as existing U.S. law holding that the provision of U.S. military aid must not enable human rights abuses.”

The U.S. Can Neither Ignore nor Solve the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Foreign Affairs
Martin Indyk writes, “The administration of U.S. President Joe Biden entered office expecting to take a less proactive approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict than many of its predecessors. At a press briefing about the COVID-19 pandemic on Wednesday—four days into the current war between Israel and Hamas—this approach was on display. Biden took a question about the conflict and diffidently replied that he’d spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, that Israel had a right to defend itself, and that he hoped the fighting would be over ‘sooner rather than later.’”

Violence in Israel Is a Political Victory for Netanyahu, New York Magazine
Jonah Shepp writes, “This will be a hollow victory, however, as it will only return Israel to a status quo of ever-present tension and threat: in Jerusalem, the West Bank, Gaza, and every Israeli town where Jews and Arabs live in close proximity. The only real winner here is the man who sold Israelis on the idea that this state of permanent war and occupation is acceptable: Netanyahu himself.”

Israel’s Real Existential Threat, New York Times
Yossi Klein Halevi writes, “Most Israelis — Arabs and Jews — are practiced in the habit of decency. But we are also practiced in self-justification. We know the routines of neighborliness, but rarely consider the other’s reality. We avoid the hard questions that threaten our certainties, our insistence on the absolute justice of our side. What is it like to be a Palestinian citizen of a Jewish state that occupies your family? What is it like to be a Jew who has finally come home, only to live under constant siege?”

Northern Ireland’s lesson for Israel, Times of Israel
Gary Mason writes, “The attempts to resolve the Northern Irish conflict through physical force were ultimately futile, they did not result in sustainable safety for the two opposing communities. Sadly, physical force encouraged the cycle of violence where each side sought to hurt the other side as much as they hurt you. Security was only achieved when leadership in the public square was emphasized, dialogue was a priority, and the root causes of the conflict addressed.”

Israel Had No Strategy or Endgame for Gaza, and Now It’s Paying the Price, Haaretz
Alon Pinkas writes, “Tactical wins by a far superior power are no substitute for strategy. The issue of Gaza and Hamas requires a strategy, not ‘Groundhog Day’ military operations. The broader issue of the Israeli-Palestinian impasse and reality will not be solved by spectacular technologies against tunnels. Self-defense is an imperative: using your vastly superior power should not be explained or apologized for. But assuming that this is a strategy that benefits Israel is dangerous self-denial.”