News Roundup for January 16, 2019

January 16, 2019

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Top News and Analysis

Banning boycotts?: Free speech trumps sympathy for an ally, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

The editorial board writes “The anti-BDS law that is slated to come before the Senate violates the principles of free expression that are at the core of our political system. Unless physical violence is at issue, the cause does not matter. The state simply cannot police how private entities or private citizens express their politics. Disagree with the boycott of Israel if you like. Defend Israel as our ally. But do not attempt to silence those who disagree with you. Censoring free speech and association is un-American and a deeply misguided act of tribute to Israel.”

Concerted Attack by Right Casts Gantz as Clearest Threat to Netanyahu, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev writes, “The concerted right-wing rush to brand him a lefty….may turn out to be more of a blessing as far as Gantz is concerned. By concentrating so much firepower on Gantz, his detractors placed him at center stage and unwittingly cast him as the clearest threat to Netanyahu’s continued rule. Yesh Atid’s Yair Lapid and Labor’s Avi Gabbay may have commended Gantz for his commitment but were likely dismayed by the free, right-wing spotlight that focused on him alone. If Gantz ever gets around to speaking out on truly divisive issues such as peace, Jewish settlements or separation of religion and state, the hysterics likely to be shown by Netanyahu and Likud would probably anoint him as de facto leader of the opposing camp.”


Netanyahu said to have asked Trump for support ahead of Mossad operation in Iran, Times of Israel

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu spoke with US President Donald Trump before a major Israeli intelligence operation in Iran, in order to secure American support if the mission were to go awry, Israeli television reported Tuesday. In April, Netanyahu revealed a trove of documents he said proved that Iran had lied about its nuclear program. He said that the Mossad intelligence agency had spirited the documents out of a warehouse in the the Iranian capital, Tehran, and called the haul was one of the “greatest achievements” of Israeli intelligence. Netanyahu discussed the mission with Trump when the two met in Davos last January, according to Hadashot TV news, with the prime minister seeking US assistance in case the Israeli operatives had to be rescued during the mission.

Former Israeli Army Chief Gantz Near Cementing His Ticket for the April 9 Vote, Haaretz

Benny Gantz, the former army chief of staff and leader of a new centrist party, has chosen a dozen or so people to top his ticket in the run-up to the April 9 general election, political sources said. Political sources have mentioned three names expected to be on the ticket: educator Chili Tropper, former Yeruham Mayor Michael Biton, and Alon Schuster, a former head of the Sha’ar Hanegev Regional Council. If Gantz’s predecessor as chief of staff, Gabi Ashkenazi, joins the slate, he is expected to receive the No. 2 slot.

Sen. Robert Menendez decries Republicans for using Israel as a wedge, JTA

Sen. Robert Menendez, one of the most reliable pro-Israel voices among Democrats, dropped his support for an Israel-related bill because he said the Republican leadership is trying to use it as a wedge issue. “I don’t like the Majority Leader using the U.S.-Israel relationship as a political pawn,” Menendez, the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, told Al-Monitor on Monday, after the third bid in a week by Republicans to advance the bill. The New Jersey senator had voted to advance the bill the two previous times.

Netanyahu Says Failed Iranian Satellite Launch an Attempt to Develop Intercontinental Missile, Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Tuesday that the Iranian satellite launch, which Tehran said has failed, was actually part of the country’s attempt to develop intercontinental ballistic missile. Iran says it has conducted a satellite launch criticized by the U.S., but the satellite has failed to reach orbit. State TV on Tuesday quoted the country’s minister of telecommunications as saying the country failed to put Payam satellite into the orbit.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said state will sanction Airbnb for delisting Jewish settlements, JTA

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said his state would take action against Airbnb for its decision to remove listings of rooms and homes for rent in West Bank Jewish settlements. Airbnb announced in November 2018 that it would remove the listings of some 200 apartments and homes for rent in Jewish settlements in the West Bank, but not in Palestinian communities, and said that it consulted with experts to learn about the historical disputes in the region in order to make a decision about whether it should be doing business in “the occupied territories.” DeSantis, Florida’s newly sworn in Republican governor, said on Tuesday that the state would suspend the use of Airbnb for state-paid travel, and would consider preventing the state’s pension fund from investing in Airbnb. The company is not currently publicly traded but reportedly is planning to go public as early as June 2019, or at least by 2020, according to trade publications.

Opinion and Analysis

Radical Settler, ‘Proud Homophobe’ and Wunderkind: Meet the New Leader of Israel’s Far Right, Haaretz

Allison Kaplan Sommer observes, “Bezazel Smotrich, the blue-eyed bearded settler who has become the country’s youthful face of unrepentant political and religious extremism and intolerance is ready for his close-up, after being elected leader of the National Union party, Israel’s furthest-right faction, on Monday night by the party’s central committee….After entering the Knesset in 2015, Smotrich quickly made a name for himself as a media-savvy and effective voice on the far right, leading the battle to prevent the dismantling of the Amona outpost in the West Bank and advocating for the so-called “formalization bill” which would legalize the status of such outposts and the expansion of the settlements built on privately owned Palestinian land.

He grabbed headlines by declaring there is “no such thing as Jewish terrorism” after the 2016 firebombing in Duma, supporting segregation between Jewish and Arab women in hospital maternity wards, accusing ‘radical feminists’ of infiltrating the Israeli military, and accusing the LGBT community of controlling the media.”

Why Israel is treating its new army chief as royalty, Al-Monitor

“This week’s changing of the guard at the top of the Israeli army has all the trappings of a royal wedding. The replacement of Gadi Eizenkot with Aviv Kochavi as chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) today was marked by a daylong ceremony, including a prayer visit to the Wailing Wall, lunch at the president’s home and a fancy ceremony with a who’s who of the Israeli elite….The IDF ranks at the top in poll after poll involving public trust, far ahead of any other institution. Since serving in the army is mandatory for most Israelis (except Arab citizens), nearly every family has or has had a soldier in the ranks. High-ranking officers in particular are considered to have given their best years to the country and are widely viewed as the ultimate patriots. In a divided society that despises most politicians, love for the army cuts across almost every demographic and party.”