News Roundup for January 18, 2019

January 18, 2019

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J Street in the News

Your Anti-BDS Crusade Hurts Jews, Forward

Jeremy Ben-Ami writes, “Like the vast majority of American Jews, I oppose the BDS movement, as does J Street, the organization I lead. And I believe that our overwrought communal response to BDS is doing far more damage to American Jews and to Israel’s reputation than the movement itself could ever hope to do. This obsession is harming Jewish institutions and eroding important relationships with other communities, particularly communities of color. It is undermining our core values and distracting from far more important challenges — both in Israel and at home. It is creating an atmosphere of paranoia and censorship….While the Jewish community continues to pour staggering resources into the BDS fight, we have neglected far more urgent challenges. It is the current Israeli government’s continued creeping annexation of the occupied West Bank, not BDS, which seriously threatens Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people. It is the rise of white supremacism and authoritarian nationalism, not BDS, which seriously threatens the future of American democracy and American Jews. We can’t let the bogeyman of BDS undermine our community’s true ideals and interests. We have to end this obsession — and turn our attention and resources to the fights that truly matter for our country, Israel and the Jewish people.”

BDS-backer Ilhan Omar given seat on powerful House Foreign Affairs panel, Times of Israel

“The liberal Middle East advocacy group J Street…which opposes the BDS movement, defended Omar’s newfound position of influence. ‘At a time when there are more displaced people in the world than ever before and the Trump administration has turned its back on them, I personally believe it’s a positive development to see @IlhanMN, who came to the US as a refugee, getting a seat on HFAC,’ tweeted Jeremy Ben Ami, the organization’s president. ‘Frankly, some of the commentary I’ve seen about @ilhanMN’s assignment has been disgusting’  he added. ‘I disagree w/ her stance on BDS. But the smears of her as an anti-Semite — or suggestions that she is somehow not fit to serve on the committee — are just plain wrong.’”

Ilhan Omar, Who Said Israel ‘Hypnotized’ the World, Appointed to House Foreign Affairs Committee, Haaretz

“Following her appointment, the left-wing Jewish group J Street put out a statement expressing support for it. ‘At a time when the global population of displaced people is near historic highs and the Trump administration has turned its back on the problem, it’s a positive development that Rep. Ilhan Omar, who herself emigrated to this country as a refugee, will have a seat on the House Foreign Affairs Committee,’ the group’s president Jeremy Ben Ami said.  ‘While it’s fair to disagree with and criticize her views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, the BDS movement or any other issue, smearing Rep. Omar as an anti-Semite – or suggesting that she is somehow not fit to serve on an important committee like Foreign Affairs – is bigoted and deeply wrong,’ Ben Ami added.”

Top News and Analysis

Palestinian School And Sewage Projects Unfinished As U.S. Cuts Final Bit Of Aid, NPR

Daniel Estrin reports, “The White House has blocked an emergency effort to finish major U.S.-funded school, water and sewage projects in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, according to documents reviewed by NPR. It is the latest of a series of moves by the Trump administration to shut down U.S. aid to Palestinians, which is scheduled to end Feb 1. In the West Bank, a nearly complete multimillion-dollar sewage network in Jericho will have to be buried under asphalt and abandoned, and a $1.4 million school facility under construction in the Bethlehem area will be left behind, according to a recent document from the U.S. Agency for International Development….USAID, which oversees these projects, will lay off most of its local staff within months, U.S. officials say. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak about the matter publicly.”

Israel to Decide on Qatari Money to Gaza Based on Nature of Friday’s Border Protest, Haaretz

“Israel is still delaying the transfer of funds from Qatar to Hamas in the Gaza Strip, and will decide on the matter based on the nature of Friday’s planned protest along the border. Hamas leadership has rejected any attempt to link the funds to quelled protests, and said any delay in transferring the money will lead to escalation. Meanwhile, foreign diplomats told Haaretz they are concerned that the ongoing delay in transiting the money could lead to another escalation between Israel and Gaza. At the same time, Israel has recently signaled that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu seeks a calm front ahead of the April 9 election.”


Israeli Attorney General to Meet With Netanyahu’s Lawyer Over Timing of Indictment Decision, Haaretz

Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s attorney to discuss Netanyahu’s request that Mendelblit not make any decisions in the cases against him prior to April’s election.

PA said to deport Palestinian-American it jailed for selling land to Jews, Times of Israel

A Palestinian-American man who last month was sentenced to life in prison by a Palestinian Authority court for attempting to sell land to Jews has been released and handed over to the Americans, the Kan broadcaster reported Thursday. Issam Akel, a resident of East Jerusalem who holds a blue Israeli identification card and US citizenship, had been held by the PA for several months. In recent days a secret deal was signed between the PA and US authorities, the report said, and Akel was freed on Tuesday.

GOP lawmaker pushes to derail Rashida Tlaib from leading delegation to West Bank, Politico

A Republican lawmaker is trying to block freshman firebrand Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) from leading a congressional delegation to the West Bank. In a letter obtained by POLITICO, Rep. Brian Babin (R-Texas) urged Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif) and Democratic committee chairs not to sign off on Tlaib’s proposed trip to the West Bank.

PA pulls out of Rafah, Hamas settles in, Al-Monitor

The Palestinian Authority pulled its staff from the Rafah border crossing between the Gaza Strip and Egypt on Jan. 7 over what it called the “brutal practices” of Hamas, which controls the coastal enclave.

Opinion and Analysis

Hamas Could Cause an Escalation on the Israeli Border. Abbas Could Start a Greater Conflict, Haaretz

Amos Harel reports, “The first test for the new chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, Aviv Kochavi, is the Gaza Strip. The direction will become apparent Friday afternoon during the weekly demonstrations led by Hamas along the border fence. For more than a week, Israel has been holding up the monthly transfer of $15 million from Qatar to Gaza, though Israel hasn’t officially confirmed it. This is a punitive measure in retribution for the slight increase in the violence in the border protests, but it may also be linked to the right wing’s attacks on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu because of the cash transfers. Increased violence this weekend could lead to Israeli airstrikes against Hamas, with ensuing rocket fire from the Strip and another round of escalation. On the other hand, Israel overall isn’t interfering with the Qatari payments, which have increased the fuel supply in Gaza, allowing for more hours of electricity a day.”

Bernie Sanders Has To Run – To Make Democrats More Critical Of Israel, Forward

Peter Beinart argues, “[A]second Sanders candidacy could fundamentally change the debate inside the Democratic Party on Israel. Do ordinary Democrats support giving the Israeli government almost $4 billion per year—no strings attached—while it entrenches a brutal occupation in the West Bank and maintains a blockade that is making Gaza unlivable? Almost certainly not. But pollsters rarely even ask the question because politicians have never made it part of the public discussion. Most Democratic politicians have never had to justify their support for such aid in a campaign. If Sanders forces them to—if he asks his competitors why they’d rather give Netanyahu almost $4 billion to buy weapons than use that money to fight poverty-it will become painfully clear that they can’t justify it. Sanders will win that debate in a rout. Every ambitious Democratic politician in America will take notice, and the party will lurch towards an Israel policy towards reflects its professed ideals.”

Forget Netanyahu. Israelis Have Fallen in Love With an Incoherent Kind of Centrism, Haaretz

Anshel Pfeffer writes, “This is a fascinating situation. Socialist Zionism is gone. Labor has nothing to replace it with. And all Israeli centrism has to say for itself is Gantz’s silence and the banal self-help cliches of Yair Lapid. Over a third of Israelis have little else to identify themselves with. Those Israelis are not very religious. But not militantly secular. In principle they’re OK with a two-state solution, but aren’t particularly motivated to campaign for it, as previous attempts for compromise with the Palestinians ended in bloodshed. They’re patriotic, serve in the army, do volunteer work, and are not at all ideological when it comes to their preferred economic system. What makes them political is their evidence-based instinct that Netanyahu’s protracted reign is corrupt and that those around him are too radical to their taste.”