News Roundup for January 29, 2019

January 29, 2019

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J Street in the News

Senate Advances Pro-Israel Bill as G.O.P. Searches for Democratic Divisions, The New York Times

“The inclusion of the anti-B.D.S. provision will most likely kill the Senate package in the House….There are no plans to take up the anti-B.D.S. provision, and House Democrats have accused Senate Republicans of attaching the fourth bill to score political points and distort the views of liberal lawmakers who favor of a two-state solution in the region. But Republicans are becoming more brash in their accusations. The National Republican Congressional Committee, the political arm devoted to recapturing the majority in the House, has called Ms. Omar and Ms. Tlaib anti-Semites….Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of the left-leaning pro-Israel advocacy group J Street, called the attacks on Ms. Tlaib and Ms. Omar ‘absolutely disgusting,’ and he predicted attempts from ‘a very tired playbook’ to divide the party would fail. ‘There will certainly be tensions,’ he acknowledged, ‘but I don’t think this is a meaningful split. The consensus in the Democratic Party is pretty clear.’”

Prominent Democrats Form Pro-Israel Group to Counter Skepticism on the Left, The New York Times

“With polls showing that liberals and younger voters are increasingly less sympathetic to Israel, and a handful of vocal supporters of Palestinian rights arriving in Congress, the new group — the Democratic Majority for Israel — is planning to wage a campaign to remind elected officials about what they call the party’s shared values and interests with one of America’s strongest allies….[T]hey could become a formidable counterweight to the advocacy group J Street, which, while not officially partisan, has sought to nurture support for Democrats who are uncomfortable with aggressively pro-Israel groups like the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac. Some Jewish Democrats have suggested that Mr. Mellman’s group represents a Democratic arm of Aipac, though he said they are ‘separate and independent.’ J Street donated just under $5 million to candidates in the 2018 election and Jeremy Ben-Ami, the group’s president, said they would at least match that in 2020. ‘The idea that the Democratic Party should just support the Netanyahu government, right or wrong, is out of line with where American Jews are at and where Jewish Democrats are at,’ Mr. Ben-Ami said.”

5 things to watch in another Bernie Sanders presidential campaign, JTA

“Sanders was the stand-out at both of the post-election annual conferences of J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group. His message jibed perfectly with the group’s: One can support Israel while criticizing its government for its settlement policies and for neglecting opportunities for peace.”

Congress’ Middle East panels brace for new partisan era, Al-Monitor

“[A]t least two freshmen on the [House Foreign Affairs] committee have been backed by J Street, which opposes both the BDS movement and anti-BDS legislation: former CIA officer Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., and Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., a former assistant secretary of state in the Barack Obama administration and Washington director for Human Rights Watch.”

Top News and Analysis

Benny Gantz and the hollowness of Israel’s election season, Washington Post

Gershom Gorenberg writes, “Gantz is often described as being a centrist, which mostly means that voters who are unhappy both with the right and the left can project their inchoate hopes and despair on his empty screen. Support for him may fade when he finally takes some clear stands, as he has implied he will do this week….His popularity so far, however, is the strongest indication of the hollowness of the Israeli election campaign. In part, the reasons are peculiar to Israel. On another level, the campaign reflects a dangerous trend in the democratic world: widespread antagonism toward politicians….This is the key to Gantz’s appeal: He’s not a politician; he’s a general. He knows how to run things….The thing is, politics requires tremendous skill….It’s best learned by doing politics.”

Senate Bill Against BDS Advances After Democrats Split Their Votes, Haaretz

“The Senate voted Monday to advance a legislative package of bills related to Israel and the Middle East, including a bill against the BDS movement.

Seventy-four senators voted in favor of advancing the bill to a final vote, while 17 opposed it. Even though all of the “no” votes” came from Democratic senators, the majority of Democratic senators voted in favor of the bill….Among the prominent Democratic senators who voted against advancing the bill were Elizabeth Warren (Massachusetts) and Kirsten Gillibrand (New York), who are both in the midst of preparing for a presidential run next year.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (Independent of Vermont), another potential presidential contender, also voted against the legislation….Sen. Amy Klobuchar (Democrat of Minnesota), who is often discussed as a potential presidential candidate, voted in favor of the legislation. Senators Kamala Harris and Cory Booker, two more prominent names on the 2020 candidates list, did not attend the vote.”

The New Pro-Israel Law That Could Backfire on Israel, Foreign Policy

Neri Zilber reports, “Efforts to amend a contentious anti-terrorism law that would cut all U.S. funding to the Palestinian Authority security forces and to a U.S. security mission in Jerusalem have run aground amid disputes between Capitol Hill and the Trump administration….While the law was passed overwhelmingly with the support of Israel’s traditional allies in Congress, some in the Israeli government and the security establishment fear that the loss of such aid and the closing of the U.S. mission might undermine close Israeli-Palestinian security coordination and stability in the West Bank. Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, the bill’s primary sponsor, recently offered an amendment to soften the bill’s impact. But a congressional source familiar with the matter told Foreign Policy that the proposal was ‘dead’ due to opposition from the State Department.”


Netanyahu’s toughest ballot rival, ex-general Gantz, to break silence, Reuters

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s toughest rival in Israel’s April ballot, former military chief and political enigma Benny Gantz, will set out his goals on Tuesday in a marker of the center-left opposition’s prospects.

Israel to Expel International Monitoring Force in Hebron After 20-year Presence, Haaretz

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Monday that he will not renew the mandate of the international observatory task force that has been monitoring the divided West Bank city of Hebron for twenty years. “We will not allow the presence of an international force that operates against us,” Netanyahu said Monday. The force’s mandate, which comes up for renewal every six months, was due to come to an end on January 31.

Trump warns Europeans not to try to evade Iran sanctions, AP

The Trump administration is closely eyeing efforts in Europe to set up an alternative money payment channel to ease doing business with Iran and avoid running afoul of sanctions the U.S. has levied on the Islamic republic. The White House is putting the Europeans on notice, saying that if they try to do an end-run around U.S. sanctions on Iran, they will be subject to stiff fines and penalties. Unfazed, the European Union is marching forward with the plan, which, if implemented, could further strain trans-Atlantic relations. A spokeswoman for EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini said preparations for the alternative system were “at an advanced stage.”

Israeli Campaign Ad Stars Former Soldier Lauded for Executing Palestinian Suspect, The Intercept

Elor Azaria a former Israeli Army medic who became a hero to that nation’s far right by publicly executing a wounded Palestinian suspect in the occupied West Bank in 2016, is the star of a new political advertising campaign for a deputy minister in Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government. The former soldier, who was convicted of manslaughter based on video evidence of the crime, served just nine months in jail before being released last summer. In a poster and video message published on Facebook this week by the deputy environment minister, Yaron Mazuz, Azaria is seen grinning and shaking the politician’s hand.

Canadian Government Accuses Leading Jewish Charity of Supporting IDF and West Bank Settlements, Haaretz

A prominent Jewish organization in Canada lost its status as a charity for tax purposes after the Canadian government accused it of supporting the Israeli military and donating to Israeli settlements in the West Bank, according to a report published on Monday in the Canadian news website “Global News.”

Israel’s Left-wing Meretz Party Set to Hold First-ever Primary for Knesset Slate, Haaretz

After years in which the central committee of Meretz chose the Knesset ticket, this year, for the first time, the party will hold a primary in which all of its 20,000 members can vote. However, party officials are worried that in the primary, on February 14, no Israeli Arab candidate will end up placing high enough on the slate to have a realistic chance of getting into the Knesset.

Opinion and Analysis

The future is the center: Meet the parties shaking up Israeli politics, +972

Dahlia Scheindlin observes, “So far these modern centrist parties have offered little hope that they will address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in any meaningful way. Just raising the issue – beyond security bluster – is considered a lefty-trope kiss of death….In fact, polling on self-defined centrists shows that it makes sense to bring back the conflict. For at least a decade, my studies have consistently shown that centrist voters are closer to the left than the right when it comes to the two-state solution. Nearly two-thirds of the center support the general principle in our last Israeli Palestinian survey from June 2018. In a survey I conducted for B’Tselem in 2017, a solid majority, nearly 60 percent of centrists, said settlements are harmful rather than helpful to Israeli security.”

Will the ultra-right seize control of religious Zionism in Israel?, Al-Monitor

Danny Zaken writes, “Should the National Union “swallow up” HaBayit HaYehudi, it would mean that the most extreme branch of religious Zionism had gained absolute control of the sector’s political representation. It appears that one obvious result of this is that the more moderate religious voters would switch their allegiance to the Likud or to Bennett and Shaked’s new party.”

Is Jared Kushner Dangerous for America?, Haaretz

David Rothkopf writes, “[A]nother war may be on the horizon in the Middle East and perhaps the most influential representative of the most powerful geopolitical actor in the world is not trusted by his own intelligence community, is under scrutiny by law enforcement, doesn’t have access to key intelligence, has compromising ties to the region, has no experience, has no background in the history of the region and is a proven incompetent whose failings go unpunished because he is married to the favorite child of the president-king of the United States.”