News Roundup for July 24, 2018

July 24, 2018

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J Street in the News

Divide Over Israel Widens in Democratic Party, CQ Magazine (paywall)

“It’s no accident that Democrats’ sharp criticisms of Israeli policies come as the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee — the longtime powerhouse among pro-Israel groups — has waned within the party. More liberals are turning to the left-of-center J Street, which was established a mere 10 years ago and gives Democrats some political cover to oppose Netanyahu’s policies while still backing Israel…Since June 2015, there have been 10 letters and joint statements from U.S. lawmakers that highlight Palestinian humanitarian concerns, press Israel to improve its treatment of the Palestinians and call on the Trump administration to protect the future of a two-state solution…. ‘These kinds of expressions from not just one member but a significant portion of the Democratic caucus, in my mind, is groundbreaking,’ says Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, noting that some of the most notable letters have come since Trump took office. ‘It’s part of an overwhelming trend.’”

Upstart Group Challenges AIPAC’s Influence, CQ Magazine (paywall)

“Rep. Steve Cohen is feeling pretty good these days about his decision to become one of the first lawmakers to accept J Street’s endorsement in 2008, just one year after the ‘pro-Israel, pro-peace’ group formed to serve as a counterweight to AIPAC’s hawkish policies. The six-term Jewish Democratic lawmaker from Memphis, known on the Hill for his feistiness and blunt speech, recalled in an interview at his office that he was initially urged ‘by a couple of senior Jewish Democrats’ not to accept J Street’s endorsement ‘because they were frightened of AIPAC.’ And those unnamed senior lawmakers? All are now J Street supporters, according to Cohen. So far this year, J Street has endorsed its largest number of candidates yet: 122 Democratic Senate and House candidates, three times the number of Democratic candidates it backed a decade ago. ‘This cycle, we are overwhelmed. We can’t even schedule the interviews fast enough for candidates and members of Congress,’ says Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s founding president.”

Trump’s Iran Tweet is Dangerous and Irresponsible, J Street

“President Trump, in a tweet in all block capitals today, threatened Iran with ‘consequences the likes of which few throughout history have ever suffered’ if it ‘threatened the United States again.’ This is not the behavior of the rational leader of a superpower; it is both dangerous and irresponsible….The president’s behavior highlights once again the need for Congress to step forward and speak forcefully, making it clear that Trump’s words, and the way they were delivered, do not represent the will of the American people.”

Top News and Analysis

U.S. Freeze on Palestinian Aid Threatening Coexistence and Humanitarian Groups, Warn Officials, Haaretz

“Palestinian officials say that local humanitarian groups who work with the United States Agency for International Development have scaled back their activities in recent months and are preparing to fire employees and shut down projects as a result of the Trump administration’s total freeze of financial aid to the Palestinians. The funding freeze has also hurt local companies that USAID uses as contractors for economic projects, as well as Jewish-Arab coexistence groups that rely on American financial support for their activities, according to the officials who spoke with Haaretz….Western and Arab diplomats who spoke with Haaretz said they believed the freeze is meant to pressure Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas to end his boycott of the Trump administration, which started after the president’s recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel last December. The administration, these diplomats added, want Abbas to return to negotiations with Trump’s peace team – led by his son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner, and special envoy Jason Greenblatt.”

Israel Picks Identity Over Democracy. More Nations May Follow, The New York Times

Max Fisher writes, “Above all, the law may be a choice between two visions of Israel that have come into growing tension. American diplomats have long issued a version of Ben-Gurion’s warning: If Israel did not make peace with the Palestinians, they said, it would have to choose between its dual identities as a Jewish state and democratic one. Polls suggest that Israelis have come to agree: Growing numbers see their country as facing a choice between being Jewish first or democratic first. And for many on the political right, the choice is identity first.”

As Violence Flares, Kushner Threatens to Abandon a Plan B for the Mideast: Rebuilding Gaza, The New York Times

Mark Landler reports, “Five months ago, Jared Kushner, President Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser, began quietly shifting his focus from brokering a peace accord between Israel and the Palestinians to tackling the dire humanitarian crisis in the Palestinian enclave of Gaza. Now, with Israel and the Hamas militants who control Gaza in a fresh cycle of violence that analysts fear could escalate into a full-blown war, Mr. Kushner and his partner in Middle East peacemaking, Jason D. Greenblatt, are threatening to pull the plug on Plan B. Declaring that no foreign investors are willing to pour money into Gaza during what they label a Hamas-driven conflict, Mr. Kushner and Mr. Greenblatt, the president’s special representative for international negotiations, are rethinking their efforts to rebuild Gaza’s economy as a way of opening the door to a broader peace accord.”

Israel Shoots Down Syrian Fighter Jet Penetrating Israeli Airspace, Haaretz

Israel shot down a Syrian fighter jet that penetrated Israeli airspace on Tuesday, the Israeli army said. According to the IDF spokesperson, the Russian-made Sukhoi was under surveillance when it entered some two kilometers into Israeli airspace and was shot down by two Patriot missiles.


Israel to Partially Reopen Gaza’s Only Commercial Crossing, Haaretz

Israel will partially reopen the Kerem Shalom border crossing with Gaza, the Strip’s only passage, Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman said on a statement on Tuesday. A statement by the Defense Ministry said that the crossing will only be partially opened because Hamas “has not put a complete end to terrorism, but is trying to maintain a low level of incendiary balloon launches and friction on the border fence.”

Tzipi Livni Named Opposition Leader After Herzog’s Departure, Haaretz

Zionist Union leader Avi Gabbay and Tzipi Livni announced Monday they have agreed for her to be appointed head of the opposition. Livni will take the seat in the stead of Isaac Herzog, who has been named Jewish Agency chief. The Zionist Union is an alliance between Labor Party, headed by Gabbay, and Hatnua, led by Livni. As part of the deal, Livni promised to run jointly with Gabay in the next elections, though the terms of their alliance remain in murk. Gabbay cannot serve as opposition leader since he is not a lawmaker.

Hundreds sneak into evacuated settlement, call on government to let them stay, Times of Israel

Some 200 Israeli activists surreptitiously entered the evacuated settlement of Sa-Nur in the northern West Bank under the cover of darkness early Tuesday in a symbolic protest of the government’s refusal to pass legislation allowing them to return permanently. The group was made up of former residents of Sa-Nur and Homesh, which — with two other northern West Bank settlements, Ganim and Kadim — were evacuated along with the Jewish settlements of the Gaza Strip in 2005 as part of Israel’s so-called disengagement plan. The evacuees were joined by supporters including Jewish Home lawmakers Shuli Moalem-Refaeli and Bezalel Smotrich.

Russia Offers 62-mile Buffer Between Iranian Forces and Israel-Syria Border, Senior Official Says, Haaretz

Russia is working to ensure the removal of Iranian forces to 100 kilometers (62 miles) away from the Golan Heights, but Israel is demanding that long-range weapons that could circumvent such a buffer zone also be withdrawn, a senior Israeli official said Monday after a meeting between Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and top Russian officials.

Hailing Trump threat, Israeli UNESCO envoy calls Iranians ‘animals’, Times of Israel

A senior Israeli diplomat on Monday called Iranians “animals” while praising US President Donald Trump’s threatening tweet against Tehran. Israel’s Ambassador to UNESCO Carmel Shama Hacohen said Trump was “among the only world leaders who knows not only how to deal with human beings but also with animals.”

Birthright Says It Won’t Vet Applicants Despite Recent Walkouts Protesting Israeli Occupation, Haaretz

Despite several highly publicized walkouts on its program, Birthright does not intend to introduce a vetting procedure that would weed out potential troublemakers from the free trips it offers to Israel. In recent weeks, Jewish-American participants have filmed themselves walking out of three separate Birthright trips to protest the occupation and the absence of discussion of it on the program.

Opinion and Analysis

The fatal flaw in Trump’s plan for Middle East peace, Washington Post

Jorgen Jensehaugen writes, “Trump is repeating the same mistake of the pre-Oslo era. By recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, he has tossed aside any potential olive branches to lure Palestinians into negotiations. By so firmly siding with Israel on one of the core issues of the conflict, Trump forced the Palestinians out of the negotiations. Even though the Palestinians have withdrawn from talks with the United States, Jared Kushner insists that the Trump peace plan is still being developed. This, however, is not diplomacy. It is an attempt to dictate peace — something unlikely to work.”

This racist new law makes me ashamed to be Israeli, Guardian

Daniel Barenboim writes, “The founding fathers of the state of Israel who signed the declaration in 1948 considered the principle of equality to be the bedrock of the society they were building. They also committed themselves ‘to pursue peace and good relations with all neighbouring states and people’. Seventy years on, the Israeli government has just passed a law that replaces the principle of equality and universal values with nationalism and racism. This law states that only the Jewish people have a right to national self-determination in Israel. It fills me with deep sorrow that I must today ask the same questions that I asked 14 years ago before the Knesset: can we ignore the intolerable gap between what the declaration of independence promised and the realities of Israel?”

Trump and Putin Lead the League of Nationalists, but Netanyahu Is Their Disturbingly Enthusiastic Enabler, Haaretz

David Rothkopf writes, “There is, of course, no defensible reason why a Jewish state should not also be a democracy. History reveals that few things could be more compatible than democracy and Jewish ideals, aspirations and cultural experience. In fact, it is impossible to understand how a truly Jewish state could reject the fair treatment of its people guaranteed by the rule of law, justice, or the necessity of tolerance. The new law certainly represents a rejection of the lessons of the past and a betrayal of many of the nation’s founders.”

Israel, Hamas trapped over prisoner exchange, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit observes, “Hamas holds the bodies of two Israel Defense Forces (IDF) soldiers, Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who died in the 2014 Protective Edge operation. Israel demands that the bodies be returned. Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar cannot allow himself to return the bodies without receiving a hefty payment in Palestinian prisoners. Israel can’t allow itself to release Palestinian terrorists in exchange for the corpses of its soldiers, but it also can’t reach any agreement with Hamas before the bodies of these soldiers are returned to Israel for burial. Neither party can break through this barrier, so they are trapped in the same blood-soaked alleyway in a situation that repeats itself regularly with the precision of a Swiss watch. At this point, it is every weekend.”