News Roundup for March 1, 2019

March 1, 2019

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J Street in the News

Israeli elections pit Republicans against AIPAC, Al-Monitor

“With the embattled prime minister casting a wide net for allies amid his escalating legal troubles, both Democrats and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee are warning that having what AIPAC called a ‘racist and reprehensible” party in government will make it more difficult to marshal bipartisan support for Israel. Republicans are taking the opposite approach, using the controversy to insist they’re the only ones standing with Israel through thick and thin….’Prime Minister Netanyahu’s eagerness to partner with an extreme right, ultra-racist party severely undermines the core democratic values that have historically formed the heart of the US-Israel relationship,’ said Logan Bayroff, the communications director for the liberal group J Street, which became a prominent political force after AIPAC alienated many liberals with its opposition to the Iran deal. ‘An Israeli governing coalition that included [Jewish Power] and promoted any piece of its agenda would drastically alienate millions of Americans and American Jews.’”

Top News and Analysis

Prosecutor Moves to Indict Netanyahu on Corruption Charges, The New York Times

“Israel’s attorney general announced his intention on Thursday to indict Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on charges of bribery, fraud and breach of trust, imperiling Mr. Netanyahu’s political future just 40 days before he is to stand for re-election. The decision by Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit was the culmination of a two-year investigation into Mr. Netanyahu’s dealings with wealthy businessmen, including a Hollywood movie producer, Israeli newspaper publishers and the head of the country’s largest telecommunications conglomerate….The attorney general’s decision immediately prompted calls on the left for Mr. Netanyahu to resign. Mr. Netanyahu insisted the prosecution was politically motivated, a scheme cooked up by his left-wing opponents and the news media.”

Decision to Indict Netanyahu Month Before Election Changes Everything, Haaretz

Anshel Pfeffer writes, “Netanyahu will shrug off all the allegations and pretend everything can continue as normal. He is still prime minister, defense minister and leader of Likud. But he knows that from today, he is a prime minister on notice. Israel has never been in this situation; these are uncharted waters….When Israelis go to vote on April 9, for the first time they will be asked to vote for a prime minister on notice. Should Netanyahu still succeed in winning enough votes to enter coalition negotiations, the other party leaders, his potential partners, will be able to demand the kind of prices a premier under notice must pay.”


Netanyahu vows to refute ‘vile charges,’ urges Likud voters to stick with him, Times of Israel

In a special statement to the media Thursday evening, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu insisted he was innocent of corruption allegations for which he is now set to stand trial, pending a hearing, and vowed to disprove the “vile charges” against him. “The media, the left and legal clerks applied inhuman pressure to the attorney general to announce he will file an indictment before the election, even when he knows there’s nothing there. The attorney general is only flesh and blood, so the pressure from the left succeeded,” Netanyahu said.

Hayamin Hehadash Calls to Annex Part of West Bank, Grant Citizenship to Palestinian Residents, Haaretz

Israeli right-wing party Hayamin Hehadash, the outfit headed by Naftali Bennett and Ayelet Shaked, propose annexing Area C in the West Bank, imposing full Israeli sovereignty there, and granting Israeli residency or citizenship to Palestinians living in those areas. The party estimates there are “80,000 Arabs” residing in the area, which is under full Israeli civilian and security control. Other estimates, however, put the number of Palestinians living in that area considerably higher — the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the West Bank counts 297,000.

Israelis May Have Committed Crimes Against Humanity in Gaza Protests, U.N. Says, The New York Times

“United Nations investigators said on Thursday that Israeli troops may have committed crimes against humanity in shooting unarmed civilians — including children — who posed no threat during the mass protests last year at the border with Gaza. A commission of inquiry, formed by the United Nations Human Rights Council to look into the violence, reported that Israeli security forces had killed 189 Palestinians and injured more than 9,000 others. Its 25-page report, released in Geneva on Thursday, accused the Israeli authorities of showing little willingness to prosecute anyone responsible.”

‘Corruption Threatens Democracy’: Elizabeth Warren Slams Netanyahu After Indictment Decision, Haaretz

Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Elizabeth Warren slammed Benjamin Netanyahu on Thursday, hours after Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit announced the prime minister will be indicted, pending a hearing, in three corruption cases. Warren shared a CNN report on the latest legal developments on Twitter, writing: “First embracing right-wing extremism. Now manipulating a free press, accepting bribes, and trading government favors. The allegations against Prime Minister Netanyahu are serious and cut to the heart of a functioning democracy.”

Barring Kulanu, all right-wing parties affirm backing for PM despite legal woes, Times of Israel

Facing growing legal troubles and the looming prospect of indictment in three graft cases, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu received a wave of support from his right-wing coalition partners, nearly all of whom vowed to back him for premier despite the allegations. All but one of Netanyahu’s current coalition partners — the Kulanu party — publicly backed the prime minister.

Israel will continue to act against Iran in Syria, Netanyahu tells Putin in Moscow, JTA

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel told Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday that Israel will continue to act against Iran’s attempts to entrench militarily in Syria.

Labor presents plan to kick-start ‘separation’ from Palestinians, Times of Israel

Amid fierce speculation over the details of US President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan, Labor released on Wednesday the party’s platform for “separating from the Palestinians,” detailing key steps it says it will take to restart the moribund peace process. “As a party defined by diplomatic initiative and the pursuit of peace, we are committed to working to ensure Israel’s future as a Jewish and democratic state,” reads the opening of the policy proposal titled, “Three paths to separation.” The three-step plan includes an immediate end to building outside settlement blocs, legislation to compensate settlers living outside the bloc to relocate, and a referendum on the future status of Palestinian neighborhoods on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Labor leader Avi Gabbay said on Wednesday that he would demand the measures be adopted by the next government as a condition for Labor’s entry into the coalition.

Opinion and Analysis

Kushner Tries to Win Support for Peace Plan in Arab World – and Inflames Israeli Right, Haaretz

Amir Tibon reports, “Trump is now being used in the propaganda of right-wingers not as an opportunity Netanyahu needs to use, but as a threat to be protected against. It is not only Bennett’s new party campaigning on such a message, but also parties to its right and even some elements within Likud. The centrist and left-wing parties, meanwhile, are mostly ignoring Trump’s peace plan because they – just like the right-wing parties – have no idea what the plan’s actual contents are….Kushner offered the bare minimum in his attempt to convince viewers across the Arab world that the peace plan is serious, and that the administration isn’t working for Netanyahu but for peace in the region. He said nothing about a Palestinian state or a partition of Jerusalem – positions that were included in previous U.S. peace plans.”

An Israeli Journalist Explains the Coming Indictment of Benjamin Netanyahu, New Yorker

Isaac Chotiner interviews Anshel Pfeffer about the charges against Prime Minister Netanyahu. “We do know there are rivals within Likud, people within Likud who would be happy to see him go, but none of them will act on their own accord, because none of them will want to be seen as the guy who wielded a knife on Netanyahu, popular-election winner, the guy who won more elections and spent more time in power than any Likud leader. It is not in the DNA of this movement. This is a movement that sticks by its leader. There will be, behind the scenes, various machinations to try to push him out, but nothing resembling an open coup.”

What Happens Now For Netanyahu After Indictment Announcement?, Forward

Alison Kaplan Sommer reviews all of the charges against Netanyahu in depth.

How A Private Israeli Intelligence Firm Spied on Pro-Palestinian Activists in the US, New Yorker

Adam Entous reports, “The campaign, code-named Project Butterfly, initially targeted BDS activists on college campuses in ‘a single U.S. state,’ which former Psy-Group employees have told me was New York. The company said that its operatives drew up lists of individuals and organizations to target. The operatives then gathered derogatory information on them from social media and the ‘deep’ Web, areas of the Internet that are not indexed by search engines such as Google. In some cases, Psy-Group operatives conducted on-the-ground covert human-intelligence, or HUMINT, operations against their targets. Israeli intelligence officials insist that they do not spy on Americans, a claim that is disputed by their U.S. counterparts. Israeli officials said, however, that this prohibition does not apply to private companies such as Psy-Group, which use discharged Israel Defense Forces soldiers and former members of elite intelligence units, rather than active-duty members, in operations targeting Americans.”