News Roundup for March 11, 2019

March 11, 2019

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J Street in the News

Two Takes on Rep. Omar, Democrats and Israel, CQ/Roll Call

In the CQ on Congress podcast, “Janeen Rashmawi of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee and Logan Bayroff of the pro-Israel group J Street worry that Congress is losing sight of the bigger issues surrounding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict amidst the debate over Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments on Israel. Both offer support for the March 7 House resolution condemning anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry.”

Report: Trump Says He Would Have 98 Percent Support as Israeli Prime Minister Candidate, Haaretz

“J Street released a video criticizing Congress Republicans for cynically using anti-Semitism to hinder a vote on the ongoing civil war in Yemen. The video explained how Republicans in the House of Representatives added language about anti-Semitism to a resolution on that civil war, and then Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell used that as a technical excuse not to hold a vote on the resolution in the Senate.”

Top News and Analysis

Benjamin Netanyahu says Israel is ‘not a state of all its citizens’, Guardian

“Benjamin Netanyahu has said Israel is ‘not a state of all its citizens’, in a reference to the country’s Arab population. In comments on Instagram, the prime minister went on to say all citizens, including Arabs, had equal rights, but he referred to a deeply controversial law passed last year declaring Israel the nation state of the Jewish people. ‘Israel is not a state of all its citizens,’ he wrote in response to criticism from an Israeli actor, Rotem Sela. ‘According to the basic nationality law we passed, Israel is the nation state of the Jewish people – and only it.’”

Haaretz Election Poll: Support for Gantz Drops Dramatically, Right-wing Bloc in the Lead, Haaretz

Yossi Verter observes, “The commotion caused by Attorney General Avichai Mendelblit’s grave draft indictment of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu came and went. The buzz over the center-left union of Benny Gantz’s Hosen L’Yisrael and Yair Lapid’s Yesh Atid has subsided. Now that the dust has settled, the results are showing: The Lapid-Gantz roster is losing momentum, along with numerous Knesset seats, while the Likud maintains its standing.

Even more significant is the fact that the right-wing, ultra-Orthodox bloc is overtaking its rivals big time, and in this instance its makeup is rather different and surprising. Ex-Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman’s Yisrael Beiteinu party, a former cornerstone of the bloc, is struggling to pass the electoral threshold. Meanwhile, Moshe Feiglin and his far-right Zehut party safely crossed the minimum for the first time.”

Why Does Congress Care More About Jewish Feelings Than Palestinian Rights?, Forward

Peter Beinart writes, “Why, one might ask, are these subjects mutually exclusive? Why can’t Congress criticize Omar’s words while also criticizing the denial of human rights to millions of Palestinians living under Israeli control? In theory, of course it can. The problem is that, in practice, ‘pro-Israel’ groups and their political allies again and again seize on the language critics use to discuss Israel to evade and delegitimize the substance of their criticisms….There’s nothing wrong with being offended by Omar’s words. There’s nothing wrong with asking politicians to avoid phrases that have an anti-Semitic lineage. But there is something wrong with a body that cares more — far more — about a few problematic phrases than about America’s underwriting of decades of oppression of millions of human beings.”

Netanyahu-Trump Partnership Is Stronger Than Ever. Are These Its Final Days?, The New York Times

David Halbfinger asks, “In the United States, Mr. Netanyahu’s new alliance with a racist Israeli fringe party is already freeing Democrats to denounce him with fewer concerns about Republican blowback. And in a matter of months, the criminal case against Mr. Netanyahu could dislodge him from power once and for all. For now, however, the administration’s favors keep on coming: Secretary of State Mike Pompeo just announced a stop in Israel on a Middle East swing beginning March 18. The political backup is almost certain to reach its peak a few days later, when Mr. Netanyahu is expected to get an Oval Office meeting, if not a formal White House dinner, during the yearly gathering of Aipac, the powerful pro-Israel lobby.”


Temple Mount Tensions Continue as Israeli Police Officers Refuse to Remove Shoes at Disputed Prayer Site, Haaretz

A video spreading through Arab social media outlets shows Israeli police officers refusing to remove their shoes upon entering the disputed Bab al-Rahma building in Jerusalem’s Temple Mount on Saturday, trampling prayer rugs at the site.

Abbas announces appointment of longtime adviser Shtayyeh as PM, Times of Israel

Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas appointed longtime ally Mohammad Shtayyeh as prime minister on Sunday, a senior official said, in a move seen as part of efforts to further isolate Hamas. Abbas asked Shtayyeh, a member of the central committee of the Palestinian president’s Fatah party, to form a new government, Fatah vice president Mahmoud al-Aloul told AFP.

Hamas Official Tells Haaretz Group Wants Calm, but Expects Israel to Ease Gaza Restrictions in Return, Haaretz

The next two weeks will be crucial in determining whether a violent escalation is looming in the Gaza Strip, a senior Hamas official has told Haaretz. The group’s main goal is a significant easing of the blockade placed on Gaza, and Hamas will not alter its policy if an agreement is not reached on the issue, the official said. A delegation of Egyptian security officials visited Gaza this weekend, with the Hamas leadership telling them that the group wishes to avoid an escalation but is unwilling to accept Israeli dictates regarding conditions for preserving calm.

Gal Gadot backs TV host feuding with Netanyahu over Arabs, Times of Israel

Israeli actress Gal Gadot on Sunday leaped in to shield popular local reality TV host Rotem Sela, who had drawn criticism from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu for attacking his election campaign’s attitude to Israel’s Arab minority. “This isn’t a matter of left or right, Jew or Arab, secular of religious, it’s about dialogue for peace and equality, and our tolerance for one another,” Gadot wrote on her Instagram page, which is followed by some 28.2 million people.

Arabs Aren’t ‘Second-class Voters,’ President Rivlin Rebukes Netanyahu, Haaretz

President Reuven Rivlin said Monday morning that Israeli Arabs were not “second-class voters” and that “there are no first-class citizens” in the country.  Rivlin made the remarks in a rebuttal to a comment by Prime Minister Benjamin who said that “Israel is the nation-state of the Jewish people and them alone.”

Opinion and Analysis

How Should We Talk About the Israel Lobby’s Power?, NY Magazine

Andrew Sullivan argues, “It seems to me that it is simply a fact that the Israel lobby uses money, passion, and persuasion to warp this country’s foreign policy in favor of another country — out of all proportion to what Israel can do for the U.S. That comes perilously close to anti-Semitic tropes, but it’s also the truth. AIPAC, like the NRA, is a uniquely American phenomenon, and again like the NRA, full of an intense fanaticism that sometimes beggars belief. In many ways, this passionate intensity is understandable. History matters. But it’s not a rational way for a great power to conduct foreign policy. The one-way street has also corrupted Israel, wrecked its moral standing, and enabled the country to keep ratcheting toward the far right in self-destructive ways.”

Keep the calm and carry on: Long-term truce in Gaza put on ice until elections, Times of Israel

Avi Issacharoff reports, “Even after Friday’s rocket launch from the Gaza Strip and the retaliatory Israeli strike, it still appears there will be no major conflagration between Israel and Hamas until Knesset elections on April 9. This of course depends on there being no surprises, unexpected developments or miscalculations between the sides. But both Israel and Hamas have an interest in maintaining the prevailing climate, with the former seeking stable governance in Gaza and the latter an improvement in economic conditions that will allow it to rule the Palestinian territory unimpeded. While at the moment the economy in Gaza is in a difficult spot and continues to deteriorate, making governing more difficult for Hamas, the terror group’s leaders in the coastal enclave know that with exactly a month until elections, Israel has no intention of making major concessions to Gaza — though it may make some superficial gestures.”

Is Israel headed for national unity government?, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit writes, “[S]talemates have in the past been resolved by forming national unity governments. It happened twice in the 1980s and once on the eve of the 1967 war, which placed Israel under existential threat. The situation in 2019, however, is very different. The Labor Party, led by Avi Gabbay, and Gantz and Lapid’s Blue and White alliance have hemmed themselves in by declaring publicly that they will not join a future Netanyahu government now that Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit has decided to pursue his indictment on corruption charges (pending a hearing). Their declarations complicate matters to an unprecedented degree. A national unity government alternately led by Netanyahu and Gantz is the only way out of the stalemate, but this is a non-starter seeing as it would trash Gantz’s credibility and put an end to his fledgling political career.”

Pot legalization meets Jewish nationalism: Moshe Feiglin’s Zehut is no joke, Times of Israel

“With the Green Leaf party not running in the national election for the first time in 20 years, legalization advocates have turned en masse to the nationalist, quasi-libertarian Zehut party, led by former Likud MK and right-wing ideologue Moshe Feiglin, who has made legalizing marijuana a plank of his radical and iconoclastic manifesto….A political outsider who has struggled to gain mainstream acceptance for decades, Feiglin could end up being a kingmaker after the election if he does succeed in riding the wave of support all the way to Israel’s parliament.”