News Roundup for March 14, 2019

March 15, 2019

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J Street in the News

Progressive Democrats hope the Omar clash will reset debate in Congress over Israel, Los Angeles Times

“As clumsy and offensive as Rep. Ilhan Omar’s remarks were when she questioned the patriotism of pro-Israel members of Congress, some Democratic lawmakers and left-leaning Mideast peace advocates say the episode could nevertheless open the door to a more robust debate about U.S. foreign policy and rekindle interest in the plight of Palestinians, particularly among younger Democrats. ‘I think there will be more and more willingness on the part of members of Congress and policymakers to speak up and be critical of the policies of the U.S. and the government of Israel.… There’s been more reluctance in the past,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, an advocacy group that supports Israel but opposes many of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies….’They want to change the reality on the ground,’ he said. ‘Ultimately they are worried about the impact of cutting off funds for schools. They are worried about the impact of violence and drinking water in Gaza. I think the space to have the discussions around that are opening up here.’”

Republicans don’t want to curb anti-Semitism; they want to weaponize it, ThinkProgress

“‘The Republican strategy is to somehow weaponize the charge of anti-Semitism in order to drive a wedge in the Democratic Party,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the progressive group J Street, which advocates for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. ‘It’s the cynical and political manipulation on the right to turn this into a political football.’….‘There’s a constant effort by Republican operatives to peel off Democratic voters,’ said Ben-Ami. ‘It just doesn’t work. American Jews are a base-Democratic constituency.’….’The intended audience for many Republicans is their base for whom their issue is actually not about the best interests of Israel,’ said Ben-Ami, of J Street. ‘It is a values issue. Israel has become objectified.’”

J Street launches Birthright-style trip to Israel that will include Palestinians, Times of Israel

“After months of chastising Birthright Israel for what it calls one-sided trips, J Street U is launching its first-ever free trip to Israel and the West Bank. Come July, 40 American college students will participate on a 10-day trip courtesy of the progressive group. Billed as an alternative to Birthright, the trip, which will be funded by J Street donors, is part of its ‘Let Our People Know’ campaign. Group leaders hope the trip will give American Jewish youth a more complete and nuanced picture of life in Israel….Those joining the summer trip will visit major tourism and heritage sites in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, the Galilee and other parts of Israel. They will also meet with Israeli social justice activists, West Bank Palestinian communities and settler leaders. The planned itinerary will allow American Jewish students to see first-hand the challenges Israelis and Palestinians face and the way the occupation erodes human rights, Borgwardt said. These were challenges Birthright has ignored for too long, she said.”

‘I’m an ethnic. I’m a Westerner’: Rep. Rob Bishop says Green New Deal is ‘tantamount to genocide’, Washington Post

“‘For many people who live in the West, but also in rural and urban areas, the ideas behind the Green New Deal are tantamount to genocide,’ Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) said at a news conference held with other GOP House members in Washington….J Street, a liberal Jewish lobbying group, responded, ‘This is just disgusting. To compare environmental protections to the targeted decimation of a population is disturbing and dangerous.’”

5 Jewish things to know about Beto O’Rourke, JTA

“O’Rourke was part of a delegation of Democratic lawmakers organized by the liberal Middle East policy group J Street. They met with Palestinians and Israelis, and visited Jerusalem’s Old City and Yad Vashem. O’Rourke talked about the trip at Congregation B’nai Zion, a Conservative synagogue in El Paso, saying it gave him hope for peace. He addressed the challenges faced by Israelis living under rocket fire.”

Top News and Analysis

Israel Strikes 100 Targets in Gaza Overnight in Response to Rockets Fired at Tel Aviv, Haaretz

“The Israeli army attacked some 100 targets in Gaza Thursday overnight in response to two rockets being fired at Tel Aviv from the Strip the evening before, a first since the 2014 war. According to a preliminary army assessment, the rockets were fired at Tel Aviv by mistake during maintenance work. The army said the Iron Dome missile defense system was activated as a result of the launches. It is assumed that the rockets landed in open areas due to the fact that no damage or injuries were reported. In an unusual move, the organizing committee for the March of Return in Gaza announced Friday morning that it has called off the weekly protest along the Israel-Gaza border in light of the flare-up. The committee said in a statement that the march was canceled in an effort to prevent further escalation and Palestinian casualties.”

Shock Rocket Attack on Tel Aviv Pits Netanyahu Against Gaza at Risky Political Time, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev observes, “The unexpected flare-up serves Netanyahu’s interests in the sense that the public’s attention is redirected away from his criminal indictments and the public’s increasing focus in recent days on the failings of Israel’s health and transportation infrastructures – and toward the security situation, which is ostensibly the prime minister’s forte. Netanyahu, who exploits any and all opportunity to don his defense minister guise, will now have ample opportunities to wear his Uniqlo jacket and to authoritatively issue orders to army commanders with cameras recording nearby. But the brazen defiance shown by an as yet unidentified Gaza group also highlights one of Netanyahu’s main vulnerabilities, especially on his right wing flank: The perception that he has been “soft” on Hamas, preferring to reach a modus vivendi with the terrorists that rule Gaza rather than delivering the decisive knock-out that Netanyahu’s critics maintain is possible. Nonetheless, the last thing Netanyahu wants or needs just before elections is a conflagration he cannot control, which could exact Israeli casualties and drag out to Election Day.”

New Zealand mosque shootings kill 49 in what PM calls ‘terrorist attack’, Reuters

“At least one gunman killed 49 people and wounded more than 40 during Friday prayers at two New Zealand mosques in the country’s worst ever mass shooting, which Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern condemned as terrorism. A gunman broadcast livestream footage on Facebook of the attack on one mosque in the city of Christchurch, mirroring the carnage played out in video games, after publishing a ‘manifesto’ in which he denounced immigrants, calling them ‘invaders’.”


Israel Says Iran Hacked Ex-general Gantz’s Phone Ahead of Election, Haaretz

The cellphone of Benny Gantz, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s biggest rival and the chair of the political alliance Kahol Lavan, was hacked by Iranian intelligence, Israel’s Channel 12 reported Thursday evening.

At Supreme Court hearing, judge says Otzma Yehudit head’s racism ‘crystal clear’, Times of Israel

The Supreme Court on Thursday held a heated discussion on the candidacy of far-right Otzma Yehudit members Michael Ben Ari and Itamar Ben Gvir, with representatives from the State Prosecutor’s Office urging the former’s disqualification from running in the upcoming elections. In the Thursday hearing, Aner Helman of the state prosecution argued that the former National Union MK has been inciting to racism for years and that in his recorded speeches throughout his career, he does not make a distinction between the general Arab public and enemies of the state. He said that for Ben Ari, Arabs “have no faces, they are all traitors, a fifth column, and a murderous nation.”

President Rivlin Says Attacks by the Israeli Right-wing Won’t Intimidate Him, Haaretz

President Reuven Rivlin said Thursday that he will not be deterred by “attacks like these and others,” responding to recent and mount criticism from the Israeli right-wing.  The Israeli president made his remark in the wake of reports that he may not give the task of forming a government to the candidate who enjoys the support of most party leaders, as is customary.

Hamas security forces disperse rare protests against the group in Gaza, Times of Israel

Hamas-run security forces broke up protests against the terror group in the Gaza Strip Thursday, eyewitnesses said, cracking down on a rare public show of dissent in the coastal enclave. Dozens of security officials, many in plain clothes, dispersed a demonstration in northern Gaza, the eyewitnesses said. Dozens of people had been protesting there.

Reaching out to Jewish voters, Hadash-Ta’al launches campaign in Tel Aviv, Times of Israel

Hadash-Ta’al, an alliance made up by a socialist Arab-Jewish party and an exclusively Arab one, held its Hebrew-language campaign launch at a Tel Aviv bar Wednesday evening, making an effort to reach out to Jewish voters ahead of the national elections on April 9. Some 125 people, young and old, most of whom appeared to be Hadash supporters, turned out to the watering hole adjacent to the city’s bustling Rothschild Boulevard and largely filled its outdoor patio section.

Opinion and Analysis

Israeli model stands up to Netanyahu on equality, Al-Monitor

Akiva Eldar writes, “The principle of equality also applies on election day, which is why the interviewer’s failure to ask Regev the obvious question ‘What’s the problem with the Arabs?’ was so pertinent. A pervasive insensitivity makes us forget the most basic questions and ignore many injustices. We must also not forget the glaring absence of women in senior positions, especially since Tzipi Livni was deposed from the Zionist Camp, that has left high-level discourse and decision-making an all-male domain.”