News Roundup for March 17, 2017

March 17, 2017

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J Street in the News

Trump Budget Embodies Dangerous Bias Against Diplomacy, Hurts Americans and Israelis, J Street

“President Trump’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2018 preserves military aid to Israel at $3.1 billion – but contains many irresponsible and dangerous cuts to diplomacy and foreign development aid. The budget blueprint embodies an isolationist worldview and dependence on military might to solve problems at the expense of multilateral diplomacy. We urge Members of Congress of all parties to reject these draconian reductions in vital assistance. Over the years, many pro-Israel organizations – including J Street – have argued that Israel cannot be treated as a special case, exempted from cuts to foreign aid while programs affecting the rest of the world are slashed wholesale. We call on pro-Israel advocates across the political spectrum to once again fight for robust foreign assistance beyond US aid to Israel….Ultimately, weakening US foreign aid, which is already far below the contributions of other advanced economies in percentage GDP terms, undermines Israeli security as well.”

In latest Jewish establishment salvo defending two states, AJC urges Congress to back letter to Trump, JTA

“The American Jewish Committee is rallying support for a congressional letter to President Donald Trump urging him to reaffirm support for a two-state solution, the latest signal that the American Jewish establishment is committed to preserving the policy….Notably, AIPAC has no position on the Connolly-Price letter, while J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, is actively lobbying for it.”

Jewish Orgs Praise Courts For Blocking Trump’s Muslim Ban, Forward

“Several Jewish groups praised decisions by two federal courts to block President Donald Trump’s executive order restricting immigration from six Muslim-majority countries and blocking refugees….HIAS was among a number of groups that gathered  in front of the White House on Thursday to condemn the executive order. Other Jewish organizations that participated in the event were Bend the Arc Jewish Action, J Street, the National Council of Jewish Women and T’ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights.”

Jewish Millennials Converge in D.C. to Talk Politics, Peace and Anti-Semitism, KCTS9

Gabriela Capestany writes, “I had the opportunity to  travel to Washington D.C. for the annual J Street conference, hosted through the University of Washington (UW)….After settling back home in Seattle and reflecting on the conference, I learned that the Jewish-American community faces a myriad of challenges, both politically and culturally. In the face of  those challenges, however, they come together — with groups like J Street — to face the future with optimism and hope.”

Top News and Analysis

Israeli Air Force Strikes Targets in Syria; Assad Forces Threaten ‘Direct’ Retaliation, Haaretz

Syria and Israel engaged in the most serious incident between the two countries since the outbreak of the Syrian civil war six years ago overnight on Thursday, as Israeli Air Force Planes struck several targets in Syria. In response, the Assad regime deployed air defense systems and fired a number of missiles toward Israeli jets. The Israeli army said that none of the missiles struck the jets, though in Syria, the military claimed Friday that one Israeli jet had been shot down and another damaged.

Israel and U.S. Make Progress in Talks on Curbs to Settlement Construction, but No Agreement Yet, Haaretz

“After a three hour meeting Thursday and phone conversations lasting a total of eight hours, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and special U.S. envoy Jason Greenblatt have yet to reach an understanding on restrictions to construction in West Bank settlements. According to a joint statement released at the conclusion of their meeting Thursday, Netanyahu and Greenblatt made progress on the issue and contacts will continue next week. ‘They also made progress on the issue of Israeli settlement construction, following up on President Trump and Prime Minister Netanyahu’s agreement in Washington last month to work out an approach that reflects both leaders’ views,’ said the statement. ‘Those discussions are continuing between the White House and the Prime Minister’s Office.’”

Israel to give its highest honor to settler leader, AP

“Israel is awarding its highest honor to the founder of a Jewish settler group that the Obama administration had condemned for stoking Israeli-Palestinian tensions. Israel’s pro-settler education minister, Naftali Bennett, announced Thursday that Elad Foundation founder David “David’le” Beeri is being awarded the Israel Prize for lifetime achievement. Elad has come under criticism for settling Jewish nationalists in the heart of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem. The foundation says the areas are central to Jewish heritage. In 2014, then-White House spokesman Josh Earnest condemned the purchase of 25 apartment units in an Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem, a settler takeover that Elad helped oversee. Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat lauded Beeri as ‘a man of vision as he is a man of action.’”


Outlining budget, Trump puts aid to Israel first while slashing elsewhere, Times of Israel

US President Donald Trump released his first budget blueprint Thursday, leaving aid to Israel unscathed even as he called for massive cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency, the Labor Department and the State Department. The budget proposal “provides $3.1 billion to meet the security assistance commitment to Israel, currently at an all-time high [sic]; ensuring that Israel has the ability to defend itself from threats and maintain its Qualitative Military Edge,” according to a copy of the document, titled “America First.”

Mending rift, Netanyahu and Kahlon cut deal on public broadcaster, Times of Israel

Smoothing over a political tussle, Prime Minister Netanyahu on Thursday dropped his demand to delay the opening of Israel’s new public broadcaster, as Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon agreed to support a bill that would increase government oversight of the new media outlet. Netanyahu had set off a coalition fight with Kahlon the previous evening, at an event that was designed to strengthen coalition camaraderie, with a call for a six-month delay to the public broadcaster, which was set to go live in April.

In Precedent-setting Ruling, Israel’s Top Court Recognizes East Jerusalem Arabs as ‘Native-born Residents’, Haaretz

In a precedent-setting ruling, High Court justices have ordered the Interior Ministry to restore the residency rights of a Palestinian man born in East Jerusalem who was denied permission to live in the city after being away for many years. The ruling challenges a ministry policy of denying residency to many Palestinians born in the city once they’re away for more than seven years. A three-justice panel ruled that residents of East Jerusalem “have a strong affinity” to the city which must be taken into consideration with respect to residency rights.

Nazi-Allied Group Claims Top Trump Aide Sebastian Gorka As Sworn Member, Forward

Sebastian Gorka, President Trump’s top counter-terrorism adviser, is a formal member of a Hungarian far-right group that is listed by the U.S. State Department as having been “under the direction of the Nazi Government of Germany” during World War II, leaders of the organization have told the Forward.

Israel Drastically Reduced Number of Exit Permits for Gazans, Haaretz

Israel has significantly reduced the number of exit permits for Gaza Strip residents over the past few months. According to Gisha, a nonprofit organization in contact with Palestinian authorities, the number of Gaza residents entering Israel dropped by 40 percent last month compared to the 2016 monthly average, and the number of businesspeople who entered Israel from the enclave fell by 60 percent compared to February 2016. In February, only 7,301 people passed through the Erez crossing, which connects the Strip to Israel and the West Bank – the lowest number since the end of the Gaza war in the summer of 2014.

Abbas says US envoy didn’t make any offers, just listened, Times of Israel

President Abbas denied reports that US President Donald Trump’s special envoy for international negotiations, Jason Greenblatt, presented any offers to renew negotiations with Israel during a meeting on Tuesday in Ramallah, according to an interview published Thursday.

In ‘historic’ move, Trump envoy hosts interfaith meeting, Times of Israel

Jason Greenblatt, the US administration’s Special Envoy for International Negotiations, on Thursday met with senior Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders in Jerusalem, reportedly calling the meeting “the most important” of his visit. Greenblatt hosted the Council of Religious Institutions in the Holy Land at the US Consulate-General in Jerusalem just before he met for a second time this week with Prime Minister Netanyahu.

In Plea Bargain, Israeli Arab Lawmaker to Admit to Terror-related Offense for Two Years in Prison, Haaretz

Israeli Arab lawmaker Basel Ghattas has agreed to a plea bargain under which he will serve two years in prison for admitting to smuggling cellphones to Arab security prisoners in December. According to the deal, Ghattas will be indicted on Sunday and he will resign from the Knesset. The lawmaker plans to convene a news conference on Friday to explain his decision. Ghattas will be convicted of bringing devices that could lead to acts of terrorism, offenses which carry a maximum 10 year sentence.

Opinion and Analysis

Can Trump’s Consigliere Jason Greenblatt Cut A Deal In The Middle East?, Forward

JJ Goldberg writes, “And while Greenblatt’s background, environment and reading choices all trend rightward, he appears to be approaching his current assignment not as a chance for self-expression but in his professional role as Donald Trump’s lawyer. That became clear when he and Netanyahu tried and failed during their first meeting to find a common language on the question of continued Israeli settlement construction, which Trump wants to rein in. The Israeli right, after years of clashing with ex-president Obama, was expecting to find an ally in the Orthodox, right-leaning Greenblatt. Rightists were disappointed to find that the visiting envoy was speaking on behalf of the president of the United States, not the Israeli settler movement….With all the best intentions, a presidential envoy is only as credible as the president he represents. Trump may have summed up his own addle-headedness with his February 27 comment on the Republican healthcare bill: ‘Nobody knew that healthcare could be so complicated.’”

Defense Minister’s Attack on Controversial Settler Rabbi Is a Gamble for the Army, Haaretz

Amos Harel writes, “Unexpectedly, a war over the army’s policies has erupted within the ranks of what is often termed the most right-wing government in Israel’s history. Yet the dispute had long since left the confines of the army and had even crossed ideological lines.”

What could a left-center coalition achieve?, New Jersey Jewish News

Martin Raffel observes, “[H]ere is a left-center coalition to-do list: Unequivocally endorse a two-state solution and encourage the parties to preserve its viability; help the Palestinians build a state infrastructure and robust economy; support people-to-people programs.”

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