News Roundup for March 20, 2019

March 20, 2019

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J Street in the News

2020 Democrats vow to re-enter Iran nuclear deal, Al-Monitor

Re-entry into the nuclear deal with Iran is fast becoming a litmus test for Democrats hoping to challenge President Donald Trump in 2020. […] “Democratic primary voters expect candidates to favor diplomacy over war,” said Dylan Williams, senior vice president of government affairs with the liberal group J Street. “Reversing Trump’s violation of the Iran deal should be an easy lift for them.”

Prominent pro-Israel donor pulls out of AIPAC conference after saying two Muslim lawmakers ‘clash’ with American values, Jewish Telegraphic Agency

Adam Milstein, a major pro-Israel funder, has withdrawn from speaking at the annual AIPAC policy conference following a series of tweets in which he accused two Muslim lawmakers of clashing with “American values.” The American Israel Public Affairs Committee distanced itself from Milstein. […] Milstein’s tweets, highlighted among others by staffers for J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, come after one of his targets, Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., was accused of invoking dual loyalty slanders in discussing the pro-Israel movement’s influence.

Five Things to Know This Week: Trump’s ‘Jexodus’ and an AIPAC Showdown, Moment

Nathan Guttman writes, “J Street wants to turn Bibi’s friendship with Trump to a liability. In a video ad put out Monday, the group shows the two leaders, stating that Netanyahu and Trump are ‘closer than you think’ and that they ‘stoke fear and division and undermine the very pillars of democracy.’ J Street’s video weaves together Trump and Netanyahu’s strikingly similar attacks on the judicial system and the media. J Street’s point? Americans who took to the streets against Trump for making these comments should now ‘speak out when Netanyahu does the same.’”


Top News and Analysis

The political ‘twins’: Benjamin Netanyahu and Donald Trump, Washington Post

Loveday Morris and Ruth Eglash write, “He is accused of pandering to far-right elements previously considered beyond the pale even for many members of his own party, while sowing division to win votes. He has started his own Internet broadcasts to circumvent traditional media outlets he brands ‘fake news,’ while remaining preoccupied over their coverage of him. Deeply concerned about leaks and disloyalty, he has tapped a team centered on family members to run his campaign. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was using Trump-style messaging and Trump-style tactics long before there was a President Trump. But as the longtime Israeli leader seeks a fifth term in elections next month, the similarities between the two polarizing figures — both under investigation for possible wrongdoing in what each has labeled a ‘witch hunt’ — are being thrown into ever starker relief. ‘They are twins. It’s unbelievable,’ said Ben Caspit, author of ‘The Netanyahu Years’ ‘You see it in their style, you see their behavior, even their language.’”

Are Israeli Politics Dooming Kushner’s Peace Push?, POLITICO

In David Makovsky’s analysis, “The Gantz-Netanyahu showdown is already affecting U.S. calculations before the plan is rolled out. At a recent U.S.-led Middle East conference in Warsaw, Trump’s son-in-law and White House adviser, Jared Kushner, announced the U.S. will not release the plan until after the Israeli elections […] However, Kushner’s mere mention in an interview with Sky Arabia that the plan will deal with “borders” was enough to shake Israeli politics. Netanyahu’s leading opponent to his right, Education Minister Naftali Bennett, saw the reference as presaging a Palestinian state and launched a broadside charging that the premier would cave to Trump after the elections. One can guess Kushner will shelve future interviews between now and April.”

Ariel terrorist killed in firefight with IDF troops — Shin Bet, Times of Israel

A Palestinian teen who killed an IDF soldier and Israeli civilian in a terror attack on Sunday was shot dead in a firefight with Israeli forces near Ramallah, following a two-day manhunt, Israeli officials said Tuesday. Israeli troops surrounded a building in Abwein on Tuesday night where Omar Abu Laila, 18, was hiding out, according to the Shin Bet security service and police. As they circled the structure “the perpetrator opened fire at our forces and was killed in the exchange of fire,” an official statement from Israeli authorities said.

Can This Man Oust Netanyahu?, New York Times

Bari Weiss speaks with Yair Lapid in Tel Aviv, “Voters are turning to his party because they are looking for basic morality, he said. While the sitting prime minister faces three charges of corruption, the men of Blue and White (the top eight of the 10 politicians on the list are men) are motivated by ‘old-fashioned, duty calls politics.’ While Mr. Netanyahu’s message is one of division, Blue and White speaks about unity. And while Bibi has forged an alliance with the explicitly anti-Arab party Otzma Yehudit, Mr. Lapid said that a ‘racist’ party ‘cannot be a part of a government in this country.’”

Jewish Lawmaker Shoots Dead Arab Colleague in Campaign Video; Complaint Filed, Haaretz

Oren Hazan, notorious for his inflammatory rhetoric, is seen shooting and killing Balad chairman Jamal Zahalka in a campaign video intended as satirical. The clip features a scene from the Western “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly,” with Hazan and Zahalka’s heads replacing those of two of the movie’s characters, in which Hazan shoots and kills Zahalka. MK Zahalka, the chairman of the Arab-majority Balad party, filed a complaint with the police on Tuesday against MK Oren Hazan (Likud) for incitement to murder.


Gantz: I won’t quit prime minister race over Iranian phone hack, Times of Israel

Three weeks before the April 9 election, Blue and White leader Benny Gantz on Tuesday gave his first sit-down interviews with Israel’s major television networks, dismissing concerns over his hacked phone and saying he won’t quit over the affair, which he insisted was overblown and politically motivated. The former army chief of staff also threw down the gauntlet for a public pre-election debate with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, telling Channel 12 news he is willing to hold “any debate” with his rival “at any place.”

Gaza rights groups denounce Hamas crackdown on protests, Al Jazeera

Nearly a dozen Palestinian factions in the Gaza Strip have declared their support for the youth movement and their support for what the group calls “just demands” – which include establishing a labour office that protects workers’ rights from exploitation; ending control of goods and prices by some parties and monitoring the work of the private sector; and suspending all taxes burdening citizens. The factions also denounced the Hamas attack on protesters and called on the movement to respond to the demands of easing taxes.

Gantz Rules Out ‘Political Discourse’ With Arab Parties Over ‘anti-Israel’ Rhetoric, Haaretz

Kahol Lavan co-chairman Benny Gantz ruled out forming a coalition with Arab-majority parties after Israel’s April 9 election in an interview with public broadcaster Kan on Tuesday evening. […] Gantz told Kan he “can’t have any political discourse” with Arab parties and that Israeli Arab politicians “speak against the State of Israel.” Arab political leaders “have made a big mistake,” he argued.

These Israeli Expats Are Flying Home Especially to Vote Bibi Out (They Hope), Haaretz

Ever since she’s been of voting age, Noa Shusterman hasn’t missed an Israeli election. So even though the 30-year-old has been living in New York for the past two and a half years, she knew this time wouldn’t be any different. “As someone who’s very involved politically and constantly follows what is going on in Israel, this was very important to me,” the Kfar Sava native tells Haaretz, “and I think it’s my civic democratic duty to go and vote.”

Israel elections: ‘Fascism’ perfume ad sparks online debate, BBC

The mock ad appears to make light of criticism against some of her ultra-nationalist politics.
As justice minister, Ms Shaked has been critical of Israel’s top court as being too liberal and interventionist. She has presided over the appointment of three conservative judges to the court, and would curb the judiciary further if returned as justice minister. Some of her critics say the advert, which has been viewed hundreds of thousands of times, may come across as an endorsement of fascism – especially to people outside of Israel who may not understand it is a mock ad.

Restraining Israeli court a matter of ‘life and death,’ New Right candidate says, Times of Israel

Curtailing the power of Israel’s court system is a matter of “life and death,” New Right party Knesset candidate Caroline Glick said Monday evening at an election panel in Jerusalem, arguing that the fact that the court allows people to petition against house demolitions can harm Israeli deterrence. Asked how to better deal with Palestinian terror attacks, in the wake of Sunday’s fatal stabbing and shooting at Ariel junction in which an Israeli rabbi with 12 children and a soldier were killed, Glick cited the need to reform the Supreme Court, one of her right-wing list’s key campaign issues.

Arabs are humans too: A Jerusalem Doctor’s reaction goes viral, Jerusalem Post

When Dr. Nadav Granat read the Instagram post of Israeli model Rotem Sela in which she reminded the country that “Arabs are also human beings,” he decided he wanted to take action, too. So, as a religious-Jewish doctor that works alongside Arabs everyday, he launched his own online campaign to show the inclusive face of Israel […] Granat wrote in his own post that, “For a long time, I have been frustrated by the racism, the hatred and the delegitimization that is spreading to the entire public… in the country in general – and to the Arab public in particular. It was not these values on which I was raised in my parents’ home or in the institutions where I studied.”

Opinion and Analysis

These elections are a choice between resignation and despair, +972

Michael Schaeffer Omer-Man opines, “The short distance between resignation and despair is the difference between knowing that things aren’t going to get any better and the fear that they could very easily get worse and there’s nothing to do about it. In many ways, that feels like the theme of the upcoming Israeli elections — at least for the small minority of Israelis whose political identity and priorities are wrapped up in the fights to end the occupation and seek an equitable society. […] Without any vision of their own, Netanyahu’s main challengers have adopted a platform that is basically just a more palatable version of the status quo. Continued occupation. No lifting of the siege in Gaza. More collective punishment and oppressive policies. No push for resolving the conflict.”

Why Do Central European Nationalists Love Israel So Much?, New York Times

Ivan Krastev comments that “Anti-Semitism’s rise in Europe is being accompanied by a growing fascination among Europe’s hard right with Israel and, in particular, its prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu. This captivation is particularly acute among the governing national populist parties in Central Europe, a region where anti-Semitism has historically found fertile ground.”

Hamas Crushes Protests at Cost to Its Popularity, Haaretz

Amira Hass writes, “For now it seems that the intimidation has done its job. The Hamas regime in Gaza succeeded in putting down the protests. But the immediate and cruel repression has managed to shock even those people who tend to take Hamas’ side in the conflict between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, or who see the Ramallah leadership as primarily responsible – after Israel, of course – for the Gaza residents’ enormous distress. Hamas proved last week the extent to which it fears popular criticism, which at first wasn’t necessarily ideological or political.”

Natural Born Settlers, New York Times (Documentary)

Iris Zaki writes, “To someone like me, the Israeli settlements in the Palestinian territories had always seemed like a burden, and an obstacle to peace. They annoyed me when I read the news and embarrassed me when I introduced myself as an Israeli. I had so many opinions about them. But, I realized, I’d never actually met a settler in person. So I decided to move from my home in cosmopolitan Tel Aviv to the settlement of Tekoa in the West Bank for a summer. I wanted to make a film about my experiences as I got to know the settlers I’d formed so many conclusions about. These settlements are widely considered illegal under international law, and tend to be depicted in extreme ways that don’t seem realistic.”