News Roundup for March 25, 2019

March 25, 2019

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J Street in the News

Israel Lobby Convenes in Washington Amid Fraying Bipartisanship and Rising Tension, The New York Times

“[T]here is evidence that Aipac’s influence is waning, and its rightward tilt has strained its claims of bipartisanship. A number of Democrats in Congress have fled to J Street, a liberal Jewish political action committee that also bills itself as pro-Israel. ‘The conference and the political dynamics around it are the political fruits that are reaped by the partisanship that Netanyahu has sown,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, adding that Mr. Netanyahu’s ‘bromance with the president’ has turned Israel into a partisan issue in the United States, which is ‘not in the best interest of the state of Israel and not in the best interest of the Jewish community.’”

In Trump’s Golan Heights announcement, politics overshadowed security, Washington Post

“Trump’s words, said J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami, had little to do with Middle East strategy and were intended to help Netanyahu in a tough election fight two weeks from now. ‘It adds to the narrative that somehow the relationship he forged with President Trump is bringing an unending bounty of goodies,’ Ben-Ami said, and will probably affect a future discussion of annexing at least part of the West Bank. ‘They’re not tied together. But the principle that when Israel declares annexation in contravention of international law and . . . long-standing American policy, the U.S. may recognize it, is a precedent many of [Israel’s] right-wing settlers are hoping can be replicated on the West Bank.’ Assuming Netanyahu is reelected, he said, ‘you can count on it happening.’”

Trump, Israeli leader have mutually beneficial relationship, AP

“Nearly all of the declared 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Beto O’Rourke and Kamala Harris, have said they won’t attend the AIPAC conference this year, though other prominent party officials will be there. Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, a liberal pro-Israel organization, said the Trump-Netanyahu alliance has tested the committee’s traditional commitment to bipartisanship. J Street has encouraged Democrats who attend the upcoming AIPAC conference to use the stage to denounce Netanyahu’s hardline policies. ‘When your role as an organization is to support those in power, you end up getting dragged along,’ he said.”

AIPAC Opens While Tensions Roil Over U.S. Policy Toward Israel, Bloomberg

“J Street, a pro-Israel group that advocates for a two-state solution to end the long-standing conflict between Israel and the Palestinians, accused Netanyahu and Trump of making political decisions that are eroding the longstanding bipartisan consensus on Israel. ‘This is just another in a series of decisions being made on this issue that is clearly intended to curry favor with the harder-right elements of the pro-Israel community — whether it’s evangelical Christians or the right wing of the Jewish community,’ J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said in an interview after Trump’s Golan Heights move. ‘These are decisions not being made in the best interest of the United States. It puts Democrats in the position of opposing what the president is doing and it turns all these issues into political footballs,’ Ben-Ami said….J Street ’s Ben-Ami countered that the most potent form of anti-Semitism was in the ‘nationalism and ethno-nationalism that the president and his supporters are giving cover to.’ ‘There is a distinction between being anti-Semitic and being critical of the government of Israel,’ he said. ‘Blurring that distinction for political purposes is a real disgrace.’”

Israelis vs. Jews: An Issue in Netanyahu’s Campaign — And For the AIPAC Conference, New Yorker

“The iceberg, which AIPAC delegates may finally find it impossible to steer clear of, is that, for a decade, Netanyahu has been foisting on American Jews a version of Jewish solidarity, and of statehood, rooted in Likud dogma, that is far from the version that Israel’s founders conceived, or that many secular Israelis want to live in….Given their habitual liberalism, most American Jews, even aipac delegates, ought to find Gantz’s ‘Israeli’ version of Israel easier to grasp. That Israel is certainly the one promoted at the conferences of J Street, the smaller, progressive Jewish lobby, founded in 2007, which supported Obama Administration initiatives that Netanyahu opposed, such as the Iran nuclear deal, and has been addressed by politicians, including Senator Bernie Sanders, who have called for greater American even-handedness regarding the occupied territories.”

US pro-Israel lobby sees partisan cracks, Yahoo News

“‘AIPAC is in a difficult position because it is supposed to be the voice of the pro-Israel community, but in reality the Jewish community as a whole is opposed to the government of Israel as well as the government of the United States,’ said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of the liberal Jewish advocacy group J Street….Ben-Ami, the head of J Street, said the focus on Omar was misplaced. The gunman who shot dead 11 people last year at a Pittsburgh synagogue had been enraged by Jewish support for refugees. ‘The true threatening form of anti-Semitism is coming not from the left but the right. It’s not just here, it’s all around the world, and it’s from the autocrats and ethnonationalists that not only Trump but Netanyahu are embracing,’ he said.”

Eager to Court Jews (and Fracture Democrats), Republicans Push Bills on Anti-Semitism, The New York Times

“The Anti-Semitism Awareness Act, which is working its way through committee, is likely to pass the Senate this year, and could force Speaker Nancy Pelosi into the uncomfortable position of brokering another deal between progressives and Jewish Democrats at a time when she wants the chamber to focus on presenting unified opposition to President Trump. The measure, co-sponsored by Senator Tim Scott, Republican of South Carolina, and Senator Bob Casey, Democrat of Pennsylvania, passed the Senate in 2016 with bipartisan support. But it quickly stalled in the House, which was then controlled by Republicans, and attracted the opposition of many civil liberties groups that believe it threatens free speech on campuses…. ‘This legislation appears designed less to combat anti-Semitism than to have a chilling effect and to crack down on campus critics of Israel,’ Jeremy Ben-Ami, the president of J Street, a liberal advocacy group that has been sharply critical of Israel’s government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, said in a text message. ‘It’s misguided to legislatively declare a broad range of nonviolent campus criticism of Israel as anti-Semitism, especially at a time when the prime driver of anti-Semitism is the xenophobic, white nationalist far-right,’ he said. ‘This bill is part of a cynical effort by some of its right-wing proponents to turn the issue of anti-Semitism into a partisan political weapon.’”

Several Democratic Presidential Contenders to Skip AIPAC Conference, Bloomberg

“Jeremy Ben-Ami, the executive director of J Street, a pro-Israel group that has been critical of Netanyahu’s policies, said there has been ‘a massive shift’ on Israel in the Democratic Party. ‘It is a direct result of the games that the prime minister of Israel has played on this issue,’ Ben-Ami said in an interview. ‘He alone bears responsibility, over the course of the last decade, for tearing apart the bipartisan consensus on Israel that used to exist, and turning this into another football in the culture wars of the United States.’ ‘It’s not good for the United States or for Israel,’ he said.”

Omar controversies shadow Dems at AIPAC, The Hill

“Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, stopped short of calling for boycotting the AIPAC conference but urged Democrats who attend to speak out against Netanyahu’s right-wing policies. ‘To be true to your constituency and to be true to your values, you need to speak out at AIPAC about what is going wrong in the U.S.-Israel relationship,’ Ben-Ami said. ‘The responsibility for the partisanship and division that now exists on Israel in American politics rests squarely at the feet of the prime minister.’”

Top News and Analysis

Seven Wounded After Gaza Rocket Hits House in Central Israel, Haaretz

“Seven people were wounded Monday in the early morning after a house in central Israel was hit by a rocket fired from the Gaza Strip, prompting Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to cut short his visit to Washington and return to Israel.  The Israel Defense Forces said that the rocket, which struck a home in the community of Mishmeret, was fired from a Hamas position in the area of Rafah in the southern Strip, some 120 kilometers from where it struck. It said the rocket was manufactured by the group. The military has sent two brigades to southern Israel and is preparing to call up thousands of reservists, including some from the Air Defense Command, the Intelligence Corps, and the Home Front Command.”

Netanyahu Cuts Short U.S. Trip After Gaza Rocket Strikes Near Tel Aviv, The New York Times

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel cut short his visit to the United States on Monday, hours after a rocket launched from Gaza struck a house in central Israel, injuring seven people. ‘In light of the security events I decided to cut short my visit to the U.S.,’ Mr. Netanyahu said, adding that he would fly back immediately after meeting President Trump ‘in the coming hours.’ While in Washington this week, Mr. Netanyahu had been expected to address a policy conference organized by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as Aipac, on Tuesday. His appearance at the conference has now been canceled.”

Trump’s Pointless Provocation on the Golan, The New York Times

The editorial board writes, “Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, is facing a tough re-election fight, and he has pleaded with Mr. Trump to make the move. The tweet bolsters his claim that he can best keep Israel safe because of his close ties to the White House. Support for Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights would also give Israel’s right-wing parties an opening to argue for Israel’s annexation of the West Bank. Such a move would crush any remaining hope of Palestinian statehood and put Israel’s future as a Jewish democracy at risk….Mr. Trump, facing his own re-election in 2020, no doubt hopes his decision will build support among his base of pro-Israel evangelicals and American Jews. It’s more likely to exacerbate growing divisions among Americans over his administration’s unwavering support for Mr. Netanyahu and its damaging effect on American interests.”

Israel Election: Polls Show Gantz Maintaining Edge Over Netanyahu, Haaretz

“New polls released Sunday evening show the right-wing bloc gaining ground, despite the center-left’s attempts to revive the submarine affair scandal against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The polls, from Channel 12 and Channel 13, both show Likud holding 28 seats, and Benny Gantz’s Kahol Lavan remaining steady at 31 and 32 seats, respectively. For the first time, the Channel 12 poll shows Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party did not garner enough votes to enter Knesset. And for the first time since January, in the same poll, Orli Levi-Abekasis’s Gesher party cleared the electoral threshold, gaining the minimum four seats. In the other poll, Gesher does not pass the electoral threshold.”


Israel’s Netanyahu Denies Profiting From Submarine Sale, Bloomberg

“Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu denied profiting from a state contract to buy submarines from a German conglomerate, calling claims from a political rival ‘blood libel’ in a rare broadcast interview on Channel 12. In question were shares Netanyahu held in a company that later became affiliated with the conglomerate, a holding he sold at great return on investment. Netanyahu insisted he reported holding the shares, then selling them, and paid the appropriate tax on the gain.”

Haaretz Poll: 42% of Israelis Back West Bank Annexation, Including Two-state Supporters, Haaretz

To gauge public opinion, Haaretz conducted a poll ahead of Election Day and the anticipated release of U.S. President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan.  The survey found that even proponents of the two-state solution who vote for Zionist center-left parties such as Labor, Meretz and Benny Gantz’s newly established Kahol Lavan don’t rule out at least partial annexation of the West Bank to Israel. In total, 42 percent of respondents support some form of annexation.

Contradicting PM, Mandelblit says he wasn’t given intel on Egypt sub sale, Times of Israel

Attorney General Avichai Mandelblit on Sunday said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu offered to divulge confidential information about the sale of German submarines to Egypt, but that such information — initially sought during a criminal investigation — was deemed irrelevant to the probe and no such intelligence was ultimately shared.

Hamas Prisoners Stab Two Israeli Prison Guards Amid Heightened Tensions, Haaretz

Two Israel Prison Service guards were stabbed by Hamas prisoners at the Ktzi’ot Prison in southern Israel, a prison service spokesman said. According to a source in the prison service, the incident occurred while prisoners were being transferred from two Hamas wards. The prisoners then apparently succeeded in using makeshift knives to stab two guards who are now receiving medical care. One guard, in critical condition, has been airlifted via helicopter to Soroka Medical Center. The other guard was moderately injured.

Far-right Leader Says Won’t Join Next Israeli Government Unless It Agrees to Legalize Marijuana, Haaretz

The surprise package of the Israeli election campaign, Moshe Feiglin, told a packed crowd in Tel Aviv Saturday that his Zehut party will not join any government that doesn’t agree to legalize marijuana.

In Washington, Gantz says Netanyahu cares only about his own woes, Times of Israel

Blue and White party leader Benny Gantz on Sunday attacked Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accusing him of focusing only on his personal issues and his legal woes, and neglecting matters of national importance. At the same time, Gantz, who was speaking to Israeli reporters in Washington, continued to refuse to address reports that Iran hacked his phone, insisting that it contained no material that could potentially pose a security risk.

Opinion and Analysis

Republicans push to lock in Trump’s shift on Golan Heights, Al-Monitor

“President Donald Trump announced today that ‘it is time’ for the United States to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the occupied Golan Heights. Now Republican lawmakers are scrambling to lock in the directive as permanent US policy….They called on Congress to pass legislation that would formally ‘recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights.’ Identical bills in the Senate and House introduced by Cruz and Gallagher would also include the Golan Heights as part of Israel in any spending and trade bills while greenlighting joint scientific, industrial and agricultural projects in the occupied territory.”

The Golan Heights First, Haaretz

The editorial board writes, “In the near term, the U.S. green light to annexing the Golan will deepen the Israeli delusion that U.S. approval is sufficient to revise the world map and contribute to erasing the 1967 lines as the relevant reference points for solving the Israeli-Arab conflict. The U.S. recognition will inevitably increase pressure from the right to annex Area C of the West Bank (which is under full Israeli control), intensifying the occupation and the bloody conflict with the Palestinians.”

The Danger of Antisemitism in America, Evolve

Rabbi David Teutsch writes, “Many in the American Jewish community are worried about a rise in antisemitism and have recently focused their concern on the words of Minnesota Rep. Ilhan Omar. That focus is misplaced. The real and actual threat comes from white extremists….The way we will stabilize left-wing commitments is to continue to support feminism and fight racism, Islamophobia and antisemitism wherever they occur. American Jews as a community are deeply committed to civil rights. We affirm those values for the United States and for Israel. That stance puts us in a position to encourage people like Ilhan Omar to master the distinction between Jews and Israeli governmental policy. We all want safety, peace and justice, here and in the Middle East.”

Two States, One and Other Solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict, Haaretz

Two decades after Oslo, Haaretz maps the different approaches to resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.