News Roundup for March 8, 2017

March 8, 2017

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J Street in the News

Israeli ambassador hopeful spurns J Street, Politico

“Left-leaning Jewish advocacy group J Street is demanding a meeting with President Donald Trump’s nominee to be ambassador to Israel, saying that David Friedman had privately told senators that he agreed to meet with a group that he fiercely criticized last year and is now ignoring J Street’s entreaties. In a letter to Friedman, J Street President Jeremy Ben-Ami said that Friedman must meet with him before he is confirmed to prove that he willing to engage with advocacy groups that disagree with his brand of conservative politics….’We understand that during this process you have committed to senators that you are willing to meet with with pro-Israel organizations whose views you do not share, and with J Street specifically,’ Ben Ami wrote this week in a letter obtained by POLITICO. ‘We would also like to clarify whether you commit to meeting with delegations of lawmakers and pro-Israel advocates organized by groups you have criticized or with whom you may disagree, including J Street. Accordingly, I am requesting a meeting with you to take place before the final vote on your confirmation.’ The letter continued: ‘Senators and other pro-Israel Americans should know before the final vote on your confirmation whether you stated willingness to meet with those you disagree is merely a ‘hearing room conversation,’ or whether you intend to make good on your representations to lawmakers.’”

Top News and Analysis

New Wave Of Threats Hits JCC’s, Schools, ADL Offices, Forward

Another round of threats against Jewish community institutions across the United States forced the facilities to be evacuated on Tuesday, the groups said. Threats were phoned in or emailed to JCCs in New York, Wisconsin and Florida overnight and early on Tuesday. In the latest threats, the Louis S. Wolk Jewish Community Center near Rochester, in upstate New York, received an emailed bomb threat, Brighton Police Chief Mark Henderson told reporters. The Harry and Rose Samson Family Jewish Community Center in Milwaukee and the David Posnack Jewish Community Center in Davie, Florida, were also targets. The Anti-Defamation League, a Jewish civil rights organization, also said it received bomb threats at multiple locations.

Defense Minister Lieberman Tells Pence: I Expect to See U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem Soon, Haaretz

Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman met on Tuesday with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence at the White House as part of a two-day working visit to Washington. According to an official statement, Lieberman told Pence during the meeting that he “expects to see the U.S. Embassy [in Israel] at its new location in Jerusalem soon” and thanked Pence and the Trump administration for supporting Israel.

Senators Van Hollen, Duckworth troubled by Friedman’s nomination, Jewish Journal

“Two Senators added their concern on Tuesday regarding David Friedman’s nomination for U.S. Ambassador to Israel. Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) told Jewish Insider, ‘At this moment, I do not intend to support his nomination.’ The Maryland lawmaker added, ‘His record clearly indicates that he is not in the bipartisan tradition of seeking out the two state solution. He is much more an advocate for some kind of one state solution. I think his views are so far out of the bipartisan mainstream.’….Senator Tammy Duckworth (D-IL) shared a similar viewpoint with Jewish Insider. ‘I’m deeply concerned about his nomination. His past comments have been pretty incendiary, and I don’t think he would help with any type of movement towards reconciliation and a two state solution,’ she noted.”

Oppose Friedman as ambassador to Israel: All senators should vote against this divisive figure utterly unfit for the job, NY Daily News

Stephen Levin and Brad Lander write, “As New Yorkers, Jewish Americans and members of the New York City Council, we care deeply about Israel, its strong relationship with the United States, and its future as a secure, democratic homeland for the Jewish people. It’s because of this deep love and concern for Israel that we strongly object to President Trump’s nomination of David Friedman to serve as the next U.S. ambassador there, and that we urge all senators to vote against his confirmation….As the home to more Jews than any other state in our country, New York has always had a special affinity and commitment to the Jewish state. New Yorkers have a long and proud history of standing up for Israel in Congress, in the United Nations and around the world. We take this commitment and responsibility very seriously. That is why we urge all senators to vote against an ambassador nominee who seems not to understand the fundamental tenets of the U.S.-Israel relationship and our shared democratic values, and whose appointment would likely move Israelis and Palestinians further away from the peace that they need and deserve.”

The New Anti-boycott Law Is anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish, Haaretz

Chemi Shalev writes, “The new restriction is anti-Zionist and anti-Jewish in its very essence. It compels the many Jews and non-Jews who support the State of Israel but vehemently oppose the settlement project to choose between the two. Feeling insulted and rejected, some, if not most, will abandon Israel altogether. For the first time in the history of Zionism, Israel is stipulating that Jews who are combatting its policies abroad are persona non grata in the Jewish State. The law creates an absurdity whereby a Jew who has voiced support for a boycott of settlements will be barred from entering as a tourist but will nonetheless be eligible for automatic citizenship if he or she make aliyah. Perhaps this lacuna will also be plugged in the future, and Jewish Agency emissaries will be asked to conduct a thorough political investigation of Jews wishing to immigrate. The settlement project is a matter of harsh political disagreement. Many on the left, in Israel and abroad, view settlements as an existential danger to the future of Israel. A public call for voluntary boycott against such a perceived threat is a basic democratic right in any normal civil society. Together with a previous Knesset law from 2011, which made Israeli citizens who espouse a boycott of settlements liable for damages, the new law takes Israel one more step down the slippery slope, if not an actual free-fall, of curtailing freedom of speech and instituting thought police instead. The next logical step can only be to outlaw criticism of settlements, and not just calls for boycott.”


Senate unanimously signs letter urging action on threats to Jewish institutions, JTA

The Senate unanimously joined in urging the Trump administration to take action to stem the wave of threats against Jewish community centers and other institutions, saying their viability had been made vulnerable by the harassment. “We are concerned that the number of incidents is accelerating and failure to address and deter these threats will place innocent people at risk and threaten the financial viability of JCCs, many of which are institutions in their communities,” said the letter sent Tuesday.

U.S. ‘Working Closely’ With Israel on How to Curb Settlements, Haaretz

The State Department’s acting spokesperson Mark Toner said on Tuesday, during his first press briefing under the Trump administration, that the department was “working closely” with the White House to devise a new Middle East policy. He added that the administration was discussing with Israel “what exactly it would look like” for it to hold back on its settlement activity.

Netanyahu Corruption Probe Might Rope In Sheldon Adelson, Forward

American casino magnate Sheldon Adelson may be questioned by Israeli police in the ongoing corruption investigation of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Army Radio reported today. According to the report, Adelson, who owns the pro-Netanyahu free daily newspaper Israel Hayom, would be questioned in what Israeli police call “Case 2,000.” That is a probe over whether Netanyahu offered to weaken the influence of Israel Hayom in exchange for more favorable coverage from its competitor, Yedioth Ahronoth.

White House Condemns ‘anti-Semitic’ Threats to Jewish Centers as ‘Hate Crimes’, Haaretz

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said on Tuesday that threats against Jewish community centers across the United States were “incredibly saddening” and that the Trump administration would continue to denounce them and work towards ending them. Spicer called the incidents “anti-Semitic hate crimes” and said the White House denounces them “in the strongest terms.”

Israel Army Appeals ‘Excessively Lenient’ Sentence for Soldier Convicted of Extrajudicial Killing of Palestinian Terrorist, Haaretz

Military prosecutors filed an appeal on Tuesday of the 18-month jail sentence that Israeli soldier Elor Azaria received on his manslaughter conviction for killing a supine Palestinian assailant, Abdel Fattah al-Sharif, in Hebron a year ago. Prosecutors contend that the sentence imposed on Azaria, who shot and killed Sharif after the Palestinian had been wounded and was lying on the ground after carrying out an attack, was too lenient, and claim that the three to five year prison term that they had sought in the trial court would be appropriate under the circumstances.

In Surprise Announcement, Israel’s Supreme Court Justice Says Will Step Down, Haaretz

Supreme Court Justice Yoram Danziger issued a surprise announcement on Tuesday that he will be stepping down in February of next year, for personal reasons. The new vacancy provides Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked with another opportunity to seek the appointment of a more conservative justice to replace the liberal-leaning Danziger following the appointment about two weeks ago of four new justices by the judicial selection committee.

Opinion and Analysis

Trump thinks he’ll get a great deal from the Gulf Arab states. Good luck with that., Washington Post

Aaron David Miller and Richard Sokolsky write, “Another area where optimism has outpaced reality concerns Arab states’ support for Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking. This is  clearly worth testing, particularly in light of the positive trend in relations between Israel and the Gulf states driven by a common fear of Iran and Sunni militants. To be sure, nothing else in the peace process has worked. But the notion of broadening the circle of peacemaking (to make concessions on all sides less painful and a deal more secure) is old wine in new bottles. It can be productive if Israel and the Palestinians are prepared for tough decisions on some of the core issues, such as borders and Jerusalem. But there’s no indication that’s the case. Indeed, it’s hard to believe that the Arab states would abandon their own 2002 Arab Peace Initiative and trade away recognition of Israel and pressure on the Palestinians for nothing substantial in return. The Saudis are indeed sending positive signals, but nothing comes free….The United States needs to keep its expectations low for working closely with the Sunni Gulf states. There are areas of possible cooperation — maritime and ballistic-missile defense and protection of critical infrastructure in the Gulf against Iranian and terrorist attacks — but the vision of a new U.S.-Sunni alignment that seems to be animating the United States’ broader Middle East strategy is flawed. It could enmesh us further into conflicts, such as the one in Yemen, that do not affect vital interests.”

Trump a new test for German-Israeli ‘special relationship’, Reuters

Noah Barkin reports, “Political relations between Germany and Israel have sunk to their lowest point in several years, German officials say….And there is concern in Berlin that ties could become even more strained with Donald Trump as U.S. president. He has expressed ambivalence about the creation of a Palestinian state – a central aim of German policy in the Middle East – and offered only the mildest of criticism of Israeli settlements. Israeli officials also quietly acknowledge that relations are at a low point although they say the links between the two countries are still strong. The extent of the strains between Germany and Israel was underscored last month when Merkel canceled a summit with Netanyahu that was due to take place in Jerusalem in May. The official explanation was that Berlin was too busy with its G20 presidency. But German officials said privately that the main reason was anger over Netanyahu’s plans, unveiled in the weeks after Trump took office, to accelerate settlement building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and to legalize thousands of homes built on privately-held Palestinian land.”

I Support Boycotting Settlements — Should I Be Banned From Israel With My Children?, Forward

Peter Beinart writes, “[W]hile I oppose boycotting Israel as a whole, I support boycotting Israeli settlements, which I believe threaten Israel’s moral character and its long-term survival….Now, it seems, the Knesset wants me to choose. Either stop visiting Israel or stop opposing the occupation. In a variety of ways, that’s the deal Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has been offering American Jews for close to a decade now. Embrace Israel at the cost of your principles or embrace your principles at the cost of Israel. I know how most universalistic, secular American Jewish millennials will answer that question. So do the activists who lead the boycott, divestment and sanction movement. That’s part of the reason they’re so optimistic.”

Israel’s Ugly New Travel Ban Tells the World: Stay Away if You Don’t Agree With Us, Haaretz

Alison Kaplan Sommer writes, “The authorities at Israel’s borders and airports already have complete discretion to keep anyone out, and numerous prospective visitors have been blacklisted and turned away because they are believed to be hostile to Israel. They don’t need this law, which spells out support of boycotting of any Israeli institution or any area under its control as grounds to block their entrance as visitor. But, actually, it changes everything. The statement it makes and the message it sends – that those who so deeply object to the occupation that they choose not to buy settlement products – are no longer welcome to visit, see and experience their country is a drastic shift in Israel’s relationship with the outside world….Now, for the first time, Israel is rejecting Diaspora Jews who are engaged, who have a relationship with Israel, who care about her fate so deeply they are trying to do something about it in the form of actively choosing not to support the settlements.”

Israeli Envoy to Jordan Worried About Kingdom’s Increasing Instability, Haaretz

Barak Ravid reports, “Israel’s ambassador to Jordan, Einat Schlein, gave a pessimistic assessment of Jordan’s situation in a briefing a few months ago to Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Gadi Eisenkot. Schlein and Eisenkot discussed the crisis of refugees from Syria, many of whom have come to Jordan….The official added that a few weeks later, Eisenkot said in a closed meeting that he was disturbed by what he heard from the ambassador. The chief of staff also said in that meeting that if need be, Israel must assist its friend to the east. The Foreign Ministry and the IDF spokesman’s office declined to respond for this report.”

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