News Roundup for October 17, 2017

October 17, 2017

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J Street in the News

What happens now with the Iran deal, JTA

“J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group, urged Congress to reject any attempt to amend the deal. ‘Congress does not need to be an accomplice in Trump’s plan to unravel the Iran deal’ the group said in a statement. ‘They can stand up against a course of action that could lead to an unconstrained Iranian nuclear program or another war in the Middle East.’”

Did Netanyahu Torpedo the Iran Deal, Forward

“What Netanyahu wants is for Iran to stop doing all the terrible things it does in the region when it supports terrorist organizations and corrupt regimes. That, indeed, would be a welcome outcome. But that’s not what the pact was meant to do, and there’s little reason to believe that Iran will agree to even more constraints and concessions when only an isolated, erratic America is demanding them. ‘It was bad enough that the prime minister intervened in 2015 in such a blunt and partisan manner in an internal American policy debate,’ Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of J Street, told me. ‘His continued efforts to undermine the deal in 2017 are potentially even more damaging. Today, he is going against the opinion not only of the majority of Jewish and other Americans,’ Ben Ami went on. ‘He is clearly going against the consensus of both the U.S. and Israeli security establishments. Today, even more U.S. lawmakers support keeping the agreement than supported its approval in 2015.’”

Top News and Analysis

Iran’s hardliners say Trump has done them ‘great favors,’ CNN

“US President Donald Trump’s recent remarks on Iran have infuriated Iranians across the political spectrum — regime officials say they have forced the heavily politicized society to close ranks. The country’s conservatives are saying ‘I told you so,’ while moderates express disappointment at the hard line taken by Trump. On Friday, after weeks of rhetoric, the US President announced plans to decertify the country’s landmark Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) — better known as the Iran nuclear deal — that had eased the country’s isolation since 2013. Trump also labeled Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) a “corrupt terror force. And — perhaps most controversially of all — he called the body of water separating Iran from its Arab arch-rivals the ‘Arabian Gulf’ instead of the ‘Persian Gulf,’ hitting a nerve in this divided, and diverse city.”

The president leaves Congress to fix the mess he’s made on Iran, Washington Post

“Tillerson didn’t mention the downside risk of passing the buck to Congress. If Congress rejects the plan, the administration will lose credibility on the world stage, the government will look divided and the nation will be isolated. At that point, advocates for staying in the deal, including Tillerson, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis and national security adviser H.R. McMaster, will be out of options to present Trump for fixing the agreement. Perhaps that’s exactly what Trump wants — to be able to withdraw from the deal in three months saying he would have fixed it but for congressional opposition and international intransigence. And if Trump has his mind set on that course, no confusing, far-fetched legislative scheme will be able to stop him.”

Trump’s Iran Strategy Looks Ominously Familiar, Politico

“Listening to President Donald Trump’s Iran speech on Friday—in which he announced his refusal to certify the nuclear deal to Congress—I am sure I was not alone in having flashbacks to 2002. Then, as now, we watched as a U.S. president set the United States on a course for war in the Middle East by politicizing intelligence, making false claims about weapons of mass destruction, overselling the benefits of confrontation and pulling members of Congress—afraid of looking soft on terrorism and WMD—along in his wake. The result then was the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which ended up costing the United States thousands of lives and billions of dollars, destabilizing the Middle East, and vastly enhancing Iranian control over Iraq. The question now is whether Congress will learn the lessons of that experience and prevent the president from repeating these same missteps—or if it will again be complicit in a colossal foreign policy debacle.”

Trump’s policies radicalize Israeli, Palestinian stances, Al-Monitor

“The Israeli source added that the prime minister will make good use of the comprehensive US presidential backing for his policies and outlook. This backing will enable Netanyahu to engage in a policy that will fully galvanize his right-wing base behind him. Netanyahu believes, and wants his right-wing base to believe, that he is the one responsible for the change in President Donald Trump’s views on the Palestinian issue and on Iran’s ambitions in the region, which is why his leadership at this point is of critical importance… The first of these domains would be advancing construction in settlements located in the Jerusalem area. On the issue of Palestinian national unity between Fatah and Hamas, he intends to stop talks on the renewal of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations until Hamas agrees to disarm its military wing. The source explained that Netanyahu plans to meet with Trump to define common policies on the Palestinian issue and the fights against fundamentalist terror and Iran’s nuclear and terrorist ambitions… In any case, it seems that with Trump’s more radical policy positions, both Israeli and the Palestinian policies are moving toward radicalization.


Israel Moves Ahead on West Bank Settlements, but Guardedly, New York Times

Israel is moving ahead with plans for a significant expansion of its settlements in the occupied West Bank, including apartments in the volatile city of Hebron and the first approval of a new settlement in 20 years. But while the latest plans call for the eventual construction of thousands of new homes on the West Bank, when Israeli officials meet this week to review them, only several hundred housing units appear likely to be granted final approval. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is once again maneuvering on familiar ground, trying to balance the demands of his pro-settlement coalition partners with the opposition from the international community.

Pence to Attend Israeli Event Marking UN Acceptance of 1947 Partition Plan, Haaretz

U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will attend an event marking 70 years to the UN’s vote to accept the 1947 partition plan next month. The event, organized by the Israeli mission to the UN, will take place at the site where the UN headquarters were located at the time of the historic vote, in the New York borough of Queens.

U.S. Exit From UNESCO Took Israel by Surprise, Was Uncoordinated, Haaretz

Israel was surprised by the U.S. decision on Thursday to quit UNESCO. Four senior Israeli and American officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said there was no coordination with Israel in the days before the decision was announced and that the Trump administration did not tell Israel beforehand.

Scolding UNESCO, GOP lawmakers introduce resolution on Jewish ties to Jerusalem, Times of Israel

Just one day after the Trump administration withdrew the United States from UNESCO over what it called its “anti-Israel bias,” two GOP lawmakers introduced a resolution that condemns the UN cultural organization and affirms Jewish ties to Jerusalem. The UN body has, in recent years, passed a series of its own resolutions denying a Jewish link to the holy city.

New Leader of Israeli Left: We Don’t Need to Evacuate Settlements if There’s a Peace Deal, Haaretz

Israel does not necessarily need to evacuate any West Bank settlements in a future peace deal with the Palestinians, Labor party leader Avi Gabbay said Monday. The left-wing party leader made the statement in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2, after having been asked whether the Eli or Ofra settlements would have to be evacuated.

Hillel International Threatened to Cut Ties With Israeli Government Over Database of U.S. Jewish Students, Haaretz

Hillel International, the largest Jewish student organization in the world, threatened to end its partnership with the Israeli government if it didn’t immediately drop its plan to create a database of all Jewish students in the United States. This ultimatum forced the Diaspora Affairs Ministry to suspend the project late Sunday night, just hours after the database was first revealed by Haaretz.

Opinions and Analysis

Netanyahu’s strategy of chaos, Al-Monitor

Ben Caspit writes, “The coming months will be especially dramatic. The Jewish holiday period that paralyzed Israel’s entire political system throughout the month of September is over. The Knesset’s winter session will begin, and Netanyahu will be summoned in the coming weeks to be questioned under caution another three or four times; this is in addition to the five times he was already investigated. The focus is on his relations with various tycoons and philanthropists, benefits of gigantic proportions that he received over the years, and the negotiations he held with Yedioth Ahronoth’s publisher, involving bribery –– ostensibly. Netanyahu knows that this is the last stretch of the most important political battle he has ever waged. Based on his behavior in recent weeks, it seems that he intends on fighting to the bitter end. He has no compunctions about leaving scorched earth behind for his successors.

Reconciliation in Gaza Provides Israel With an Opportunity, Haaretz

Moshe Arens argues, “Israel is aiding Egypt in its fight against terrorism in Sinai. If the agreement strengthens Egypt in its battle against terror, it is also in Israel’s interests. But the primary Israeli interest is the dismantling of Hamas’ military capability in Gaza. The stockpile of thousands of rockets in the hands of Hamas and Islamic Jihad constitute a constant danger to Israel’s civilian population in the south. And as the range of these rockets increases, more of Israel comes into range. Elimination of this capability should have been one of the objectives of Operation Protective Edge. The Fatah-Hamas agreement may turn out to be a first step in that direction. It may very well coincide with Egypt’s interests as well. A renewed outbreak of hostilities between Hamas and Israel is not in Egypt’s best interests. If the agreement reached so far holds, that will be next on the agenda. Is Egypt’s leverage on Hamas sufficient to bring this about? That remains to be seen.”

How The New Israel Litmus Test Turns Jews Into Christian Zionists, The Forward

Shaul Magid writes, “Over the past few months, a controversy has rocked the Jewish community. After David Myers was appointed president and CEO of the Center for Jewish History, in Manhattan, a small group of individuals published a scathing letter accusing Myers of supporting a boycott of Israel and undermining the Israel Defense Forces. On the grounds that Myers is “anti-Israel,” the group claimed he is unfit to lead an American Jewish institution. Far from “anti-Israel,” Myers, a professor of Jewish history at UCLA and a critically acclaimed scholar of modern Judaism, is a member of the academic advisory board of J Street and is on the board of the New Israel Fund. He proudly considers himself part of the Zionist left. But as ridiculous as this smear campaign was, it is not a unique or isolated affair. Rather, it exposed a new and deeply problematic trend in the American Jewish community, a trend of making support for Israel — and a very particular kind of support at that — a new litmus test for who gets to belong to the Jewish community. Say the wrong thing or belong to the wrong group, and you can have your funding pulled or your credentials revoked or your play canceled. We Jews know all too well how pernicious litmus tests of belief can be. But this litmus test is not only policing –- and censoring — Jewish thought. It is unwittingly pushing our community as a whole away from the historic models of American Jewish identity, and right into the hands of Evangelical Christian Zionism.”

How We’re Distancing American Jews, Haaretz

Zohar Segev writes, “The highly-respected Pew Research Center finds that the harsh opposition to any criticism has caused a decline in Israel’s standing among U.S. Jews, to the point of rejection and the adoption of alternative symbols of Jewish identity. Netanyahu’s open support for U.S. President Donald Trump, even though most U.S. Jews are disgusted by him, only strengthens these trends. The attack on Myers is particularly infuriating because his criticism of Israeli policy comes from love. He, as opposed to many of his critics, speaks, reads and writes Hebrew, is involved in what’s going on here and for many years has supported Israeli academia.

A perusal of the U.S. Jewish press and websites shows that the Zionist Organization of America is one of Myers’ most outspoken enemies. It’s shocking that an organization whose past leaders were unafraid to criticize the Zionist movement now supports the most benighted trends in the American Jewish community. A thread connects the infuriating attempt to impose a code of ethics on Israel’s universities and the effort to oust Myers. Israeli academics and proponents of freedom of expression in this country must forcefully condemn the attempt to oust him from his position.”