News Roundup for October 23, 2017

October 23, 2017

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J Street in the News

Helping Israel or Causing It Harm? In Wake of Texas anti-BDS Incident, U.S. Jewish Groups Divided Over Boycott Laws, Haaretz

“In the wake of the incident that took place in Texas last week, in which local residents were asked to sign a form stating that they don’t participate in boycotts of Israel in order to receive aid relief after Hurricane Harvey, Jewish groups in the U.S. expressed different opinions on the necessity – and the usefulness – of new laws against boycotts of Israel and the settlements….The left-wing Jewish group J Street, which has long opposed some of these state laws, warned that the recent controversies are a direct result of this legislation wave. ‘These incidents are embarrassing and harmful to Israel, and they emphasize how foolish the strategy behind these laws actually is,’ said Rachel Lerner, the group’s vice president for community relations. ‘BDS exists, and we’re fighting against it on college campuses, but the reality is that some of these laws are a solution in search of a problem,’ Lerner added….Lerner said that “the most troubling piece of this strategy is that it puts support for Israel on the opposite side of free speech, which is terrible. You should never want to put Israel in such a situation, where people associate it with attempts to limit free speech. The best way to fight against BDS is to do outreach to progressives, and advancing laws like this certainly doesn’t help that kind of outreach – it does the exact opposite.”

Top News and Analysis

U.S. Sees Possible Opportunity in Palestinian Reconciliation Led by Egypt, White House Official Says, Haaretz

Despite Israeli opposition and a decision last week by Israel’s inner security cabinet, the administration of President Trump is continuing to back Egyptian efforts at reconciliation between Fatah, the West Bank-based party that controls the Palestinian Authority, and Hamas, which controls the Gaza Strip. The Trump administration is determined to make every effort to return the Palestinian Authority to the Gaza Strip. Senior White House officials said the United States believes that Egyptian mediation between the Palestinian factions has created a possibly positive opportunity, adding that, despite the fact that the administration’s position is that Hamas must disarm, there is no expectation that this will happen by tomorrow.

CNN poll: Two-thirds want to stay in Iran nuclear deal, CNN

“Two in three Americans say President Donald Trump should not pull the United States out of the nuclear deal aiming to block Iran from developing nuclear weapons, according to a new CNN poll conducted by SSRS. Trump announced his intent to decertify the agreement last week. But eight in 10 Democrats and two in three independents oppose withdrawing from the agreement. Even in the President’s own party, Republicans are evenly split, with 48% wanting to remain and 47% to withdraw. Concern about Iran has slipped among Americans since the deal was put in place. Only three in 10 adults say the threat is “very serious,” down from nearly half, 49%, in September 2015. That marks the smallest share of those concerned in CNN polling dating back to 2000. Still, nearly seven in 10 adults overall, 69%, say Iran poses a serious threat to the US.”


Highlighting Rift Between Israel and U.S. Jews, Netanyahu Won’t Address Annual Jewish Federation Confab, Haaretz

In a sign of the growing rift between the Israeli government and Diaspora Jewry, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will not be appearing this year at the annual conference of the Jewish Federations of North America. Only once since being reelected prime minister in 2009 did Netanyahu not address this influential forum. Unforeseen developments forced him to cancel his participation in the 2011 conference at the last minute, after he had notified the organizers that he would attend.

Report: Trump peace proposal will seek regional deal, won’t set timetable, Times of Israel

President Trump’s administration will shortly unveil a formal proposal for Middle East peace that aims to enable a “comprehensive regional arrangement,” but that will not be imposed on the sides, and that will not feature a rigid timetable, Israel’s Channel 2 news reported on Sunday evening. The proposal has been drawn up on the basis that Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas is a credible leader who genuinely seeks a permanent accord, the report said, quoting unnamed sources in the Trump administration. The TV report said the US proposal would be aimed at bringing Arab states to the peace table with Israel, and that its components would be open to negotiation by all sides.

Knesset reconvenes with an ambitious and controversial agenda, Times of Israel

“The Knesset on Monday opened its winter session with an ambitious and often controversial agenda, ranging from a bid to clip the High Court of Justice’s wings to anchoring the state’s Jewish character in the country’s constitutional Basic Laws. The packed legislative line-up set out by ministers and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during the parliament’s three-month break also included support for expanding Jerusalem’s municipal borders to absorb surrounding settlements; rewriting laws on ultra-Orthodox conscription and illegal migration to bypass judgments by the twin High Court and Supreme Courts; and passing the 2019 budget.”

Israeli Defense Minister Asks Mattis To Build ‘Moderate’ Middle East Alliance, Forward

Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman, meeting with his counterpart, U.S. Defense Secretary James Mattis, said it was in the best interest of both countries to forge alliances with “moderates” in the Middle East. “We are facing a lot of challenges in the Middle East, and the real division today, it’s not between Jews and Muslims or Christians, it’s not between Shiite or Sunni, between different religions but between moderate and radical people,” Liberman said Thursday at a photo-op with Mattis on the Pentagon steps. “And we’re also happy to see and we completely support your efforts to establish a coalition of moderate people.”

UNESCO-affiliated scholars slam agency’s anti-Israel bias, plead for rethink, Times of Israel

A group of scholars affiliated with UNESCO criticized the agency for recent one-sided resolutions on Jerusalem, calling for a new approach to sensitive holy sites that takes into consideration everyone’s religious sensitivities. “The UNESCO decisions on the holy sites in Jerusalem have failed to draw on expert scholarship and knowledge,” the scholars said in a joint statement, issued Thursday at the close of a conference in Israel’s capital.

Leader of American-Israeli group regrets tweeting anti-Semitic image of Soros, JTA

The chairman of the board of the Israeli American Council tweeted and then deleted an anti-Semitic image of George Soros as a multi-tentacled monster astride the globe. “Yesterday, the origins of an old antisemitic carton that has some similarity to the image I used, was brought to my attention and I removed the Soros tweet,” Adam Milstein said in an email Saturday to JTA. “I’ll try to be more careful in the future.”

Activists demand settlers leave Palestinian home in Hebron following court order, Ma’an

A Palestinian committee in the city of Hebron in the southern occupied West Bank has reportedly received an order by the Israeli Supreme Court to evacuate a group of Israeli settlers illegally occupying a Palestinian home in the area.  The home, which belongs to the Abu Rajab family, has been embroiled in a legal battle with Israeli settlers who claim that they purchased the rights to the home, though the Palestinian homeowners and the Israeli state have maintained that the settlers forged the documents.

Court rejects bid to save outpost homes jutting onto Palestinian land, Times of Israel

The High Court of Justice rejected a petition from the residents of the illegal Netiv Ha’avot outpost to spare six of the 15 houses slated for demolition, and ruled on Sunday that all homes in the Etzion bloc neighborhood must be razed. While none of the homes in the outpost on the outskirts of the Elazar settlement sits entirely on private Palestinian land, nine of them have significant portions built illegally, while six of them do so for only a matter of feet.

Opinions and Analysis

Israeli Justice Minister Using External Consultant to Dictate State’s Positions on Settlements, Haaretz

“When Ayelet Shaked is asked what her greatest achievement has been as justice minister, she usually cites two things: In addition to the appointment of dozens of conservative judges, she says that, thanks to her, the State Prosecutor’s Office’s responses to petitions filed with the High Court of Justice regarding West Bank settlements are ‘different than they used to be.’ Shaked and her colleagues now take part in sessions relating to settlements, rewrite submissions and emphasize the positions presented to High Court justices. She doesn’t even try to hide her influence – she’s proud of it….She didn’t wait long to effect change, say ministry sources. They say that several months after she assumed office in the spring of 2015, Shaked gave an order that every position submitted to the High Court regarding illegal outposts or settlements must be brought first to the attention of lawyer Amir Fisher. Fisher is not actually part of the State Prosecutor’s Office. He is better known as a representative of the right-wing group Regavim.“

Meet the generation of Palestinian division, Al-Monitor

Asmaa al-Ghoul reports, “According to statistics from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) issued on Aug. 12, 2016, young people between the ages of 15 and 29 represent 30% of the total Palestinian population. This means that 30% of Palestine’s population grew up with the events of the division between the two movements, news of partisan rivalries and the sounds of war.”

In the crosshairs: Israel’s war of attrition on political dissent, +972

Edo Konrad writes, “The collapse of the Oslo process and the consequent foundering of the peace camp gave rise to a galvanized brand of right wing, one that sought to carefully undo the work of its predecessors in the Zionist Left. Doing so required a number of carefully crafted steps: supplanting peace negotiations with endless settlement building; creating physical and psychological distance between Israelis and the reality in the West Bank and Gaza; marking Palestinian citizens of Israel, long suspected as fifth columnists by the Israeli establishment, as enemies of the state; and silencing political dissidents through draconian legal warfare, and often the threat of real violence…The chilling effect does not mean Israeli human rights organizations have closed up shop. On the contrary: B’Tselem announced last year that it would stop working with the Israeli army after 25 years, while Breaking the Silence has repeatedly proven that it is willing to face the onslaught head on. The very existence of these groups is often used to portray Israel as a pluralistic liberal democracy. The question is whether Israelis are prepared for the day that veneer fully unravels before their eyes.”

Palestinians gauge economic impact of reconciliation, Al-Monitor

“Adnan Abu Amer writes, “If the PA does receive tax revenues from Gaza, that would not only generate revenues for its budget. It would also put an end to dual taxation and the customary fees that the private sector, companies and businessmen have suffered by paying both Hamas and the consensus government. The tax and customs systems would be unified between Gaza and the West Bank….The economic cost of reconciliation goes beyond these issues, as it also includes the reconstruction of Gaza — restoring its infrastructure and power station and building seawater desalination plants and sewage plants. Palestinians, particularly in Gaza, are in dire need of the economic profit that will result from reconciliation.”