News Roundup for September 15, 2017

September 15, 2017

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J Street in the News

J Street Welcomes Re-Issuance of Iran Sanctions Waivers; Warns Trump Administration Against Reneging on JCPOA, J Street

“J Street welcomes news that the Trump administration has re-issued the sanctions waivers necessary to uphold US obligations under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear agreement with Iran. Yet we remain alarmed by reports that the administration may take action in the near future to undermine the agreement and renege on American commitments, with disastrous consequences for the security of the US and Israel. Iran’s non-nuclear malign behaviors, including its development of ballistic missiles and its support for terrorism, must continue to be confronted, both through appropriately-targeted sanctions and other measured steps. New individual sanctions designations issued today by the Trump administration – like those issued by the Obama administration – are a good example of this kind of effective response. But non-nuclear actions by Iran clearly fall outside the scope of the JCPOA. Iran’s horrendous track record on these issues is precisely why upholding the JCPOA is so important, and why it is so critical that Iran never be allowed to obtain a nuclear weapon….By October 15th of next month, the administration must re-certify Iranian compliance with the JCPOA, as it already has twice before. The agreement is working. It has successfully blocked all Iranian pathways to a nuclear weapon. Undermining or withdrawing from it would alienate the US from our allies and could return Iran once again to possessing a rapidly advancing nuclear program. It would make it far harder to successfully respond to and oppose Iranian threats to regional peace and stability.”

Top News and Analysis

U.S. extends waivers on Iran sanctions but warns it’s an interim move, Washington Post

The United States on Thursday waived sanctions on Iran in what was characterized as a holding action until the White House decides next month whether to continue with the landmark nuclear agreement by certifying Iran is meeting its commitments. At the same time, the White House signaled its determination to confront Tehran over actions the United States considers in defiance of the intent of the 2015 deal.

Netanyahu at Odds With Israeli Military and Intelligence Brass Over Whether to Push Trump to Scrap Iran Nuclear Deal, Haaretz

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman are at odds with the defense establishment over whether to urge the United States to scrap the nuclear agreement with Iran, according to senior government and defense officials who asked to remain anonymous. Netanyahu and Lieberman believe a U.S. withdrawal from the accord would be in Israel’s interest, but defense chiefs have reservations….Netanyahu and Lieberman’s position is at odds with most Israeli experts in Military Intelligence and in the IDF’s Planning Directorate, the Mossad, Foreign Ministry and the Atomic Energy Committee. Despite Netanyahu’s wish that Trump announces that Iran isn’t complying with the nuclear deal, all Israeli intelligence bodies dealing with the Iranian issue are united in the opinion that in the two years and two months that have passed since the agreement was signed in Vienna, Iran hasn’t been caught violating a single clause. Also, the Israeli intelligence community has no evidence that the Iranians have resumed their nuclear project and gone back on their commitments.”


Israel Demanded 60km Buffer but Russia Let Iranian Forces in Syria Approach the Border, Haaretz

“Israel asked Russia and the United States to prevent an Iranian presence, or that of any Shi’ite militia operating under Iranian influence, in southern Syria near the Israeli border in any cease-fire agreement. Israel presented its demand during the talks that preceded the cease-fire agreement in July – but the Russians refused. The buffer zone demanded by Israel in southern Syria is from 60 to 80 kilometers (about 37 to 50 miles) from the border on the Golan Heights, to the west of the road connecting Damascus and the city of Al-Suwayda in southwest Syria. The Russians agreed only to promise that the Iranians and their allies would not come any closer to Israel than five kilometers from the armistice lines between those of President Bashar Assad’s regime and the rebels. Because the Syrian government still controls the northern part of the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, from the city of Quneitra north toward Damascus, this means in practice the Russians only promised to keep the Iranians away from the actual border.”

Trump invites Orthodox, but not Jewish groups who snubbed him, to High Holidays conference call, JTA

President Donald Trump has invited representatives from three major Orthodox umbrella groups to join a pre-Rosh Hashanah conference call, but pointedly left off the invitation list two liberal denominations that had said earlier they would not take part. The call to take place Friday morning comes three weeks after three non-Orthodox movements — Reform, Conservative and Reconstructionist —  declined to help organize an annual rabbis call that Trump’s predecessor, Barack Obama, had instituted.

Netanyahu to meet with US Jewish leaders, JTA

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will meet this weekend in New York with organizational Jewish leaders. Unlike in previous years, the meeting will be low-key, with no public events, according to Jewish Insider. Netanyahu’s relationship with the organized American Jewish community has been fraught in recent months after he reneged on a deal that would have formalized non-Orthodox prayer at the Western Wall. Confirmed as attending the meeting are representatives of the Conference of Presidents of American Jewish Organizations and the American Jewish Committee. Other organizations did not reply to requests for confirmation.

Israel’s Labor Party Gives Unprecedented Powers to New Leader Avi Gabbay, Haaretz

The conference of the Labor Party voted Thursday evening to amend the party constitution to confer powers on its new chairman, Avi Gabbay, that had never been granted his predecessors.

The changes to the constitution, which were proposed by Gabbay, who was elected party leader in July, include full administrative responsibility for the party, including the financial powers that up to now had been held by Secretary General Eran Hermoni. They also give the party chairman the power to personally choose four candidates on the party’s Knesset slate. The party is represented in the Knesset on a joint slate, Zionist Union, with its partner Hatnuah headed by Tzipi Livni.

Israel threatened to charge PA for Gaza power, to avert humanitarian crisis, Times of Israel

Israel has threatened the Palestinian Authority that it deduct money from taxes it collects on behalf of the PA, in order to cover the cost of supplying electricity to the Gaza Strip. Already-limited power supplies in the coastal enclave have been further squeezed amid a spat between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority over who should pay for the power. Israel made the threat in a July 17 letter seen by The Times of Israel. Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories Maj. Gen. Yoav Mordechai told PA Minister of Civil Affairs Hussein al-Sheikh that due to the serious humanitarian considerations supplies must be restored one way or another.

Right-wing Israeli Ministers Introduce Plan Targeting High Court’s Powers, Haaretz

Justice Minister Ayelet Shaked and Education Minister Naftali Bennett announced on Thursday the introduction of a new basic law that would limit the authority of the High Court of Justice to strike down laws. The High Court has the power to interpret legislation and disqualify law in accordance with its interpretation. Basic laws have constitutional status, and the proposed basic law would include an override provision that would allow a Knesset majority to vote to bypass the High Court’s ruling. The proposal by Bennett and Shaked, both of whom are from the Habayit Hayehudi party, doesn’t specify the exact number of Knesset members that would be necessary to override a court decision.

Trump again blames both sides for deadly Charlottesville violence, JTA

President Donald Trump once again said both sides — white supremacists and those who opposed them — were responsible for the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia last month, an equivalence that has outraged Jewish groups, Jews in his Cabinet and lawmakers from both parties.

Settler teen indicted for pepper spraying Arab bus driver, Times of Israel

A teenager from the West Bank settlement of Bat Ayin has been charged with assaulting an Arab bus driver with pepper spray, the courts said Thursday. According to the indictment, which was filed with the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Juvenile Court on Monday, the teenager, along with another suspect, boarded a parked bus outside Bat Ayin on August 16 armed with pepper spray in order to attack an Arab bus driver.

Opinions and Analysis

Netanyahu Could Lose Everything Over ultra-Orthodox Military Draft, Haaretz

Yossi Verter writes, “If there’s one thing that Israeli prime ministers have always feared, and continue to fear – other than war – it’s getting entangled in the issue of drafting members of the Haredi, or ultra-Orthodox, community. This is a deep pit that’s hard to climb out of, an issue that touches the most sensitive nerves and delicate sensibilities of the people of Israel, and its values and myths. Every act of legislation that dares to play with this hot potato is destined to reach the High Court of Justice and emerge from it humiliated and crushed. This week’s High Court ruling – which ripped to shreds the existing law pertaining to mandatory service, put through by the current Netanyahu government (which, farcically, had annulled related legislation enacted under the previous Netanyahu government) – was handed down during a politically volatile period. The right-wing coalition – excluding Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon’s Kulanu party – is about to boil over with hatred for the High Court’s judicial activism. Or maybe it has already.”

The rise and fall of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox party, Al-Monitor

Mazal Mualem writes, “Shas was the face of the ethnic revolution in Israel. The party created a language and culture of its own and became home to many Mizrahi Jews. For several years, they abandoned the Likud and found their home in Shas. The most recent polls from July and August show a party in sharp decline, with some polls even suggesting that Shas will not pass the electoral threshold in the next election. It is now thought that its more traditional voters are returning to the Likud, leaving just the party’s hardcore ultra-Orthodox supporters. Meanwhile, having returned to serve as interior minister, Deri is once again entangled in criminal investigations. He is an unpopular figure within his party, yet he manages to intimidate its Knesset members. His main focus is maintaining his power. While the Ashkenazi ultra-Orthodox parties are able to maintain a stable leadership and electorate, Shas is in a state of decline under his leadership. It does not have the same political clout that it had in the past and has lost its central role in Israel politics.”

Jewish Americans — Still Liberal After All These Years, Jewish Currents

Ron Skolnik observes, “If there’s news in the American Jewish Committee’s just-released 2017 survey of American Jewish opinion, it’s that there’s little earth-shattering in it at all. American Jews, the survey’s data indicate, remain solidly left-of-center, Democrat in party affiliation, and overwhelmingly anti-Trump. And while hawkish, brook-no-criticism-of-Israel elements often seem to dominate the discourse in the American Jewish community, the AJC interviews, like previous public opinion polls, suggest that, numerically speaking at least, they represent only a small fraction of all Jewish Americans.”

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