The American Jewish Committee (AJC) made headlines by unveiling its latest project, the Congressional Black-Jewish Caucus. It sounds like a terrific idea, and certainly AJC is claiming to have done a lot to lay the groundwork for it. These two communities—which overlap a lot more than many people realize—have a long and complicated history, marked by periods of great mutual support but also of mistrust and hostility. A caucus in Congress to help inform policy that would be beneficial to both communities should be welcome.
But this is one of those eras where mistrust abounds, aggravated recently by the focus of the Jewish community on Black thought leaders who are sympathetic to the Palestinian side of the Israel-Palestine conflict. Accusations of disproportionate hostility toward Israel, accompanied by both indirect and direct accusations of anti-Semitism have tenderized already fraught community relations, where too many Jews and Black people feel that the other bears them ill will. These tensions are particularly hard on Black Jews and other Jews of Color, members of both communities who must contend with this friction in the most personal way.
All of this should make the caucus even more welcome. But the inclusion of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-NY) in the new Black-Jewish Congressional Caucus inevitably raises significant questions about its intent. Read more at LobeLog
Former Israeli Defense Minister Avigdor Lieberman has succeeded in bringing down Benjamin Netanyahu’s new government before it formed. The elections held in April mean little now, although that Knesset will remain in place until September 17, when Israelis return to the polls. But without a functioning cabinet and with a placeholder parliament, Israeli politics will remain in something of a holding pattern. It’s far too early to say much about how this will all shake out, but here are a few takeaways. Read more at LobeLog
On Sunday, the Trump administration said that it would release the economic component of the “deal of the century” in late June. That statement is a walkback of an earlier pledge to release the whole plan after the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and the Jewish holiday of Shavuot, which end on June 5 and June 10, respectively.
More than that, the release of the political component—if one even exists—is yet again delayed until an unspecified date later this year.
The reveal of an economic plan hints that there might be a political plan somewhere, while this continuing delay and uncertainty reinforce the notion that there is not. In either case, the economic portion seems to be real enough, as President Donald Trump’s point man on the “deal of the century”—First Son-In-Law Jared Kushner—has assembled a conference to be held in Bahrain in late June to unveil it and to get the wealthy Gulf states to contribute to it.
This is not the first mention of an “economic peace” for the Palestinians. The Trump administration has made no secret of its belief that it can buy Palestinian acquiescence, a view strongly encouraged by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who has advocated “economic peace” for many years. Read more at LobeLog
Palestinian officials say at least 58 people have been killed in the latest round of protests. More than 2,700 Palestinian demonstrators were injured on Monday—at least 1,350 by gunfire—along the border fence with Gaza, the Health Ministry reported. The mass protests began on March 30 and had already left dozens dead.
Those words appeared in The New York Times on May 14, 2018. On that day, the protests in Gaza had the added inspiration not only of the anniversary of the naqba the following day—which Israel celebrates as its independence day—but also the infuriating sight of Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, joined by a bevy of Republicans, anti-Semitic preachers, and Israeli settlers with their American supporters celebrating the move of the U.S. embassy in Israel from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem.
Two days ago, as the latest spike in violence in Gaza wound down, the Times stated, “It was the worst violence between the two sides since a 50-day war in 2014.” The Jerusalem Post had reported the day before that “Four Israelis died during the continued rocket attacks.” The Post also stated that, “234 patients have been treated” at local hospitals in Israel, and that “25 Palestinians were killed…and 154 others were injured” in the fighting.
The comparison of these tragic tallies led Yousef Munayyer of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights to ponder, “Worst violence since 2014? Israel shot 1,100 Palestinians and killed 60 in Gaza, including 7 children on May 14th, 2018. That was just last year. What makes this worse? Go ahead, I’ll wait.”
Of course, what makes it worse is that in May of 2018, no Israelis were hurt. The Times might just as well have said outright that Palestinian lives are worthless. But it was far from alone. Many other outlets echoed the same callous point.
Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) has drawn some criticism from the left for avoiding the topic of Israel-Palestine. It’s actually a wise decision on her part. It was obvious during her campaign that she is not well-versed on the issue. N ew members of Congress ought to avoid this dangerous minefield of an issue unless they are very clear about what they want to say and how they want to say it.
But AOC may be learning. Earlier this week, she was asked if she favored reducing aid to Israel and she replied that it is “…certainly on the table. I think it’s something that can be discussed.”
Reducing aid to Israel is perhaps the highest voltage third rail in Beltway politics. But in a marker of how much things have changed in Washington—as well as how far they still have to go—the reactions to AOC’s statement have been far less animated than usual. The Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA) issued a condescending but relatively mild statement, telling AOC to consult with three mainstream Democratic leaders—all prominent Jewish members with strong pro-Israel records—on the “correct” U.S. policy. “US-Israel ties must supersede politics,” the statement concluded. Surprisingly, the JDCA did not condemn AOC’s statement, despite its tired implication that support for Israel must be unconditional, unquestioned, and independent of any considerations except what is best for Israel. Read more at LobeLog
The Israeli elections are over, and the outcome largely matched the predictions. The Blue and White coalition amassed enough votes to match Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud, but only Likud has a path to assembling a governing coalition. Many pundits tried—and largely succeeded—to generate interest in an election that was a nearly foregone conclusion from the start, with only an unlikely combination of long shots offering a sliver of hope that the Benny Gantz-led center-right opposition to Likud could eke out a narrow victory.
This is familiar territory for Netanyahu, for he has faced races just as tight as this one several times in the past. In both 1996 (in a direct election for prime minister) and in 2015, it looked for a time like Netanyahu would not get the most votes. In 2009, he didn’t, but Tzipi Livni, whose Kadima party got the most seats, was unable to cobble together a governing coalition.
This time, Netanyahu may have ended up in a tie with Gantz at 35 seats each, but the right wing and religious parties emerged with a distinct majority. He’ll need to do some wheeling and dealing to appease every party he wants in the government, but it’s a trick he’s pulled off many times before. The new government will, once again, be the most right wing in Israel’s history. But this time, the length of the new government’s tenure will depend more on Netanyahu’s legal troubles than on the political dynamics of the coalition. Read more at LobeLog
This week, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) held its annual policy meeting, and this one was quite different from many that came before it. For years, AIPAC conferences celebrated strong bipartisan support for Israel and for the unqualified U.S. support of Israel. But in 2019, that unity is very clearly fraying.
Where once there had been a significant number of foreign policy realists in the Republican Party who felt that the U.S. approach needed to be more even-handed, the GOP these days is passionately and overwhelmingly supportive of Israel and displays little if any concern about the lives of Palestinians. Democrats, on the other hand, are displeased with the Trump administration’s approach to the regional issues, feeling it has endangered and possibly doomed a two-state solution to the conflict.
But the Republican-Democrat divide is not the only area of division on Israel and Palestine. Within the Democratic party, a schism is widening between those who insist on supporting the right-wing Israeli government of Benjamin Netanyahu—which includes the powerful centrist leadership of the party such as Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer, Eliot Engel, and Hakeem Jeffries— and the more progressive wing, led proudly by women like Rashida Tlaib, Ilhan Omar, Betty McCollum, and others, who want to open a debate on U.S. policy in the Middle East and orient it more toward universal human rights.
But AIPAC is not just the venue to display these growing cracks in the bipartisan consensus that have made it even more difficult for the United States to play a productive role in resolving this devastating conflict. It is also a major player in the policy process, especially in Congress, as well as a source of intense debate and controversy over the question of why the United States behaves as it does in the region.
At this year’s conference, Ilhan Omar was attacked by members of Congress from both parties as well as by members of AIPAC and by the vice president of the United States and the prime minister of Israel. The reason for these attacks was that Omar had the temerity to call out and challenge AIPAC’s destructive influence, its role in directing the campaign funds of pro-Israel political actions committees (something AIPAC itself is not, despite its confusing name), and its efforts to establish the boundaries of discourse in Washington. Read more at LobeLog