First US Senate bill in 2019 is anti-BDS

Chuck Schumer speaking at the AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington, DC, on Mar 5, 2018. (photo: Sipa USA via AP)
In the midst of a partial government shutdown, Democratic and Republican senators have decided that their first order of business should be a bill that would weaken Americans’ First Amendment protections.

By Ray Grim and Glenn Greenwald | The Intercept | [Jan 5, 2019

[The First Amendment protects the right to express] dissatisfaction with the injustice and violence, as experienced both by Palestinian and Israeli citizens.
— Judge Daniel D. Crabtree, US District Court of Kansas

When each new Congress is gaveled into session, the chambers attach symbolic importance to the first piece of legislation to be considered. For that reason, it bears the lofty designation of HR.1 in the House and S.1 in the Senate.

In the newly controlled Democratic House, HR.1 — meant to signal the new majority’s priorities — is an anti-corruption bill that combines election and campaign finance reform, strengthening of voting rights, and matching public funds for small-dollar candidates. In the 2017 Senate, the GOP-controlled S.1 was a bill, called the “Tax Cuts and Jobs Act,” that, among other provisions, cut various forms of corporate taxes.

But in the 2019 GOP-controlled Senate, the first bill to be considered — S.1 — is not designed to protect American workers, bolster US companies, or address the various debates over border security and immigration. It’s not a bill to open the government. Instead, according to multiple sources involved in the legislative process, S.1 will be a compendium containing a handful of foreign policy-related measures, the main one of which is a provision — with Florida’s GOP Sen. Marco Rubio as a lead sponsor — to defend the Israeli government. The bill is a top legislative priority for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

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Israel chides Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as capital

Canberra “mistaken” in support for Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem, minister says.

By Reuters staff | Guardian | Dec 16, 2018

The Australian prime minister, Scott Morrison, said on Saturday that Canberra formally recognized West Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, but also reaffirmed his country’s support for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem under a two-state peace deal.

Israel signaled its displeasure on Sunday with Australia’s recognition of West Jerusalem as its capital.

The country’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu remained silent on Canberra’s move at the weekly Israeli cabinet meeting, which he often uses to hold forth in public on diplomatic developments, but a minister close to him said it was a mistake to contradict the notion of Israeli control over the whole city.

Israel captured Arab East Jerusalem in the six-day war in 1967 and, in a move not recognized internationally, claimed the city as its capital. The Palestinians want East Jerusalem as capital of the state they hope to found in the occupied West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

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Confidential report: Israel regularly breaks international law in Hebron

Tess Scheflan / Haaretz)
The international monitoring force disputes land ownership of settlers and slams restrictions on movement and worship.

By Uri Blau | Haaretz | Dec 17, 2018

‘Normal life,’ especially in Hebron’s Old City area in the Israeli-controlled area of H2, is nowhere to be found . . .

An international observatory task force established two decades ago to monitor the divided West Bank city of Hebron has produced its most exhaustive and damning internal report on Israel’s actions in the city, according to people with access to the report who spoke with Haaretz on condition of anonymity. This is the first time a report by the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) is revealed in the press.

The confidential report by TIPH, long regarded as toothless by the Palestinians, cites numerous violations of international law by Israel and seems to confirm Hebron’s status as a city torn by both a civilian and military occupation. Twenty years after the monitoring force was set up to help instill a sense of security and ensure prosperity for Palestinians, the report warns that the city is more divided than ever due to the actions of the Israeli government and Israeli settlers.

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What an Israeli army closure in Ramallah looks like

Israeli soldiers conduct a search for Palestinian suspects in the West Bank City of Ramallah, Dec 10, 2018. (photo: Flash90)
As the Israeli army invades Ramallah, fear and anxiety deepen among many Palestinians — but so does solidarity.

By Zena Tahhan | +972 Magazine | Dec 15, 2018

The biggest impact of the past few days has been the deepening of solidarity and cohesion between the people. The people remembered that they are all targets of the occupation. The occupation always tries to divide Palestinians, but suddenly, amid the military closures and crackdowns, the people became stronger as one.
— Fadi Quran, a Ramallah-based activist

The past few days in the occupied West Bank have been particularly difficult. Violence, killings, and military raids are common here, but Palestinian cities are now facing even deeper uncertainty and instability.

The Israeli army imposed a military closure on the city of Ramallah in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, and closed major checkpoints between cities.

The closure, raids, and restrictions on movement followed two drive-by shootings carried out by Palestinians this week near illegal settlements. Two Israeli soldiers were killed in one of the shootings, and in the other, several Israeli settlers were wounded, including a pregnant woman whose baby was delivered prematurely and later died.

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Secret ADL memo slammed anti-BDS laws as “harmful” to Jews

Jonathan Greenblatt, national director of the ADL. (photo: Getty Images)
Documents reveal divisions between staff and leadership on anti-BDS legislation.

By Josh Nathan-Kazis | Forward | Dec 13, 2018

Anti-BDS laws are bad for American Jews, diverting ‘community resources to an ineffective, unworkable, and unconstitutional endeavor instead of investing in more effective multi-layered strategies.’

The Anti-Defamation League has emerged as a supporter of controversial legislation targeting boycotts of Israel. But internal ADL documents obtained by the Forward show that the organization’s own staff believed the laws could actually harm American Jews.

In the summer of 2016, ADL staff wrote an internal memo arguing that legislating against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement was a really bad idea. “Simply put, ADL does not believe that anti-BDS legislation is a strategic way to combat the BDS movement or defend Israel and is ultimately harmful to the Jewish community,” the memo reads. It calls anti-BDS laws “ineffective, unworkable, unconstitutional, and bad for the Jewish community.”

Yet in the two years since the memo was written, the ADL has vigorously supported anti-BDS legislation, including one bill currently moving through the US Congress, and some of those that have passed in statehouses across the country.

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An Israeli tech firm is selling spy software to dictators, betraying the country’s ideals

Omar Abdulaziz in Montreal, Quebec, Oct 17, 2018. (photo: François Ollivier / The Washington Post)
A Saudi dissident is suing an Israeli technology company, accusing it of providing the Saudi government with the surveillance software to spy on him and his friends — including Jamal Khashoggi.

By Max Boot | The Washington Post | Dec 5, 2018

Freed of serious regulatory pressure, Israeli spy companies are free to maximize profits any way they can.

Israel has always prided itself on being, as the Book of Isaiah says, “a light unto the nations” — an exemplar of “righteousness” to inspire Jews and gentiles alike and bring salvation to mankind. That is why the menorah is the symbol not only of Hanukkah, which Jews are now celebrating, but also of the state of Israel. But Israel’s light is dimmed when veterans of its famed armed forces, whose mission is to defend the Jewish state’s freedom, misuse their expertise to aid oppression in other countries.

Saudi dissident Omar Abdulaziz, who lives in Canada, has filed a lawsuit against an Israeli technology company called the NSO Group accusing it of providing the Saudi government with the surveillance software to spy on him and his friends — including Jamal Khashoggi. The program, known as Pegasus, not only allows the monitoring of all communications from a phone — all texts, all emails, all phone calls — but can also hijack a mobile phone’s microphone and camera to turn it into a surveillance device.

The information gathered on Khashoggi may have motivated his murder by alerting the Saudi authorities that he was stirring up electronic dissent within the kingdom, while denouncing Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman in vituperative terms as a “pac-man” who devoured all in his path. “The hacking of my phone played a major role in what happened to Jamal, I am really sorry to say,” Abdulaziz told CNN. “The guilt is killing me.”

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This man says there’s a crisis between Israel and Jews — but he’s causing it

Israeli Education Minister Naftali Bennett speaks to members of the media at the Knesset, Israel’s parliament, in Jerusalem on Nov 19. (photo: Amir Cohen / Reuters)
Naftali Bennett isn’t the man to explain the crisis in Israel-diaspora relations, or to solve it. He’s the walking, loudly talking embodiment of why it’s happening.

By Gershom Gorenberg | The Washington Post | Dec 13, 2018

Older American Jews, especially from establishment Jewish organizations, have quarreled for years with the Israeli government over religious pluralism. What upsets younger Jews is Israel’s political direction. It’s the occupation, and how the occupation has changed Israel.

Naftali Bennett wears several hats in Israeli politics. He’s the head of the religious nationalist Jewish Home party. He’s the education minister. He also holds the obscure post of minister of diaspora affairs, which means he’s in charge of fostering ties between Israel and Jews around the world. At this week’s cabinet meeting, he decided to remind everyone of that role, with some pithy comments.

“Israel-Diaspora relations are in an unprecedented crisis,” Bennett said. He dismissed the idea that the disconnect is due to “the Palestinian issue” or because of a conflict over the rights of non-Orthodox Jews at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Rather, he said, it’s because “there’s a dire assimilation crisis and growing apathy among Jews in the Diaspora toward their Judaism and toward Israel. That’s the whole story.” In those few sentences, the man managed to show how thoroughly disconnected he is from the people with whom he’s supposed to work.

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Zionism, Pan-Africanism, and White Nationalism

Tel Aviv, Nov 29, 1947. (photo: AFP / Getty Images)
What we learn about Israel’s ethnocentrism by looking at groups inspired by Zionism.

By Shaul Magrid | Tablet | Dec 12, 2018

Politically, and legally, the Nation-State Law assures Jewish dominance and preference in a way that makes perennial inequality unavoidable. In a recent New Yorker essay, ‘Netanyahu’s Inflammatory New Bill,’ Bernard Avishai put the choice bluntly, asking if Israel will be ‘a Hebrew Republic or a little Jewish Pakistan’? Decades before, Martin Buber similarly wondered whether Israel would become a center for humanity or ‘a Jewish Albania.’

The law called “Israel as the Nation-State of the Jewish People,” also known as the Israeli Nation-State Law, which was passed by the Knesset last July and defines Israel as “the nation-state of the Jewish people,” has raised serious concerns among political scientists, legal experts, and liberal Zionists, even as it has been celebrated by many of those on the Israeli right. Is this law the fulfillment of Zionism, or its demise? The term “Zionism” itself, and thus the question, is fraught, since Zionism is an ideology that has been at war with itself since its inception.

Which Zionism are we speaking about? Taken at face value, the law seems unproblematic, as that was what many different kinds of Zionism held from the start. But when that idea is made part of the Basic Law of the country, problems arise: 25 percent of Israeli citizens are not Jews and thus find themselves outside the raison d’être of a legally defined ethnocentric state, or what Israeli scholar Oren Yiftachel calls an “ethnocracy.”

Why is this a problem? For example, while we can say colloquially that America is a “Christian country” (over 90 percent of American citizens are at least ancestrally Christian), Congress does not codify that idea into law. And I would assume American Jews would feel somewhat uncomfortable with such legislation. The de facto notion of Israel as a state of the Jews is not the same thing as altering Israel’s Basic Law to say as much.

Two questions one could ask are: (1) What does this new law do to the present reality of statist Zionism (not all Zionism was statist, but arguably today all Zionism is statist) — that is, what kind of state now exists in light of it? And (2) Is legally binding ethnocentrism the natural fulfillment of an earlier form of Zionism that has now dominated the discourse? Or, is this an aberration of statist Zionism?

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Senators trying to slip through Israel anti-boycott law during lame duck session

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-MD) speaks with reporters in Washington, DC, on Nov 27, 2018. (photo: Bill Clark / CQ Roll Call via AP)
The law would criminalize boycotting Israel.

By Ryan Grim & Alex Emmons | The Intercept | Dec 4, 2018

We understand the Senate is considering attaching a revised version of S. 720 to the end-of-the-year omnibus spending bill, and we urge you to oppose its inclusion.
— American Civil Liberties Union in a Dec 3 letter to congress

Democratic Senator Ben Cardin is making a behind-the-scenes push to slip an anti-boycott law into a last-minute spending bill being finalized during the lame-duck session, according to four sources familiar with the negotiations.

The measure, known as the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, was shelved earlier amid concerns about the infringement of free speech, after civil liberties groups argued that the original version would have allowed criminal penalties for Americans who participate in a political boycott of Israel. Some of the more aggressive elements of the provision have been removed under pressure, but the American Civil Liberties Union, which spearheaded the initial opposition to the bill, is still strongly opposed. . . .

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Freshman congresswoman bucks AIPAC’s Israel junket

Representative-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) pauses to speak to media on Capitol Hill, Nov 15, 2018. (photo: Carolyn Kaster / AP)
Rashida Tlaib rejects Israel lobby’s influence over the incoming congressional delegation.

By Alex Kane &Lee Fang | The Intercept | Dec 3, 2018

Tlaib is clear about one thing: She wants her delegation to humanize Palestinians, provide an alternative perspective to the one AIPAC pushes, and highlight the inherent inequality of Israel’s system of military occupation in Palestinian territories.

Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic representative-elect from Michigan, belongs to a cohort of incoming members of Congress who’ve vowed to upend the status quo — even on third-rail issues in Washington like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To that end, Tlaib is planning to lead a congressional delegation to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, she told The Intercept. Her planned trip is a swift rebuke of a decades-old tradition for newly elected members: a junket to Israel sponsored by the education arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

The AIPAC trips are among the lesser-known traditions for freshman members of Congress. They’re typically scheduled during the first August recess in every legislative session and feature a weeklong tour of Israel and meetings with leading Israeli figures in business, government, and the military. Both critics and proponents of the AIPAC freshmen trip say the endeavor is incredibly influential, providing House members with a distinctly pro-Israel viewpoint on complex controversies in the region. In recent years, the Democratic tour has been led by incoming Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Incoming Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., traditionally leads the Republican trip.

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