Related Quarterly Updates

U.S. Secretary of State Warren Christopher visited Syria and Israel 12/6-10, primarily in effort to revive Syrian-Israeli talks. In addition to his discussions with Pres. al-Asad, PM Rabin, and FM Peres, he also met with Chmn. Arafat.

On 2/12, the U.S. brought together the foreign ministers of Egypt, Israel, and Jordan, and PA Planning Minister Nabil Shaath in Washington in an effort to move the stalled peace process forward. To signal U.S. concern, Pres. Clinton, VP Gore, and Secy. of State Christopher attended the meeting.

The Obama admin. remained divided this quarter over how best to proceed on the stalled Israeli-Palestinian peace process. Some senior officials, including Secy. of State Clinton, continued to press for the U.S. to present its own substantive peace proposal as a basis to relaunch talks, whereas the other camp, led by Obama’s chief Middle East adviser Dennis Ross, recommended taking no action given the instability in the region, the ill will between the parties, and the Fatah-Hamas reconciliation (see Quarterly Update in JPS 159 for background).

U.S.-Israel Relations

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal published on 3/7, Israeli DM Barak indicated that Israel might request an additional $20 b. of U.S. military aid in light of the popular uprisings across the Arab world. IDF chief of staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz had ordered a wholesale reassessment of potential threats to Israel given the regional instability and contingency plans to address them. When it was presented to IDF senior officers on 3/14, Israeli military intelligence chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi highlighted various worst-case scenarios, including the possible fall of the Jordanian monarchy, Egyptian abrogation of the peace treaty with Israel and instability on that border, and increased probabilities of conflict with Iran. As Barak anticipated, the assessment concluded that defense against these possibilities would require significant upgrades in IDF personnel, training, and operational programs—the bottom line being a recommendation that Israel ask the U.S. for an extra $20 b. over several years. Israeli sources expected Barak to broach the subject with U.S. Secy. of Defense Robert Gates when Gates visited Israeli and Palestinian officials on 3/24–25 to discuss regional affairs, but there was no indication Israel formally made the request. Gates reiterated U.S. support for Israel’s right to self-defense, saying “no sovereign state can tolerate having rockets fired at its people,” but urged Israel and the Palestinians not to use regional unrest as an excuse to put off peace talks. In an address to the Anti-Defamation League’s annual conference in Washington on 4/2, Obama adviser Ross stated that regional turmoil made it increasingly important that Israel receive tangible security guarantees in exchange for concessions to the Palestinians.

Israeli pres. Shimon Peres visited (4/4–8) the U.S., meeting with Secy. of State Clinton at the State Dept. on 4/4 and with Obama at the White House on 4/5 to discuss the peace impasse and prospects that the PLO would bring a resolution to the UN in 9/2011 seeking recognition of a Palestinian state. He also called on the U.S. to release jailed spy for Israel Jonathan Pollard, handing the president a letter from Pollard (dated 4/1) asking him to “please send me home to Israel now.” Pollard, an American citizen, applied for and was granted dual Israeli citizenship in 1995, while in prison. Peres also met with congressional leaders on Capitol Hill on 4/6.

Of note: Israel’s chief Ashkenazi rabbi Yonah Metzger used his 4/14 Shabbat sermon to warn that Obama must prove he is a friend of Israel and “immediately free Pollard” before pressing Israel to renew peace talks, saying American Jews would not help reelect him if he did not grant Pollard clemency.



Following Judge Richard Goldstone’s 4/1 open letter qualifying some conclusions he and his team reached in conducting the UN investigation into OCL (see Doc. A1 and “Goldstone Report” below), Sens. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) and James Risch (R-Idaho) began (4/8) circulating a measure (S. Res. 138) calling on the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) to rescind the Goldstone Report; the measure passed on 4/14 by unanimous consent. Simultaneously, Reps. Joe Walsh (R-IL) and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL; chair of the House Foreign Affairs Committee) and Sen. David Vitter (R-LA) began circulating companion measures (H. Res. 1501 and S. Res. 923) that would withhold U.S. payments to the UN until the report was rescinded. Reps. Robert Dold (R-IL) and Gary Peters (D-MI) circulated another measure (H. Res. 232) urging the admin. to “take steps to reverse the damage done” by the Goldstone Report. At the end of the quarter, these last 3 measures had been referred to committee. By 4/12, Rep. Ros-Lehtinen was also drafting a revision to the United Nations Transparency, Accountability, and Reform Act of 2009 (H. Res. 557) that would “make it U.S. policy to demand that the UN General Assembly revoke and repudiate the Goldstone Report and any UN resolutions stemming from the report, and . . . refund to U.S. taxpayers their share of the costs for the report and its follow-on measures,” but as of the end of the quarter, she had not formally submitted it. In addition, 22 House reps. sent (ca. 4/14) a letter to UN Secy.-Gen. Ban Ki-Moon, urging him to override the UNHRC (which had said on 4/2 that it would continue to consider the Goldstone Report an official document unless the authors formally asked it to be revoked) and remove the report from the UN’s official record.

Following the signing of the FatahHamas unity agreement, 27 Democratic senators sent (5/6) a letter to Pres. Obama urging him to halt aid to the PA unless the unified government reaffirmed the Quartet principles. The senators were concerned that while existing U.S. law bars aid to a Palestinian government that includes Hamas, some experts had argued that “government” could be liberally interpreted to allow U.S. aid to continue if Hamas members are in the legislature but excluded from the cabinet. Separately, Reps. Kay Granger (R-TX) and Nita Lowey (D-NY), heads of the House appropriations subcomm., sent (ca. 4/28) a letter to Abbas warning that they would take steps to block disbursement of the $550 m. of U.S. aid to the PA budgeted for 2011 if he formed a government with Hamas.

In light of the 3/11 murder of 5 West Bank settlers, 49 members of the Republican Study Comm., the conservative caucus of the House Republicans, sent (3/28) a letter to Secy. of State Clinton denouncing the admin. for pressuring Israel on settlements instead of urging the PA to address incitement. A bipartisan group of 27 senators sent a letter to Clinton on 3/29, asking the admin. to force the PA to halt “dangerous incitement,” which they say “includes the glorification of terrorists and jihad and anti-Semitic stereotypes in the Palestinian media.” A similar letter signed by 46 members of the House was sent to Pres. Obama on 3/31.

Senior House Republicans Dan Burton (R-IN; chair of the House’s Europe Subcommittee), Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), and Steve Chabot (R-OH; chair of the House Middle East Subcommittee) introduced (3/10) the draft Jerusalem Embassy and Recognition Act of 2011 (H. Res. 1006) that would strip the president of his power to waive requirements to move the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem as permitted under the 1995 U.S. Embassy Act. Obama (like Presidents Bill Clinton, George H. W. Bush, and George W. Bush before him) has consistently invoked the national security waiver. The White House would likely dismiss any law removing the waiver on the grounds that it is unconstitutional because it constrains the president’s executive authority to set foreign policy. The measure was referred to committee on 3/29 with 31 cosponsors but did not progress further during the quarter.

At the height of the U.S. budget debate that threatened a government shutdown, at least 11 of 13 freshmen senators and 65 of 87 freshmen reps., all Republicans, signed companion letters to the House and Senate Republican leaders (Doc. D1) in 4/2011 stating: “As we work to reduce wasteful government spending, we recognize that providing for the national defense is a constitutional responsibility of the federal government. Therefore, we must continue to prioritize the safety of our nation and the security of our allies, including Israel.”

In late 4/2011, a bipartisan delegation of U.S. House reps. visited Israel and met with PM Netanyahu and opposition leader Tzipi Livni to discuss Israel’s safety and security in light of the prodemocracy uprisings across the region and “the everpresent threat posed by Iran’s nuclear weapons program.”



Days after vetoing the UNSC res. on settlements, Obama met (3/1) with 50 top members of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations at the White House, urging them to speak to their colleagues in Israel and to “search your souls” over Israel’s seriousness about making peace. He also stressed his “opposition to any effort to delegitimize [Israel] or single it out for criticism.”

AIPAC arranged (4/13) a conference call with more than a dozen pro-Israel members of Congress—including Reps. Barney Frank (D-MA), Henry Waxman (D-CA), Howard Berman (D-CA), Nita Lowey (D-NY), and Eric Cantor (R-VA)—to discuss “how best to promote Israel” during Netanyahu’s upcoming 5/2011 visit. The call was also aimed at urging members of Congress to press the Obama admin. to take Israel’s security concerns into consideration when responding to the antigovernment uprisings across the region, noting that Netanyahu saw real danger for Israel in the regional uprisings.

To cap its annual conference in Washington, the critically pro-Israel J Street organized (3/1) more than 700 activists for a lobbying day on Capitol Hill. In 240 separate meetings, activists urged continued robust foreign aid to Israel and the PA. J Street pres. Jeremy Ben-Ami also led a delegation to Ramallah on 5/8 to meet with Abbas, who urged J Street to lobby Congress to continue aid to the PA despite the unity deal with Hamas. Abbas reiterated that he would return to peace negotiations with Israel if the U.S. offered a plan for the creation of a Palestinian state on 1967 lines with agreed land swaps and a 2–3-mo. halt to Israeli settlement construction. BenAmi pledged to deliver the message to the White House personally.

American Jewish and Latino leaders held (3/27–28) a conference in San Antonio to discuss building bridges and alliances between their communities. Attendees included the heads of universities and Jewish and Hispanic organizations, former U.S. House speaker Newt Gingrich (who declared his candidacy for president on 5/12), and the wife of Christians United for Israel founder John Hagee. Participants identified “common values and interests” ranging from equal opportunity in education and immigration reform to “protecting the State of Israel” and combating racism. Agreed action items included: organizing trips to Israel for influential Latino leaders and media reps. (with the stated aim of teaching Latinos about the Israeli education system and immigration programs); increasing coverage of national security issues on the Spanish-language TV network Univision; and developing and lobbying for programs to “pass on the story of Israel’s formation to the next generation, whether through schools or religious institutions.” An opinion poll of American Jews and Latinos conducted for discussion at the conference and released on 3/30 showed that 48.1% of Latinos believed the U.S. was “too supportive” of Israel; 34% of Latinos identified more with Israel, while 21.3% identified more with Palestinians (the remainder saying neither or both equally); 46.3% of Latinos believed there was anti-Semitism in the Latino community, as did 58.3% of Jews; and 31.9% of Latinos believed there was anti-Latino sentiment among Jews, as did 30% of Jews.

Jewish donors in Washington and New York issued (3/29) an open letter calling on regional Jewish federations to monitor or pull donations from Jewish community centers that support “cultural activities that denigrate Israel,” citing as an example the New York Jewish Community Center’s financing of a film festival that included a film portraying the difficult conditions for non-Jewish minorities in Israel. One signatory of the letter said the point was not “to infringe on anyone’s freedom of expression, but why should it be from my federation contributions?”

Dr. Alexander Mashkevich, pres. of the United Israel Appeal’s annual conference of Jewish leaders in Washington and pres. of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, announced (ca. 4/9) his plan to form a proIsrael international news network, similar to al-Jazeera and the BBC, to combat the delegitimization of Israel in the media and to influence public opinion. It would offer only news programs in Arabic, English, French, and Spanish. He said that he would lobby other U.S. Jewish philanthropists to contribute and that “in about three–four months we’ll hold a presentation in Israel. We’ll purchase talents from all other channels. From BBC, CNN—everyone.”

In late 4/2011, American philanthropists Miri and Sheldon Adelson, who have given millions of dollars to pro-Israel groups, pledged $1 m. to expand the Israel Fellows program—a joint effort of the Jewish Agency for Israel and Hillel (The Foundation for Jewish Campus Life) “to bring recent Israeli college graduates to Hillels on U.S. and Canadian campuses to assist with Israel education and advocacy.” The program would expand from 34 to 50 fellows.


Legal Action

Many of the legal actions this quarter stemmed from the efforts of pro-Israel groups to stifle any campus activity that could be seen as pro-Palestinian or critical of Israel. Most prominent among these was an investigation launched (3/7) by the U.S. Dept. of Education (DOE) Office of Civil Rights into charges filed in 6/2009 by Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, professor of Hebrew at University of California, Santa Cruz, alleging that rhetoric used by individuals and groups on campus that “demonizes Israel, compares contemporary Israeli policy to that of the Nazis, calls for the dismantling of the Jewish state, and holds Israel to an impossible double standard . . . crosses the line into anti-Semitism.” This marked the first investigation since the DOE announced in 10/2010 that it would extend Title VI protections to victims of antireligious bias as well as those of ethnic and racial bias—a change that the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) had lobbied for 6 yrs. Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 bars discrimination by organizations receiving federal funds.

Jessica Felber, a Jewish student at the University of California, Berkeley (UCB), filed (3/4) a case in U.S. district court seeking damages and a jury trial, accusing UCB of failing to protect Jewish students from harassment and attack by 2 pro-Palestinian student groups—Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and the Muslim Student Association—and of tolerating “the growing cancer of a dangerous anti-Semitic climate on its campuses” that violates the rights of Jewish and other students “to enjoy a peaceful campus environment free from threats and intimidation.” The suit stemmed from an incident on 3/5/10 in which SJP head Hussam Zakharia allegedly rammed into Felber with a shopping cart because of the pro-Israel sign she was holding during a pro-Israel rally. Zakharia was arrested for battery but later released and not charged.

On 3/9, 30 University of California Jewish studies faculty members asked the Orange County district attorney to drop criminal charges against 11 Muslim students who disrupted a 2/8/10 campus speech by Israeli amb. to the U.S. Michael Oren by standing up 1-by-1 during his address to call him a “mass murderer” and “war criminal,” prompting him to walk off stage twice. The charges of conspiracy to disrupt a meeting could carry jail terms of up to 6 mos. as well as fines. The Jewish Voice for Peace organization previously called for dropping charges on the grounds that the outbursts constituted freedom of speech and peaceful protest. The Simon Wiesenthal Center and the ZOA were among the Jewish groups supporting prosecution under Title VI. There was no ruling before the end of the quarter. The ZOA filed (4/7) a complaint with Rutgers University, saying that “the campus environment is increasingly hostile, anti-Semitic, and even includes violent threats against a Jewish student” and accusing the university of failing to prevent “anti-Semitism, Israel-bashing, and violent threats” on campus. The ZOA called on Rutgers to investigate its complaints; meet with Jewish students; “publicly label and condemn anti-Semitism when it occurs on campus, including when it is expressed as anti-Zionist or anti-Israel”; train faculty and staff to recognize and confront anti-Semitism; create programs to educate students “about the history and dangers of antiSemitism in all of its manifestations”; and to undertake “a comprehensive review of university course descriptions and course materials to ensure that . . . students aren’t being discouraged or intimidated into not expressing their views supporting Israel.” Rutgers had not responded by the end of the quarter.

In response to the UCB and Rutgers cases, the American Association of University Professors and the American Jewish Committee issued (Doc. D2, 4/20) a letter urging close scrutiny of claims that statements and activities on campuses that are critical of Israel amount to illegal intimidation of Jewish students. They stressed that Title VI had been misused to “seek to silence anti-Israel discourse and speakers”—an application of Title VI that they called “unwarranted” and “dangerous” to free speech.

Taking example from the U.S. cases, Sammy Katz, a student at Canada’s York University in Toronto, filed a claim with Ontario’s Human Rights Tribunal alleging that the university tolerated an environment hostile to Jews after he was verbally abused at a pro-Israel rally in 2/2010. The university released a video of the event aimed at showing that pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian students were “evenly matched” in their verbal abuse and that there was little physical contact. The tribunal did not take action before the quarter’s end.

Of note: The University of California, Hastings’ board of directors convened (3/24) an emergency meeting the day before a 2-day conference on “Litigating Palestine” hosted by its law school opened. The meeting voted to “take all steps necessary to remove the UC Hastings name and brand” from the conference and to cancel plans for the university’s dean and chancellor Frank Wu to give an opening speech. The university had received complaints from some alumni and local Jewish organizations who denounced the conference as “an anti-Israel political organizing conference using law as a weapon.” In announcing its pull-out, the board did not explain the decision but stated that convening such gatherings is “among our responsibilities as an academic institution.”

Similarly, the board of the City University of New York (CUNY) rejected (5/4) the student nomination of Pulitzer-prizewinning playwright Tony Kushner for an honorary degree at its commencement after a board member (Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, also a trustee of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy) objected that Kushner was anti-Israel because of a recent statement he made acknowledging being conflicted about Zionism, since Israel’s founding in 1948 was based on ethnic cleansing. Wiesenfeld said Kushner should not be given an honorary degree until he repudiated his past statements about Israel. CUNY’s trustees, however, voted (5/9) to overturn the decision, stating: “Freedom of thought and expression is the bedrock of any university worthy of the name. . . . It is not right for the board to consider politics in connection with the award of honorary degrees except in extreme cases not presented by the facts here.”

Larry Klayman, a U.S. attorney, activist, and founder of the conservative public interest group Judicial Watch, filed (3/31) suit in U.S. District Court in Washington as “an American citizen of Jewish origin” who is “active in all matters concerning the security of Israel and its people,” seeking more than $1 b. in damages from Facebook and its CEO Mark Zuckerberg for “negligence” for not responding quickly enough to calls to take down a page calling for a 3d intifada against Israel. Facebook removed the page on 3/29 after it had been up for several weeks and gained 350,000 followers. The suit also called on Facebook to remove all pages using the words “Third Intifada” or any other wording that “encourages violence toward Jews.” Facebook said (3/31) the case was one “without merit” and which it would fight, stating: “We strongly believe that Facebook users have the ability to express their opinions, and we don’t typically take down content, groups, or pages that speak out against countries, religions, political entities, or ideas.”




Continued Tension with Israel

As Pres. Obama ushered in his last year in office, stalled talks about a new U.S. military aid program to Israel further strained U.S.-Israeli relations this quarter and unconfirmed reports suggested the admin. was realigning U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Rumors to that effect had circulated since the spring 2015 Israeli elections when the admin. announced it was “reassessing” its position (see JPS 44 [4]). With the nuclear agreement with Iran all but secured, Obama seemed to be considering a new stance.

Early in the quarter, the Wall Street Journal reported (3/7) that senior admin. officials were talking about a final White House push for a 2-state solution, including a blueprint for future Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Among the options under consideration were: support for a UNSC res. calling on both the Palestinians and Israelis to compromise, which Washington had opposed in the past; a major policy speech from Obama himself; and a new joint statement from the Middle East Quartet. A White House spokesperson denied (3/8) that there had been any change to admin. policy but left open the possibility of “future engagement . . . as it relates to determining how to most effectively advance the objective we all share in achieving a negotiated 2-state solution.”

In another report at the end of the quarter (5/7), senior U.S. diplomats were described as indicating that the U.S. planned to endorse a new Quartet document containing unusually strong language condemning Israel’s settlements, demolitions of Palestinian property, and property seizures in the West Bank. The document, which the Quartet was reportedly hoping to publish and get endorsed by the UNSC in 5/2016 or 6/2016, would highlight obstacles to a 2-state solution and include recommendations for restarting negotiations.

Meanwhile, in an unlikely development, 11 mbrs. of the traditionally pro-Israel Congress, including Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT), wrote on 2/17 to Secy. of State Kerry asking him to investigate the “disturbing number of reports of possible gross violations of human rights by security forces in Israel.” Politico, which published the letter on 3/29, then reused language from the letter, including the phrase “extrajudicial killings,” in reference to the actions of Israeli forces in Israel and the oPt. Predictably, the letter drew condemnation from Israel and its allies in the U.S. PM Netanyahu called Kerry on 4/1 requesting that he state publicly that the Obama admin. did not consider recent IDF killings of Palestinians to be extrajudicial. Kerry made no such statement, however. Instead, his dept. assured (5/5) the 11 mbrs. of Congress that it was tracking all alleged Israeli violations of human rights.

Aid to Israel and the Palestinians

U.S.-Israeli talks on a new military aid agreement remained stalled this quarter evidencing the level of acrimony between the Obama admin. and the Israeli govt. Although officials on both sides repeatedly said that they wanted to see an increase in U.S. military aid to Israel—the memorandum of understanding (MoU) governing U.S. annual military aid disbursements, which currently guaranteed Israel $30 b. over 10 years, was due to expire—reports outlined a persistent disparity in the amounts involved.

In the early weeks of the quarter, top Israeli and U.S. military officials met to work out the terms of a possible agreement. Israeli DM Ya’alon met with U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff chair Joseph Dunford in Tel Aviv on 3/3 and Defense Secy. Ash Carter in Washington on 3/14, and they agreed to cooperate “in the cyber domain to enhance their nations’ cyber defense capabilities,” according to a Defense Dept. spokesperson.

Adding to U.S.-Israeli tensions was PM Netanyahu’s cancellation (3/7) of his plan to attend the annual American Israel Public Affairs Comm. (AIPAC) conference. Haaretz reported that Netanyahu was not interested in visiting Washington if Pres. Obama would not meet with him. A U.S. National Security Council spokesperson denied the report (3/7), clarifying that the Obama admin. had, in fact, invited Netanyahu to meet with the pres. on 3/18. Afterward, Israeli officials, speaking off the record, offered a different explanation, saying that Netanyahu did not want to be seen as interfering in the U.S. presidential campaign currently underway (see below). In the wake of the cancellation, U.S. VP Joe Biden visited Israel for further talks and urged the PM on 3/8 to conclude a deal with Obama even if the amount fell short of Israel’s request. Biden also pledged “unvarnished” commitment to Israel. Israeli dep. FM Tzipi Hotovely then cited (3/10) a new reason for the Israeli premier’s cancellation: “The PM wants to honor the U.S. pres. by going [to Washington] when there is a basis, good news on the matter of the U.S. aid package.

As Netanyahu marshaled his supporters in the U.S. to pressure the Obama admin., new details from the negotiations were leaked to the press. On 3/30, Netanyahu conveyed to a congressional delegation led by Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) that he wanted to conclude a deal before Obama left office and the U.S. senator reportedly assured him that the admin.’s current offer was within U.S. means, implying that any increase would strain the govt.’s budget. The next day, an Israeli official said that Netanyahu might allow the talks to fail if there were any signs that the U.S. might support a Palestinian-backed UNSC res. censuring Israel’s settlements. Then, in 4/2016, a group of 83 U.S. senators sent Obama a letter calling on him to sign a new military aid agreement with Israel forthwith. After the U.S. press broke the story, a White House official responded (4/25), saying “we are preparing to sign [an agreement] that would constitute the largest single pledge of military assistance to any country in U.S. history.” The following week, citing anonymous U.S. and Israeli sources, Reuters revealed (5/3) that Israel was seeking a $10 b. increase over the current 10-year MoU, including at least $3.7 b. in annual aid, additional support for its missile defense programs, and the opportunity to lobby for more money on an ad hoc basis. The Obama admin. was offering no more than $3.7 b., and balked at the prospect of annual lobbying for ad hoc projects.

While Israeli and U.S. negotiators were working out the terms of the new aid package to Israel, U.S. aid to the Palestinians was also in flux. On 3/12, PLO Exec. Comm. mbr. Ashrawi met with mbrs. of the Congress and other U.S. officials. She called on them to support the French peace initiative (see “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” above), and pressured House Republicans to lift their hold on $159 m. in aid to the PA. Chair of the House Appropriations Subcomm. Kay Granger (R-TX) had reportedly requested the aid to be blocked in fall 2015 to protest the Palestinian statehood initiative at the UN and the PA’s payments to Palestinian families whose imprisoned relative was convicted by Israel of committing serious crimes against Israelis. Later, Al-Monitor reported (4/19) that $108 m. of the aid had been unblocked but that some mbrs. of Congress wanted to codify new restrictions on Palestinian aid into 2017 appropriations legislation.

Also of note: the U.S. consul gen. in Jerusalem, Donald Blome, announced (5/9) a new program by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) to provide $50 m. to Gaza over 5 years for humanitarian support, job creation, and capacity-building.

The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and the 2016 Presidential Race

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump all but locked up the presumptive Democratic and Republican nominations for pres. this quarter. Both candidates clarified their positions on Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in speeches delivered at the AIPAC conference in 3/2016, as well as in the lead-up to the New York state primary on 4/19.

Although Clinton was the front-runner for the Democratic nomination, her main opponent, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), had mounted a formidable challenge as the quarter opened. Sanders was winning states and accumulating delegates to the party’s nominating convention on the strength of his progressive platform and his criticisms of growing U.S. economic inequality, pressuring Clinton from the left. With the tense U.S.-Israeli relationship in the news and the New York primary looming, both candidates sought to distinguish themselves on the question of U.S. policy in the Middle East. Clinton, Pres. Obama’s former secy. of state, reiterated her long-standing fiercely pro-Israel position, telling AIPAC conference attendees on 3/21 that “the U.S. and Israel must be closer than ever, stronger than ever.” She condemned Hamas’s rocket attacks, virtually ignored Israel’s settlements, and generally pandered to conferees who interrupted her 55 times with applause, according to Salon (3/22). Sanders, on the other hand, did not attend the AIPAC conference. Although AIPAC organizers denied his request to deliver his speech via teleconference, he gave it anyway, while campaigning in Utah. The speech cleaved close to the Obama admin.’s policy, with Sanders calling for direct Israeli-Palestinian negotiations and a 2-state solution. Rhetorically, however, the Vermont senator diverged significantly from standard Democratic Party talking points on Israel and Palestine. Rather than pledging unyielding support for Israel, Sanders talked (3/21) about his time living on a kibbutz, described Israel’s summer 2014 assault on Gaza as “disproportionate,” and called for “achieving self-determination, civil rights, and economic well-being for the Palestinian people.”

Sanders’s speech put the Israeli-Palestinian conflict center stage in the Democratic primary battle, exposing a significant divide in the party. Over the course of 3 Israeli assaults on Gaza in the past 10 years, U.S. progressives had become increasingly frustrated with the Israeli govt. and more sympathetic to the Palestinians, and Sanders appealed to this growing constituency. Unsurprisingly, he came under fire from party elites, Israeli officials, and the Israel lobby. In an interview with the New York Daily News’s editorial board, Sanders reiterated (4/4) his description of Israel’s 2014 assault on Gaza as “disproportionate,” said there was a wide consensus that the IDF’s attacks were “indiscriminate,” and erroneously referred to “10,000 Gazans” killed in the assault (in fact, 2,251 were killed and around 11,000 were injured, according to the UN; see JPS 44 [1, 2]). Former Israeli amb. to the U.S. Michael Oren accused (4/7) Sanders of “blood libel”; the AntiDefamation League urged (4/6) him to “correct his misstatements”; and Clinton herself criticized (4/10) him and justified the IDF’s assault, saying “Hamas provokes Israel . . . and I think Israel has a right to defend itself.”

Amid controversy over the New York Daily News interview, the Sanders campaign hired (4/11) Simone Zimmerman as its national Jewish outreach coordinator. She had headed the campus arm of the liberal Zionist group J Street, J Street U, and was a leader in the antioccupation If Not Now movement. The proIsrael establishment immediately targeted Zimmerman, dredging up some of her old posts on social media platforms to delegitimize her. The Sanders campaign suspended her appointment on 4/14, hours before the Democratic debate in Brooklyn ahead of the 4/19 New York primary. Sanders did not temper his position on Israel, though. In the debate, he again highlighted the plight of the Palestinian people, drawing praise from U.S. Palestinian and progressive communities alike.

On the Republican side, Donald Trump faced no challenge to his position on the PalestinianIsraeli conflict, and by the end of the quarter he seemed to have assured the U.S. pro-Israel establishment of his dedication to their cause. Ahead of the AIPAC conference, however, uncertainty about his position arose. Trump had earlier stated (12/3) that he had “a real question as to whether or not both sides want to make [peace].” Then, on 2/16, he said he would be “neutral” on Israel and Palestine. Over the course of the quarter, he tacked further toward Republican orthodoxy and a full embrace of the current Israeli govt.’s positions. In his AIPAC conference speech (3/21), Trump pledged unconditional support for Israel and promised to strengthen sanctions on Iran. The same week, his 2 remaining Republican challengers—Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Gov. John Kasich (R-OH)—dropped out of the race. In connection with Israeli settlements, Trump told the Daily Mail, “I think Israel, they really have to keep going, they have to keep moving forward,” he said, adding, “I don’t think there should be a pause.”

The Ongoing Case of Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard

After convicted Israeli spy Jonathan Pollard was released from prison last quarter (see JPS 45 [3]), his lawyers, Israeli officials, and several mbrs. of Congress appealed the terms of his parole. As the U.S. judicial system processed their complaints, the Israeli Knesset’s Ministerial Comm. on Legislation prepared to vote on a proposal that would award Pollard a lifetime stipend. Netanyahu intervened ahead of the 3/20 vote and had it postponed indefinitely. A source close to Netanyahu said (3/20) that the decision was made at the request of security officials, although it was clear that granting Pollard a stipend would have deleterious effects on the U.S.-Israeli relationship.

Dani Dayan: A Settler Consul in New York

Following the Brazilian govt.’s rejection of former settler leader Dani Dayan as amb. (see “Brazil” below), Netanyahu appointed (3/28) Dayan consul gen. in New York. Dayan immediately stirred controversy within the U.S. pro-Israel community when he told Israel’s i24news (3/27), “I prefer the attitude of AIPAC to that of J Street . . . the more anti-Israel you are, the more you are endorsed by J Street. That’s un-Jewish.” J Street criticized his appointment on 3/29, saying that “these kinds of slurs impugning our faith should simply be out-of-bounds for an official emissary of the Israeli govt.” On 3/31, Dayan issued an apology on Twitter that J Street’s pres. Jeremy Ben-Ami accepted in kind while acknowledging the growing divide in the U.S. Jewish community: “@danidayan really appreciate this. Have always valued engaging with you. Look forward to continuing to disagree in NY as we have in Israel!”

The PA and PLO on Trial

This quarter, the PA and PLO continued to appeal the U.S. District Court of New York’s 2/23/2015 ruling finding them liable for $655 m. in damages on terrorism charges brought by 10 families of U.S. victims of 6 attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004. The 2d Circuit Court of Appeals heard the appeal on 4/12, when the Palestinians’ lawyer, Mitchell Berger, argued that the district court did not have jurisdiction to rule on the matter in the first place. He said, “[The families’] own experts said the brunt of the injury, which is the key question, was on Israel, not the U.S.” There was no ruling on the appeal this quarter.

Legislative Crackdown on BDS

Particularly at the state level, legislative crackdowns on the BDS movement, which had gathered momentum in each of the 3 preceding quarters, produced results. By the end of the quarter, legislatures in 20 states had considered bills that could undermine or destabilize BDS efforts. Consequently, 7 more states joined Illinois and South Carolina in putting anti-BDS laws on the books. Alabama barred (5/10) public contracts with companies that boycott anyone with whom the state enjoys free trade (including Israel); Arizona (3/17) and Georgia (3/26) specifically barred public contracts with companies boycotting Israel; Colorado (3/18), Florida (3/10), and Indiana (3/23) blocked their public employees’ retirement funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel; and Iowa (5/10) barred public contracts with such companies and prohibited its public employees’ retirement fund from investing in them.

At the national level, there were fewer new crackdowns on BDS, and no major changes among congressional or executive priorities. The most noteworthy development was the signing into law (2/24) by the pres. of the Trade Facilitation and Trade Enforcement Act of 2015 (see S. 644 at for more). This multifaceted trade bill, commonly known as the “customs bill,” included AIPAC-approved provisions ordering U.S. courts to disregard judgments in foreign courts based on BDS laws, requiring the pres. to report annually to Congress on BDS activities in the U.S., and laying out 3 anti-BDS objectives for the U.S. to pursue in trade negotiations: to discourage potential trading partners from prejudicing U.S.-Israel commercial activity, to eliminate politically motivated nontariff barriers on Israel, and to seek the termination of statesponsored boycotts of Israel, such as that of the Arab League. As he did after signing the Defending Public Safety Employees’ Retirement Act (see H.R. 2146 and JPS 45 [1]), which contained similar provisions, Obama issued (2/24) a signing statement reiterating his specific opposition to BDS, as defined in the bill. Because anti-BDS provisions in S. 644 conflated Israel and “Israeli-controlled territories” (i.e., the oPt), they were contrary to his admin.’s policy opposing Israel’s settlements; therefore, implementing that aspect of the bill would “interfere with [his] constitutional authority to conduct diplomacy.” Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (R-WI) promised (2/26) to use Congress’s “oversight capacity to ensure [the provisions] are faithfully enforced,” but it was unclear how and when he planned to do so, and there were no further developments through the end of the quarter.

Continued Tension with Israel

By bringing Yisrael Beytenu chair Lieberman into his ruling coalition instead of opposition leader Herzog, Israeli PM Netanyahu exacerbated existing tensions between his govt. and that of U.S. pres. Barack Obama. In his 1st few mos. in office, Lieberman exhibited a strong-arm stance vis-à-vis the occupation as well as bullish opposition to the P5+1’s nuclear deal with Iran, which combined with Netanyahu and Obama’s specific and lingering disagreements further strained the Israel-U.S. relationship.

The tension was particularly evident during a press conference at the Pentagon on 8/4, when Obama used the occasion to note that Iran was holding up its side of the 7/14/2015 nuclear deal and that this was even recognized by some Israeli officials: “It’s the assessment of the Israeli military and intelligence community—the country that was most opposed to this deal— that acknowledges this has been a gamechanger.” Lieberman took issue with Obama’s comments and released (8/5) a statement through the Defense Ministry comparing the nuclear deal with Iran to the 1938 Munich Agreement, the so-called appeasement of Hitler. The latter, he argued, “did not prevent the Second World War and the Holocaust . . . because the leaders of the world at that time ignored the explicit statements by Hitler and the rest of the leaders of Nazi Germany.” As the U.S. and Israeli press geared up for another major war of words, Netanyahu quickly undertook damage control, with his office releasing a statement (8/5) rephrasing Lieberman’s criticism of the U.S. president’s comments. The statement noted that, while Israel “has no greater ally than the U.S.,” Tel Aviv’s position on the nuclear deal “remains unchanged.” According to senior Israeli officials, the P.M.’s office also contacted (8/5) U.S. amb. to Israel Dan Shapiro to further defuse the tension and make clear that Netanyahu did not approve of Lieberman’s historical comparison. Days later, the Israeli Defense Ministry effectively retracted (8/8) Lieberman’s initial response: “Friday’s statement was not intended to make a direct comparison, either historically or personally,” the new statement read; “We are sorry if it was understood otherwise.”

Despite these tensions and persistent rumors that the Obama admin. was considering changing its approach to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in its final mos. in office (see JPS 45 [4]), no developments during the quarter evidenced any change in official U.S. policy. Washington signed a joint declaration on cybersecurity with Tel Aviv on 6/21, making Israel the 1st state to join the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security’s new information-sharing platform, and it urged international diplomats to tone down their condemnations of Israel at the Paris peace conference and via the Middle East Quartet (see “The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict” above and “Middle East Quartet” below).

Military Aid to Israel

Bilateral U.S.-Israel talks on a new military aid agreement advanced this quarter, with the 2 sides overcoming some remaining disagreements that left only technical details unresolved by quarter’s end. As the quarter opened, the Israeli and U.S. negotiating teams were meeting with increasing frequency to hammer out the details of a new memorandum of understanding (MoU) to replace the current 10-year deal set to expire in 2018. The Obama admin. was reportedly pushing for an “all-inclusive” follow-up agreement worth no more than $3.7 b. per year, or a total of $37 b. over 10 years, while the Israelis pushed hard to obtain additional annual support for missile defense programs and the opportunity to lobby for more money each year on an ad hoc basis (see JPS 45 [4]).

U.S. govt. sources initially said (5/21) that DM Lieberman’s involvement complicated the talks, but both sides were clearly committed to reaching a compromise. On 6/6, National Security Advisor Susan Rice assured the American Jewish Comm.’s 2016 Global Forum in Washington that the Obama admin. was ready to sign a new military aid deal with Israel exceeding all previous agreements. Two weeks later, when Lieberman met (6/20) with Defense Secy. Ash Carter in Washington, an Israeli official described the deal (6/20) as “very close.” Then, in response to a letter from U.S. senators urging the deal’s completion, the Obama admin. informed (7/1) Congress that it had offered to substantially increase Israel’s aid package (even compared with earlier rounds of talks on the new MoU) although no details were released. According to the New York Times (7/1), the sums involved were said to be over $40 b., but the admin. was insisting that the entire amount would have to be spent exclusively in the U.S. (Under the previous MoU, Israel, unique among all U.S. military aid recipients, was permitted to spend around 26% of its annual military allocation outside the U.S. and 13% of it on fuel.)

In late 7/2016 and early 8/2016, the 2 sides achieved a breakthrough. Starting on 7/25, official statements conveyed optimism and the media reported that the gaps were closing. Senior Israeli officials indicated that Netanyahu was poised to compromise in order to get a deal done before Obama left office in 1/2017: the PM was reportedly ready to back down on his demand to lobby for more missile defense support on an annual basis and agree to the U.S. requirement that Israel increase incrementally the amount of U.S. military aid spent on U.S.- produced items. On 8/1, Ynet confirmed that Israel would no longer seek annual ad hoc funding opportunities for its missile defense programs and agreed to a gradual phaseout of the approx. one quarter of U.S. funds it spent on its own military industry, slated to reach zero in 2028, the final year of the agreement. After the talks in Washington concluded, a U.S. official confirmed that they had “made progress” and that “a final agreement” was close. Only technical details remained, said senior U.S. and Israeli officials (Haaretz, 8/3).

The Palestinian-Israeli Conflict and the 2016 Presidential Race

Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, who secured the Democratic and Republican U.S. presidential nominations respectively, maintained their unwavering support for Israel this quarter, competing only over who could be more strident in their expressions of support.

On the Democratic side, Clinton’s main rival, Bernie Sanders (I-VT), was effectively out of the running by the time the quarter began. Clinton had what was considered an insurmountable lead both in the delegate count and in overall votes, as well as commanding nr.-unanimous support among the party establishment. Rather than dropping out of the contest, Sanders opted to campaign through the Democratic nominating convention in the hope of building progressive ranks in preparation for the battle over the party platform (Washington Post, 5/20). Sanders reportedly wanted to see the party’s official position change on key domestic issues, including labor rights and trade agreements, as well as on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. To that end, 3 of his 5 allotted nominees to the 15-mbr. party platform drafting comm. went to vocal critics of the Israeli occupation: Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), public intellectual and academic Cornel West, and James Zogby, the founder and president of the Arab American Institute. (Clinton selected 6 of the comm. mbrs. and National Comm. chair Debbie Wasserman Schulz the remaining 4.) After the comm. was announced on 5/23, Sanders said (5/26) he believed most Democrats thought lasting peace in the Middle East would not occur “without fair and respectful treatment of the Palestinian people.” He wanted the Democratic Party platform to reflect that, he said.

After Clinton locked up (6/7) the nomination, the platform comm. went to work. At the 1st round of hearings, a mo.-long debate over the party’s position on Israel opened with a heated exchange between Sanders and Clinton allies (6/9). After former congressman Robert Wexler outlined Clinton’s plans to maintain the U.S. commitment to Israel, West was particularly outspoken. “For too long, the Democratic Party’s been beholden to the American Israel Public Affairs Comm., [and] didn’t take seriously the humanity of Palestinian brothers and sisters,” West affirmed. He also asked whether the platform would use “the word ‘occupation,’” which was the very question that ultimately divided the comm.

On 6/25, the comm. finalized a draft platform, which was published on 7/1 and approved on 7/8–9 and included calls for a $15/hr. minimum wage and the abolition of the death penalty. It did not, however, include the provision calling for Israel to end its occupation and settlement enterprise, which Sanders’s allies had pushed for. Compared to the 2012 platform, the 2016 draft had no new language on Israel, although it did include a single reference to Palestinian rights: “We will continue to work toward a 2-state solution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict negotiated directly by the parties that guarantees Israel’s future as a secure and democratic Jewish state with recognized borders and provides the Palestinians with independence, sovereignty, and dignity.” The draft also asserted that the party would oppose what it referred to as “any effort to delegitimize Israel, including at the UN or through the BDS movement.” In the wake of the draft’s initial approval, Zogby told (6/27) the Jerusalem Post that Clinton appointees had blocked any mention of the word “occupation” in reference to Israel.

Although the divide between Sanders and the progressive wing, on the one hand, and Clinton and the establishment wing, on the other, over the Israeli-Palestinian conflict was substantial, it was only 1 of many disagreements besetting the party in the lead up to the nominating convention, held in Philadelphia on 7/25–28. While Sanders himself endorsed Clinton on 7/12, his supporters continued to turn out for him at state primaries and at protests outside the convention. Typifying a segment of Sanders’s base, West pledged (7/14) to vote for Green Party candidate Jill Stein instead of Clinton. By the end of the quarter, the intraparty divide did not appear to be harming Clinton in national head-to-head polling against Trump, but it did portend further discord over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict in the future.

Now the official nominee, Clinton continued to tout her pro-Israel credentials. After accepting the party’s nomination, she published (8/9) a factsheet on her website outlining her “30-year record of friendship, leadership, and strength” and describing her “vision” for the U.S.-Israel relationship under future Clinton admin. This included pledges to expand U.S.- Israel military exercises, increase support for Israeli rocket and missile defense, and defend Israel from “anti-Israel bias in UN bodies” and the BDS movement.

Divisions within the Democratic Party appeared minor in comparison with the imbroglio resulting from Donald Trump’s victory in the Republican primaries. The popularity of his overtly racist comments, brash disposition, and lack of govt. experience led to an upheaval within the party on numerous issues. The Palestinian-Israeli conflict, however, was not one of them.

Although Trump’s pledge to stay “as neutral as possible” remained on his campaign website throughout the quarter (see JPS 45 [4]), his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict tacked further and further to the right toward in a near-full embrace of the Netanyahu govt.’s stance. On 6/23, Trump’s co-advisor on Israel David Freidman said that Trump would support Israel if it chose to annex parts of the West Bank. Later, at the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Friedman further clarified by saying that Trump would approve of Israeli annexation if the Palestinians continued avoiding peace negotiations. Meanwhile, the Republican platform drafting comm. also made some changes to the party’s positions on Israel, sparking a minor disagreement with a key pro-Israel lobbying group. In a draft platform approved on 7/12, the comm. dropped the party’s support for a 2-state solution, which had been a feature in both the 2008 and 2012 versions of the platform (see “The 2016 U.S. Presidential Campaign: Changing Discourse on Palestine” in this issue). Trump appeared to approve, tweeting (7/13) that the new platform was the “most pro-Israel of all time!” But the Anti-Defamation League disagreed, urging (7/13) the party to reconsider and arguing that the platform differed from “the stated position of PM Benjamin Netanyahu and prior [Republican] platforms.” In the end, the party did not reconsider. The final version of the platform approved at the Cleveland convention did not include pursuit of a 2-state solution among its tenets. In contrast, it harshly condemned the BDS movement as a modernday manifestation of anti-Semitism and pledged to support Jerusalem as Israel’s “indivisible” capital, while never mentioning a Palestinian state or Palestinian rights. The Republicans had dropped the recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital from their 2012 platform, after including it in 2008.

Aid to the Palestinians

For the 1st time since 2004, U.S. and Palestinian officials held (5/22) an official joint economic dialogue in Ramallah, to address economic challenges associated with achieving a 2-state solution. Asst. Secy. of State for Economic and Business Affairs Charles H. Rivkin and Dep. Under Secy. of Commerce for International Trade Ken Hyatt led the U.S. delegation, while on the PA side, Natl. Econ. Min. Abeer Odeh, Min. of Finance and Planning Shukri Bishara, and Min. of Telecom. and Info. Tech. Allam Mousa led the Palestinian delegates. Participants discussed possible job-creation programs to address unemployment in Gaza and the West Bank, among other economic development projects. In a statement dated 5/23, the U.S. consul gen. in Jerusalem, Donald Blome, described the exercise as underscoring “our commitment to fostering a robust, sustainable, and export‐ oriented Palestinian economy, which will be the backbone of a future Palestinian state.”

A Word from Congress about Palestinian Children

At the initiative of Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), 20 mbrs. of Congress signed (6/20) onto a letter urging Obama to appoint a special envoy for Palestinian youth and to elevate the status of Palestinian children’s rights in U.S. relations with Israel and the PA. Citing reports by Human Rights Watch and UNICEF, the letter highlighted the ongoing abuses of Palestinian children under the Israeli occupation and argued that “ignoring the trauma being inflicted on millions of Palestinian children undermines our American values.” McCollum spearheaded a similar letter to Secy. of State Kerry in 6/2015, which was signed by 18 of her colleagues.

The Ongoing Case of Convicted Israeli Spy Jonathan Pollard

After Jonathan Pollard was released from prison in 11/2015, he and his lawyers appealed the terms of his parole (see JPS 45 [3, 4]), arguing that the requirements that he wear an electronic tracker and have his work computer regularly monitored were arbitrary; his defense lawyers pleaded that there was no risk of him fleeing the U.S. since any state secrets he might possess would be over 30 years old and likely useless. U.S. District Judge Katherine Forrest rejected Pollard’s challenge on 8/11, ruling on the basis of Pollard’s explicitly stated desire to leave the U.S. for Israel. She also noted that Director of National Intelligence James Clapper had informed her that some documents Pollard compromised in the early 1980s were still classified as “top secret.”

Legislative Crackdown on BDS

As the quarter opened, legislative sessions in most state capitals had either wrapped up or were about to do so; therefore, fewer anti-BDS measures were passed into law by the end of this quarter compared to the previous 2 quarters (see JPS 45 [3, 4]). New Jersey was an exception, however. On 8/15, Gov. Chris Christie signed into law a measure barring the state govt. from investing pension and annuity funds in companies that boycott Israel or Israeli businesses. The measure had passed (6/27) in the state’s General Assembly with only 3 votes against. In a related development, New York gov. Andrew Cuomo signed (6/5) an executive order requiring the state govt. to divest from companies and organizations that support BDS against Israel, describing his new policy succinctly: “If you boycott against Israel, New York will boycott you.” Cuomo ordered the New York Office of General Services to compile a list of companies and groups that directly or indirectly through their subsidiaries participate in the BDS movement, pledging to divest all executive branch agencies and depts. from any listed organization.

In many states where lawmakers introduced anti-BDS measures, Palestinian solidarity activists launched opposition campaigns. One of these led Massachusetts state senator Cynthia Creem to withdraw an anti-BDS amendment from an unrelated economic bill on 7/14. Her amendment would have barred the state from doing business with people and commercial enterprises that engage in BDS against Israel.

Military Aid Deal Reached

Following mos. of negotiations, the U.S. and Israel signed a major military aid agreement this quarter. Negotiators had earlier overcome significant differences and while the contours of the agreement were largely known, detractors of the finalized deal spoke up volubly after the announcement, stepping up pressure on U.S. pres. Obama’s admin. in the final mos. of his term.

The acting head of Israel’s National Security Council, Nagel, and U.S. undersecy. of state for political affairs Thomas A. Shannon signed the new MoU, replacing the current document, at a ceremony in Washington on 9/14. Under the new MoU, the U.S. was to deliver $38 b. in aid to Israel over the course of 10 years, beginning in 2019. The MoU increased annual U.S. disbursements of direct military aid, or foreign military financing (FMF), from a total $3.1 b. to $3.3 b.; set at an annual $500 m. U.S. funding of U.S.-Israeli cooperative missile defense programs; and phased out, in the 2d half of the 10-year period, the unique provision under the current MoU that allows Israel to spend 26.3% of its annual FMF funds in Israel. It was also reported, but unconfirmed, that Israel agreed not to request supplemental appropriations from Congress, as has been the trend in recent years.

While some Israeli and U.S. politicians criticized the deal, both Israeli PM Netanyahu and Obama proudly touted it as a landmark accomplishment. Representing the Israeli PM Nagel said (9/14), “At no stage of the negotiations was there a higher [U.S.] offer on the table than the 1 we ultimately received.” He was preemptively countering complaints from Netanyahu’s opponents, who decried the PM for antagonizing the Obama admin. over the P5+1’s (U.S., France, China, Russia, UK, and Germany) nuclear deal with Iran and who had also cited the frosty Obama-Netanyahu relationship as the reason that Israel received less military aid than it wanted. Obama stated (9/14) for his part that the deal made a “significant contribution to Israel’s security in what remains a dangerous neighborhood,” and reiterated that the U.S. was “Israel’s greatest friend and partner.” Israel’s friends in Congress were unhappy with the MoU. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC), who led a campaign to pressure Obama into improving the U.S. offer during the talks, voiced a litany of complaints on 9/16, claiming that the provision annulling Israel’s right to lobby Congress was “absurd” and criticizing Netanyahu for signing a deal too early. “Here is what I would tell Bibi,” he said. “When mbrs. of Congress come to Israel, you do a great job talking about the State of Israel’s needs and threats. Well, don’t tell us about all those needs and threats. When we try to help you, you pull the rug from under us. I think that is bad for Israel.” Graham, along with Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), John McCain (R-AZ), Mark Kirk (R-IL), Marco Rubio (R-FL), and Ted Cruz (R-TX), then introduced (9/20) a bill giving Israel $1.5 b. in supplemental military aid. Graham stated (9/20) that he intended to introduce more legislation overturning parts of the new MoU.

Rumors of a Peace Push

In the speech celebrating the new military aid deal, Obama said (9/14), “It is because of this same commitment to Israel and its long-term security that we will also continue to press for a 2-state solution to the longstanding IsraeliPalestinian conflict, despite the deeply troubling trends on the ground that undermine this goal.” His comments, in tandem with the U.S. State Dept.’s increasingly severe condemnations of Israeli settlement growth, strengthened speculation that Obama was considering a major new peace initiative during his remaining mos. in office. With a large military aid pledge firmly in place, Obama appeared to have enough political capital to shield his legacy from opponents in Congress and inside the Israel lobby. Although such rumors never panned out, leaks and unconfirmed reports throughout the quarter suggested that the Obama admin. might, in fact, be preparing a number of options for the outgoing pres. during the so-called lame-duck period.

A few days after the military aid deal was announced, U.S. secy. of state Kerry indicated that the admin.’s frustration with Israel was on the rise. During a meeting of the Ad Hoc Liaison Comm. (AHLC) on 9/19 (see “Donors” below), Kerry repeatedly warned about the declining viability of a 2-state solution, according to Western diplomats in attendance. The senior U.S. diplomat, who was also described (9/25) as appearing extremely agitated, laid most of the blame for the current impasse on ever-growing Israeli settlement construction in the West Bank. Kerry also complained that numerous confidence-building steps pledged by both sides had gone unfulfilled: “I was told the Allenby Bridge [between the West Bank and Jordan] would open 24/7. It never did. I was told that the 3G [West Bank cellular service] agreement signed nearly a year ago would take place within months. It still is not fully implemented.” And finally, he alluded to a possible step the Obama admin. might take, saying, “We need to fundamentally change the dynamic by resuming the transition to greater Palestinian civil authority in Area C.”

Before news of Kerry’s comments broke on 9/25, opposition to a potential U.S. peace push had already ramped up days before Netanyahu’s scheduled meeting with Obama in New York on 9/21, on the occasion of the UNGA. Addressing the UNGA on 9/20, Obama had said, “Surely, Israelis and Palestinians will be better off if Palestinians reject incitement and recognize the legitimacy of Israel but Israel recognizes that it cannot permanently occupy and settle Palestinian land.” On the same day, 88 U.S. senators signed on to a letter backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Comm. (AIPAC) and J Street calling on Obama to oppose any “one-sided” UNSC res. on the IsraeliPalestinian conflict. In the shadow of Obama’s comments and the anti-UNSC letter, Netanyahu and Obama discussed (9/21) relatively anodyne subjects. Instead of touching on Obama’s rumored peace effort, Netanyahu said the U.S. pres. would always be welcome in Israel, and Obama told him, “We’ll set up a tee time.”

Behind the scenes of the meeting, however, Obama admin. officials were carefully setting expectations on the possibility of a renewed U.S. effort. Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications Ben Rhodes said, “Obama’s calculations . . . revolve around the question ‘Can I make a positive change by engaging on the Israeli-Palestinian issue?’” Meanwhile, U.S. amb. to Israel Dan Shapiro confirmed (9/21) that Obama was weighing the possibility of a renewed push: “The question Pres. Obama is asking himself is: Can the U.S. contribute to the effort to preserve the objective of 2 states for 2 peoples? . . . This could be a statement we make or a resolution or an initiative at the UN . . . which contributes to an effort to be continued by the next admin.”

As the Obama admin. deliberated in private, there were further leaks of possible options being considered and the Israeli govt. began mounting a defense in public. On 9/24, and in a phone call with Kerry on 10/8, Netanyahu said he expected Obama to refrain from supporting a Palestinian-backed UNSC res. Kerry told the Israeli PM (10/8) that the pres. had not yet decided, but a week later, a senior U.S. diplomat in Tel Aviv clarified (10/16) that he was reviewing a handful of specific options. The diplomat said Obama was going to wait until after the presidential election on 11/8 to make any announcement, but indicated that he was weighing support for a UNSC res. condemning Israel’s settlements; he added that Obama was considering a major speech outlining the framework for a peace deal Kerry had devised during the last round of talks in early 2014 (see JPS 43 [4]) or calling for an enhanced regional approach linking the PalestinianIsraeli conflict with the struggle against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria and the civil war in Syria. Although the diplomat said that the speech on regional matters was the frontrunner, no decision had yet been made.

After the surprising results of the U.S. presidential election 3 weeks later, the Obama admin.’s deliberations no longer received much scrutiny. As pres.-elect Donald Trump shared very few of Obama’s positions on the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, attention focused instead on the major changes Trump would make to U.S. policy in the region.

Donald Trump, 45th President

Donald Trump won the U.S. presidential election on 11/8, defeating Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, although Clinton won the popular vote with at least 2.5 million more votes than her opponent. Trump was set to be sworn in as the 45th pres. of the U.S. on 1/20/2017. The Republicans also maintained their majority in the Senate, holding onto 51 seats, and retained 238 in the House. Because Trump and his new congressional allies share few of the Obama admin.’s views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the region in general, their victory signaled a potentially broad shift in U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East.

Despite the inconsistencies of the Trump campaign, the candidate and his advisors did attempt to solidify his reputation as an unflinching supporter of Israel, and particularly of the Netanyahu govt.’s policies as the election approached. Two mos. before the vote, the Trump campaign opened (9/5) an office in Karnei Shomron, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank. The dir. of campaign operations at the office, Tzvika Brot, said (9/5) that it was not meant to be a statement of policy in its own right, but that the goal was to “get [Israel’s] U.S. citizens interested in voting in the U.S. election to register before it’s too late.” However, Mark Zell, the cochair of Republicans Overseas Israel, said (9/5), “While Tzvika said this is not a political statement as such, that’s not entirely true. I worked along with reps. of the Trump campaign to get passed a historic amendment to the Republican Party platform, and this amendment specifically omitted any reference to Israel as an occupier and coincided with Trump’s own statements that building homes, synagogues, and schools for Arabs and Jews in Judea and Samaria was an issue for the Israeli govt. and people to decide—not something that America should be dictating to Israel” (see JPS 46 [1] for more on the Republican platform).

Later in 9/2016, Netanyahu met with both Trump and Clinton while he was in New York for the UNGA. An Israeli source said (9/23) that the meetings resulted from a phone call between the PM’s advisors and Trump’s campaign staff, and that Netanyahu only set up a meeting with Clinton to maintain balance. (He was reported wary of intervening in U.S. politics after his 2015 battle over the Iran deal and his vocal support for Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney in 2012.)

In his meeting with Netanyahu, Trump stated that he would “accept the long-standing congressional mandate to recognize Jerusalem as the undivided capital of the State of Israel,” according to a campaign press release. Since Congress passed the Jerusalem Embassy Act in 1995, both Republican and Democratic presidents have exercised their right to waive, every 6 mos., the congressionally mandated relocation of the U.S. Embassy from Tel Aviv. Clinton reaffirmed her “unwavering commitment” to Israel and pledged to oppose “any attempt by outside parties to impose a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict . . . including the UN,” according to her campaign. Although Trump’s stance was clearly more aligned with his own, Netanyahu summed up (9/26) the meetings by stating, “No matter what happens [on 11/8], the friendship between Israel and the U.S. will not only continue but will grow stronger.”

Trump’s inconsistent positions on Israel received increased scrutiny after the election. By the end of the quarter, however, the pres.- elect had only just begun assembling his cabinet and had not made any definitive statements on the subject.

A document published (11/2) a week before the election, by the cochairs of the Israel Advisory Comm. to Donald J. Trump, Jason Dov Greenblatt and David Friedman, received considerable attention. Although Trump himself did not lay out the document’s positions, Greenblatt and Friedman said each point had been “discussed with Mr. Trump and the Trump campaign” or “stated, in 1 form or another, by Mr. Trump,” and the document therefore supplied a definitive list of his policies to date (see Doc. D1). These included support for greater U.S.-Israeli military cooperation (and a pledge that the MoU signed by Obama would not limit that support); new sanctions on Iran “as needed,” vetoes of any UN votes that “unfairly single out Israel”; and opposition to any efforts to impose special labeling requirements on Israeli products, to the boycott of Israeli goods, to continued U.S. funding for the UN Human Rights Council, and to the BDS movement, which should be treated as “inherently anti-Semitic.” The document also included pledges to order the Justice Dept. to “investigate coordinated attempts on college campuses to intimidate students who support Israel”; recognize the impossibility of the 2-state solution; support direct negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians without preconditions (as Netanyahu has called for on numerous occasions); recognize “Jerusalem as the eternal and indivisible capital of the Jewish state”; and move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem. The document also accused the Palestinian leadership of undermining “any chance for peace with Israel” by “raising generations of Palestinian children on an educational program of hatred of Israel and Jews.”

The Israeli govt. welcomed Trump’s election. Netanyahu congratulated the pres.-elect by phone on 11/9, and Trump invited the Israeli PM to visit the White House at his earliest convenience. Education Minister Bennett said (11/8) Trump’s presidency offered “an opportunity for Israel to immediately retract the notion of a Palestinian state in the center of the country, which would hurt our security and just cause.” Haaretz later reported (11/10) on a leaked Foreign Ministry document listing expectations for Trump’s 1st term, saying that Israeli diplomats expected the Trump admin. to reduce U.S. involvement in the IsraeliPalestinian conflict, while noting that the pres.-elect’s statements on the subject did not reflect a consistent position.

The Palestinian response to Trump’s election was guarded. A PA spokesperson said (11/8), “We will deal with any president elected by the U.S. people on the principle of achieving permanent peace in the Middle East based on the 2-state solution,”including “the June 4, 1967 lines with East Jerusalem” as the capital of a future Palestinian state. Speaking at the annual conference of a Washington-based think tank and educational NGO dedicated to the Palestinian issue, Palestine’s amb. to the UN, Mansour, stated (11/11) that if the U.S. moved its embassy to Jerusalem “nobody should blame us for unleashing all of the weapons that we have in the UN.”

Throughout his campaign, Trump threatened to “tear up” the nuclear deal negotiated by the Obama admin. with the P5+1 and Iran on 7/14/2015, and his election threatened to upend the fragile relationship developing between Iran and the U.S. in the deal’s wake. The Iranian govt., for its part, expressed analogous hesitation. Iran’s FM Mohammad Javad Zarif said (11/10), “Iran’s options are not limited, but our hope and our desire and our preference is for the full implementation of the nuclear agreement, which is not bilateral for 1 side to be able to scrap.”

Legislative Crackdown on BDS

At the state and local level, U.S. officials continued to create new laws to target or otherwise undermine the campaign to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) Israel. Joining 10 other states (see JPS 45 and 46 [1]), California and Pennsylvania both enacted new anti-BDS legislation this quarter. Gov. Jerry Brown signed California’s Combating BDS Act of 2016 into law on 9/24, barring the state from doing business with companies that boycott or discriminate against any sovereign country, including Israel. Almost 6 weeks later, a similar bill arrived on Pennsylvania gov. Tom Wolf’s desk in Harrisburg, which he promptly signed (11/4) into law. Meanwhile, despite growing support for BDS across New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio, otherwise known as a champion of progressive causes, criticized the campaign on 8/20, saying, “There are plenty of people who support BDS who have advanced degrees and who call themselves progressives. I look forward to challenging them, because it’s ahistorical.” The New York City Council later passed, 40–4, a res. condemning “the global movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the people of Israel,” and all “efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.”

PA and PLO on Trial

A year and a half after the U.S. District Court of New York found (2/23/2015) the PA and PLO liable for $655 m. in damages on terrorism charges related to a string of attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004 (see JPS 44 [4]), a federal appeals court threw out the verdict on 8/31. In a unanimous vote, the appeals panel ruled that the lower court did not have jurisdiction over the case: “The federal courts cannot exercise jurisdiction in a civil case beyond the limits prescribed by the due process clause of the Constitution, no matter how horrendous the underlying attacks or morally compelling the plaintiffs’ claims.” A lawyer for the plaintiffs then said (8/31) that they would weigh their options before announcing a new course of action. He indicated that they could ask for a review by the full appeals court or file an appeal themselves with the U.S. Supreme Court.

Trump Shapes the Post-Obama Paradigm

In the aftermath of the U.S. election on 11/8, Israeli officials reached out to pres.-elect Trump to forge ties and suggest plans for his admin. Trump’s transition team didn’t embrace them as tightly as they expected, however, and Israeli PM Netanyahu eventually reined them in. On 11/16, Israeli DM Lieberman said that Israel would encourage Trump to recognize certain settlement blocs in exchange for a freeze on construction in other areas of the West Bank. The following week, Lieberman retracted (11/21) those comments, saying that Trump’s team had sent him messages afterward asking for “a bit more humility.” After Israel’s Agriculture Min. Uri Ariel sent (11/18) senior Trump advisor Steve Bannon a letter thanking him for his opposition to the 7/14/2015 Iran nuclear deal and Education Min. Bennett met (11/20) with 3 Trump advisors in New York, Netanyahu reportedly issued (11/21) an order forbidding all ministers and dep. ministers from making contact with Trump’s team, other than through the PM’s office or the Israeli Embassy.

Meanwhile, the pres.-elect slowly formed his team to oversee the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. On 1/15, he confirmed (1/15) that he was putting his son-in-law and senior advisor, Kushner, in charge of the peace process, saying (1/19),” If [Kushner] can’t produce peace in the Middle East, nobody can.” Kushner is noted for having no experience in foreign policy nor any connection to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict outside his family’s personal attachment to Israel (Kushner’s grandparents were Holocaust survivors and staunch supporters of Zionism after World War II). Kushner’s parents have donated millions to Israeli hospitals and schools, including some in settlements, thereby earning considerable clout in some U.S. Jewish circles. As pointed out by several media outlets, Netanyahu stayed at the Kushner family home in New Jersey while on a state visit to the U.S. in the 1990s (New York Times, 2/11).

As his nominee for amb. to Israel, Trump chose (12/15) bankruptcy lawyer David Friedman whom he described as “a long-time friend and trusted advisor to me.” The pres.- elect further clarified that “[Friedman’s] strong relationships in Israel will form the foundation of his diplomatic mission and be a tremendous asset to our country as we strengthen the ties with our allies and strive for peace in the Middle East.” Like Kushner, Friedman also had no foreign policy experience at the time of his appointment. He is known as a committed supporter of the Israeli settlement enterprise, an opponent of the 2-state solution, and a columnist for the Jerusalem Post and Arutz Sheva, both right-of-center publications. Friedman also headed an organization called American Friends of Beit El, which raises approximately $2 m. per year to strengthen institutions in the eponymous West Bank settlement (this included a $10,000 donation from Trump in 2003). In accepting the nomination, Friedman aligned (12/15) himself with Netanyahu’s right-wing govt., saying that the Trump admin. would not “put [its] finger on the scale or tell Israel what policies they should adopt.” Netanyahu was pleased with the nomination, senior Israeli sources confirmed on 12/17.

Trump’s appointments to other positions related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict were a mixed bag. On 12/26, the pres.-elect appointed as his rep. for international negotiations campaign advisor Greenblatt, nominally a 2-state supporter who has said he did not believe Israel’s settlements were an obstacle to peace; for secy. of state, Trump selected ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson who spoke (1/11) of the U.S. need to “recommit” to Israel during his confirmation hearing; for his part, defense secy. nominee Ret. Gen. James Mattis told senators at his own confirmation hearing that he would “stick with the [current] U.S. policy” on the question of moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem; finally, South Carolina governor Haley, Trump’s nominee for UN amb., told legislators at her hearing (1/18) that she supported the embassy move, favored a 2-state solution, and thought that Israel’s settlements “can hinder peace.”


The Democrats Regroup and Rethink Israel-Palestine

In addition to the Republican presidential victory, major defeats in the House and Senate on 11/8 left the Democrats a weakened minority in Congress. Sen. Bernie Sanders’s (I-VT) presidential campaign in 2015 and 2016 had revealed deep fissures between the party’s progressive wing and the establishment wing aligned with his rival, Hillary Clinton. After the resignation of Debbie Wasserman Schultz as head of the party’s main organizing body, the Democratic National Comm. (DNC), the election for her replacement was set to test the party’s Trump-era dynamics. Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), an early supporter of Sanders’s campaign and cochair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, emerged as 1 of 2 main contenders early on in the quarter. However, his critical stance on Israel, and the backlash it drew from key donors, threatened to scupper his campaign.

When Ellison announced (11/14) his candidacy, it galvanized Palestinian solidarity activists and opponents of the current U.S. relationship with Israel. Besides his criticism of the Israeli occupation, Ellison was the 1st Muslim to be elected to Congress, and proPalestinian activists therefore viewed his candidacy as having the potential to shift the Democratic Party’s staunchly pro-Israel stance (see for Ellison’s record on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and related issues). Their enthusiasm was tempered a week later, however, when in response to allegations of anti-Semitism, Ellison disavowed (11/22) the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. “I have long supported a 2-state solution and a democratic and secure state for the Jewish people, with a democratic and viable Palestinian state side-by-side [sic] in peace and dignity,” Ellison indicated in an e-mail statement to the Star Tribune.

Opposition to Ellison mounted on 11/29 after a video surfaced of him making critical comments about the U.S.-Israel relationship in 2010. “U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East is governed by what is good or bad through [sic] a country of 7 m. people,” Ellison said in the video. “A region of 350 m. all turns on a country of 7 m., does that make sense?” Haim Saban, a major Democratic Party donor and backer of Hillary Clinton, called (12/3) Ellison an “anti-Semitic and anti-Israel person” who would be a “disaster for Israel and the Democratic party.” Both Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and the liberal Zionist group J Street defended Ellison (11/29 and 12/3, respectively).

Once the controversy subsided, former Labor Secy. Tom Perez jumped (12/15) into the DNC race, presenting a formidable challenge to Ellison from the party’s establishment wing. He won endorsements from then-VP Joe Biden and former atty. gen Eric Holder, but Pres. Obama withheld his opinion on the matter, leaving it a close race as the 2/25 vote approached.


Aid to the Palestinians

The Obama admin. released $221 m. in earmarked aid to the PA hours before Trump took office on 1/20. At least 2 Republican lawmakers, Ed Royce (R-CA) and Kay Granger (R-TX), had put a hold on the aid in response to the Palestinians’ admission to various international organizations, which the Obama admin. respected. When news of the lastminute release of the funds broke on 1/24, a State Dept. spokesperson announced that the dept. was looking into the situation and would ensure that the disbursement aligned with Pres. Trump’s priorities. The next day, a senior Palestinian source said that the Trump admin. had frozen the transfer. Trump admin. officials reportedly told PA PM Hamdallah on 1/24 that the funds should not be expected in PA coffers any time soon.


Legislative Crackdowns on BDS

State and local legislators across the U.S. undermined the BDS movement with new measures this quarter, advancing a years-long campaign against Palestine solidarity activists and critics of U.S. support for Israel. Ohio gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law on 12/19 and Michigan gov. Rick Snyder signed 2 on 12/31 that prohibited their states from contracting with businesses that engage in boycotts of Israel. Thus, Kasich and Snyder made Ohio and Michigan the 13th and 14th states to put antiBDS laws on the books since the inception of a nationwide effort in early 2015 (see JPS 44 [4] and every subsequent Update). Furthermore, as new legislative sessions began around the country, lawmakers introduced or started planning for similar legislation in 13 other states (AR, CT, KS, MN, MS, MT, NV, NY, NC, OK, VA, WA, and WY).

The new Republican majority in the U.S. Congress also began work on several new specifically anti-BDS measures (various other measures introduced early in the 115th Congress carried provisions only tangentially related to BDS; see for details). On 1/17, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) introduced the Combating BDS Act of 2017. A reformulation of a bill that had died in the previous congressional session, the measure would affirm the states’ authority to pass anti-BDS bills, like those mentioned above. At the end of the previous session, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) and Sen. Tim Scott (R-SC) had introduced the Anti-Semitism Awareness Act of 2016, which broadly defined opposition to Israel as antiSemitism, eligible for investigations into discrimination in educational programs receiving federal assistance. The bill’s definition of anti-Semitism included “judg[ing] Israel by a double standard,” which Palestine solidarity activists interpreted as condoning smears of the movement. Civil rights groups said the act would have a chilling effect on activism. The bill passed in the Senate (12/1) and stalled in the House, but supporters were expected to retool and reintroduce the bill in the 115th Congress.



The foreign policy community in Washington, both in and out of govt., struggled with the persistent uncertainty surrounding the new U.S. pres.’s plans this quarter. Trump’s vision in the realm of international relations remained unclear, especially with regard to the IsraeliPalestinian arena. Trump delayed or rolled back several key campaign promises (e.g., moving the U.S. Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem and backing out of the JCPOA). Trump’s willingness to break his campaign promises and to overturn other long-standing principles of U.S. policy on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict (such as the 2-state solution) posed new challenges to the traditional power structures underpinning the peace process and the bipartisan pro-Israel consensus in Washington.

Trump’s 12/15 nomination of David Friedman as U.S. ambassador to Israel, and his support for Israel’s settlement enterprise in particular, proved to be a partisan wedge issue. Friedman, who called the 2-state solution an “illusion” in an Arutz Sheva op-ed on 2/8/2016, reversed his stance in his hearing before the Senate Foreign Relations Comm. on 2/16. He said a 2-state solution was the “most ideal” option and the “best possibility for peace in the region,” and that he would support a “peace deal that included Beit El [settlement],” despite his widely known fiscal and political support for that settlement (see JPS 46 [3]). Notwithstanding such pronouncements, Friedman’s connections to Israel’s settlement enterprise dogged his nomination. The comm.’s ranking Democrat, Ben Cardin (MD), reminded (2/16) the comm. of Friedman’s comments on anti-settlement groups in the U.S.—he once compared left-wing U.S. Jewish groups to “kapos,” referring to the Jews who had collaborated with the Nazis during the Holocaust. Later, U.S. sen. and former presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (I-VT) sent a letter to Friedman (3/1) asking for clarification on his support for a 2-state solution, his position on Israel’s settlements, and his views on U.S. aid to Israel. Amid the debate over Friedman’s ties to the settlements, Haaretz reported (3/7) that they were deeper than previously known. In addition to his leadership role in a group that raised money for Beit El, Friedman had reportedly made several donations to Ateret Cohanim, the farright messianic organization heavily involved in settlement activity to Judaize East Jerusalem. In the end, the Foreign Relations Comm. approved (3/9) Friedman’s nomination in a 12–9 vote, with only Robert Menendez (D-NJ) breaking party lines. The full senate followed suit on 3/23, with only Joe Manchin (D-WV) joining Menendez in voting with the Republicans.

The bipartisan consensus largely held on issues unrelated to Israel’s settlements; however, there were indications that PM Netanyahu’s personal conduct was threatening the fragile consensus. On 3/28, Haaretz reported that at least 5 senior officials at major U.S.-Jewish organizations had relayed their fears to the Israeli govt. that Netanyahu’s warm embrace of Trump was putting Democrats and left-leaning U.S.-Jewish groups in a difficult position. “Close cooperation between Israel and the Trump admin. on security and diplomatic issues is a good thing,” said one of the officials, “but when the PM seems like he is literally hugging Trump and tweets praise for his plan to build a wall on the border with Mexico, that goes beyond diplomatic relationships and becomes political.” Another official noted that the Israeli govt. might not be sympathetic to such fears, and that his Israeli interlocutors responded to his concerns with “a silent nod that expressed understanding, but not agreement.”

Meanwhile, Rep. DeSantis (R-FL) and Bill Johnson (R-OH) launched (4/27) the Congressional Israel Victory Caucus to promote pro-Israel policies in Congress but they failed to bring a single Democrat on as a mbr.

Within the Democratic party, Minnesota rep. Keith Ellison’s bid to lead the Democratic National Comm. presented a challenge to the party’s traditional support for Israel, drawing complaints from pro-Israel megadonors and a wave of enthusiasm from Palestinian solidarity activists last quarter (see JPS 46 [3]). Ellison ultimately lost (2/25) the race to former labor secy. Tom Perez. In his 1st official motion as chair, however, Perez appointed (2/25) Ellison dep. chair, signaling a willingness to work with a colleague deeply critical of Israel’s human rights record.

Aid to the Palestinians

In the final hours before Trump took office on 1/20, the Obama admin. released $221 m. in previously frozen aid to the PA. When the news broke on 1/24, the Trump admin. promptly refroze the aid. This quarter, however, they released the money, redirecting it to humanitarian organizations working in the oPt, according to a State Dept. spokesperson on 3/9.

Around the same time that the Trump admin. was deciding what to do with that $221 m., it was formulating its 1st federal budget proposal. On 3/15, it unveiled a document titled “America First: A Budget Blueprint to Make America Great Again,” which outlined large cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency and the State Dept., and increases for the Dept. of Defense. The budget blueprint did not provide many details on funding for programs related to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. A mo. later, Foreign Policy reported (4/24) on a leaked 15-page State Dept. document that laid out the Trump admin.’s intentions on a more granular level. Beginning in fiscal year 2018, the admin. reportedly planned to overhaul U.S. foreign aid, cutting economic aid to Egypt by 47.7%, and to Jordan by 21%, and a simultaneous increase of 4.6% to the West Bank and Gaza, totaling approximately $215 m. per year.

Legislative Crackdown on BDS

Outside of Washington, the legislative campaign to stymie the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement at the state and local levels made steady gains this quarter. New measures were introduced in 10 state legislatures this quarter barring public employee retirement funds from investing in companies that boycott Israel or barring states from contracting with such companies (AR, IL, KS, ME, MN, MT, NY, NC, OR, and TX). These measures passed into law in Texas (5/2) and Arkansas (3/29). Furthermore, Texas agriculture comm. Sid Miller visited (3/23) the Itamar settlement in the West Bank and announced the revival of a dormant exchange program between Israel and Texas for joint energy, trade, and agriculture projects, which Miller’s predecessor had allowed to lapse.“Israel and Texas share a deep bond based on the values of freedom, democracy, and the love of our land,” Miller said.“Increasing our economic cooperation will be good for the people of Texas and the people of Israel.” He also said it was time “the world recognizes that Judea and Samaria are legitimate” and a “mainstream part of the economy and the govt. of Israel.”

Although less successful in passing legislation, the BDS movement’s opponents in the U.S. Congress were also active this quarter. Sen. Cardin (D-MD) and Rep. Pete Roskam (R-IL) introduced the Israel Anti-Boycott Act on 3/23 in the Senate and House, respectively (see S. 720 and H.R. 1697 of 3/23/2017 at for details). The measure opposed the UNHRC’s 3/24/2016 creation of a database of Israeli settlement companies and any efforts to boycott those companies, and required the Export-Import Bank to consider BDS when reviewing potential credit applications. Both versions of the bill were referred to comm. and proceeded no further.

Anti-Semitism Crisis

In the wake of Trump’s election, a wave of more than 100 bomb threats targeting Jewish institutions across the world and desecrations of Jewish cemeteries across the U.S. sparked a minor diplomatic controversy and serious speculation about rising anti-Semitism. The controversy started when Israeli opposition leader Herzog called (2/27) on Netanyahu to prepare Israel for a massive wave of migrants fleeing anti-Semitism in the U.S. After some interpreted his comments as an attack on Trump, Herzog clarified (3/1) his statement at a Jewish People Policy Institute conference in Jerusalem, explaining that the wave of threats and attacks were a “red alert” that the Trump admin. “must deal with” and that “we should not feel guilty about it.” The following week, Trump called (3/6) Netanyahu to discuss the matter.

In a surprising turn of events, the Israeli police arrested (3/23) an Israeli-American youth nr. Ashqelon. The 18-year-old was allegedly the primary source of the bomb threats, which undermined the view that antiSemitism was on the rise and widespread. Later, Israel’s Ministry of Justice rejected a U.S. request to extradite the youth, likely because of the international nature of his crimes, according to a 4/23 report on Israel’s Channel 2. Israel and the U.S. generally maintain robust extradition protocols, and it was deemed unusual for Israel to deny the request. By the end of the quarter, it was unclear if the Trump admin. would press for the young man’s extradition.


Intelligence Breakdown

Although U.S. pres. Trump was elected in part on his promise to strengthen relations with Israel, his unorthodox leadership style created a diplomatic incident at the very beginning of the quarter that called U.S.- Israeli intelligence sharing into question and undermined Trump’s pro-Israel bona fides.

In a 5/10 meeting with Russia’s amb. to the UN Sergey Kislyak and FM Lavrov at the White House, Trump boasted about classified intelligence from an ally, disclosing key details that are thought to have enabled the Russians to figure out the source (Washington Post, 5/15). Trump’s disclosure galvanized the Democratic Party, who favored a more antagonistic stance toward Russia and pointed out that the intelligencegathering network of the ally in question was likely compromised. The day after the story broke, current and former U.S. officials identified (5/16) said ally as Israel. Trump then tweeted (5/17) that he had the “absolute right” to share any information relevant to the fight against terrorism, while Israel’s amb. to the U.S., Ron Dermer, insisted (5/17) that “Israel has full confidence in our intelligence-sharing relationship with the U.S. and looks forward to deepening that relationship in the years ahead under [Trump].”

In private, however, Israeli officials were clearly concerned about Trump’s disclosure. One source said (5/17) that Israel should reassess what information it passes to the U.S., adding, “We can’t hand over our crown jewels.” According to a U.S. defense official (5/19), Israeli intelligence were furious that Trump may have compromised a “vital source of information on [ISIS] and possibly Iran.” Meanwhile, Dermer and other Israeli officials reportedly met with some of their U.S. counterparts on 5/16 to discuss the implications of the leak, with the goal of resolving the issue before Trump’s arrival in Israel on 5/22.

Although the outcome of those talks was never made public, Israeli DM Lieberman said (5/24) that Israel made a “spot repair” to its intelligence-sharing systems with the U.S., effectively confirming that Israel was the source of the intelligence in question and that Trump’s disclosure had compromised Israeli assets. “Everything we needed to work out with our friends in the U.S., we did,” he added. “We looked into it and cleared the air on the entire issue, and there is no need to go on.”

Global Terrorism

Conservatives in the U.S. again questioned the Trump admin.’s dedication to Israel when the State Dept. published its annual report on global terrorism on 7/19. The section on Israel and the oPt noted that Israel had been “a committed counterterrorism partner” in 2016 and that it “again faced terrorist threats from Iranian-support [sic] groups,” as well as Hamas and PIJ. However, critics took issue with the report, citing the Israeli settlements and a “lack of hope” as the motivating factors for Palestinians’ so-called acts of terror (the Israeli govt. maintained that PA incitement was a major motivator for such acts). Typifying their complaints, Rep. Peter Roskam (R-IL) wrote (7/25) to Secy. of State Tillerson arguing that there were “numerous mischaracterizations” in the report and asked him to amend them. “At the highest level, the PA leadership directly incites, rewards, and, in some cases, carries out terrorist attacks against innocent Israelis,” Roskam wrote, unabashedly adopting the Israeli govt. position. The pres. of the Zionist Organization of America, Morton Klein, then called (7/24) on Trump to fire Tillerson. “I don’t remember last year’s report, but when Obama was in the White House you almost expected the State Dept. to put out anti-Israel reports like this one. I didn’t think they would have the chutzpah to do it under Trump.”

Legislative Backlash against BDS

The legislative campaign to undermine the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement suffered a setback this quarter in the debate over a bill introduced in Congress last quarter: the Israel Anti-Boycott Act (see S. 720 and H.R. 1697 of 3/23/2017). This bill would amend the 1979 Export Administration Act of 1979 (prohibiting U.S. persons from complying with or supporting a foreign boycott against a U.S. ally) to include boycotts against Israel and Israeli businesses called for by international institutions, such as the EU or UN, and specifically businesses operating in the settlements in the oPt. Furthermore, the bill would block U.S. persons from providing or requesting information on any person’s business relationship with Israel, effectively prohibiting them from complying with a “blacklist” of companies doing business in Israel’s settlements established by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC). The blacklist had been approved in 3/2016 and was being implemented this quarter (see JPS 45 [4]). By 7/2017, the bill’s backers had collected a bipartisan group of 45 cosponsors in the Senate and 240 in the House of Representatives, and the bill had a good chance of passing.

That changed on 7/17, however, when the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent individual letters to mbrs. of the House of Representatives, urging them to oppose the bill on the grounds that it would “punish individuals for no reason other than their political beliefs.” The ACLU letter also pointed out that any violations of the bill would be punishable by civil and criminal penalties of up to $1 m. and 20 years in prison. The liberal Zionist advocacy group J Street followed suit the next day, prompting the Senate version’s original sponsors, Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH), to publish (7/21) an open letter defending the bill. “Nothing in the bill restricts constitutionally protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel and its policies,” the letter read. “Instead, it is narrowly targeted at commercial activity and is based on current law that has been constitutionally upheld.” Cardin also told (7/25) the Intercept that the ACLU’s interpretation of the penalties in the bill was incorrect. “We thought we only dealt with civil penalties, not criminal penalties,” he said. “But if that’s not clear, we’re willing to deal with these issues.” Meanwhile, more than a dozen Democrats in the Senate and House were reconsidering their support for the bill, according to 2 congressional staffers on 7/24. “The language in the bill is confusing and doesn’t clearly state what Cardin and Portman wrote in their [7/21] letter,” one staffer added. “It wouldn’t surprise me if a large number of Democrats will ask to amend this, making it much clearer that citizens expressing support for boycotts will not be punished for their political opinion.”

In a rare move, Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), one of the original cosponsors of the Senate version of the bill, did just that. After pro-Palestinian activist groups mobilized and questioned her at several town hall meetings in late 7/2017, she stated (7/31) that she could not support the bill unless changes were made to ensure free speech protections. On 8/1, she formally withdrew her sponsorship. With Gillibrand considered a potential Democratic presidential nominee in 2020, her defection was considered to have dealt a major blow to the bill’s chances. (Throughout the affair, Gillibrand reaffirmed her strong opposition to the BDS movement in general, indicating that the broader crackdown was likely to continue unabated.)

The legislative campaign to undermine BDS continued apace outside Washington. On 5/18, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported that the governors of all 50 states had signed onto a pledge, organized by the American Jewish Comm., to oppose BDS. In addition, Nevada (6/2), Kansas (6/16), and North Carolina (7/27) became the 20th, 21st, and 22d states to put anti-BDS laws or executive orders on their states’ books. Each of the new laws barred state entities from doing business with companies that engage in boycotts of Israel.

Trump’s Ambassador on Settlements

U.S. amb. to Israel Friedman and his explicit pro-settlement views threatened to undermine Pres. Trump’s relationship with the Palestinians and his broader peace initiative in 9/2017. When Friedman described Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land as “alleged” in an interview with the Jerusalem Post on 9/1, it threw into question the Trump admin.’s position on a key aspect of the PalestinianIsraeli conflict, and drew harsh criticism from the Palestinians. The controversy grew until a State Dept. spokesperson clarified (9/7) that Friedman’s comments “do not represent a shift in U.S. policy.” Later in the mo., however, Friedman made (9/28) another egregious assertion about the “alleged” occupation in an interview with the Israeli television channel, Walla. “I think the settlements are part of Israel,” he said. “The existing borders, the 1967 borders, were viewed by everybody as not secure, so Israel would retain a meaningful portion of the West Bank, and it would return that which it didn’t need for peace and security. So, there was always supposed to be some notion of expansion into the West Bank, but not necessarily expansion into the entire West Bank.” Hours later, a State Dept. spokesperson disavowed Friedman again. “His comments—and I want to be crystal clear about this—should not be read as a way to prejudge the outcome of any negotiations that the U.S. would have with the Israelis and the Palestinians.” By the end of the quarter, however, it was reported that Trump had appointed Friedman to the small group in charge of drafting his plan for peace between the Palestinians and Israelis (see “The Trump Initiative” above).

Legislative Backlash against BDS

The highest-profile battles over the growing BDS movement primarily played out at state and municipal levels this quarter. In Maryland, where activists defeated anti-BDS proposals in the state legislature in 2015, 2016, and earlier this year, Gov. Larry Hogan signed (10/23) an executive order barring the state from entering into contracts with companies unless they certified in writing that they were not engaged in a boycott of Israel. He also called on the trustees of the Maryland State Retirement and Pension System to divest from any companies with holdings in entities that participate in BDS. “The goals of [the BDS] movement run counter to the strong economic relationship that Maryland has sustained with our friends and partners in Israel,” Hogan said (10/23). The next week, Wisconsin gov. Scott Walker followed suit (10/27), signing an executive order barring state agencies from contracting with companies that boycott Israel. With Walker’s order, Wisconsin became the 24th state with an anti-BDS law or executive order on the books.

Since the legislative crackdown on BDS began in 2014, activists have argued that the measures being used against individuals and entities participating in BDS infringe on the First Amendment right to free speech (e.g., the American Civil Liberties Union [ACLU] filed a lawsuit challenging the new anti-BDS law in Kansas on 10/11). However, broader public conversations over how these measures actually work were relatively infrequent until this quarter, when controversy broke out in Texas in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, a massive storm that devastated Houston in late 8/2017.

Starting on 10/20, dozens of U.S. media outlets picked up on the story that the city of Dickinson, a suburb of Houston, required hurricane victims applying for emergency relief grants to sign a waiver stating that they do not support boycotts of Israel. City officials explained that the following provision was added to the application forms to accommodate Texas’s new anti-BDS law, which passed on 5/2/2017 (see JPS 47 [4]): “By executing this Agreement below, the Applicant verifies that the Applicant: (1) does not boycott Israel; and (2) will not boycott Israel during the term of this Agreement.” The ACLU was quick to condemn the move. “The First Amendment protects Americans’ right to boycott, and the govt. cannot condition hurricane relief or any other public benefit on a commitment to refrain from protected political expression,” said the organization’s Texas Legal Dir. Andre Segura (10/20). Phil King, the Texas state legislator who spearheaded the anti-BDS legislation, said (10/21) that Dickinson officials were likely misreading the law, which barred state entities from contracting with businesses that boycott Israel. After 4 days of outcry and debate over the rights of BDS activists, the Dickinson City Council voted (10/24) to remove the anti-BDS requirement from the application.

Likewise, a development in the race for the governorship of Illinois threw the debate over BDS into the spotlight once again. On 9/6, Democratic candidate and State Sen. Daniel Biss announced that he had made the “difficult” decision to drop Chicago alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa from his ticket over his support for BDS. “While I was honored to be chosen as Sen. Daniel Biss’s gubernatorial running mate, it became clear over the past few days that while we share a total commitment to peace, security, and statehood for the Israeli and Palestinian people, and both oppose pursuing BDS at the state level, the difference of opinion we have on the role the BDS movement plays at the federal level would make it impossible to continue moving forward as a ticket,” Ramirez-Rosa wrote (9/6) on Facebook. Biss had chosen Ramirez-Rosa, a Bernie Sanders delegate in 2016 and a mbr. of the Democratic Socialists of America, as his running mate only a week earlier, and the selection galvanized progressives in Chicago. Over the course of that week, however, pro-Israel and anti-BDS forces rallied against Ramirez-Rosa. On 9/3, for example, Illinois congressman Brad Schneider withdrew his support from the Biss campaign over Ramirez-Rosa’s support for the BDS movement.

Aid to Egypt

Since the ouster of Egyptian pres. Hosni Mubarak in 2011, U.S. aid to Egypt has been in flux. This quarter, as Congress was deliberating 2018 humanitarian and economic aid to Cairo, the Trump admin. took its first step toward establishing its position on the issue. On 8/22, 2 U.S. sources said the Trump admin. had decided to withhold approximately $290 m. in aid because the Egyptian govt. had failed to make adequate progress on democratic reforms ($195 m. was reportedly suspended, while $95.7 m. was cut altogether). The decision was partly a response to Egyptian pres. al-Sisi’s decision to approve a law imposing additional restrictions on NGOs on 5/30/2017, they said.

The decision led to a brief period of tension between Egypt and the U.S. On 8/23, the Egyptian govt. canceled a meeting between Egyptian FM Sameh Shoukry and Kushner, Trump’s senior advisor and son-in-law, who was in Cairo for talks on the Trump peace initiative. “Egypt sees [the aid reduction] as reflecting poor judgment of the strategic relationship that ties the 2 countries over long decades and as adopting a view that lacks an accurate understanding of the importance of supporting Egypt’s stability,” the Foreign Ministry in Cairo stated (8/23). However, Kushner still met with al-Sisi later that day, and Trump personally called al-Sisi the next day to reaffirm “the strength and friendship between Egypt and the U.S.,” according to a statement from al-Sisi’s office.

The next mo., the tension was all but gone. On the sidelines of the UNGA in New York, Trump had a friendly meeting with al-Sisi on 9/20 and said he would “consider” unfreezing the $195 m. At the same time, a White House official said (9/20) that $20 m. of withheld payment to Egypt was redirected to the PA for wastewater projects.

David Friedman, Ambassador to Israel

In addition to reportedly being a driving force behind Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, Friedman further exacerbated the strained U.S.- Palestinian relationship by airing his explicitly prosettlement views this quarter and denying that there was any such thing as an occupation of Palestinian territory. On 12/26, almost three weeks since Trump’s Jerusalem announcement, the Israeli press reported that Friedman had requested that the State Department stop using the term “occupied” in reference to the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The State Department reportedly refused, but pressure “from above” delayed a clear resolution of the issue. Two days later, a State Department official called the news reports “misleading” and “twisted,” and said that Trump was focused on “facilitating a comprehensive peace agreement that will benefit both the Israelis and Palestinians.” A State Department spokesperson then reiterated (1/2) that the department had “not changed” its policy regarding the term “occupied territory.”

Friedman and the State Department had clashed before over the issue, with the former bankruptcy lawyer arguing in an interview published in late 9/2017 that Israel was “only occupying 2 percent of the West Bank” and that it was “always the expectation” that Israel would expand further (see JPS 47 [2]). Partly as a result of these public spats, Friedman drew fire from the Palestinian leadership. “The ambassador’s recommendations and advice, which do not aim to achieve a just peace on the basis of international legitimacy, is what led to this crisis in American-Palestinian relations, a PA spokesperson said (2/7). “Is he representing America or Israel?” he added.

The Palestinian Issue in Congress

While the steady stream of pro-Israel legislation in Congress continued throughout the quarter, there were signs that some lawmakers in the Democratic caucus were interested in breaking with bipartisan consensus. On 11/14, amid a lobbying push on Capitol Hill by Palestinian solidarity activists, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN) introduced a bill titled Promoting Human Rights by Ending Israeli Military Detention of Palestinian Children Act. Reportedly the first bill in congressional history designed to require accountability for and transparency about U.S. aid to Israel, the measure would require the State Department to certify to Congress annually that none of the money transferred to Israel in the previous year had gone to support the military detention, interrogation, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children in violation of international humanitarian law. If the State Department could not produce such certification, it would be required to report in detail the specific activities and amounts of U.S. aid involved. Although the bill was seen as having very little chance of passing into law, twenty-one lawmakers signed on as cosponsors by the end of the quarter, prompting one Palestinian solidarity activist to pose the question, “Is an intifada starting in the U.S. Congress?” (Electronic Intifada, 12/21).

Many of these same lawmakers also pushed back against the Trump administration’s policy on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Led by Reps. Peter Welch (D-VT) and David Price (D-NC), 102 Democrats in the House of Representatives signed (2/8) onto a letter calling on Trump to release the $65 million in aid to UNRWA that he froze on 1/16 (see “The Trump Initiative” above). Unlike the signatories of the McCollum bill, these legislators were motivated less by Palestinian human rights concerns and more by their dedication to a two-state solution. “Deliberately exacerbating the hardship of the Palestinian people and reducing the ability of their government to function would only contribute to the benefit of those who reject engagement,” the letter read. “Accordingly, we urge you to continue providing aid to UNRWA and bilateral assistance to the Palestinians to promote U.S. interests, Israeli and Palestinian security, and the stability of regional U.S. allies.”

Targeting Hamas

On 1/31, the State Department announced that Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh was being classified as a specially designated global terrorist, freezing his U.S.-based assets and barring any U.S. entity from doing business with him. “Haniyeh has close links with Hamas’s military wing and has been a proponent of armed struggle, including against civilians,” the department said in a statement. A State Department spokesperson placed the move in the context of Hamas’s new charter: “The U.S. is not fooled by any attempt by Hamas to re-brand itself. We know it for what it is, a terror organization committed to the destruction of the State of Israel” (see “A Newer Hamas? The Revised Charter” by Khaled Hroub in JPS 46 [4] for details). “This decision will not deter us from continuing [with] the resistance option to oust the occupation,” Hamas responded in a 1/31 statement.

Legislative Backlash on BDS

After a couple of high-profile controversies stemming from new state-level anti-BDS laws last quarter, no new anti-BDS measures were put on the books either in state legislatures or the federal government. The legislative backlash instead faced mounting challenges from civil rights defenders as well as Palestinian solidarity activists.

On 12/7, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) filed a lawsuit challenging Arizona’s 3/17/2016 law requiring contractors to certify that they do not boycott Israeli firms, products, or services. “The Supreme Court ruled decades ago that political boycotts are protected by the First Amendment, and other decisions have established that the government may not require individuals to sign a certification regarding their political expression in order to obtain employment, contracts, or other benefits,” the ACLU argued in a statement announcing the suit. Later in the quarter, a federal judge in Kansas was swayed by similar arguments, blocking (1/30) enforcement of Kansas’s anti-BDS law passed on 6/17/2017 and mandating the creation of a “blacklist” of entities that boycott Israel. District Judge Daniel Crabtree’s decision came in response to an ACLU lawsuit filed in 10/2017. Finally, following pressure from the ACLU and more than one hundred grassroots organizations, a key committee in Massachusetts’s state legislature opted not to advance a new anti-BDS bill on 2/8.

Personnel Changes

U.S. president Trump’s administration was in flux this quarter, with several top officials involved in issues related to the PalestinianIsraeli conflict losing either their jobs or access to classified information. Although these changes did not appear to have any immediate effect on the administration’s overall peace initiative, they collectively indicated the situation was not one of Trump’s priorities.

At the top of the list, Trump’s son-in-law and senior advisor Kushner was stripped of his top-secret security clearance in late 2/2018. According to a 2/27 report in the Washington Post, the downgrade came, in part, after National Security Advisor H. R. McMaster learned that officials in at least four other countries, including Israel and the United Arab Emirates, had private discussions about ways they could influence Kushner using information about his various business entanglements, debt, and lack of experience. One former White House official indicated that there was concern that Kushner was “naïve and being tricked” in the conversations he was having with foreign officials outside standard National Security Council processes. Kushner was leading the administration’s Palestinian-Israeli peace initiative, and it was unclear how the downgrade would affect his work in that area, if at all. He reportedly continued work on the administration’s peace plan throughout the quarter, alongside U.S. ambassador to Israel Friedman and Special Representative Greenblatt, and he attended the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem on 5/14.

Apart from Kushner’s downgrade, Trump replaced Secretary of State Tillerson with Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo and McMaster with former U.S. ambassador to the UN and Fox News pundit John Bolton in 3/2018. Both Pompeo and Bolton are known as hawks on Iran, and it was frequently pointed out that they had greatly influenced Trump’s 5/8 decision to pull the United States out of the JCPOA (see “Iran” above). Bolton, in particular, advocated for bombing Iran instead of signing onto the deal in the first place. In a Wall Street Journal op-ed published on 1/15/2018, he called for “ending Iran’s 1979 Islamic Revolution before its fortieth anniversary” in 2/2019. The Trump administration “has joined with extremist Zionists, fundamentalist Christians and white racists,” PLO Executive Committee member Ashrawi commented (3/22) on Bolton’s hiring. “This man has a long history of hostility to Palestinians, dating to when he was at the UN, where he was protecting Israeli immunity,” she said. “All this will lead to a devastating reality for Palestine and the region.” Pompeo was less well known to the Palestinians, but he drew their ire before the quarter ended. During a three-day trip to the Middle East on 4/28–30, he repeatedly called on the Palestinians to reengage with the U.S. peace initiative. He also fielded numerous questions about Israel’s brutal response to the Great March of Return protests in Gaza. “We do believe the Israelis have a right to defend themselves and we’re fully supportive of that,” he said (4/30), after meeting with Israeli prime minister Netanyahu.

Legislative Crackdown on BDS

The bipartisan campaign to undermine and marginalize the BDS movement confronted new challenges this quarter. At the same time, however, new anti-BDS measures advanced in both the U.S. Congress and the Kansas state legislature.

Ahead of the annual AIPAC conference in early 3/2018, senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Rob Portman (R-OH) unveiled a new draft of their Israel Anti-Boycott Act on 3/3. It became the main vehicle for anti-BDS sentiments in Congress this quarter, reviving a debate over Israel boycotts and the First Amendment. Cardin and Portman introduced the initial draft of the legislation alongside Rep. Peter Roskam’s (R-IL) identical companion measure in the House on 3/23/2017 (see JPS 46 [4] and 47 [1]). It would have prohibited U.S. persons from supporting any boycott of a U.S. ally and specifically any boycott requested, fostered, or imposed by an international organization against Israel, inter alia (see S. 720 and H.R. 1697 of 3/23/2017 at The measure quickly attracted more than 40 cosponsors in the Senate and more than 200 in the House, and for a time it was seen as having a good chance of passing into law. That progress slowed to a halt after the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and numerous Palestinian solidarity activists started campaigning against the bill on the grounds that it would infringe on free speech. After they persuaded one senator, Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), to rescind her cosponsorship, Cardin and Portman suspended work on the bill.

When Cardin and Portman offered up their new version of the bill on 3/3, they put out a press release clarifying their new position. “We have welcomed the public discussions that have been essential in focusing this bipartisan legislation in such a way that definitively upholds the rights of individual Americans while clarifying decades-old legislation,” Cardin said. “I am confident this bill strikes the right balance between protecting U.S. businesses and our Israeli allies from unfair targeting by international organization [sic], while upholding America’s commitment to free speech and individual liberty,” Portman added. They insisted that the new text should not be seen as infringing on anyone’s right to free speech and said that the new text made clear that a “person’s noncommercial speech or other noncommercial expressive activity” could not be “used as evidence to prove a violation.” The ACLU, however, came out (3/6) against the measure again. Noting “several significant improvements,” the ACLU stated that “the bill’s fundamental purpose violates the First Amendment.” There was no further action on the bill in Congress.

Outside Washington, both sides of the BDS fight claimed victories this quarter. After a federal judge blocked (1/30) enforcement of the anti-BDS law that Kansas passed on 6/17/2017, the state house passed a new version of the measure on 3/26. The bill, which would bar the state from contracting with companies engaged in a boycott of Israel, then came up against unexpected opposition in the state senate. One Republican senator in particular, Rob Schaaf, reportedly pledged to filibuster any effort to bring it up for a vote (St. Louis Jewish Light, 5/9).

Four months after the ACLU filed the first legal challenge to Arizona’s new anti-BDS law in 12/2017 (see JPS 47 [3]), the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed (3/2) a similar lawsuit against Arizona State University (ASU), the Arizona Board of Regents, and Arizona’s attorney general. The law passed during the first wave of anti-BDS legislation in 3/2016 (see JPS 45 [4]), and it required all state contractors to certify that they were not engaged in a boycott of Israel. CAIR’s lawsuit stemmed from a recent incident at ASU, where the founder of American Muslims for Palestine (AMP) and Berkeley lecturer Hatem Bazian refused to sign a contract, prior to a scheduled appearance at a campus event, stipulating that he did not boycott Israel. ASU’s administrators later sent him a clean contract, allowing him to speak on 4/3 as scheduled. (AMP is one of the organizations Israel blacklisted because of its BDS activities.) The future of the anti-BDS law, however, was still in question at the end of the quarter.

U.S. Jewish Community Divided

With recent polls showing a growing partisan divide over the Palestinian-Israeli conflict across the United States, Jewish and pro-Israel groups were struggling to balance the will of their constituents and the increasingly friendly relationship between Trump and Netanyahu. Once seen as a bastion of bipartisan U.S. support for Israel, the annual AIPAC conference served as a battleground for this struggle in early 3/2018. It started on 3/4 when AIPAC’s chief executive officer Howard Kohr stressed the need for a two-state solution in his address to the conference. “We must all work for that, toward that future, two states for two peoples: one Jewish with secure and defensible borders and one Palestinian with its own flag and its own future.” The next day, settlement movement leader Yossi Dagan condemned Kohr’s comments. “I am astounded as to why such a great, meaningful organization as AIPAC, whose raison d’être is pro-Israel advocacy in the United States, would present the positions of the State of Israel (and of the United States) so inaccurately before senior government officials, senators and congressmen, and the general pro-Israel public.” Dagan concluded his open latter by urging AIPAC to “update its talking points.”

Annual Human Rights Report

Marking yet another break with former president Barack Obama’s administration, Trump’s State Department expunged any use of the term “occupied territories” in reference to the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Golan Heights in its 2018 report on human rights. Published on 4/20, the report summarized human rights violations perpetrated around the world, including by the Palestinians and Israelis, as in previous years. Apart from the new terminology, the only other change came in the form of a methodological statement: “Because of timing constraints, the Israeli government was not able to provide a detailed response to every alleged incident, but it did maintain generally that all incidents were thoroughly investigated and parties held accountable, as appropriate, according to due process of law.” Israeli officials as high-ranking as Defense Minister Lieberman celebrated the terminology change. “They say that if you repeat a lie enough, it eventually becomes the truth, but the truth will always be stronger,” he tweeted (4/21). “The announcement by the U.S. State Department is proof of that.”

PLO on Trial

The U.S. Supreme Court rejected a petition to hear the case of Sokolow v. PLO on 4/2. In doing so, the court reaffirmed the appeals court’s decision (8/31/2016) to throw out the U.S. District Court of New York 2/23/2015 ruling in favor of the families of U.S. citizens killed in a string of attacks in Israel between 2002 and 2004 (see JPS 44 [4] and 46 [2]). The PLO was therefore no longer liable for the $655 million in damages awarded in the initial ruling.

In an unexpected development, the Trump administration sided with the PLO prior to the ruling, despite appeals from both the families and a bipartisan group of lawmakers. On 10/26/ 2017, 24 senators had signed onto a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Tillerson calling on the administration to acquiesce to the Supreme Court’s request for an amicus curiae brief. “We urge the administration to demonstrate its resolve to combat international terrorism and put American victims first by avoiding any unnecessary delay and responding as soon as possible to the Supreme Court’s request,” they wrote. Solicitor General Noel Francisco filed the Trump administration’s brief four months later (2/22), but he urged the court to reject the appeal and reaffirmed the appeals court’s reasons for throwing out the initial verdict.

Facilitating Easier Entrance for Israelis

The U.S. embassy in Israel announced a new program (3/22) designed to facilitate the application process for Israeli citizens looking to renew their non-immigrant visas. The new Interview Waiver Program allowed applicants who held valid tourist visas or visas that had recently expired to mail their application materials to the embassy. Previously, such applicants were required to visit the embassy for an in-person interview.

Also of note: All one hundred U.S. senators signed onto a letter (2/20) to the Department of Homeland Security requesting that Israel be included in the Customs and Border Protection office’s Global Entry program, which would allow certain Israeli travelers expedited customs and immigration screenings when entering the United States. “Israel’s membership in Global Entry would not only provide its passport holders a smoother visit to the United States but would also help to make our country safer by enhancing bilateral law enforcement cooperation,” the senators wrote.

Facilitating the Slaughter in Gaza

While the Israeli army was launching neardaily air strikes across Gaza (see “The Brink of War” above), the Trump administration’s Middle East team—Trump senior advisor and son-in-law Kushner, Special Representative for International Negotiations Greenblatt, and Ambassador to Israel Friedman—jointly penned (7/19) an op-ed for the Washington Post, titled “Help Is at Hand for Palestinians. It’s All Up to Hamas.” Making no mention of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, they described their efforts to raise money for humanitarian aid (see “The So-Called Trump Initiative” above), expressed sympathy for the Palestinian people, and blamed Hamas for the ongoing crisis. “International donors are conflicted,” they wrote. “Should they try to help the people directly, at the certain risk of enriching terrorists, or withhold funding to Hamas and watch the people it is supposed to govern suffer?” Amid widespread Palestinian, and some international indignation, a Hamas spokesperson described the editorial as “adopting the Israeli narrative” and displaying the “contempt of the American government.”

Legislative Crackdown on BDS

Louisiana governor John Bel Edwards signed (5/22) an executive order barring the state from contracting with entities that participate in a boycott of Israel or “Israelicontrolled territories.” As a result, Louisiana has become the 25th state with legislation or executive orders targeting the BDS movement. “The U.S., and by affiliation, Louisiana, have benefited in innumerable ways from our deep friendship with Israel,” Edwards said (5/22), adding that “any effort to boycott Israel is an affront to this longstanding relationship.” In a related move, South Carolina governor Henry McMaster signed into law a new definition of antiSemitism on 7/6, requiring state universities to account for anti-Semitism when reviewing allegations of discrimination or bias. Palestine solidarity activists criticized the move because the new definition conflated criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism, and therefore impinged on students’ free speech rights. Finally, after lawmakers in Kansas amended the anti-BDS law they passed in early 2017, the ACLU withdrew (6/29) its lawsuit challenging the legislation. The lawmakers adjusted the law, which required potential state contractors to certify that they do not participate in boycotts of Israel such that it would no longer apply to individuals or contractors who conduct less than $100,000 worth of business in the state. They also altered the required certification enabling potential contractors to assert only that they are “not engaged in a boycott of goods or services from Israel that constitute an integral part of business conducted or sought to be conducted with the state.”

Aid to the Palestinians

Seven months after Trump slashed U.S. aid to UNRWA and ordered a review of all aid to the Palestinians, National Public Radio (NPR) reported (8/2) that the Trump administration was releasing as much as $61 million in aid to the PA (some sources said the sum was closer to $35 million). One State Department official said (8/2) that the money was intended to support ongoing coordination between PA security forces and the Israeli army in the West Bank. “This decision does not in any way prejudge the outcome of our review of other funding streams and programs,” one official explained (8/2). “It is simply the first decision to emerge from the review, which is ongoing.”

                By the end of 2018, U.S. president Donald Trump’s peace plan had still not been revealed nor had a date been set for when it would. First in September President Trump said (9/26) that the plan would be released within 4 months, which would be by the end of January 2019. Then in December a White House official stated that the peace plan might be published later in the year due to the Israeli elections. In his September announcement President Trump said that the plan involved a separate Palestinian state which he previously insinuated was still a question, despite long-standing U.S. policy. U.S. ambassador to the United Nations (UN) Nikki Haley, who announced she would be leaving her position at the end of 2018, said in December that the peace plan was “much longer” than previous plans and would take advantage of technology. Palestinian ambassador to the UN Riyad Mansour responded to Ambassador Haley’s comments by stating that the plan was “dead on arrival.” Meanwhile, the Trump administration continued its heavy-handed attack on Palestinians by cutting aid to the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA), aid for hospitals in East Jerusalem, aid for Palestinian Authority (PA) security cooperation with Israel, aid through the U.S Agency for International Development (USAID), and by closing the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) office in Washington.

                The Trump administration’s decision to cut all aid to the Palestinians was explained as an attempt to pressure the Palestinian leadership into negotiations with the U.S. for the still unseen peace plan. After President Trump decided to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. embassy to the city, the Palestinian leadership had officially stated that the U.S. was no longer a credible broker of peace. Prior to President Trump’s decision, PA president Mahmoud Abbas, PLO secretary-general Saeb Erakat, and PA ambassador to the U.S. Husam Zomlot had been in talks with the Trump administration and the negotiation team led by Jason Greenblatt, Jared Kushner, and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman, but they have not met with the U.S. since December 2017. Then on 24 August, some 3 months after the new embassy was inaugurated in Jerusalem, the Trump administration announced that the U.S. would cut $200 million in funding to programs that support Palestinians. Exactly a week later (8/31), the U.S. State Department announced that the U.S would be cutting all funding for UNRWA, which serves Palestinian refugees in Gaza, the West Bank, Syria, Lebanon, and Jordan. The then spokesperson for the State Department, and now nominee for U.S. ambassador to the UN, Heather Nauert said that UNRWA “endlessly and exponentially expanding community of entitled beneficiaries is simply unsustainable and has been in crisis mode for many years.” The core of the U.S. assault on UNRWA was stipulated by then U.S. ambassador to the UN Haley when she stated, “We will be a donor if it [UNRWA] reforms what it does [. . .] if they actually change the number of refugees to an accurate account, we will look back at partnering them.” One of the core issues in the conflict between Israel and Palestine is the right of return an issue that the U.S. wants to reassess. From statements by U.S. officials it is clear that the U.S. increasingly questions the right of return for those Palestinians who are descendants of the 1947–1948 refugees.  

                Shortly after the U.S. announced that it would end funding for UNRWA and other Palestinian related projects, it declared (9/8) that funding for Palestinian hospitals in East Jerusalem would be cut by $25 million. On 14 September, in what by then had become a weekly assault on the Palestinian economy, it was reported that funding for USAID programs for Palestinians would be frozen for 2018. As a result USAID closed its operations in the West Bank and Gaza by the end of November. The agency also dismissed 60 percent of its staff in the West Bank and Gaza due to the policy decision. Furthermore, the Trump administration announced on 10 September that it would close the PLO office in Washington, which has served as the diplomatic link between the U.S. and the Palestinian leadership in the U.S. In a statement spokesperson Nauert said that the decision was made because “the PLO has not taken steps to advance the start of direct and meaningful negotiations with Israel.” The head of the Palestinian delegation to the U.S. responded that “such a reckless act confirms that the administration is blindly executing Israel’s ‘wish list’ which starts with shutting down Palestinian diplomatic representation in the US.” In what seems to be an attempt to bolster Israel’s claim on East Jerusalem, the Trump administration decided (10/18) to merge the U.S. consulate in East Jerusalem with the new embassy in West Jerusalem. U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo said that the decision was made for the sake of efficiency and should not be seen as a signal of change for the U.S. policy on Jerusalem. The merger in practice means that the consulate, which will remain in East Jerusalem physically, will lose its relative autonomy from the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem and will be under Ambassador Freidman’s control.   

                It was not just the executive branch of the U.S. government that sought to diminish Palestinian autonomy and rights, the U.S. Congress also enacted and proposed legislation that would limit and outlaw support of Palestinians and proponents of a boycott of Israel. On 3 October, President Trump signed the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act, also known as ATCA. The new law will allow American citizens to sue foreign entities such as the PA if they receive money from the United States. The law, which would take effect on 1 February 2019, would also require the Jerusalem offices of USAID to close. A seemingly unforeseen consequence of ATCA is that the PA would reject aid for the already unpopular security cooperation with Israel, ending or reducing the security cooperation with Israel. Given that the security cooperation is widely popular in Israel and supported by the Trump administration, the U.S. security coordinator for Israel and the PA Eric Wendt was dispatched to Congress to find a fix to the law before in went into effect. By the end of 2018 an amendment to the law had not been agreed upon by Congress. In December, as the U.S Congress was seeking to finalize a spending bill that would keep the U.S. government open, it was reported that some senators were trying to get the Israel Anti-Boycott Act included as part of the spending bill. The proposal would criminalize American companies and organizations that participate in boycotts of Israel with penalties up to $1 million. The bill drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the New York Times editorial board, and senators Bernie Sanders and Dianne Feinstein, among many others, as it would infringe free speech. As Congress failed to reach agreement on the spending bill that included $5 billion for President Trump’s wall on the U.S. southern border and thus caused a partial shutdown of the U.S. government, the future of the Israel Anti-Boycott Act was unknown by the end of 2018. On the state level a federal court blocked (9/27) an Arizona anti-Boycott, Divestments and Sanctions law that required state officials to create a blacklist of companies and organizations that were in support of boycotting Israel in order to ban them from getting state contracts. The challenge to the state law was filed by the ACLU. The ACLU also filed (12/19) a legal challenge against a Texas law that had gotten 4 contractors fired for boycotting Israel or the Israeli settlements on the West Bank.    

                In an interview with the Washington Post, President Trump said (11/27) that Israel was the reason that the U.S. was still involved in the Middle East. He argued, “oil is becoming less and less of a reason because we’re producing more oil now than we’ve ever produced. So, you know, all of a sudden it gets to a point where you don’t have to stay there.” Later in December, President Trump announced (12/19) he was pulling the U.S. troops out of Syria, prompting U.S. secretary of defense Jim Mattis to resign (12/20). After President Trump’s announcement, when asked about the decision’s impact on Israel President Trump said, “we give Israel $4.5 billion [. . .] Israel will be very good.” Ambassador Haley also presented (12/6) a resolution against Hamas to the UN General Assembly which was voted down (see United Nations). At midnight on December 31 the U.S. and Israel officially quit the UN’s Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, also known as UNESCO. The decision was announced in October 2017 and the Trump administration cited anti-Israel bias as the reason for its withdrawal. In a similar disengagement with international institutions and citing the same reasons, U.S national security advisor John Bolton said (10/3) that the U.S. would review all international agreements that could bring the U.S. to the International Court of Justice and would put sanctions on the International Criminal Court (9/10).    

                In what was seen as another attempt to silence activists speaking out against Israel’s treatment of the Palestinian people, Marc Lamont Hill was castigated after a speech at the UN (11/28) for the commemoration of the International Day of Solidarity with the Palestinian People. In his speech Hill called for a free Palestine “from the river to the sea.” Which Hill after accusations of anti-Semitism had to explain “was not a call to destroy anything or anyone. It was a call for justice, both in Israel and in the West Bank/Gaza.” However, it was quickly interpreted as being anti-Semitic. CNN was swift to fire Hill who was employed as a contributor, and many pro-Israel individuals called for his firing at Temple University. Hill’s statement at the UN and the new class of Israel-sceptic congressional members voted into the House of Representatives in November sparked new debate over the U.S. discourse on Israel where anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism are often conflated.   

                The documentary The Lobby made by Al-Jazeera in 2017 and then censored by the Qatari government was leaked by the Electronic Intifada in November. Qatar is said to have censored the documentary after pressure from the Israel lobby in the U.S. which is its target. Many damaging statements by members of the pro-Israel lobby were revealed in the documentary including direct links between the Israeli government and pro-Israel “think tanks,” how the controversial Canary Mission is funded and run, how the lobby uses astroturfing against activists for Palestine, and how members of the lobby think “anti-Semitism as a smear is not what is used to be” arguing that creating imaginary links between militants and activist for Palestine is a future tactic. The documentary can be seen on the Electronic Intifada’s website.

Peace Plan

                The long-awaited Trump peace plan, which U.S. president Donald Trump announced in September 2018 would be released in January, was reported to be delayed by several months. The U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman said that the Israeli elections were “a factor, but not the only factor” to the decision. He further explained, “[t]he challenge to a peace plan is making the case for a much more sober assessment of the realities in this region. . . . The last time there was a meaningful agreement between the Israelis and the Palestinians was 1993. A lot has happened since 1993.” 1 of the new “realities” since 1993 that Ambassador Friedman was referring to is undoubtedly the expansion of Israeli settlements throughout the West Bank and East Jerusalem. Ambassador Friedman who is part of the peace plan team along with senior advisor to the president Jared Kushner and U.S. special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt, is a known supporter of Israeli settlements in the West Bank. Ambassador Friedman and U.S. national security advisor John Bolton also toured the tunnels underneath Haram al-Sharif on 6 January. The excavations under Haram al-Sharif by the Israeli government have long been an issue that has received criticism from the Palestinian leadership and international organizations for undermining the structure of Haram al-Sharif and changing the Status Quo of the holy places in Jerusalem. Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) secretary general Saeb Erakat said of the U.S. officials’ tour of the tunnels: “[t]his behavior will not change the fact that East Jerusalem is occupied territory and the capital of the state of Palestine.” The U.S. and Israel also formally withdrew from the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization by the beginning of 2019. 1 of the key factors for the U.S. and Israeli withdrawal was the organization’s criticism of the excavations under Haram al-Sharif along with delineating Palestinian heritage places as Palestinian.

Then, in February, Senior Advisor Kushner said at a Middle East summit hosted by the U.S. and Poland in Warsaw on 13-14 February that the peace plan would be revealed after the Israeli election on 9 April. The summit was attended by a number of Middle Eastern countries, including Israel, but notably absent was Iran and Palestinian representatives. The PLO’s secretary general Saeb Erakat wrote in an op-ed published by Haaretz that despite U.S. officials’ claiming that many Middle Eastern countries support the U.S. efforts, many important actors in the Middle East remain firm on their support for the Arab Peace Initiative. Senior Advisor Kushner later in February embarked on a trip with Greenblatt to Oman, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Qatar to build support for the U.S. peace plan. The U.S. ambassador to Israel, David Friedman, who has also played a role in drafting the peace plan, urged at an event in Jerusalem for stronger ties between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank. The New York Times (NYT) reported that the U.S. peace plan is anchored in economic benefits for Palestinians rather than statehood. The NYT reporting followed statements made by unidentified sources and an interview with Senior Advisor Kushner by Sky News Arabia, where he said, “[w]hat we have found is that all conflict does is keep people from having the opportunity to do commerce and to have opportunity and improve their lives. Hopefully, if we can resolve this issue, we will be able to see a lot more opportunity for the Palestinian people, for the Israeli people and the people throughout the region.”

                In late March, weeks before the Israeli elections, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Israel in what was seen as a show of support of reelection of Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu. During Secretary Pompeo’s trip, he visited the Western Wall with Prime Minister Netanyahu and Ambassador Friedman. It was the 1st time that a U.S. diplomat had visited the Western Wall with an Israeli official, as it is viewed as recognition of Israel’s claim to East Jerusalem. During Pompeo’s visit, he also suggested that God helped elect President Trump to save Israel.

                The U.S. State Department released its annual human rights report for 2018 on 13 March, but unlike the previous year, it did not stipulate the Golan Heights and the West Bank as occupied. The human rights report for 2017 did not refer to Gaza as occupied. The removal of the words “occupied” and “occupation” is especially significant given that President Trump later in March recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights (see below) and thus could indicate a readiness to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank if Israel were to annex it. 1 senior Israeli diplomat traveling with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Israel from the U.S. on 25 March said so much according to Haaretz: “Everyone says you can’t hold an occupied territory, but this process you can. If occupied in a defensive war, then it’s ours.”


Merging the U.S. Consulate Serving Palestinians with the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem

                In October 2018, it was 1st announced by the Trump Administration that it was working toward merging the U.S. consulate serving Palestinians with the U.S. embassy to Israel, which was moved to Jerusalem in May 2018 (see United States 16 August – 31 December 2018). The merger was finalized on 4 March and instead of the consulate, a Palestinian Affairs Unit was set up in its place. The merger is significant as the U.S. representation to Palestine will be headed by U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman rather than a consulate independent of the U.S. representation in Israel. The move is perceived as an indicator that the Trump administration is changing U.S. policy away from a 2-state solution. A significant signal in that direction was given by State Department spokesperson Robert Palladino in February, when he answered a question about who would provide services to Palestinians after the merger, responding, “[w]e have an embassy in Jerusalem, as you know, and we have active involvement in all of Israel from our embassy,” indicating that the U.S. perceives the West Bank and East Jerusalem as part of Israel.


Golan Heights

                U.S. president Donald Trump reversed U.S. policy on the Israeli-occupied Syrian Golan Heights on 22 March. The push to reverse U.S. policy started on 6 January when President Trump’s allies, Senators Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Tom Cotton (R-AR), issued a statement calling on the U.S. to recognize Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights. On the same day as the 2 senators issued their statement, Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged National Security Advisor John Bolton to recognize Israel’s claim on the Golan Heights. In early March, U.S. ambassador David Friedman and Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) toured the Golan Heights with Prime Minister Netanyahu. Then on 22 March, President Trump tweeted, “After 52 years it is time for the United States to fully recognize Israel’s Sovereignty [sic] over the Golan Heights, which is of critical strategic and security importance to the State of Israel and Regional Stability [sic] !” President Trump’s decision was received with condemnation from Syria and many other countries and intergovernmental organizations. President Trump formalized his announcement by signing a proclamation with Prime Minister Netanyahu in the Oval Office on 25 March. In the proclamation, Trump contributed “regional threats” to Israel from Hezbollah, Syria, and Iran as the reason to the recognition. At an emergency meeting at the UN Security Council on 28 March, 14 out of 15 members voted to condemn the U.S. recognition (see United Nations).

                U.S. president Donald Trump said in an interview on CBS’s Face the Nation that, despite his initial statement in December 2018 that he was withdrawing all U.S. troops from Syria, U.S. forces will remain in Syria and that a timetable for a full withdrawal had not been scheduled yet.


Ending Aid for Palestinians

                As reported in the last update, the Trump administration has slashed virtually all aid to Palestinians allegedly to force the Palestinian leadership to accept the Trump administration’s peace plan, which likely will fall short of aligning with international law on the core issues of the conflict. Part of the Trump administration strategy was also to work with congress on passing the Anti-Terrorism Clarification Act of 2018 (ATCA), which Trump signed into law on 3 October 2018. ATCA allows U.S. persons to file lawsuits against entities such as the PA that receives U.S. funding. Such lawsuits could potentially ruin the PA economy. As an unforeseen consequence of the law that came to light, the ending of U.S. security aid for the PA, which both Israel and the U.S. have voiced pleasure with, U.S. lawmakers scrambled to find an amendment that would save the U.S. security aid to the PA. PLO secretary general Saeb Erakat said on 31 January that the Palestinian leadership had requested to the U.S. Department of State to end U.S security aid by 1 February. “We do not want to receive any money if it will cause us to appear before courts,” Erakat said at a press conference with PA deputy prime minister Nabil Abu Rudayna.

                A U.S. official said on 1 February that the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) had ended all its projects for Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza. The end of USAID’s work and funding coincides with the official implementation of ATCA. ATCA was also cited as a reason for terminating a tuition funding program, primarily sponsored by the U.S. State Department, which covered tuition for 29 Palestinian students from the West Bank and Gaza studying at the American University of Beirut (AUB) and the Lebanese American University (LAU). AUB pledged to find funding for the 16 Palestinian students enrolled at the university in the State-Department-funded program. LAU said they were not able to make promises but would work to find a solution for their 13 Palestinian students.


Combatting BDS

                The 1st bill introduced by senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) to the newly elected Senate included the widely criticized S.1 – Strengthening America’s Security in the Middle East Act of 2019. The bill, which had been introduced several times before, has been criticized for infringing the 1st amendment to the U.S. constitution by allowing state and local governments to silence opposition to Israel policies through “divest[ing] from entities using boycotts, divestments, or sanctions to influence Israel’s policies” (for more on the debate of the bill from 2018, see United States 16 August- 31 December 2018). Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) tweeted, “It’s absurd that the first bill during the shutdown is legislation which punishes Americans who exercise their constitutional right to engage in political activity.” In December 2018, Senator Sanders and fellow Democratic senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) sent a letter to senate leaders urging them not to support the bill. On 5 February, the Senate passed the bill 77-23; all Democratic senators running for the Democratic primaries in the 2020 elections voted against the bill, as did Republican senator Rand Paul (R-KY). By the end of the quarter, the bill had not been introduced to the house floor for debate.

                In the House, Bradley Scott Schneider (D-IL) introduced the resolution H.Res 246 – Opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel. H.Res 246, which by the end of the quarter did not yet have a vote scheduled, will not have any legal implications as it is a non-binding resolution. However, it can open up for legislation that has legal implications for supporters of the BDS movement.


Conflating Criticism of Israel with Anti-Semitism

                The conflation of criticism of Israel, and the pro-Israel lobby in the U.S., with anti-Semitism was again center stage of political and public debates in the U.S. this quarter. In November 2018, Marc Lamont Hill was fired as a contributor for CNN after he made remarks at the UN critical of Israeli human rights abuses toward Palestinians (see United States 16 August- 31 December 2018). Throughout the 1st quarter of the year, Republicans and pro-Israel Democrats targeted freshmen members of the House Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) for statements critical of the Israeli lobby in Washington D.C. First on 6 January, Representative Tlaib tweeted about the S.1 bill (see above): “They [those pushing S.1] forgot what country they represent. This is the U.S. where boycotting is a right & part of our historical fight for freedom & equality. Maybe a refresher on our U.S. Constitution is in order, then get back to opening up our government instead of taking our rights away.” Representative Tlaib’s tweet spawned an extensive debate in U.S. public and political discourse about what constitutes anti-Semitism. Another storm of accusations of anti-Semitism were made against Representative Omar (D-MN) in February. Representative Omar re-tweeted a tweet by Glenn Greenwald of the Intercept about House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) attacking Omar and Tlaib for their stance on Israel. Omar added in her re-tweet to Greenwald’s tweet, “It’s all about the Benjamins baby,” insinuating that Minority Leader McCarthy’s stance on Israel is about the money he receives from pro-Israel lobbies. Despite the notable absence of any reference to Jewish people in Omar’s tweet, it was condemned by Republicans and many Democrats in the U.S. Congress, accusing Omar of using an anti-Semitic trope. While Congresswoman Omar later apologized, her tweet sparked debate about pro-Israeli lobbying in U.S. politics. In March, a 3d round of accusations against 1 of the freshmen members of the House unfolded after Representative Omar, at an event for progressive politicians at a restaurant in Washington D.C., said, “I want to talk about the political influence in this country that says it is O.K. for people to push for allegiance to a foreign country.” She then questioned why it is legitimate to be critical of political influence of the National Rifle Association, the fossil fuel industry, and pharmaceutical companies, but not of the influence of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). Omar’s comments about the Israeli lobby were again conflated with anti-Semitism despite not mentioning Jewish people or Jewish lawmakers. U.S. president Donald Trump along with a number of Republican and Democratic politicians attacked Omar for her comments. A House resolution, H.Res 183, was quickly introduced by Representative Jamie Raskin (D-MD) and was originally intended to condemn anti-Semitism implicitly, linking Omar’s criticism of AIPAC to anti-Semitism, but ended up as a condemnation of all bigotry against minorities. As public debate over Omar’s comments unfolded before H.Res 183 was passed on 7 March, several Democratic presidential candidates defended Omar, including Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT), saying of the resolution, “What I fear is going on in the House now is an effort to target Congresswoman Omar as a way of stifling that debate [over the influence of the Israeli lobby].” On 24 March, coinciding with the annual AIPAC Conference, the Washington Post ran a full page ad paid by a controversial American rabbi accusing Omar of anti-Semitism.

                In addition to the attacks on Representatives Omar and Tlaib, a reward ceremony for the prominent U.S. civil rights advocate Angela Davis was canceled in Birmingham, Alabama, after pressure from pro-Israel advocates in Birmingham. The organization, Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI), that was awarding Davis a human rights award, said, “she [Davis] unfortunately does not meet all of the criteria on which the awards is based.” Davis herself said on Facebook that she had learned that the cancelation was due to her “long-term support of justice for Palestine.” Hill, who was subjected to the same sort of silencing in November, tweeted that BCRI’s decision was “shameful.” Later, on 22 January, over 350 scholars and civil rights activists wrote a letter of support for Davis. On 25 January, the BCRI announced that it had voted to give Davis the award after all, recanting its decision from 4 January. Also in January, it was announced that a Zionist alternative to the Woman’s March, which started in January 2017 in conjunction with the inauguration of President Trump, would be holding its own women’s march. The group’s mission statement noted, “We are leftists, we are progressives, we are Democrats, we are Zionists who believe a safe, secure and sovereign Israel must exist as antisemitism is too great a threat to Jews worldwide.” Prominent leaders within the Women’s March have been accused of anti-Semitism for alleged ties with Louis Farrakhan, however the Women’s March have outspokenly disavowed Farrakhan’s statements about Jewish people and condemn anti-Semitism. The same leaders accused of anti-Semitism are known for their support of Palestinian human rights (for more on the conflation of criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism, see the IPS publication Zionism, Israel, and Anti-Semitism: Dangerous Conflation).


State Legislation

                In Florida, the newly elected and self-proclaimed “most pro-Israel governor,” Rick DeSantis’s cabinet made a couple of decisions to bolster his claim. On 16 January, Governor DeSantis said that he would take measures against Airbnb because it delisted a number of settler-owned properties in the West Bank last year. Later, on 29 January, that materialized in a vote in the Florida cabinet to put Airbnb on a list of “scrutinized companies” to compel Airbnb to change its policies. A similar measure was passed in Texas that on 1 March placed Airbnb on its blacklist for companies that boycott Israel, which after 90 days will require the state to “sell, redeem, divest, or withdraw all publicly traded securities of the company.” The Florida cabinet also passed a resolution which declared that Florida officially recognizes Jerusalem as the “eternal undivided capital” of Israel, going 1 step further than the Trump administration that all but stopped short of using the Israeli narrative of “eternal and undivided,” which implies that East Jerusalem could not be part of a Palestinian state. The Florida house of representatives introduced a bill, HB 741, which focuses on college campuses and classifies almost all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic. The bill is set to be voted on in April as it had passed 3 sub-committees by the end of March.

                In Mississippi, its house of representatives passed a bill, which now moves to the senate, that would prevent the state from engaging with companies that boycott Israel. The bill also stipulates that the state needs to make a list of companies that boycott Israel. 27 U.S. states have legislation preventing boycotts of Israel.


Goldstone Report

                Mondoweiss reported in January that a leaked State Department cable showed that U.S. officials met with Israeli generals to discuss ways to counter the Goldstone Report from 2009, which documented Israeli war crimes from Operation Cast Lead in 2008-9. Judge Richard Goldstone later recanted his report in April 2011 after attacks from Israel and pro-Israeli people and organizations (Norman Finkelstein’s book Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom [2018] documents this well). In the leaked document, it is described how U.S. officials helped Israel promote its narrative of Operation Cast Lead to the international community.


Buying Israeli Weapons and Joint Military Drills

                The U.S. Department of Defense announced on 6 February that it decided to buy at least 2 batteries of the Israeli missile defense system Iron Dome. The U.S. has helped Israel develop its missile defense systems through military aid. From 2019-28, the U.S. will pay Israel $3.8 billion per year in military aid, amounting to $38 billion. From 2007-18, the U.S. gave Israel $30 billion in military aid. Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu called the U.S. purchase of the Iron Dome batteries “a great achievement for Israel,” and “further proof of our solid bond with the U.S., as well of Israel’s rising status in the world.” According to Defense News, the U.S. was reported to spend $373 million on the 2 batteries. Israel and the U.S. also carried out 2 joint defense exercises in Israel this quarter. 1 4-week-long exercise focused on deploying the terminal high-altitude area defense anti-missile system and a 1-week-long drill simulated deployment of U.S. troops in Israel.


Temporary Presence in Hebron

                1 day after the U.S. blocked a resolution at the UN Security Council denouncing Israel’s decision to end the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH) mandate (see United Nations), a U.S. official from the State Department said that, “Regardless of whether one agrees or disagrees with the Israeli decision not to renew, it would be inaccurate to accuse Israel of not having the right to make this decision.” Foreign ministers from member states of the TIPH said that ending the TIPH mandate represents a “departure from [the] Oslo accords” and stressed that Israel is obliged to protect residents of the West Bank and Hebron.



                The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia reopened a lawsuit against casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and 30 others, which had been closed in 2017. The plaintiffs, 18 Palestinians and Palestinian-Americans, argue that the defendants are conspiring to expel non-Jews from the West Bank and East Jerusalem and are aiding in genocide and other war crimes.


Israeli Spies against Palestinian Activists

                In February, The New Yorker ran 2 articles on Psy-Group, a now defunct Israeli private intelligence agency, exposing how the company spied on American citizens in the U.S. until it was closed in February 2018, after U.S. special counsel Robert Mueller began questioning its employees for his investigation into the 2016 U.S. elections. The 2 articles show how Psy-Group targeted Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions activists and critics of Israel in cooperation with the U.S. think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies and former Israeli officials. The New Yorker published 2 Psy-Group documents detailing its campaign targeting 15-20 individuals and 9-10 campuses using methods of lawfare, narrative warfare, name/shame target campaigns, and disrupting on-campus activities utilizing a $2.5 million budget. One of the documents also mentioned several Palestinian activists by name.

Peace Plan

                The content of the U.S. peace plan remained elusive this quarter as the U.S. and Bahrain held a conference to present ideas for economic development in Israel, the occupied territories, and their neighbors. No Israeli or Palestinian officials were present at the conference and its actual purpose remained unclear to many after it ended on 26 June (see below). The unveiling of the actual political aspect of the U.S. peace plan was delayed yet again to November; the U.S. special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt made that announcement in an interview with the Jerusalem Post ahead of the Bahrain conference. Meanwhile, the 2 other U.S. officials in the tripartite spearheading the U.S. peace plan—U.S. special advisor to the president and U.S. president Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman—gave some clues to what the peace plan may or may not include.

                At the Washington Institute for Near East Policy on 2 May, Special Advisor Kushner said of the 2-state solution: “[i]f you say ‘two-state’, it means one thing to the Israelis, it means one thing to the Palestinians . . . We said, you know, let’s just not say it. Let’s just say, let’s work on the details of what this means.” Kushner also affirmed that the U.S. plan covered the final status issues. Later in the quarter in an interview with Axios on 2 June, Kushner claimed that Palestinians were not yet capable of governing themselves. When asked directly about the issue, he said, “That’s one that we’ll have to see. The hope is that they, over time, will become capable of governing.” In the interview, Special Advisor Kushner also refrained from answering a question about whether the plan includes a 2-state solution, saying, “I do think they should have self-determination. I’m going to leave the details until we come out with the actual plan.” A week after the Kushner interview, Ambassador David Friedman told the New York Times that “[u]nder certain circumstances, I think Israel has the right to retain some, but unlikely all, of the West Bank,” echoing Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s promise from April to annex parts of the West Bank. A State Department official said after the interview was published that the Trump Administration’s position on settlement and annexation of the West Bank had not changed. The public also learned of the peace plan that “[i]t will be somewhere between the Arab peace initiative and between the Israeli position,” Kushner revealed in late June before the Bahrain conference. Palestinian Authority (PA) president Mahmoud Abbas’s spokesperson Nabil Abu Rudeineh responded that the Arab Peace Initiative “is a red line that neither Kushner nor anyone else could redraft.” U.S. secretary of state Mike Pompeo told Jewish American leaders at a closed-door meeting in New York that “one might argue” that the U.S. peace plan is “unexecutable.” He also said, “I get why people think this is going to be a deal that only the Israelis could love . . . I understand the perception of that. I hope everyone will just give the space to listen and let it settle in a little bit.” Secretary Pompeo’s very honest assessment of the peace plan was secretly recorded and reported on by the Washington Post. At the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) on 9 May, PA foreign minister Riyad al-Maliki reiterated the PA’s skepticism of the U.S.’s intentions, saying that all indications are that their peace efforts will be “conditions for surrender.” At that same meeting, Special Representative Greenblatt called the UNSC’s focus on Israeli settlements “obsessive” and a “farce.” Later on 22 May at the UNSC, Greenblatt called for ending UN Relief and Works Agency, claiming it is a “Band-Aid” solution.

“Peace to Prosperity” Conference

                On 19 May, the White House announced that the “economic component” of the U.S. peace plan would be released in June, coinciding with the an international summit in Bahrain on 25 June–26 June hosted by the U.S. and Bahrain. The summit was titled “Peace to Prosperity” and was aimed at bringing international officials and businesspeople together to raise money for infrastructure, industries, and businesses in the Levant. PA prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh said that no Palestinian officials were consulted before the announcement was made and other PA officials stated that no Palestinian would attend the conference. Ahead of the Bahrain conference, Palestinian officials also urged other Arab countries to boycott the conference as they expected that any proposal or plan from the Trump Administration would be heavily biased toward Israel. A week before the conference was scheduled to start, U.S. officials told Axios that neither Israeli nor Palestinian officials would be invited to the conference to keep the conference from being “political.”

                3 days before the Bahrain Conference on June 22, the White House released the economic aspect of the Peace Plan, which includes raising $50 billion for investments in the Palestinian and regional economies, $25 billion directly to the Palestinian economy, and $25 billion in neighboring countries. The economic part of the peace plan was dubbed Peace to Prosperity – The Economic Plan: A New Vision for the Palestinian People and was 40 pages long divided into 3 chapters. The plan itself does not include any particular funding mechanisms as the Trump Administration explained that it wanted regional donors to see the peace plan’s political chapter before they envision that these donors will commit large sums of money. Besides the irony in asking “regional actors” to pledge money while the U.S. has cut all its aid to Palestinian programs, 1 of the pictures used in the economic part of the peace plan was from a defunded organization for bereaved Palestinian and Israeli families. Lebanon’s speaker of parliament Nabih Berri said of the plan that Lebanon would not be “lured” into resettling its Palestinian refugees in exchange for the billions proposed by the Trump Administration. Foreign Minister al-Maliki called in a press statement the Peace to Prosperity document “the obnoxious Trump Declaration or the Balfour Declaration II” and said the parts of the plan unveiled “tries to whitewash the occupation and settlements.”

                The Palestine Liberation Organization released a statement during the 1st day of the conference explaining its position, pointing out that it believes that economic and political peace cannot be detached from 1 another, stating, “the de-contextualization of the situation reflects this administration’s [U.S. Administration] willful blindness to the occupation and deliberate refusal to deal with reality, as well as its rejection of the Palestinian people’s inalienable right to self-determination and sovereignty over our national resources.” General strikes were observed by Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as the conference took place in Bahrain. In spite of a Palestinian boycott of the conference, some 15 Palestinian businesspeople attended, 1 of them as a speaker. Despite much American-generated fanfare, not many high-ranking international officials participated and it remained unclear by the end of the quarter how much of the $50 billion goal the conference produced.

Ambassador Friedman in East Jerusalem

                A settler archaeological project in East Jerusalem’s Silwan neighborhood named “Path of the Pilgrims” was inaugurated on 30 June. The project is widely criticized and is seen as another manifestation of Israel expanding its sovereignty over East Jerusalem. The inauguration was attended by 2 U.S. officials: Ambassador David Friedman and Special Representative Jason Greenblatt. During the event, both U.S. representatives used a sledgehammer to help the settler organization Elad excavate under East Jerusalem’s busy streets. After the PA criticized Special Representative Greenblatt and Ambassador Friedman’s appearance at the Israeli event, Greenblatt wrote on Twitter that the PA “claims our attendance at this historic event supports ‘Judaization’ of Jerusalem/is an act of hostility vs. Palestinians. Ludicrous. We can’t ‘Judaize’ what history/archeology show. We can acknowledge it & you can stop pretending it isn’t true! Peace can only be built on truth.” Palestinians in East Jerusalem have since 2011 complained about the excavations as the tunnel diggings have cause cracks in Palestinian-owned homes.


                6 Democrats in the U.S. senate cosponsored resolution S.Res. 171, which sought to restore bilateral aid to the West Bank and Gaza. The resolution was introduced on 11 April and encouraged the Trump Administration to provide the assistance appropriated for fiscal years 2017 and 2018, which the administration did not provide to the West Bank and Gaza. The resolution had not moved beyond introduction by the end of the quarter. A different bipartisan bill, H.R. 3104, was introduced to the senate seeking to revamp U.S. Agency for International Development’s work in supporting the Israeli and Palestinian private sector. By the end of the quarter, the bill was still with the House Committee on Foreign Affairs.

                House representative Betty McCollum (D-MN) reintroduced her bill H.R. 2407 on 30 April seeking to prevent U.S. funds supporting “military detention, interrogation, abuse, or ill-treatment of Palestinian children.” Representative McCollum had in the last congressional session introduced a similar bill that did not become law and therefore died when the session ended. By the end of the quarter, the bill was at the House Committee of Foreign Affairs.

                On 6 June, 5 Democratic senators led by Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced a resolution denouncing Prime Minister Netanyahu’s pledge to annex the West Bank. The resolution stated that “unilateral annexation of portions of the West Bank would jeopardize prospects for a two-state solution, harm Israel’s relationship with its neighbors, threaten Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity, and undermine Israel’s security.” A different, bipartisan resolution introduced by senators Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) similarly sought to convey the Senate’s support for a 2-state solution. According to Axios reporting, Israeli officials had sought to lobby against the resolution, wanting the words “2-state solution” removed from the text.

State Legislation

                Florida governor Ron DeSantis and his cabinet went on a 4-day tour to Israel to hold a cabinet meeting in Jerusalem and visit Israeli settlements in the West Bank in late May. During the Florida cabinet meeting, Governor DeSantis signed a bill classifying almost all criticism of Israel as anti-Semitic, aimed at stifling free speech in the Florida education system. While at the Ariel settlement, DeSantis said, “The one constant throughout the modern history of the Middle East and the State of Israel is that Palestinian Arabs always wanted to get rid of the Jewish state more than they wanted their own state.” Last quarter, DeSantis, who calls himself the “most pro-Israel governor,” made a number of efforts to bolster his claim (see United States 1 January-31 March).

                On 25 April, a federal judge in Texas temporarily blocked the enforcement of a state law that prohibits boycotting Israel as a condition for public employment. The Texas legislature passed a bill in 2017 which compels anyone seeking employment for the state of Texas to sign a document promising not to boycott Israel. The Texas judged cited the 1st Amendment in his ruling. Last year, 2 federal judges in Arizona and Kansas made similar rulings against state requirements of pledges not to boycott Israel.

Conflict with Iran

                In May, Iranian president Hassan Rouhani announced that Iran would increase its uranium enrichment after 60 days, since the signatories of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) had not fulfilled their duties relating to the plan. The announcement came on the 1-year anniversary of the U.S. withdrawal from the JCPOA. President Trump responded by putting additional sanctions on Iran. The International Atomic Energy Agency’s director general Yukiya Amano said on 10 June that Iran had begun accelerating its uranium enrichment but would not say by how much.

                In the immediate aftermath of President Rouhani’s announcement, the U.S. blamed Iran for attacks on 2 Saudi oil tankers on 12 May and 2 Saudi oil-pumping stations on 14 May. The U.S. also blamed Iran for a rocket that landed in the vicinity of the U.S. embassy in Baghdad on 19 May. President Trump tweeted after the rocket landing that “[if] Iran wants to fight, that will be the official end of Iran. Never threaten the United States again!” The Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif responded to Trump’s tweet, calling it a “genocidal taunt,” telling Trump to “Try respect—it works!” The U.S. also blamed Iran for 2 additional attacks on Norwegian and Japanese oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz on 13 June, allegations that Iran denied. By the end of the quarter, it remained unclear who committed the above attacks.

                The conflict between Iran and the U.S. further escalated on 20 June, when Iran shot down a U.S. drone, claiming that it was in Iranian air space; U.S. officials claimed that it was in international air space. President Trump subsequently tweeted that the U.S. was 10 minutes away from bombing Iranian targets in Iran, but that he had ordered the strike off because he was told that 150 people would probably be killed.

                Amid the ongoing conflict between Iran and the U.S., the Pentagon released a statement on 10 May saying that the U.S. would move a Patriot missile battery and an additional naval ship to the Middle East because of the perceived threat from Iran. The Pentagon also presented a plan to the National Security Council to send 120,000 U.S. troops to the Middle East if the Iran attacks U.S. forces or accelerates work on nuclear weapons. On 17 June, U.S. acting secretary of defense Patrick Shanahan announced that the U.S. would deploy 1,000 more U.S. troops to the Middle East, citing concerns over Iran.

Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps and Islamic Brotherhood

                A day before the Israeli elections, President Trump said in a statement that the U.S. would designate Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) a foreign terrorist organization, which was finalized on 15 April. Prime Minister Netanyahu subsequently thanked Trump for putting IRGC on the list of terrorist organizations and said in a tweet in Hebrew that it was done upon his request. President Rouhani called the designation a calculated boost to Prime Minister Netanyahu’s election campaign.

                The White House also said on 30 April that it was working toward designating the Muslim Brotherhood a foreign terrorist organization. According to the New York Times, the decision was made after Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had requested it during a private meeting at the White House on 9 April.

Denying entry to Hanan Ashrawi and Omar Barghouti

                Palestine Liberation Organization executive committee member Hanan Ashrawi was denied a visa to the U.S. on 13 May for a personal trip. In February, Special Representative Greenblatt had tweeted to Ashrawi that she was “always welcome” to meet him at the White House. The U.S. State Department did not provide Ashrawi or the media a reason for the rejection of her visa request. Earlier, on 10 April, co-founder of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement Omar Barghouti was also denied entry to the U.S. Barghouti was invited to speak at several universities and institutions and was to attend his daughter’s wedding. Barghouti said in a statement that the “U.S. entry ban against me, which is ideologically and politically motivated, is part of Israel’s escalating repression against Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights defenders in the B.D.S. movement.” Barghouti was notified that he was barred entry while at the Tel Aviv airport before boarding his flight to the U.S. via Frankfurt.

Israeli Elections

                Shortly after Prime Minister Netanyahu gave up forming a coalition after the Israeli elections, President Trump criticized Israeli politicians for not forming a coalition. President Trump said, “Israel is all messed up with their election—I mean, that came out of the blue three days ago. So that’s all messed up. They ought to get their act together . . . I mean, Bibi [Benjamin Netanyahu] got elected, now all of a sudden they’re going to have to go through the process again until September. That’s ridiculous. So we’re not happy about that.” Trump had explicitly supported the reelection of Prime Minister Netanyahu during the Israeli elections in April and recognized Israeli sovereignty over the Golan Heights 2 weeks before the elections (for more on the Israeli elections, see Israel).

Peace Plan

               The United States (U.S.) unveiled the “economic” aspect of the U.S. “peace plan” in Bahrain last quarter at a workshop in Manama, dubbed the Peace to Prosperity Conference. The U.S. administration said it would reveal the political aspects of its peace plan at a later date. In early July, senior advisor to the president Jared Kushner said the next steps of the U.S. peace plan would be revealed soon. In the same conference call, Senior Advisor Kushner also called the Palestinian leadership “hysterical and erratic” for not wanting to partake in the Manama Workshop while he simultaneously said that he and U.S. president Donald Trump have a lot of respect for PA president Mahmoud Abbas. Kushner did disclose that part of the U.S. plan is to resettle Palestinian refugees in the countries they fled and were expelled to during the Nakba. The Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) was quick to reject Kushner’s remarks and pointed out that such a policy is contrary to international law. U.S. ambassador to Israel David Friedman hinted at why a political peace plan had not yet been revealed in an interview with CNN, where he admitted that the U.S. administration neither supports a 2-state solution nor a 1-state solution. Ambassador Friedman said that the U.S. can agree to Palestinian autonomy but just not the extent to which the Palestinians would have autonomy. In an interview with PBS, the last of the trio of front men of the U.S. administration’s peace team, U.S. special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt called the 2-state solution a “slogan” that the Trump administration is avoiding. He further stated that he believes that Israel is the victim of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict and that he rejects the terms “occupied” and “settlements,” finding the terms “pejorative” and saying that he prefers “disputed land” and “neighborhoods and cities.” Special Representative Greenblatt announced in early September that he would not see the release of the peace plan through as he was leaving the administration. Replacing Greenblatt’s role is Avi Berkowitz, an advisor to Kushner.

               Special Advisor Kushner also went on a Middle East trip this quarter to shore up support for the economic part of his peace plan from Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. King Abdullah II of Jordan and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi of Egypt told Kushner that their support of a U.S. peace plan was conditioned on the creation of a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as the capital.

               The last news regarding the U.S. “peace plan” this quarter came when President Trump told reporters that the U.S. was waiting until after the Israeli elections on 17 September to reveal the political part of the peace plan. The plan was not revealed by the end of this quarter and no final date was set.


Conflating Judaism with Israel

               President Trump continued his obsession with castigating women of color in the U.S. House of Representatives and conflating American Jews with the state of Israel this quarter. On Twitter, the president said that congresswomen Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Ilhan Omar (D-MN) are “[h]orrible anti-Israel, anti-USA, pro-terrorist,” complaining that other Democrats were afraid of them. On the same day, 7/15, Trump wrote on Twitter that “[t]he Dems [Democrats] were trying to distance themselves from the four ‘progressives’ [Tlaib, Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), and Ayanna Pressley (D-MA)], but now they are forced to embrace them. That means they are endorsing Socialism, hate of Israel and the USA! Not good for the Democrats!” Trump further demanded that the congresswomen apologize to Israel and to him “for the foul language they have used, and the terrible things they have said,” and told them to “go back” to where they came from. The Anti-Defamation League’s (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt criticized Trump for “echoing the racist talking points of white nationalism and cynically using the Jewish people and the State of Israel as a shield to double down on his remarks.” Greenblatt further said that Trump was throwing around accusations of anti-Semitism. About a week later on 7/21, President Trump again attacked the 4 congresswomen, saying, “I don’t believe the 4 Congresswomen are capable of loving our Country. They should apologize to America (and Israel) for the horrible (hateful) things they have said.” And in response to a headline in the Washington Post, Trump tweeted, “The facts remain the same, that we have 4 Radical Left Congresswomen who have said very bad things about Israel & our Country!”

               About 1 month later, after Israel denied entry to 2 of the congresswomen (see below), President Trump said, “any Jewish people that vote Democrat—I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty,” implying that Jewish Americans should be loyal to Israel. The ADL and the American Jewish Committee again urged President Trump to stop using American Jews as a tool to castigate his opponents. The Jewish Democratic Council pointed out that the dual loyalty trope is considered a form of anti-Semitism.


Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar Denied Entry to Israel and the West Bank

               As the U.S. congressional trip to Israel sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) was approaching, Congresswomen Tlaib and Omar announced that they would visit both Israel and the West Bank. Soon after their announcement, Axios reported that President Trump had told Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu not to allow the 2 congresswomen to enter Israel, using the Israeli law that prohibits visitors who engage in boycotts of Israel. While President Trump, through his press secretary, denied the reporting he tweeted 5 days later that “[i]t would show great weakness if Israel allowed Rep. Omar and Rep. Tlaib to visit. They hate Israel & all Jewish people, & there is nothing that can be said or done to change their minds.” Prime Minister Netanyahu had 1st decided to let the 2 congresswomen into Israel, but shortly after Trump’s tweet his government changed course and said the 2 would not be allowed to enter Israel, citing the boycott law. Netanyahu’s decision drew criticism from virtually all Democrats and some Republicans in the U.S. congress and AIPAC. A day later, in a double reversal, the Israeli government decided to allow Congresswoman Tlaib entry “on humanitarian grounds” to visit her grandmother if she promised not to promote boycotts of Israel while visiting. Tlaib called the conditions a humiliation and said she could not accept going under the stipulations made by Israel. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders (D-VT) said in an interview with MSNBC, “If Israel doesn’t want members of the United States Congress to visit their country . . . maybe they can respectfully decline the billions of dollars that we give to Israel.” After the 2 congresswomen remained in the U.S. because of Israel’s denial of entry and extra stipulations of entry, the 2 held a press conference to which President Trump said on Twitter, “ Sorry, I don’t buy Rep. Tlaib’s tears. I have watched her violence, craziness and, most importantly, WORDS, for far too long. Now tears? She hates Israel and all Jewish people. She is an anti-Semite. She and her 3 friends are the new face of the Democrat Party. Live with it!” 72 U.S. congressional legislators went on the AIPAC-sponsored trip.



               The Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was the focus of congressional legislation regarding Palestine and Israel this quarter. 1st, Congresswoman Omar introduced a resolution, H.R. 496, lauding the U.S. constitutional “right to participate in boycotts in pursuit of civil and human rights.” The resolution was cosponsored by representatives Tlaib and John Lewis (D-GA). While the resolution does not mention Israel or Palestine, it was unveiled at the same time Congresswoman Omar announced plans to visit Israel and the West Bank (see above). Omar presented her resolution 1 week before the House of Representatives were set to vote on H.R.256, which opposes Americans’ right to boycott Israel.

               H.R. 256 passed on 7/23 with overwhelming support, as the vote was 398-17. The resolution opposes “the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement (BDS Movement) targeting Israel, including efforts to target United States companies that are engaged in commercial activities that are legal under United States law, and all efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel.” The resolution further claims that the BDS movement undermines efforts for peace. In a passionate speech on the floor of the House, Congresswoman Tlaib said, “I stand before you the daughter of Palestinian immigrants . . . Parents who experienced being stripped of their human rights, the right to freedom of travel, equal treatment. So, I can’t stand by and watch this attack on our freedom of speech and the right to boycott the racist policies of the government and the state of Israel.” After the resolution passed in the House, 21 members of the Israeli Knesset wrote a letter to their counterparts in the U.S. complaining that H.R. 256 reaffirms the House’s position in favor of a 2-state solution. The members of Knesset (MK) wrote “the affirmation of support for establishing a Palestinian state is so dangerous that we respectfully request that you take that into consideration, and in the future avoid determining that establishing an additional Arab state on territory that is the Land of Israel is part of the solution to the dispute.” The MKs also asserted that the establishment of a Palestinian state is “far more dangerous” than the BDS movement.


State Legislation

               The governor of Kentucky Matt Bevin signed a senate bill into law that allows the state to refuse business from companies that boycott Kentucky trade partners. The new law codifies an executive order signed by Governor Bevin in November 2018, specifically aimed at outlawing boycotts of Israel. At the signing ceremony attended by pro-Israel groups such as Christians United for Israel (CUFI), local CUFI lobbying was cited as a main part of the effort to get the bill passed.



               Tensions between Iran and the U.S. continued to escalate this quarter. The New York Times reported that the U.S. had launched a cyberattack on Iran, allegedly to retaliate against Iran downing a U.S. drone in or near Iranian air space. The cyberattack was said to have happened on 6/20 and was targeting the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s intelligence group. The U.S. also imposed sanctions on the Iranian foreign minister Javad Zarif, citing that the foreign minister acts on behalf of Iran’s supreme leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. Foreign Minister Zarif responded on Twitter that sanctions will not affect him as he has no property outside of Iran, and he thanked the U.S. for considering him “a huge threat” to its agenda. John Bolton, said to be the biggest proponent of Iranian regime change in the U.S. government, was fired as U.S. national security advisor by President Trump in a tweet on 9/10.


U.S. Hezbollah Sanctions

               On 7/9, the U.S. added 2 members of the Lebanese parliament from the Hezbollah party and 1 Hezbollah official responsible for coordinating between Hezbollah the Lebanese security agencies to its list of sanctioned individuals. The 3 top officials in Lebanon, President Michel Aoun, Prime Minister Saed Hariri, and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, all criticized the U.S. administration’s decision. Speaker Berri called the sanctions “an assault to all of Lebanon.”


New Ambassador to the UN

               The U.S. Senate confirmed President Trump’s pick for U.S. envoy to the United Nations Kelly Craft, on 8/1. During Craft’s confirmation hearing, she promised to continue her predecessor Nikki Haley’s work to fight anti-Israel resolutions. A week before Craft was confirmed, the U.S. blocked efforts to denounce Israel’s demolition of 10 buildings in Sur Bahir (see United Nations).


State Department Removes Palestinian Territories from List of Countries

               In yet another attack on Palestinians, the Trump administration’s State Department removed the term “Palestinian territories” from its list of countries. PLO secretary-general Saeb Erakat said that the move was part of the U.S.’s efforts to advance Israeli sovereignty over the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority (PA) prime minister Mohammed Shtayyeh condemned the U.S. administration’s move. In a response to why his administration had made the change, President Trump implied that it was to put pressure on the PA to make a deal with Israel.


Banning Palestinian Harvard Student

               A Palestinian refugee living in Lebanon who was set to start studying at Harvard University on a scholarship from Amideast was turned back at Boston Logan Airport by U.S. immigration officials. According to the student, he was questioned about his religious practices and friends’ social media activities. He said he was turned away by the officials because his friends had made anti-U.S. statements on their social media profiles. 10 days after the student was denied entry, he finally arrived at Harvard University for the beginning of the semester because of efforts made by the university and Amideast.


Israel Spying on the U.S.

               3 former senior U.S. officials told Politico that Israel most likely has been spying on the U.S. administration using cellphone surveillance devices, called StingRays, planted near the White House and other locations in D.C. According to the former officials, a forensic analysis by the FBI led to a confident conclusion that Israel was behind the surveillance. President Trump said he did not think Israel would be spying on him and that “[a]nything is possible but I don’t believe it.” According to the reporting, the U.S. government has not held Israel responsible for planting the devices.

Quarterly Updates for (1 Jan 1970 — 1 Jan 1970)

Continued Tension with Israel

By bringing Yisrael Beytenu chair Lieberman into his ruling coalition instead of opposition leader Herzog, Israeli PM Netanyahu exacerbated existing tensions between his govt. and that of U.S. pres. Barack Obama. In his 1st few mos. in office, Lieberman exhibited a strong-arm stance vis-à-vis the occupation as well as bullish opposition to the P5+1’s nuclear deal with Iran, which combined with Netanyahu and Obama’s specific and lingering disagreements further strained the Israel-U.S. relationship.