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Election Watch 2016

Bernie and Hillary spar over the meaning of ‘pro-Israel’

(JTA) — Bernie Sanders accused Hillary Clinton of neglecting the Palestinians, and Clinton said her rival was more prone to criticizing than solving problems when it comes to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The Independent senator from Vermont and the former secretary of state had a lengthy and heated exchange on Israel and the Palestinians during their debate in Brooklyn Tuesday evening. Sanders took issue especially with Clinton’s speech last month to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. “You gave a major speech to AIPAC, which obviously deals with the Middle East crisis and you barely mentioned the Palestinians,” he said during the debate broadcast by CNN. He suggested Clinton was unwilling to confront Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “In the long run, if we are ever going to bring peace to that region, we are going to have to treat the Palestinian people with respect and dignity,” he said. “There comes a time when we pursue justice and peace that we will have to say Netanyahu is not right all the time.”

Sanders stood by claims he has made in recent weeks that Israel’s actions during the 2014 war with Hamas in the Gaza Strip were “disproportionate.”

“If you’re asking me, and not just me but countries across the world, was that a disproportionate response. Yes,” Sanders said.

Clinton noted that Hamas militants fired rockets on Israel from civilian areas.

“I don’t know how you run a country when you are under constant threat,” she said, but added that she worked hard when she was secretary of state to bring about peace talks. She depicted Sanders as a dilettante. “Describing the problem is a lot easier than trying to solve it,” she said.

“I can tell you right now I have been there with Israeli officials going back more than 25 years that they do not seek this kind of attacks,” she said. “They do not invite the rockets raining down on their towns and villages.”

Sanders said he remained “100 percent” pro-Israel and noted, as he has in the past, that he spent months on a kibbutz in the 1960s.


Trump reveals Israel advisers: His Jewish lawyers

By Uriel Heilman (JTA) – Donald Trump met last Thursday with a select group of Jewish reporters, almost all of them Orthodox, at his corporate offices in Manhattan. But in a 20-minute question-and-answer session that touched on religious liberty in the workplace, U.S. foreign policy in the Middle East and federal education tax credits, he offered scant details. On some substantive policy questions, the Republican front-runner for president didn’t answer at all, instead delegating the question to Greenblatt, a real estate attorney from Teaneck, N.J. — one of two people he said he’d appoint as his White House Israel policy advisers.

Here’s Trump’s answer to a question on whether religious employers should have the right to discriminate on the basis of religion when it comes to hiring:

“That’s the question that’s been asked and discussed very brilliantly on many different levels over the last short period of time,” Trump said. “And I’m going to really leave that decision to you. That’s your personal decision. What would your answer be to that question?”

When asked about tax-exempt status for religious groups, Trump said, “It’s really become a very big point of discussion and a very complex point of discussion and it’s something that I’m very interested in and I’m really forming policy on it and I’m actually going to be announcing something that I actually think you’re going to be very happy with. OK?”

On a question about Jewish settlements in the West Bank, Trump turned to Greenblatt and said, “How do you feel about that, Jason, the settlements?”

Greenblatt: “I think the settlements should stay but I think they have to work something out so that both sides are able to live in peace and safety.”

He named two men he said would be his chief advisers on Israel: Greenblatt and another real estate lawyer, bankruptcy expert David M. Friedman of the Kasowitz law firm. “I don’t think I can find better,” Trump said. “Jason’s very much a consultant to me on Israel, on everything. He’s a tremendously talented lawyer, one of the great real estate lawyers of the City of New York, and he has tremendous passion for Israel. When he goes on vacation, he goes to Israel.”

Trump said he supports a strong Israeli response to rocket attacks: “When missiles are being shot at a country, whether Israel or any other country, I don’t know what ‘disproportionate force’ is supposed to mean.”

He said he likes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, though he was disappointed by Netanyahu’s public rejection last December of Trump’s comments about barring Muslims from entering the United States. Trump clarified that it was he who canceled his planned visit to Israel last December, not Netanyahu.

Trump wrapped up the meeting reiterating his befuddlement about why Jews are so supportive of President Barack Obama.

“In my opinion, Barack Obama has been tremendously disloyal to Israel, and yet my Jewish friends go out and have fundraisers for him all the time,” Trump said. “Someday you people will explain to me what you’re doing.”


Ivanka Trump: Dad was ‘very supportive’ of my Jewish conversion

(JTA) — Ivanka Trump said her father, Republican presidential front-runner Donald Trump, was fully supportive of her conversion to Judaism.

“My father was very supportive,” she said at a CNN town hall meeting featuring the presidential candidate and his family Tuesday evening. “He knows and he trusts my judgment. When I make decisions, I make them in a well-reasoned way. I don’t rush into things.”

Ivanka Trump had an Orthodox conversion before marrying Jared Kushner, the scion of another real estate family.

“I appreciate the support [my father] gave me because obviously these decisions are not taken lightly,” Ivanka Trump said, replying to a question from Joseph Cohen, a law student at Columbia University. “He loves my husband,” she added. “They’re incredibly close, which I think was obviously helpful. And he has been very supportive of me in that decision, as in many others that I’ve taken throughout the years.”

Kushner has been the Trump campaign’s main point man to the Jewish community, and he helped shape the candidate’s well-received speech last month at the AIPAC Conference.


Kasich: “I’m for Israel. Period.”

(JTA) — In an extensive interview with the New York Daily News editorial board posted a week before the New York primary, Ohio Gov. John Kasich appeared eager to discuss his support for Israel, saying that preserving its stability would be more important than advancing Israeli-Palestinian peace. He implicitly jabbed both at Donald Trump, and Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, who all have said they would make advancing peace talks a priority. “I’m for Israel. Period. End of story,” he said. “Give them the superiority they need. And I think every single day, try to get through the day. I don’t think there’s any silver bullet for peace. A two-state solution, if they can work it out amongst themselves, fine. But I’m not an optimist on permanent peace between the Palestinians and the Israelis.”

The 2013-14 peace talks on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict spurred by the Obama administration collapsed in recriminations and tensions between the United States and Israel. Kasich, like Clinton, said he would keep private any disagreements with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over settlement building. “If I had something to say to Netanyahu about settlements, I would say it where there was no cameras or tape recorders,” he said. “OK?

Obama and Netanyahu sparred publicly over the peace talks and the Iran nuclear deal.


Sanders suspends Jewish coordinator

( The presidential campaign of Democratic primary candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders has suspended an activist recently hired as the campaign’s Jewish outreach coordinator after she was found to have posted profanity-laced social media messages about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Simone Zimmerman is active in the J Street lobby and the “Open Hillel” movement — both of which have been criticized in the Jewish community for ignoring Israeli grievances in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and whitewashing Palestinian terrorism. Zimmerman has also been involved with IfNotNow, a new movement of young American Jews who oppose Israeli control in the disputed territories.

In a February op-ed for Haaretz, Zimmerman outlined her views on Israel, including her perceptions on what she called “grave injustices committed by the Jewish state” and the “disastrous reality of holding millions of Palestinians under military occupation.”

“Tell the UC Regents: anti-Zionism is not racism, it’s a political belief,” Zimmerman retweeted from the Twitter account of the anti-Israel group Jewish Voice for Peace in March, reacting to the University of California Board of Regents’ adoption of a report that condemned both antisemitism and forms of anti-Zionism that are antisemitic.

The initial decision to hire Zimmerman came after Sanders recently inflated the number of Palestinian civilian deaths in the 2014 Israel-Hamas war at least sevenfold—to 10,000—in an interview with the New York Daily News.

In the wake of Zimmerman’s hiring, her past Facebook posts came to light, including one in which she wrote, “Bibi Netanyahu is an arrogant, deceptive, cynical, manipulative asshole,” and “F**k you, Bibi, for daring to insist that you legitimately represent every fraction of the Jewish world.” She later edited those posts to remove the profanity.

The former head of the Anti-Defamation League, Abraham Foxman, wrote in an email to Jewish Insider that Sanders “needs to fire Simone Zimmerman” because “no amount of word changes can cure her ugly characterization of the prime minister of Israel and the Israeli army and people defending themselves.”

Sanders’s spokesperson, Michael Briggs, told the New York Times that Zimmerman has “been suspended while we investigate the matter.”

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