Released Hezbollah prisoners marching in a parade in their honor in Beirut, 2008. Photo by Salah Malkawi/Getty

Senate Passes Bill Leveling Sanctions Against Hezbollah


The United States Senate unanimously passed a bill on Thursday that levels sanctions against Hezbollah, the Iranian proxy group that has been dubbed by the State Department as a terrorist organization.

The bill, titled the “Hizballah International Financing Prevention Amendments Act of 2017”, was spearheaded by Sens. Marco Rubio (R-FL), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NJ) and Mike Crapo (R-ID) and would implement economic sanctions toward people and businesses abroad that “provide significant financial, material or technological support to entities known to fundraise or recruit on behalf of” Hezbollah, per a press release from Rubio’s office. Hezbollah would also face sanctions for their various criminal activities, which include drug and animal trafficking.

Additionally, the bill would require President Trump to notify Congress about any foreign governments that are “facilitating transactions on behalf of” Hezbollah.

Rubio said in a statement, “Iranian-backed Hizballah terrorists are responsible for the deaths of hundreds of Americans, and continue to pose grave threats to the United States and our allies, including the democratic state of Israel. The president and Congress should build on the successes of our 2015 law that targets Hizballah, its proxies and its enablers, and enact this new bill to strengthen international efforts to combat the financing and expansion of Hizballah’s terrorist and missile threats, as well as its narcotics trafficking and other transnational criminal activities.”

The Florida senator added, “I’m glad the Senate passed our bill, and I look forward to working with the House to enact these provisions into law.”

Shaheen said in a statement that “Congress should exercise every tool at its disposal to confront Iran’s destabilizing activity in the region outside of the Iran nuclear deal, particularly in Lebanon, where Hizballah continues to stockpile rockets and other weapons that directly threaten our ally Israel and provide military support to the murderous Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad.” Crapo touted the bill as “economic and logistical sanctions on Hizballah, significantly cutting off the flow of resources toward its fundraising and recruitment activities.”

In 2015, Rubio and Shaheen co-sponsored a bill with Reps. Ed Royce (R-CA) and Eliot Engel (D-NY) that was signed into law by then-President Obama imposing sanctions against companies that do business with Hezbollah. The 2017 bill takes the 2015 bill and expands it even further.

The bill’s passage comes amidst the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) conducting drills and fortifying its borders in preparation for a possible war with Hezbollah. The Shia terror organization has developed more sophisticated methods of warfare from fighting in the Syrian civil war to keep Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in power and has amassed over 100,000 rockets.

However, the IDF has noted that Hezbollah is in financial dire straits due to Iran’s financial problems and prior U.S. sanctions. Hezbollah is also facing internal conflict after the group’s leader, Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah, ordered the assassination of Moustafa Badreddine, one of the group’s top commanders in Syria.

The Shia terror group also has a wide network in the United States, where it has conducted cyber activities and orchestrated various money laundering schemes. Nasrallah himself recently accused the U.S. of “working to hinder the battle against Islamic State.”

A sign painted on a wall in Bethlehem calling for a boycott of Israeli goods. Photo by Thomas Coex/AFP/Getty Images

New Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions effort against Israel


The UN Human Rights Commissioner has started sending letters to 150 companies in Israel and around the world, warning them that they will be put on a blacklist for doing business in Jewish communities in the West Bank, east Jerusalem or the Golan Heights.

[This article originally appeared on themedialine.org]

According to Israeli press reports, the proposed list includes large American companies such as Coca-Cola, Caterpillar, Priceline.com, and Trip Advisor. According to Israel Television’s Channel 2, Israeli companies targeted include pharmaceutical giant Teva, Bank Leumi and Bank Hapoalim as well as the national water company Mekorot.

The exact details of the letter and which other companies have been advised are murky.

When contacted by The Media Line, an Israeli government spokesman refused to comment on the issue.

Israeli analysts said the move is part of a concerted Palestinian effort to pressure Israel in diplomatic venues to end its expansion of Jewish settlements, a goal that seems unlikely. The report of the blacklist comes as Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, while headlining a celebration marking 50 years of Jewish settlement construction in the West Bank, affirmed that “there will be no more uprooting of settlements in the Land of Israel.”

Some Israeli observers said the UN Human Rights Commission, headed by Jordanian Zeid Ra’ad Al Husseini, continues to pursue an anti-Israel policy.

“Nothing coming out of the Human Rights Commission is serious and Al Husseini is known to be completely and utterly hostile to Israel,” Alan Baker, an expert in international law and a former Israeli ambassador to Canada, told The Media Line. “They can send out whatever they want and they can adopt whatever resolutions they want but it doesn’t mean anything will come of it. This is part of the political action by an organization that has no credibility and no power.”

But the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz quoted unnamed Israeli officials as saying that a number of companies that received the letter told the Human Rights Commissioner that they do not intend to renew contracts or sign new ones in Israel.

The list is part of the BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) movement, which pursues a policy of placing economic pressure on Israel to stop expanding Jewish settlements. The letter circulated apparently includes companies active in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed in 1967, and the Golan Heights, which Israel conquered from Syria in 1967 and later annexed as well.

“After decades of Palestinian dispossession and Israeli military occupation and apartheid, the United Nations has taken its first concrete, practical steps to secure accountability for ongoing Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights,” Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS movement said in a statement. “The Palestinians warmly welcome this step.”

Praise also came from senior Palestinian leader Hanan Ashrawi. “Israel’s illegal settlement policies and practices are a war crime under the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court and in direct contravention of international law,” Ashrawi said in a statement. “Such a development is an indication of the United Nations attempt to curb Israeli violations and to begin a process of legal accountability for those who are complicit in illegal settlements.”

According to Israeli statistics, 380,000 Israelis live in Jewish communities located in the West Bank, and another 200,000 live in east Jerusalem. Palestinians say that all of these areas must be part of a future Palestinian state, although in the past officials have reportedly accepted the principle of land swaps in the event of any comprehensive peace deal with Israel.

It is not likely that Israeli companies on the list will make any policy changes in response to the letter, if and when it becomes public. Israeli companies for the most part do not distinguish between their operations on either side of the 1967 borders. Banks have branches both inside Israel and in the West Bank, and Israel’s national bus company runs buses there as well.

While all the details remain unknown, some Israelis believe there could be negative ramifications.

“This is a major political and economic battleground and the results are unclear,” Gerald Steinberg, the President of NGO Monitor, told The Media Line. “It is not a trivial issue, but it is also not the end of the world.”

Israeli media reported that U.S. President Donald Trump threatened to pull out of the Human Rights Commission if the list of companies is publicized.

The reports of the boycott list come the day after Interpol voted to admit the Palestinians as a member state, a move Jerusalem opposes and tried hard to prevent. It is part of an ongoing Palestinian strategy focused on achieving diplomatic gains through international forums as opposed negotiating the terms for the creation of an independent state through bilateral talks with Israel.

People watch Lebanon's Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah as he appears on a screen during a live broadcast on May 25. Photo by Hassan Abdallah/Reuters

House committee to vote on Hezbollah sanctions bill


The House Foreign Affairs Committee announced that this coming Thursday it will vote on legislation that tightens sanctions against the Lebanese terrorist organization Hezbollah. H.R. 3329 enjoys wide bipartisan support and was introduced by the Chairman Ed Royce (R-CA) along with Ranking Democrat on Committee, Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY). The bill restricts Hezbollah’s ability to fundraise and recruit by cracking down on foreign states that do business with the Lebanese terror group, including Iran, while increasing pressure on banks that service Hezbollah.

[This story originally appeared on jewishinsider.com]

Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH) introduced a companion anti-Hezbollah legislation in the Senate. The bill is still sitting in the Senate Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs Committee.

AIPAC has placed the Hezbollah sanctions bills on its legislative priorities list for 2017. In addition to fighting a bloody war with Israel in 2006, Hezbollah has repeatedly launchedstrikes at Jewish and Israeli civilian targets worldwide.

“Congress must close any possible loophole that could allow foreign funding of Hezbollah. Acting swiftly—and in a bipartisan manner—will show Hezbollah’s foreign sponsors that the United States will not sit by while Hezbollah grows stronger,” Engel said in a statement.

Additionally, the House Foreign Affairs Committee will also markup a bill on Thursday that condemns Hezbollah for its usage of civilian shields during warfare, while imposing sanctions on individuals who are involved in this practice.

Russia’s Jews will get their etrog fruits from Italy despite sanctions, says rabbi


The Italian government said that the export of Italy-grown etrog fruits to Russia will not be affected by sanctions imposed by the European Union against Moscow, Russia’s chief rabbi said.

The agreement to exempt the export of the citrus fruit, which Jewish communities use as a religious artifact during the weeklong holiday of Sukkot, from any sanctions was reached last year and applies also to the June extension of those sanctions, Rabbi Berel Lazar told JTA based on statements from a local government in Italy.

Speaking to JTA from the region of Calabria in southern Italy on Friday, Lazar said: “The local government here said that because this is a religious product, they are going to make sure no sanctions are going to be applied on the etrogim.” He added that Russia imports the etrogim as a religious article exempt from taxation.

Lazar was born in Milan to a Chabad rabbi, Moshe Lazar, who for the past 50 years has been responsible for supervising the export of etrogim in Calabria to make sure the fruit, which is easily bruised and rendered non-kosher, meets the highest standards. Berel Lazar traveled to Calabria to help his 83-year-old father with the harvest.

Followers of the Chabad-Lubavitch Hasidic movement share a strong preference for the etrog grown in Calabria, where tens of thousands of etrogim are picked annually for export in orchards owned by approximately 100 farmers. Etrogim also are grown in Israel and Morocco.

Chabad communities are major engines of Jewish life in the former Soviet Union and especially in Russia. The European Union in June extended a list of sanctions on Russia, including on exports and imports, in reaction to Russia’s annexation in 2014 of Crimea, an area that is internationally recognized as belonging to Ukraine.

The prospect of sanctions is not the only challenge facing the etrog industry in Calabria. An unexpected frost this winter severely damaged the sensitive etrog trees, destroying approximately 90 percent of the crop, Moshe Lazar told JTA. The shortage means that the fruit this year, which was deemed unfit for exportm will be picked and exported as long as it is kosher, Moshe Lazar said. Even so, he added, the frost means “there won’t be enough etrogim to go around this sukkot.” This applies to Russia, too, said Berel Lazar.

The shortage has hiked up prices, with a prime Calabria etrog going for approximately $500, according to Rabbi Avraham Wolff of Odessa, Ukraine.

“We’re worried that we may not have a Calabria etrog and we’re pulling all possible strings to get at least one,” Wolff said. In previous years, his community was able to purchase five individual Calabria etrogim ahead of the holiday.

“We decided to set up a small fund for buying that Calabria etrog, no matter the price,” he said.

Immediately after sukkot, the prices of Calabria etrogim drop to about $1 a pound, Berel Lazar noted. The local population uses the fruit to make jam.

President Donald Trump on Aug. 3. Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters

Daily Kickoff: Trump uses Zivotofsky case to complain re: sanctions bill | AIPAC backs Taylor Force Act | Spotted on Geffen’s yacht | Shaq vs. Cordish


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DOWN UNDER: “Bondi synagogue ban over terrorism risk leaves Jewish community shocked and furious” by Joe Hildebrand: “A local council has banned the construction of a synagogue in Bondi because it could be a terrorist target, in a shock move that religious leaders say has caved in to Islamic extremism and created a dangerous precedent. The decision, which has rocked the longstanding Jewish community in the iconic suburb, was upheld in court this week as the nation reeled from the alleged airline terror threat and debate raged over increased security measures at airports and other public places.” [News.Au]

JEWISH JOURNAL COVER STORY: “The Temple Mount, California edition: Anti-Semitic sermons test Muslim-Jewish bonds” by Ryan Torok and Nicholas Cheng: “The July 21 remarks by Imam Mahmoud Harmoush of the Islamic Center of Riverside and Imam Ammar Shahin of the Islamic Center of Davis drew strong condemnation from Muslim and Jewish leaders, fearful that such incendiary language could erode relations. The effect was like picking at a scab on a slow-healing wound. Since the terror attacks of 9/11, American Jewish and Muslim groups have made a concerted effort to forge bonds of understanding and cooperation. Those have been nursed along despite the ongoing conflicts in Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan, not to mention the enduring friction between Israelis and Palestinians.” [JewishJournal]

2020 WATCH: “Zuckerberg hires former Clinton pollster Joel Benenson” by Annie Karni: “Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and his wife, Priscilla Chan, have hired Democratic pollster Joel Benenson… as a consultant… Benenson’s company, Benenson Strategy Group, will be conducting research for the Zuckerberg-Chan Initiative, the couple’s philanthropy… The hiring of Benenson is sure to fuel renew speculation that Zuckerberg is getting more serious about how he plays in the political and policy worlds. Speculation, however, maybe the beginning and the end of the Zuckerberg for President story.” [Politico

But first, Zuckerberg’s plan for fake news… “Facebook Drowns Out Fake News With More Information: Starting Thursday, when Facebook’s U.S. users come across popular links—including made-up news articles—in their feeds, they may also see a cluster of other articles on the same topic. The “related articles” feature, which will roll out widely in the U.S. after months of testing, is part of Facebook’s strategy to limit the damage of false news without censoring those posts.” [WSJ]

TOP TALKER: “H.R. McMaster Cleans House at the National-Security Council” by Rosie Gray: “Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a 31-year-old former Defense Intelligence Agency officer… was let go from the council this week… According to a senior administration official familiar with the matter, Cohen-Watnick is expected to move to another job within the administration. The official said that there had been a plan to keep Cohen-Watnick in the job until a new position was finalized, but that Cohen-Watnick was called in to a meeting with McMaster on Wednesday in which McMaster informed him he would be leaving now… A source close to Kushner said “Jared is a big fan of Ezra’s and is grateful for his contributions to the administration as part of the NSC but obviously completely defers to General McMaster on all NSC personnel decisions. He looks forward to seeing what’s next for Ezra.”” [TheAtlantic

“Inside the McMaster-Bannon War” by Michael Warren: “The national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, has removed three NSC aides loyal to Trump aide Steve Bannon in the last three weeks… For some time, Steve Bannon has been considering leaving the White House… A newly emboldened H.R. McMaster, purging Bannonites with the backing of John Kelly (and the president), could hasten his exit.” [TWS 

Far-right Israeli columnist Caroline Glick writes: “The Israel angle on McMaster’s purge of Trump loyalists from the National Security Council is that all of these people are pro-Israel and oppose the Iran nuclear deal, positions that Trump holds. McMaster in contrast is deeply hostile to Israel and to Trump. According to senior officials aware of his behavior, he constantly refers to Israel as the occupying power and insists falsely and constantly that a country named Palestine existed where Israel is located until 1948 when it was destroyed by the Jews.” [Facebook]

DRIVING THE DAY — The Senate Foreign Relations Committee will vote on the Taylor Force Act during a business meeting that began at 10:00am. The legislation would suspend aid that directly benefits the Palestinian Authority until they end payments to families of terrorists.

AIPAC backs Taylor Force Act in letter to Senators — by Aaron Magid and Jacob Kornbluh: “We urge all members of the committee to work together to move this important legislation forward and to VOTE YES to report the bill from committee,” Brad Gordon and Marvin Feuer, AIPAC’s Directors on Policy and Government Affairs, wrote in a letter to members of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. “We are hopeful that the Senate Foreign Relations Committee markup will produce a strong, bipartisan bill that will send a very clear message to the Palestinian Authority: Stop these payments to terrorists and their families or your assistance will be cut.”

Noah Pollak, an advocate in favor of the Taylor Force Act, said that AIPAC’s formal backing is a “welcome development and something we have been encouraging for many months. We hope that AIPAC will now put its considerable resources behind promoting the bill, even if it is not possible to earn a perfectly equal number of Republican and Democratic votes.”

Jonathan Schanzer, Senior Vice President at the Foundations for the Defense of Democracies (FDD), added, “Once this bill became bipartisan, it became easier for a wider range of groups to support it.” When informed of AIPAC’s support of the bill, Senator Marco Rubio (R-FL) said the decision was helpful. While AIPAC’s view on the Taylor Force Act isn’t conditional for Rubio, the pro-Israel organization’s position “is influential with me,” he added.

Eugene Kontorovich, Professor of Law at Northwestern University, tells us… “For too long, some supporters of Israel have feared cutting funding to the PA because it would ‘destabilize’ a supposed peace partner. Now, hopefully, [they] all understand that continuing to fund the PA while it funds murder legitimizes their policy and keeps peace further away. The Palestinian government’s salaries for convicted terrorists is not just a reward for murder, it is murder-for-hire.” [JewishInsider

The Republican Jewish Coalition sent a letter urging Senators to reject amendments that would dilute the final bill before being sent to the Senate floor [Doc]

ON THE HILL — Senators’ Views on anti-BDS Bill Diverge — by Aaron Magid: Independent minded Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) told Jewish Insider, “I haven’t looked at the specific language, but if it bans the ability to protest, I don’t know how that could possibly be constitutional.” In contrast to Paul, Senator Roger Wicker (R-MS) wholeheartedly backed the legislation, “I think it’s pro-free speech. I think it’s self-explanatory.”

But, for Democrats, criticism of the bill by progressive advocacy groups is pushing liberal lawmakers in an uncomfortable position. When Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) was asked last week by Jewish Insider about his view on the legislation, he declined to voice support or opposition. Senator Tom Udall — arguably the most progressive Senator on the Foreign Relations Committee regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — similarly declined to offer any substantive comment. “I’ve got to get briefed on the whole thing before the deal comes up,” he noted. [JewishInsider]

Video: An Israeli social media user Hen Mazzig added clips to an Al Jazeera video explaining the BDS movement and the Israel Anti-Boycott Act. Twitter took down the video citing a DMCA violation. As of press time, the video is still available here [Facebook]

IN THE SPOTLIGHT… “Trump aide dismisses Statue of Liberty ‘huddled masses’ poem” by Russell Contreras: “Senior White House aide Stephen Miller told reporters the poem written by Emma Lazarus about the “huddled masses” is not part of the original Statue of Liberty… The statue was a gift from France commemorating its alliance with the United States during the American Revolution… Writers and authors later asked Emma Lazarus, a poet and descendant of Jewish immigrants, to write a sonnet to be sold at an auction to raise money for a pedestal to hold the Statue of Liberty. She wrote “The New Colossus” on Nov. 2, 1883, inspired by the plight of immigrants and refugees and her own experiences.” [AP

Fifteen minutes of defame — “White House aide blasts CNN reporter for ‘cosmopolitan bias’ in bizarre exchange” by Nolan D. McCaskill: “White House senior adviser Stephen Miller smiled as he volunteered to “take one actual last question” at Wednesday’s news briefing… He probably wishes he’d gone ahead and ceded the floor. Seven minutes later, Miller found himself apologizing to CNN’s Jim Acosta over the fiery, bizarre, combative and confusing exchange that had just ended. The dialogue culminated in the senior White House aide lobbing insults at a member of the White House press corps, prompting Acosta to note that he’d just been called “ignorant” on television. The explosive episode occurred as Miller took questions from reporters on a bill endorsed Wednesday by President Donald Trump that seeks to cut legal immigration to the United States in half.” [PoliticoWatch the full exchange here [YouTube

Brian Stelter in Reliable Sources: “Some other commentators took exception to Miller saying that Acosta, the son of a Cuban immigrant, displayed a shocking “cosmopolitan bias.” “The way Miller leaned into the word ‘cosmopolitan’ while answering Acosta has a long and ignoble history in 20th century authoritarianism, especially the anti-Semitic variety,” Esquire’s Charles P. Pierce writes.” [CNN]

“Glenn Thrush Rips Stephen Miller After Tense, ‘Scaramucci-esque’ Briefing Exchange” by Joe DePaolo: “[MSNBC] Host Nicole Wallace opined that Miller was getting mad during the exchange… “I don’t think Stephen Miller got mad,” Thrush said. “I think Stephen Miller got air time. And I think he enjoyed it immensely. He was not getting off that stage. Sarah Huckabee Sanders was standing around long enough to have charged him rent.” He added, of Miller’s performance, “It was [Anthony] Scaramucci-esque.”” [Mediaite

THE DAILY KUSHNER: “U.S. Attorney Subpoenas Kushner Cos. Over Investment-For-Visa Program” by Erica Orden, Aruna Viswanatha and Byron Tau: “The subpoena concerns at least one Jersey City, N.J., development financed in part by a federal visa program known as EB-5: twin, 66-floor commercial-and-residential towers called One Journal Square… A spokesman for the Brooklyn U.S. attorney’s office, which issued the subpoena, declined to comment… Mr. Kushner’s personal attorney said in a statement Wednesday that he had recused himself from “matters concerning the EB-5 programs.”” [WSJ]

JARED INSIDER: “The Temple Mount crisis ended Trump’s Palestinian honeymoon. The Kushner tape made things worse” by Raphael Ahren: “We’re not saying that Trump is the most pro-Israel president in history. We’re not blaming him for anything,” a senior official in the Palestinian leadership told The Times of Israel on Wednesday. “But if he wants to have a peace process, we need to know what we’re talking about.”[ToI

“His Health Crisis Made Public, Palestinian Envoy Pushes On” by Isabel Kershner: “[Saeb] Erekat said he had spoken with [Jared] Kushner “more than once” and had held at least 19 meetings since February with American officials. Among them was Jason D. Greenblatt… whom Mr. Erekat described as having good “listening skills.” Mr. Erekat said he was surprised by Mr. Kushner’s comments expressing doubt about a solution, not least because Mr. Kushner had emphasized how serious Mr. Trump was about seeking one. Mr. Erekat added that administration officials have said “many times that they are not against two states,” but they have not stated it as their position.”[NYTimes]

“Relations between Israel and Jordan have become ‘very dangerous’” by Noga Tarnopolsky: “In the eyes of many Israelis, there was something uncomfortably familiar in what was perceived as Netanyahu’s disrespect toward Abdullah. “It’s Obama all over again,” fumed a former senior Israeli diplomat… The diplomat was referring to Netanyahu’s chilly relations with former President Obama, including a 2015 address to a joint session of Congress that he delivered without coordination with the White House… “This is the result of a longtime, ongoing, obstinate policy that doesn’t even bother for the sake of appearances to be considerate to any partner, friend or foe. It is simply a continuous state of non-communication,” the former diplomat said.” [LATimes]

“Under Trump, a Hollowed-Out Force in Syria Quickly Lost C.I.A. Backing” by Mark Mazzetti, Adam Goldman and Michael Schmidt: “[President Barack Obama] changed his mind the following year, signing a presidential finding authorizing the C.I.A. to covertly arm and train small groups of rebels at bases in Jordan. The president’s reversal came in part because of intense lobbying by foreign leaders, including King Abdullah II of Jordan and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel, who argued that the United States should take a more active role in trying to end the conflict.” [NYTimes]

COMING SOON: “Benjamin Netanyahu to speak at UN same day as Trump” by Herb Keinon: “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is scheduled to speak to the UN General Assembly on September 19, the same day that US President Donald Trump will make his maiden address to the world body, UN Ambassador Danny Danon said on Wednesday. Since the date for the address has just been finalized, efforts have not yet begun to arrange a meeting between the two leaders… The prime minister is expected to fly to the US a couple of days before the UN event.” [JPost

KAFE KNESSET — The Latest with Bibi — by Tal Shalev and JPost’s Lahav Harkov: The news cycle continues to be dominated by Netanyahu’s criminal entanglements with various reports emerging over the past 24 hours. Last night the main TV news shows opened with a reports about Ari Harow, Bibi’s former Chief of Staff, becoming a state’s witness. According to these reports, Harow will provide details on issues that have to do with all of the ongoing investigations.

At the same time, Netanyahu received some American legal support this week, as Alan Dershowitz gave a series of interviews in which he defended the Prime Minister and accused the opposition of “using the judicial system as a political tool.” In a front page interview in Adelson’s Israel Hayom, Dershowitz addressed the similarities between the legal affairs of the Netanyahu family and the Trump family. “It is a similar tactic to spread endless accusations and hope that one of them could eventually stick. Meanwhile the news diverts the leader’s attention from what he is trying to accomplish.”

Dershowitz staunchly brushed off any criminal aspects of both Trump and Bibi, stating: “I have been teaching criminal law for 50 years, and I am very knowledgeable about all the laws, and I can not find any proof of any accusation against Trump that would be a federal offense.” Dershowitz explained that he similarly does not find any criminal signs in Bibi’s behavior: “Even if his talks with Yedioth Ahranoth happened, what is criminal about it? Every politician in history tried to reach understandings with the media … and in any case it did not happen. It was just talk. If we would bring politicians to justice based only on what they say, all the politicians in the world today would be under investigation.” Read today’s entire Kafe Knesset here[JewishInsider]

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin Says We Will Care for Transgender Vets We Displace: “Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin says his department has compassion for the transgender vets whom the President is kicking out of the military. We got the Secretary Wednesday on Capitol Hill and he spoke with resolve … if anyone — transgender people included — serves in the military, they will get medical and other care for life.” [TMZ]

TEHRAN WATCH: “Rouhani Starts Second Term With Trump’s Shadow Hanging Over Tehran” by Golnar Motevalli and Ladane Nasseri: “Trump’s decision to expand non-nuclear sanctions on Iran has been a setback for [Hassan] Rouhani… The curbs have spooked major banks and hindered Iran’s oil-led economic recovery, delaying the president’s efforts to spread the benefits of his diplomacy to poorer Iranians… An uncompromising assault on the nuclear deal would have even more far-reaching consequences, said [Ali] Vaez at Crisis Group. The accord’s collapse “would shift the mainstream of Iranian politics to the right,” forcing Rouhani and his chief ally — Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif — to adopt a more confrontational approach, he said.” [Bloomberg

“Trump signs what he calls ‘seriously flawed’ bill imposing new sanctions on Russia” by Abby Phillip: “Trump noted that he supported tough measures to punish the three regimes (Russia, Iran and N. Korea), and said that he will honor the review period prescribed in the bill. But in a potential warning to lawmakers that he might not observe those parts of the law, Trump added that he would “give careful and respectful consideration” to other provisions that direct the administration to undertake diplomatic initiatives.” [WashPost

“Like other presidents, Trump signs a bill with his fingers crossed” by Michael McGough: “Even as he approved the legislation, Trump insisted on issuing a “signing statement” registering constitutional objections to parts of it. For example, he asserted that two sections of the bill “purport to displace the president’s exclusive constitutional authority to recognize foreign governments, including their territorial bounds, in conflict with the Supreme Court’s recent decision in Zivotofsky vs. Kerry.” The sections the president objects to state that the United States doesn’t recognize the acquisition of various territories by force or the Russian annexation of Crimea. Trump says he doesn’t disagree with those statements as policy, but he notes, absolutely correctly, that the Supreme Court has ruled that the Constitution gives the president, not Congress, the power to recognize foreign governments.”

“That was the holding in the 2015 case of Zivotofsky vs. Kerry.Zivotofsky was Menachem Zivotofsky, an American boy born in Jerusalem in 2002, whose parents wanted the State Department to list his place of birth on his passport as “Israel.” The State Department refused, despite a law passed by Congress ordering it to do so at the request of a citizen born in those circumstances. The justices ruled for the State Department, holding that the Constitution’s text and structure grant the president the power to recognize foreign nations and governments. And no president has yet recognized Jerusalem as part of Israel.” [LATimes] • Trump’s Signing Statement on the Russia Sanctions Bill, Explained [NYTimes]

** Good Thursday Morning! Enjoying the Daily Kickoff? Please share us with your friends & tell them to sign up at [JI]. Have a tip, scoop, or op-ed? We’d love to hear from you. Anything from hard news and punditry to the lighter stuff, including event coverage, job transitions, or even special birthdays, is much appreciated. Email Editor@JewishInsider.com **

BUSINESS BRIEFS: Ari Emanuel’s WME-IMG Takes on Another $1.1 Billion in Outside Money [HollywoodReporter] • David Rubenstein’s Carlyle Group has no plans to increase its $100B fundraising target, despite investor demand [BizJournals; Bloomberg] • James Packer rejoins Crown Resorts board[TheAustralian] • Take a rare look at the enormous mansions hidden behind the Hamptons’ famously high hedges [BusinessInsider]

“Saint-Tropez gets sinking feeling as luxury yacht owners ditch the ‘billionaires’ harbour'” — “St-Tropez officials are lamenting the sinking number of yachts that have berthed at the glittering French Riviera resort’s marina this year. They say that revenue at the iconic marina has fallen 30 percent since the start of 2017; luxury yacht owners are instead choosing destinations like Spain or Italy, where berthing fees, fuel and crew costs are lower. While many more superyachts appear to be sailing around Italy and Greece, many are still docking in St-Tropez, according to official marine sites. Roman Abramovich’s Eclipse, which is 533 feet and too large for any marina, is moored off the Cap d’Antibes.” [NYPost; Telegraph]

–David Geffen posts a pic from his 454-foot luxury yacht Rising Sun near Sicily: “Michael Hess, Dasha Zhukova and me taken by Bob Iger on Rising Sun.” [Instagram

REMEMBERING: “Jeff Brotman, Founder of Retail Juggernaut Costco, Dies at 74” by Sam Roberts: “Jeff Brotman, a founder of Costco, which became one of the world’s largest retailers… died on Tuesday in Medina, Wash… Jeffrey Hart Brotman, a grandson of Jewish immigrants from Romania, was born on Sept. 27, 1942, in Tacoma, Wash., to Pearl and Bernard Brotman… Mr. Brotman also drew attention as a campaign fund-raiser for Democratic candidates and, with his wife, as a philanthropist whose beneficiaries included the University of Washington and the Seattle Art Museum.” [NYTimes

MEDIA WATCH: Reporter says ‘state run Russian propaganda outlet’ pushed him to cover Seth Rich conspiracy theory — by Hunter Walker: “[Andrew] Feinberg alleged Sputnik wanted him to bring up a news article that’s at the center of the lawsuit in the White House press briefing room… “It was, ‘We want you to ask about Seth Rich and just, you know, ask about the case and if it those revelations should put an end to the Russia hacking narrative and the investigation,” said Feinberg. According to Feinberg, his bosses handed him a termination letter when he declined. He described the situation as “disturbing.” “It’s really telling that the White House is pushing the same narrative as a state run Russian propaganda outlet,” Feinberg said.”[YahooNews• Confusion, anger inside Fox News over lack of answers in network’s Seth Rich probe [CNNMoney

“A Mossad Show Heavy on Spycraft Recounts Eichmann’s Capture” by Jason Farago: “Eichmann’s abduction in Argentina and prosecution in Israel are the subject of “Operation Finale: The Capture and Trial of Adolf Eichmann,” a new exhibition at the Museum of Jewish Heritage in Lower Manhattan. The show goes longer on spy thrills than on moral and legal perplexities, though that may have been inevitable given its co-organizer: none other than the Mossad, the intelligence service that is Israel’s equivalent of the C.I.A.” [NYTimes]

BOOK REVIEW: “Mahmoud Abbas: Negotiator Turned Autocrat” by Adam Rubenstein: “The success of this book (“The Last Palestinian: The Rise and Reign of Mahmoud Abbas”) rests in its ability to analyze Mr. Abbas not only as a diplomatic figure but also as a politician with his own domestic concerns. Too often, writing on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and its key players denies readers insight into domestic Palestinian affairs. Not here. Messrs. [Grant] Rumley and [Amir] Tibon treat readers to their combined expertise and understanding of internal Palestinian politics. Mr. Abbas’s story, as they argue, is a tragic one. He appeared to be the man with the greatest political potential on the Palestinian side to make peace with his neighbors. Instead, he has turned into a power-consolidating silencer of dissent who eulogizes some of the more contemptible impulses of Palestinian nationalism.”[WSJ

TALK OF OUR NATION: Daniel Shapiro writes… Israel and American Jewry: Stepping Back from the Brink: “The crisis over the Kotel and the conversion bill took many Israeli political leaders by surprise, which itself is evidence of a deep disconnect between Israeli leaders attuned to Israeli voters, and the attitudes of American Jewish leaders and activists. Anyone who spends time these days in American Jewish communities cannot fail to take notice of the anger, disgust, and feelings of personal betrayal.”[INSS

“The Jewish People in 2017: Fault Lines, Threats, and Opportunities” by Shalom Lipner: “The prism through which [Trump] views the Jewish community—reflected by the comparatively hawkish Orthodox faction that backed him, and to which his daughter, son-in-law, and even ambassador to Israel belong—is one that sees Israel as a bulwark against Islamist extremism and upholds (at least in principle) its essential right to settle the Jewish homeland. This complicated calculus has generated the following equation: The governments of Israel and America, together with a plurality of Israelis, appear ideologically aligned behind current Israeli policy toward the peace process. At the same time, sitting on the other side of the scale are many American Jews whose personal belief systems are antithetical to those of Trump, Netanyahu, and the majority of the Israeli electorate.” [Tandfonline

TALK OF THE TOWN: “New York congregation owns oldest U.S. synagogue, court rules” by Chris Kenning: “A federal appeals court on Wednesday ruled that a New York Jewish congregation is the rightful owner of the nation’s oldest synagogue, in Rhode Island, along with a set of bells worth millions. The decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston marks the latest turn in a long-running legal battle that began when members of the Touro Synagogue in Newport tried to sell a set of ritual bells, called rimonim, worth some $7.4 million. New York’s Congregation Shearith Israel attempted to block the deal, citing an 18th century agreement that named it a trustee.” [Reuters]

“Menashe Is a Moving Drama of Hasidic Life” by David Sims: “Though Menashe (played by Menashe Lustig) is quite a relatable ne’er-do-well, his story is set in Hasidic Jewish Brooklyn, one of America’s most insular communities… But Menashe is wise not to be preachy, or to make sweeping judgments about Hasidic life. Weinstein’s workmanlike camera style allows him to act as a bystander who has gotten closer to a world that’s still sealed-off (the director struggled to convince Hasidic actors to participate in the project). In grounding the story in a particular personality, and the familiar connection between a father and son, Weinstein has created a subtly powerful work of human drama, driven by the charismatic, if frustrating, man at its center. Menashe bodes well for Weinstein’s future as a storyteller; it succeeds at taking older cinematic traditions of everyday storytelling and using them to help illuminate a world most viewers know little about.” [TheAtlantic

SPORTS BLINK: “Shaquille O’Neal to battle Maryland casino owner David Cordish in free-throw contest” by Callie Caplan: “Have you ever wanted to watch an NBA Hall of Famer battle a casino owner in a free throw competition?… Shaquille O’Neal will be in Hanover on Thursday evening to do just that against Live! Casino owner David Cordish…. Aside from having 20 seasons of NBA experience and a 7-foot-1, 325-pound stature, he likely has confidence facing a 77-year-old better known for his Baltimore-based real estate and entertainment company than sinking foul shots. But don’t count Cordish out.” [BaltimoreSun

DESSERT: “Catskills’ Culinary Revival Lures Newcomers” by Charles Passy: “For generations, many New Yorkers referred to the Catskills as the Borscht Belt, a nod to the Jewish resorts that once dominated the upstate region and were likely to feature the Eastern European beet soup on their menus. These days, the beets that one comes across at Catskills restaurants are likely to be of the heirloom variety and served in gourmet-minded preparations—say, a salad with shaved and roasted beets in an apple-cider vinaigrette.” [WSJ]

BIRTHDAYS: Retired Head Coach of both the NFL’s KC Chiefs and the Buffalo Bills, member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, Marv Levy turns 92… English actor, author, playwright and theatre director, known for his roles as the villain in both James Bond and Rambo films, Steven Berkoff turns 80… Prominent Sephardic rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Tel Aviv, he was a member of the Knesset for the Shas party (1992-1996) and served as Deputy Minister of Education and Culture, Rabbi Moshe Maya turns 79… EVP of the UJA-Federation of New York (1993-2015), Vice Chancellor of JTS (1985-1993) and Education Director at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA (1980-1985), John S. Ruskay turns 71… Chairman and CEO of NYC-based commercial real estate brokerage firm Savills Studley, Mitchell S. Steir turns 62… Board Member of both the Jewish Federation of Los Angeles and the LA Museum of Contemporary Art, Orna Amir Wolens turns 56… Political journalist, a Rhodes Scholar and Editor-in-Chief of Slate Group, Jacob Weisberg turns 53… Russian-born Canadian entrepreneur, he is the lead developer of the 65-story Trump International Hotel in Toronto and President of the Jewish Russian Community Centre of Ontario, Alexander Shnaider turns 49… Member of the New York Daily News editorial board and the paper’s opinion editor, Josh Greenman turns 44… National Security Advisor in the Office of the Speaker of the House of Representatives, previously senior policy advisor to Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, Jeffrey A. Dressler turns 33… Carrie Keller-Lynn turns 30… Program Officer at The Natan Fund, Adina Poupko… Director of community engagement for the New York region of the Anti-Defamation League, Erica Greenblatt… Former aide to Senator Schumer, then senior adviser to President Clinton at the White House and thereafter, now President of DC-based Freedman Consulting, LLC, Thomas Z. Freedman… Ariana Kaufman

Gratuity not included. We love receiving news tips but we also gladly accept tax deductible tips. 100% of your donation will go directly towards improving Jewish Insider. Thanks! [PayPal]

From left: Jewish Voice for Peace organizer Alana Krio-Kaufman; Noah Habeeb, a Jewish Voice for Peace member and Tufts University graduate student; Shakeel Syed, a Los Angeles based Muslim activist and Rabbi Alissa Wise, deputy director at Jewish Voice for Peace come together for a delegation that was supposed to travel to Israel but was held up due to an Israeli law barring entry to supporters of the BDS movement. Courtesy of Jewish Voice for Peace

Local Muslim leader kept off flight to Israel for pro-BDS views


Los Angeles Muslim leader was among five individuals barred from boarding a flight to Israel on July 23, reportedly due to the interfaith delegation members’ support for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement.

Shakeel Syed, 56, a national board member of American Muslims for Palestine, told the Journal that he had his boarding pass in hand for the Lufthansa flight at Dulles International Airport outside of Washington, D.C., when he was told he could not board the plane due to his being on a no-fly list provided by Israeli authorities.

The incident followed the enactment of a law in Israel in March enabling the Israeli interior minister to bar entry to foreigners or non-Israeli citizens who publicly call for boycotting the Jewish state or its settlements.

Speaking to the Journal on July 28 from Jerusalem — where he arrived using another airline he declined to identify — Syed said he was feeling “pretty rejected, pretty bummed, pretty disgusted.”

“I am extremely concerned and interested to know what the deal is and will try to pursue this,” he said.

Syed was traveling with a group of Jews, Muslims and Christians. Four others in the group also were not permitted to board: Rabbi Alissa Wise of Philadelphia, deputy director at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP); Alana Krivo-Kaufman of Brooklyn, a JVP organizer; Noah Habeeb of Virginia, a graduate student at Tufts University; and Rick Ufford-Chase of Rockland County, N.Y., a member of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

Eighteen other members of the delegation boarded without incident, according to a July 24 statement from JVP.

“It is believed that this is the first time that the policy has been enforced before people even board their flight,” a JVP statement said. “It is also the first time that Israel has denied entry to Jews, including a rabbi, for their political positions.”

On its website, American Muslims for Palestine described the purpose of the delegation to Israel as being to “increase awareness, spread grassroots support and to gain large-scale support for the successful Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement.” A Chicago-based nonprofit established in 2005, the organization describes itself as a group committed to change in the Middle East. The Anti-Defamation League, however, has labeled it a leading anti-Zionist organization. 

The organizers of the delegation — JVP, American Muslims for Palestine and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship — openly support the BDS movement, which protests the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. Critics of the movement say it is anti-Semitic and seeks to delegitimize the State of Israel.

Syed said he has contacted his congresswoman, Democratic Rep. Karen Bass, about the incident, as well as both of California’s U.S. Senators, Democrats Dianne Feinstein and Kamala Harris.

A Muslim activist from India, Syed has been in Los Angeles for 25 years. He is the executive director of the Islamic Shura Council of Southern California, which operates a prisoner outreach service and a Muslim speakers network.

Syed participated in an April interfaith protest in which more than 30 people were arrested at an Immigration and Customs Enforcement center in downtown Los Angeles to call attention to the treatment of undocumented immigrants.

Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei in Tehran, Iran, on April 25. Photo by Leader.ir/Handout via Reuters

Senate passes bill to impose new sanctions on Iran


The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill that would impose new sanctions on Iran.

The measure adding sanctions on Iran due to its ballistic missile program, support for terrorism and human rights breaches passed Thursday in a 98-2 vote. It complies with the Iran nuclear agreement reached in 2015, which put restrictions on the country’s nuclear program in exchange for sanctions relief.

Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., introduced the bill, which now must pass in the House of Representatives and be signed by President Donald Trump before being enacted. Only Sens. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rand Paul, R-Ky., voted against it.

A day earlier, the Senate voted to adopt an amendment to the bill that would expand sanctions against Russia, CBS News reported.

The American Jewish Committee praised the bill’s passage.

“In the aftermath of the Iran nuclear deal, AJC has continued to raise concerns about Iran’s threatening behavior with our own and other governments,” Jason Isaacson, the group’s associate executive director for policy, said in a statement.

“Iran’s ballistic missile program, the regime’s support for international terrorism, and its blatant and egregious human rights violations should not be ignored. This bill demonstrates to the Iranian regime that they will not be tolerated.”

Christians United for Israel also lauded the measure, calling it a “good first step.”

“While the Iran nuclear agreement was sold to the American people with the promise that Tehran would moderate its behavior, the Islamic Republic continues to work to consolidate power and export bloodshed,” CUFI said in a statement. “Iran’s support for terror, ballistic missile program and human rights record demand U.S. action.”

Yahya Sinwar, left, and Ali Khamenei (Getty Images via JTA)

I’m rubber, you’re glue: Iran and Hamas impose sanctions targeting US, Israel


Israel’s archenemies apparently couldn’t wait until April Fool’s Day.

On Sunday, geopolitics got all “hafouch,” or turned upside down, as they say in this country. Iran imposed penalties on U.S. firms for working with Israel, and Hamas closed its border with the Jewish state. Stereotypically, of course, it’s the other way around, with the United States and Israel doing the sanctioning of Iran and Hamas.

According to Iran’s IRNA state news agency, the “reciprocal” sanctions on 15 U.S. companies are for alleged human rights violations and cooperating with Israel. IRNA quoted Iran’s foreign ministry as saying the companies had “flagrantly violated human rights” and cooperated with Israel against the Palestinians.

Iran’s seizure of the companies’ assets and ban on contact is largely symbolic since the companies don’t do business with Iran. Among the targeted firms are Re/Max Real Estate, which Tehran accuses of “buying and settling home in settlements located in the occupied territories.”

Emily Landau, a senior researcher at the Institute for International Security Studies, a leading Israeli think tank, said Iran actually has a long history of using the United States’ tools against it.

“This is well-known Iranian tactic of turning the tables on the U.S.,” she wrote in an email to JTA. “Iran has done it many times before over the past years. They take the same messages that the U.S. sends them, about how Iran must do this or the other, and sends them back in reverse.”

Meanwhile, in a rare move, Hamas shut the Erez crossing, which is how people move between Israel and Gaza, due to the assassination of a senior official in its military wing Friday. Hamas officials have blamed the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad for the killing of one of its top military leaders, who was shot dead by unknown gunmen Friday in Gaza.

“The closure is being implemented as part of the steps taken by Hamas security forces as a result of the crime of the assassination of Mazan Fukha,” the spokesman for the Interior Ministry said in a post on his official Facebook page.

Israel has maintained a blockade of Hamas-run Gaza since 2007, but it grants permits for people to cross through Erez for business or humanitarian reasons. Hamas apparently suspects that collaborators with Israel were involved in the shooting. Israel has not commented.

So far, Hamas has refrained from responding with rockets. Israeli analyst Avi Issacharoff wrote in The Times of Israel Sunday that Hamas may be looking to avoid a new war.

“Yet, for all its rhetoric, Hamas has yet to show any firm evidence of Israeli involvement, a fact that may give the organization the political maneuvering room to avoid a dramatic response that could lead to a full-fledged confrontation,” he wrote.

But he noted the group’s new Gaza chief, Yahya Sinwar, was known to be dangerous and unpredictable when he was head of Hamas’ military wing, and Israel-Hamas tensions can heat up quickly in the summertime.

U.S.-Iran relations have also gotten hotter President Donald Trump took office in January. Twice in as many months the United States has imposed new sanctions on foreign individuals and companies for allegedly supporting Iran’s weapons program. Last month’s sanctions also targeted Iran’s Revolutionary Guards.

In response to a proposal by U.S. lawmakers to go further and brand Iran’s elite Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization, a senior Iranian lawmaker threatened that his country could do the same to the CIA.

Imitation may be the highest form of flattery, but in international conflict it tends to escalate.

Former UCLA student association president, claiming BDS harassment, leaves UCLA


Has the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel at UCLA gotten so bad that pro-Israel students don’t feel safe studying there anymore?

Milan Chatterjee, a former UCLA Graduate Students Association (GSA) president and third-year law student, sent a letter on Aug. 24 to university Chancellor Gene Block indicating that he is “leaving UCLA due to [a] hostile and unsafe campus climate.”

In an Aug. 30 phone interview from New York, Chatterjee told the Journal he would begin classes the following day at New York University School of Law.

“It’s really unfortunate,” he said of his departure. “I love UCLA, I think it’s a great school and I have lot of friends there. It has just become so hostile and unsafe, I can’t stay there anymore.”

Chatterjee, 27, is Indian-American Hindu and was president of the GSA during the 2015-16 academic year, during which time he made distribution of GSA funds for a Nov. 5 UCLA Diversity Caucus event contingent on its sponsors not associating with the divest-from-Israel movement. 

The move brought protests from BDS supporters, including the UCLA chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP). That group advocated for the removal of Chatterjee from the presidency on the grounds that he violated a University of California policy that requires viewpoint neutrality in the distribution of campus funds. The GSA board of officers censured Chatterjee in April, and a June investigation by the UCLA Discrimination Prevention Office (DPO) concluded that Chatterjee’s stipulation violated the policy.

In a statement sent to the Journal by UCLA spokesman Ricardo Vazquez, the university expressed disappointment at Chatterjee’s decision to leave but stood by the findings of the DPO report.

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy,” the Aug. 31 statement says.

With the legal assistance of Peter Weil, managing partner at the Century City law firm Glaser Weil, Chatterjee has filed a complaint with UCLA, pursuant to “Student Grievances Regarding Violations of Anti-Discrimination Laws or University Policies on Discrimination.” In the Aug. 10 complaint, he charges that the university discriminated against him “because I refused to support an anti-Semitic, anti-Zionist activity, organization and position while serving as President of the UCLA Graduate Student Association.” The grievance was addressed to Dianne Tanjuaquio, the hearing coordinator and student affairs officer in the UCLA office of the dean of students.

Chatterjee’s complaint asks for immediate withdrawal of the DPO report, acknowledgment by DPO that he acted in good faith and a promise that he won’t be subject to any disciplinary action. For his final year of law school, Chatterjee will study at NYU under the status of a “visiting student” but still earn his degree from UCLA, he said. 

In UCLA’s Aug. 31 statement, the university reiterated its support for Israel while also defending the right of students to express positions critical of Israel: “Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, said he was troubled by events leading to Chatterjee’s decision to depart UCLA.

“We have tremendous respect for the institution, and it’s troubling that the past president of the GSA felt like he had to leave the university because of what he felt was a hostile, unsafe campus created in part because of these outspoken anti-Israel activists,” Greenblatt said in a phone interview. “Regardless of his views on the [Israeli-Palestinian] conflict, where there are deep, difficult issues, this student’s decision to leave UCLA because of these attacks is incredibly problematic.”

The Chatterjee affair is only the latest iteration of the BDS movement against Israel causing problems at UCLA, according to Josh Saidoff, a UCLA graduate student who has supported Chatterjee in the pages of the Daily Bruin, the UCLA campus newspaper, and is the son of pro-Israel philanthropist Naty Saidoff.

“What we’ve seen at UCLA is an attempt by BDS activists to use legal intimidation and other forms of social stigmatization to silence those who oppose BDS, and you only need to look back as far as what happened to Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh to see that they’ve used the judicial process within student government to try to silence and marginalize and exclude those people who do not advocate on behalf of BDS,” the 36-year-old grad student said in a phone interview, referring to two non-Jewish students who were the focus of opposition campaigns by SJP after accepting trips to Israel from pro-Israel organizations. “So I was surprised that the university allowed itself to become complicit in this process because I think it’s part of a very clear pattern of intimidation used by the BDS activists on our campus.”

Rabbi Aaron Lerner, executive director of Hillel at UCLA, said “major [UCLA] donors” have called him and wanted more information about what happened with Chatterjee in the wake of his departure, but he said that no donors he knows have threatened to pull their gifts.

“I think most UCLA donors love UCLA, have UCLA’s best interest at heart and are not trying to threaten UCLA. They’re trying to help UCLA, trying to be involved in conversations with the university, want to be in conversation with students and professionals to understand what the right steps are,” Lerner said in a phone interview.

Those troubled by Chatterjee’s departure include David Pollock, a Los Angeles-based financial advisor, and his wife, Lynn, who have more than 20 pieces of their art collection on loan to the UCLA Anderson School of Management. Pollock told the Journal that he has contacted UCLA Anderson School Dean Judy Olian about the possibility of taking the artwork back in light of what has occurred with Chatterjee. 

“I was perfectly happy to have it there until this thing got me going,” Pollock said.

In a Sept. 5 statement, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs joined many major Jewish organizations in applauding Chatterjee for standing by his principles. “We commend Mr. Chatterjee for standing up for his beliefs in the face of intimidation, and hope that the attacks he has faced from anti-Israel extremists are taken as a testament to his principles, rather than a stain on his reputation,” the statement says.

Chatterjee’s stipulation was expressed in an Oct. 16 email to Manpreet Dhillon Brar, a UCLA graduate student and diversity caucus representative who did not respond to the Journal’s interview requests. Chatterjee said in the email that the caucus’ event must have “zero connection with ‘Divest from Israel’ or any equivalent movement/organization.” He said that he later clarified that the caucus could not be affiliated with any position on the Israeli-Palestinian issue.

Thus, the stipulation was viewpoint neutral, he said.

Whatever the case, the caucus accepted the stipulation — as well as the $2,000 grant from the GSA. The Nov. 5 town hall organized by the caucus went off without any incident.

Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the school of law at UC Irvine, said in a Feb. 8 letter that stipulating that the caucus not associate with either side of the issue does not violate viewpoint neutrality. “I think it is clearly constitutional for the GSA to choose not to fund anything on this issue,” he said, “so long as it remains viewpoint neutral.” 

Jerry Kang, UCLA’s vice chancellor of equity, diversity and inclusion and the author of a July 19 blog post on the UCLA website titled “Viewpoint Neutrality,” said there are more sides to the story and that supporters of divestment felt threatened by the law student’s actions.

“People on the other side of the political issue, they also feel harassed, threatened and retaliated [against],” Kang said in a phone interview. 

Kang’s statements were echoed by Rahim Kurwa, 29, a doctoral candidate in the UCLA sociology department and a member of UCLA’s chapter of SJP, which has argued that Chatterjee’s actions amounted to stifling free speech on campus. 

SJP, which during the process received legal assistance from the American Civil Liberties Union, Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights, posted the DPO report, which was confidential and omitted names, on its website. The Daily Bruin also linked to the report. Kang dismissed concerns expressed by some major Jewish organizations that the publication of the report violated Chatterjee’s privacy.

“This is obviously a matter of great public concern about a student-elected official using mandatory student fees, so it is a public record we had to release,” he said.

Despite how the whole affair may make things look to outsiders, Kurwa said in an email that pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel students get along better on campus than people think they do.

“For the most part, the day-to-day interactions between pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups on campus is much less dramatic and tense than it is portrayed by off-campus actors,” he said.

Still, Saidoff, who holds dual Israeli and American citizenship, said, “I can tell you that Milan has very good reason to not feel welcome here because he was targeted and scapegoated, because he was made into an object of derision and he has reason to not feel comfortable here.”

But, he added, “I feel OK here at UCLA.”

 

Full statement sent to the Journal by UCLA on Aug. 31:

“Although we regret learning that Milan Chatterjee has chosen to finish his legal education at a different institution, UCLA firmly stands by its thorough and impartial investigation, which found that Chatterjee violated the university’s viewpoint neutrality policy.

Throughout the entire process, university officials took great care to respect Chatterjee’s rights, to get to the bottom of the issue fairly and to encourage all sides to de-escalate the heated rhetoric surrounding the dispute between Chatterjee and his fellow students.

The dispute centered on allegations made by student groups that as the then president of the Graduate Student Association, Chatterjee had improperly made funding for a campus event contingent on the sponsoring organization having no connections to groups that supported divestment from Israel — in violation of university policy that funding of student groups and activities must be “viewpoint neutral.”

Conducted by the Discrimination Prevention Office, the university’s investigation included interviews as well as careful reviews of meeting minutes and related documents, email correspondence and applicable university regulations. All parties were given the opportunity to provide evidence and no evidence offered by the parties was excluded.

The purpose of the investigation was to determine whether the university’s policy on viewpoint neutrality had been violated. It did not examine or make a determination on whether Chatterjee, the former president of the Graduate Student Association, purposefully or knowingly violated policies.

As reflected in the Principles Against Intolerance recently adopted by the UC Board of Regents, UCLA is firmly committed to freedom of expression, association and debate for all regardless of viewpoint, ethnic background or religious affiliation. Though the university does not support divestment from Israel, and remains proud of its numerous academic and cultural relationships with Israeli institutions, supporters and opponents of divestment remain free to advocate for their position as long as their conduct does not violate university policies.”

___________________________

UPDATE Aug. 31, 2016, 4:37 p.m.: This story has been updated to add UCLA's response and statement.

BDS bill headed to California Senate floor next week


As early as late next week, the California Senate could vote on a bill signaling the California legislature’s disapproval of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel, according to Guy Strahl, the legislative director for Assemblyman Richard Bloom of Santa Monica, who wrote the bill.

A 6-0 vote on Aug. 11 by the seven-member Senate’s Appropriations Committee cleared the way for the bill to go to the floor. Sen. Jim Beall was absent for the vote.

Though Strahl said Bloom is still looking for a Senate floor manager, the legislator intends to put the measure before the upper chamber as soon as possible. Because of procedural time limits, Aug. 18 is the first day it could see a vote, he said.

The bill mandates that companies contracting with the state certify that any policy they might have boycotting a nation recognized by the U.S., including but not limited to Israel, does not violate state and federal civil rights law.

Prior to the Aug. 11 vote, the committee determined the bill would cost upwards of $370,000 to implement in its first year on the books, a price tag that sent it to the so-called “suspense file,” a waiting list of bills deemed expensive enough to merit further review. Since that determination, an amendment made at Bloom’s request significantly reduced the projected cost of the measure, Strahl said.

In its previous form, the bill forwarded complaints about boycott policies directly to the attorney general. Bloom’s amendment drops that mandatory review and allows civil rights complaints to be vetted through relevant state agencies, such as the Department of General Services (DGS), which overseas contractors.

The measure has faced a long and winding road through various committees in both houses of the legislature. Consideration on the Senate floor would be among the final steps to passage. If the Senate approves the bill, it will head back to the Assembly, where it has already passed once, to be considered again.

Fight BDS with a pro-Palestinian narrative


After attending two anti-Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) conferences in New York City over two days last week – one organized by Israel’s Mission to the United Nations and one by the Conference of Presidents – I have some clarity about how to combat this demon.

Yes, demon. I know there’s a “cool crowd” in the Jewish community that underplays the BDS threat and argues that by fighting it so loudly and directly, we give it too much attention. That crowd often reminds us that, so far, the BDS movement has failed to inflict any real economic damage on Israel, and that, if anything, investment in Israel is booming. 

This economic news may be comforting, but I’ve come to appreciate that it’s a big mistake to view BDS strictly by the numbers. The purpose of the movement goes far beyond hurting Israel's economy – its core mission is to poison Israel’s image.

“It is working far better and spreading into the mainstream much faster than we had anticipated,” BDS co-founder Omar Barghouti said in an interview last week with Bloomberg. 

What is spreading into the mainstream is an orchestrated propaganda campaign that brands Israel as an anti-peace, all-powerful colonialist bully oppressing the helpless Palestinians.

It is the call to boycott that damages Israel, whether or not any actual boycott takes place. That’s why the boycott strategy is a brilliant PR maneuver. It reinforces the malignant narrative that Israel is the evil bully worthy of being boycotted.

If you're pro-Israel and anti-BDS, how do you combat such a strong narrative?

There’s only one way: You must reframe the enemy. Who hurts the Palestinians most? It is their corrupt leaders who glorify terrorism, who teach their people to hate Jews, who have rejected every offer of a Palestinian state and who pilfer humanitarian aid for their fancy villas, private jets and Swiss bank accounts.

Listen to Palestinian human rights activist Bassem Ayyad, who knows all about Palestinian corruption. In an interview last week with Arutz Sheva, an Israeli media network, Ayyad noted that, since the Palestinian Authority (PA) was created in 1994, Arabs living under the organization “only hear about corruption from it.”

In its entire existence, Ayyad asserted, the PA “hasn’t built a single kindergarten” for its people.

Ayyad is simply confirming what many of us have long figured out: The corrupt PA, just like its BDS mouthpiece, is out to crush Israel rather than assist the Palestinian people. 

This is the Achilles heel of the BDS movement: It has done absolutely nothing to promote peace or help improve Palestinian lives.

Anti-BDS activists must take advantage of this BDS hypocrisy to expose the movement as a fraud. Even more, they should create a counter movement to do precisely what BDS has failed to do – help Palestinians. 

We can call the movement, “Boycott Hate-Embrace Peace.” 

Among other things, this movement should hold Palestinian leaders accountable to their people.

For example, it could lobby the U.S. Congress to freeze aid to the PA until it can verify that the funds are going directly to the people. Call it the “PA Transparency Bill.” In addition, a special budget would be allocated to fund initiatives that promote normalization and peaceful co-existence.

The movement should enlist Palestinians like Bassem Ayyad to appear at U.S. college campuses to testify against the PA’s corrupt leaders and to promote the “Boycott Hate- Embrace Peace” movement. These testimonials should run as ads in college papers and in mainstream and social media to disseminate how the PA and BDS have abandoned the Palestinians.

In the U.S., one prominent fighter against BDS already is none other than presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, who wrote last year in a letter to Jewish leaders:

“BDS seeks to punish Israel and dictate how the Israelis and Palestinians should resolve the core issues of their conflict. This is not the path to peace. From Congress and state legislatures to boardrooms and classrooms, we need to engage all people of good faith… in explaining why the BDS campaign is counterproductive to the pursuit of peace and harmful to Israelis and Palestinians alike.”

Exposing BDS as harmful to Palestinians is the best way to ambush the movement and put it on the defensive. And if we get lucky, it may even be good for peace.

U.S. officials tout China cooperation on new North Korea sanctions


U.S. State Department officials expressed optimism on Thursday that new sanctions imposed on North Korea may be more effective than earlier attempts to curtain Pyongyang's nuclear program, pointing to China's apparent willingness to support them.

Two weeks before a Nuclear Security Summit in Washington, Thomas Countryman, Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation, told a Senate hearing there were signs of a shift in China, North Korea's sole major ally, toward regarding its nuclear program as a threat.

“They have made clear they are ready to work with us on detailed implementation and consultation on a range of issues,” he told the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.

The U.N. Security Council unanimously agreed to harsh new sanctions on North Korea to starve it of money for its nuclear weapons programs this month. President Barack Obama imposed sweeping new U.S. sanctions on Wednesday.

The hearing was contentious. Senators accused Countryman and Rose Gottemoeller, Undersecretary for Arms Control, of glossing over the global nuclear security threat, particularly in Asia, and underplaying the significance of the U.S. rift with Russia.

Russia is not attending the March 31-April 1 summit.

Republican Senator Bob Corker, the committee's chairman, said their testimony lacked “urgency and openness.”

“People are not honoring treaties. Asia is in going in a very different direction than we had hoped, and yet, y'all are here telling us how, 'Gosh, we've done a wonderful job,'” Corker said.

Gottemoeller was nominated this month to be NATO deputy secretary-general, the number two post at the defense alliance. Although she does not face Senate confirmation, Corker said many lawmakers see her as too soft on Moscow, particularly over the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty (INF) treaty.

Washington has accused Russia of violating the treaty, which Russia denies.

“People are very concerned that you really have not been the kind of person who has pushed back heavily against Russia and has been more of an apologist,” Corker said.

Gottemoeller said the administration looked for progress this year.

“I see some progress in Russia's willingness at the highest level to recommit to the treaty now and we are looking forward to moving expeditiously in 2016 to try to make some progress on this difficult matter.”

She also defended her record, saying she had been pragmatic during years dealing with Moscow. “I do feel that pragmatic problem solving in the diplomatic realm is important,” she said.

Cartoon: Use it nicely


Democratic lawmakers call for immediate sanctions on Iran


Democratic lawmakers – opponents and supporters of the Iran nuclear deal – on Wednesday called on the Obama Administration to impose punitive sanctions on Iran without delay.

In a letter sent to President Barack Obama, House Representatives Nita Lowey, Eliot Engel, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Albio Sires, Gerry Connolly, Susan Davis and Jerry Nadler called for immediate punitive sanctions in response to Iran’s recent violations of UN Security Council resolutions law by conducting two ballistic missile tests.

“Iran’s destabilizing behavior in the region and continued support for terrorism represent an unacceptable threat to our closest allies as well as our own national security,” the Democrats write in the letter. “As the international community prepares for implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), Iran must understand that violating international laws, treaties, and agreements will have serious consequences. We call on the Administration to immediately announce new, U.S. sanctions against individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program to ensure Iran is held accountable for its actions.”

During the congressional review of the Iran nuclear deal, President Obama promised Democratic lawmakers he would respond forcefully to Iranian malfeasance and would swiftly impose sanctions for non-nuclear issues outside of the JCPOA—including ballistic missile activity. In a letter to Rep. Nadler, before getting him on board in support of the deal, President Obama wrote, “I made sure that the United States reserved its right to maintain and enforce existing sanctions and even to deploy new sanctions to address those continuing concerns, which we fully intend to do when circumstances warrant.”

Last week, the administration notified Congress that it intended to impose sanctions on nearly a dozen companies and individuals for providing support to Iran’s ballistic missile program. But the White House quickly walked back the announcement. On Saturday, Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes said, “We just have additional work that we need to do as the U.S. government before we would announce additional designations.”

Read the full text of the letter below:

January 6, 2016

President Barack Obama
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue
Washington, D.C. 20500
Dear Mr. President:

We write to express our serious concern with Iran’s recent violation of international law by test-firing medium-range ballistic missiles in October and November 2015.

As you know, the United Nations (UN) Security Panel of Experts concluded that the October test was a blatant violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929. While the UN Panel has yet to characterize Iran’s second medium range ballistic missile test in November as a violation, both exercises foster insecurity in surrounding countries about Iran’s military capabilities and intent.

Additionally, an Iranian rocket—fired by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps during live-fire exercises—came within just 1,500 feet last week of the U.S. aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman that was operating in the Strait of Hormuz.

Such aggressive and destabilizing behavior is deeply troubling, particularly preceding implementation of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), and demands a U.S. response. While not all of us share the same opinion on the JCPOA, we are united in our desire to ensure it is vigilantly enforced and to prevent Iran from developing nuclear weapons.

For this reason, the United States and our allies must take immediate, punitive action and send a clear message to Iran that violating international laws, treaties, and agreements will have serious consequences. We understand the Administration is preparing sanctions against individuals and entities involved in Iran’s ballistic missile program, and we urge you to announce such sanctions without further delay.

Inaction from the United States would send the misguided message that, in the wake of the JCPOA, the international community has lost the willingness to hold the Iranian regime accountable for its support for terrorism and other offensive actions throughout the region—including in Syria, Yemen, Lebanon, and the Gaza Strip. This behavior—including these ballistic missile tests—poses a direct threat to American national security interests and those of our allies.

As Members of Congress committed to regional and international security and stability, we stand ready to assist you in holding Iran accountable for its actions. Thank you for your attention to this critical matter, and we look forward to your response.

U.S. says weighs sanctions against Iran for ballistic missile test


The U.S. State Department said on Tuesday it was in discussions with other U.S. agencies on imposing sanctions against Iran for an Oct. 10 ballistic missile tests by Tehran that violated U.N. Security Council resolutions.

“We are fully prepared to use sanctions with respect to this most recent ballistic missile test (and) are still working through some technical issues there,” spokesman John Kirby said.

Responding to news reports that the State Department stopped sanctions from being imposed because Iran objected, Kirby said: “There continues to be a robust inter-agency discussion about moving forward on sanctions.”

He added: “We don't take sanctions advice or guidance from Iran or any other country.”

Democratic senators to Kerry: respond to Iranian missile test


This post originally appeared at Jewish Insider.

A group of U.S. Senators sent a letter to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry on Thursday in which they expressed ‘profound’ concern about the Iranian ballistic missile test last Sunday. 

The group includes Senators Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Michael Bennet (D-Colo.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), and Cory Booker (D-N.J.). Nine out of the eleven Democratic senators listed as signatories supported the Iran nuclear deal. 

“We are writing to express our profound concern about Iran’s October 11 ballistic missile test…We urge you to consider unilateral and multilateral responses to this ballistic missile test. We believe calibrated pressure on Iran is appropriate due to its clear non-compliance with UNSCR 1929 and to deter future violations,” the Senators wrote in the letter. 

The Senators stated that the launch so close to the date of the implementation of the nuclear deal “is an attempt to test the world’s will to respond to Iranian violations of its international commitments.”

Read a full text of the letter below: 

Dear Secretary Kerry:

We are writing to express our profound concern about Iran’s October 11 ballistic missile test. 

United Nations Ambassador Samantha Power clearly stated that Iran’s test was a violation of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1929 which specifically states that “Iran shall not undertake any activity related to ballistic missiles capable of delivering nuclear weapons, including launches using ballistic missile technology.” 

We are concerned about the military significance of this test, which is part of a long-term Iranian program that seeks to improve the range and capabilities of its ballistic missiles. We are also convinced that the launch is an attempt to test the world’s will to respond to Iranian violations of its international commitments.

We strongly believe that the ability of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) to prevent Iran from fulfilling its nuclear ambitions must be fortified by a zero-tolerance policy to respond to violations of the agreement and of applicable UN resolutions – and a unified plan of action between the United States and our European allies about what specific responses should be deployed to respond to incremental violations. 

There must be no ambiguity in our willingness to enforce Iran’s obligations under UN resolutions and the JCPOA.

We urge you to consider unilateral and multilateral responses to this ballistic missile test. We believe calibrated pressure on Iran is appropriate due to its clear non-compliance with UNSCR 1929 and to deter future violations.

Iran deal closer to reality as U.S. prepares sanctions waivers


The United States approved conditional sanctions waivers for Iran on Sunday, though it cautioned they would not take effect until Tehran has curbed its nuclear program as required under a historic nuclear deal reached in Vienna on July 14.

“Today marks an important milestone toward preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon and ensuring its nuclear program is exclusively peaceful going forward,” U.S. President Barack Obama said in a White House statement.

In a memo, he directed the secretaries of state, treasury, commerce and energy “to take all necessary steps to give effect to the U.S. commitments with respect to sanctions described in (the Iran deal).”

Several senior U.S. officials, who spoke to reporters on condition of anonymity, said actual sanctions relief for Iran was at least two months away.

Sunday was “adoption day” for the deal, which came 90 days after the U.N. Security Council endorsed the agreement reached by Iran, the United States, Britain, France, Germany, Russia and China under which most sanctions on Iran would be lifted in exchange for limits on Tehran's nuclear activities.

Secretary of State John Kerry said Iran would now have to act to restrain its nuclear program.

“These waivers will not take effect until Implementation Day, after Iran has completed all necessary nuclear steps, as verified by the IAEA (International Atomic Energy Agency),” he said in a statement. “If fully implemented, (the deal) will bring unprecedented insight and accountability to Iran's nuclear program forever.”

In Brussels, the European Union on Sunday published legal acts that open the way for the bloc to lift sanctions if Tehran meets the conditions tied to the landmark nuclear agreement.

Iran told the IAEA on Sunday it would fulfill a commitment under the deal to implement the Additional Protocol to its Comprehensive Safeguards Agreement, allowing U.N. nuclear inspectors more intrusive access to Iranian facilities.

“IMPLEMENTATION DAY”

Iran will take that step on “implementation day”, the IAEA said in a statement. Under the deal, that is when the agency is due to have verified that Tehran has implemented restrictions on its nuclear activities and sanctions should be lifted.

Kerry said Tom Shannon, the appointee for Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and the U.S. point-man on Iran, Stephen Mull, would join senior officials from the six powers, Iran and the European Union in Vienna this week to discuss implementation of the deal.

In addition to Washington's conditional orders to suspend U.S. nuclear-related sanctions, U.S. officials said the United States, China and Iran were re-emphasizing their commitment to the redesign and reconstruction of the Arak research reactor so that it does not produce plutonium.

The fate of the Arak reactor was one of the toughest sticking points in the nearly two years of negotiations that led to the July agreement.

Other steps Iran must take include reducing the number of uranium-enrichment centrifuges it has in operation, cutting its enriched uranium stocks and answering U.N. questions about past activities that the West suspects were linked to work on nuclear weapons.

Kerry noted that the IAEA had already said Iran had met its obligation to provide answers and access to the agency.

However, one U.S. official suggested on Saturday that the quality of answers Iran provides to the IAEA and the agency's assessment are not relevant when it comes to deciding on pressing forward with sanctions relief.

“That final assessment, which the IAEA is aiming to complete by December 15th, is not a prerequisite for implementation day,” he said.

SOME SANCTIONS TO REMAIN

Tehran denies allegations from Western powers and their allies that its nuclear program was aimed at developing the capability to produce atomic weapons.

Unilateral U.S. sanctions against Iran not tied to its atomic program, such as those related to human rights, will remain even after the nuclear deal is implemented.

The U.S. officials were asked about Iran's decision to test a ballistic missile a week ago in violation of a U.N. ban that will remain in effect for almost a decade. The United States has said the missile was capable of delivering a nuclear warhead.

The officials reiterated that the launch was not a violation of the nuclear deal.

“This is not, unfortunately, something new,” a U.S. official said, adding that the missile test should not be seen as an indicator of Iran's willingness to comply with the nuclear deal.

“There is a long pattern of Iran ignoring U.N. Security Council resolutions on ballistic missiles,” the official said.

Washington has said it will seek Security Council action against Iran over the missile test. Once the deal is implemented, Iran will still be “called upon” to refrain from undertaking any work on ballistic missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons for a period of up to eight years, according to a Security Council resolution adopted in July.

Swiss envoy says: invest in Iran, Middle East’s ‘pole of stability’


Switzerland's ambassador on Thursday called Iran a “pole of stability” in the Middle East and urged companies to make the most of a lucrative market about to re-open after years of crippling sanctions.

Ambassador Giulio Haas was addressing some 500 Swiss business people as Europeans race back to Iran, whose markets and oil will be much easier to tap once sanctions are lifted, under a global deal struck last month.

“Iran seems still for a lot of people to be bearded, elderly gentlemen with turbans. You see them, but you see not a lot of them, especially when you're dealing with business,” Haas said.

Iran's adversaries in the Middle East, particulaly Israel and Saudi Arabia, oppose the deal Tehran struck with world powers, limiting its nuclear work in return for sanctions relief.

In the United States where Iran has long been seen as a regional menace, the U.S. Congress has until Sept. 17 to vote on the deal backed by President Barack Obama but opposed by many Republicans.

Haas said his nearly two years in Tehran had convinced him Western perceptions of Iran as the world's most-aggressive nation were about to change.

“Iran at the moment is most probably the pole of stability in a very, very unsafe region,” he told the conference.

Britain reopened its embassy in Tehran on Sunday , catching up with rival European powers that have rushed to tell Iran their companies are ready to restart business. France's foreign minister visited Tehran just two weeks after the nuclear deal was agreed on July 14.

Iran's financial system should escape cripping restrictions next year, leaving foreign companies contemplating 80 million consumers, $35 trillion worth of petroleum reserves and deep infrastructure needs.

Companies including engineering group ABB Ltd bank UBS and agriculture equipment maker Bucher Industries AG attended the event in a Zurich hotel hosted by a Swiss export-promotion group.

“BE BRAVE”

Swiss exports to Iran have fallen more than half to less than 400 million Swiss francs ($415 million)since 2008 as tightened U.N. and EU sanctions forced many companies to cut ties with the country.

“It's very important for us that the stream of money in Iran reopens,” said Christian Wuerzer, managing director at insurer SwissCare, whose products cover expatriates and diplomats.

Marzban Mortaz, director of a Tehran-based juice and milk packager, said access to Swiss financiers is essential if the country's economy is to double or triple post sanctions.

“With that size of economy, everyone has expansion plans,” he told Reuters. “Companies in Iran are cash-strapped.”

Experts cautioned that Iran remains a difficult market, telling the conference that bureacracy, nepotism and corruption were common, as were the threat from product piracy and legal unpredictability.

“The corruption is still at unbelievable rates,” said Sharif Nezam-Mafi, chairman of the Iran-Switzerland Chamber of Commerce and Eurasia region director of Swiss mill-maker Buehler AG.

Nevertheless, speakers described Iran as a “virgin market” of sophisticated consumers ready for business with the West.

“Be brave,” urged Ali Amiri of ACL Asset Management, an Iran-focused investment firm. “You've been to wilder places: Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Kuwait, South Africa, Nigeria. If you can bear those places, Iran is a walk in the park.”

$1 = 0.9622 Swiss francs

Cartoon: The wall of sanctions


The unending cost of killing the Iran deal


In his 2006 book, “The Accidental Empire,” Gershom Gorenberg writes of Israel’s breathtakingly subtle, yet relentlessly evolving occupation of the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan.  He points out that a then young Amoz Oz warned of the “moral destruction” and corruption that comes to the occupier of a long occupation.  But he also quotes Moshe Dayan, speaking to the Palestinian Poetess Fadwa Tuquan of Nablus:  “The situation today,” Dayan says, “resembles the complex relationship between a Bedouin man and the girl he kidnaps against her will…You Palestinians, as a nation, don’t want us today, but we’ll change your attitude by forcing our presence on you.”  He also chronicles French philosopher Raymond Aron asking then Prime Minister Levi Eshkol if he was worried about rebellion in the West Bank, “No,” Eshkol replied, “This isn’t Algeria.  We can strangle terror in the occupied territories.” 

Really?  

The robust battle in the Jewish community over the negotiated Nuclear Deal with Iran has focused almost entirely on how good or bad it will be for Israel and the likelihood of Iran going nuclear at the Deal’s end, spiced, unfortunately by inflammatory talk of the U.S. underwriting Iran’s acquisition of the bomb and ushering Israelis to the doorways of crematoriums. The anti-Deal side also focuses on Iran’s profile as both a regional and international “bad actor,” and sponsor of terrorism.  Importantly, the latter is not denied by the pro-Deal side, but unlike the anti-Deal side, the pro-Deal people are the side thinking about how to mitigate that activity. 

The anti-Deal side states the Deal could be better.  Senator Schumer says he’s against the Deal and that we should go back and negotiate a better one.  But if the Deal included, let’s say, only half of Iran’s frozen $100 billion in assets to be released let’s say, in the first five years, and a cap on Iran’s annual oil sales, and reduction of the poorer quality centrifuges from 6,000 to 1,000, we all know that Israel and their backers here in the U.S. would never sign off on it.  True, better it would be, but still not good enough, because it would not be perfect.  Only perfect will do for the anti-Deal side, and perfect is the well-known enemy of the good, and in this case, the unachievable.  Perfect cannot be achieved here.  And if good goes down here in obeisance to the perfect, the result will be an increase in bad actor activity.  You can take that to the bank. 

Israeli security exports are already on the record as saying that rather than new negotiations convening, Russia and China will move to subvert further sanctions.  Already, we read that Quds Force General and master terrorist Qassem Suleimani has been to Moscow.  Russia’s sinking economy needs foreign sales.  China is rapaciously seeking influence worldwide.  The worst of Iran’s international adventurism has been muted during negotiations.  But when the deal falls apart, what really then?  Curiously it is Israel itself that has the most close-up and historically comprehensive view of what is likely to happen.  The precursor test case for failed negotiations is the continued occupation of the Palestinian Territories and what that has wrought.   

When Israel emerged victorious from the ’67 War, it moved inexorably  – albeit under a cloud of indecision and international ambiguity – to settle and occupy the West Bank, Gaza, and the Golan Heights.  It’s stated position is that it would have returned those areas for a peace treaty, and perhaps it would have.  But that treaty, that perfect Deal, never happened, and those areas – unlike Sinai which was returned to Egypt, under a treaty that was perhaps less than a perfect but has ensured a lasting peace – well, those areas fifty years down the road have evolved into a seething miasma of intifada, terrorist activity, repeated war, and constant lone wolf mayhem, not to mention an international public relations nightmare, isolating Israel ever further.   As if that weren’t enough, the situation has bred an armed Jewish terrorism on the Right, the depth and scope of which can no longer be brushed under the rug – particularly after the recent killings.  In short, an attempt to keep a people “bottled up” has instead metastasized into an explosion of lethal chaos that cannot be strangled no matter how great the effort. 

Now let’s acknowledge that Iran is no sleepy agrarian and small-town West Bank and isolated Golan of back in the day.  No, it is an oil-rich, country of 80 million people with an army, an air force, a navy, and a nascent nuclear program and sophisticated operatives throughout the Middle East, Africa, South America, and probably everywhere else.   Iran has been under the stricture of international sanctions of one sort or another since 1979.  Before that we gave them the brutality of the Shah and his CIA-trained Savak.  They made a UN-sanctioned deal with the six “great powers” that many in Israel argue is a good deal, and if we kill it, if we try to “bottle up” and uni- or multi-laterally continue to try and “force our presence” on Iran; worse, if we bomb their nuclear facilities, what Gaza and the Occupied Territories have become, what Iran has shown itself capable of in Beirut, Buenos Aires, and Baghdad will quite likely become the world-wide future for not just Jews, but Americans and American interest everywhere. And it could (and probably will) go on for generations. 

This is what no one will talk about, particularly the war hawks beating their drums.  Iran is not Iraq.  There will be consequences for everyone, not just the men and women who go to fight and their particular families, which means, among other things, be prepared once again for the newly energized dialectic about the “Jewish Lobby,” and how it drives U.S. foreign policy.  Families that lose loved ones to a war or terror that didn’t need to happen for the perceived sake of that lobby, what will their attitude be toward their Jewish friends and neighbors, toward Jews in general, and toward Israel in particular?   

Now if you ask Benjamin Netanyahu, he will say he doesn’t care.  He’ll say this is a price that needs to be paid to save the state of Israel, despite dozens of Israeli security officials’ disagreement.  And he will tell you – in messianic, not practical context, because that’s the only way it makes sense – that the existence of the state of Israel is more important than how the world feels about Jews (and of course the Evangelical community agrees).  Will civilians rise up against Jewish targets, the way they did against Arab targets after 9/11?  Who knows?  One thing thought is certain.  An escalation of the policies of aggression and repression, and the hatred it engenders, will only and always redoubt to the detriment of Jews and Israel.  On the other hand, Israel can exist and engender good will as well if it will prove itself amenable to the reasoned argument of diplomacy and not subvert its future to apocalyptic speculation.

Mitch Paradise is a writer and producer living in Los Angeles.

Will the nuclear deal impact California’s sanctions against Iran? It appears not


As Congress debates whether to approve the Obama administration’s agreement to lift many of the United States’ sanctions against Iran in return for a temporary curb on its nuclear program, one particular paragraph in the 159-page deal has activists and politicians in California wondering how it could impact sanctions here in California — sanctions that may be valued in the billions of dollars.

The answer (for now): probably not at all.

Still, the paragraph in question, which is on Page 15 of the nuclear agreement, stipulates that the federal government “will take appropriate steps, taking into account all available authorities” to “actively encourage officials at the state or local level to take into account the changes in the U.S. policy reflected in the lifting of sanctions under this [agreement] and to refrain from actions inconsistent with this change in policy.”

In California, the widest reaching of those sanctions became law in 2007, when Sen. Joel Anderson (R-San Diego) authored Assembly Bill 221, which passed 76-0 in the Assembly and 36-0 in the state Senate. The bill prohibits California’s two largest pension funds, the Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS) and the State Teachers’ Retirement System (CalSTRS), from holding investments in any company that does at least $20 million in business with Iran’s petroleum or natural gas industries. The two funds have portfolios worth nearly $500 billion combined. CalPERS is the nation’s largest public retirement fund and CalSTRS is the largest teachers’ retirement fund in the country.

Israel’s business community braces for sanctions


Just one week before the Israeli election, Palestinian chief negotiator Saeb Erekat sent an angry letter to French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius. 

Erekat was furious that Paris-based Société Anonyme Française d’Etude de Gestion et d’Entreprises (SAFEGE), an engineering subsidiary of Suez Enviorment, had been hired by the Jerusalem Municipality to begin plans for an aerial tramway linking the Emek Refaim train station to the Dung Gate, then eastward to the Mount of Olives and the Garden of Gethsemane.

“This project will help strengthen the annexation of East Jerusalem, facilitate travel to the settlements and lead to the illegal expropriation of private property, some of which belongs to the Waqf and Christian churches,” Erekat wrote in the letter leaked to the Paris daily Le Figaro. 

Within days, French officials summoned SAFEGE’s top directors to the Quai d’Orsay, and the company pulled out of the project. 

Israeli entrepreneurs say the scuttled gondola project reflects a deteriorating relationship with Europe, and some are increasingly anxious over potential effects for commerce should Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s new coalition firmly reject two-state diplomatic efforts.

“What we are seeing is the stigma of sanctions imposed by states are a much more serious threat to the Israeli economy than BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions],”said Orni Petruschka, a partner at renewable energy firm Precede Technologies. 

“Once there is a U.N. resolution on a Palestinian state, and in the likely event that Israel does not move forward to such an endgame, then there might be sanctions by states who do not subscribe to the whole BDS agenda, which includes the return of the refugees,” said Petruschka, who is best known in Israel as an entrepreneur who sold his company Chromatis Networks to Lucent in 2000 for a record-breaking $4.75 billion.

“BDS can be contained because of the relatively extreme agenda. But I do see a U.N. resolution leading slowly to a process that will include economic measures against us,” Petruschka said.

France is currently circulating a draft of a Security Council resolution on Palestinian statehood to be formally introduced within the next few months.

“Europe is becoming more politicized, and we do see some players reluctant to invest in Israel,” said Edouard Cukierman, managing partner of the French-Israeli private equity firm Catalyst Investments, and chairman of Cukierman & Co. Investment House.

Cukierman, 50, is also a member of the Breaking the Impasse group, which includes more than 300 Israeli business leaders advocating a two-state solution. 

“We saw some companies freeze or reconsider their investments in Israel in the wake of the war last summer in Gaza,” said Cukierman whose father, Rodger, serves as president of the Council of French Jewish Institutions.

“The reluctance to invest is not just because of Israel — it’s also due to the European economy with its own issues and concerns as reflected as the election results in France,” Cukierman observed, noting the “worrisome” rise of the National Front in France.

Gadi Baltiansky, Israeli director general of the two-state advocacy group Geneva Initiative, thinks too many in Israel’s business community have muted their concerns about the economic consequences of the diplomatic stalemate. 

“In general terms, the business community is more pragmatic and moderate and supportive of a peace deal and they believe that the state is more important than the land,” Baltiansky said.

“You can have success even if we have less land; they are interested in stability here and a climate favorable for foreign investment, trade and tourism.”

“What they have done about it? Between very little and zero,” Baltiansky said.

“Of course, from the perspective of the business community, you have to admit that the Israeli economy is not doing that badly, especially compared to some in Europe. So there isn’t this strong motivation that says, ‘Wow, we are in a catastrophe.’ ”

Cukierman illustrates Baltiansky’s point by relaying that his firm has more than made up for declining European investment by partnering with Chinese companies and venture-capital funds eager to get in on Israel’s technology boom.

The investment house holds an annual investors conference in Tel Aviv that has attracted increasing numbers of Chinese participants, and Cukierman has scored $75 million in Chinese investment.

“When we had our conference a couple of years back, we had Mr. Ronnie Chan, one of the largest players in real estate in China. He came and said, ‘Why are you spending so much time working on a relationship with Europe?’ And that is when we really adjusted some of our focus,” Cukierman said.

Although Baltiansky credits Breaking the Impasse for demonstrating mainstream business support for the two-state concept, there’s no mistaking his frustration with the organization’s quiet approach, avoiding confrontation with the Netanyahu government over the lack of diplomatic progress. 

“After the Bar Ilan speech [the prime minister’s 2009 acceptance of a demilitarized Palestinian state], Breaking the Impasse came out with a billboard campaign costing hundreds of thousands of shekels praising Netanyahu saying, “We support you on the road to peace.” But when it stalled, there was no campaign telling him to get back on track,” Baltiansky said.

Petruschka organized Blue White Future, an activist lobbying group with a more conterversial approach than Breaking the Impasse. 

Blue White Future has called on the Israeli government to draw up plans for the relocation of settlers, and on the White House to respond to the negotiations deadlock by publicly releasing American parameters for a two-state deal.

“People are afraid to openly take a stand because they put the well-being of their business first, and most business leaders have some sort of cooperation with government,” Petruschka said.

“To my mind, this is a mistake, because in the long term, the success of their business depends more on cooperation of the entire international community, and as those partnerships erode, the well-being of their business will also suffer.”

Competing views of Iran deal highlight challenges ahead


Now that the outline for an Iran nuclear agreement has been released — or, more precisely, two outlines, one by Iran, the other by the Obama administration — major gaps have emerged that will need to be resolved ahead of a June 30 deadline for a final deal, including when sanctions on Iran are lifted.

President Barack Obama and Iran’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, issued conflicting statements in the past week on the sanctions issue, with Obama suggesting sanctions would be relaxed only once Iran begins to implement its obligations and Khamenei demanding that all sanctions be suspended upon signing an agreement. Khamenei also vowed that military sites would not be open to nuclear inspectors, which clashes with the American text, which says inspectors have the right to visit suspicious sites “anywhere in the country.”

The next round of talks is likely to be held within three weeks in New York City, on the sidelines of a meeting of the United Nations Disarmament Commission, and both Obama and Khamenei have said that nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.

In the coming weeks, both sides will endeavor to sell the deal to its various constituencies: Iran to its domestic hardliners, and the Obama administration to Congress, Jewish groups and skeptical allies, Israel chief among them.

What the Obama administration wants to see

In its outline of a framework accord reached earlier this month in Switzerland, and in subsequent statementsand interviews, the Obama administration has focused preeminently on the strict limits it is seeking on Iran’s capacity to enrich uranium.

These include limiting Iran’s advanced centrifuges to scientific research and reducing the number of active first-generation centrifuges, from 19,000 to 5,060, for 10 years. Enrichment would be limited to 3.67 percent, the level required for medical research and well short of weaponization levels. Iran’s stockpile of enriched uranium would be limited to 300 kilograms for 15 years. The deal would also provide for a regimen of intrusive inspections at all Iranian facilities.

“You have assurances that their stockpile of highly enriched uranium remains in a place where they cannot create a nuclear weapon,” Obama told National Public Radio last week.

According to the administration’s outline, sanctions relief is conditioned on Iran abiding by its commitments. The sanctions architecture will remain in place so they can be quickly reimposed if Iran defaults.

Additionally, Obama administration officials have emphasized that Iran’s breakout time will be extended from the current two to three months to a year, although how this will be quantified is not yet clear.

What Iran wants to see

In contrast with the phased relief outlined in the U.S. document, a “fact sheet” published by the Iranian Foreign Ministry posits an immediate lifting of sanctions after a deal is reached. On Thursday, in a speech broadcast live on Iranian television, Khamenei said there would be no point to the negotiations if they did not yield immediate sanctions relief.

“All sanctions should be removed when the deal is signed,” Reuters quoted Khamenei as saying. “If the sanctions removal depends on other processes, then why did we start the negotiations?”

On Twitter, Khamenei went further, accusing the United States of overall bad faith.

“Hours after the #talks, Americans offered a fact sheet that most of it was contrary to what was agreed,” said a tweet posted on his feed Thursday. “They always deceive and breach promises.”

On the enrichment question, the Iranian and American outlines are not mutually exclusive.

“None of the nuclear facilities or related activities will be stopped, shut down, or suspended, and Iran’s nuclear activities in all of its facilities including Natanz, Fordow, Isfahan, and Arak will continue,” said the Iranian document, which goes on to name only Natanz as a site for 3.67 percent uranium enrichment, which comports with the U.S. document. The other sites are deemed acceptable for scientific research in the American version, a status that conceivably comports with “related activities” in the Iranian document.

What Israel wants to see

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel said in the immediate wake of the agreement that the framework deal would threaten Israel’s survival. He counseled “standing firm and increasing the pressure on Iran until a better deal is achieved.”

Netanyahu did not provide details, but in interviews he has said that Israel could tolerate a deal that left “hundreds” of centrifuges in place, as opposed to the 5,060 the U.S. outline anticipates — itself a significant concession for Netanyahu, who had previously said that Israel would tolerate no more than a zero capacity for uranium enrichment.

Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s minister of intelligence, also provided more details of Israel’s desires for a final deal in a briefing for reporters in Jerusalem, demanding a complete end to research and development of advanced centrifuges, the shuttering of the underground Fordo facility, and freedom for inspectors to go “anytime, anywhere.”

In an Op-Ed published April 8 in the Washington Post, Moshe Yaalon, the Israeli defense minister, called for dismantling much of Iran’s nuclear infrastructure.

“Intelligence and inspections are simply no substitute for dismantling the parts of Iran’s program that can be used to produce atomic bombs,” Yaalon wrote.

Israel also has an eye on Iran’s destabilizing activities elsewhere in the region. The Obama administration and its five negotiating partners – China, Russia, France, Germany and Great Britain – see the nuclear deal as discrete from other Iranian actions.

“Restrictions imposed on the Islamic Republic’s nuclear program will expire in about a decade, regardless of Iran’s campaign of murderous aggression in Lebanon, Syria, Yemen and elsewhere across the Middle East; its arming, funding, training and dispatching of terrorists around the world; and its threats and violent efforts to destroy Israel, the region’s only democracy,” Yaalon wrote.

Netanyahu recently also demanded Iran’s recognition of Israel as a component of a final deal, a requirement that Obama has said is unrealistic.

What Congress wants to see

Two bills under consideration in Congress, both backed by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, could affect the outcome of an Iran deal.

One sponsored by Sens. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.) and Robert Menendez (D-N.J.), would mandate new sanctions should Iran default on a deal or walk away from the talks. Obama has said such a bill would scuttle the talks and has pledged to veto it. The bill was approved in January by the Senate Banking Committee. Now its fate is in the hands of Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), the majority leader, who must decide whether it advances to the full body.

McConnell has not shown his hand, but he is unlikely to move it forward unless he can build a veto-proof majority of 67, which would require the support of 13 Democrats. With Menendez sidelined as he faces indictment on corruption charges, that is unlikely.

The other bill, backed by Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.), the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, would require congressional review of an Iran deal. That bill stands a better chance of passage.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who is in line to become his party’s Senate leader in the next Congress, backs the bill as it is. Other Democrats, including key Obama allies like Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.), Menendez’s replacement as the top Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee, and Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Va.), the top Democrat on its Middle East subcommittee, say they would back the bill if Corker removes non-nuclear related elements, among them requirements that Iran cease backing for terrorism.

The Corker bill comes up for review by the Foreign Relations Committee on Tuesday, and Cardin said he hoped to shape it to make it a “process” bill and not one that prescribes the terms of an agreement.

“One of my concerns is that the bill carries out its mission — a way for Congress to review and take action,” Cardin told JTA.

Obama, who had previously said he would veto the Corker bill, indicated this week that he could work with a modified version.

Iran’s Khamenei breaks silence in nuclear deal, says sanctions must go


Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Thursday demanded that all sanctions on Iran be lifted at the same time as any final agreement with world powers on curbing Tehran's nuclear program is concluded.

Khamenei, the Islamic Republic's most powerful figure and who has the last say on all state matters, was making his first comments on the interim deal reached between Iran and the powers last week in the Swiss city of Lausanne.

He repeated his faith in President Hassan Rouhani's negotiating team. But in remarks apparently meant to keep hardline loyalists on side, he warned about the “devilish” intentions of the United States.

“I neither support nor oppose the deal. Everything is in the details, it may be that the deceptive other side wants to restrict us in the details,” Khamenei said in a speech broadcast live on state television.

His stand on the lifting of sanctions matched earlier comments by Rouhani, who said Iran would only sign a final nuclear accord if all measures imposed over its disputed atomic work are lifted on the same day.

These include nuclear-related United Nations resolutions as well as U.S. and EU nuclear-related economic sanctions.

“All sanctions should be removed when the deal is signed. If the sanctions removal depends on other processes, then why did we start the negotiations?” Khamenei said.

However, the United States said on Monday sanctions would have to be phased out gradually under the comprehensive nuclear pact. France also said on Tuesday that many differences, including on sanctions, needed to be overcome if a final agreement was to be reached.

The U.S. and EU sanctions have choked off nearly 1.5 million barrels per day (bpd) of Iranian exports since early 2012, reducing its oil exports by 60 percent to around 1 million barrels a day.

The tentative accord was a step toward a settlement that would allay Western fears that Iran could build an atomic bomb, with economic sanctions on Tehran being lifted in return.

Negotiators from Iran, the United States, Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China will resume negotiations in the coming days to pave the way for the final deal.

One problem is that Iran and the world powers may have different interpretations on what was agreed in the framework accord – a point Khamenei made evident.

“Americans put out a statement just a few hours after our negotiators finished their talks…this statement, which they called a 'fact sheet', was wrong on most of the issues.” Khamenei said.

ENMITY AND MISTRUST REMAINS

Since relations with Washington collapsed after Iran's 1979 Islamic revolution, enmity toward the United States has always been a rallying point for Iranian hardliners.

“I was never optimistic about negotiating with America… nonetheless I agreed to the negotiations and supported, and still support, the negotiators,” Khamenei said to chants of “Death to America.”

“I support a deal that preserves the interests and honor of Iran.”

The United States and its Western allies say it is vital that Iran fully cooperate with a U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) investigation into past nuclear activities that could be related to making weapons.

Iran for its part has said that “possible military dimensions” (PMD) are an issue it will not budge on.

“PMD is out of the question. It cannot be discussed,” an Iranian official said. This issue has not been resolved.

Khamenei ruled out any “extraordinary supervision measures” over Iran's nuclear activities.

“Iran's military sites cannot be inspected under the excuse of nuclear supervision,” he said.

“EXTRAORDINARY MONITORING”

A final deal would require a vigorous monitoring framework to ensure Iranian compliance. The negotiators have been working out a monitoring mechanism that would involve the IAEA. This has not been considered a sticking point in the nuclear talks.

France, which has demanded more stringent conditions on Iran, said the comments by the Iranian leadership showed that reaching a final deal would be difficult and that in any case there would need to be a mechanism in place to restore sanctions if Tehran violated its commitments.

“Subjects still remain that we aren't agreed on, notably on economic sanctions, and the Supreme Leader has made statements that show there is still a lot of work to be done,” Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius told lawmakers.

“We are going to keep the position we have held from the beginning, which is constructive but extremely demanding,” Fabius said.

In a ceremony on Thursday to mark Iran's National Day of Nuclear Technology, Rouhani said Tehran's aim was to secure the Iranian nation's nuclear rights.

“Our goal in the talks is to preserve our nation's nuclear rights. We want an outcome that will be in everyone's benefit,” Rouhani said in a speech. “The Iranian nation has been and will be the victor in the negotiations.”

However, Khamenei said the tentative deal did not guarantee reaching a comprehensive deal by a deadline on June 30.

“What has been achieved so far does not guarantee a deal or even that the negotiations will continue to the end,” Khamenei said, adding that an extension of the deadline should not be a problem.

Khameni reiterated Iranian denials that Tehran was seeking to build a nuclear weapon.

A senior Israeli defense official repeated Israel's fears that Iran could still obtain a nuclear weapon if sanctions were lifted immediately and would have more money to spend on arming regional proxies. “The moment the sanctions are removed, tens of billions (of dollars) will flow to their coffers,” Amos Gilad said in a radio interview after Rouhani's speech. “They will get rich. They will have the power to support the entire network of missiles and rockets.”

Conflicting U.S., Iranian accounts on sanctions relief


After Iran and world powers agreed last week to a framework deal on curbing Iran's nuclear program in return for sanctions relief, Tehran and Washington seem to have different interpretations over how that will be done.

Many details must still be hammered out, including the pace and extent of sanctions removal, ahead of an end-June deadline for a final deal.

Below is a summary of U.S. and Iranian accounts on how quickly sanctions would be removed in case of a deal.

U.S. VIEW

According to a 'fact sheet' released by the United States after the framework deal was announced, “Iran will receive sanctions relief, if it verifiably abides by its commitments.”

U.S. and European sanctions related to Iran's nuclear program will be suspended after the International Atomic Energy Agency verifies that Iran has met all its commitments under the agreement. Sanctions can “snap back” if Iran “fails to fulfill its commitments.”

U.N. Security Council resolutions related to Iran's nuclear program will be lifted “simultaneous with the completion, by Iran, of nuclear-related actions addressing all key concerns (enrichment, Fordow, Arak, PMD, and transparency).”

U.S. officials have said the suspension of sanctions will take months to a year, depending on confirmation of Iran's compliance with a final deal.

Sources: Reuters, U.S. State Department

IRAN'S VIEW

Iran's top negotiators have repeatedly said that sanctions relief would not be implemented in phases, as claimed by the United States. Instead, the Iranians insist, all nuclear-related United Nations resolutions, as well as U.S. and EU nuclear-related economic and financial sanctions, will be lifted immediately once a comprehensive nuclear accord is signed.

Iranian foreign minister Mohammad Javad Zarif has disputed the U.S. 'fact sheet,' saying he had protested the issue with U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.

An Iranian version of a 'fact sheet' released to Iranian media following the framework accord said the following: “After the implementation of the Comprehensive Joint Plan of Action, all of the U.N. Security Council resolutions will be revoked, and all of the multilateral economic and financial sanctions by the EU and unilateral sanctions by the United States, including financial, banking, insurance, investment, and all related services in various fields including oil, gas, petrochemicals, and automobile manufacturing will immediately be annulled.”

The Iranian statement adds: “Sanctions against real and legal individuals, organizations, government and private institutions under related nuclear sanctions on Iran including the Central Bank, other financial and banking institutions, SWIFT, Islamic Republic shipping and airlines, and oil shipping will immediately be lifted in a comprehensive manner.”

With jabs at Obama, CUFI lobbies for Iran sanctions, end to P.A. aid


With sharp jabs at the Obama administration, Christians United for Israel launched its annual Washington rally with appeals to Congress to impose new sanctions on Iran and cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority.

David Brog, the group’s executive director, said CUFI regarded the Iran nuclear talks as a failure and would back legislation proposed by Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) that would impose new sanctions immediately. The Cruz measure is tougher than legislation already under consideration that would trigger sanctions only if the talks fail.

Brog acknowledged that Cruz’s bill has little chance of success but said it was time to declare the talks a failure.

“Enough was enough,” he said.

The six months of talks between Iran and the major powers, led by the United States, were extended Friday for another four months until Nov. 24, with all sides saying there had been progress toward a sanctions-for-nuclear-rollback deal.

Brog said the activists, numbering nearly 5,000, also would advocate Tuesday, the conference’s lobbying day, for a cutoff in funding to the Palestinian Authority as long as unity talks with Hamas continue. Israel’s government opposes a cutoff in part because of its security cooperation with the P.A.

“We’re very strict about not dictating policy to the Israeli government, but when it comes to money from our government, we do feel a little more entitled,” Brog told JTA.

The unity talks were launched in April, precipitating the collapse of the peace talks with Israel. With Israel and Hamas locked in conflict in the Gaza Strip, the status of the unity talks is unclear.

The CUFI activists who gathered Monday in the cavernous Washington Convention Center heard from pro-Israel leaders and lawmakers, including Malcolm Hoenlein, the executive vice-chairman of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations; Israel’s ambassador to Washington, Ron Dermer; Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.); and the organization’s founder, Pastor John Hagee.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu delivered a recorded video message. The organization conferred an award on casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and his wife, Miriam, who have been major backers of pro-Israel and conservative causes.

The tone of the conference veered between joyful praise of Israel, with Christian choirs singing Israeli classics in Hebrew, and harsh criticism of the Obama administration, with Hagee attacking the president and Secretary of State John Kerry.

Referring to the collapsed peace process, Hagee said, “John Kerry, you can park your State Department jet in the hangar, your efforts to win the Nobel Prize at the expense of Israel has failed.”

Dermer focused on the Gaza conflict in his speech, saying that the Israeli army deserved “a Nobel Peace Prize for fighting with unimaginable restraint.”

The ambassador parried anti-Israel hecklers who had infiltrated the hall – “There is a section for moral idiots at the back of the room,” he said — and thanked the Obama administration for its support during the recent conflict.

A number of lawmakers, including Cruz, addressed the group on Tuesday.

Six powers, Iran launch crunch phase of nuclear diplomacy


Six world powers and Iran launched a decisive phase of diplomacy on Wednesday to draft a lasting accord that would curb Tehran's contested nuclear activity in exchange for a phased end to sanctions that have hobbled the Iranian economy.

After three months of discussing expectations rather than negotiating possible compromises, the sides are to set about devising a package meant to end years of antagonism and curtail the risk of a wider Middle East war with global repercussions.

Washington's decades-long estrangement from Iran could ease, improving international stability, if a deal were done but U.S. and other Western officials warned against unwarranted optimism given persisting, critical differences between the sides.

“We've spent the last couple of rounds putting all of the issues on the table, seeing where there may be points of agreement, where there may be gaps. There are some very significant gaps,” a senior U.S. official said on Tuesday.

“It's not that there aren't solutions to those gaps; there are. But getting to them is another matter.”

To get a deal, the United States, Russia, China, France, Britain and Germany will want Iran to agree to dramatically cut back its uranium enrichment program to remove any risk that it could lead to the making of atomic bombs, while Iran will want them to eliminate sanctions against its oil-based economy.

Diplomats from both sides have said they want to resolve all sticking points about issues such as Iran's capacity to enrich uranium and the future of its nuclear facilities, as well as the timeline of sanctions relief, by a July 20 deadline.

After that, an interim deal they struck last November expires and its extension would probably complicate talks.

A spokesman for EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, who coordinates diplomacy with Iran on behalf of the six, said negotiators held a “useful initial discussion” on Wednesday morning and would hold coordination meetings later in the day.

“We are now hoping to move to a new phase … in which we will start pulling together what the outline of an agreement could be. All sides are highly committed,” Michael Mann said.

ISRAELI THREAT TO HIT IRAN

Looming in the background of the talks have been threats by Israel, widely believed to have the Middle East's only nuclear weaponry but which sees Iran as a existential threat, to attack Iranian nuclear installations if it deems diplomacy ultimately futile in containing Tehran's atomic abilities and potential.

U.S. President Barack Obama has not ruled the last-ditch option of military action either.

Broadly, the six powers want to ensure the Iranian program is curtailed enough so that it would take Iran a long time to assemble nuclear bomb components if it chose to do so, and would be detected with intrusive inspections before it was too late.

Iran denies accusations of having nuclear weapons aspirations, saying it wants only peaceful atomic energy.

Central to this issue will be the number of centrifuge machines, which potentially can enrich uranium to bomb-fuel quality, that Iran would be permitted to operate.

Tehran has about 10,000 centrifuges running but the West will likely want that number trimmed to the low thousands, a demand that could be unacceptable to the Islamic Republic.

Iran's research and development of new nuclear technologies and the amount of stockpiled enriched uranium it may keep will also be crucial and likely difficult to negotiate. Refined uranium can be used as fuel in nuclear power plants or in weapons if purified to a high enough level.

“Halting research and development of uranium enrichment has never been up for negotiation, and we would not have accepted it either,” Iranian Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araqchi was quoted as saying by the ISNA news agency.

“But a wide variety of issues have been discussed … and on uranium enrichment too we have tried to reach consensus.”

Diplomats say Iran, rather than deactivating centrifuges, wants to expand its enrichment program, saying it needs to do this to fuel a planned network of nuclear power plants.

Iran entered talks with the big powers after moderate President Hassan Rouhani was elected last June.

“OUT OF CONTROL”

Diplomats have signaled some progress may have been made during three rounds of expert-level talks since February on one of the thorniest issues – the future of Iran's planned Arak heavy-water reactor, which Western states worry could prove a source of plutonium for nuclear bomb fuel once operational.

But the U.S. official cautioned that some media reports about progress reached up until now were going too far.

“I've read a lot of the optimism you've written,” the official told reporters. “It's gotten way out of control.”

Other diplomats from the powers warned that progress, if any, in the coming talks will be slow. And any agreement may come only at the 11th hour. “It's very difficult to say how it will all work in practice now. We have no agenda but that's not different from any other meeting,” said one.

“The figures will come at the end. They will be part of the big bargaining,” he said, referring to decisions about issues such as the number of centrifuges to remain in Iran.

Much of the complexity of the final deal stems from the fact that its various elements are intertwined. A higher number of centrifuges left in Iran would mean the powers wanting Tehran to more substantially slacken the pace of enrichment, for example.

“All the parameters are interdependent,” one diplomat said.

Politically, any deal could still be torpedoed by conservative hawks in the United States or Iran, and another interfering factor could be the approaching U.S. midterm congressional elections.

Divisions in Washington are closely linked to concerns in Israel that any deal might not go far enough. “We are not against diplomatic solutions. But on the one condition, that it is a serious and comprehensive solution. A solution that can be trusted,” Yuval Steinitz, Israel's minister in charge of nuclear affairs, told reporters in Brussels last week.

“Iran should be denied not just to produce the bomb but also to have the capability,” he said.

Additional reporting by Fredrik Dahl and Parisa Hafezi in Vienna; Editing by Mark Heinrich

U.S., EU set sanctions as Putin recognizes Crimea ‘sovereignty’


The United States and European Union imposed personal sanctions on Monday on Russian and Crimean officials involved in the seizure of Crimea from Ukraine as Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree recognizing the region as a sovereign state.

The moves heightened the most serious East-West crisis since the end of the Cold War, following a disputed referendum in the Black Sea peninsula on Sunday in which Crimea's leaders declared a Soviet-style, 97-percent vote to secede from Ukraine.

Within hours, the Crimean parliament formally asked that Russia “admit the Republic of Crimea as a new subject with the status of a republic”. Putin will on Tuesday address a special joint session of Russia's State Duma, or parliament, which could take a decision on annexation of the majority ethnic-Russian region.

That would dismember Ukraine, a former Soviet republic once under Moscow's thumb, against its will. Kiev and the West said the referendum, held under armed Russian occupation, violated Ukraine's constitution and international law.

Russian forces took control of Crimea in late February following the toppling of Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich after deadly clashes between riot police and protesters trying to overturn his decision to spurn a trade and cooperation deal with the EU in favor of cultivating closer ties with Russia.

U.S. President Barack Obama slapped sanctions on 11 Russians and Ukrainians blamed for the seizure, including Yanukovich, and Vladislav Surkov and Sergei Glazyev, two aides to Putin.

Putin himself, suspected in the West of trying to resurrect as much as possible of the former Soviet Union under Russian leadership, was not on the blacklist. A White House spokesman declined to rule out adding him at a later stage.

Amid fears that Russia may move into eastern Ukraine where there is a significant Russian-speaking community, Obama warned that “further provocations” would only increase Moscow's isolation and exact a greater toll on its economy.

“If Russia continues to interfere in Ukraine, we stand ready to impose further sanctions,” he said.

A senior U.S. official said Obama's order cleared the way to sanction people associated with the arms industry and targets “the personal wealth of cronies” of the Russian leadership.

In Brussels, the EU's 28 foreign ministers agreed to subject 21 Russian and Ukrainian officials to visa restrictions and asset freezes for their roles in the events. They included three Russian military commanders in Crimea and districts bordering on Ukraine.

There were only three names in common on the U.S. and European lists – Crimean Prime Minister Sergey Aksyonov, Crimean parliament speaker Vladimir Konstantinov and Leonid Slutski, chairman of the Russian Duma's committee on the Russian-led Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), grouping former Soviet republics. The EU blacklisted Yanukovich earlier this month.

The U.S. list appeared to target higher-profile Russian officials close to Putin, including a deputy Russian prime minister, while the EU went for mid-ranking officials who may have been more directly involved on the ground.

Washington and Brussels said further steps could follow in the coming days if Russia does not back down and formally annexes Crimea.

A senior Obama administration official said there was “concrete evidence” that some ballots in the Crimea referendum arrived in some Crimean cities pre-marked.

Russian Deputy Prime Minister Dmitry Rogozin, who was named on the White House sanctions list, suggested that the measures would not affect those without assets abroad.

DISMEMBERING UKRAINE

Obama said Russian forces must end “incursions” into its ex-Soviet neighbor, while Putin renewed his accusation that the new leadership in Kiev, brought to power by the uprising that toppled his elected Ukrainian ally last month, were failing to protect Russian-speakers from violent Ukrainian nationalists.

Moscow responded to Western pressure for an international “contact group” to mediate in the crisis by proposing a “support group” of states. This would push for recognition of the Crimean referendum and urge a new constitution for rump Ukraine that would require it to uphold political and military neutrality.

While a Western diplomat said some of the Russian ideas may offer scope for negotiation, Ukraine's interim president ruled out ever accepting the annexation of its territory.

A complete preliminary count of Sunday's vote showed that 96.77 percent of voters opted to join Russia, the chairman of the regional government commission overseeing the referendum, Mikhail Malyshev, announced on television.

Officials said the turnout was 83 percent. Crimea is home to 2 million people. Members of the ethnic Ukrainian and Muslim Tatar minorities had said they would boycott the poll, held just weeks after Russian forces took control of the peninsula.

Putin's popularity at home has been boosted by his action on Crimea despite serious risks for a stagnant economy.

Russian shares and the rouble rebounded as investors calculated that Western sanctions would be largely symbolic and would avoid trade or financial measures that would inflict significant economic damage.

However, British Foreign Secretary William Hague said EU countries had begun discussing the need for Europe to reduce its reliance on Russian energy “over many years to come”. Much of that energy is shipped through gas pipelines crossing Ukraine.

Germany, the EU's biggest economy, gets 40 percent of its gas from Moscow and could become more dependent as it switches from nuclear power.

In a sign of possible internal debates ahead, euro zone newcomer Latvia said the EU should compensate any countries hurt by sanctions against Russia. The three former Soviet Baltic states, home to Russian-speaking minorities and dependent on Russian energy supplies, could suffer in any retaliation.

MOBILIZATION

Moscow defended the takeover of Crimea by citing a right to protect “peaceful citizens”. Ukraine's interim government has mobilized troops to defend against an invasion of its eastern mainland, where pro-Russian protesters have been involved in deadly clashes in recent days.

The Ukrainian parliament on Monday endorsed a presidential decree for a partial military mobilization to call up 40,000 reservists to counter Russia' military actions. Ukraine recalled its ambassador from Moscow for consultations.

Russia's lower house of parliament will pass legislation allowing Crimea to join Russia “in the very near future”, news agency Interfax cited its deputy speaker as saying.

U.S. and European officials say military action is unlikely over Crimea, which Soviet rulers handed to Ukraine 60 years ago.

But the risk of a wider incursion, with Putin calculating the West will not respond as he tries to restore Moscow's hold over its old Soviet empire, leaves NATO wondering how to help Kiev without igniting a wider conflict.

For now, the West's main tools appear to be escalating economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation.

Highlighting the stakes, journalist Dmitry Kiselyov, who is close to the Kremlin, stood before an image of a mushroom cloud on his weekly TV show to issue a stark warning. He said: “Russia is the only country in the world that is realistically capable of turning the United States into radioactive ash.”

Many Tatars, who make up 12 percent of Crimea's population, boycotted the vote, fearful of a revival of the persecution they suffered for centuries under Soviet rule from Moscow.

“This is my land. This is the land of my ancestors. Who asked me if I want it or not?” said Shevkaye Assanova, a Tatar in her 40s. “I don't recognize this at all.”

A pressing concern for the governments in Kiev and Moscow is the transfer of control of Ukrainian military bases. Many are surrounded by and under control of Russian forces, even though Moscow denies it has troops in the territory beyond facilities it leases for its important Black Sea Fleet.

Crimea's parliamentary speaker said on Monday that Ukrainian military units in the region would be disbanded, though personnel would be allowed to remain on the Black Sea peninsula.

Ukraine's border guard service accused Russian troops of evicting the families of their officers from their apartments in Crimea and mistreating their wives and children.

Additional reporting by Mike Collett-White and Andrew Osborn in Simferopol, Ron Popeski, Richard Balmforth and Natalia Zinets in Kiev, Lina Kushch in Donetsk, Roberta Rampton and Matt Spetalnick in Washington, Adrian Croft and Jan Strupczewski in Brussels and Lidia Kelly and Timothy Heritage in Moscow; Writing by Alastair Macdonald and Paul Taylor; Editing by Mark Heinrich

British PM Cameron offers support for Israel in Knesset address


British Prime Minister David Cameron told Israeli lawmakers that his country would work against international boycotts and sanctions against Israel.

“You have a British prime minister whose belief in Israel is unbreakable and whose commitment to Israel’s security will always be rock-solid,” Cameron said in a speech Wednesday at the Knesset in Jerusalem.

Cameron arrived in Israel on Wednesday afternoon for a whirlwind two-day visit, his first visit to the Jewish state since he became the British prime minister in 2010. The visit was rescheduled from last month, when floods devastated areas of Britain. Cameron visited Israel in 2009 as leader of the opposition in Britain. He is leading a business delegation on this visit.

He also called for the achievement of a two-state solution which would provide “justice for the Jewish and Palestinian peoples.”

“We back the compromises needed —- including the halt to settlement activity and an end to Palestinian incitement too,” he said.

He is scheduled to meet with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah on Thursday.

Cameron told the Knesset that his great-great-grandfather was a Jewish man from Germany, and that this relationship gives him “some sense of connection” to the Israeli people.

Cameron also told the Knesset that he would continue to support Jewish ritual practices in Britain, including ritual slaughter, or shechitah, which has been under attack in countries throughout Europe.

“The Jewish community has been an absolute exemplar in integrating into British life in every way,” said Cameron, “but integration doesn’t mean that you have to give up things that you hold very dear in your religion.”

During Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s opening remarks and his speech following Cameron’s, haredi Orthodox and Arab lawmakers walked out and heckled Netanyahu in response to the passage of legislation this week to raise the threshold required for a party to enter the Knesset, and to draft haredi Orthodox yeshiva students.

AIPAC says ‘no’ to vote on Iran sanctions bill


AIPAC, the main pro-Israel lobby on Capitol Hill, broke with its allies in the Republican Party, and came out against holding a vote on a new Iran sanctions bill until there is clear bipartisan support, ” target=”_blank”>in return for Iranian promises to slow down and limit its uranium enrichment. Supporters of the agreement argued that diplomacy should be tried before war. Opponents said that this agreement makes a war more likely and backs Israel into a corner.

2. This ” target=”_blank”>initially called for a bill in Congress that would reimpose the relaxed Iranian sanctions if Iran reneged on the deal or if it didn't extend after the six month sunset.

4. A ” target=”_blank”>threatened to veto an Iran sanctions bill that passed the Senate and House. To override a veto, both the Senate and House would have to support the bill with a two-thirds majority, which would not happen in this case, even though these negotiations have significant implications for Israel's national security–something that Shmuel Rosner thinks ” target=”_blank”>spoke on the Senate floor, reemphasizing his support for the bill, even in light of Obama's veto threat, but taking his foot off the pedal, cautioning that bringing his bill to a vote now would turn what is normally a bipartisan issue into a partisan one (Author's note: Sorry, Senator, it already is partisan.)

8. AIPAC, in an about-face, endorsed Menendez's caution, effectively calling on lawmakers to wait to bring the issue to a vote until it has clear bipartisan support (i.e. enough support to override an Obama veto). The statement reads, in full:

“AIPAC commends Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) for his strong and eloquent statement on the Senate floor today outlining the threat of Iran's nuclear program and the imperative of dismantling it.  We appreciate his commitment to ensure that any agreement with Iran 'is verifiable, effective, and prevents them from ever developing even one nuclear weapon.'

“We applaud Senator Menendez’s determined leadership on this issue and his authorship with Senator Mark Kirk (R-IL) of the Nuclear Weapon Free Iran Act. We agree with the Chairman that stopping the Iranian nuclear program should rest on bipartisan support and that there should not be a vote at this time on the measure.  We remain committed to working with the Administration and the bipartisan leadership in Congress to ensure that the Iran nuclear program is dismantled.”

 


 

There are two reasons why AIPAC would change its mind. Either AIPAC is prepared to fight Obama on a veto and risk drawing the long-term ire of much of the Democratic Party (if it hasn't done so already). Or AIPAC is not prepared to fight Obama on a veto and will oppose the legislation because it wants to maintain strong support in the Democratic Party (if it still has it). The former is more likely than the latter. Considering that until Thursday, AIPAC appeared ready to fight Obama on this issue, it probably calculated that there's no honor in pushing a sanctions bill that will be vetoed and go no further. Better to wait, AIPAC figures, until it can muster a two-thirds majority (which, again, won't happen) or until the political calculus changes to the point where a simple majority would suffice (maybe 2016?).

These represent major changes in Congress's 

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