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A people that dwells: 7 things to know for July 11

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1. Consternation over a bill enshrining Israel’s Jewish character in law is continuing Wednesday, amid signals that the pressure may be pushing the Likud party to rethink a clause allowing communities to restrict residency based on religion or nationality.

  • Haaretz reports that the party is considering removing the clause and replacing it with one that would instead read, “The State of Israel regards itself as committed to the resolution of the League of Nations, which supported dense Jewish settlement in areas under its control.”
  • What the “it” in that clause would refer to is not enumerated, but the newspaper reports that the wording, based on language in the founding document of the British mandate, “is expected to impede international criticism of the law.”
  • Hadashot TV news reports that it was not all the government legal experts advising against the clause that inspired the rethink, but President Reuven Rivlin’s impassioned letter to lawmakers.
  • Yedioth notes that Rivlin’s letter “caused a storm in the Knesset and drew harsh denunciations from the right.”
  • “There’s no doubt that Rivlin bumped up against the boundaries of his mandate, and maybe even went beyond. Even if he did cross a line, it’s clear that his letter was written with his blood, from a deep worry about Israel’s image in the world and not that he would be termed a ‘leftie,’ ‘politician’ or ‘anti-Netanyahu,” writes Haaretz’s Yossi Verter.
  • While some were that blunt in their criticism, Israel Hayom’s Akiva Bigman goes for a more subtle tactic, publishing an open letter to Rivlin in which he agrees that the law is problematic, because it will allow discrimination against Jews.
  • “Go down south and see the Jewish towns crowded behind anti-tank ditches and dirt berms out of fear of break-ins and theft. See the irresponsible spread of villages like Bir Hadaj, Wadi al-Naim and others, taking over state land and private Jewish land, with nobody paying them a hoot,” he writes in classic whataboutist fashion.
  • Bigman also notes that many communities are already segregated even without the law, something that Yedioth columnist Chen Sror Artzi brings up, recalling her experience looking into a community only to find that it requires prospective residents to be accepted. “They told us we didn’t need to worry, people like you are exactly what we are looking for. The phrase ‘like you’ was code for everything wrong,” she writes of her confrontation with her Ashkenazi Jewish privilege. “We are not Ethiopian, Arab, lesbos or divorced. We are ‘okay.’ We belong to the elite of ‘people like you.’”

2. Given that many Israeli communities are already segregated, there is perhaps little surprise that it wasn’t racism or discrimination that turned many against the clause, but rather how it will make Israel look.

  • Richard Rothstein, an expert on US policies in the 1930s that created segregated communities of blacks and whites, tells me the context of the two cases is too different for him to venture a comment on, but he notes that discriminatory housing policies, unlike other types of discrimination, can have deleterious effects that are more prone to outlasting any possible remedies (as Americans did with the Fair Housing Act in 1968).
  • “We had the civil rights movement, and the next day you could drink from a fountain or ride a bus. But if you abolish segregation in housing, the next day things don’t look much different. It’s much different to undo housing segregation,” he says.

3. Netanyahu will get to leave the ballyhoo behind Wednesday when he takes off for Moscow for a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, and possibly some soccer.

  • It’s been only four weeks since the two last met, but disputes over whether Iran can have any presence in Syria is persisting.
  • During a tour of the Golan border Tuesday, Defense Minister Avigdor Liberman stated that Israel doesn’t care how many kilometers the Iranians remain away from the border, and by the way, they are still on the border anyway building “terrorist infrastructure.”
  • A New Yorker piece earlier this week details how Israel and Gulf States looked to woo Russia away from Iran with promises of canceled American sanctions two years ago. Haaretz’s Zvi Bar’el speculates that the same offer may be on the table Wednesday.
  • “It’s not inconceivable that Netanyahu will try to sell this idea to Putin. Perhaps the idea will even arise at Putin’s summit meeting with Trump on July 16. But before anyone entertains the idea of an international persuasion campaign, it’s worth considering what Iran itself is willing to do,” he writes.

4. During Liberman’s tour of the Golan, a reporter asked him about the possibility of some sort of arrangement between Israel and Syria in the future, allowing the Quneitra crossing between the countries to open.

  • Liberman dismissed the suggestion, but left a sliver of a window open: “I believe that we are far from that, but I am not ruling anything out,” he said.
  • As stated by Reuters, “His remarks could foreshadow a more open approach to Assad ahead of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Syria talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Wednesday.”

5. Speaking about lifting Russian sanctions is what seemingly got former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn in trouble, but the wonk is back with a job at a lobbying firm started by two nice Jewish boys.

  • Announcing Flynn coming aboard, Stonington Global LLC touts its previous success in “representing the State of Qatar, which in the course of eight months saw the Gulf Emirate go from isolation, blockade and presidential criticism, to the strengthening of the United States-Qatari security and economic relationship.”
  • Success, though, appeared to have consisted of sending Jewish figureheads to Qatar, giving the emirate’s money to a pro-IDF group and then complaining that “Qatar enjoys portraying themselves as the purveyor of peace in the region, but this could not be further from the truth.” At least that’s the story of Joey Allaham, one of Stonington’s founders, who has more experience cooking overpriced kosher steaks than global lobbying campaigns.
  • (The other founder, Yeshiva University alum Nick Muzin, was more diplomatic in his split with Qatar.)
  • In the end, it seems Flynn isn’t even in, with his lawyers quickly clarifying that he is not joining the firm, and that the release announcing his employment was the result of a “misunderstanding.”
  • It was all worth it, though, just for this deliciously snarky headline.

6. There’s as of yet no about face on diplomat David Hale being tapped as the No. 3 person at the State Department under Mike Pompeo. Israel watchers will remember Hale as Barack Obama’s special envoy for the Mideast Peace Process from 2009 to 2013.

  • As ToI’s Eric Cortellessa notes, the appointment comes just before the planned rollout of Donald Trump’s peace plan, and Foggy Bottom really didn’t have anyone on the case under Rex Tillerson, who stayed as far away from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as possible.’
  • A State Department spokesperson declines to say whether Hale is being put in specifically to deal with the peace plan.
  • The National reports that Pompeo personally picked Hale and asked Trump to install him, despite his history with Obama.
  • On Twitter, several former diplomats praise the choice, perhaps shocked that Trump actually nominated somebody with experience, and not his lawyer or some relative.

7. Just as the World Cup in Russia is drawing to a close, another one is set to start — in Israel: The Lacrosse World Championship.

  • ToI’s Michael Harel reports that Israel is ranked 7th in the world, despite not even having a team just a few years ago. It will face off against 45 other teams in the 10-day tournament, the largest ever for the sport.
  • While the tourney, held every four years, is normally rotated between the United States, Canada, UK and Australia, this year it’s being held in Netanya, the first time it has been hosted by a non-English speaking country (though one is more likely to hear French than Hebrew there this time of year).
  • While Israel might seem like the obvious choice to root for among locals and the wider Diaspora, Tablet’s Liel Liebovitz actually finds more in common with the Iroquois team, made up of descendants of the sport’s inventors.
  • “Lacrosse, you probably hardly need an Israeli to tell you, is a significant part of the spiritual heritage of the Iroquois, who refer to it as ‘the Creator’s game’ and who engage in it, still, as a communal healing ritual rather than a mere competitive sport,” he writes. “As the proud son of an indigenous people that returned to its ancestral homeland after millennia of imperial persecution and forced exile, I’ve always felt tremendous empathy for Native Americans, whose systematic devastation at the hand of European colonialists is the ur-crime on which this great nation is founded.”
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