• irvsafdieh

Boycott the Boycotters, UNRWA-lievable, Next Station Stop: Medina


Israel Publishes Blacklist of BDS Groups to be Barred from Country

Times of Israel, January 7th 2018

Recap:

Israel will block members of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement from entering the country. “No country would allow visitors who arrive to harm the country to enter it and certainly not when their goal is to wipe out Israel as a Jewish country,” said Strategic Affairs Minister Gilad Erdan. The Israeli government recently earmarked $75 million to fight BDS.

The Context:

  • BDS aims to pressure Israel into altering its policies toward Palestinians by encouraging an economic, academic and social boycott of the country [1]. Although its financial impact has been negligible, the campaign has created an image problem for Israel by drawing support from high-profile names including pop singer Lorde, who recently canceled a scheduled performance [2].

  • Opposition party leaders came out against the ban saying, “BDS hurts us abroad, why can’t they be here? If they’re here, they can’t hurt us there,” and “why fight boycotts with another boycott [3]?”

  • Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement, said the new measure was "a war on freedom of speech [4]” and Shamiul Joarder from banned group Friends of Al Aqsa said the list was evidence that "BDS is working" [5].

Conversation Points:

  • Will the BDS ban deter or attract activists to its cause? Can the ban positively impact the movement?

  • Does the gap between Israel’s image and reality widen when detractors are not allowed into the country?

  • Is the ban proof that BDS is working?

Trump Administration Split on Cutting Aid to Palestinian Refugees

Josh Rogin, Washington Post, January 9th 2018

Recap:

The Trump administration threatened to cut off funding to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA).

The Context:

  • Relations between the Palestinian Authority (PA) and Washington soured last month after President Donald Trump announced the US would recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital [6] and PA President Mahmoud Abbas said he would “not accept any role of the United States in the political process from now on.”

  • UNRWA, which supports schools and humanitarian facilities for Palestinians in Gaza, Jordan, and the West Bank, is facing a funding crisis. The US is the most significant UNRWA donor, contributing $370 million annually [7]. UNRWA allows limitless generations of descendants, including citizens of other countries, to be classified as Palestinian refugees [8].

  • Nikki Haley, America’s Ambassador to the UN, called for a total cutoff in US UNRWA funding, and froze $125 million of US aid to UNRWA scheduled to be delivered on January 1st. The decision technically falls under the jurisdiction of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu urged the US to fold UNRWA into the UNHCR, which supports all other refugee groups [9]. UNRWA has vowed to continue its work "until a fair solution to the Palestinian refugee issue is reached [10].”

Conversation Points:

  • Should the US support institutions and governments that openly hold it in contempt?

  • Does UNRWA perpetuate the Palestinian refugee problem?

  • Will funding cuts to UNRWA make an already tense situation in the Palestinian territories worse?

  • Why are Palestinians the only group of people with a dedicated refugee organization?

Israel Seeks to Revive Long Abandoned Railway to Gulf

David Awad, AI Monitor, January 9th 2018

Recap:

Israeli Minister of Transportation Yisrael Katz announced Israel's intention to revive the Hejaz railway project, which links the Israeli port of Haifa to the Gulf States. Israeli-Saudi military cooperation improved recently as a result of shared strategic interests against Iran.

The Context:

  • The Hejaz railway was built in 1908 to link Damascus & Medina through the Hejaz region of Saudi Arabia. A Mediterranean extension via Haifa was built however destruction caused during World War I forced the closure of the project.

  • The Hejaz railway plans are ready to execute within a year if approved by both Jordan and the Gulf States. The Israel-Jordan peace treaty governs Israel’s diplomatic ties to Jordan however, Saudi Arabia has no foreign relations with Israel.

  • The railway will serve as an alternative to the Suez Canal, which lies in the crosshairs of a Saudi-Iranian proxy battle playing out in Yemen.

  • Last month, Israeli players were denied visas to participate in a speed chess championship hosted by Saudi Arabia [11].

Conversation Points:

  • Does the Saudi chess ban underscore the limits of Israeli-Gulf relations?

Notes:

  1. 20 groups that advocate boycotting Israel will now be denied entry, Ruth Eglash, Washington Post, January 7th 2017

  2. Israel Bans Entry of NGO Representatives Supporting Boycott, David Wainer, Bloomberg, January 8th 2018

  3. OPPOSITION SLAMS 'IDIOTIC' BDS-ACTIVIST BAN, LAHAV HARKOV, JERUSALEM POST, JANUARY 9th 2018

  4. 20 groups that advocate boycotting Israel will now be denied entry, Ruth Eglash, Washington Post, January 7th 2017

  5. Israel bans entry for 20 groups over BDS support, Jaclynn Ashly, Al Jazeera, January 7th 2018

  6. Sweden worried about future of U.S. funds for Palestinian aid agency, Reuters, January 9th 2018

  7. Ibid.

  8. Netanyahu wants UNRWA gradually shut down, backs US cuts, Times of Israel, January 7th 2018

  9. Ibid.

  10. UNRWA vows to go on after Israel's call to scrap agency, Al Jazeera, January 8th 2018

  11. Chess federation says Israel excluded from Saudi-hosted match, Reuters, December 24th 2017