WASHINGTON (JTA) — Americans for Peace Now, a left-wing pro-Israel organization, is calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war, the first American Zionist group to do so after more than three months of fighting.
“Continuing this devastating war poses unacceptable risks for Israel, Gazan civilians and the entire region,” James Klutznick, the group’s chairman, said Monday in a statement. “For the sake of the security and wellbeing of civilians in Israel and in Gaza, the Biden administration must push Israel to bring about an immediate cessation of hostilities and pivot from war to peacemaking.”
The statement is a sign that American Jewish groups’ broad support for Israel in the wake of Hamas’ Oct. 7 invasion has fractured. Up until now, the only Jewish groups to call for a ceasefire have been anti-Zionist or non-Zionist, and have focused their criticism on Israel since the outset of the current conflict. The rest of the Jewish organizational spectrum, from right to left, expressed support for Israel’s war effort.
Since Hamas’ attack, which killed some 1,200 people, largely civilians, Palestinian casualties have mounted. According to the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry, 23,000 Palestinians have been killed. That number does not differentiate between civilians and combatants, but Israel says that a third of the Palestinian casualties are combatants.
Those casualties have eroded the Jewish consensus, as has the rhetoric of some far-right members of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s coalition. Last week, the Union for Reform Judaism, representing the largest American Jewish religious denomination, called on Netanyahu to rein in ministers who are calling for the removal of Palestinians from Gaza.
Americans for Peace Now is a member of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations, the consensus-driven foreign policy coalition of American Jewish organizations that has one overriding mission: backing Israel. Other left-leaning groups in the Conference have not yet called for an end to the war.
J Street, the liberal Jewish Middle East policy group that serves as the central address for pro-Israel progressives, has likewise continued to express support for the war. But in recent weeks it has said Israel must do more to protect civilian life and has called on the Israeli government to rebuff calls to transfer civilians out of Gaza. A month ago, it issued a warning that if those changes do not occur, “J Street will no longer be able to provide our organizational support for the current military campaign.”
J Street has yet to withdraw its support. But last week it announced that it would not hold an annual conference this year due “to the state of the ongoing conflict” — suggesting that controversies around the war might inhibit attendance.
“Due to the state of the ongoing conflict, we have decided to postpone the upcoming 2024 Convention to 2025,” J Street said on its website. “While we’re disappointed not to be able to hold the Convention this coming April as planned, we’re also confident that this is the best way to ensure that the Convention is as large, vibrant and meaningful as we know it can and should be.”
The announcement was also notable as it meant that the lobbying group would not be holding its convention in an election year. The American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest pro-Israel lobby, likewise has not held its annual Policy Conference since 2020.
J Street is an ideological ally of Americans for Peace Now, and the two groups were part of a “peace bloc” at a massive pro-Israel rally in November on the National Mall in Washington D.C. The groups expressed discomfort afterward with the belligerence of some of the speakers, and opposed the presence of John Hagee, who leads a right-leaning Christian pro-Israel group, on the rally’s agenda.
There have been other signs of a fracturing Jewish consensus. In October, shortly after Hamas’ attack, Jewish Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives in October initiated a statement backing President Joe Biden’s wholehearted support for Israel, and all 24 House Jewish Democrats signed on. By December, however, a number of them were joining calls for a ceasefire — including one of the initiators of the October statement, Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland.
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Major Israeli Tech Entrepreneur Gil Shwed Retires
Gil Shwed, one of Israel’s wealthiest entrepreneurs, announced his retirement on Tuesday, bringing an end to his 30-year tenure as CEO of Check Point, an Israeli software firm.
“This year Check Point celebrated 30 years since its establishment, in which we managed to generate growth and reached a peak in almost every parameter. I feel that this is the right time for me to focus on Check Point’s next leap,” Shwed, 56, said. “We are now looking for a replacement for the position of CEO. It’s a process that will take time and even when it ends I will remain involved. I want to focus less on the daily work, and more on the future of the company.”
Check Point was founded in 1993 by Shwed, Shlomo Kramer, and Marius Nacht. Shwed and Kramer were friends from their time together in Israel’s elite cyber unit 8200.
The company provides AI-powered advanced software and hardware for cyber security to more than 100,000 customers globally, bringing in more than $2 billion per year in revenue.
Headquartered in Tel Aviv and publicly traded on the NASDAQ, Check Point has a market cap of more than $19 billion dollars, making it Israel’s second most valuable company, $2 billion less than automobile giant Mobileye Eye. Shwed’s role as CEO has allowed him to amass a fortune of $4.4 billion due to his 20% share ownership in the company.
Shwed is also a recipient of the Israel Prize, an annual award given to Israelis who have shown a high level of excellence in their specific fields. Shwed was given the first award in the technology field when it was introduced in 2018.
Israel’s Leading Hotel Chain Expands Internationally
Israel’s leading hotel chain Isrotel has announced the opening of their first hotel outside of the country.
The brand, under a new division called ALUMA, meaning “ray of light” in Hebrew, will open its Skylark Hotel in Athens, Greece next month.
“We succeeded in doing the best in Israel, creating a culture that people love, so if you know Isrotel you will want to visit,” Benny Levy, the VP of sales and marketing at Isrotel, told The Algemeiner.
Levy says just because they are expanding outside of the Jewish state, “We aren’t stopping opening in Israel … Outside of Israel the potential is endless, it is a significant opportunity.”
Lior Raviv, CEO of Isrotel, added, “ALUMA is an international chain of hotels that will benefit from Isrotel’s longstanding experience and uncompromising standards of excellence, offering global travelers a wide range of city hotels and leisure resorts to choose from, and providing unique hospitality experiences. As a sister company of Isrotel, ALUMA is guided by our approach to hospitality as a way of life.”
They said most of the workers will be Israelis, ensuring the culture of the brand remains. “Israeli tourists, and especially loyal guests of Isrotel, who return to us time and again due to our hospitality experience and high standard of service, will find those same qualities and sense of a ‘home away from home’ at ALUMA, backed by the international standards of perfection and excellence,” added Raviv.
According to Isrotel, the Skylark hotel will be followed by the Anise Hotel, also in Athens, a month later. An additional hotel in Athens and one in Thessaloniki will open by the end of 2024. They said the total investment in the project is 70 million euros, with plans to expand elsewhere in Europe in the future.
Isrotel has 23 hotels across Israel, including eight in the resort town of Eilat in the south of Israel. Their international move comes as Israel’s National Planning and Construction Council announced this week the changes to the city’s height limitations for hotels, allowing up to 20 floors from the previously permitted eight floors.
Tourism Minister Haim Katz praised the move, saying, “We are bringing good news to Eilat. Hundreds and even thousands of rooms will be added in the city. The move will encourage competition, remove excess bureaucracy for a hotel that wants to renew itself, and allow entrepreneurs who have not yet built to increase supply.”
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Investment Firm Announces Recommendations for Preventing Corporate Anti-Israel Bias
Morningstar, Inc., a Chicago based investment firm managing over $250 billion in assets, has issued a report including several recommendations for reducing anti-Israel bias in the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) ratings its Sustainalytics subsidiary assigns to corporations.
For several years, Sustainalytics gave poor ESG ratings to Israel affiliated companies, a practice that led Jewish civil rights groups and lawmakers to suspect that the company was violating state laws against engaging in the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement, which aims to isolate and weaken the Jewish state.
The firm denied the allegations, but a review of the its ratings by JLens, a leading Jewish investor network, found that Sustainalytics created “BDS blacklists” and used in its internal reports “politicized anti-Israel language” to describe Israel. JLens’ work, which was the first to raise alarms about the issue, led to Morningstar’s cracking down on the practices and adopting policies for ensuring that Sustainalytics does not become a BDS collaborator.
Released on Jan. 31, Morningstar’s new report builds on that commitment, outlining several policy changes, including: eliminating a designation which identified companies as being involved in “occupied territories/disputed region,” quashing reliance on disinformative media reports aimed at distorting a company’s ESG rating, and appointing legal experts to examine matters relevant to international human rights law.
“We welcome Morningstar’s commitment to eliminate anti-Israel bias in Sustainalytics research products,” Anti-Defamation League (ADL) CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a statement on Wednesday. “We look forward to ongoing engagement with Morningstar to ensure the expert recommendations are fully and effectively implemented.”
The ADL took a leading role in combating anti-Israel bias in ESG ratings, incorporating JLens in Nov. 2022. ADL noted at the time that BDS activists target firms managing ESG rated funds, which attracted over $500 billion in investments in 2021, a 55% increase from the previous year, according to JP Morgan. During 2022’s proxy season, a time when publicly traded companies hold annual meetings to assess performance and weigh suggestions from shareholders, Israel was named in eight of 20 resolutions targeting foreign governments, “making the country only second to China.”
Morningstar’s recommendations will shield ESG from political bias and increase its reliability, Louis D. Brandeis Center for Human Rights Under Law founder and chairman Kenneth L. Marcus explained in a statement applauding the report.
“Anti-Israel external forces are doing everything they can to infiltrate campuses, boardrooms, the [United Nations]., sports leagues, and the securities industry,” he said. “We commend Morningstar for engaging with us, examining their ESG product, and committing to make the changes necessary to ensure that their rating system is apolitical, objective, and honest. We believe that implementing the experts’ report is critical to achieving this goal.”
Ari Hoffnung, managing director of JLens, added that “investor are entitled to research that is both objective and devoid of any anti-Israel bias.”
Last July, Morningstar removed 109 negative “controversy ratings” that Sustainalytics subsidiary had given to companies operating in Israel. The firm has also stopped referring to the West Bank and East Jerusalem as ‘Occupied Palestinian Territory’ or ‘occupied territory” and committed to educating its employees about antisemitism and amassing information about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict from “independent, recognized experts.”
Morningstar, however, has repeatedly denied that it ever supported BDS. In June 2022, Morningstar CEO Kunal Kapoor issued a statement arguing that an external review of Sustainalytics found no evidence that it “encouraged divestment from Israel” but acknowledged that at least one of its departments singled out businesses “linked to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict” and “sometimes used inflammatory language and failed to provide sourcing attribution clearly and consistently.”
Follow Dion J. Pierre @DionJPierre.
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