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The big issues dividing the US and Israel as the Gaza war bleeds into 2024

WASHINGTON (JTA) — The official “readouts” describing conversations between world leaders are usually dry, information-deficient affairs, but the ones between President Joe Biden and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu have been telling a story of diverging views on Israel’s war in Gaza.

Their most recent conversation, on Dec. 23, is an example: According to the Israeli readout, the Israeli leader “expressed his appreciation for the U.S. position at the U.N. Security Council,” referring to the Biden administration’s removal of calls for a ceasefire from a U.N. Security Council resolution. “The Prime Minister made it clear that Israel would continue the war until all of its goals have been achieved.”

The White House readout suggested why Netanyahu felt he had to make it “clear” that Israel would not stop until Hamas is crushed and the more than 100 remaining hostages abducted by the terror group on Oct. 7 are returned: Biden wants Netanyahu to change tactics.

“The leaders discussed Israel’s military campaign in Gaza to include its objectives and phasing,” Biden’s version said. “The President emphasized the critical need to protect the civilian population including those supporting the humanitarian aid operation, and the importance of allowing civilians to move safely away from areas of ongoing fighting.”

Biden, while maintaining his opposition to any ceasefire that leaves Hamas intact, has called Israel’s bombing in Gaza “indiscriminate.” His top officials, including Vice President Kamala Harris, Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin, have said that Israel risks losing support if it does not shift to more targeted warfare.

Both leaders are under pressure. Biden is facing Democrats on the left, and also surprisingly Republicans on his right, who want him to condition aid to Israel. Netanyahu’s popularity in Israel has plummeted and he needs his far-right flank to survive in office to avoid a crushing electoral defeat.

Here are some of the factors that could shape the Biden-Netanyahu relationship as we head into a new year.

That $14 billion

On Oct. 19, less than two weeks after Hamas terrorists massacred 1,200 people in Israel, abducted more than 240 and brutalized thousands more, Biden asked Congress for $14 billion in emergency assistance for Israel, along with $60 billion for Ukraine for its war against Russian invaders.

The aid for Israel seemed an easy ask then: Republicans have become the most reflexively pro-Israel party in Congress, and within three days of Biden making the request, more than half of the Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives backed Biden’s Israel strategy, in a letter signed by all 24 Jewish House Democrats.

Marching into 2024, the funding has yet to happen and the responsibility lies, unusually, with Republicans, who lead the House. 

The first obstacle was the removal of the Israel-friendly speaker, California’s Kevin McCarthy, leaving the House unable to function. He was replaced by Louisiana’s Mike Johnson. The House approved the Israel portion, but for the first time ever, the body conditioned aid to Israel — on cuts to the Internal Revenue Service. Far-right Republicans engineered McCarthy’s ouster for compromising with Biden on spending bills, and Johnson has no taste for playing nice with the president, even when Israel is involved.

Conditioning Israel aid on IRS cuts guaranteed that the bill was dead on arrival in the Senate, which is led by Democrats. There, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, a Jewish New York Democrat, tried to craft a new assistance bill but was met with a new headwind. Republicans in the body are now using the filibuster to keep the bill from advancing unless it includes new protections on the Mexican border.

Sen. Bernie Sanders joined Republican senators in the Dec. 7 vote that blocked the assistance from advancing. The Jewish Vermont independent, an unofficial leader of U.S. progressives, wants Biden to condition aid to Israel on how it conducts the war.

Calls for a ceasefire

Sanders still stops short of calling for a permanent ceasefire, but a growing number of Democrats do — some 63 so far, including a number of the Jewish Democrats who back in October were backing Biden’s Israel policies.

The number of Palestinians killed since Israel launched its counterstrikes has topped 20,000, according to Palestinian sources, although Israel estimates that a third of these are combatants. Nonetheless, as casualties mount in the Gaza Strip, expect more pressure on Biden from the left.

The politics

Axios reported this week that Biden, in that Dec. 23 phone call, told Netanyahu that he expected him to show the same fortitude in resisting pressure from his right wing that Biden has shown in ignoring his left flank. Biden wants Israel to build up the Palestinian Authority after the war is over so it can replace Hamas; Netanyahu has said that is not an option

One problem is the weakness of the Palestinian Authority, which has limited governance powers in the West Bank. Biden wants Netanyahu to resume transferring taxes to the Palestinian Authority, which Netanyahu resists as long as it continues to compensate the families of Palestinians who have attacked Israelis. 

“This conversation is over,” Axios reported Biden as saying after he told Netanyahu that he needed to show the same level of leadership Biden is showing defending Israel.

Support for Biden’s Israel policy among Democrats has plummeted, and growing numbers of Arab-American and Muslim voters are saying they will stay away from the polls next November, when Biden is likely to once again face Donald Trump in a presidential election. That could cost Biden a key state, Michigan, where there is a substantial Arab-American population.

As Biden heads into the presidential election, the politics of the war are being seen in a phenomenon unimaginable a decade ago: Mainstream Democrats are running against the mainstream pro-Israel line. In California’s Senate race, Rep. Barbara Lee is seeking to set herself apart from the frontrunners, fellow Democratic representatives Adam Schiff and Katie Porter, by endorsing a ceasefire.

Minnesota Rep. Dean Phillips, a moderate Jewish Democrat running a longshot presidential primary campaign against Biden, also endorses a ceasefire. It’s one of the few policy differences distinguishing him from the incumbent.

The post The big issues dividing the US and Israel as the Gaza war bleeds into 2024 appeared first on Jewish Telegraphic Agency.

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Israeli Hospital Earns Spot In Global Top 10

An ambulance is seen at the entrance to the emergency room of Sheba Medical Center in Tel Hashomer, as Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was hospitalised, in Ramat Gan, Israel, July 15, 2023. REUTERS/Rami Amichay

A hospital in central Israel was ranked in the top 10 of medical centers globally, in the new rankings out by Newsweek. Sheba Medical Center, located in Tel HaShomer in central Israel, was ranked the ninth best hospital in the world according to the US publication, its sixth year in a row.

“This is a distilled moment of Israeli pride. In this challenging period, Sheba has proven its professionalism and quality for the sixth time in a row. In many ways, this is a true expression of confidence in the entire Israeli healthcare system, for which I thank it from the bottom of my heart,” said Israeli President Isaac Herzog following the news.

The Director General of the hospital, Prof. Yitshak Kreiss, added; “This achievement represents a resounding endorsement by our colleagues around the world. Sheba is working diligently to make Israel a better, healthier place and highlights our abilities to be both a center of medical excellence, as well as a beacon of co-existence, where Jewish and Arab medical personnel are working side by side 24/7 to save the lives of civilians and soldiers- Jews, Moslems and Christians alike.”

According to the hospital, which placed 11th in last year’s list, thousands of patients came through their doors in 2023 from every continent on earth, “for the treatment they could not receive in their home countries.”

Concluding on a thoughtful note, Sheba wrote: “Being ranked by Newsweek as the 9th best hospital in the world is a major achievement and an honor, yet our greatest reward lies in the lives we touch and the hope we instill. Together, with our dedicated team of medical professionals, we will continue to push the boundaries of medical advancement, ensuring that every patient receives the highest standard of care regardless of their background or where they live. Thank you for entrusting us with your health and allowing us to be a beacon of hope beyond boundaries.”

Per the rankings, four of the top five hospitals in the world are in the US, with the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota at the top, followed by the Cleveland Clinic, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Massachusetts General Hospital.

Also included in the list from Israel were the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, which ranked 64th in the world, and Rabin Medical Center’s Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva, placing 158th globally.

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Second Synagogue in Tunisia Attacked Since October 7

A screenshot from a video of Tunisian rioters burning the El-Hamma synagogue on Tuesday, Oct. 17. Source: Twitter

A mob set fire to the courtyard of a Tunisian synagogue in the city of Sfax on Sunday, the second such incident since the Israel-Hamas war began in October.

Nobody was injured in the fire — as there are no Jews left in Sfax — and authorities were able to put out the fire before it spread and destroyed the building, but reported showed significant damage to parts of the synagogue.

Israeli Historian Edy Cohen posted a video of the fire and explained that this is yet another example of antisemitism in Tunisia. He argued that “Israel through the Western countries must help Tunisian Jews.”

האנטישמיות בתוניסיה
היום בבוקר נשרף בית כנסת עתיק בתוניסיה .
כתבתי עשרות פוסטים ומאמרים על האנטישמיות הגואה בתוניסיה אשר הגיעה לשיאה לפני פחות משנה כאשר נהרגו שני יהודים בפיגוע של קיצונים.
ישראל באמצעות מדינות המערב חייבת לעזור ליהודי תוניסה.

— אדי כהן Edy Cohen (@DREDYCOHEN) February 26, 2024

In 1948, there were an estimated 105,000 Jews in the country. However, by 1967, that number had declined to 20,000 after many fled to countries such as Israel and France, and today Tunisia is estimated to only have about 1,500 Jews.

This is not the first time an antisemitic mob set fire to a synagogue since Hamas’s October 7 terrorist attack.

On October 17, rioters set fire to the el-Hamma Synagogue, doing considerable damage. People also entered the synagogue and destroyed much of it. The synagogue is not an active place of worship, as there are no Jews left in the city.

Videos from the riot show crowds of people walking in, around, and on top of the synagogue — including at least one person waving a large Palestinian flag.

En Tunisie, la synagogue d’El Hamma a été détruite et incendiée hier soir par des centaines d’émeutiers, sans la moindre intervention policière. De nombreuses vidéos sur TikTok et Facebook. Et pas la moindre mention dans les médias nationaux

— Joseph Hirsch (@josephhirsch5) October 18, 2023

The riot was precipitated by false reports that Israel had bombed Al Ahli Hospital in Gaza, resulting in more than 500 casualties. News outlets such as The New York Times and The Washington Post uncritically reported the story.

Later, reports from those same outlets, along with human rights groups, suggested that a rocket launched by Palestinian terrorists malfunctioned and hit the parking lot of the hospital, killing dozens. U.S. and Israeli intelligence also conclude this is what took place.

But the damage of the initial reporting was done, whipping much of the Arab world into a frenzy, resulting in huge protests and — in this case — mob violence.

Just a year prior to the war, there was a deadly terrorist attack against the El Ghriba Synagogue on the island of Djerba, where the vast majority of Tunisia’s Jews live. The terrorist opened fire on security guards, killing two and injuring six. He also shot at Jews at the synagogue, two of whom were killed and another four were injured.

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From Ground Zero to the Gaza Border: US Medical Doctors Volunteer In Israel

A Hanukkiyah, a candlestick used during the Jewish holiday of Hanukkah, stands on the remains of a burnt windowsill, following a deadly infiltration by Hamas terrorists from the Gaza Strip, in Kibbutz Be’eri in southern Israel, Oct. 17, 2023. Photo: REUTERS/Ronen Zvulun

On September 12, 2001, Dr. Marc Wilkenfeld, a specialist in occupational medicine, was treating victims of terror at a site that would later become known as Ground Zero. More than 22 years later, Wilkenfeld found himself 6,000 miles away from Ground Zero treating terror victims in Israel. 

Wilkenfeld took leave of his job for two weeks to volunteer with IL-USDocAID, an initiative that was established in the immediate aftermath of the Hamas attacks on October 7, in which more than 1200 people were murdered and 253 were abducted to Gaza. 

The project, a joint partnership between Israel’s Health Ministry and the Israel Economic Mission to the US, came in response to the sudden duress suffered by Israel’s health system from soaring casualties and the deployment of thousands of medical staff members, who serve in the IDF as reserve soldiers, to the frontlines.

Wilkenfeld said he was driven to come to Israel after seeing reports of mobilization efforts by Israeli civilians, some as early as October 7 itself. The idea of Israelis who were told to stay in their safe rooms rushing to help first responders wherever they could compelled him to action. 

“In America, you feel helpless. What are you going to do? The ability to go here and even play a small role, just to give some advice medically – it’s a beautiful thing,” he told The Algemeiner.

Wilkenfeld took his family with him, who volunteered by cooking for soldiers while he was treating people. 

In Israel, Wilkenfeld experienced many firsts. Despite 30 years of being active in the medical profession, including at the scenes of terror attacks, it was the first time he had ever encountered an ambulance station pockmarked by shrapnel and ambulances riddled with bullet holes. 

Visiting physicians are given a choice to volunteer with paramedics in ambulances or work directly inside hospitals. 

When you have a doctor in the ambulance there’s more you can do as a paramedic,” Wilkenfeld said. “It also gives real strength for the paramedics to know that people want to come and give help.”

Wilkenfeld said the visit taught him not to pay too much attention to misinformation about Israel. 

“I didn’t learn too much about medicine, but I learned a lot about Israel,” he said. “You read in the press that Israel is an apartheid state. But from a medical perspective it’s precisely the opposite.”

During his time in the country, Wilkenfeld said that all the patients he treated received the same medical care, from the “arab in east Jerusalem” to the “major rabbi from Har Nof,” an ultra-Orthodox suburb.  

He noted, however, that working in Jerusalem was vastly different from the south, which suffered the brunt of the onslaught, where people are still in an acute state of shock. 

“I’ve seen almost a thousand 9/11 responders, the responders in Sderot have the same look in their eyes,” he said of the southern Israeli city in which at least 50 civilians and 20 police officers were murdered. “They talk about the bodies in the ambulance station, about how to prioritize patients, that they haven’t slept in weeks.”

He also said that meeting with the families of hostages left him with a “terrible sadness,” rendering him speechless. Leaning on his medical expertise, however, eventually allowed Wilkenfeld to find his own voice to console them.

“It’s not possible to live in southern Israel and not have PTSD,” he said. 

Wilkenfeld returned to his job in New York, where he serves as chief of occupational medicine and clinical assistant professor at NYU-Langone in Long Island, with a somber sense of the realities facing Israel.

He is already working to recruit more volunteers for the project if war should come to Israel again.

If there is a next time, God forbid, now we can mobilize,” he said. “Now we know who to talk to, where things are.”

Parting ways with the Israeli medical personnel he worked alongside, Wilkenfeld was struck by their sacrifice amidst incomprehensible conditions.

“I leave and they have to live with this.” At the end of the day, he said, “they did much more for me than I did for them.”

To find out more about volunteering as a medic in Israel, click on the following link: IL-USDocAID:

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